Nice conversation. I've been one of the "experts" on David Mihm's annual local search ranking factors for the entire 5 years. Miriam has been on it also for either the entire 5 years or close to it.
The results are the weighted opinions of all the people who respond. David's methodology is similar to what seomoz has produced for years on overall web ranking impacts. Its an aggregation of opinions.
Its interesting. I know and interact with a lot of those folks. Its an aggregation of a lot of opinions based on what we see.
But boy oh boy...nobody has the crystal ball. and Google is changing so much so frequently...its a real changing game.
Just to throw out one example of how much it can change week to week and month to month and has over time:
Suppose you have an smb business in the suburbs of a reasonable sized city with a ring road or beltway around it. Suppose Google would show the PAC above organic results on a continual basis. Lets say your city is Metropolis and you sell bicycles or jewelry.
Periodically over the course of the year, regardless of how strong the signals were to your business....google would simply change the "locationess" of the MAP and PAC. For a period it would just cover the geography of the city. If you had a powerful site with powerful signals but were located outside of the city but inside the ring road....YOU WERE LOST. The Map and the 7 PAC dominated the above the fold results and because you were outside the city you couldn't get visibility.
Then bingo Google expands the geography of the map to include all the smb's inside the Ring Road surrounding the city. ZAP BAM...Heavens are shining on you. Your strong Signals NOW dominate the PAC...simply because Google decided to expand the geography of the map and the associated businesses within the PAC. That could change periodically over the course of a year.
Tough nut to crack...huh???
One way to crack it USED to be to get such relatively strong signals to the site basically through outstanding links....that you had an organic result Above the PAC regardless of all other considerations.
Then...bam....Google starts taking that business listing and merging it into the PAC....OY...what issues.
Its a never ending difficult situation.
One thing that seems to have occurred a good bit in the last year...is that small businesses that had strongly optimized and had strong local rankings for years...got smacked for OOP's (over optimization penalties). probably mostly as a result of relatively high ratio's of anchor text links going into the home pages. I've suffered from some of that. Some of that was mitigated by having relatively a lot of links going into interior pages.
Gabs strategy is a nice one. I used it for years for a variety of businesses. Write directions from North, South, East, or West and include major town names, or major identification points.
It used to work real well for me. Doesn't work as well any more. Frankly I need more pages specifically dedicated to those towns and cities with title tags and more unique content. When I've done that it works dramatically better. Here is something else...somewhat spammy. We'd publish a list of every town, zip code in our target region on the bottom of the web site. It was for a business type that was regional with thin competition. That worked in google till about 1 year ago. Now it doesn't work. We got rid of the town names and zips. (btw: it was still working in bing when we got rid of it)
Of course its always subject to the competition.
Ken: Categories come up when you are filling out the info for a local/places/google + page. Its part of the detail you fill out about the business. Categories are very important. If you are a dentist you want to add dentist of course. But if you have specialties you definitely want to add them. There will be specialties that come up all the time. If you are a vet, you may want to list some of the special services you provide as a vet.
One caveat on that, though, is that as of early April this year Google dramatically changed its acceptable category list. The only way you see it all is to get a local business, claim it and fill out the category list.
I haven't seen a new list of all the categories. I believe Mike Blumenthal had an old list. Not sure if he has updated it though or gotten access to the new Google list as of early April, this past year.
Ken: I've had listings with pristine NAP and smb's without pristine NAP. One of the issues is that I've some old businesses wherein there is a lot of old data on the web...some of which no matter what I did to clean up the NAP I couldn't get the third party website owners to make a change.
It did create problems at times. One thing about Google is if you can identify the problem NAP info...or if you have a problem and the engineers look at it they might identify the problem and essentially "weaken the signal" or "disconnect" the signal from the bad NAP info. I've done that in the past...and they have tools to do that. Its best if you figure out what web NAP info is screwing up the info and direct report it to them.
Ken: While you found an example with an smb with inconsistent NAP info that is showing strong I'd always suggest trying to clean it up. There have been way too many problems over the years for too many businesses which were caused by inconsistent NAP.
Now having said that...Google is getting better at merging or supposedly merging inconsistent NAP info. We'll see going forward.
Speaking of inconsistent NAP info here is a real mind bender. Some of the "strong signals" that go into the "cluster" that supposedly gives your local presence strength come from google Map Maker. Check out google Map Maker.
Map Maker is basically manned by a large number of Map Maker volunteers, including trusted senior map makers.
In any case the fields for filling out address info in Map Maker were and are different from what was google places now google + Local. So sometimes Map Maker info...strictly based on differences in the fields for address info totally messed up local visibility. I know it was terrible in 2012. It might be better now...even as the fields for address information are still a little different.
So what works today??? Well Gabs' technique is working for him now. Its not working for me now. Maybe I should completely change those pages on those sites and do it with a new different twist. LOL. (Actually I'm thinking of a way to refresh those pages with better content and structure...so maybe there is a better way. )
Of all the things that work well....I believe strongly in what I know EGOL believes in and practices...great content that naturally lands links. But for a small business its not easy. It takes time to develop a voice that gets "heard".
I am actually parsing and rigorously studying a lot of pages now on a number of sites. When I get some good answers I'll get back to you.
Finally, this one comes to mind, subject to Ken's original comments in the opening thread...these are a lot of money terms. And in that context it turns up some awful brutal and ugly competition.
A couple of years ago I got into the google spam team when I reported some spam technique that was impacting google local results. As a result every so often folks refer some vicious spam stuff to me and I send it in.
On one situation for a definite $$$ term, I saw some SOB going big time on spam. he had webmasters of very credible looking sites inserting invisible links into highly credible pages on highly credible looking sites. That one blew me away. OTOH...there was serious $$$ being made every month on this smb/website---all local.
In other cases I've seen computer repair guys in one city complaining about an SOB planting brutal fake devastating reviews about all his competitors...car and auto operators set up incredible faked reviews favorable to their own operations and devastating to the competition....also claiming faked locations etc etc etc.
They are $$ terms and they are also subject to some brutal dirty competition. I've experienced some of that...and frankly got back at the SOB's who started the dirty little war. Its not a pretty environment.