Turns out, it's only mildly earthshaking - for some students, location is more important. For other students, the program "fit" is more important.
The article goes on to evaluate whether there are specific factors that residency directors can influence in terms of attracting the right candidates and, obviously, none of the location-based factors are easily influenced by program leadership. The top location-based factor was simply the attractiveness of a particular geographic location, with proximity to family being the next most important factor.
Drilling into the features of individual programs that residency directors can modify, it seems as though candidates base their decision mostly on "gut feeling" - coming down to how well they clicked during the interview session or when meeting with current residents. After "fit" characteristics, then factors such as curriculum, length of program, and reputation came into play. Relatively unimportant features were compensation, program size, and websites/social media run by a program.
Unfortunately, the article does not delve into what specific program characteristics residents were looking for - presumably 3-year programs were preferred to 4-year, and one of the popular curriculum questions during visits is regarding the presence of "floor" months. However, it is an interesting overview of how candidates self-report the importance of their ranking influences.
"Factors That Influence Medical Student Selection of an Emergency Medicine Residency Program: Implications for Training Programs"