Introduction to Local SEO
Brandon Schmidt | Mar 7, 2018
Local SEO can help your business target your potential local customers online. See what local business SEO is and the steps involved.
Watch this video for a brief overview of Local SEO and how your business can leverage it.
What is Local SEO?
Google’s goal is to help searchers find the most accurate, relevant results. For hundreds of millions of searches every day, Google is serving localized results. You have probably already experienced this: when you search for “pizza”, you don’t expect to see a Wikipedia article about pizza, you want to find the closest pizza places to you.
Local search engine optimization (SEO) is a type of SEO that caters to the needs of businesses with specific locations or service areas. Simply put, local SEO helps you get found by local searchers.
By leveraging Google Maps, local search results, Google My Business, and other local SEO tactics and tools, you can increase the traffic to your website, foot traffic in your store, or phone calls to schedule an appointment.
Local SEO: Defining the Terms
Secret formula used by Google and other search engines to determine relevance and rankings for a specific search. Google’s algorithm uses proximity data for local search results.
Search terms that have to do with your business name.
Brick and Mortar Business
A type of business that offers services at a physical location where customers come to. This would include a retail store, restaurant, or medical facility. Proximity to the searcher is important for brick and mortar businesses.
An online list of businesses that will include your NAPW. It is important to claim, optimize, and maintain these directories to ensure the internet has the most accurate information about your business.
A helpful tool from Google in visually seeing local businesses. A Google map often shows up in the local SERP.
Google My Business
A product offered by Google to local companies. Claiming and optimizing your GMB profile is an important first step in local SEO.
Words and phrases your target audience uses in search. For local SEO, there is a greater importance on location-specific keywords and keywords with local intent.
A short snippet of text that describes a page in the search results. While it is not a ranking factor, having a compelling meta description can improve the number of clicks on your link.
Standard information about your business that’s found across directories. Name, address, phone number, and website.
Search Rankings Factor
A variety of signals and information Google’s algorithm uses to determine what links go in a SERP.
Search Engine Results Page. For searches with local intent, the SERP will include a map of businesses in close proximity to your location.
Service Area Business
Unlike a brick and mortar business, a service area business is one where the business goes to the customer. This model includes plumbers, construction trades, and lawn care companies. Service areas can be defined by neighborhood, city, ZIP code, counties, or entire states, as well as a certain radius from your location. Service area businesses must have a physical address to qualify for Google My Business, but it does not have to be public.
Who would benefit from Local SEO?
If you are a company with a physical location or defined local service area, you should invest in local SEO. Here are the three types of business categories that would benefit the most from local SEO:
- Service area-based company (lawn care, construction trades)
- Brick and mortar companies (stores, restaurants, office)
- Medical or professional offices
Other types of companies or organizations can benefit from certain aspects of local SEO:
- Manufacturers with local dealers or vendors; some local SEO tactics can be used to target key areas.
- Service companies targeting a region or state.
- Churches, including denominations and multi-site churches.
- Schools, including private schools, colleges, and universities.
- Non-profit organizations with regional or local chapters.
Google’s Local Results
Google’s algorithm is able to determine whether a search query has local intent or not. It used to be that your search query had to include local information (“pizza Lancaster, PA” or “pizza 17602”) to see local results. With the advent of mobile devices, search trends turned to “near me” (“pizza near me”). Now, Google is smart enough to present local results for the searches with local intent (“pizza”).
Google can do this because it uses your location as a search ranking factor. Google will show you the best results in your proximity; your search results – and your company’s ranking – will change based on where you are searching from.
What is involved in Local Search Optimization?
Google My Business
Google My Business is the first step in optimizing your local search presence. Google uses this data to populate your brand’s Knowledge Graph and Maps listing. Plus, recent updates to GMB allows you even more options to reach your audience right in the search results. Optimizing Google My Business involves claiming the business, verifying your information, adding photos and videos, and uploading Google Posts.
The internet is made up of hundreds of online directories that list your company’s NAPW. Some of these are popular and see a lot of traffic, while others are mostly visited by Google’s crawlers. Each mention of your company on these sites is called a citation, and it is crucial for all of them to have accurate information.
It is very easy for these directories to have incorrect or outdated information about your business: wrong name, address, phone number, or industry. And if you have moved, changed phone numbers, or rebranded your company in the last decade, the inconsistencies can pile up. You might not even realize what incorrect information is out there, but it can lead to confusion, poor rankings, and lost sales.
Citation management combs through each and every listing across the internet, making sure they are accurate. A good SEO company will also claim directories and add your business to niche and industry-specific directories, sending more signals to Google and expanding the reach of your company online.
Reading online reviews is quickly becoming a main way your future customers are evaluating your business. According to one study, 97% of consumers read online reviews to judge a local business. It’s estimated that 27% of searches for local businesses are about reviews.
Companies like Google, Facebook, Yelp, and others make it easy for your customers to leave reviews about you. Effectively asking for reviews, handling neutral or negative reviews, and staying on top of your online reputation are important components in local SEO. Cultivating your online reviews helps you rank higher and set yourself apart from your competition, and can make a real difference in attracting new customers.
The internet is called the World Wide Web; links between websites is what makes the web work. Building high quality inbound links to your website is a great way to generate new traffic and improve rankings of your site. Plus, the number and quality of links is a search rankings factor, with local links being especially helpful in local search results. Local links can come from a variety of sources and reflect natural relationships & partnerships you already have: Chamber of Commerce, local trade organization, charities you sponsor, and referring or partnering companies. Links can also come from local newspapers and regional online directories.
There is important work to be done on your website to optimize it for local search. The basics of SEO still apply to a local business website: it needs to be fast, responsive, properly structured, and have optimized title tags, meta descriptions, and images. In addition, you’ll need to include the NAP, a map of your location or service area, and specific content about your local area.
We’ve seen the best results from creating location pages for local businesses. Each location page will have that location’s NAP, hours, services or products, embedded map, link for driving directions, location-specific reviews, content about the city or area, and a unique contact form.
Keyword Research & Targeting
Search terms can vary per community or region, as can the search behavior of your potential customers. There are plenty of helpful tools to identify what keywords and phrases people are using to find your products and services. Sorting out keywords by local intent will provide a list of local terms to target for organic and paid search efforts.
Once a list of local search terms has been created, the next step is to optimize pages on your site for these terms. Developing a robust content strategy will provide helpful, relevant content to your site that is useful for both your potential customers as well as Google.
Structured data is the behind-the-scenes code that sends even more information to Google about your company. Local SEO can take advantage of structured data (or Schema) to send search engines info about your location, service area, and products or services.
What if I have multiple locations?
Local SEO can work for single or multi-location businesses, including companies with multiple storefronts, offices, regional locations. Even national brands like Home Depot and Walmart can benefit from local SEO, to make sure each location ranks in their community.
Local SEO for multiple locations can get complicated. You’ll want to set up unique GMB locations, define your locations clearly on your site, and perform citation building and reputation management for all the locations. Plus, you’ll need to keep track of unique addresses, phone numbers, and login information for each location. Because of how complex this can get, most multi-location brands hire a local SEO expert for their SEO work.