What is Local SEO, and why is it important?
SEO, or search engine optimization, has been recognized as an important way to drive traffic to web pages for over two decades. In fact, the first websites that implemented SEO predate Google’s founding in 1998. But it is important to recognize that SEO is a moving target. As search engines change their algorithms, SEO must also change in order to stay relevant.
Over the past few years there has been a shift in the type of search results Google and Bing are showing, with more and more search queries including local results. From pizza delivery to phone repair, search engine results pages (SERPs) are providing localized answers, directing local customers to businesses in their geographic area.
While some changes in search engine algorithms come from the top down, the increase in local search results is just as much a reaction to user demand. As cell phones with internal GPS became ubiquitous, users were able to make queries for local services and embraced this new ability with vigor. Within a few short years local searches exploded as people used search engines to find everything from plumbers to sushi.
Taking advantage of local results is hugely important as 76% of searchers visited a related local business within 24 hours of their search and 28% of those visits resulted in a sale. If your business information isn’t available on Google or you aren’t appearing high in the local search rankings, then your business is missing out on potential customers.
However, just like in the traditional world of SEO, just being on Google isn’t nearly the same as being on top of Google. The first result receives nearly 30%of a search’s traffic while the 9th result gets less than 3%. This means that by working to put your listing at the top of the page you could see conversions increase by a factor of 10 versus being at the bottom of the first page!
If your page isn’t in the top few results, it can be functionally the same as not appearing in the search results at all. Don’t let your website go to waste by not maximizing its SEO potential.
Perhaps in a perfect world Google would just somehow know who deserved to be on top, but the world we live in is the one we’ve got and that just isn’t how it works. In order to rank well you need to optimize your site so that Google’s algorithms will prioritize your business.
Ok, so it should be clear that local results are essential for any business with a brick and mortar location – but what does it actually take to get to the top of the local results page?
Making your way onto the top of the local results page requires a local SEO strategy which will mean implementing optimized keywords, backlinks, citations, local listings, online reviews, meta descriptions, and title tags. In order to rank as high as possible you want your meta descriptions and title tags to be formatted in such a way that Google and Bing’s algorithms recognize them as signifying meaningful local content.
What are the major ranking factors in local SEO?
SEO is constantly evolving as search engine companies devise new ways to provide the most relevant content for their users. Beyond effective on-site SEO and a clearly defined geographic area or service area, the most important ranking factors a business needs to have for local SEO are local links, citations, local landing pages, reviews, and on-page SEO.
Link building is a fundamental part of SEO, and Local SEO is no exception to this rule. Traditional link building simply involves getting other sites to link to your site. These links are called backlinks or inbound links.
In Google’s eyes, a site that has many other sites linking to it is reputable, and it preferentially ranks reputable sites. Further, the more reputable the site that links, the more reputation the linked site receives. A link from Forbes will be far more valuable than a link from someone’s personal WordPress blog.
Local SEO operates on similar principles, except that the reputation of the linking site is just one factor being considered. Instead of prioritizing reputation, Google looks for linking sites that speak to the local audience in question: local newspapers, chambers of commerce, libraries, events, charities, or even a blogger whose audience is primarily within the geographic area. The rationality behind this is clear: the more local sites that link to a local business, the more relevant this business is likely to be in search results!
Citations operate similarly to local links – except with more narrowly defined parameters. A local link can be as simple as “the best burger in Columbia SC” while a citation needs to include a business’s information. Specifically, citations should include: the business name, address, and phone number (NAP). Citations don’t have to have a link to your website, but whenever possible you should try to have a link included!
All of the sources of local links are candidates for citations, as well as business aggregator sites like Yelp and FourSquare.
Oftentimes business owners won’t have full control over citations, such as those that appear in a newspaper article, but whenever possible citations should be accurate and consistent.
All websites looking to boost conversions should have landing pages – and businesses looking to boost local traffic should have local landing pages. Businesses with multiple locations or that service different areas will benefit from having a landing page for each location.
The landing pages should include localized search terms, paying special attention to colloquialisms; for example Atlanta could be ATL or the A, but never Hot-Lanta! Just like in citations, landing pages should include NAP info to make it easy for your customers to find and contact you.
Depending on the industry, your landing page may also need to include hours of operation, contact forms, or region-specific pricing.
Search engines use online reviews the exact same way customers do: more reviews, and more positive reviews means a higher ranking in the results. From the search engine’s perspective this makes perfect sense, after all they are trying to deliver relevant results to their customers: the searchers. Companies like Google will take into consideration reviews from other aggregators like Yelp in addition to reviews on your company’s Google My Business listing.
Another factor that Google takes into consideration is companies responding to reviews. Try to follow up on reviews, either to thank customers for their kind words or to try and address unhappy customer reviews.
If you’re looking to boost your local SEO there is a good chance you’ve already put some time into your webpage’s SEO efforts. That’s a good thing from Google’s perspective, and businesses with good on-page SEO will see a boost to their local search results listing.
If you are completely new to SEO, bear in mind that in order to have your business displayed as high as possible on SERPs you’ll need to do what you can to raise your website’s SEO ranking as well.
What is Google My Business, and how does it tie in with Local SEO?
Google My Business is a tool that allows businesses to manage and optimize their business listings on Google search results. You can have your business visible on Google without a GMB listing, however you won’t have control over the listing and will be missing out on significant benefits.
It is perhaps best to think of Google My Business as analogous to a business directory, except one that has been integrated into Google Maps and Google Search. A sizable portion of mobile searches for businesses takes place directly within the Google Maps app, and having a completed Google My Business profile will allow users to find and engage with your business directly from the app.
Outside of the Google Maps app, users will be able to see businesses with GMB listings every time Google adds a local pack result to a search results page. Google adds a local pack consisting of a map and a few business results to all searches that Google decides have local intent. You can’t pay to have your business listed in a local pack and you’ll need to have a physical location near the search area, but if you are able to make it into these short-lists you’ll find a significant boost in traffic coming your way.
Once you have a Google My Business listing you’ll be able to ensure that your basic business information like business name, address, and your phone number are up to date. Beyond NAP, you’ll also be able to list your services, show your customers pictures of your business, as well as receive and respond to user reviews.
Google My Business is an important part of local SEO because your ranking within Google searches is not static. Google states that three criteria are used when presenting searches: relevance, distance, and prominence. Distance refers to the distance in relation to the searcher, and thus is outside of your control, but relevance and prominence can both be improved.
Relevance is determined by the information within your GMB listing – emphasizing the importance of having a complete GMB profile. Prominence is even more optimizable – and is determined by information that Google is able to find about your business. This includes everything from site links (backlinks), article mentions (citations), and inclusion in directories. Google even takes your review count and score into consideration, and also weighs how highly your website places in search results. This means that having an SEO optimized site will benefit your local SEO as well!
What are citations, and how do they help Local SEO?
Developing citations is an essential part of a good local SEO strategy, and unlike backlinks it is relatively easy to acquire more citations. At their simplest, local citations are simply references to your business that include your business name and phone number. Citations do not necessarily need to include a link to your website, although more complete citations are more desirable.
Search engines use citations similarly to backlinks; backlinks establish a website’s reputability and citations establish a businesses local relevance.
The easiest way to increase the number of citations your business has is by making sure you create a business profile on directory sites like Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, or FourSquare. These websites receive lots of traffic and so Google tends to value their citations very highly. As an added benefit you’ll ensure that your core business information is correct – customers who try to call you at an old number won’t keep searching for an up to date number, they’ll simply call another business!
Don’t forget about social media. Even if you aren’t actively posting on Facebook or Instagram, having a profile with updated contact information, hours, and a link to your website is an easy way to get another citation and direct customers to your main site.
Other citation options include getting your business information added to your local chamber of commerce’s page or an industry-specific professional organization list. Sometimes the easiest way to find these citation options is simply to look at where your competitors have listings and try to get your business listed there as well.
What are some Local SEO tips that can help my small business?
Your small business’s local SEO can be improved through several different channels – although it is best to use these options in combination.
First and foremost, your webpage should follow SEO best practices. Start by running an SEO audit to help you find where you have opportunities to improve your organic search results.
Afterwards, you’ll want to do keyword research to determine which search terms perform best for your industry. You’ll want to be sure to focus on search engine results pages, as these are what your customers are actually seeing when they perform a search. Pay special attention to the sites that are ranking highly and try to see what they are doing differently.
In addition to the KWs normally associated with your industry, you’ll want to add local intent with local keywords. These may vary by region, and you should check to see which colloquial region names are worth trying to rank for.
Getting your business a Google My Business listing is an essential and painless process. Pair this with citation and link building and you’ll quickly see more traffic and more conversions. Encourage customers to write reviews for you whenever possible and respond to reviews as they come in.
Admittedly, implementing all of these improvements is no small task. Consider working with a digital marketing company that offers local business search engine optimization. They will be able to handle everything from on-page SEO to link building.
Add Local SEO to Your Digital Marketing Strategy
If your business has a physical location or operates within a service area then it is a prime candidate to benefit from local SEO. The SEO tips laid out above will help you boost your business’s SERP position – putting your business where customers will see it.
If the idea of keyword research, citations, and backlinks feels outside of your wheelhouse, Cut Throat Marketing offers professional search engine optimization services. Get more bang for your buck by letting the pros take care of your local SEO.