What is Local SEO, and How Does It Work?
Local SEO is a strategy that helps your business be more visible in local searches.
Any business that serves a geographic area can benefit from local search.
Local SEO can help you grow your business if a map with 3 listings appears under your business’s name when you search for it on search engines. This is often referred to as the ‘3 pack’ or ‘map pack’.
To understand local search, you need to know how a search engine, like Google, works first.
Nearly every business with an SEO strategy should consider local search. Whether this is your first step into digital marketing or not, local search brings a more level playing field at relatively little expense.
How does Google work?
To return a list of sites that match your search, Google checks the pattern of various website signals and ranking factors, such as how relevant your site is. There isn’t a live search of the entire internet every time someone searches. It’s searching a stored copy of all of the sites that have been found to form the Google Index.
To form the index, Google uses small programs called “spiders” to crawl the web. The way each spider works is the same: it starts on a single page, follows the links on that page, and then looks at the next pages.
The index is built when web content is crawled by spiders (search engine crawlers) and stored in the server of the search engine. The spiders work at an incredibly fast pace, crawling trillions of pages.
New sites and connections are discovered quickly and this keeps the index updated.
How Google ranks search results
Google uses various processes to rank hundreds or thousands of sites in the blink of an eye. These processes are referred to as algorithms. When you Google something, an algorithm checks the index and returns a list of websites that match your search in organic results. The results are ranked based on relevancy, prominence and popularity.
The on-site and off-site factors are looked at in order to determine which websites have something related to your search. The sites listed at the top of the search results are the best ones to answer your search query – determined by Google’s algorithm.
How have search engines evolve?
Due to the relatively low number of websites, it was easy to navigate the internet in the early days. As the internet grew and there was a bigger shift towards query based searches, search engines were created. Search engines were created to help users find the sites they were looking for more easily once the internet expanded.
If you typed a phrase into a search engine, that phrase was matched to websites that included the words you were looking for – working to varied degrees of success – far from the search engines we know and use today.
Google became the first search engine to start using links between sites as an indication of which websites were trusted and had authority to create a page rank score. This improved the SERP dramatically and with it’s simplistic design, Google quickly dominated the other engines.
Nowadays, hundreds of factors are taken into account to determine if your website is relevant to display as a search result. Each factor has a different value and weight, which the search engine combines to create a ‘digital footprint’ of your website and return results. This helps a search engine determine whether or not your content is worthy of ranking on the first page.
As people we have evolved, then need for information almost instantly at our fingertips has also become a necessity. It is important to note that 61% of all Google searches are done on a mobile, with people using mobile search to look at reviews, find directions to a business or search for contact information.
Ensuring your website is responsive across devices helps user experience – a factor that has become more prominent in Google’s more recent algorithm updates.
Local SEO is different from organic SEO
What’s the difference between SEO and local SEO?
Both traditional and local SEO focus on improving your rankings in online search results so more people can find, contact, and purchase from your business.
Here’s the difference. While traditional SEO focuses on improving your site’s visibility on a national or global scale, local SEO allows you to capture local search territory to connect with searchers in your area.
SEO and local SEO use many of the same strategies. However, local SEO solutions employ specialised measures to help you connect with searchers in your area.
What matters for local SEO
Local SEO focuses on improving visibility everywhere online, but we’ll mostly be focusing on Google and Google Maps throughout the guide.
The local map pack results are displayed within the standard organic search listings, but they are not powered by the main search results. The main search results for local rankings and the local map pack results are powered by separate algorithms. You can appear within the main organic search results and the local map pack at the same time, if you are a local business.
One of the main challenges if you’re new to marketing your business online is figuring out what to focus on.
Moz (a digital marketing analytics company) posts its annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey results to provide the insights into which factors influence local search visibility.
It’s important to build local landing pages for each of your locations, especially if you’re a multiple location business, because local content and link popularity are factors. You should include not only your business name, but also its details like address and phone, as well as optimising their titles and meta descriptions. This should be taken into account in your content marketing and link building strategy.
Also, location-based factors include having a business listing in Google My Business, local citations from data aggregators, and review signals. They are all factors taken into account by Google in your local oriented rankings and as a consequence you should also take them into account in your local search efforts.
Ulitmately, the old-age “content is king” is something that is prominent across traditional and local SEO. When it comes to local SEO, website content is a contributing factor, but there are also factors that are location based.
Types of businesses that should focus on local SEO?
Electricians, Gas Engineers & Plumbers
When a person has an emergency as their boiler has broken, pipes are leaking or electric problems, they’re not likely to go to their DIY store. The problem is an emergency and they want to fix it as soon as possible.
Instead, they will pop over to a search engine and search for gas engineer near me or plumber near me or by location.
This makes it a priority for businesses in these industries to rank as high as they can in local searches.
The results displayed will include the search results as well as the ‘Google Map Pack’. This provides the user a quick and easy way to contact the business closest to them. It also allows the searcher to read business information and reviews – a must for this type of industry.
Accountants & Law Firms
Before instructing an accountancy firm, customers often want to get advice or book a consultation.
Potential customers can contact you quickly if you’re listed in the top 3 local results as well as see things like services offered and reviews. Google also add a quick contact buttom – allowing the searcher to quickly call at the click of the button.
Restaurants and Local Takeaways
The businesses that benefit the most will be these types. A restaurant or takeaway is usually restricted to an immediate 5 mile radius, at most. Although people will come from further a field, it is clear that there should be a focus on local SEO.
Searchers want good quality food places where they can enjoy a good meal or even order food from a Takeaway. Being able to see the contact details, latest reviews and recommendatons of the business will allow them to quickly decide if they want to eat there.
There are numerous other brick and mortar businesses that can benefit from local SEO like pest control services, HVAC specialists, taxi services, childminders & creches, mobile mechanics to name a few.
Business that won’t benefit from local SEO
Businesses that aren’t normally suited to local search are those that provide online services. Also, those that don’t want to share their contact details online are businesses that aren’t normally suited to local search.
What are the main ranking factors of Local SEO and the ‘3-pack map’
1. Google My Business
The biggest influencing factor is having a properly optimised Google My Business page. It’s not good enough to just have a Google My Business listing. That simply won’t cut it.
It’s essential to have a Google My Business listing that is optimised properly. Fill in as much information as you can, enter the correct business category, business hours, collect Google reviews and post regularly.
If you don’t have a Google My Business page yet, you can sign up for one here.
Worth Noting: You may have not created a Google My Business profile before but there may be a profile of you business that has been auto created by Google from information about your business on the internet. This can be claimed as your own and you can then add or change any missing information.
At the time of writing this post, around 1 in 3 auto-generated Google My Business profiles are still unclaimed.
2. Proximity to searcher
Another really important local-pack ranking factor is the proximity of a business.
The closer a business is to the searcher, the more likely it will be displayed in the local pack. It will be competing for the top three positions with similar businesses in the same locality.
It goes without saying, having a physical location in the city or town of the search query is an absolute must.
3. Google Reviews
Online reviews form part of your Google My Business profile – but they are also a very important part of the 3 pack. Not only do they instantly help users decide whether your business provide a good service or not, they also help Google determine how to rank you. Google’s 3-pack algorithm will look at factors such as average rating, consistency, review count and owner responses.
Received a positive review? You can proudly display your positive customer reviews on your website. This will help convert potential visitors into happy customers. See our custom review display platform – available on any website.
Received a negative review? Don’t worry – not everyone is perfect. A bad review isn’t the end of the world – reply to the review and just focus on diluting it with more postive reviews.
4. Content and link profile
When it comes to content, local SEO isn’t that different from organic SEO. It’s still important to:
– have a good internal and external link profile (organic and relative links with good authority, if possible)
– target the right keywords
– make sure your content is relevant
– check your bounce rate of your webpage
– check your click through rate
When it comes to building links, this can be difficult to get it right. You can try signing up to local business groups or local organisations like local chamber of commerce to receive an inbound link.
What is a citation? They are profiles of your business that have been created across online directories.
Making sure your Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) is consistent across them is important to help Google verify your data. It is also suggested to ensure your website address and contact email address is consistent across them.
Citations across online directories can become messy if you have ever moved address, changed business name, changed contact email address etc. and should be reviewed annually.
No longer have access to business directories you created years ago? It is important to try to get access and change the information as opposed to creating a new account as you do not want conflicting duplicates bringing confusion to Google which could effect your SEO rankings.
6. Google My Business profile engagement
It is probably clear to you by now that the local search algorithm is very much built with Google My Business in mind.
Google does allow you the creation and use of the GMB platform for free – and once your business profile is created, you can leave it as you created it forever. But, this doesn’t help Google and it also won’t help your business either – in local search rankings or in keeping your customers up to date with your information.
Google My Business allows you to:
– categorise your services (you can enter a primary category, secondary categories and additional categories)
– create posts that contain links
– offer promotions
– add images of your business
– collect and respond to reviews
– create a free webpage
– display contact details and opening times
Google gives a lot away for nothing (GMB, Google Analytics, digital garage, web developer tools etc.) and they are banking on businesses and webmasters updating their content regularly. Their whole search index is built to provide users the latest information in the quickest and most efficient way possible so if you aren’t creating new content regularly and actively trying to engage through Google’s platform, you are in danger of falling behind your competitors that are.
7. Create Profiles across other search platforms
It is also important to create profiles on Bing Places and Apple Maps. Make sure that Name Address and Phone number (NAP) is consistently is displayed and use as many of the features as you have time for.
These act as citations (see above) and help verify to Google that your business is genuine.
8. Keyword Research
Whether it is local or traditional SEO, keyword research is one of the most important foundational things you can do for SEO. It is great to see your business rank on the first page when you enter a keyword into a search engine – but if it turns out that nobody is looking for that keyword then your efforts are in vain.
Spending time researching keywords helps to focus your efforts on terms that are rankable, return a decent search volume and build blog content that will improve your internal link structure. This will help your pages rank for relevant searches and increase your online visibility.
As search results become more and more diluted, it is important to find keyword variations and long-tail keywords that are easier to rank for and increase your search engine visibility.
There are plenty of paid SEO tools that can help reduce the amount of time to help find your relevant keywords for your SEO campaign. If you have limited or no budget, you can use Google Ads to target keywords that are relevant to your business – but it is a bit more time-consuming.
We also offer to a keyword research service.
Start harnessing local SEO
You should now have a better understanding of local SEO and how Google ranks local SERPs. You can begin to focus on signals that will improve your site’s digital footprint in the local search algorithm. This way your business can show up higher on the results page, which can lead to more potential customers finding your business.
Keep in mind that local search continues to grow and change, but there are many factors that you can act on now to influence your visibility in these searches. You’ll be able to serve more people in your region and grow faster once you start to improve each signal area.
It is important to note that the more time you can put into your SEO efforts the better chance you have of performing higher in the search engine rankings. As a business owner, you should look value the digital profile of your business as much as your bricks and mortar – even if your business isn’t selling products or services directly online.
Now that you understand the basics, you can start by putting some of our local SEO techniques into practice and become a Google guru!