- How have the search engines evolved into what they are today?
- How does Google work?
- What is local SEO?
- Why local SEO is important
- How does local SEO work?
- What are local SERPs?
- How does the Google local algorithm work?
- Who Doesn't Benefit from Local SEO?
- Who Benefits the Most From Local SEO & Why?
- Urban versus Rural Local SEO
- What Are the Key Elements of Local SEO?
- 11 Tips to improve your Local SEO
- Additional Resources
How have the search engines evolved into what they are today?
Imagine a time where there were only a few thousand websites. Accessing the internet was considerably simpler in the early days of the web. However, as the internet grew, search engines were developed to help people discover the sites they were looking for and, ultimately, the content they were looking for.
When you put a term into a search engine, it was matched to web pages that included the keywords in your search term. Google used a similar method, but it quickly outpaced the competition by being the first search engine to analyze links between websites to identify which websites were credible and authoritative.
Google now considers hundreds of indicators, both on and off your website, to evaluate if it is relevant enough to appear as a search result. Your "digital footprint" is made up of factors, each with a distinctive weight or value that the search engine uses to provide results. As a result, your digital footprint influences whether or not you appear as a top result in a Google search.
How does Google work?
When you go to Google and search for a word, phrase, sentence, or even a question, it searches its database of websites and looks for patterns and website signals. These are also known as ranking factors. Depending on how relevant your site is to the user's query determines how likely your is to show up along with all the other pages and sites it deems relevant.
Most people don't realize that Google doesn't conduct a live search of the whole internet every time they enter something into the search field. Instead, it is essentially browsing a cached version of all the sites it has in its database or within the "Google Index."
Google and all other search engines use pieces of software called "spiders" to "crawl" the internet and create the index. Each time your site is crawled, the spider begins on a single page, then follows the links on that page, then looks at information on subsequent pages, and so on.
As websites are crawled, the pages are saved on Google's servers, and the index is constructed. The spiders operate on a massive scale, traversing billions of pages at breakneck speed. This keeps the index as up-to-date as possible, and new sites are discovered quickly.
What is local SEO?
Several years ago, Google discovered that users were looking for specific sorts of businesses in proximity to them. In other words, people were searching for phrases such as "oil change near me" or "coffee shop [location]." Because the folks at Google are smart, the access to billions of searches, and the ability to search the web from our phone, they realized they needed to provide better results focused on these types of searches. Enter local search results and the birth of local SEO. Thankfully, Google's algorithm now contains a proximity factor, which is a fancy way of saying that Google considers your location when you search for a local phrase. Google and the other search engines will use a user's location based on geolocation (for mobile) and IP address (for desktop) to determine what results to show the user. So when someone performs a local search for a mechanic, plumber, or handyman, the search engine will display local businesses relevant to their location even when the searcher does not mention a city name or the phrase "near me" in their query. This is because Google assumes that you are looking for a local business.
Why local SEO is important
Depending on your business determines what and how you need to handle your local SEO. If you own or run a brick-and-mortar business such as an automotive repair or auto body shop, then optimizing your site for these types of searches are key as you want to be found when someone searches for your business. On the other hand, if you are a local service area business such as a plumber, residential or commercial cleaning business, etc., local SEO is critical for you.
Need a bit more proof that it is crucial, take a look at these stats:
- 46% of all searches in Google have “local intent” (Search Engine Roundtable).
- 29% of all Google SERPs contain a local pack in the results (RankRanger).
- 76% of consumers that search for something local on their phone visit a store that day (Think With Google).
- Consumers search for a variety of local information on their mobile devices. 54% will look for business hours, 53% for directions, and 50% for the address. (Think With Google)
- 71% of people who have been surveyed have said they search for the location of a business in order to confirm its existence before going there for a first-time visit. (Search Engine Roundtable)
How does local SEO work?
When you optimize for local searches, you focus on informing Google and the other search engines via the various signals, where your business is located and what you want to be found by your clientele in your area or the area you serve. These days, the general rule is that if you have a proper address in an area/city, it is by far the easiest to optimize.
One of the most essential aspects of your website is the proper local business Schema markup, which will help you communicate to Google that you are a local business and what area(s) you service. Depending on what your site is built on will determine how far down the rabbit hole you need to go in addressing Schema markup. Typically there are plugins that will help you handle this. Aside from technically optimizing your website for local searches, writing for your local audience and mentioning local landmarks and information is also a good idea.
However, ranking for local searches necessitates more than just optimizing your website. One of the first things you should do is to claim and optimize your Google My Business listing and populate it with as much detail as you can. Also, think about making an effort to get industry-relevant and local relationships might be beneficial. Like a good local social media strategy, citations and even print brochures and word-of-mouth can contribute to local SEO.
What are local SERPs?
Now that you better understand what local search is, why it is important and how it works, let's focus on the search engine results pages or SERPs.
Local SERPs are the results that show up when a user performs a search with local intent. Depending on what the user is searching for, they will see differing results. However, they will typically look something like this:
For the majority of results, they will contain the "local map pack," localized organic results, and even rich results. Rich results consist of images, image carousels, videos, answer cards, app packs, 'People Also Ask,' or top stories.
Local map pack vs. organic results
If you own a local small business, then getting in the 'local pack' is critical. You may also hear it called the '3-pack,' or even the 'snack pack.'
Regardless of what you refer to it, this group of three company listings will appear below the map on a Google SERP when there is a local intent behind the search.
Here you can see the local pack that results from the search “plumber statesville.”
Depending on what device you search from, be it a computer or a mobile device, you will see slightly different results as well.
Regardless of what device, there are some common elements that appear, such as:
- business category
- opening times
- contact information
- review ratings
Now you may be wondering where all this information comes from? Google is smart, so most of it can come from various sources around the web. However, most is pulled from your Google My Business listing. If you want to learn more about the Google My Business listing, I have two blog posts about it, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: A Deep Dive Into Google My Business and Building The Arch: Google My Business Is The Keystone. The 20k goes over step by step what you need to do to claim and optimize your listing, and I highly recommend it if you haven't claimed it already. If you need help, then reach out to us. We will help you claim and optimize it for FREE! (make this a pop up link with GMB module)
How does the Google local algorithm work?
We have already learned how the Google algorithm works. When it comes to local searches, it takes it a step further and considers even more factors.
For any local search it relies on three key things:
- Relevance – is the business or businesses being shown appropriate to the search query at hand
- Prominence – is the business or businesses being shown trustworthy
- Proximity – is the business or businesses nearby to the searcher
Relevance is a key factor in Google's main algorithm as well as in the local. This is because Google wants to show the most relevant results for what the searcher is looking for, searcher intent. So to ensure that Google and the other search engines consider your business relevant enough to show the user, you have to make sure you're targeting keywords and phrases that your potential clients are searching for.
For example, if you own a cleaning business in Asheville, you want to make sure that Google relates your business to keywords such as “residential cleaning Asheville,” “best residential cleaners;” or maybe even “green home cleaning Asheville,” if that's your USP.
Here are a few tactics you can use to better educate Google on what your business is and about:
- Choose the correct category for your business on directories
- Include your business's keywords in descriptions and in content
- Create relevant content such as blogs, landing pages, and geo-landing pages that help illustrate your business's expertise
- Use title tags and meta descriptions appropriately
- Schema markup
- Get links from local and industry-relevant websites
The word prominence is the noun version of the adjective prominent. Merriam-Webster.com defines prominent as "readily noticeable." Therefore think of prominence as how well does your business stand out from your competitors.
To rank on the search engines such as Google, you need to demonstrate trust and expertise. As I said in the opening of this post, it doesn't matter how long you have been in business. If the search engines don't think you are an expert by the online signals, then it doesn't matter. The greater amount of content that exists online about you for Google and other search engines to find, the better off you will be.
Brands with a higher internet visibility appear more legitimate and trustworthy to the local algorithms.
Let's take a look at some crucial methods for increasing and sustaining your small business's prominence:
- Build local links
- Create and share relevant content and articles
- Get listed in relevant and local-focused directories
- Build up more mentions of your business online
- Develop and encourage clients to leave reviews, thus building your review profile
- Be active on social media platforms
- Try to get mentions by local media, schools, or government sites
With your small business being relevant and prominent in the eyes of the search engines, we can move into proximity.
Google prefers to show you results as close to you as possible. For searchers in an urban or densely populated area, this is great; it becomes more difficult for those who live in more rural areas. More on that later.
As a result, proximity is often regarded as the most significant local ranking factor. It is also a ranking element that is specific to the local area. While prominence and relevance are important in conventional SEO, you don't need to be nearby to buy online.
A user may do a local search in three ways:
- 'near me.'
A non-geo-modified search doesn't include the location such as city or town name in the search. For example, “plumbers” or “best plumbers.’
A geo-modified search does include the location such as city or town name in the search. For example, “plumbers in statesville” is a geo-modified search.
“Near me” are searches where the user specifies it wants nearby results. For example, “plumbers near me” or “plumbers nearby.”
Who Doesn't Benefit from Local SEO?
While we all wish that every business could benefit from local SEO, the truth is that it doesn't work that way. As I alluded to previously, if you are an online business only, then chances to rank locally are much more challenging if non-existent.
Who Benefits the Most From Local SEO & Why?
Today, most Service Businesses have two storefronts to manage. Two, you might say? Yes, your physical storefront and your digital storefront. Local SEO helps make your digital storefront more visible to searchers and, in turn, will gain you more clients, in addition to other advantages such as:
- Driving foot traffic to a brick-and-mortar store
- A boost in traffic to websites
- Increasing the number of phone calls and/or leads
- Building trust, loyalty, and engagement with potential clients
If you own a service business, you can gain a lot from local SEO. Some of these types of businesses may include:
- Hair salons and barbershops
- Automotive repair shops
- Auto Body repair shops
- Medical (Doctors and Dentists)
- Law offices
In other words, if your product or service is done at your physical location but then leaves, you would benefit from local SEO.
Service Area Businesses
Service Area Businesses (SABs) have the most to gain from local SEO. These businesses may include:
- Homebuilders and remodeling companies
- Fence installation
- Residential and Commercial cleaning
- Pressure Washing
- Pest control
In other words, if your product or service is done at another location, such as your client's home or business, then you are most likely to benefit from local SEO.
Urban versus Rural Local SEO
In terms of minutes versus miles traveled can mean different things to people. For example, traveling a mile in Charlotte, NC, can take significantly longer than traveling a mile in a suburb or rural community. Given the enormous differences in urban traffic, congestion, and proximity of consumers to business, among other factors, travel time is a more universal statistic. It enables for fair comparison of urban, suburban, and rural environments.
This begs the question of what is the definition of a rural area. According to The United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB), an urban area has 50,000 or more inhabitants. On the other hand, Micropolitan statistical areas are somewhere in the range of 10,000 to 50,000 residents. Therefore, it might be easier to think about a rural area as anyone that is outside of the Metropolitan and Micropolitan statistical areas.
In a report by Access Development, they state that “93.2% of consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less to make their everyday purchases.” They go on to say that "92% of urban and city dwellers will typically travel 15 minutes or less to make their everyday purchases.” For those of us living in a rural area, 70.3% will travel 20 minutes or more to make their everyday purchases.
Think about this, if you live in an urban area, then the above statistics should come as no surprise. You care much more about the proximity factor than your rural counterparts.
For those of us who live in rural areas, we know that driving 20 minutes is nothing! I often joke that I will pass seven churches to go to the one I want to go to, and I will not hesitate to drive 45 minutes to eat at the restaurant my family loves. Therefore it is difficult for Google to accurately show those of us in rural areas the business closest to us simply because we don't fit the mold.
Therefore for those living in a rural area, we have to educate the search engines even more about where we are and what we do. I have found that rural areas need as much if not more content focused on the areas they serve instead of their counterparts.
What Are the Key Elements of Local SEO?
In addition to the relevance, prominence, and proximity, there are several other things that can be done to help your local SEO, many of which are derived from "traditional" or organic SEO techniques. These include:
- Keyword research
- Localizing Content
- Link Building
- Web localization
- Optimizing for mobile
- Technical SEO and Improving Site Speed
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
When it comes to keyword research, there is very little difference between national and local. The only slight difference may be when it comes to regional or local sayings. For example, you may say "yard sale" or "garage sale" or "rummage sale." They all mean the same thing in context, but different regions might say one over another. Therefore if you are targeting a local area, then be sure to use the keywords that your prospects are using.
In a report by OC&C Strategy Consultants, "55% of households are expected to own smart speaker devices by 2022." These include devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Add in access to smartphones, and the growth of voice search is about to skyrocket.
When you are planning your keywords and keyword phrases, think about local queries based on conversational voice search. According to seoClarity, "Voice search users tend to use specific, long-tail search phrases." They will also 'typically ask proper questions." For example, when looking for a restaurant to eat at, a desktop user might enter "Mexican restaurant." However, when utilizing voice search, users are more likely to ask or say, "Where is the nearest Mexican restaurant?"
In the same report, seoClarity says that "Nearly 20% of all voice search queries are triggered by a set of 25 keywords. These consist mainly of question words like 'how' or 'what' and adjectives like 'best' or 'easy.'"
Of the users using voice search, "58% of consumers use voice search to find local business information. Moreover, [they] are often used to research and locate local businesses because of their convenience for on-the-go customers (Source: Search Engine Journal).
While voice search is still coming of age and as the search engines get smarter, voice search will become more and more prominent for local businesses, especially service businesses.
'Localizing' your website content means including the communities, towns, cities, counties, or regions you serve or pull from naturally throughout the content on your website.
When it comes to generating content for local businesses, there are several options at your disposal. Here are X that we like and have found to work well.
- Helpful content to help tourists and visitors in your area. A strong word of caution, don't treat this as a clickbait type page or blog post. You want to actually add value to the conversation.
- Start a “Meet the Team” series. Have your staff and employees recommend their favorite local restaurants, shops, or favorite places to hang out on the weekends!
- Use your blog to answer questions you have gotten from your clients.
- Create landing pages focused on your keyword research. Include words such as "best"
- Create geographic landing pages that talk about one area you service and one thing you do there. An example might be “residential deep cleaning,” and your location might be "Biltmore Village."
While that is not a comprehensive list, it should help you to show Google that you should be ranking for searches in your local areas.
Link building for Local SEO
Link building is the quintessential part of both organic and local SEO. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest part to do. We all want other people to find and link back to our content. However, the problem is there is so much out there. With that said, here are some tips on building a link strategy for your local SEO.
First and foremost, you have to stick to and follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines when acquiring all links. You don't want Google to take a manual action (i.e., a penalty) as a result of your link acquisition activities.
Google will ultimately discover links that violate any of their guidelines, and then you run the risk of your entire website vanishing from organic search results in the blink of an eye.
Here are a few safe places and ideas to jump-start your local link building strategy:
- Niche business listings that specifically cater to your industry
- Trade associations
- Local Chambers of Commerce
- Suppliers and Distributors
- Businesses you have a working relationship with. An example might be a Plumber, Electrician, and HVAC company.
- Charities your business supports
- Sponsoring the local sports team
- Free online directories
I can't stress enough the importance of following the guidelines. I have seen it happen time and time again. A client will reach out because they have been "called on" about a link exchange or, as Google refers to them, a link scheme. The bottom line with these is if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If in doubt, reach out to your marketing agency or us, and we will help you decide if it's legit.
Optimizing for mobile
If you want to do well in local SEO, you must have a mobile-friendly website – after all, when people search on the move, they do so using their smartphones.
If your site has been developed since 2015, there is a good chance your site is mobile-friendly or has a responsive design. If you don't know, then pull out your phone and check your site for yourself or use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool. First off, does your site load on your phone? Is everything showing up? Now a word of caution, just because it loads on your phone doesn't mean it is mobile-friendly. If you have to zoom in to read the text, then it is not mobile-friendly! The other question you need to ask yourself is how fast does it load? Our call to action items (CTAs) or popups hiding vital information? Is it easy to find or see your contact information on your website? Now place yourself in your visitor's mind; if your site has an issue with the aforementioned list, then it's time to make some changes.
Technical SEO and Improving Site Speed
First and foremost, we live in a time when it comes to the internet everything should be fast. Long gone are the days of dial-up where we waited 30 seconds to connect. If a page takes more than about 3-6 seconds to load, users become frustrated and likely to leave.
Google has now incorporated into the search algorithm away "to judge web pages based on how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page," said Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Land. He also said, "That means if Google thinks your website users will have a poor experience on your pages — measured by a new set of metrics called Core Web Vitals — Google may not rank those pages as highly…").
For the sake of brevity and not to get into the technicalities of it all, if you are concerned about your load time or what you need to improve on, contact us about performing a FREE audit of your website.
Page Title and Title Tags
Depending on the context of your page, you should include your location or location you are targeting, ideally within your H1 tag. Of course, you can also use this strategy in the page titles (what users see in SERPs). But, again, try to keep your titles within 60 characters or less. Anything more, and it might get cut off in the SERPs.
Use Title Tag Cliffhangers
One "trick" you can use is to start your title tag with a powerful, benefit-driven phrase, then check that the statement exceeds Google's title tag limit (currently 500-600 pixels or 50 characters).
Why this works is there is a psychological effect in play as an ellipse traditionally implies that words are omitted or that something is lacking.
It turns out that the brain has a powerful need to finish what it starts. When it can't complete something, it gets stuck on it. Intrusive thoughts about what we could not finish may pop into our heads as a way to remind the cognitive system that something still needs to be completed.
Therefore if you work it right, you can get a significant click-through rate (CTR).
Think about your meta description as a brief synopsis of your web page. It may also be helpful to think of it as a call to action in approximately 160 characters. These will show below the page title on the SERPs and is what users will skim to help determine if your site might have the answer to what they are looking for.
11 Tips to improve your Local SEO
Up to this point, we have covered a lot about Local SEO. Now it's time to put some of these ideas into an actionable list. Therefore here are eleven things you can do to help improve your local SEO.
1 & 2. Geographic Landing Pages and Blog Content
When it comes to local SEO, you need to ensure that the search engines know where you are and what you do. There are two major ways to accomplish this, those being geographic landing pages and blogging.
If you are a local service area business, then you should spend a bulk of your content plan around geographic landing pages until you have exhausted your top or most profitable services and areas combined. If you are in a rural area, think about doing pages around the counties you serve as well. Just try to keep things within about a 60 mile - 1-hour radius of your physical address, as it can be harder to rank in the extremities.
Also, consider maintaining an active blog as it too will help you boost your results.
Take, for example, Jody's Automotive Repair & Lube Shop. Jody Rushbrook is the owner of the shop in Jonesville, NC. While he is located just off Interstate 77, the area is the definition of a rural community, yet he consistently outranks others in the area for the services he offers. In addition, his GMB analytics are statistically consistent with national averages. How does this happen? For one, we consistently post on his blog and create geographic landing pages with topics related to the services he offers. This, in turn, bolsters his GMB listing. Let me also be clear that Jody is an excellent mechanic and has a great reputation in the area as well. However, reputation will only get you so far. He has several physical cards lining his counter and countless reviews praising him for helping traveling motorists. Therefore this begs the question, would this be possible without this?
3. Claim, optimize, and use your GMB listing to your advantage
Looking back at the example of Jody's, his GMB is both optimized, and we post there weekly. I have said it before that your GMB listing is the keystone to everything and is the digital front door to your online presence. The best part about your GMB is it is FREE!
4. Photos on Google My Business Page
Photos will give legitimacy to your small business and act as a local ranking signal. Therefore, take pictures of your business, action shots of your services, your employees, and even your clients (with permission, of course).
5. Keep mobile in mind
Let's face it, smartphones are a part of our everyday lives. I saw this when my dad moved from a flip phone to an iPhone. Therefore, it's only logical that people use them to look for local information and businesses. Uberall commissioned a study that discovered that 82% of respondents had used their mobile devices to do a "near me" search. This proves without a doubt how frequently individuals use their phones for local searches.
6. Collect plenty of customer reviews
According to a Moz study, review signals also play a critical role in your local search and the 3-pack ranking. Having a lot of reviews, particularly positive ones, will work wonders to boost and increase your visibility in local search. It will also help you to enhance your reputation.
You will want to concentrate your efforts on places where Google would expect businesses like yours to have reviews. As a result, it will collect reviews from social media such as Facebook, directories, and in addition to your website and your own GMB listing. That means you should concentrate on gathering and monitoring reviews across the web. Also, remember that reviews are a converter, not just a ranking factor!
When it comes to getting positive reviews, Google says,
Respond to reviews that users leave about your business. When you reply to reviews, it shows that you value your customers and their feedback. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers can improve your business visibility and increase the likelihood that a shopper will visit your location.
Reviews that mention Location(s) and Keywords
According to a Local SEO Guide research, the wording used by reviews is important. For example, when reviews include the city or keywords, Google receives indications that you are a trusted and reliable local business.
Reviews with Responses Count Too
According to the same Local SEO Guide research, the quantity of reviews with a response also influenced Local SEO signals. So, in a double whammy, the quantity of positive reviews with comments is important, but so are bad reviews with no responses.
These final three indicators make it apparent that you must have a strategy in place for responding to any online reviews, but especially those from Google.
Word of Caution
Keep in mind that asking for reviews in return for something or setting up review stations is against Google's review policy. All of their review policies may be seen here. Similar rules apply to Yelp and other review sites.
7. Ensure NAP/citation consistency
Moz discovered that citation signals such as citation volume and name, address, phone number (NAP) consistency are taken into account by Google for local search results. This implies that your information should be available on key reference websites, such as Bing Maps, Yelp, and Facebook, in addition to GMB. Concentrate on directories with larger domain authority rather than lesser listed directories.
More importantly, ensure that your business's NAP is consistent across all platforms and websites. Look for misspellings, address and phone number inconsistencies, and duplicate listings to enhance your local SEO.
8. Create a Facebook Business Page
Because so many people use Facebook as a search engine, it has its own number in this list. So, in addition to your GMB listing, you will want to create or claim one on Facebook. Be sure to keep it up to date with your website, hours, and a description. Just don’t let your Facebook page be your website.
It should be noted that social signals have a limited influence. However, Google does say that they do have an impact on social SEO.
When people search for your business on Google, they may see links to your business's social profiles included with your other business information in the knowledge panel in Search. Google gathers business information from a variety of sources and may include it to give customers a more detailed overview of your business.
Source: Google Support
9. Participate in your local community.
The more you become involved in your community, the more digital PR you'll get. For example, having a volunteer day at your business, allowing your staff a day to volunteer, sponsoring an event, or appearing in the local media as an authority in your field are all methods to garner press, brand recognition, and inbound links.
10. Embed a Google Map on Your About Us and/or Contact Page
Embedding a Google map on your site simple way to signal to Google that you're located in a specific area. If you are a service area business, then embedding one showing the area you serve can also be helpful.
11. Optimize Meta Descriptions for Local Searchers
It's no secret that optimizing your meta description is a great way to boost your organic CTR. But, unfortunately, many small businesses either don't optimize them, or they try to stuff their phone number and the city they service. The bottom line is that this doesn't help the searcher or the business.
Instead, try this formula:
- Have [problem] We can help!
- We are [company type] based in [area] who [what your do]. Click here to learn more.
One thing you can do is to use Google Ads to find appealing descriptions, keywords, and keyword phrases. After all, this text has been shown to get clicks (otherwise, they would not use it in their advertisements). You can't go wrong by including part of their material into your description.
While we have covered a lot in this post, this honestly just scratches the surface of Local SEO. If you are looking for help with your local SEO, please contact us for a free consultation!
If you are looking for more information on Local SEO, I highly recommend the following sources: