Local search engine optimization (local SEO) is considered one of the most effective tactics for driving traffic and revenue for businesses of all kinds and sizes. Done right, local SEO can help your brand attract customers without spending thousands of dollars on traditional advertising campaigns or PR blitzes.
According to local SEO statistics:
- 46% of all Google searches have local intent — meaning, consumers aren’t just looking for general information when they search for information online. Usually, they’re looking for actionable information about nearby businesses that show up in their search results.
- Consumers look for specific trust signals when searching for businesses. The top 3 factors that influence their decision to choose a business are: photos, Google reviews, and position on the search engine results page (SERP).
- 58% of companies currently do not have a local SEO plan in place.
These numbers describe the nature of local search today: when people search for information online about a certain product, service, or business, they want to find out where it is, what’s nearby, and how good it is (versus simply what it is), and they are constraining their searches to specific geographical locations.
How Important is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a strategy aimed at ensuring your business is present in local search results and therefore visible online to potential customers looking for the products and services you offer. It is specifically tailored to target potential customers in a particular geographical area, usually within a specific city, region, or even neighborhood.
Why is this important? Getting your brand featured prominently in local search results — those instances when consumers who are ready to make a purchase decision search online for local businesses in your area — can bring you more store visits and sales while also significantly increasing your traffic and revenue.
Specifically, local SEO helps your company target local customers, improve online visibility, compete effectively with larger brands, build consumer trust, and improve conversion rates. It’s an essential component of any digital marketing strategy for businesses that are looking to thrive in their local markets.
Local SEO Guide: Improving Your Search Ranking
The factors that determine local search results and rankings represent an ever-evolving discussion in the field of SEO and local search marketing.
Unless you work at Google, you won’t have any special access to the inner workings of the search engine giant’s algorithms. However, industry analysis and research point to a few major factors that are known to significantly impact what and who shows up whenever users conduct local searches.
It’s important to keep in mind that when consumers search for businesses on Google, results come in different shapes and sizes, and they are displayed in various ways across Google Maps and Search.
The Google Maps Pack or local pack is the most prominent and sought-after position in Google’s local search results. Also commonly known as the “Google local pack” or the “Google 3 pack ranking,” it’s a set of three highlighted Google-Maps-based results (it used to be seven) featuring the most highly ranked businesses based on the factors that determine local rankings.
Local organic search refers to the results that generally appear after the local pack and ads sections. Unlike the Google Maps Pack, local organic search results are taken from Google’s index of websites and not from the Google Business Profiles directory.
Not sure where your business locations stand in local pack and local organic search results? You can utilize a local search rank checker to track your rankings and see whether or not any of your business locations are featured in local search for relevant queries.
Now, let’s take a look at the most important local SEO factors and highlight several best practices for getting to the top of local search results.
Local SEO Action Item 1: Master and Optimize Your Google Business Profile
According to industry research, Google Business Profile signals are one of the top local search ranking factors today.
- Google Business Profile is the number 1 ranking factor for the “local pack” search results, and it’s also the number 4 ranking factor in local organic search.
Your Google Business Profile (formerly called Google My Business) is primarily how your brand and business locations show up across Google products like Maps and Search.
If you run a business that serves customers at a particular location, or you serve customers within a designated service area, your Business Profile can help people find you. With it, you can tell Google your hours, website, phone number, and location; track and respond to online reviews and ratings, and even view how people interact with your brand and business locations.
A properly created, well-managed Google Business Profile fosters significant local SEO improvements. Profiles or listings that have been claimed, verified, and updated — and which also feature strong reviews and ratings — are the ones most likely to rank at the top of organic local search or even be included in the Google Maps Pack or “local pack” of highlighted businesses.
Here are some pointers as you set up your Google Business Profile the right way:
- Avoid stuffing your business name with keywords. The business name you should provide should be the exact name of your business in real life.
- You’ll have the option to add website URLs to the listings of individual business locations. Ideally, the URLs you add should be the URLs of your location pages.
- The phone numbers you add to your listings should be local numbers that people can call to connect directly with the actual local stores. Don’t use the universal phone number that you may already have for the whole business or for your corporate office.
- Add high-quality Google business photos to enhance the visual appeal of your listings. These photos may appear in local search results, too, so make them count.
- Work with a local listing management provider. If you’re managing a brand with several business locations, consider partnering with a company that helps businesses claim, manage, and optimize their online listings (including Google Business Profiles). Getting your Google Business Profiles right from the start should enable your organization to more efficiently manage the full customer journey, from acquiring customers to retaining them.
Local SEO Action Item 2: Optimize Your Website Pages for Local Search
Investing more time and resources on your website content is another effective way to improve your local SEO performance. According to research:
- On-page signals are the number 2 ranking factor for local pack rankings, and it’s the number 1 ranking factor in local organic search.
Optimizing the content on your website pages — on-page SEO — is important because many of the signals that Google uses to rank web pages come from on-page elements. Some of the signals that Google takes into account include:
- The actual content: headlines, headers, paragraph content, images, etc.
- Presence of NAP (name, address, and phone number) information on your website.
- HTML content like keywords, title tags, meta descriptions, and image optimization.
Optimizing your website content for local SEO means optimizing the SEO elements you control on the webpage or the webpage code itself.
Invest in Keyword Optimization
If you know the keywords that you want to rank for in local searches, you can implement them in the right places throughout your website pages. This can be in the title of various pieces of content as well as in subsequent headings throughout the site. You can also put the keywords as part of an image when you add it to one of your pages.
Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
You should also invest time in making your website mobile-friendly. Local SEO statistics show that 57% of all local searches are conducted on smartphones or tablets. When someone on a mobile device goes to your website, your website and its contents should be optimized for today’s mobile devices and displays.
Publish Location Pages
As part of your local SEO strategy, be sure to have location pages as a tool for maximum exposure and impact. These pages help your brand stand out online, as well as influence high-intent buyers closer to the point of purchase.
Think of location pages as silos or micro-sites that contain optimized content about each of your business locations. These pages are all linked to your main website. Sometimes, they are called your city landing pages or service area pages, encompassing all your locations’ key information for customers and search engines.
For example, your website is www.brandwebsite.com. Your location pages can have the URL: www.brandwebsite.com/city (www.brandwebsite.com/atlanta or www.brandwebsite.com/chicago).
Creating these pages lets you map out locations in which you are targeting new customers, then build out unique, discoverable landing pages for each area. Here’s an example of how location pages might appear on your brand website:
Publish Service Pages
Similarly, you should create a page on your website for every product or service that you offer. These service pages help with conversions when visitors browse through your website to find more information about the products and services you offer. When done right, these pages should also boost your on-page signals in ways that can improve your local SEO performance.
Local SEO Action Item 3: Manage Online Reviews and Reputation
Evidence of the growing importance of online reviews on sites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, Google, and Facebook is hard to ignore. Reviews are shaping local search algorithms, too. According to research:
- Reviews are the number 3 ranking factor for the local pack results, and they also are a top 7 ranking factor in local organic search.
Given the impact of reviews on local SEO, your team should craft strategic approaches to reviews in order to improve local SEO performance. Marketers who actively manage their brand’s online reviews and reputation and stay highly engaged with customers can therefore position themselves better in local search. Even if a business hasn’t yet gotten into the local pack, high ratings and consistent positive feedback can still sway users to click and convert. Reviews also encourage user interaction and boost shopper confidence: important components of any successful SEO strategy.
Here are some key review signals that your team should manage and take into consideration as part of your local SEO strategy:
- Rating scores
- Review quantity
- Review quality
- Review diversity (i.e., reviews on many different sites)
- Responses to reviews
- Freshness of reviews
- Review sentiment data
- Authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present
Simply put: if you’re getting a significant number (review quantity) of excellent reviews with high ratings and positive sentiment data (review quality) across multiple high-authority review platforms (review diversity), you stand a better chance of getting found (and getting clicked on) in local search results.
Rating Scores Boost Your Powers of Persuasion
As probably the most identifiable, structured, and quantifiable review signal, your rating scores can easily persuade (or dissuade) searchers.
- According to online reviews statistics, customers don’t trust companies with lower than 4-star ratings. The most common filter applied is to see only companies with 4-star ratings and higher.
While not the only decisive factor, rating scores effectively serve as a useful and convenient source of information for when consumers are looking to find out more about a local business they’re not familiar with.
Review Quantity Builds Brand Credibility
It’s obvious that consumers today are actively seeking out reviews in order to validate their purchase decisions. So find ways to increase your review quantity: the more reviews you have, the more credible your business looks.
Review Diversity Broadens Your Digital Footprint
Planting your flags across all relevant business review sites and platforms (including industry-specific ones) is a great way to support your local SEO strategy. This helps expand your social and digital footprint, allowing your brand to become more visible on the sites and apps that consumers are using to find and rate local businesses.
Review Quality and Sentiment Boost Brand Reputation
It takes more than a fancy logo, a memorable slogan, or a cool trade name to build a great brand. To truly differentiate yourself from the competition, you must be able to build a rock-solid brand reputation.
By following best practices in online review management, you can improve review quality and improve the sentiment data found in your reviews.
Review Velocity and Freshness Help You Stay Relevant
Be honest: would you trust a Google or Tripadvisor review that was posted 4 or 5 years ago? Even if the review describes a restaurant as offering the “tastiest sushi burrito in the world ever,” it becomes less convincing by the day, week, month, and year.
According to customer reviews research, the shelf life of online reviews may be shorter than expected, with 69% of consumers believing that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant.
Also worth considering: review velocity and freshness can improve your content quality and on-page SEO performance, especially when your strategy includes incorporating reviews into your website and business pages through the use of a website review widget.
Marketers and local SEO professionals should therefore aim not only for great reviews, but also for great new reviews, generated at a pace that’s consistent with and relevant to the needs and expectations of searchers.
Faster Review Responses Impact Reputation and Conversions
Learning how to respond to negative reviews as well as positive feedback definitely has an impact on your brand reputation and ability to convert customers. Based on ReviewTrackers data:
- 94% of consumers say a bad review has convinced them to avoid a business.
- 53% of customers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week. 1 in 3 have a shorter time frame of 3 days or less.
- 63% say that at least one company they reviewed never even responded.
The good news: review responses make a real and measurable difference — not just to the consumer who leaves the review, but to everyone else who sees it. In fact, 45% of consumers say they’re more likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews.
To summarize, search engines like Google love reviews for the simple reason that consumers trust, actively look for, and depend on what their fellow consumers think. It’s fair to assume that Google has assigned an increasing value on reviews in local search because that’s what its users look for and click on. And while local SEO tactics will continue to evolve and vary, they will always be grounded in a simple notion: speak the language of your customers and it will do wonders for your search performance and bottom line.
Local SEO Action Item 4: Build Quality Citations
Citation-building is another well-established local SEO tactic that can still get you results today.
- Citation signals are the top 6 ranking factor in both local pack rankings and local organic search results.
The work you do to set up your Google Business Profile — as well as your local listings on other sites and business directories — can be described as being part of a larger local SEO effort involving the building of citations.
“Citations” simply refer to mentions of your brand or business name on the Web, along with key information, with or without a link back to your website.
Citations are considered an important local SEO signal, and the quantity and quality of citations that you have can make a direct impact on your local search rankings and performance. Citations include your online listings in multiple places including:
- online directories like the Yellow Pages and Citysearch
- social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
- local search engines like Google, Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local
- online review websites like Yelp and Tripadvisor
- local blogs highly associated with a particular city or geographic location
If you’re managing a brand in less-competitive niches, such as plumbing, nail salons, or electrical, where many service providers don’t have websites themselves, citations are particularly important and can be a key difference-maker.
Once again, consistency in the way you provide your NAP and business location information is key to successful citation work. There are many different ways to build and manage local citations, but keep in mind that the best citations offer more than just the traditional combination of name, address, and phone number (NAP).
They also offer detailed information, such as email address, hours of operation, driving directions, geo-coordinates, payment forms, links to social media profiles, images and videos, and online reviews and ratings (plus the business’ responses to those reviews and ratings).
It’s important that each citation is identical to the rest. Search engines utilize these citations as a reference when people conduct local searches. Incorrect information across multiple citations is costly to your visibility and as a result, may negatively impact your ranking on search engine results pages.
Doing all this work manually can take up valuable time and resources. To drive efficiency, consider investing in a local listing management solution or local SEO software designed to catch inaccuracies in your citations and listings, as well as automatically push real-time changes (when necessary) to ensure data accuracy and high online rankings at all times.
Final Thoughts: Stand Out in Local Search with Local SEO
These essential local SEO action items should help improve your brand’s online presence as well as the search visibility of your business locations. While it’s not uncommon to encounter, at some point, a problem of scale, sharpening your focus on the key areas mentioned above will put you in a great position to improve your local search rankings.