Many people are aware of SEO – search engine optimization – but don’t realize there are two general types of SEO: traditional organic SEO and a variation referred to as local SEO both of which have distinct differences in how to implement and achieve success.
Local SEO is a strategy and process to optimize a website and its Google My Business listing to improve its ranking for organic search queries in Google where the intent of the searcher is to find local information. The goal of this process is to show the business in Google’s Local 3-Pack and to rank higher in Google Maps for many different Google searches.
Examples of local search queries include searches with geo qualifiers like the city or town name, or with a zip code, but do not necessarily have to have the geo qualifier either.
Examples of search queries with geo qualifiers are, “personal injury attorney in San Diego”, or “personal injury attorney 92121.” Or in my own agency example, which is located in Temecula, CA, “SEO company in Temecula.”
An example of a query without a geo-qualifier is, “personal injury attorney near me.” While there is no geo qualifier, the intent of this query is to find local information – these types of queries are becoming more and more prevalent with the increase in smartphones and Google understands that the intent of this is local.
Search engines can show these organic SEO results in a variety of ways.
Local Pack – Local Business Listing
The screenshot below is a Google search engine results page (SERP) for the query “personal injury attorney San Diego.” This query has local intent with its geo qualifier San Diego (a related post here on personal injury lawyer SEO).
The area in the red box below the map shows what many consider the local search results and includes a push pin of the business on the local map along with the address and phone number of the local business listing. Some people refer to this area of the Google search results as a “local pack”, “3-pack”, local listings, and some industry insiders refer to it as a “snack pack.”
It’s important also to recognize that not all queries with geo-qualifiers return a local pack in Google search results. The decision to show local listings with a map is solely up to Google.
Factors That Contribute To Local Pack Rankings
First, it’s important to understand that if you don’t have a physical location in an area it’s less likely you will show in a local 3-pack of listings. This makes sense though – people are looking for local businesses so why would Google show your business if it’s not “local” to the searcher?
Google’s local pack listings are in large part determined by geo signals.
The first signal is the actual address of your business. If your company is not even in the area that Google considers San Diego, for example, then it will be difficult to have even your business show in these local listings.
Nobody really knows how Google defines a particular geo area – Google has its own rules and algorithm it uses in determining what it considers a geo area, and if your business falls outside of that then you very likely will never appear there.
However, you can see hints of how Google defines an area by going to Google Maps and typing in the city, town, zip code or whatever geo area you’re interested in and checking. Below I searched “San Diego, CA” – you can see the red border that Google Maps has drawn on the map.
Other factors that contribute to your ability to rank in a local pack include citations and consistency in your NAP (name, address, phone). I wrote another post on local seo tips that goes into more detail, but in summary, NAP stands for name, address, phone. NAP listings (i.e. citations) are other sites such as Yelp, or the local chamber of commerce, that have a listing for your business that includes its NAP.
Then there are other factors such as on-page SEO, your site’s domain authority, schema markup, and more. Schema markup itself is not a ranking signal but if the schema helps Google understand your company’s information better then that might result in it showing better in local search results.
Traditional SEO Listings
Local SEO can also include ranking pages in Google’s search results that are outside of the local listings discussed above.
The same query above also had traditional SEO results and pages that were ranking for that query.
Traditional SEO results outside of the local pack are still part of the local SEO process and an important one. As a matter of fact, ranking pages in both areas, local listings, and the traditional SEO areas are one way to take even more real estate on the first page and two spots that your competitors won’t have (additional resources: read our post on How To Get Your Website On Google’s First Page for an even deeper dive on traditional SEO).
Unlike the ranking factors for local pack listings, ranking pages in the traditional SEO area of a Google search results page is less influenced by NAP and citations and more affected by factors such as:
- On-page SEO
- Domain authority
- External links pointing to the page
- Internal Linking
- Location of the business
- Google My Business Page
Because of Google’s Venice algorithm update implemented in 2012, queries without a geo-qualifier can show in the traditional organic results.
As an example, look at the query for “personal injury attorney” which has no geo qualifier term – I get local SEO results of San Diego businesses. Google knows the intent of this query is likely someone looking for a local attorney.
If I change the location from where I’m searching to say, Los Angeles, I will see very different results.
In Google, years ago you used to be able to do change the location of where you were when using the search engine to see different search results but that feature was taken away. A workaround to this is to search from within Google Ads using the ad preview tool and set your geo to wherever you need to.
Local SEO – Ranking Other Domains That List Your Business
Part of the local SEO process can include ranking other domains in the local search results, not just your own website.
As you can see in the screenshots of the Google search results pages, Yelp pages are ranking very well also. If you’re implementing a comprehensive local SEO marketing strategy, ranking your company’s page on other domains is another way to dominate local organic results. And if you’re running Google PPC, you have the opportunity in many cases to have 4 listings on the first page! When that happens, you’re crushin’ it!
The below screenshot shows a local business that is crushin’ it in Google’s local search results. They have four listings on the first page:
- Paid Google ad
- Local listing with map
- Yelp page ranking
- Traditional local SEO listing from their website
That my friends are maximizing completely the exposure you can squeeze out of Google for local search. That’s dominating your local competitors and what local SEO looks like when enough time and effort has been put into it.
Ranking Multiple Domains
And finally, a strategy that is a bit outside of the typical SEO strategy, you can rank multiple domains for local search queries. I’m talking only about white hat SEO, no black hat or shady tactics.
Remember that if you don’t have a physical brick-and-mortar location in a particular area you are not likely to rank in the local pack (an exception is Service Area Businesses that serve a particular area but don’t have a physical location), but with multiple domains, you have the ability to rank multiple sites for local queries.
Here’s an example of a plumber client that we have using multiple websites to dominate the local search results – I have blurred the domain names. He has one listing in the local 3-pack, then 3 domains that rank below that in the traditional SEO listings. And when you consider that the top two listings are Google Home Services and then a Google PPC ad, he’s got 6 listings on this page!
In summary, to round out this post, Google local SEO is a major undertaking, a serious business strategy, and not as simple as signing up for a local listing service like Yext or just claiming your Google My Business listing.
Local SEO services, when done right, can capture a lot of business for you as illustrated in this post. Many variables and factors influence how and where you rank. It requires a thorough process with a systematic and creative approach to ranking.
You may read in some forums, which by the way are one of the worst places to get information, that local SEO is easy – it’s not.
So what is local SEO?
It’s a well-thought-out strategic process designed to have your business dominate Google organic search results through first page rankings of your own site and other sites that list your business in both the local pack, traditional listings, and Google Maps.
What is the difference between SEO and Local SEO?
Local SEO is specifically focused on ranking a business for searches that have local intent. Local SEO requires that a business optimize geo signals that tell Google it’s relevant for searches in particular areas. Traditional SEO is not focused on geo signals or ranking in maps and instead focused more on high-quality content, links, page authority, and quality user experiences.
What is local SEO marketing?
Local SEO marketing is the process through which you improve a business’ rankings in Google’s Local 3-Pack and on Google Maps for important local search terms. This process involves optimizing the business’ website and its Google My Business listing using tactics like citations, local links, and schema markup.
Why is Local SEO important for SEO?
Local SEO is important because it specifically focuses on improving a business’ exposure in Google local 3-pack results on a search results page, and on Google Maps. Without local SEO efforts, a business is less likely to improve its search exposure for local searchers.