Local SEO is a set of strategies, processes, and digital marketing tactics implemented over time to rank a business in Google local search and within Google Maps for local search terms.
And what are “local search terms,” you might ask?
Any search phrases that imply the searcher wants a business that is locally located and close to them. For example, “restaurants downtown Temecula” is clear that the search is for local results. Or even “best restaurant near me” is clear the searcher wants a local business. (read our SEO case studies examples)
In contrast, a search phrase like “Facebook Ads for Restaurants” has no geographic dependency to the searcher – in other words, the geographic location of the searcher and the business are irrelevant, so these factors do not play a role in ranking. And so, for non-local queries like this, Google does not show a local 3-pack of search results. (Got a restaurant? Read our Restaurant SEO post).
What is the difference between Local and traditional SEO?
Local SEO is different from traditional SEO in that the former is affected by geographic location and proximity of the searcher to the business. The physical geographic location of the searcher, the business, and the intent of the search phrase all come into play and affect the type of results Google shows.
As a result, the process, strategies, and tactics of Local SEO versus traditional SEO are different.
Additionally, it’s important to highlight that not all local search queries have a geo qualifier term either. For example, the search phrase “best restaurant near me,” has no geographic term. Still, the intent is clearly for a local business close to the searcher.
When someone wants a local business, Google shows a 3-pack (sometimes referred to as a Map Pack or Snack Pack) of local search results as the first image shown above.
What Types of Businesses Should concentrate on Local SEO?
There are two types of businesses:
- 1Any business with a brick-and-mortar location that receives local clients
- 2And Service Area Businesses (SABs) that primarily serve clients in a local area and you meet clients at their location
What Businesses Are NOT for Local SEO?
Any business where its customers do not visit it locally at a physical location, or where the business' employees do not visit the customer where the customer is physically located.
For example, any ecommerce business selling products nationally, or professional coaching that is provided entirely online, or any business providing information. If that is you, then don’t worry about Local SEO.
The Benefits of Ranking High in Local Search Results
If you care about leads and sales and are a local business, you should invest in local SEO. Local search has exploded and is only going to continue growing. Google is often the first and primary place consumers go to find local information.
Look at this chart from Google Trends, which shows that “near me” searches have consistently and steadily grown since 2013.
And there are hundreds of search phrases that include “near me." Here’s a short list from Google Trends (a related post here on using Google Trends for Market Research).
All the above searches have local intent. And “Near me” searches of all types continue to grow.
What Are the Local Search Ranking Factors?
To improve your rankings in local search and on Google Maps, below is our short list of ranking factors - click on the link to go to the part of the page that discusses that factor. There are additional ranking factors, but because Google ranks your Google Business Profile, not your website, in the local search listings (3-packs) and within Google Maps, our list here is focused on those immediate signals:
Tips for Getting Started with Local SEO to Rank Higher
What ranks in Google Local searches (i.e., local 3-packs and within Google maps) is your Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business). So, any Local SEO optimization efforts begin here.
How To Optimize Your Business for Local SEO
As of this writing, one factor that most of us cannot do much about but one that helps your profile rank is your company name. Most of us have our company names set and so changing them is not a reasonable option.
But if you’re a new business, you might want to consider your company name carefully. If your company name is the same name as a search query or, at a minimum, has some keywords of popular search phrases, you will have an advantage in ranking in local search over your competitors that do not have keywords in their name.
Here’s an example below. Every listing here has the category word of "law firm" in the name. And it's showing all the results in downtown or uptown - nothing further out.
Of course, you can still rank without the category keywords of "law firm," but it is more difficult. Google’s search algorithm seems to give the advantage to company names with keywords. Google has supposedly dialed down the positive effect of name preference, so it is not as influential in ranking, but it still affects search results (this has been ongoing for years).
So, if your competitors have keywords in their name, you likely will have to work a bit harder at local SEO.
And a warning, don’t change your name unless you’re willing to update everything online that mentions your company – your website, all your citations, and anything that lists your company. Remember, inconsistency in your NAP (name, address, phone) will hurt your exposure in local results.
Google Business Profile Optimization
Because Google ranks your GBP in local search and on Maps, optimization efforts to improve your rankings start here.
First, if you haven’t already, claim your Google Business listing.
Make sure your Google profile has your name, address, and phone number (NAP) correct – this is critical. Inconsistencies or incorrect NAP information will hurt your ability to rank.
Next, ensure that you choose the correct category for your business. The category is essential and choosing incorrectly here can affect your business even showing up for local results.
Then, fill out the rest of the profile as thoroughly as possible. Make sure you upload photos and videos of your business if you have one. (here's a related post on embedding YouTube video for SEO).
Make sure you describe your business well in the “From the business” section – this section is at the bottom of the page when you’re on the Info tab. You have 750 characters to use so be descriptive – point out features and benefits of your company or service, what differentiates you, and add your unique selling proposition (USP) to position yourself from your competitors.
Ensure sure you enable “Messages” so people can contact you from your Google Business Profile. It’s typically not a highly used feature, but people do use it to contact a company.
Next, make sure you are building up positive Google reviews. The consensus among many is that reviews don’t influence rankings much, if at all. Still, reviews affect your conversions of looky-loos to paying customers. And a negative review profile will undoubtedly kill your sales. (here's a related post on using marketing automation for reviews and other marketing tasks for your business).
Your Geographic Location
This is another area you may or may not have much control over. But if you’re not physically located in the city or town as Google sees it, then likely your chances of showing well in that geographic area are reduced. So, if you’re considering moving offices, consider where you’re physically located if you can.
How can you determine what Google considers a particular area?
First, search in Google Maps for the town, city, or zip code. In the below example, I searched for Temecula, CA.
Notice the red dotted outline on the map – this is how Google defines Temecula, CA. So, if you’re not located in this area, your chances are lower to rank for searches where someone included the term Temecula. That doesn’t mean you won’t show in search; it just means that when someone searches for, “Italian restaurants in Temecula,” you likely will be lower than any of those businesses that are in Temecula. (a related post here on Temecula SEO).
And an additional way you can check how Google defines a geographic area is by searching using keywords plus the geographic term and checking where all the top-ranking businesses are located.
Local Citations – Other Websites that List Your Company NAP
What are citations?
Citations are other websites that list your business’ NAP (name, address, and phone). Those local listings can list additional information about you and even provide a link back, but the minimum for a legitimate citation is another website listing your NAP.
The volume and frequency of high-quality citations directly influence your GBP local rankings in local packs and on Google Maps. Think of citations like networking – the more people that can positively vouch for you, the better.
There are two general types of citations that you want your business listed in:
- 1Geographic specific citations – examples of these might include directories such as your local chamber of commerce. Or often someone has created business directories specific to your town or city.
- 2Industry specific citations – directories that list businesses of the same type.
How do you find citations?
First, make sure you have the basic ones such as Facebook, Yelp, and Bing Local. The next place to look for good citations is your competition, which is already ranking well. Just do a simple Google search for their names and phone numbers, and you likely will uncover numerous sites that list their businesses.
And in general, the harder it is to get a citation, the more influence it has. For example, suppose someone must review your application before listing you. In that case, that citation typically has more influence compared to one that doesn’t review your application.
Website Optimization Tips
Local Schema Markup
Make sure you have included Local Business Schema Markup on your website. This code lets Google know what type of business you are and all the other essential details about you such as days and hours of operations.
Here’s an example:
Schema markup code will go in the <head> section of your page and is not visible to website visitors. Check your competitor’s websites for the type of schema they are using as well.
Also, make sure you have a footer element that lists your NAP on every page that is visible to site visitors with a click-to-call phone number.
Local SEO Common Mistakes
The three most common mistakes are:
- 1Wrong office type: Do not use virtual offices, shared office space, PMBs (personal mailbox) like at a Mailboxes Etc, or the UPS store, or a USPS PO box. Google does not allow these types of businesses to have a Google Business Profile. Here’s more information on Google’s guidelines.
- 2Incorrect information: Not using your name, address, and phone (NAP) information consistently throughout the internet
- 3Website: No schema markup that defines the type of business, your NAP info, and hours of operation
To wrap this up, Local SEO is an essential marketing tactic for any local business. People search for local businesses every day, all day long. I encourage you to commit marketing resources to improving your brand's presence.
And if you have more questions on SEO, or need help improving your company's local presence, schedule a quick call with me below.
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