You can find many articles on Local Search Engine Optimisation or local SEO with a simple online search. Big names like Moz, Ahrefs and SEMrush will dominate the search results and offer lots of advice on how to improve your search results. It is well worth reading what they have to say if you have the time. If you are short of time then you can leave that to specialists like us and rely on our advice.
What is Local SEO marketing?
The result of local SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) marketing is that your business appears in the 3-pack when people are looking for your products or services near your place of business. The more effective the local SEO marketing is, the further away from your place of business your business will appear in the 3-pack.
Local SEO marketing or local search marketing is an effective way to market your local business online. It helps businesses promote their products and services to local customers when they’re looking for them online.
This is achieved through a variety of methods that differ from standard SEO which involves improving the rank of a website. Local SEO does not require a website to work and can, therefore, be much easier and less expensive than organic SEO.
A business can have the best website in the world and never appear in the 3-pack. At the same time, a business without a website can appear in the 3-pack. That is the essence of local SEO marketing.
What is the difference between SEO and Local SEO?
Local SEO is an optimisation strategy that helps your business to be more visible in local search results in search engines like Google or Bing.
Any business anywhere in the world that has a physical location or that serves a specific geographic area can benefit from local SEO. This applies just as much to a small business like a cafe or a landscaper as to large businesses with multiple branches like McDonald’s. If the search results show as part of a map then you know that the search engines recognise it as a local business. In the case of Google, the map has 3 listings underneath the map (also known as the 3-pack). Once you know that your business category is treated as a local business then local SEO can help you.
You first need to know how search engines work. Google is the best-known search engine and it is constantly striving to return the most relevant results as quickly as possible in order to retain its dominant position in the industry. It is best known for returning links to websites and it does this by constantly crawling and indexing them using “bots” (online robots) to run algorithms. Google Rankbrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm which uses machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs) to determine the most relevant results to queries. This artificial intelligence engine is helping Google to stay ahead of the competition.
Website designers can help search engines to understand their websites by using structured data tags. There is a joint venture which started in 2011 between Microsoft Bing, Google and Yahoo! called www.schema.org which sets out how to add structured data to websites. Using schema tags helps search engines determine what your website is about much more quickly which can help with ranking etc.
Local SEO uses structured databases such as business directories as well as unstructured websites. It is able to recognise a business via its name, address and phone (NAP) and make associations between the various data sources using that data. That is why it is so important to use the same NAP wherever a business is listed and to keep all data sources up to date with any changes.
Unlike organic searches, Google’s local search algorithm includes a proximity factor, which is derived from the NAP. In the early days, the search phrase had to include an element of the NAP to be recognised as a local search. With the advent of smartphones with built-in GPS, this is no longer required as “near me” will suffice. Google matches the location of the searcher with businesses nearby based on the NAP and refines the list based on the search query, e.g. “restaurant”. The directories all contain business categories such as restaurants.
The search engines even know where you are when using a desktop or laptop without GPS built-in. They know this through the IP address being used. If you want a pizza delivered to your office, Googling “pizza delivery” from there would show a list of suppliers near your office. The same search at home would produce a different set of results because it is a different location.
Searches on mobile phones overtook searches on desktop computers some time ago and it is a trend in motion. Before that, the 3-pack was the 7-pack but that was too many results to display on mobile devices. Local SEO has become increasingly important for the success of any business offering local products or services.
What matters for local SEO
While the 3-pack is displayed within the standard Google organic search listings, it is powered by separate algorithms than the organic Google search results. As a local business, you have the opportunity to appear within both the main organic search results and the 3-pack simultaneously.
If you’re new to online marketing, one of the main challenges is knowing what you should focus on to make your efforts as effective as possible.
The Moz annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey, based on the opinions of the top worldwide experts in local SEO provides the best insights into which factors influence local search visibility. Website content is a significant factor, just as it is in Google’s traditional “organic” search algorithm, but location-based factors like Google My Business, citations, and review signals are also important. The importance of individual factors changes over time.
Start harnessing SEO
With a solid understanding of how Google ranks local search results, you can start to concentrate on signals that will optimise your site’s digital footprint. This way your business shows up higher on the results page, which can lead to more potential customers finding your business.
There are many factors that influence your visibility in these searches, but keep in mind that local search continues to grow and change. To keep up with what signals are increasing and decreasing in importance, you can refer to Moz’s annual survey to inform your strategy. Once you start to improve each important signal area, you’ll be able to reach more people in your geographic region—and grow faster.
How does Local SEO work?
The search engine companies realise that local searches tend to have commercial intent. When someone is searching for “restaurant near me” or “computer repair near me” they probably need that service at the time of the search. So it made sense for them to treat local search differently from general searches.
Prior to online searches, there was a big industry around local directories such as Yellow Pages which were printed and distributed to households. They indexed the information in an attempt to make finding it as easy as possible. To do that the data had to be held in a database and was printed from there. Data in databases is structured data and easy for machines to understand.
Long before the Internet, database protocols such as SQL (Structured Query Language) evolved which enabled simple and complex queries to extract data from these databases. If one had the database underlying the Yellow Pages on a computer it would have been much quicker to extract the information you needed using SQL than looking it up by thumbing through the printed directory.
Local SEO works because these databases are now online and accessible via the Internet. You can quite easily see how a business can be in one of the databases yet not have a website. That business can be returned as a search result just as easily as any other business. This levels the playing field between the small or new businesses and the bigger more established businesses.
The databases such as Yellow Pages known as business directories are now relatively old hat. The search engines have built their own databases on top of their GIS (Geographic Information Systems) enabling them to display the location of businesses on maps. Google Maps and Apple Maps are not just great navigational aids, they are business directories in their own right.
Local SEO works by combining business directories with GIS. This enables search engines to respond to queries like “restaurant near me” by serving up results on a map with links for “Directions”, “Call” etc. Google’s solution to this is the 3-pack where they serve up the 3 businesses that most closely match the query taking into account the location.
What is the difference between SEO and Local SEO?
Local Search Engine Optimisation is different from SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) or Organic SEO. The easiest way to explain the difference is that
- it is possible to be found in Local Search if you don’t have a website
- it is possible that however good your website, you may be invisible in Local Search
The vast majority of business websites are set up to be found in organic search results (SEO) and not optimised for local search results. This does not matter for e-commerce or international brands but it really does matter for any business that has local stores or serves a local area. This is because the majority of searches conducted by people looking to buy something are treated by search engines as local online searches rather than organic searches.
You can learn more online from many sources or you can read our book “Local Search Optimisation” which is serialised and updated on this website.
How can I improve my Local SEO?
The first step is to undertake an audit to see if you (i.e. your business) even appear in local search results and to find out how competitive your business category is in your area. It is quite easy to see which businesses appear in the 3-pack and by clicking “more places” at the bottom of the 3-pack you can see all the competitors and whether and where you appear.
It is worth undertaking searches of this nature using as many different search terms as possible because you never know what words the general public may use to find a business like yours. The organic search results will include business directories like Yellow Pages and you should also include them in your audit. If they are ranking in organic search results and you are not in their directory then you need to know so that you can correct that.
In summary, the first step is to see if you are in the structured databases available on the internet when people are searching for businesses like yours. If not then you need to add your business as the second step. The third step is to use the fields available in each database to the fullest extent. These fields may include:
- Business Name
- Business Address
- Business Phone Numbers
- Business Website
- Business Social Media Accounts
- Business Categories
- Business Description
- Business Opening Hours
- Business Images including Logo
- Business Videos
- Descriptions of Products and/or Services
- Images of Products and Product Prices
You should treat each database as if it was your only website because you cannot control where your next customer will find you online and you need to make a good impression when they find you.
The fourth step would be to make sure that your website (assuming you have one) is helping. What do we mean by that? It is a big subject but, for instance, it should use the same NAP (Name, Address, Phone) as used in the business directories so that Google can recognise it as the same business. It also helps to use local business schema and to have information on the “categories” used in the business directories. That way your website is contributing to your local SEO.
The fifth step can be summarised as “promotion” and that can take many forms such as:
- blog articles on your website or another blogging platform
- social posts linking back to your blog or local area
- email marketing to your brand ambassadors inviting them to share your social posts or blog
- online advertising
- Press Releases which are a good source of backlinks
- proactively seeking backlinks from influential sources
This content was originated by MyLocal – All rights reserved.