Local Search is important to you, why?
So how does it work?
Local Search Optimisation – What is involved?
Search Engine Optimisation versus Local Search
SEO has a bad name due to the many companies and individuals selling SEO services, often using mass email campaigns and unsolicited calls. Before we start, it is important to define SEO and differentiate it from Local Search.
Wikipedia provides this definition: Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as "natural", "organic", or "earned" results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine's users; these visitors can then be converted into customers. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search, academic search, news search, and industry-specific vertical search engines.
Note that Wikipedia does not define “Local SEO” but rather “Local Search” and states: Local Search is the use of specialized Internet search engines that allow users to submit geographically constrained searches against a Structured Database of local business listings. Typical Local Search queries include not only information about "what" the site visitor is searching for (such as Keywords, a business category, or the name of a consumer product) but also "where" information, such as a street address, city name, postal code, or geographic coordinates like latitude and longitude. Examples of local searches include "Hong Kong hotels", "Manhattan restaurants", and "Dublin car rental". Local searches exhibit explicit or implicit local intent. A search that includes a location modifier, such as "Bellevue, WA" or "14th arrondissement", is an explicit local search. A search that references a product or service that is typically consumed locally, such as "restaurant" or "nail salon", is an implicit local search.
Local Search sites are primarily supported by advertising from businesses that wish to be prominently featured when users search for specific products and services in specific locations. Local Search advertising can be highly effective because it allows ads to be targeted very precisely to the search terms and location provided by the user.
Most businesses obsess about having a website even if they only operate in a small geographic area. Many spend a lot of time and money trying to get their website to rank which is “organic SEO”. That can be a sledgehammer trying to crack a nut.
All local businesses can be found very easily in online searches without a website. Having one helps but is not a prerequisite. It is likely that most people finding the websites of local businesses do so via “local search” rather than “organic SEO”.
What is local search?
Online searches are those searches that users make millions of times a day all over the world, within the search engines. Sometimes these searches are for general information, and sometimes users are searching for specific products, services, or businesses.
Local Search is simply the process of making a broad search more specific by adding a location into the search. Therefore, instead of a user searching for “buy shoes,” they might search for “buy shoes, Norwich” or “buy shoes near me”. This Local Search allows Google, Bing, and other search engines to deliver the most relevant results in the SERPs by showing the geographically closest businesses that sell shoes.
Local Search began with users simply trying to narrow their search. Today however, Local Search is an actual part of Google’s algorithm, and Google recognises local searches in a number of ways such as:
- If a place is recognised in the search term
- From the GPS on a mobile device
- From the IP address of a computer
- From the type of business sought (e.g. a shop)
Google will give businesses with a Google My Business listing a position in Local Search results, possibly in the 3-pack if they rank well enough. Google will give websites that have been optimised for location better positions in the SERPs. It is not just Google as other platforms such as Facebook are offering similar search facilities.
Research indicates that more than half of all online searches are local. Furthermore, a much higher proportion of local online searches have “buyer intent” than do general online searches. That is why Local Search has become such an important aspect of SEO.
What is surprising is that the majority of website builders or agencies do not differentiate between local businesses and (for want of a better word) brand businesses. It is important for local search visibility that your website supplier has implemented the things that are required for Local SO and, if not, seek help from an expert.
Local Search marketing and Local Search go hand in hand, with Local Search marketing being a result of Local Search optimisation (Local SO) efforts or buying online adverts. We will ignore paid adverts for now.
As with any other aspect of business, there are certain marketing requirements needed for local search. Business owners need to focus on optimising their business and website, if they have one, for local search, and this very act is Local Search marketing. The end objective is to get more conversions (each business must define its own conversion objectives).
This optimisation for Local Search is really just another form of marketing. Just as print ads and radio commercials have specific guidelines, so does Local SO. When a business owner knows these requirements and guidelines and can work within them to better their online visibility that is Local Search marketing. Google has said that you do not have to have a website for Local SO but it helps provided that it complements Local SO.
Local marketing can be undertaken without a website and that is what businesses did before the Internet.
If you have a website and you make changes to it these changes are often referred to as “On Page” or “On Site” activities. Changes that do not involve modifying a website can be referred to as “Off Page” or “Off Site”.
Local SO done correctly will put a business in front of customers when they are looking online for its products or services. It will do this whether or not they know of the business and therefore it is a very good way of gaining new customers. These types of searches are often referred to as “unbranded” searches. If customers are looking for a specific brand then it implies that they have already made their minds up who to buy from.
The benefits of Local SO can best be seen when directly compared with other types of advertising. Take for example, a print advertisement. Business owners can spend a lot of money on advertisements in newspapers and flyers. But they need to hope that the advertisement makes its way to the customer and that the customer needs or wants that product or service at the time they read the advert.
The opposite is true with Local SO. Because it is designed to improve the user experience, and to focus on local businesses, customers only see any one particular type of business when they search for a specific product or service. If they were looking in a magazine or newspaper they would have to sift through many different types of businesses to find that business.
So for instance, in the shoe example, the user searching for shoes would never see an advertisement for a plumber in their search. They would only see local merchants that sell what they are looking for.
In addition to being highly targeted marketing that advertises only to interested users, utilising Local SO efforts costs hardly anything at all. Even when business owners choose to hire outside services, such as a consultant, the cost can be much less than most other forms of marketing. The main expense is in the initial set up as after that the ongoing costs are minimal.
When you consider that local businesses do not even need a website to take advantage of Local SO, the benefits are perhaps more evident still.
A good test is to see if a Google My Business listing can be obtained, because any business with one can make use of Local SO. There are two categories of Google My Business listing:
- These businesses have premises that their customers visit to spend money and would include shops, offices, restaurants, hotels and other venues.
- Service Area. These are usually trades based businesses which tend to deliver goods and services to their customers and would include home services (electricians, plumbers etc.) or builders.
Some businesses eligible for a Google My Business listing may choose not to have one and if they do that then they will lose out on a lot of potential business. That is because without one they cannot show up in the “3-pack” or “local pack”.
They may prefer to promote themselves in other ways such as using social media or simply print advertising. Facebook, in particular, has some Local Search optimisation features which should be used by local businesses but the audience is restricted to people who use Facebook.
Like other forms of advertising, just about all businesses can incorporate Local SO efforts into their online strategy. Two things are essential for local business websites. One is to have their NAP information displayed and consistent with their Google My Business information. Another is to have content which talks about the local area so that Google and other search engines will associate the business as local to the area.
However, because the very nature of Local Search is meant to help users find businesses that are close to them, Local SO is most beneficial to businesses that have an actual physical location.
This is not to say that e-commerce stores and websites cannot use Local SO at all. But if they do not have a physical store that they would like to attract customers to then they would be better to focus mainly on SEO.