Getting placement on the first page of the search results is powerful, but how useful is it to local businesses? It’s called the world wide web, after all. What does SEO have to do with businesses in your town who sell products and services to people who walk through their front doors?
It turns out, quite a bit.
Google Maps, Google+ Local, Foursquare, Yelp, and Apple Maps are the new “Yellow Pages.” Today’s consumers throw their phone books in the garbage, preferring to turn to their laptop, tablet, or smartphone for the answer. When you can get user reviews and driving directions at the touch of a button, why wouldn’t you?
If you want your local consumers to find you, you can expect massive results from local SEO. These are consumers that are already searching for products and services like yours, and looking for a place in their area to find them. Is there a better type of potential customer?
But just like the traditional search results, local search results aren’t a magic oracle. These search services rely on data scattered throughout the web in order to determine which restaurants, retailers, and companies are most noteworthy.
How Local SEO Works
When a consumer picks up their laptop and searches Google for a product or service, the search engine takes a look at their keywords and decides whether they are searching for a physical destination. If so, the search will insert one to seven listings straight from Google Maps into the results.
In other words, users don’t need to go to Google Maps to see your listing on the front page of the search results. Your website will be listed on the front page of the search results for people in your area, as long as you make the top seven list in Google Maps.
A lot of people assume that these local results are organized by how close the business is to the searcher’s location. While this is a factor, it’s not the only one. Just as with traditional search results; relevancy, buzz, and quality matter. Of course, the way these things are measured isn’t quite the same.
While the effort required in keeping up with the changes in traditional SEO resembles a marathon, trying to keep up with the changes in local SEO has been more like drag race. These are just a few of the changes that have taken place in the last several years:
- The introduction of local results into the normal search results
- The replacement of Google Places with Google+ Local, which is an entirely different platform that is part of Google’s new social network, Google+
- The introduction of “blended” results, where local listings are inserted directly into the search results without being included in a “7 pack” of other local listings
- The introduction of local “organic” results unrelated to Google Maps. For example a website about vacuum cleaners in Austin would be more likely to make the front page if the user was searching from Austin
With that in mind, here are some of the ways we use an understanding of the search engines to get results for local businesses:
- Relevancy – Establishing relevancy in the local search results starts with a content strategy grounded in solid keyword research, but also includes insuring consistency in all directory listings and citations. This means that extra care is required to make sure that everywhere your business address is cited, the citations are exactly the same down to the placement of the punctuation; whether it be on your Google profile, your webpage, your Yelp listing, or on any of the other multitude of online directories. Consistency is far more important for local search, because if the address is cited inconsistently, the search engine will be skeptical about your true location. It’s equally important to choose the correct business category for your profile, so that the search engines will be able to accurately determine the most relevant consumers for your listing. If the search engine is confident about your true location, as well as your business category, they will then be confident in serving your company’s listing in the search results and driving directions they provide to your ideal customers.
- Buzz – Google analyzes many factors, such as the number and quality of links to your website and your social media activity, among other things, to determine how authoritative your website is when establishing your website’s organic search rankings. This is clearly a factor in their determination of your rankings in the local listings as well. Google also uses citations of your business such as mentions of its address, business name, and phone number. The number and quality of user reviews is is also a crucial factor, as is the activity surrounding your Google+ Local profile. Clearly generating this kind of buzz isn’t a skill that comes easily.
- Quality – Leaks of internal Google documents have made it clear that human raters are analyzing social profiles, including Google+ Local pages, according to the same standards as websites. This means that the search engines expect you to produce high quality content and interact with your consumers via your local profile. A high quality local profile takes time, effort, and experience; but the high quality profiles are the ones that get the top spots in the local search results.
We approach local SEO with the same effort and skill that we bring to traditional SEO. Local optimization requires a combination of effective marketing and technical prowess. But, local SEO is not just about search results. It is about strengthening your existing customer relationships and about building the trust you need to grow your business.