For searchers in need of products and services, convenience and speed are top priorities. As a result, Google has been putting more emphasis on local search to ensure that users are finding speedy solutions to their needs. Good local rankings are essential for any business website looking to compete in today’s increasingly localised search landscape.
What are Local Rankings?
Local search rankings are those related to the geographic location of the user performing a search. These rankings can occur when a user includes a local keyword in their search, such as “computer repairs central London” or “Mexican restaurants near me”, or when the search engine determines the user’s location based on data from their device.
What is Local SEO?
Local search engine optimisation focuses on optimising a website to be found in local search results. More brands and agencies are turning their focus on local SEO marketing tactics. These tactics are geared towards improving visibility for businesses in their local communities, making users aware of the services that are available near them.
A local SEO strategy is especially good for business owners with “brick and mortar” business premises, who are looking to market themselves to potential customers in a specific geographic location.
What can Local SEO Do for Your Business?
Search Engine Journal lists some compelling statistics that show us just how powerful local SEO can be.
- 78% of local searches on a mobile device result in the searcher making an offline purchase.
- 71% of searchers say they search for the location of a business to confirm the address before visiting the business for the first time.
- 50% of searchers who performed a local search on their phone went to a brick and mortar store within one day of their search.
- 18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within just one day.
This shows that local search can be a powerful tool for directing more customers to your business.
There are some key ranking signals that search engines look for when it comes to local search:
- Google My Business listing
- Google My Business categories
- Google My Business images
- Facebook Business page and social listings
- Consistent NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) information
- Online directory listings and citations
- Mobile responsiveness
- Localised and optimised onsite content
- Click-through rate
- Quality backlinks
- Proximity to people searching
- Listings on industry-specific review sites and product review sites
- Positive, location-specific reviews and responses to reviews
Here are a few smart ways to improve your local search rankings and ultimately boost the visibility of your business to local clients.
1. Leverage the Google Local Pack
The Google Local Pack (also known as the Local 3-Pack) is the method Google uses to display the top relevant results for local searches. Users will see a map and a 3-point list of businesses with their NAP information. This makes it especially easy for mobile searchers to find your business.
Here’s how to optimise for the Local Pack:
- Create your Google My Business page.
- Verify the address of your business.
- Optimise your GMB listing with your name, category, contact details, images etc.
- Optimise your website for local search, with local content, good SEO practices and good authority links.
We’ll cover all these points in detail later on.
Once your business gets into the Local 3-Pack, monitor the information that’s displayed regarding your business. Any user can edit the data in your business listing, and these edits can go live without you receiving any notification.
If you see any unwanted changes to your listing, you can fix them manually, or appeal to GMB’s support team to have the changes removed.
You can also get into the Local Pack as a paid search result. Google Ads in the Local Pack can be useful if your local search competition is too high, or if you’re looking for faster search results.
2. Create Quality Content with a Local Focus
Local SEO isn’t different to “regular” SEO – content is still key, it just requires a local focus. As with all content, your onsite content needs to add value and answer searchers’ questions. Here are some tips to make localised content work for you:
Include a blog on your website and update it regularly with locally focused content. This is where you can make announcements about new products or locations, publish interviews and testimonials, and talk about local trends and how they’re impacting your business – or how they’re impacting customers in need of your products and services.
“Best Of” Lists:
Lists and guides can be included in your blog, or published as separate content on their own page. For example, estate agents like to include insightful “area guides” that show potential buyers and renters what they can look forward to in each neighbourhood they cover. Coffee shops might share pieces like their top 10 favourite blends, or a step-by-step guide to brewing the perfect cup. “Best of” lists and “ultimate guides” are your friends – they give you opportunities to share original and engaging content that your local customers will be likely to share online.
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page is a good way to address all your searcher’s queries in one easy-to-find place online. Optimising your FAQ section is a good way to get “snipped” by Google for a featured snippet in the SERPs.
If your business has locations in a number of different cities, create a separate, dedicated webpage for each location. This will make the user experience smoother for searchers in various geographic locations. If user behaviour and priorities differ from one location to another (say searchers in central London prioritise very quick service, but searchers in Manchester value more personalised service), you can tailor your copy to address these different user personas.
A dedicated page for news pieces, press releases and promotional material can also be helpful. Just make sure it’s well laid-out, and be sure to include some good quality, relevant images to avoid ending up with a page of plain text links.
Discounts, special offers and giveaways always tend to bring in more business, and you can customise these for your local community. Make them feel special with “locals only” offers – like a discount or loyalty card for residents of your city or neighbourhood.
Host a local event, like a class, workshop or charity drive, and be sure to drive awareness with onsite content and social media posts. You can also consider sponsoring or partnering with an existing local event, festival or concert, together with other businesses in your area.
3. Find Local Link Building Opportunities
Link building plays an important role in improving your local rankings as well. Local links are specifically added with the aim of building relevance for the business website’s location, by speaking to a local audience.
Local link building opportunities tend to be more limited than general link building opportunities. You’re essentially looking to rank for local keywords with lower search volume, and you’ll be working with small local websites which have lower authority than major national or international sites.
Citation building is a good place to start your local link building efforts. A local citation is any mention of your business online, which might include your company name, phone number, physical address, website address, or any combination of these.
Citations can be categorised as structured or unstructured.
A structured citation lists your company’s contact information on a business listing directory. Yelp is a good example of a site with structured citations.
An unstructured citation lists your contact information on another site that is not specifically a business listing directory. This might include blogs, wikis and online magazines or newspapers.
When you have citations across multiple credible sources, this helps search engines to verify that your business exists and is legitimate. Listing your business in reliable local directories helps to establish trust and authority.
Here are some sources you can reach out to for link building with a local focus:
- Local online newspapers that run features on nearby businesses.
- Local bloggers who have a small but targeted following within your city or neighbourhood.
- Local event pages and tourism sites that run features like “What To Do” in your location.
- Other local business owners with their own websites, who are willing to partner with you by linking to your website.
- Local charities that will link to you or mention you on their website as a thanks for sponsorship or donations.
4. Keep Your NAP Details and Business Hours Up to Date
NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone Number. Keeping these business details updated is critical for any business looking to improve their local search results. You can’t establish a reputation for yourself in your geographic location if customers (and Google) don’t know where to find you. Search engines take NAP information into account when determining which companies to show in the SERPs for locally targeted searches.
There’s a theory among local SEO specialists that Google will cross-reference your NAP information across multiple websites, to confirm that your business is legitimate. The more consistent your NAP information is, the better – for your users and for your local SEO efforts.
NAP inconsistencies are often caused by:
- A business moving and not updating past directory listings, reviews etc.
- A business having a different store address to their company registered address, and using both these addresses online.
- A business generating multiple phone numbers for attribution tracking purposes.
Make sure that your business name, physical address and phone number are always correct and up to date, both on your website and on other locations online, like directories and review sites. If your business details change, be sure to send out a quick, courteous e-mail to everyone who has written about your business using the old details, informing them of the changes and requesting that they update their content.
Do some research by putting yourself in the searcher’s shoes. Search for a relevant keyword and location – for example, if you own a hair salon in Knightsbridge, Google “hair salon + knightsbridge” or “hairdresser + knightsbridge” and see what comes up in the results. Then ask yourself the following questions:
- Where is your website ranked? Is it on the first results page, and is it near the top of the page?
- Can you easily see all your business’ NAP information?
- Is all the information about your business available in one result, or is it spread across different pages?
If you’re struggling to find your NAP details and other important information in the SERPs, your potential customers will be struggling too.
NAP isn’t the only thing you need to keep an eye on. Most customers want to know what time of day they will be able to come to your premises. Be sure to list your business hours online – and stick to them.
As you can imagine, nothing is more frustrating for a customer than visiting your store only to find it closed, despite being informed online that it would be open. They’re not likely to visit again. Include your opening hours for weekdays, weekends and bank holidays online, and update them whenever they change.
5. Pay Attention to the User Experience or Journey
Where does the “user journey” start? Most people would say it begins when a user enters their first query or visits the business’ website for the first time – but it’s actually a little earlier than that.
The user journey (or user experience) starts when a potential customer first sees a brand. This could be online in the SERPs or at a physical brick and mortar location.
Local search is a crucial part of the user journey. Remember, 78% of locally-focused mobile searches result in an offline store visit within a day of the search. As we mentioned before, consistent NAP details mean your users will always have access to the correct contact information in order to get to the next step of the user journey.
When users are performing their first online searches, you get your first opportunity to capture their attention and influence their final decision.
If your site is already appearing with a good position in the Google Local Pack or the SERPs, this is a positive start to the user’s journey towards a conversion. You want to make it easy for them to click through to a web page with valuable content that will answer their queries or address their search intent. This will establish your business as a trustworthy option in the user’s eyes, and encourage them to take the next step – either making an enquiry or purchase online, or visiting your brick and mortar location.
Another critical part of the user journey is responsive design. Studies show that around 63% of searchers are now using multiple devices to search for local businesses, including their tablets and mobile phones. A website that is mobile-friendly (or responsive) is essential for a smooth user experience.
6. Optimise Your Google My Business Listing
Google My Business (formerly Google Places and Google Local) is a free Google tool designed to help you manage your online presence across the search engine. Your GMB listing can have a big impact on your local brand visibility.
Once you create your listing, Google will generate a Google Maps location that will synchronise with traditional Google Search, to make your business more easily searchable and accessible. Not only that, Google Knowledge Graph will also use your GMB information to help generate details for its database.
Here are the steps to completing your Google My Business listing the right way.
- First, do a search to make sure your company doesn’t already have a Google My Business listing. Visit the GMB page for adding and claiming listings, and enter your business name and address.
- If you have a long-established business, it might already be listed on GMB, and you can claim that listing if you are the business’ owner. Once you have claimed the listing, you can manage it just as you would do with a new listing.
- Fill out all the input boxes with your latest accurate details. Be careful to use correct grammar and spelling. Choose the most relevant category for your business. You can also add details about the delivery of your goods and services to customers at their location.
- Be sure to add service area information for your business. You can set your service area based on the ZIP codes or cities that you operate in. You can edit and update this information as it changes.
- After submitting your business information, you have to verify your business listing to make sure it will be visible. Google won’t display your GMB listing until your business has been properly verified.
- You can choose to verify your business via phone, e-mail or postcard. Verification helps Google to find any false listings and weed them out. Verification via postcard is a popular option, as it demonstrates to Google that your physical business address is legitimate.
- Verification is quick and normally takes less than a week. Once you receive your postcard with verification code, verify your business and your GMB listing will be live.
- Make use of as many of the GMB resources as possible, to get the most out of your listing.
- Enter complete, accurate data. Don’t leave out any information that searchers will have to guess at.
- Include relevant keywords and search phrases in your business listing.
- Include your business hours, and as we mentioned earlier, be sure to update them whenever they change. WITH GMB, you can customise hours for holidays and other special events.
- Add a few good quality photos that show your logo, your storefront, and some of your products if applicable. Make sure these photos are in the correct format and have the right dimensions. Businesses that include photos in their listings receive 35% more click-throughs to their websites than those that don’t add photos.
- Interact with your customers. Google My Business allows customers to leave ratings and reviews. Respond to these reviews promptly, thanking customers for their feedback and addressing their queries or concerns.
Once your listing is up and running, take advantage of the analytical data (Insights) available for Google My Business. Insights help you to answer a few key questions.
- How are customers finding your listing? This can happen through a “Direct” search of your business name, or a “Discovery” search of a relevant category, product or service.
- Where are customers finding you on Google? Some will find you via Google Search, and others will find you through Google Maps.
- What are your customers doing once they find your listing? Actions include visiting your website, requesting directions to your business location, calling your number and viewing your photos.
- Where are the direction requests coming from? You can find out where the customers are based that are asking for directions to your business.
- When and how often do customers call you after finding your GMB listing?
- How often are customers viewing your photos on GMB?
Customise Your URLs:
Some users are now also able to create customised short URLs (called “short names”) for their GMB listings. This makes it much easier to promote the URL, and also easy for customers to search for it.
Share Your Reviews:
There’s a new feature in the works from Google My Business, allowing business owners in selected countries to showcase positive reviews and testimonials from their customers. With this feature, GMB will automatically generate suggestions of positive reviews which can be shared via Google Posts. The suggested reviews will be recent and have 4 to 5 star ratings.
7. Use Reviews to Build Your Reputation Online
More and more customer journeys in the digital era include the posting of online reviews. Earning positive reviews will help to boost your business’ reputation and credibility. It’s an essential part of any modern-day marketing strategy.
Deloitte states that an amazing 97% of customers say their final decision is influenced by reading a review.
Here are the best platforms you can use to leverage reviews:
Google My Business:
Google trusts GMB as a credible source for online reviews. Ratings on GMB help to determine your star rating in Google Maps results, and will influence where your business appears in the SERPs.
- Put a strong emphasis on customer service in all aspects of your business, in order to earn genuine positive feedback.
- Create or claim your Google My business listing, and provide your customers with a direct link to the place where they can review your business.
- Include your GMB review link in your e-mail marketing campaigns, for example, add it to your e-mail signature to encourage customers to leave reviews.
- Request reviews from long-term supporters and repeat customers.
- Train all customer-facing staff to ask happy customers to leave reviews.
Industry-Specific Review Sites:
Review sites that are targeted to your industry will influence your rankings in search results. The more positive reviews you can earn on sites like these, the better.
To find relevant review sites, you can search for the following:[your industry name] reviews
[your industry name] ratings
[your competitor name] reviews
[your competitor name] ratings
Find the most relevant and focused sites on the list of results you get, and direct your customers towards these sites. You can apply the tips for earning GMB reviews to other platforms like industry-specific review sites.
Product Review Sites:
These are third-party sites created to help business owners earn reviews while also vetting them for accuracy and validity. Many customers are more likely to leave a review if they know it will be vetted by a third party. These reviews are also considered more trustworthy, as they cannot be manipulated by the business owner.
Trustpilot especially is considered trustworthy by Google, and the search engine includes their product ratings in Google Shopping ads.
Here are some thought-provoking statistics on the benefits of authentic product reviews:
- Product page visitors who read online reviews show a 58% higher conversion rate than those who don’t.
- 100 reviews on a website can lead to 37% increase in orders.
- Adding user reviews increases organic search traffic by 15 to 25%.
Social Media Platforms:
A growing number of customers are sharing their experiences on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels. In addition, Facebook Local is enabling more users to harness local search and find reviews of businesses in their neighbourhood. It’s an app that essentially combines Yelp, FourSquare, and the previous version of the Facebook Events app, allowing users to search for information about their friends’ check-ins and events taking place in their area. It also allows them to find reviews on local service providers, restaurants, hotels and more.
- When considering social media reviews, all the above tips on GMB and review sites apply, but there are some additional factors to consider.
- Business owners have the opportunity to share the reviews they earn via social media. This needs to be done tactfully, in a way that acknowledges and thanks the reviewer.
- Be sure to respond to reviews across multiple social media platforms. Customers on social media are expecting you to engage and join in a conversation with them.
- Keep things visual and varied. Social media users respond better to images, check-ins, stories and events than they do to plain text-based posts.
- Don’t ignore negative reviews. Sure, it’s tempting to pay more attention to the positive feedback and make sure it gets more press – but if a dissatisfied customer feels ignored, it will impact your reputation even more negatively in their eyes. Be proactive and address negative feedback in a respectful, constructive way. You could turn a dissatisfied customer into a very happy (and loyal) supporter!
The world is more connected than ever before, with customers looking for answers at the touch of a button. They want to find the most reliable, highly recommended products and services located near them, and they want the results fast.
By correctly optimising and positioning your business for local search, you can make sure your site will be seen in the right place, at the right time, by the right people. Any brick and mortar business wanting to stand out from their competitors need to make sure they’re harnessing Google’s local search landscape in a smart, strategic way.