By Marina Milutinovic | February 7, 2022
Local search can be an incredibly powerful tool for small businesses.
When you Google specific services, chances are good that you’ll be shown listings for businesses in your area instead of seeing larger businesses from around the world. This is the power of local SEO: It allows small businesses to rank highly on Google and reach their local customers.
In this article, we’ll dive into local SEO, how it works, and why it’s important for small businesses.
What is Local SEO?
If you’re already familiar with SEO, you can think of local SEO as optimizing search engines for local (geographic-based) keyword searches. More than 90% of US consumers searched online for a local business in 2020, according to BrightLocal research, and therefore appearing in local search results can play an important role in generating leads and sales for many businesses.
What are the main factors that affect local search results?
There are three main factors that affect local search results:
- Distance: Search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo, use users’ locations (IP addresses for desktop computers or mobile phone locations) to determine what results they’re going to display. For example, when someone in Rockport, MA, looks for organic food, Google will display results based on physical distance, among other factors. The results will most likely contain local organic food shops or online grocery stores that deliver food to Rockport.
- Relevance: Google determines how well a business matches a user through the details the business provides in Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business). Google also considers the content found on the business’ website.
- Prominence: Google tries to determine which businesses are more popular. The prominence is calculated by the information on a business found anywhere online, such as articles, links, directories, and business profiles. A business’s reputation is a big factor in the eyes of Google and other search engines. Trust is determined by the number of reviews a business has online as well as its star rating. Quality of content and the number of backlinks also influence the trustworthiness of a business website.
Out of the three factors we listed, relevance and prominence are the ones a business can influence to improve its position in local search results.
Why is Local SEO Important?
Having the best product or service does not guarantee people will find you online. Most users will click on the first or the second link that comes up in the search results, and the only way that they’ll move onto the second page of search results is if they’re dissatisfied with the results on the first page.
A recent survey showed 57% of consumers say they shop local to keep the money close to home, and 38% of consumers support local businesses to feel connected with their community. Establishing a solid local presence will help you keep your business up and running.
Paid advertising can take up an entire marketing budget of a business. In contrast, investing in local SEO is not as expensive, and implementing a local SEO marketing strategy will provide long-term results.
Local SEO helps businesses:
- Grow their local customer base
- Connect with their local community
- Build brand awareness
- Gain a positive reputation
What Types of Businesses Could Benefit Most from Local SEO?
Every business that serves local customers should utilize local SEO marketing. Some of the businesses that might get more hits from local SEO include:
- Restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, bars, nightclubs
- Doctors, dentists, hospitals
- Lawyers, insurance agents
- Plumbers, electricians, hair salons, bookkeepers, gyms, summer camps
What Do Google’s Local Search Results Look Like?
There are several types of results for local searches that can be seen in Google.
The first one and the most prominent one is the local 3-pack. The local 3-pack shows the top three most relevant results as determined by Google, in a “box,” with a map that shows pinned locations of the top three businesses.
There’s a “View all” button at the bottom of the box in case a user wants to see more results. Once a user clicks on the “View all” button, a map opens and shows the top 8-10 results with an option to sort the results by Rating or Hours.
The second type of local search result is Google Business Profile. It appears on the right side of the search results and shows the most important information about a business. It can also show ratings of the business from across the web, articles and press releases about the business, and links to the business’s social media channels.
The third type of local search result is “regular” organic links.
Among the organic links, Google may also include local directories, e.g., Yelp and FourSquare pages:
The Most Common Local SEO Strategies
Google Business Profile Optimization
Google Business Profile is a free Google service that makes your storefront or service visible in Google Search or Maps. You can showcase your business by adding photos, offers, posts, information, and more.
Business owners should fill out their profiles as much as possible and maintain their profiles on a regular basis. Note, sometimes users can add suggestions to your business that Google may apply to your listing (like changing hours of operation or the address). Even though users have some influence over the information that Google applies to your business listing, it might not be such a bad thing after all. Google uses this information to keep listings accurate. When a business owns a couple of hundred listings, things can easily slip through the cracks.
Google will send you an email if someone or Google edits or deletes information in your business profile. Your next step is to log into your account and accept or decline the changes. Google doesn’t provide an exact time frame of when the changes will actually happen, but try to be vigilant.
When assessing the prominence of a business, Google uses information that businesses provide through their business profiles as well as information found around the web. Three critical data points for Google are name, address, and phone, also known as “NAP” data.
When NAP data for a business is consistent across the web, it sends a signal to Google that this data is accurate and the business is legitimate. This is why it’s important to keep NAP data consistent.
If you’ve moved your business to a different address, or changed your phone number or name, then chances are your business information is inconsistent. That can cause Google to exclude it from the results or consider your business less relevant.
Correcting business information and maintaining it across 50 or local directories is time-consuming. That’s why we use services like Yext to manage a business’s online presence.
Every business that serves one or more specific geographic markets can benefit from including one or more local landing pages on its website. Think of the page as a digest version of your business that answers these questions:
- What are your address and telephone number?
- What are your business hours?
- What products and services does your business offer?
- Why should visitors choose your business over another?
- How can a visitor contact your business?
- How trustworthy is your business? (Reviews and testimonials by clients)
- Where can a visitor learn more information about your business?
Local or localized content is content that focuses on local keywords. For example, you own a gift shop that ships across the states, but you also want to attract the locals to visit your brick-and-mortar store. Your local content strategy could focus on keywords such as “gift shop boston”, “unique gifts boston”, etc., but it could also emphasize other topics of local interest to your customer base, such as featuring other local shops or mentioning local attractions.
If you don’t find a good place for localized content on your website, you can start a blog. Try to post new articles regularly, and use them to showcase your products and services. Remember to fill in as much information as possible, such as meta data, images, and title tags.
Don’t forget that search engines don’t like keyword stuffing, so you need to be creative with producing local content. Try to include local keywords as naturally as possible. You can add them to meta data, heading, alt tags, and other hidden areas of the page as well.
Here are some types of local content you can add to your website:
- City or neighborhood landing page (you need one for every city/neighborhood you have a physical location in)
- Regional or state landing page
- Discount and offers
- Local events
There is no guarantee that higher review ratings will result in higher rankings, but research has shown that a higher rating makes more visitors convert to customers. Take a look at some of the findings:
- More than seven in ten consumers trust an online review as much as they would a personal recommendation, making reviews as powerful as word-of-mouth marketing for growing your business.
- A study by Harvard Business Review suggested that improving the average review rating on Yelp by one star could lead to a 5%-9% increase in revenues.
- Having four and five-star reviews shows your business can be trusted to deliver on its promises. This means consumers are more likely to choose you over competitors.
- Negative reviews can be damaging to the prestige, profitability, and trustworthiness of a business.
- A single negative review can drive away approximately 22% of customers, whereas around three negative reviews can drive away 59% of customers.
- A single negative review could cost your business customers, with 40% of consumers saying reading a negative review makes them want to take their cash elsewhere.
- People hesitate to purchase from businesses with no reviews.
Every business should have a review strategy in place, both for getting reviews and responding to them. Your rating doesn’t have to be a perfect five (or ten), but when a visitor sees how you handle positive and negative reviews, it may have a higher effect on potential customers.
We hope our article has demystified local SEO and that you now understand why businesses of all sizes across the world are using it. CommonMind specializes in local SEO, and we’re happy to help you with assessing the state of local SEO for your business and creating a solid strategy that will help you rank higher locally.