Local searches account for nearly half of all Google searches. That makes local search engine optimization an important marketing channel for all location-based businesses. Local SEO isn’t much different from SEO at large—the goal is still to influence your company’s visibility in search results to build brand awareness and earn more clicks. The difference is in the landscape of the search engine results pages (SERPs), which changes for local intent.
If your business serves local customers or other businesses in your area, this guide will help you include the most essential elements of local SEO in your marketing strategy.
What are Local Search Results?
Local search results aim to satisfy a searcher’s navigational or informational intent for a business or service in their area. Unlike traditional web results, which include website listings and SERP features such as featured snippets and knowledge panels, local search results often include maps listings, business directories, and local knowledge panels.
Take a search query like “pizza.” This term has broad intent, which Google tries to refine by giving a range of results. But before the Wikipedia article about pizza or the recipes suggesting how to make our own, Google returns local results for places to order pizza from. These include a map with business listings from Google My Business (GMB), known as a local pack or 3-pack. While these may not be Tampa’s top three pizza places, they are the nearest best options to grab a slice, according to Google. Earning one of the three spots in the local pack is a main goal of any local SEO strategy.
While GMB and local packs are important, local SEO can also include optimizing your website’s on-page content. Consider adding your business to relevant directories where users can find your contact information, see your services and read customer reviews. Some of these directories make your customer service, scheduling, or purchasing process more accessible, such as through instant messaging or online ordering.
Local SEO Ranking Factors
Before you optimize your website or GMB profile for local SEO, it’s helpful to know what ranking factors search engines look at. The origins of today’s ranking factors start with the release of Google Pigeon in August 2013. Pigeon changed Google’s local search algorithm to show more results that incorporate a user’s location (and distance from a destination) and consider ranking signals from traditional web algorithms. Pigeon also updated Google’s 7-pack of business listings with a 3-pack. This made the competition for visibility even more fierce, leading to a rise in spam and consequently, spam fighting by Google.
In an effort to reduce spam and account for proximity and relevance in its local search results, Google ranks results based on several factors. The ranking factors for local SEO break down into nine categories:
- Google My Business profiles
- Customer reviews
- Inbound links (backlinks)
- On-page content
- Citations (NAP consistency)
- Searcher’s proximity to the business
- User engagement (behavior)
- Social signals
The importance of local ranking signals varies and depends on if you’re vying for Google’s local pack or organic search listings; it also depends on which SEO specialist you talk to.
In the local pack, signals from GMB and backlinks tend to be most important, followed by positive Google reviews. For local search results, the criteria shifts to more traditional SEO ranking signals, including backlinks, on-page factors, and user engagement metrics.
Local SEO Checklist: 6 Essential Elements
The easiest way to optimize your online presence for local SEO is to keep in mind the ranking factors listed previously. To put those insights into action, here is a checklist of optimizations to help boost your visibility for local search results.
1. Quality Backlinks from Local or Authoritative Sources
Inbound links have been acknowledged as a traditional SEO ranking factor for a long time. Links correlate to authority, which is the foundation of a strong web presence. The best inbound links are naturally awarded from relevant or authoritative sources. In the context of local SEO, those criteria also include proximity. If your town’s news media or a local player in your industry links to you from their website, that’s a great endorsement for your local online reputation.
2. Optimized Google My Business Profile
Having a GMB profile isn’t enough on its own—Google may even create you one by default. You must also continue to manage and update the information, similar to how you would your website. Make sure your services, hours, address, and other pertinent details are correct and up to date, especially ahead of holidays. Share photos and posts to keep your audience engaged with and informed about your brand. If you have reviews or questions left by customers, respond to them in a timely and professional manner.
3. Consistent Citations and NAP Listings
NAP is an acronym for name, address, and phone number, and it is important for local SEO. When your NAP listings are consistent across the web, Google has more confidence that your business is legitimate, which can translate to you showing up more often. The more citations you achieve in local and industry directories with consistent NAP information, the more trusted and authoritative you’ll appear. Citations also translate into greater visibility, which can mean finding new customers.
4. On-Page Website Factors
Performing well in traditional search results can result in more local traffic and help you earn the authority and trust to appear in the local pack. On-page SEO is an important factor for that. Make sure your website pages have hyper-local content, where appropriate, that is helpful to users and indexable by search engines. Optimize your title tags and headings with geographic references as necessary and include original photos that highlight your services in a local context. Be wary of over-optimizing content as well, as readability tends to work better than keyword stuffing for both users and Google.
5. User Behavior Metrics
A great website experience can lead to fewer bounces, more clicks to other pages, and more conversions like form fills or orders; all of these behavioral signals help your SEO. Factors that contribute to a positive user experience include page load times, a lack of spammy ads or over-optimized content, a well organized menu, and link anchor text or page titles that accurately describe their destinations. These considerations apply off-site, as well. When writing a GMB description or post, or creating a new business profile in a directory, think about what information will help your users the most and lead them to take a desired action, like visiting your website or contacting you.
6. Social Signals
While there isn’t a social media ranking factor for local SEO, studies show that using social media to amplify your brand or content and earn engagement can correlate with improved visibility in organic search results. The bottom line is, if people are talking positively about you in social media, that’s a good thing. If you write a new blog post for your website, or advertise a new service or sale in a GMB post, don’t neglect to share that with your followers as well. At the same time, if you’re uploading new photos or announcements to your social media accounts, don’t forget to also share that content from your GMB profile or website.
These local SEO essentials will help get you started on increasing your visibility in Google’s local pack and local search results. If you would like help with your local SEO strategy, consult with Bayshore Solutions. Whether you’re a single-location business, like a law firm or a store, or a franchise with GMB listings in cities nationwide, our SEO team can help you send the right ranking signals to Google as well as build brand awareness or earn more traffic with local customers.