While SEO involves plenty methods which all aim to improve the search ranking of your website, Local SEO is another angle to look at SEO and for many, it is a necessity to their online business marketing strategy.
Thanks to Local Search Engine Optimization, search results on a given device are provided based on the specific user’s location. You might recognize this when searching from your smartphone or computer for a nearby pizza place, gym, medical clinic, financial advising firm, or even a web design agency, such as ourselves!
On top of that, Local SEO will help provide search results for locations distant from the user – this happens when the user includes location keywords, such as the conventional or colloquial neighborhood/city/state names along with the rest of the search query, such as “plumbing service Roseville, CA,” “Tacoma, Washington lawyer,” or “locksmith Brooklyn NYC.”
(Article updated on 8/31/16)
What is Local SEO and Why Care?
According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2014, 92% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in 2014. That number is likely growing larger, especially with the rise of mobile searches.
Local Search Engine Optimization specifically refers to the process of optimizing your online business to be discoverable via a local organic search. It can also involve optimizing for specific location keywords so that non-local users can find you easier.
Google values locality in connecting people to valuable, relevant search results because Google recognizes the need for consumers to discover value quickly and conveniently. The search engine results page (SERP) and local packs for certain search queries exemplify this effect (provided your device’s location settings aren’t blocked).
Businesses value Local SEO because it allows them to attract geographically nearby customers who might otherwise turn to larger, more established businesses and brands. Local SEO gives small businesses the opportunity to target an audience that is more easily accessible, and depending on your location and business offering, presents a potential hotbed for paying customers.
Back in July 2014, Google updated its SEO algorithm with the fan-dubbed “Pigeon” update. This particular update tied local results even more closely to standard web ranking signals. It affected both Google web and map search. In addition, this update gave directories a search rank boost for certain business and cities – this meant that websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Kayak, and others were more likely to have higher rankings in search results. After this update, several businesses recognized the importance of creating a stronger presence on these online directories.
The algorithm also provided local results for areas that are slightly outside of a searched-for local neighborhood. For example, if you were near a neighboring city border and searched for “lightbulb retailer,” Google may point you to a lightbulb retailer business that is closer to you and carries more potential good, although it is located in a different city.
Local Search Engine Optimization remains important and upon the Google Pigeon update, many businesses shifted larger focus on building the reputation and authority of their business.
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So Who Does Local SEO Affect?
Local SEO especially affects a large variety of small businesses. Depending on a given business’ service/product offering, Local SEO may carry more weight, and also bring in competition from nearby competitors.
For instance, a heating & air conditioning company may see Local SEO as very important if their marketing strategy involves being discovered and contacted by the local community. Same goes for an attorney/law office, as their prospective clients are normally in the surrounding vicinity. For a doctor or veterinarian, the urgent needs of nearby clients draw the importance of Local SEO.
If quick/convenient accessibility to consumers or location-based servicing is deemed important in your business model, then optimizing for Local SEO is absolutely necessary.
In the case your business’s target customers are mobile searchers, Local SEO is very important. Mobile users can often be on-the-go and need fast results that serve their needs.
For a restaurant, bar, or motel/resort in a tourist-populated area, Local SEO is a must. In the case of an auto shop, consumers who experience car problems nearby may be searching for auto shops through a Google Web search or Maps search. If a clothing retailer sells digital coupons to be used in-store, good Local SEO will help bring in mobile customers and increase conversions.
A responsive website (check our previous blog post) is the best way to optimize for all user devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. Google, other search engines, and mobile users love a quality website with responsive design.
Google even labels responsive websites with a "mobile-friendly" label in any given user's mobile search results.
For national companies & big brand names, Local SEO is still important, especially if they have multiple physical locations in different communities. Pizza Hut, AutoZone, Target, Shell, Trader Joe’s – you name it – optimize their business locations to be found by locals. However, these big companies don’t usually have separate websites or sometimes even separate landing pages for all their individual locations. Rather, they optimize for Local SEO through other methods beyond their websites.
How Do I Optimize My Business for Local SEO?
• Google Profiles & Local Directories
Most importantly for Local Search Engine Optimization is to claim local profiles and get your business listed in directories. It’s essential to use the proper “citation” which should include your company name, address, phone number (NAP), email address, and website URL in the same way it appears in other local directories. Also, ensure that your business category, description, and other statements are optimized to build local value for your business.
You need to create a Google My Business page (previously Google Places) for your business. This way, your business can appear on Google Maps and be recognized as a legitimate business by Google. Verifying your My Business Page is usually done through a postcard confirmation. Optimizing your My Business page for Local SEO involves filling out text fields pertaining to your business, including your citation, to be better discovered by your local audience. To get started with this setup, you can visit http://www.google.com/local/add and then follow Search Engine Land’s tutorial here.
After you have that set up, make sure you optimize your Google+ account. Google+ is your business’s social media platform that can be accessed from your Google My Business dashboard. It is automatically created when you create a Google My Business page. In order to optimize your Google+ account for Local SEO, you’ll want to fill out all relevant info, again including your citation, to your business while building value for your brand. Be sure to spruce up your account with images and make engaging posts over time!
New to Google+? Check out our previous blog post.
Beyond Google, there exist a whole lot of other online directories. You’ll want to join the ones that relate to your industry as well as other popular ones.
Popular directories include but aren’t limited to: Yahoo Local (now done via Yext), Yellowpages, Yelp, Foursquare, Urbanspoon (now branded as Zomato), TripAdvisor, Bing, OpenTable, Superpages, Infogroup, Citysearch, Zagat, Kayak, Hotels, Mapquest, Expedia, etc.
Look around for other local business group listings that are searchable and could help your Local SEO.
Make sure the format for your business citation across all directories follow each other consistently. This means phone number dashes and parentheses, street address abbreviations, website URL characters, and your full company name should all follow the exact same format.
• Positive Reviews
Gaining good quality, positive reviews can really help your Local SEO. Google+ reviews especially, along with Yelp and Facebook reviews, can help your business get noticed and explored by users who see these reviews on their SERP (see SERP image below). Depending on your industry of business, other sites such as TripAdvisor, Glassdoor, Clutch.co, Hotels, or several others could also appear on the first page of the SERP and may leverage your Local SEO further.
Ideally, you’ll want more reviews and better reviews than your local competitors.
Becoming a more reputable, trust-worthy, and credible brand via local reviews helps boost your Local Search Engine Optimization. Just ensure that these reviews are genuine and aren’t manufactured by yourself – this can hurt your business. You can tastefully solicit users for reviews, however. This can entail asking local clients/customers upon a positive experience or transaction for an online review. Just be sure to check the terms & conditions for the specific review website prior.
Also, note that a steady velocity of reviews indicates their authenticity, while a sudden flood of reviews may indicate to search engines that the reviews aren't genuine.
If your positive reviews are coming from visibly local customers or businesses, even better!
To learn more about managing your online reviews, check out our previous blog post.
• Associate with Local Websites
If possible, be sure to associate yourself with other local, relevant websites. If you are partnered/associated with a credible, industry-relevant, local business, include links to their website from your own website where applicable.
If you can receive backlinks from sites like these (an off-site SEO tactic), that is even better. The more local, credible, and user traffic-populated these websites are, the more potential it holds to help your Local SEO. Google loves quality backlinks among ranking factors.
Other possible local websites can include clients, customers, vendors, bloggers, and publishers.
The best way to get backlinks from other local websites is to target your content as such. Remember, content is king. By posting quality website content that important locals (established local businesses, publishers, bloggers) will actually want to link to, you increase your chances of receiving quality backlinks, which can boost your Local SEO.
Also, remember to be more concerned with quality of the backlinks, rather than the quantity.
• Social Media
Be sure to optimize all of your social media accounts (especially Google+) for your location in the appropriate profile text fields by using your business citation details. Engage and interact with local customers/clients and work to build positive relationships with them. Link your social media accounts to your website.
Share content that is relevant and engaging to local users of interest.
Join local Facebook Groups, Google+ Communities, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter Lists, and Pinterest Boards and share locally-targeted content about your business offering – this could be in the form of blog posts with a nice call-to-action (CTA) or other creative, engaging content that directs to your website.
Make posts using local hashtags to drive local traffic to your site too!
If you can get your social media posts to be shared by reputable local publishers/businesses which generate backlinks, this can help your Local SEO efforts a lot.
• Your Website’s On-site SEO
One of the best ways to optimize your business for Local SEO is through on-site SEO on your website. This means including location-specific keywords in your website content especially, as well as including keywords in your webpages’ META tags and images’ Alt tags. These location-specific keyword phrases should be grouped with your business’s other targeted keywords where appropriate.
Your location-specific keyword phrase should include your city and state in the format that your target user would Google it in. It’ll most likely follow this type of format: “Portland, OR” or “Portland, Oregon”
For your content, follow the same principles of SEO keyword-targeting. Include location keywords on your landing page’s body content, page titles, and the header/footer/sidebar. Do not go excessive with inserting your keywords – this is a black-hat SEO tactic called “keyword stuffing” which could potentially cause your website ranking to be penalized by Google.
For instance, most of our webpages (including the one you’re reading now) include a “Contact Us” section at the bottom of the webpage which contains our contact info such as our phone number and email, along with our full address, “2827 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211.”
Make sure your citation is formatted the same way your business is listed on online directories.
These efforts, along with several other parts of our website content, have helped us rank relatively high for popular search queries such as “web design Portland” or “Portland Drupal development.” Of course, it is important to note that competition in your city market and industry may make ranking high for particular location keywords, a challenge.
Your webpages which are most visited and express your company’s offering should include your location keywords in the content where applicable. Pair these location keywords with your other focus keywords.
For example, your value statement on your homepage could follow something along the lines of: “We are ______. We’ve been serving the ______ metropolitan area with the best _____ this city has to offer…”
The back-end part of on-site SEO is also highly important in Local SEO optimization. Your META tags should include the city/town and state as much as possible (again, don’t keyword stuff). Your webpage’s META title, H1 tag, H2 tag, and META description should include your location keyword phrase where it makes sense and appears natural. This is especially important for your homepage and other popular landing pages. Also, filling in keywords for the “META keywords” doesn’t help for Google searches, but might help with other search engines at the cost of it being a potential spam signal.
If you run blog posts on your site, include the location keywords in META tags in a natural and relevant way. For example, all of our website’s blog posts contain a META title that follows a format: “Blog post topic title | Web Design and Drupal info for Portland OR.” Posting blog posts with a title and content that are locally-relevant will also help capture the attention of local users.
In addition to helping with Local SEO via Google's web crawlers, META tags may be visible in Google’s SERP (see SERP image below), which helps attract the attention of users.
Alt tags, the tags on images that web crawlers look at, should also include location keywords phrases where applicable. For example, the DDG logo image in the header of our webpages has the Alt tag “Dorey Design Group Portland Drupal Development.”
Once again, don’t keyword stuff your Alt tags either.
Oh and another note: if you haven’t purchased your website domain yet, incorporating your city/state into the domain name can help with Local SEO.
A Final Note on Local SEO
And there you have it.
Yes, Local SEO is a tricky art and science in which you must appeal to both search engines and your audience. Optimizing your website and being included in local directories are important first steps while website content creation/promotion and social media management are on-going SEO efforts that will require time, research, strategy, and innovation.
Learn what your local target audience is receptive to and position your business offering in a way that captures their attention best.
Build marketable value for your audience and optimize your online presence for Google and other search engines.
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