If you’re tasked with improving the search rankings of a local small business, you’ll no doubt audit its website to make sure it’s fully search engine optimised, has great quality content and a natural link profile, before making the necessary changes to bring it up to speed. You might even put in place a new link building and social media strategy to help move things along.
So far, so good – but if you’ve not included any local SEO, you’ve only done half the job.
Here’s why you need to focus on local SEO and how to make the most of those all-important local listings.
In this article, Les from SEO agency EdgeThreeSixty offers his expertise as to why you need to focus on local SEO and how to make the most of those all-important local listings.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO is about providing results to a searcher based upon their current location, and is designed to target customers who are looking for specific products or services in the local area.
When done correctly, local SEO can be a highly effective marketing technique, as it enables local businesses to promote themselves to local customers, right at the moment they require its services.
Whereas ‘traditional’ SEO concentrates on optimising a website to move it up the search engine results pages (SERPs), often by providing content for all parts of the customer buying cycle, local SEO is more targeted and is about reaching customers when they’re ready to buy, particularly those who are ready to buy in person.
Standard ‘organic’ search results only list a company’s website and relevant meta data, meaning customers have to click through to a website to find out more, but local search results feature business names, address, services, and phone numbers, making them more relevant to those customers that are ready to transact.
Not only that, but local search results usually sit above the fold and always above the coveted ‘position 1’ in the SERPs, making them more visible, and potentially more clickable, than the organic search results.
So it makes sense for any local business with a physical location to get to grips with local SEO.
Why is local SEO important?
Mobile internet browsing has irrevocably changed the way we search for products and services – instead of thumbing the yellow pages, we now thumb our smartphones and pick from the list our chosen search engine (let’s just say Google, for arguments sake) throws up.
Figures from BrightLocal reveal almost two-thirds (64%) of local customers use online search engines and directories as their preferred way to find local services, while less than a third (28%) use paper directories to get that information.
Google has been steering towards this localised search model since 2009, when it started showing local results in generic searches (meaning there is no need to include any city names or geographic references in search terms to be shown relevant local results), and used a recent algorithm update to make local search even more significant, possibly in response to the growing number of searches carried out on mobile devices.
In 2014, the search giant rolled out the Pigeon update, giving greater weight to local businesses with neighbourhood-focused keywords, and increasing the visibility of large directory and review sites like Yell and Tripadvisor.
It then made further changes to the SERPs a year later, when it cut its ‘local pack’ listings down from seven results to just three, with the rest of the results an extra click away.
This all points to a growing significance in proximity-based search results, and for businesses to place a greater emphasis on local campaigns to run alongside other SEO and social media campaigns.
Although the mix will be different depending on the nature of each business, this Venn diagram from Moz illustrates how businesses need to concentrate organic and social media efforts as part of a local search strategy.
How to optimise for local search
Broadly speaking, an effective SEO campaign can be broken down into three distinct parts:
- Content – Websites should contain good quality and genuinely useful content.
- On-site optimisation – Make it easy for search engines to crawl a website’s content.
- Links – Quality content should lead to quality backlinks. For example in this piece we point you to useful sources of further reading to help explain things more.
And an effective local SEO campaign should run alongside this, while encompassing the following three factors:
- On-site local SEO optimisation – Optimise for relevant local keywords. Name, address and phone number (NAP) on all pages.
- Local listings and citations – Keep all listings consistent across all directories, particularly NAP.
- Online reviews – Encourage and respond to reviews to drive a higher click-through-rate (CTR) and have greater prominence SERPs.
So let’s take a closer look at each.
On site local SEO optimisation
The job of a search engine is to serve up the most relevant data for each individual query it receives, which it does by narrowing down the infinite number of results available for any particular search term.
Basic SEO principles suggest you need to make life as easy as possible for the search engines, which means having a clear site map with easy-to-follow links to all pages, as well as up-to-date robots.txt files, alt text and video transcripts. All websites also need sufficient keywords in place so search engines are in no uncertain terms what each one is about.
And it’s the same for local SEO. When optimising a site for local search, you need to optimise for local keywords in order to rank better, which usually involves including a place name alongside another keyword, for instance, optimising for ‘web design Liverpool’ instead of just ‘web design’.
These keywords need to be included across the content, including H1 and H2 tags, meta descriptions, page titles, and URLs.
You should also include the NAP of the business on every page of its website, this is usually placed in the footer of each page. If the business has multiple locations, you can either give each its own landing page, or a more popular approach is to list them all on a single “Contact us” page, as below:
You’ll also want to make sure the site is optimised for mobile as there’s little point in optimising for local search if the site can’t be accessed by people on the go. Furthermore, the majority of people now use a mobile device to browse online (we reached the tipping point back in 2014), and Google also uses mobile optimisation as a ranking factor in its local search results, meaning a site will drop down the local SERPs if it isn’t mobile-friendly.
Local listings and citations
Search engines have to crawl through and cross-reference an incomprehensible amount of data in order to return the best results for each search query.
To make sure a website has a better chance of being served up by the search engines, it needs to be listed with services such as Bing Places, Google Business Listings, Yelp, Yahoo Local, and have citations in directories, such as Yell, Scoot, and Thomson Local.
These listings need to be consistent, as consistent listings lead to greater trust, greater trust confirms relevance, and relevance is what search engines are looking to answer search queries.
When submitting business listings, make sure that business names, addresses and phone numbers (NAP) are all up-to-date and consistent both with each other and with the contact information on the website.
Online reviews can help drive additional traffic to a website, regardless of how well it’s ranking, and also encourage a higher click-through rate – stats from Search Engine Land show almost three-quarters (72%) of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Reviews are also used as a determining factor in when considering a website’s inclusion and ranking in Google’s local pack, so customers should be encouraged to leave feedback, either via a call-to-action, follow-up email, or good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth, and all comments should get a response, regardless of their sentiment.
Using online reviews in this way is a great way to engage with customers, manage online reputation and provide proof that the service provided is both genuine and quality.
There’s no doubt that optimising for local search is a priority for any business that sells products or services to customers in its local geographic area, but the amount of time and resource you commit to local search is entirely dependent upon the nature of the business and its goals.
It’s also worth looking at the quality of leads generated by organic search and social media, before considering whether resources would be better utilised in these areas.
If you are tasked with providing SEO services for a company looking to generate business locally, the steps mentioned above should form the basis of any local search campaign.
If Search Engine Optimisation interests you as a career, sign-up to take our training and learn from working on a real-life campaign to see if it’s something you enjoy.