The process of comparison shopping starts online, and more specifically on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages. In fact, a whopping 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases.
“Virtual window shopping” presents an enormous opportunity for business owners to capture new customers, if their local presence is properly optimized.
When customers turn to Google to learn when that trendy restaurant is opening for brunch or if the new doctor’s office down the street accepts their insurance, they’re expecting accurate, up-to-date information.
After all, in the age of instant access to the world’s information, people expect Google to provide trustworthy answers to every question they have. When that information about a local business is incomplete, out-of-date, or incorrect, it can lead to the loss of potential customers.
Local SEO is the process of improving your online presence with the goal of increasing visibility in searches that are specific to a local area.
It’s important to note that local SEO uses different ranking factors than other forms of SEO. With 46% of Google searches having local intent, there are big opportunities for earning (or losing) business based on local SEO.
Local SEO offers businesses the ability to corner their local market and become the first option for online browsers or comparison shoppers.
What is Local SEO?
Local searches occur when a consumer uses Google to find goods or services in a specific geographic location (for example: “bagels near me,” or “hair salons in Gainesville, FL.”)
Local SEO is a strategic process of using your web presence to increase customer traffic, leads, and brand awareness through local search results. Bringing local-search customers to your website will greatly increase the chance of bringing them to your door.
Consider these facts:
- 46% of all Google searches have “local intent.”
- 34% of consumers who performed a local search on a computer or tablet visited a store within one day.
- 50% of those who performed a local search on their phone visited a store within 24 hours, and 18% of those searches led to a sale within one day.
Local SEO uses different algorithms and ranking factors than standard SERPs, but organic search result standings can impact local search ranking as well.
What Factors Impact Local SEO Ranking?
A business’s organic search ranking can directly impact their standing in local searches. Google also cites relevance, distance, and prominence as three main considerations for local ranking.
Local SEO has many other unique ranking signals, such as:
- Searcher’s location
- NAP citations
- Google My Business (GMB) listing
- Keywords in GMB profile
- Online reviews and responses
- Online “check-ins” at the business location
- Social media
- Google Maps “star” rating
Understanding the Google “Local Pack”
The local pack, also called the “map pack,” is where businesses can really leverage local SEO and gain a competitive advantage over other local businesses. The ability to rank higher on the local pack is ultimately what will drive traffic to your business and improve overall visibility for your website.
Luckily, there are many strategies to do just this.
What is the Local “Map” Pack?
Google’s local pack is a set of three local business results that appears at the top of the page of relevant searches along with a map of their locations.
An important side note is that a user doesn’t have to include their city or location in the query for the map pack to display.
Typing just “lawyer” or “bagel” into the search bar is enough to tell Google that the user likely intends to hire a lawyer or buy bagels near where their device is being used, and so the top of the SERP will still feature the same local pack.
Organic search results begin below the local pack, meaning that if a user finds what they’re looking for in these top results, they may never scroll down to the rest of the search results. That makes this placement in the local pack extremely valuable to local business owners.
4 Important Factors That Influence Local SEO
Google My Business Profile
Would you be surprised to learn that your business’s official website is not the most important factor for ranking in the map pack? In fact, according to an annual “Local Search Ranking Factors Study,” the #1 ranking factor for the map pack was the Google My Business Profile (25%).
GMB is an official business listing for Google. To claim ownership of your GMB profile, you must first create a GMB account, from there, you can claim and manage your business profile.
Creating your business profile will add your business location to Google Maps, and it will become a profile where consumers can interact with by writing reviews and asking questions.
Claiming and optimizing your GMB profile is essential to ranking in the map pack and showing up under local searches. It builds trust with Google that your business is relevant, up to date, and trustworthy for users.
It’s also important to manage your profile regularly. This is not a one-time “set-it-and-forget-it” feature. Not managing your GMB profile leaves it open to inaccurate “user suggestions,” fake reviews, or even a loss in ranking.
Local SEO Keyword Targeting
For your business to rank under “store/service + location” queries, it’s important to do keyword research to understand what users are searching for. Map pack results can be drastically different based on the exact location of the user—whether a few miles or even just blocks away.
Local SEO keyword research allows you to find what your potential clients are typing into the search bar when they are looking for services relevant to your business. This allows you to target those keywords and rank higher in local search.
There are tools that you can use to track your local rankings from various locations across your desired customer base. You can also use Google’s “related searches” to find queries related to the services you provide. For example, a quick search for “family lawyers New York” provides related searches that give insight into the search terms people are using most often.
NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) Citations
NAP citations are the places online where your name, address, and phone number are listed. When Google finds your business listed in multiple places, it improves the search engine’s confidence that the information is correct.
However, there is a caveat. All that information must be consistent across citations.
With the number of potential customers using Google to find local businesses, having accurate information is imperative. Even if Google is the one suggesting the inaccurate information, surveys have found that consumers blame the company for bad location information, not the search engine.
According to that survey, 73% of respondents lost trust in a brand when online listings were incorrect, and 67% lost trust when they got lost due to bad directions from incorrect location information. Ensuring your online listings are accurate is paramount for Local SEO. Fortunately there are many online listing management tools to help business owners who do not have the time to check everything.
It’s important to regularly audit for your NAP citations across any websites that feature your business to ensure that everything is accurate and up to date. If you find discrepancies, you should reach out to the webmaster or organization to have it corrected.
Similar to traditional SEO best practices, EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) plays a major role in local SEO. For local searches, that element of trustworthiness comes from social proof in the form of online reviews.
Reviews on Google and other sites will impact your ranking in the map pack and local search results. While it may be unpleasant, taking the time to (calmly and professionally) respond to negative reviews, it will show Google that your business is trustworthy, which will improve your SEO standing, both locally and in organic search engine results.
Local SEO: How Small Businesses Gain Powerful Competitive Advantages
Google has confirmed that your ranking in the organic SERPs does have an impact on local SEO ranking. The higher you rank in organic results, the better chance you have of ranking high in the map pack, and so traditional SEO is—and will always be—important.
With that being said, local SEO has its own unique ranking factors that are often overlooked in the wider conversations about search engine optimization.
By taking advantage of competitors’ lack of attention toward local SEO, you have the opportunity to get ahead (both figuratively and literally). Appearing above your competitors in related queries can give your business a powerful head start toward converting a simple search into a paying customer.
Just remember, with SEO, things are always changing, so it’s important to stay current with changes to Google analytics and algorithms. You’ll need to actively monitor and manage your local online presence to stay relevant and consistently be a top-ranking business in local searches.