Welcome back, everyone! In our ongoing SEO education series, we decided now is a great time to do a deep dive into local search engine optimization. In the post-pandemic world, businesses with a strong local presence, including targeted localized content to help attract a local audience, have a crucial edge over businesses that don’t. That’s why understanding how local SEO can help boost your business profile is such a vital part of your campaign.
At Online Advantages, we believe the concepts of SEO shouldn’t be complicated or confusing. That’s why we’re working to give you the definitive guide to local SEO, breaking down the jargon and terminology so you can understand what all this “stuff” is and why it matters to your business. We hope you find this, and our other guides, useful and informative.
Let’s get started!
Organic Versus Local Search Engine Optimization
One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is assuming that simply having an online presence is enough. We call this the “Field of Dreams” theory of Internet marketing, and it works—to a point.
When building an online presence, most people start with a website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Some businesses might add Tik Tok, LinkedIn, and even Reddit. The really Internet-savvy will set up Google My Business, or GMB listings, Facebook ads, and PPC marketing, and relevant landing pages. These are all great starting points for both organic and local SEO strategies. But are they enough?
To answer this question, we need to dig down into the difference between organic and local SEO.
Organic SEO positions and ranks your content against everyone else in your niche using specific signals and keywords on the Internet. The Holy Grail of SEO is to rank “above the fold,” i.e. in the top five results on the first page on Google, Bing, Yandex, and other search engines, which is why it’s called “search engine optimization” in the first place. But organic results may pull up from across the country or around the world. This means your local business may go unseen by your ideal audience in favor of other businesses and providers which have a bigger megaphone but can’t offer the personalized, hometown touch your potential customers deserve.
Local search engine optimization is different, although it works on similar principles as organic SEO. Localized content, location services, and regularly updated GMB listings help nearby customers looking for your products and services contact you more easily and efficiently.
According to Oberlo.com, at the time of this writing, Google has been visited 62.19 BILLION times in 2021 alone, capturing 92.18% of the search engine market. There’s a reason we say, “Google it!” instead of “Bing it!” Over 3.5 billion Google searches are processed every day, or over 2.4 million queries every minute and 40,000 queries every second of the day. These are some pretty impressive stats, and it certainly helps explain why Google has dominated Internet search since 1997 and remains the undisputed heavyweight champion of SEO and Internet marketing. It’s also why marketers emphasize Google, basically to the exclusion of all other search engines.
But the most interesting statistic, and the reason local SEO is important, is this one.
In 2019, 63% of all Google searches, including voice searches, were initiated on a mobile device, and 46% of all product searches started on Google. In the intervening two years, all signs point to this trend in mobile searches continuing and gaining momentum, although the most current figures are unreliable at this time.
This means potential customers are looking for products and services in their area right now, from pizza delivery to podiatrists to plaster of Paris. Among Internet marketers, this is called local intent, and it’s the basis of local search algorithms. By showing localized content of relevance to customers, a local business owner can enhance their place in the search ecosystem and help the searcher find them, and the things they can offer, more readily.
Rather than relying on organic search, savvy search marketers use targeted signals to more readily attract local search results which will be more relevant to their intended market. But how?
Basics: What is Local Search Engine Optimization?
The easiest way to make your results “local” is to simply target your content to focus on things such as the name of the city, town or area you want to attract customers in. This could mean creating content that focuses on such things as for example “best doughnuts Portland Oregon,” “best mechanic Mooresville” or “Bay Area cheap lawn care.” These signals make search engine algorithms take special notice of your website and relevant social media, boosting your presence in local search algorithms and thus local SERPs.
Seems simple enough, right? But just because it’s the easiest doesn’t mean it’s going to deliver the search results you, and more importantly, your customers, need. There has to be more backing up that local reference, or you’re just screaming into the void.
One of the first and most important methods is making sure your onsite and offsite SEO includes contact information for your storefront or website, such as your small business name, address, and phone number.
This is where GMB’s local listings come in handy. Adding your physical address also adds a powerful signal to attract Google and other search engine crawlers to your site. This helps to bring in local business by making it easier to find you on the Web, allowing you to keep a greater market share and to avoid leaving money on the table for your competition.
But—if it’s that easy, then a beginner’s guide should be all you need, right?
Again, no. Maybe you’ve already tried these tactics and not gotten the results you want. Maybe you missed the last Google algorithm update, which means changes to SEO policies and practices that boost some signals, downgrade others and disavow some completely with regard to how Google functions when crawling your site. Maybe your business account is out of date, your business categories have changed or there have been changes to your business profile or description that change your compliance with Google in a negative fashion.
The good news is, you’re not stuck with it. Unless something went wrong in a truly spectacular fashion, it’s fairly rare to find a site so compromised it can’t be fixed. Let’s take a closer look at some things you can do to help increase your local presence and reach.
Consistency and Content are Key in Local SEO!
If you want search engines to crawl your results, you need a larger digital footprint relative to your competition to quickly raise your profile. One of the simplest ways to do this is to generate more content on a consistent basis. This doesn’t mean whitepapers on everything you do. If you own a bakery, for example, putting your signature recipe for lemon raspberry bourbon cupcakes online could be a recipe for disaster! The same applies to trademarked or patented intellectual property of any kind. But you can and should tell potential customers what you can do for them, how you do it, and what makes you a better choice than your competition! Not only will this improve your local ranking, but including this information can influence your position in local SERPs
Content can be as simple as sending out a relevant tweet or posting a picture on Instagram with a few keywords. It can be as complex as this beginner guide to local SEO. If you’re not sure if your content is doing the job you need it to, it’s also important to bring some creativity to the table and look at what matters to your customers. You should include your entire social profile, not just your website, Facebook page, or LinkedIn listing, in your evaluation of your online presence. Finally, you should conduct your own honest local SEO audit to make sure you’re delivering for both your customers and your business.
During a local SEO audit, some questions you should ask about your content include:
1. Do I have a lot of duplicate content on my website and social media? If so, this could be working against you.
2. Does this content tell people enough about what we do and how to make customers want to visit our physical or online store?
3. Am I publishing content on a consistent basis that is pertinent to the customers whose business we want to earn?
4. Do I have a clearly defined geographic region that Google local results can latch onto when my site and other online presence is crawled?
5. Does my business show up in Google Maps and is my listing management up to date with the most accurate and current iteration?
There are, of course, other questions to ask, but these are a good starting point. Now there’s one more critical ranking factor in boosting your local visibility: managing your local online reputation!
Online Reputation Management and Local SEO
What you’re saying is absolutely important, but it’s only a part of your overall presence on the Web. What other people are saying about you may matter more!
It’s important to keep up with your online reputation. Bad reviews on Yelp!, Facebook, Google, and elsewhere can make or break your business. According to many web marketing gurus, it takes 5-10 positive reviews to overcome one negative one! You’re never going to make everyone happy, but if you can get out in front of negative or incorrect information early, you can minimize the damage and preserve your reputation.
Another good way to manage your reputation is by getting in the local news for the right reasons or working to win backlinks to your website and social media from other local businesses and charities. These channels aren’t really considered traditional SEO, but they definitely play a role in attracting attention from search engines, which in turn means more visitors and more opportunities for conversion.
For example, if you sponsor a charity golf tournament, this can get traditional and social media mentions and backlinks. If the local news picks it up and gives your company a mention, presto! Instant backlink, instantly added authority, which can increase your positive perception and can help give you a leg up over your competition. Incredibly, many people ignore this channel, which means they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to boost their presence!
Obviously, there’s a lot more to it. This guide is only intended to give you a starting point, not be the last word in all the ins and outs of local SEO. However, by following these principles and considering these signals in all your Internet marketing, you can quickly increase your footprint. You’ll soon find your company is leaving the competition in the dust, giving you a greater market share, a broader reach, and more customers!
To learn more about local SEO, keep reading for our glossary and FAQ. Or, if you want your local search engine optimization done right the first time, every time, click here to contact Online Advantages for all your SEO and Internet marketing needs!
Frequently Asked Questions About Local Search Engine Optimization
Question: What is a local search on Google? –Sean, Sturgis, SD
Answer: A local search simply means that a user is looking online for something in a specific location. For example, a user might be looking for “microbreweries near me,” “paving company San Diego,” “best SEO in North Carolina” and so on. Local searches help businesses and customers in their area connect, and they are becoming by far the most popular type of search on Google. That’s why having an online presence that emphasizes the locations in which your company operates is so important these days. Because if you’re not getting your name out there for people who are actually looking for what your business offers, you’re giving away money to your competition!
Question: What is local search engine optimization? –Mary, San Jose, CA
Answer: Local search engine optimization, or SEO, emphasizes signaling search engines to direct searchers in a given area to a specific website or company. This includes using targeted keywords, relevant content, and locally-based information which helps attract visitors who are looking for the products and services your company has to sell. It sounds very simple, and in many ways it is, but local SEO has a lot of moving parts that all work in tandem to help bring visitors to your website or business.
Question: What are local SERPs? –Johnny, Lake Norman, NC
Answer: Search engine results pages, or SERPs, are simply the list of results a search engine pulls up when a user types in a search query. An estimated 95% of users never look lower than the first five results, also known as “above the fold.” 90% of users don’t scroll past the first page! This means above-the-fold Page One ranking on a search engine is important for your online visibility and presence, because your odds of getting seen drop dramatically past this point. However, there’s only so much room at the top, and lots of businesses competing for the same placement. To maximize your presence in local SERPs, you need a strong local SEO playbook backed by proven, tested methods that work to give your online footprint added authority and weight compared to your competition.
Question: How does Google obtain local search data on businesses? –Luis, Gresham, OR
Answer: Every time you add content online which contains a place name, you’re giving search engines data to add to their algorithms. This could be anything from shouting out your favorite local sports team or player to a search string containing your product or service and location name. However, the most powerful signal for Google is Google My Business. By creating Google My Business profiles, also called GMB listings, businesses self-report as being active, open, and ready for customers. However, many businesses fail to keep their GMB listings up to date when they change hours, locations, or websites. This happened a lot during the height of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, when businesses changed hours, services, or went out of business without correcting their information with Google. An outdated GMB listing can be worse than not having one in the first place because this can damage not only your local presence in SERPs but also your overall reputation.
Question: Does having Yelp! reviews help local SEO? –Shaniqua, Miami, FL
Answer: To be honest, Yelp! reviews are both a blessing and a curse for your local SEO. Good Yelp! reviews are amazing for helping boost your footprint and your online reputation, and Google algorithms do rely on them to some small degree when presenting your business to searchers. This is because of Yelp! reviews demonstrate a business is actually active and, well, conducting business, which is a key signal Google looks for. However, mediocre or poor reviews can damage your reputation, drag your rating down and ultimately cause more problems for your business. It takes 5-10 good reviews to counteract one bad review, and the more bad reviews you have, the harder you have to work to manage your reputation. While this shouldn’t scare you off having a Yelp! listing, it does mean you’ll want to take extra care and pay extra attention to what your customers are saying. But then, the same holds true of Google and Angie’s List reviews or for that matter any other venue for reviews.
Question: Does local search engine optimization really matter? –Brianna, Las Vegas, NV
Answer: For companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola or Ford, probably not, to be honest. These brands are so ubiquitous that any benefit they might derive from local SEO is negligible at best. However, for small businesses with a local emphasis, such as a chain of bakeries that only operates in one city or state, local SEO can be a matter of life or death. Especially in fields with a lot of competition in a given area, such as construction, the restaurant business, and dentistry, local SEO is a powerful tool that helps your business connect with potential clients and customers. If you’re running a small or medium-sized business, the importance of local SEO cannot be overstated, particularly if your business has a brick-and-mortar physical presence. After all, if customers can’t find you, why would they buy from you?
Question: How does hreflang work with local search marketing? –Estrella, Salt Lake City, UT
Answer: “Hreflang” is a special attribute that your webmaster should include in your site’s metadata which tells Google what languages your website uses and allows users to find the appropriate pages. It’s a portmanteau term that derives from “href,” short for “Hypertext Reference,” and “language.” For monolingual websites, this isn’t typically an issue, especially for sites that only use English. However, let’s say your website has pages in the US and UK English, Canadian French, and Latin American Spanish. In this case, the hreflang attribute would be important because native speakers of those languages would be directed to the pages written in their language. This can be a powerful signal which helps multilingual users find your company. If you cater to a multilingual clientele, you will definitely want hreflang tags where appropriate to boost your local SEO!
To find out more about local SEO and schedule a free local SEO audit for your business, click here to contact Online Advantages and get the online presence your company deserves!
Every day we deliver new customers to businesses through our proven search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing strategies. Our strategies have helped businesses, large and small, reach in-market consumers, making a true impact on the bottom line. We’re here to help educate you about search marketing and choose a strategy that’s right for you and your business. We’re constantly researching, testing, connecting, and finding other ways to stay on top of this always-changing industry so we can offer the best, most relevant advice to help you succeed. The blueprint for online success is simple. We do the heavy lifting while you focus on what matters most, your customers!