Let's say you’re sitting in your office, and you want to order a pizza. You type two words into Google—“pizza delivery”—and you get a list of pizza places near your office. Later that week, maybe you want pizza for dinner. So you type the same words into Google—“pizza delivery”—and the search results are completely different. Why? That's the local algorithm at work.
That’s right, Google has a separate algorithm for local results. The search engine gets trillions of queries to analyze and has determined that, for certain types of searches, users need nearby results, even if a geo-modifier wasn’t included in the query.
As a result, local SEO is different from traditional SEO. With local SEO, you're optimizing a site to show up in searches in a particular geographic area. Local SEO is important for businesses with physical store fronts. If the SERP (search engine results page) displays a map pack, your business will need to incorporate effective local SEO strategies to earn one of those top positions.
Sure, there's a lot of overlap between regular SEO and local SEO, but if you're working on a site that pulls local SERPs, you're going to get better results if you fully optimize your website to include local SEO strategies. Since Google is trying to show the best possible results in a particular area, local signals are key.
You still have to focus on your content and link-building efforts, but local SEO is about doing all that while maintaining an emphasis on your target location. There are a number of ways you can do that. We’ll look at just a few here to get you started.
One of the most important ranking signals for local results is having your Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) properly syndicated through local directories by using a service like Moz Local or Yext. This way, Google and other local directories will know where your business is located and help you show up in the areas you are servicing. Another one of the best ways to guarantee search engines find you is to claim your location and ensure your information is correct in Google My Business. More on that later.
For example, Ohio-based lawn care company Weed Pro started out catering to the Cleveland area but eventually opened locations across the state, accelerating the need to incorporate local SEO for each of their locations.
The company optimized webpages, blog posts and demand generation ads to ensure the right people in the right neighborhoods were finding content that was relevant to them.
Just like traditional SEO, backlinks are the most weighted relevancy signal, but you have to change your focus on the types of links you are targeting. Typically in local SEO, you're working on a much smaller scale. You don't need thousands or even hundreds of links. Many local businesses have fewer than 20 sites linking to them. Adding a handful of links can make a massive difference.
With local SEO, your focus should be on building links from other local businesses. Relationships are an easy source of local links—forming relationships with other businesses and individuals in the local community helps cement its place in the neighborhood and, in turn, the local search results. For example, local sponsorships and charity work are a great source of local links—basically, if you're involved in the local community, it's incredibly easy to build local links.
When you run a local company, topical relevance is still your most important goal for your website, but you also have to worry about locational relevancy.
Your content has to actually be localized—it has to be about your targeted phrase and accompanied by a geomodifier related to the local area. Small and mid-sized businesses actually have an advantage in this area—it's much easier for them to write localized content down to the neighborhood level.
For example, dasolar energy, a solar energy equipment supplier, often blogs about its industry in service markets.
And your blog doesn't have to be all shop talk—take time to discuss the local area and what's going on in the community. For example, Horizon Education Centers often highlights local events for kids.
If you make your blog a local destination, you'll get more traffic and build more local relevance. You've got to own your own back yard—make sure you're fully optimized and ranking well in local searches.
Proximity is one of the most weighted factors of relevance in local searches. Google wants to show results near the searcher. But there are three things you can do to stand out in the local crowd. It's a tiered system—you have to have great local optimization to “make the cut,” and then the results are organized by proximity. Here are three essentials to keep in mind:
Google My Business is one of the most important enablers for local SEO and is the best place to start even if you don’t have the resources to do much else. GMB is a free tool businesses can use to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. It's important to claim your location and ensure your information is correct. The information you enter in your GMB dashboard will populate the information in your Knowledge Panel on brand searches.
Unfortunately, mobile clicks on your website link in GMB or map searches are almost always attributed incorrectly. They're all organic clicks—you can't pull a map pack or business knowledge panel without a search. Don't try to fake your address—a GMB listing can only be created for businesses with a physical location, where customers visit the business at that location. You have to have clear signage with your business name, as well.
2. Customer Reviews
Reviews also play a major part in the local algorithm. Google reviews are typically the first a user will see for your business, since they're prominently displayed in a searcher’s Knowledge Panel. But Google's algorithm looks at other review sites, as well. You should try to spread your reviews evenly between Google, Facebook, industry review sites that matter for your particular vertical and Yelp. Yelp populates the review stars on Apple maps—so any time someone searches for your business on an iPhone, they're going to see Yelp stars instead of Google stars.
Make sure you're responding to all of your reviews on the various platforms. It's important to remember that your replies to the negative reviews aren't really to the person who left the review—they're for the rest of the world who want to see how you deal with an upset customer. Make sure your replies are well written and actually address the situation—a generic “thanks for your review, please call us at this number” pasted as a reply to every review makes you look lazy and disinterested. Google My Business recently rolled out a review response feature that makes it easy to reply to reviews from within the GMB platform.
3. Behavioral and Social Signals
Behavioral and social signals also come into play, just like they do with traditional SEO. Yes, keywords are always important because the searcher uses them. However, what really counts isn’t just the keyword—it’s the intention behind a given keyword as it relates to the algorithm.
And even though you've got a bit more to worry about with local SEO, it's typically easier to achieve great results. You're not fighting against every competitor on the internet—you're only fighting against the few competitors in the same local area, and it’s much easier to stand out in a smaller crowd.
Boosting Local Search Results
Many small businesses are not including the additional local focus in their SEO efforts—so if you do, it’s a great way to stand out among your competitors. You’ll need to make sure Google knows your physical presence, manage your online reviews, secure links from the community and feature content about both your business and your neighborhood.