People use the internet to find information about, well, everything. From recipes to current events to celebrity gossip, search engines will do their best to help you find what you’re looking for.
So it comes as no surprise that 97% of people look online when trying to find out more about a local business. “Near me” or “close by” type searches are growing exponentially, and 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information.
While this could bode well for local businesses, you still have to show up prominently in results to benefit from local searches. Thankfully, there are steps you can take as a local business to improve your local SEO and improve your ranking in local search results
Here, we’ll define local SEO, how local strategies differ from general SEO tactics, and provide your business with options to improve your standing in local search results so you can grow in your own community.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO refers to strategies specifically oriented towards making your business more visible in local search results. Local search results can refer to search results from queries that may target local businesses – queries containing location names, “near me,” etc. – or results that are relevant to the searcher’s location.
How are local results different from more general search results?
The goal of a search engine is to provide you with results that are relevant to your query, or to answer your question. When you search for something that is not local, such as a celebrity’s height or what year the Beatles broke up, the results you see will not be regional, as these questions are not related to a location. This is the case for most content that is evergreen or not only relevant to one location.
When conducting a local search, or search that yields local results, different elements come into play. Not only will your business’ offerings and industry be relevant – as in general search – but your business’ location and proximity to the searcher will factor in as well. This can provide interesting opportunities for businesses hoping to improve their local SEO – for example, smaller, local businesses can often perform better in local search results than larger, more established or wide-reaching businesses.
Google’s Approach to Local Results
As with all elements of search, Google has worked consistently to improve local search results. With the additions of features like local packs and Google My Business listings, Google has prioritized location, proximity, and relevance when it comes to algorithm updates for local searches.
The Pigeon update, implemented in 2014, set out to improve users’ search experience by providing more relevant, useful, and accurate local search results. In 2016, Google implemented the Possum update, also to improve local search results by diversifying results and limiting spam, as well as increasing the importance of the searcher’s location when displaying results.
Another update that had an impact on local search results was Mobilegeddon, which was implemented in 2015. Also known as the Mobile-friendly Ranking Factor Update, this update was a response to the increasing number of mobile searches, boosting mobile-friendly websites and penalizing those that are not well-formatted for mobile searches.
While this update was not directly related to local results, the prioritization of mobile user experience in search is. Over 52% of website traffic worldwide comes from mobile phones, and at least 30% of mobile searches are looking for local information. In 2021 alone, mobile devices are projected to influence more than $1.4 trillion in local sales. Thus, when it comes to influencing your standing in local search, mobile users are not to be ignored.
Who can benefit from local SEO?
Unlike more general SEO, local SEO is not relevant to all businesses. Businesses that can benefit from improving or establishing a local SEO strategy are:
- Businesses with brick and mortar locations that are located in a specific community or region (be they neighborhoods, cities, county, or states).
- Businesses that provide services to a specific community or region, such as plumbers, cleaning services, contractors, restaurants, doctors and dentists offices, lawyers, etc.
Local SEO can also be worthwhile for businesses that have multiple locations. However, businesses that are hosted entirely or primarily online, or hope to serve a larger or more global audience, may not benefit much from local SEO.
How can you improve your local SEO?
There are several steps you can take to improve your local SEO and standing in local search results.
Set Up and Maintain Your Google My Business Listing
To improve your local SEO, the Google My Business listing is the most important tool at your disposal. Not only is it a valuable resource for customers, but your business will not appear in local pack results without a Google My Business listing. What’s more, if a knowledge graph populates for your business, it will pull a lot of its information from your listing.
To set up a Google My Business listing, the first step is to see if Google has already generated one for your business. To do this, search for your business – if it doesn’t show up for your business name, consider modifying your search to include your location.
If you do see a listing for your business, you can click “Own this business?” to go through the steps to claim the listing. If not, you can create a listing for your business.
- Sign into Google My Business. Be sure to sign in with the account that you would like to have linked to this particular business profile, though this can be updated later.
- Add your business name. While it may be tempting, avoid including keywords or location, and just include your business name.
- Add your location. This will be the region you work in, likely the city or town you are located in.
- Add your address. Include the primary address of your business. If you have multiple locations, don’t worry – this is something you can address later. If you do not have a location, perhaps because of remote work due to the pandemic or because your employees primarily work from home, include another local address relevant to your business.
- Include your category. This refers to the category of business you’re in. Make sure this is accurate and representative of your offerings. You will be able to add multiple categories later on, but make sure the categories you choose are relevant to your business.
- Add a phone number and website. For smaller businesses, include your main website URL. If this listing is for one of many locations, you can include the URL for that subpage on your website. For the phone number, include the number listed on your website’s contact page. Make sure it is consistent with findable contact phone numbers elsewhere.
These are the basics to establish your Google My Business listing. Once you have created it, make sure to continue to optimize your listing and to get it verified.
How to Verify Your Google My Business Listing
To verify your listing, you will likely have to go the postcard by mail route (though some businesses are eligible for other methods, such as phone or email). To start the process, fill in the required information on the verification form from your Google My Business dashboard and submit the form.
You should receive the postcard anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks from when you submitted your form. When you receive your postcard, go back to your Google My Business dashboard and click Verify location. Enter the five-digit code you received on your postcard. This verification can also take some time, but should take place in a couple to a few weeks.
How to Further Optimize Your Google My Business Listing
In addition to the initial information required to create your Google My Business listing, there is more information you can include to fully optimize your listing:
- More categories. Once you have created your listing, you will be able to add additional categories for your business. Remember to keep these categories relevant and focused, and to not include too many or any that are a stretch for your business.
- Photos. Photos can help build out your listing and attract more attention from customers. You can include photos of your business, neighborhood, and interior, as well as photos of your products, employees, etc.
- Business hours. Be sure to include your business hours and to keep these updated and accurate. Local pack and Google maps results will not show searchers businesses that are closed, or if they do they will indicate they are closed, so it’s important to ensure this information is accurate.
- Multiple locations. If your business has multiple locations, you can add those by managing locations from your Google My Business dashboard. Click the “add location” button, type your business name, and click create new business. It’s important to note that each location will have its own listing, so you will have to go through many of the initial steps again for each location you add.
- Posts. Google My Business allows you to post through your listing, so take advantage of this feature to highlight deals, events, and new products or service offerings.
- Reviews. Your Google My Business listing will feature Google reviews, so make sure to encourage your customers to leave positive reviews, and to be responsive to reviews as well.
- Additional features. Depending on the type of business you run, different features may be available in your listing. Restaurants can upload menus or include links for online orders, service providers can include a booking button, etc. Make sure you utilize all features of your listing to make the most of this resource.
As mentioned above, your Google My Business listing will feature your Google reviews. With 87% of consumers looking to online reviews to learn more about local businesses, and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, the importance of online reviews is difficult to deny. Online reviews can be an extremely useful tool to growing your business when navigated correctly, but the inverse is also true.
To ensure that reviews help, as opposed to harm, your business, you can read our reviews guide here. The long and short of it:
- Encourage your customers to post reviews. Reminding customers to leave reviews, particularly when they seem happy and satisfied with your business, can help increase the number of reviews you have. Businesses with more reviews tend to be more trusted by prospective customers, so take the time to ask people to rate your business.
- Reply to reviews. Responses from businesses can carry a lot of weight. In fact, 96% of consumers report reading a business’ responses to other reviews when researching that business. What’s more, responding to reviews can give your business the opportunity to turn a negative review into a positive interaction, which can impact your online reputation by increasing your trustworthiness and care with customers.
- It’s not all about Google. While Google reviews feature in your Google My Business listing, and are undeniably important, it is not the only reviews platform that people turn to. 72% of consumers report that it is important for a business to be present on multiple review sites. Take a look at other platforms that feature your business or similar businesses and make sure to regularly check in with these platforms as well. Some popular review websites for your business include Yelp, BBB, and Angie’s List.
Consider Local Search Queries
When conducting keyword research with local SEO in mind, it’s important to consider how local search queries differ from more general search queries. Consider phrases or words that consumers may use to lead them to your business, such as “near me” or “hours,” or queries that include your town or city name, zip code, or other indicators of local search. Just as with general keyword research, suggested and related search can help you get a sense of similar searches that consumers are conducting.
Once you have determined queries that may send people to your business, or queries that you would like to rank higher for, you can target these phrases and terms in your content, on your website, and on your social media channels.
Optimize Your Website and Content for Local Search
Just as with more general SEO, it’s important to actively take steps to optimize your website for local search. Make sure to include identified target keywords and phrases in your content and on relevant pages on your site. Additionally, make sure to include a page (or pages, when necessary) that hosts all the local information for your business, including name, address, and phone number (NAP), as well as operating hours, menu or product/service offerings, etc. This information should be the same as what is listed in your Google My Search listing.
If your business has multiple locations, include a different page for each location, with a clear and targeted URL for each different page and information specific to those locations (different phone number, address, etc.).
Ensure a Positive Mobile Experience
As we touched on earlier, mobile search makes up a significant portion of local searches, and the business that comes from local searches. Ensure that your website is optimized for mobile users and that it is mobile-friendly – after all, 61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact local businesses that have websites optimized for mobile users. You can check how mobile-friendly your website is with this tool.
Include Local Business Info on Your Social Media Profiles
We’ve talked plenty about how social media can benefit your business online, and it can also play a role in improving your local search results. Most social media platforms will allow you to include a location on your profile, usually down to a city and country. Some platforms, such as Linkedin and Facebook, give you the opportunity to get more specific, including information similar to what you share on your Google My Business listing. Make sure these profiles, particularly your Facebook Business Page, are filled out and accurate.
In addition, maintaining an active social media presence can help grow your business on a local level, through user recommendations, engaging with your community, and posting about community-specific events and opportunities.
Publish Business Information on Directory Websites
Similar to your Google My Business listing, online directories provide your business the opportunity to post location-specific information. To use these websites to your advantage, make sure all information is accurate, updated, and the same as the information in your Google My Business listing.
Popular directory websites include Foursquare, Yellowpages, and Apple Maps.