Local search engine optimization (local SEO) is similar to (national) SEO in that it is also a process affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results (SERP- search engine results page) often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results. In general, the higher ranked on the search results page and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users; these visitors can then be converted into customers. Local SEO, however, differs in that it is focused on optimizing a business’ online presence so that its web pages will be displayed by search engines when users enter local searches for its products or services. Ranking for local search involves a similar process to general SEO but includes some specific elements to rank a business for local search.
For example, local SEO is all about ‘optimizing’ your online presence to attract more business from relevant local searches. The majority of these searches take place on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines but for better optimization in your local area you should also use sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, LinkedIn, Local business directories, social media channels and others.
The origin of local SEO can be traced back to 2003-2005 when search engines tried to provide people with results in their vicinity as well as additional information such as opening times of a store, listings in maps, etc.
Local SEO has evolved over the years to provide a targeted online marketing approach that allows local businesses to appear based on a range of local search signals, providing a distinct difference from broader organic SEO which prioritises relevance of search over a distance of searcher.
Local searches trigger search engines to display two types of results on the Search engine results page: local organic results and the ‘Local Pack’. The local organic results include web pages related to the search query with local relevance. These often include directories such as Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook, etc. The Local Pack displays businesses that have signed up with Google and taken ownership of their ‘Google My Business’ (GMB) listing.
The information displayed in the GMB listing and hence in the Local Pack can come from different sources:
Depending on the searches, Google can show relevant local results in Google Maps or Search. This is true on both mobile and desktop devices.
Google has added a new Q&A features to Google Maps allowing users to submit questions to owners and allowing these to respond. This Q&A feature is tied to the associated Google My Business account.
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that allows businesses to create and manage their Google listing. These listings must represent a physical location that a customer can visit. A Google My Business listing appears when customers search for businesses either on Google Maps or in Google SERPs. The accuracy of these listings is a local ranking factor.
Major search engines have algorithms that determine which local businesses rank in local search. Primary factors that impact a local business’s chance of appearing in local search include proper categorization in business directories, a business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) being crawlable on the website, and citations (mentions of the local business on other relevant websites like a chamber of commerce website).
In 2016, a study using statistical analysis assessed how and why businesses ranked in the Local Packs and identified positive correlations between local rankings and 100+ ranking factors. Although the study cannot replicate Google’s algorithm, it did deliver several interesting findings:
Prominence, relevance, and distance are the three main criteria Google claims to use in its algorithms to show results that best match a user’s query.
According to a group of local SEO experts who took part in a survey, links and reviews are more important than ever to rank locally.
As a result of both Google as well as Apple offering “near me” as an option to users, some authors report on how Google Trends shows very significant increases in “near me” queries. The same authors also report that the factors correlating the most with Local Pack ranking for “near me” queries include the presence of the “searched city and state in backlinks’ anchor text” as well as the use of the ” ‘near me’ in internal link anchor text”
An important update to Google’s local algorithm, rolled out on the 1st of September 2016. Summary of the update on local search results:
As previously explained (see above), the Possum update led similar listings, within the same building, or even located on the same street, to get filtered. As a result, only one listing “with greater organic ranking and stronger relevance to the keyword” would be shown. After the Hawk update on 22 August 2017, this filtering seems to apply only to listings located within the same building or close by (e.g. 50 feet), but not to listings located further away (e.g.325 feet away).
As previously explained (see above), reviews are deemed to be an important ranking factor. Joy Hawkins, a Google Top Contributor and local SEO expert, highlights the problems due to fake reviews: