Gone are the days when a well-designed shop-front, keen local advertising and enthusiastic sales staff were enough to reach a store’s potential customers. An ever-increasing number of us are using search engines to find the local businesses and services we want.
According to a Google insider, 46% of all searches on the platform have ‘local intent’. That is, almost half of all search queries are from people looking for products, services or information specific to a location.
This is great news for local businesses hoping to boost footfall by driving web traffic to their doors. Why?
Because SEO comes with a well-defined rulebook. Those who follow it to the letter are almost guaranteed to see results.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at five of this book’s most important entries on local search visibility and show you how to get a business seen in the local SERPs.
Localized and generalized SEO are two sides of the same coin.
Localized SEO used to be a beast all of its own. But, things change quickly in this field and now generalized SEO is the most important consideration for anyone hoping to rank well in local search.
Generalized SEO includes all of the usual suspects for ranking on the internet in general, like having other websites link to yours (backlinks), maintaining positive behavioral signals (how people behave while on your website), building social signals (your social media accounts) and so on.
According to Moz’ 2018 local search ranking factors summary, generalized SEO factors accounted for 83% of a business’s position in the organic search results and 64% of their ranking for the Local Pack.
In the simplest terms, this means that the foundation of local SERPs visibility is good generalized SEO. To put it another way, a business can’t rank well locally if it doesn’t rank well in general.
How to boost your localized ranking factors
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you’ve already got a handle on generalized SEO.
So, here we’re going to look at the specifically localized ranking factors you’ll need to ace to reach the top of the localized organic search results or make it into the Local Pack.
According to Moz’s data-crunching wizardry, localized ranking factors account for 17-36% of local search rank. And those ranking factors are mostly driven by Google My Business and citation signals.
Build online citations
Citations are mentions of a business’s NAP (name, address and phone number) on other websites. They can be hosted on:
- Business directories
- Social platforms
- Websites and apps
They may or may not include a link to your business’s website and other information like opening hours and reviews.
Google cares about the number, quality, and accuracy of your citations.
Citations fall into two categories:
1 Structured – citations on platforms built to host business’s details, e.g. directories
2 Unstructured – these citations are mentions of a business on websites and apps that are not made specifically for that purpose, e.g. news sites, blogs and social media platforms
To build your business’s structured citations, use a tool like WhiteSpark to identify the most relevant and high-value opportunities in your area.
Enter your country, location, and a target keyword…
… and WhiteSpark identifies the top-ranking businesses in your area, as well as the local business directories you should complete.
Building unstructured citations work in much the same way as your average generalized SEO backlink strategy. You’ll need to:
- Write guest posts on authority sites
- Build relationships with other bloggers to get featured in their posts
- Submit editorials to local newspapers
- Sponsor local events
- Engage with other businesses on social media
Optimize your Google My Business account
I think it’s fair to say that having a Google My Business account is step 1 of ranking in a localized search.
But, here’s the problem… too many businesses skip steps when filling theirs out. They leave details incomplete and forget to apply basic optimization techniques.
This is a big mistake!
Google My Business signals account for 8.85% of your localized organic search rank and 25.12% of your chance of making it into the Local Pack.
To do it well, you need to:
1 Identify the most relevant Google My Business categories for your business
2 Keep your NAP (name, address and phone number) and opening hours up to date
3 Optimize the short description and title in your account for your main keywords
4 Check that your Google Maps ‘pin’ is in exactly the right place
Produce useful, local content
Once you’ve mastered specifically localized ranking factors, learn how to localize the generalized ones, e.g. your content strategy.
Local businesses need to produce great content.
At this point, I imagine at least half of you are muttering “but, content doesn’t matter for local SEO”. I’m sorry to break it to you, but content matters for all SEO.
- Social signals
- Link signals
Happily, all of the tactics you’d use in a regular SEO content strategy still apply.
… With one exception!
Businesses hoping to rank well in a localized search need to appeal to local audiences. How do you know what they want? Take a look at local websites that act as a guide to your area. They’re a great source of inspiration on topics that local people love.
- Local events
- Guides to local sites and experiences
- Information about other local businesses
- Interviews with local celebrities and public figures
- Details of the social projects and campaigns you support
For example, a popular organic supermarket in my home city has most of these points nailed.
By focusing on local issues, they’re building relationships with local consumers and encouraging other businesses to share their content and talk about what they do.
Build online reviews
Reviews account for between 6.47-15.44% of a business’s localized ranking (localized organic search and Local Pack, respectively). So, building them can significantly boost your visibility in localized SERPs.
There’s no better way to encourage positive reviews than to provide a fantastic product or service. But, people rarely leave views without being asked.
Some review sites, like Google, explicitly forbid businesses from offering incentives in exchange for reviews. However, having a few reminders along the purchase journey can make a big difference in how many you get. You could:
- Add a link to a post-purchase email
- Display current review ratings on a receipt and ask customers to add their view
- Train your staff who remind customers about reviews during checkout
- Display a poster or two in your premises that says something like ‘We have 4 stars on TrustPilot, add your voice today’
Some review sites, like Tripadvisor, offer printed certificates to top-ranking businesses…
… which eligible businesses should always get.
The key takeaway here is that having more and better quality reviews on multiple platforms will significantly increase your business’s rank in the localized SERPs.
Prioritize mobile users
Most internet searches are now carried out on mobile phones and this fact has changed the way Google ranks sites. Between 2016 and 2019 it developed it’s ‘mobile-first’ approach, which places mobile-friendly websites above others in all search results.
SEO experts agree that this preference will only get stronger as time goes on, which means you need to:
1 Understand and implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) (see video below)
2. Address any backend issues (inefficient code, large files and excessive
redirects) that could slow your website’s load time
3. Upgrade your web host to a faster free or paid service
Here’s the crunch…
If your business relies on a brick-and-mortar presence, you need it to be visible in the local SERPs. Luckily, most of your local ranking rests on regular SEO efforts. So, if you’re investing in generalized SEO, you’re most of the way there. But, to get into Google’s Local Pack or rank on page 1 of the localized organic SERPs you’ll need to:
- Chase those citations
- Optimize your Google My Business
- Write content that local people want to read
- Bring in online reviews; and
- Prioritize mobile users
Jodie is a Conversion Copywriter, Content Strategist and Optimisation Specialist working with bold B2B SaaS and tech brands. Before founding This Copy Sticks, she spent a decade selling the toughest value proposition around and raised £2 million for charities before her 25th birthday. After 10 years in fundraising, Jodie decided to put her words to work helping tech-mad trailblazers grow their businesses.
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