What is Local Search Optimization?
Using local search optimization in your SEO strategies
What is local search optimization? Local search optimization refers to the practice of optimizing a website for search engine activity related to a small geographical area like a state or city. While local SEO has similarities to national SEO, there are a number of differences.
Different types of local searches
Let’s start by reviewing the different types of local searches and results that occur within search engines:
- Keyword Only – Keywords without a city name rely more heavily on traditional organic ranking factors, although in some cases they can still include local results. Examples of this would be a website designer or divorce attorney.
- Keyword + Location – Keywords that include a city name rely more heavily on true local ranking factors and will most likely pull from local listings like Google My Business or Google+ pages. An example of this would be Michigan vacation spots or Detroit plumber.
- Mobile Based Searches – Keyword searches performed on mobile devices can produce very different results then that of desktop computers. A desktop and a mobile phone search can have completely different results for the exact same phrase which confuses and frustrates a lot of marketers. Such search inquiries and results can occur with or without a geographical phrase added to the search term.
Most important ranking factors for local search optimization
First and foremost, do not forget that what applies to national SEO will apply to local SEO. Local SEO differs in certain areas because certain ranking factors (reasons search engines position a given website high in search) will carry more weight then that of national based search inquiries and results.
Here are the most important ranking factors to consider when optimizing for local search:
- On-Page Optimization: Just like in national search, the authority of a businesses’ domain (website address) and keyword focus within the content matter greatly. The difference with local search is that the presence of key NAP (name, address and phone number) contact information on the website becomes critical. This information should be placed in the header or footer so it displays on all content pages and posts. Notice this does not require stuffing your content or headers text full of local phrases. That is a very old school SEO tactic that needs to go away. What is important here is to use a phone number that includes an actual area code so the search engines can associate this area code with a given website’s local area.
- Inbound Links: Just as with national SEO, local SEO relies on both quantity and quality of inbound links to local businesses’ websites from external sites.
- Google My Business & Google+: These social media profiles should have accurate and optimized categories and relevant keywords in business descriptions. Those factors will influencer search just as the proximity of a business’ address to where the search is being conducted will too.
- External Directory References: The availability and consistency of NAP (name, address, phone number) on other third-party local business directories is also important. Example business directories for local searches would include Yelp, Angie’s List, Manta, Foursquare, Merchant Circle, TripAdvisor, and Internet Yellow Pages.
- User Behavioral & Mobile Usage: User behavioral and mobile usage are both considerations. Examples of such factors include user click through rates from search, check-ins, and user calls to a business,.
- Search Personalization: Search personalization includes results provided to users based on what is most relevant to their interests or located closest to their physical location.
- Reviews: The quantity and diversity of online reviews and rankings will also influence local search optimization efforts. These user reviews would be positive reviews from real users on legitimate websites.
- Social Media Signals: Google+ authority, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers provide additional influence in determining local search performance.
Google’s suggestions for showing up in local search
Google Maps search results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help Google find the best match for your search.
Here’s Google’s description of what relevance, distance, and prominence mean:
- Relevance: Relevance is how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match you to relevant search results.
- Distance: Just like it sounds — how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If you don’t specify a location in your search, Google will calculate distance based on what it knows about your location.
- Prominence: This describes how well-known or prominent a business can be. This is based on information Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and Google will try to reflect this online as well.
Steps for improving your local search results
Local SEO does not require you to insert your location throughout your content. That is old school SEO and just wrong in today’s world of search. I still see a lot of website owners do this and it is just wrong. Notice I mentioned that again? It is because it is a major issue and still widely used by small business websites that use a DIY approach to build out and SEO.
What you do need to do is the following:
- Add your address and phone number in the footer or header of your website so Google can associate your individual content pieces with your local area.
- Use your local area code and not just an 800.
- Sign up for a Google My Business or Google+ page account.
- Use other social media where applicable. Facebook is always good for local SEO.
- Encourage your clients and customers to check in and leave reviews inside Google and Facebook.
- Use a consistent format for your address and information.
- Use keywords within your business descriptions.
- Check your existing listings to see if they are accurate. You can use Moz Local for this task.
- Add your business to local directories or use a service like Yext’s PowerListings orGoDaddy’s Get Found to do it for you.
If you don’t have a Google My Business account already, head on over and set one up at https://www.google.com/business/. Yep, I’m saying it again, because it is that important.
Mistakes that often confuse search engines
Mistakes happen because website owners and marketers are only human. That said, it is important to limit such mistakes as they will reduce your local search optimization efforts.
Here are some very common user mistakes that hamper local SEO:
- Digital business listing different than the actual physical address of the business
- Duplicate listings in local search directories
- Inconsistency with business name, address, or phone number in online directories
- Incorrect categories used in local directories such as Google My Business
- Unverified listings in local directories
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