Local Search Engine Optimization

An Introduction to the Art and Science of Being Found Online

An Introduction to the Art and Science of Being Found Online

As a business owner, you always want more customers. I mean, what business owner doesn’t, right?
To get more customers, you need more prospects to find your business. If you have brick and mortar locations, maybe not all your prospects walk by or drive by your location. Maybe they don’t listen to the radio stations or read the publications in which you might advertise.

There is a way to trumpet to your prospects, “We exist and we have exactly what you want! Come check us out!” Not only that, it’s less costly and more effective than traditional marketing approaches and you can also determine its effectiveness and its ROI.

open for business and visible thanks to local search engine optimization

Local SEO and Google’s Local 3-Pack

Local search engine optimization is a method, a combination of tools and techniques applied to your website, business directories, and much more, that helps your business rise in the rankings of search engine results when people search online for businesses or services like yours that are near them. In the best-case scenario, your business lands in the number one position on the first page of the search engine results when a prospect searches the Internet for your product or service. Better yet, in the map pack. The top 3 map results that sit above the organic results in Local Search.

Screenshot of the local 3 pack demonstrating local search optimization

Local SEO requires planning, research, analysis, and execution. After three to six months of executing and consistently working toward your goals, we typically see significant results. Local SEO is a recipe that requires some thought, some work, some time, and a little experimentation, but the results are worth the effort. We can say that with confidence because we’ve devoted significant resources to research best local SEO practices, and have put what we learned to the test on over 100 locations. Our recipe for success works and, best of all, it requires only a little bit of work on your end.

Local Search Engine Optimization

The key to getting your business in front of the customers, patients, and clientele you want the most.

Let Us Help You

If you want to learn more about the local search optimization services we offer, or any other service we offer, please call us at 480.539.2900 or complete our contact form to tell us a little bit about yourself. We'll get right back to you!

Consider These Compelling Facts about Local Search:

  • 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day and 34% who searched on a computer or tablet did the same
  • 18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within one day
  • 87% of smartphone users use a search engine at least once per day
  • 60% of American adults use smartphones and tablets to search for local product and service information
  • 50% of local mobile searchers look for business information such as a local address
  • 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases
  • 71% of people research and confirm a business’s location before first visiting it
  • For local listings, 68% of searchers used “get directions” or “click to call” in a mobile ad
  • 33% of smartphone searches occur right before a store visit
  • 46% of all searches conducted on Google are local
  • 86% research business locations on Google Maps
  • 76% of local searches result in a phone call

These numbers continue to increase every year.

An infographic published by Go-Globe illustrates just how important local search engine optimization is to your business.

Differences between Traditional Marketing and Local Search Engine Optimization

Traditional Marketing VS Local SEO
  • Traditional Marketing

    Higher costs than Local SEO. Advertise in local newspapers, on radio, distribute flyers, arrange public relations events.

    Little-to-no control over offline distribution channels or whom they reach, meaning you’re paying to reach non-prospects.

    Difficult to optimize your offline marketing budget because it’s difficult to determine which offline channel is working and which isn’t.

  • Local SEO

    Requires a smaller investment to set up and continues to work for you after you implement your campaign.

    You know whom you want to find you and tailor elements of your campaign so they have a better chance to find you.

    You can track all aspects of a local search optimization campaign – the amount of traffic, number of leads, and the number of customers you get through local search and organic search results.

What You Need to Do: Perform a Local Search Engine Optimization Analysis

Why should you do this? Here are some good reasons:

  • When prospects perform a search for a local product or service, they generally select the results that ranked highly on the search engine results pages (SERPs). They often don’t look past the first page; in fact, the percentage of users who look past the first page is in the single digits, the low single digits.
  • You determine how much search engine competition you have and what you need to do to rank higher in search results than your competitors.
  • The information an analysis uncovered provides input into your plan – and you need a plan – for local SEO so that your plan is based on data, not supposition.
  • You’ll determine which elements of your website or landing page are poorly optimized or incomplete, which actions you must take to remedy those issues, and then execute those actions.

Cats checking on their local seo

Look! I told you Local SEO really works. You’re showing up in the map pack now…

Although you can perform local search optimization yourself to some degree, we highly recommend you let someone with experience specifically in this area perform the work. While not rocket science, this is a knowledge- and experience-based discipline. As mentioned above, search engines like Google change their algorithms and features based on constant analyses they perform. It can be challenging to keep up with the latest updates and innovations. Sometimes, even seemingly small changes can cripple your existing local SEO campaign and you’ll need to understand how to adjust it.
Local search optimization is not a set-it-and-forget-it tool. Search engines change their search algorithms, add features, remove features, and change existing features. The strategies that land your business at or near the top of the search engine results pages today may land you in the middle or near the end of the search engine results pages tomorrow. Local SEO strategies must be audited, tested, and reviewed on a recurring basis – every few months or sooner – to ensure they continue to deliver the business results you expect.

Local search optimization is not a set-it-and-forget-it tool. Search engines change their search algorithms, add features, remove features, and change existing features. The strategies that land your business at or near the top of the search engine results pages today may land you in the middle or near the end of the search engine results pages tomorrow. Local SEO strategies must be audited, tested, and reviewed on a recurring basis – every few months or sooner – to ensure they continue to deliver the business results you expect.

Optimize Your Google My Business Page

According to StatCounter Global Stats, as of September 2017, Google-owned nearly 86 percent of the US search market; Bing came in 2nd, owning slightly more than 6 percent of the US search market; and Yahoo! placed 3rd with a smidgeon over 5 percent of the US search market.

Google
85.82%
Bing
6.67%
Yahoo
5.43%
Other
1.81%
GMB (Google My Business)

You can clearly see that local search optimization begins with Google. Specifically, it begins with Google My Business, formerly known as Google Places.

Google My Business logoOptimizing your Google My Business page means that you supply the required information and ensure it is 100% accurate and complete, plus a couple of little tricks. You need to first confirm that a Google My Business page for your business exists and that only one exists. If no business profile exists, you need to create one. If more than one exists, decide which one you want to keep and delete any others; otherwise, your local search campaign suffers.

Then, you need to enter your current business information into your Google My Business profile. Complete ALL of the profile and note not only the information you entered, but the format you used when you entered it. For example, if your business name is Phoenix Online Media, located on 123 Main Street in Phoenix, Arizona, with a local phone number of 480.848.0482, did you enter the information in that format? Or did you enter it as PhoenixOnline Media, 123 Main St., Suite A, Phoenix, AZ with a local phone number of (404) 848-0402? Hint: The content and format of the two examples differ.

Example of address consistency between -

google my business screenshot showing address consistency as a positive local search engine optimization ranking factor

(Google My Business)

bing places screenshot showing address consistency as a positive local search engine optimization ranking factor

(Bing Places)

facebook about screenshot showing address consistency as a positive local search engine optimization ranking factor

(Facebook)

NAP Information

This is important because all of the name, address, and phone information (commonly called NAP) you enter on the Web about your business must be consistent in form and content. The NAP information you enter into your Google My Business profile must match that which you enter in your Bing profile, in your Yahoo! Profile, in online business directories, and so on, anywhere on the Web where you have a business citation.

Even the slightest difference among NAP information in your business profiles may adversely affect your local SEO campaign. Search engines know what you entered, not what you meant to enter. If your NAP information across different sites contains exactly the same information (remember, content and format), search engines recognize those entries as referring to the same business everywhere across the Web, helping your local search ranking. Any deviation in NAP information content and/or content format causes search engines not to recognize those entries as belonging to the same business, which hurts your search ranking.

Verify Your Page with Google

Next, you want to verify your Google My Business page with Google. The end of the verification process occurs when you receive, by snail mail, the verification code for your business and you acknowledge that code online with Google. In some cases Google may call the phone number you provide, but this rarely happens.

Image

(Enter your business name and address information. If your business already has a Google My Business page, Google's auto-suggest will show it at this step).

Image

(Confirm all of your address information is correct and that you would like to receive a Google postcard at this address with your verification number).

Image

(Preview your Google My Business verification postcard. This is an example of what your verification card will look like.  If other personal or staff get the mail at this location, alert them so this card isn't mistaken for junk mail and accidentally thrown away). 

Use a Business Email Address

If your business name is Mama's Pizza, don't use mamaspizza@gmail.com as your e-mail address. Instead, attach your e-mail address to your website's domain; use something like mama@mamaspizza.com. (Of course, your website domain should already be mamaspizza.com.) It appears more professional and helps to brand your business. Use that e-mail address when you register your Google My Business account.

Use the Proper Business Name, Address, and Local Phone Number

Per Google, your business "name should reflect your business's real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website stationery, and as known to customers." You can read all of Google's naming guidelines here

Google My Business requires your business have a physical street address; Google does not allow P.O. boxes in lieu of a street address. Verify the accuracy of the address with the United States Postal Service here

Finally, ensure the content and format of the local phone number you use for your business is local, correct, and consistent with other local phone numbers you may have entered on other sites. This should be the phone number, in both content and form, you use in all your business citations.

Use the Correct Website URL

Ensure the URL of the site you list in your Google My Business profile matches the address of your website's page that contains your business's location information. Most likely, this will be the home page. Variations such as http://www.examplewebsite.com and http://examplewebsite.com may hurt your chances of earning higher rankings.

Choose, Optimize, Upload and Verify Three Images

You need to select three images – a profile image, a high-quality logo image, and a cover image – to upload to your Google My Business page. Do not use a tiny image for your cover image; ideally, it should scale to a full-screen image.

Google My Business Photo Sizes

You need to optimize the images you've chosen for search engines. Optimizing your images for search engines means you use primary keywords in relation to specific images. Search engines don't "speak" images, but they do understand text. You can take advantage of this by using two techniques:

  • Use primary keywords in the "alt-text" tag for your images. Include your city, state, and keyword or business in your alt-text tags so Google can find and index them.

  • Name each image using your keywords. For example, "keyword_123_city.png".

Another benefit to using the alt-text tag is if for some reason an image doesn't display, the text in the tag will display when a user hovers his/her cursor over the image location.

Ensure the images you upload are clear and appropriate for their intended use. Test them by opening them from your profile page. These are the basic image optimization techniques; local SEO specialists have a few additional strategies that further optimize images and can help rank your listing quicker and higher.

Categorize Your Business

Categorizing your business properly is one of the most important Google My Business signals to help your business rank highly in the Local Pack/Finder. Categorizing your business is not as much of a factor in localized organic ranking.

Categories describe what your business is, not what it does or sells. You need to list your business under each relevant category that accurately describes it, but use the fewest number that will do the job and do not be spammy. The primary category should be the one most relevant to your business.

Where can you find these business categories? Here and here

List Hours of Operation

Your prospects need to know when your business is open. This information takes about 24 hours to update on Google. If you keep seasonal hours, ensure you update the hours on your Google My Business page when they change.

Create a Business Introduction

Write a brief, yet engaging, 150-word to 300-word description of what your business is all about and what you do.Be sure to include your keywords in here. If you're a business, what are your services or main product categories? If you are a doctor or in the Medical industry, what are your specialties? What awards or accreditations do you have? Also, don't forget to include the areas you serve as this will impact your Local SEO also.

Remember Bing


Go to Bing Places for Business to set up your Bing business profile. The process will be similar to Google's, although not entirely the same.

How Google Uses Ranking Factors for Local Search Engine Optimization

Each year, Moz surveys a who's who of local SEO experts to determine the ranking factors affecting local search optimization. This year, it organized the results of the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey results a bit differently than in the past. Moz reported separately on ranking factors for Local Pack/Finder and those for Localized Organic Ranking, calling out the top 8 ranking factors for each of the two categories.

The 8 Most Important Ranking Factors for Local Pack/Finder:

  1. Google My Business Signals (proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.) 19%
  2. Link Signals (inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quality, etc.) 17%
  3. On-Page Signals (presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.) 14%
  4. Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.) 13%
  5. Review Signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) 13%
  6. Behavioral Signals (click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.) 10%
  7. Personalization 10% Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.) 4%

Local 3-Pack Ranking Factors:
Google Local 3-Pack Ranking Factors

Source: https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors

The 8 Most Important Ranking Factors for Localized Organic Ranking Factors

  1. Link Signals (inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quality, etc.) 29%
  2. On-Page Signals (presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.) 24%
  3. Behavioral Signals (click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.) 11%
  4. Personalization 9%
  5. Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.) 8%
  6. Google My Business Signals (proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.) 7%
  7. Review Signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) 7%
  8. Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.) 4%

Research Keywords for Local SEO Success

If you don't research keywords popular for your type of business, you might as well not proceed any further.

This subject is that important and provides the spine of your local search engine optimization. Keyword research is enormously important. Currently, without keywords, local search optimization wouldn't exist. That could change in the future, though, as search engines incorporate more artificial intelligence (AI) and semantic technology into their algorithms.

Despite how important keywords are, this is how many businesses perform their keyword research:

  • Think of some keywords for which prospects might search
  • Put those words into Google's Keyword Planner
  • Pick some keywords based on your instincts

That might work, but chances are it won't.

Figure 1 Number of Keywords: Competition vs. Conversion

Image

Graphic courtesy of Backlinko.com and Brian Dean

You need to conjure up a mix of head keywords, body keywords, and long-tail keywords, but go a bit heavier on the body keywords and long-tail keywords.

Head Keywords

Head keywords are single-word keywords that return a bazillion results when used as a search term. When we used "pizza" as a search term on Google, it returned 799 million results. Searching for "t-shirt" returned 1.34 billion search results. What would be the chances of your t-shirt or pizza business appearing on the first page of results for either of those search terms?

Body Keywords

Body keywords are two- or three-word keyword phrases. They are nowhere near as competitive as head keywords, but they're still pretty competitive. A body keyword search will still generate several thousand search results, but it's much better than hundreds of millions or billions of them.

Long-tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are four-to-five-word keyword phrases that are not as competitive as head keywords or body keywords (a good thing) and prospects don't search for them as often (a not-as-good thing), but the prospects searching using long-tail keywords have more intent to buy and purchase from local businesses (a very good thing). Long-tail keywords are word phrases that describe the intent of searchers. An example would be, "buy Phoenix Suns tickets now". That searcher's intent is to buy immediately Phoenix Suns tickets. If the Suns' SEO campaign is up to snuff, that long-tail keyword will bring up a link pointing to the page where you can buy tickets.

No Keyword Stuffing!Don't stuff keywords into your content just to help your site rise in search rankings. Your site could be penalized by Google. Use keywords where it makes sense to use them and where they flow naturally into and through your content. While you need to develop content for search engines, you need to keep in mind the people reading it, too. If your site reads awkwardly or lacks interesting content, people will leave. Fast. Also remember that quality content will earn you backlinks, too.

To discover effective body keywords and long-tail keywords, you need to know your customers. You need to get into their heads. You need to know the problems they want to solve and how your business can solve them. You need to know their likes and dislikes, where they like to go and what they like to do. Learn as much as you can about them so you can develop content that speaks to them.

Search Engine Optimization Knowing Your Customer

Knowing your customer, client, or patient will help you effectively build the best possible campaign for your marketing.

Again, remember that search engine algorithm changes may affect your keyword effectiveness over time. You should revisit your keyword choices every couple of months to determine if you need to update them or even change your keyword strategy.

Free Keyword Tools

We are not endorsing any keyword tools or approaches listed here. We're simply providing you links to review these tools on your own and provide you some food for thought. Remember, these are free. Most will be limited in some form and some are free for only a limited amount of time.

Competitive Keyword Research and Analysis

While you're researching keywords, look for the ones your competitors use. All's fair in love, war… and business! Seriously, searching for this information is not unethical, immoral, or illegal. Businesses do it all the time. It's a modern version of competitive intelligence.

Related Reads

As we mentioned in the title way at the top, local search engine optimization is not an exact science; there's a bit of art involved, too. Like noses, everyone has an opinion regarding what works and what doesn't in local search optimization. That being said, Mike Templeman, a Forbes contributor, provides "5 Tips for a Modern SEO Keyword Search Strategy" right here.

This online keyword research guide by Brian Dean includes interesting approaches to keyword research plus a host of additional information and helpful ideas.

Optimize Your Website to Be Found

Many, many ways exist to optimize your site to move it up in local search results aside from keywords. We cannot mention all of them, but we can touch upon some of them to help you grab some low-hanging fruit.

Optimize Title Tags

When you perform a search and view the results, the links you see is the text in those web pages' title tags. Title tags help search engines understand what a web page, website or business is about. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Keep your title tags under 70 characters so search engines don't chop off your titles
  • Ensure your business's name is visible in title tags.
  • Each web page should have a unique title tag.
  • Each title tag should contain your city, state, and keyword being targeted by that particular page.
  • Your primary keyword should not only generate a high search volume but should also distinctly define what your business is and does.
  • Add your primary keyword in your title tag and try to place it as close to the front of your title tag as you can.

Title Tag and Meta Description Screenshot

Create Engaging Meta Descriptions

A meta description is text that functions as a small advertisement for your business. It should contain relevant keywords that generate high search volume and be written so it induces prospects to click on your search engine listing instead of your competitors'. Remember that people read your web pages, too, and you want to write them for people as well as search engines. You want readers to click on a link to go to your site. Here are a couple of additional hints:

  • A high click-through rate may help your search engine ranking.
  • Each web page should have a unique meta description and include your city, state, and the main keyword for which you want to optimize that particular page. You can include your phone number, but Google pays no attention to it.

Optimize Anchor Text

Anchor text is the link text that displays in a web page. For example, the following text, keyword research guide, is the anchor text for https://backlinko.com/keyword-research. Click on both links and see what happens.

To make it short and sweet, use different, yet relevant, keywords in your anchor text.

Ensure a Mobile Responsive Website

Mobile Responsive WebsiteMobile responsiveness means your site is 100% mobile-compliant. If it's not, Google will penalize your website and your search rankings will suffer.

To make this even more fun, Google maintains two search engine rankings for your website, a desktop ranking position, and a mobile ranking position. Yes, they differ.

Optimize Header Tags

Search engines look at header tags to understand the context of a web page. Header tags, which create headings on web pages, have different levels of "importance," with H1 being the most important. If you need subheadings for web page content, you can use H2 and H3 tags, too. Again, here are some hints:

Each web page on your site should contain only one H1 header. More than one H1 header on a page will negatively affect your search ranking.

Yes, Google pays attention to your web page headings. Ensure you use your most important keyword somewhere in your H1 tag for each web page.

Optimize Website URL Structure

Search engines use URLs to determine whether content is relevant. Ensure the URL of your local product and service pages contains your business' location and product and/or service name.

Use Schema Markup and Event Markup

Schema markup creates a standard language search engines use to display important information about a website. This information may be online reviews, event information for events your business sponsors, coupons, videos, prices… a whole constellation of information. You can use these markup notations to separate your website from those of your competitors.

Get Citations and Local Citations from Authoritative Websites

Citations are mentions of your website on other websites. Local citations occur anytime your business name, address, and phone number appear together. The more high-quality websites your business is listed on, the better your search engine ranking will be. The moral of this story is to target as many high quality and authoritative websites as possible.

Authoritative Sites to Get Citations

  • Moz lists the best citation sources by US cities here.
  • You also want to target top industry-relevant directories. For example, if you're a lawyer, you'd want a citation on findlaw.com.
  • You also want to target local relevant directories. Examples are your local city's business directory and your local chamber of commerce.
  • Don't forget about local blogs and industry-focused blogs, too.

These are some tools to help with citations:

Build Credibility through Local Reviews

Local Reviews Matter!Although not as important as in the past, local reviews still contribute to search engine ranking. Customer reviews and online testimonials hold quite a bit of sway with consumers. What are some of the benefits of online reviews?

  • They directly affect the number of your customer conversions. According to 2016 research by BrightLocal, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
  • 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business.
  • 54% of people will visit a website after reading positive reviews.
  • 70% of consumers will write a review of a business if asked.

Here are some helpful hints:

  • Ask customers to leave reviews Make it easy for customers to leave reviews. They need to be able to figure out how to do so, otherwise, they won't and you won't garner many reviews. One way to make it easier is to include the link in the email, message, or text. If possible, have the link open the review box or exact page you want the review on.
  • You can offer some incentive for the reviewer taking the time out their day to write a review. Just be careful your not paying for reviews, but people's time is valuable and it's acceptable to compensate them for it.  Make it clear the incentive is for a positive or negative review. Although we all prefer positive feedback, negative reviews have value, too.
  • Don't forget to thank your reviewers. It will help build loyalty.
  • Create profiles on different review websites. Yelp, TripAdvisor, and TrustPilot are some good places to start.

Remember that your business doesn't build credibility through only good reviews; review frequency and the number of reviews also affect your search rankings.

Let Us Help You

If you want to learn more about the local search optimization services we offer, or any other service we offer, please call us at 480.539.2900 or complete our contact form here to tell us a bit about yourself. We'll get right back to you!