In this blog, we explore why marketers should invest in local search engine optimisation (SEO), best practice for implementing this into your digital strategy, key ranking factors that search marketers should consider, and more.
What is local SEO?
According to SEMrush, “local SEO is the process of optimising a business, product, or service for a search query that is location-specific. Google (and other search engines) uses a user’s location based on IP address (for desktop) and geolocation (for mobile) to determine what results to show the user.” This means that any information you search for can be easily found in just a few seconds through a simple search engine keyword combination. Thanks to the rise of mobile phones and internet usage in recent years, this branch of SEO has become increasingly important.
Local SEO also focuses on bringing more attention to local brick-and-mortar companies and their services. However, there is fierce competition for visibility, so it is important to have the right organic search engine strategy and optimisations to ensure your local business can rise above others.When used effectively, it can increase traffic (in-store and online), revenue and brand awareness.
According to Think with Google, “50% of people who made a local search on their phone went to a physical store within one day” and “18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within one day.”
Organic local listings vs Local pack
There are a range of ways you can rank for local SEO on Google and Bing – the most widely used search engines.
Organic local listing
You can rank via an organic local listing on search engine results pages (SERPs), which appears with the typical blue link. Another channel you can rank through is the local contact information landing page on your website, which can also display the company’s address, opening hours, customer service contact details and any other information.
By setting up a Google Business Profile (GBP), you can also rank via a local pack, which showcases three businesses relevant to your search at the top of the results page. Through your GBP, users can find more information directly from your business, as well as from users who have left reviews. Local pack listings can help users with directions, reservations, opening hours, and reviews. With the ongoing pandemic, users can also find a business’ health and safety standards, such as pick-up hours, through their GBP.
In order to trigger a local pack listing, the user can search for branded or non-branded keywords such as:
- Doctor near me
- Pizza store near me
- Dentist near me
- Timberland near me
- The North Face near me
So as you can see, it is important to correctly optimise your local pack listing with the right content, categories and information.
The map view via the local pack listing can also show other search results from the main local pack, as well as organic listings from the SERPs. The results shown will depend on how close the user is to the store and how far they zoom in and out of the map.
Ranking factors and best practices
Everything starts with an audit and great keyword research. It is important to know what kind of keywords users are searching for when they are looking for specific services and businesses. However, there are also other SEO strategies that can help you rank better than your competitors.
The local SEO ranking factors can weigh differently depending on if you are looking at an organic listing or a local pack. On top of this, depending on the product or service, businesses may need to tailor their strategy and pay attention to different factors. It goes without saying that optimising for a pizza restaurant would be very different from optimising for a dental practice.
BrightLocal explored the key ranking factors for local SEO by collecting data on the experience and research of 50 local SEO experts. The survey was conducted to better understand how local organic listings and local packs have changed over time in order to determine which factors were most important.
In the timeline above, it is clear just how much ranking factors have changed over the years as a result of Google’s local algorithm updates and shifts in user behaviour. For example, the effects of the global pandemic are visible in the change in ranking factors in March 2020. In summary, local SEO is ever-changing in that it responds to the evolving needs of users.
In the BrightLocal ranking survey, the 50 SEO experts also gave their opinion on the weight of each SEO factor, as well as what they recommend marketers looking to optimise a local pack or organic listing should focus on.
Tips for optimising a local pack:
- Add a primary GBP category (and any other additional categories)
- Include relevant keywords in the business title
- Highlight the proximity of the address to the user
- Showcase the high number of local and native reviews with text (second most important factor on the local pack finder)
Tips for optimising an organic listing:
- Offer value to the user by adding quality content across your website
- Include a good level of internal linking throughout your website
- Add relevant keywords to the landing page
- Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly
The growing focus on reviews
In November 2021, Google rolled out an update that grouped all reviews together within the local pack. They also created a badge for new reviews. Topics, sources, relevancy and how recently the review was posted are all factored in when they are grouped together to ensure it best serves the user.
This is an important update since reviews are an important ranking factor – one that Google always looks to improve and better moderate. To find out more about how local reviews work, check out this article by Search Engine Land.
Based on the last few Google core algorithms and local updates, it seems as though Google has been focusing a lot on user intent and how they can best provide relevant results for search queries. Brand reputation and engagement can both affect local SEO performance, so if the general sentiment and keywords used in online reviews are negative, it can directly affect engagement with your local listings.
Additionally, it is important to consider local packs on Bing and Google holistically – so, taking note of photos, descriptions, blog posts and keywords in GBP posts that don’t have a ranking factor weight, but might still influence engagement, conversions and traffic.
Factors that could be detrimental to how well you rank
Google allows users to make changes to a business’ local pack listing. They can update any information including opening hours, address, services and even the contact information.
The reason for this is that while it is very unlikely for users to intentionally change the information of local listings for malicious reasons, errors on the other hand can happen. It is important that users are presented with accurate and up-to-date information at all times, so make sure to regularly check that all information is correct and updated when needed.
GBP also allows you to download and update some of this information in bulk. However, it is recommended that for things like location – where there are constant changes made by users – it is best to perform regular manual checks and audits.
One way to prevent these errors is to use local schema markup for your website. Adding contact information, address, phone number and opening hours will help search engines better understand which information is correct, and allow them to cross-reference between your website’s local organic and local pack listing during the review process.
Local snippet justifications
A local snippet justification is an extra snippet of information that Google uses to best provide information related to the intent and query of the user.
According to Moz, there are currently seven main types of justifications:
- Review justifications– This is directly sourced via GBP reviews. It will check if the language used by the searcher is similar to the language used by the reviewer.
- Website justifications – This will point to specific keywords that matched the searcher with the website. For example, if the searcher is looking for “mobile repairs”, the website justification will say something similar to “this website mentions ‘mobile repair’”.
- Posts justifications – It will pull directly from your GBP posts, especially for those long-tail keywords searched by the user.
- Services justifications – This appears to also pull information directly from the GBP section within your dashboard, and will display a snippet such as, “this location provides ‘mobile repairs’”.
- Menu justificationos – If you have menus within your website or GBP, it could also generate a GBP justification such as “menu highlight salad”.
- In-stock justifications – This seems to come directly from Google’s “See what’s in store” (SWIS) program, which allows users to add details on the inventory they have in store. This could be especially useful for small businesses if they’re looking to add best-sellers or most requested items to the list. They can then win a justification relevant to a query, such as “in stock accent office chairs”.
- Sold here – This justification commonly comes from the user feedback surveys that is periodically asked by Google, such as “know this place”. Google can then fact-check for items sold in the store, disable access or even parking.
Local SEO can help you set your business up for success. Whether you’re optimising your local organic or local pack listing, it provides a myriad of opportunities to drive revenue, traffic and brand awareness. But marketers must create a tailored search strategy that aligns with their business goals, while considering key ranking factors that can impact the SERPs.