Not all search engine optimization strategies are the same. Each company is different and has distinct needs according to its organizational goals, company size, budget, and target niche. For example, a large multinational organization with a wide client base across different markets will do well with an SEO strategy that encompasses entire countries, multiple demographics, and varying interests. However, a small business with a limited budget that operates mostly selling product in one neighborhood has a completely different set of circumstances. In this case, a nationwide campaign would not only be more expensive but will produce mixed results. Instead, a local SEO strategy will increase the effectiveness of the campaign while maintaining lower costs.
Local search engine optimization looks to maximize the presence of your business in local search results, thus targeting an audience in the same geographical area. In essence, local SEO is the practice of adjusting content and information on your website so that such information is visible, accessible, and relevant to users looking for businesses in their region. These adjustments and optimizations include on-page and off-page SEO. With this strategy, the meta tags involving page title, keywords, and description are still important and need to be modified to account for the location and relevance of a search result. For example, if someone is looking for a widget in a specific city, and a search engine encounters a page with the widget and the city in the title, and if the same terms are listed in the different meta tags and match the content of the page, the relevance is obviously higher, thus positively affecting the ranking.
Most people use search engines to find businesses in their immediate area. This provides companies with an opportunity to specifically promote products and services to a local niche. Citations include any reference available online about your business, such as the company name, address, and phone number (NAP) and help enhance your page in respect to a specific geographical location. Citations can include business listings in directories such as Citysearch, Yelp reviews, or information displayed in the local chamber of commerce. Google will use results from multiple directories and your website to match the accuracy of the information. Therefore, it is important to list your business in Google My Business. Bing also has a similar directory. All companies need to take advantage of these types of free business profiles.
Apart from citations, another important concept in the realm of local SEO is Map Pack results. The results are also commonly referred to as Snack Packs. Initially, Google presented seven companies in this section. In the latest iteration, the algorithm reduces the companies listed to three. A search engine user that conducts a local search receives results displaying three businesses mapped out and detailed toward the top of the page. The details include the name of the business, a street, and a star rating. This feature is a direct consequence of Google’s local search algorithm, which seeks to improve the user experience of those looking for local companies. Furthermore, Google has modified and enhanced the feature to become more mobile-friendly.
Some of the modifications to the local search concept include viewing and adjusting a search by rating. Major companies besides Google, including Facebook, have incorporated reviews and star ratings. These reviews and ratings are critical not only to brand awareness and reputation but also to search engine optimization and organic search results. People will trust online reviews, and negative evaluations can be detrimental to the success of an organization. Therefore, make sure to respond to reviews positively and ask customers to leave a note about their positive experience when possible.
Google is well known to update its algorithm on a consistent basis. For those who follow white-hat practices and develop valuable content, the changes usually help. Nevertheless, some updates can adversely affect ranking. Making matters a bit more convoluted is that Google does not generally announce what is in each update. Instead, observers need to discover the possible changes and alert the rest of the community on how businesses need to adapt. It is important to note, however, that Google does not modify algorithms targeting a specific company. Instead, Google looks to improve user experience by targeting unfair tactics or practices abused by some businesses.
Google was not always local-business friendly; however, in 2005, the company began shifting toward helping those interested in businesses near users. During that year, the company released Local Business Center. This was a free tool that allowed companies to list their business locally. The search engine then expanded the tool by merging it with Maps and including other relevant information like driving directions, contact information, and hours of operation. This forced companies to begin ensuring that their information was up-to-date for local SEO.
A couple of years later, in 2007, Google further enhanced local searches by creating Universal Search and Blended Results. This combined results page provided users with videos, images, news, local results, and other pertinent elements. This was a great push for local businesses because it provided an opportunity for users to see said businesses within a search result. In 2010, the company once again focused on local searches with the rebranding of Google Places. The modification included a lot more changes than just a name. The search engine added local advertising options, new image features, and geo-specific tagging. Favorite Places was also upgraded. Furthermore, Google allowed businesses to specify a service area that the company would cover.
Although these changes cemented Google’s commitment to accurate local results, the Venice update in 2012 amplified the accuracy with a geographical focus. Instead of just showing nearby results on Google Maps, the algorithm upgrade took into account a user’s location and presented organic results based on that location without the need to use a local term such as city or state. The long-tail search improvement with Hummingbird in 2013 further advanced this feature, and the 2014 Pigeon update improved localized SERPs even more. Local search was aligned with the traditional ranking signals used in search engine optimization, which increased the accuracy of the results.
In 2015, a major change to the entire algorithm, including local searches, took place. Google began using artificial intelligence and machine learning and improved its semantics capabilities. The update was called RankBrain, and Google was able to learn from queries on how to improve results and accuracy. The update was a major change in the way that the company improved, using AI to increase user experience with a highly accurate SERP continually. The artificial intelligence system, which continues to be in place, uses mathematics and language semantics to gain insight on how people perform web searches and applies its findings to future results.
Many businesses kept complaining that they were unable to reach a relevant audience based on a search that included a city. For example, a business operating in the outskirts of a major city was outside of the specific geographical area of that city, even though it may be the most relevant option in its industry. As a response to the problem, Google launched Possum. The update obtained the user’s location to provide businesses that were close and relevant.
Assume that someone interested in creating a local search engine optimization strategy is running a computer repair services business in West Palm Beach, Florida. The company is called ABC Computer Repair Services. The idea behind the strategy is to appear in the search engine results page (SERP) when customers search for phrases like computer repair shops near me, computer repair in West Palm Beach, ABC Computer Repair Services phone number, and other similar phrases.
These phrases, however, are optimized for better placements because Google will display results from Google My Business as a card-like result toward the top. This is known by experts as Service in Locations, or SiLs The idea here is to create phrases in this type of format by combining the products or services a company offers with important keywords. A great way to search for ideas is to visit Google directly and enter some of aforementioned phrases (but tailored to your business). Google will generate an autocomplete for suggested searches.
An additional tool that can provide insight as to what others are using and how these rank is to research phrases and words using Google’s Keyword Planner Tool. The tool is highly effective not only in looking at search volume but also in generating possible alternatives. The tool is free to use and should be in the arsenal of items that every person looking to perform local SEO has at their disposal. You can also search online for countless tools that analyze on how competitors rank using specific keywords. Try this with similar businesses in other geographical areas. This will give an idea of which words are important.
Local SEO— and pretty much any SEO—is centered around Google. Therefore, interested parties need to use all resources that Google provides, including Google My Business. Make use of the similar tools provided by Bing Places and Apple Maps. Complete NAP and citations as indicated at the beginning of the article. Keep in mind that these are critical to ranking high in local searches, so take your time and ensure that the information is complete and updated. You can use Link Graph’s directory listing scan to perform an audit.
Once citations and NAP have been set up, the business should continue the progress of optimizing for local results by creating landing pages for each location the business may have. For example, our West Palm Beach computer store could create pages like yourdomain.com/westpalmbeach and yourdomain.com/jupiter. These should be location-specific landing pages. Do not create the same landing page using different keywords or terms, as Google will catch on and penalize the company.
Google’s latest update uses geo-tracking to infer the location of the company. Therefore, a businesses’ primary location should be optimized in the home page. This means that name, address, and phone number should be displayed on the main page along with an embedded Google Map. Other relevant information that can increase the visibility locally includes reviews and testimonials and relevant markup.
After the site has been optimized for location, the organization should focus on link signals and developing a link building strategy. Continuing with the example of a computer services business, the company can create a useful local resources that is valuable to those needing services. For example, the business can create a quick guide to fix the most common computer viruses. Make sure that the location is mentioned naturally in the text of the guide. Along with this quality content, engage in link building by creating guest blog posts. These are among the best ways to obtain a high-quality link.
It’s important to note that quality is more important than quantity. Google has invested countless resources in detecting highly valuable information and ranking such information accordingly. Therefore, focus on creating link-worthy content that others would be eager to read and share. Also, make sure to update the content regularly, as this indicates to Google that the website is still active and possibly has more valuable information. Finally, remember to measure and track. Do not be afraid to use free tools like Google Analytics to monitor the local search engine results continuously.
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