SEO is a fairly well known concept, but many sites overlook an important aspect: local SEO. In this article, I’ll go over the highest impacting local SEO techniques to boost your rankings.
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# What is Local SEO?
Local SEO (Local Search Engine Optimization) is often referred to as local search engine marketing. It’s an incredibly effective way to market your local business online, as it helps businesses promote their products and services to local customers at the exact time they’re looking for them online.
This is accomplished through a variety of techniques, some differ greatly from standard SEO/search, some far easier to manage using local SEO tools and services. Examples include everything from claiming a business listing to ensuring a franchise location appears in a local search on Google (a process known as location data or citation management). It also extends to managing online ratings and reviews, local-centric social media engagement, and beyond.
# Standard Search vs. Local Search
Whereas anyone in the world with good enough SEO and authority can rank for a search query like ‘how to fix a leaky Jeep’, when the query has much more purchase intent behind it, it becomes ‘mechanics near me’ or ‘best mechanic in [location]’.
For these types of search query, which typically include a location or ‘near me’ (which aren’t even necessary if searching using Google Maps or if Google knows your location and assumes the search has local intent), search engines understand that what the searcher wants is business suggestions or lists based on location, and so that’s precisely what they offer up in the local search engine results pages (SERPs). This difference in behaviour and result is precisely why local SEO is important and worth investing in alongside standard SEO.
Here’s what a typical local search looks like on Google:
Anything stick out at you? 100% ads! Google has been pushing more ads into local search results over time, so this is something you’ll want to keep an eye out for going forward. Here’s what it’ll look like after the ads:
These aren’t the only places that search is influenced by local SEO, you’ll also see it in Google Maps:
Local Search Helping Small Businesses
Sites optimized for local search can vastly improve its search engine rankings. Say you’re a Googler trying to find a local coffee shop or transportation service around you. If a site has been properly optimized for local search, Google will display a map and other relevent information to the searcher for businesses they’re looking for. This helps click-through rates and makes it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.
Local search get’s divided into two groups, Implicit Location Search and Explicit Location Search. The reason for this is because, local search information can be triggered intentionally or otherwise.
A Look at Implicit Location Search
Google is smart enough to distinguish local search queries from the others. For instance, when you search for coffee shop or limo service, chances are you’re looking for a coffee shop or limo service near you. These are implicit location search queries because you didn’t specify a city. Even though a city wasn’t specified, Google will show you the local results. Take a look at the right column and you’ll see a map with local businesses. Once you click on the map, you’ll be able to see these locations of Google Maps.
So how does Google know? Well, there’s a couple of different ways. First, you can enter it manually in your location search settings (Search Settings > Location, its the cog-wheel in the top right corner). Something to note is you can only specify a location within the country of your current Google domain. For example, a French address on google.fr. Detecting your location based on your IP address is the second way Google can take a pretty good guess about where you’re at.
A Look at Explicit Location Search
Explicit Location Search is exactly what it sounds like; you can get location-specific search results intentionally by specifying a location. Let’s take the limo service example above. If instead you searched for limo services Austin or Austin limo services, Google will return a list of limo service companies in Austin, Texas. Adding Austin triggered the explicit location search.
Can your site benefit from Local SEO?
If your business has a physical location or even multiple locations that would be useful to your customers, then your site should be optimized. Regardless the business type or size, whether it be a small company or a national one, it doesn’t matter.
Local Search Engine Optimization Strategies
Let’s jump into it! I’ll take you through some simple strategies to help optimize your site for local search.
Local SEO Strategy Tip 1: Google+ Local
In the past, Google Places was used to connect your business with local customers. However, because of Google’s focus on Google+, this service has been embedded into the company’s social media channel.
Once your site is optimized for Google+ Local, your site’s listing in search engine results (shown below) will include your business name, address, phone number, images, and the location along with a handy Google Map. It will even show Zagat reviews.
Local SEO Strategy Tip 2: Pick the Correct Domain Extension
It’s important to pick the correct domain extension with optimizing your site for Local SEO. There’s two types of domain extensions you can choose from.
Country-Specific Domain Extension
Country-specific domain extensions are a important indicator for search engines to associate a site with a particular geographic location. Websites with the domain extension .de for example, targets users in Germany.
Neutral Domain Extension
Neutral domain extensions like .com, .org, and .net can also be linked to a geographic region. To associate your neutral domain extension with a region, you can use Google Webmaster Tools. Log in to your account and go to Configuration > Settings. On this page you can choose the geographic target of your site.
Local SEO Strategy Tip 3: Website Content
Be sure make your business address is visible in plain text on one or more pages. If you’re able to place it on every page, like in the footer, that would be even better. Using this, search engines can more effectively list your site to local users. It’s also helpful to place the business address in the footer since that’s where many user’s will go to try to contact or find your business location.
You can give more clues to search engines about your business location using the same technique you would for optimizing a page for a certain keyword. Try to use your location in the URL, page title and content. For example, Austin Choice Executive Sedan & Limo uses its location in the URL, title and meta description. See below:
Local SEO Strategy Tip 4: Use Structured Data
Structured data is very useful to search engines when directing local users to your site. It’s used to generate rich snippets, which can improve the CTR of your pages in the SERPs. These rich snippets can be used to identify various parts of your site like the business address.
Microdata, microformats, or RFDa can be used to structure the data on your website. Take the example below, let’s say we have the following address on a website:
Austin Choice Executive Sedan & Limo
815 A Brazos St.
Austin, TX 78701
Using structured data, we can tell the search engines that this is the address of the business:
<div itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">Austin Choice Executive Sedan & Limo
<div itemprop="address" itemscope="" itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">815 A Brazos St.
Google also provides a handy tool to test your markup, the Structured Data Testing Tool.
Local SEO Strategy Tip 5: Backlinks, Backlinks, Backlinks
Backlinks are one of the most important factors in SEO. It can also be one of the hardest to accomplish… the right way. But that’s another discussion we won’t get into here. Backlinks affect local SEO, because Google uses location information from other websites. Building links to your site with an anchor text that includes a location will improve your local ranking.
Building links to your site with an anchor text that includes a location will improve your local SEO listing.
Local website directories like the Yellow Pages, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. can also serve as a source for location information. Getting listed on these pages can help you conquer some SERP real estate.
Local SEO Strategy Tip 5: Make a KML File
Another great source Google and other search engines use to get a site’s location information is a KML file. There kind of files can be used to determine the exact location of a business via it’s latitude and longitude. Google has been indexing these types of files since 2007.
Arjan Snaterse wrote a tool called the Geo Sitemap and KML Generator. It can help developers create valid KML files. Geo Sitemaps have become redundant because Google has stopped supporting them since the beginning of last year. Simply add the URL of your KML file to your existing sitemap without specific tags.
Take a look at the content of the KML file below:
<!–?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?–>
Austin Choice Executive Sedan & Limo
Travel in and around Austin, TX in style for as much as it costs to get a taxi. Book your next trip with Austin Choice Executive Sedan & Limo online today!
There’s three things here that need to be changed:
- The name of the business
- A short description of the business
- The longitude and latitude of the business
You can also optionally add the altitude. To find your business’s coordinates, use Google Maps. Just right-click on a location and select
What’s Here?. Once you have, the longitude and latitude will pop up in the search bar.
Local SEO Strategy Tip 5: Managing Multiple Locations
Have multiple locations? Not a problem. Matt Cutts from Google wrote a blog post on how to handle multiple locations. In his blog post, he says it’s best to create a unique URL for every location. For example, austinchoicelimo.com/locations/austin and austinchoicelimo.com/locations/houston. You can then list the business address for each location on it’s coorsponding page. If you’ve created seperate pages for multiple locations, it’s important to add unique content to these pages to prevent duplicate content issues.
One big mistake some sites make is hiding the store locations behind a search form. This makes it very difficult (if not impossible) for search engines to find them. This is easily solved by creating a HTML sitemap for it to crawl those location pages you’ve created.
What about if the business location moves?
But what happens if your business recently moved to a new location? Unfortunately, local search information isn’t updated automatically. There are several actions that need to be taken to make the data reflect the current situation. David Mihm wrote a great article that explains everything into detail.
There’s many techniques that can help improve your search engine rankings for location-specific search queries. Optimizing your pages, formatting your code as structured data, uploading a KML file, creating a Google+ Local page, and doing some link building can make a huge impact to help raise your site’s local rankings. Businesses with multiple locations can also optimize their site for local search by creating unique URLs and page content for each location.
Do you have some SEO strategies to share? I’d love to hear them. Comment below with how you’ve optimized your site.
Learn more about Local SEO
- How to Guard Your Google Business Profile from Becoming a Running Joke – A lack of vigilance over 5 key sections of your Google business profile can cumulatively undermine offline goals.
- How to Find Your True Local Competitors – Who are your clients’ true competitors if every SERP is a local SERP these days? We’ll help you answer that question.
- 5 Google Business Profile Tweaks To Improve Foot Traffic – Leverage these 5 Google Business Profile tips to increase your client’s foot traffic.