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Local SEO: how local search engine optimization works

User behavior on the internet has completely changed over the years. Thanks to mobile devices and faster internet connections, a quick surf online is a lot different to what it was ten years ago. Users’ search behavior on search engines such as Google or Bing reflect this. The living room PC used to be the go-to gadget on which all internet searches were performed, but now smartphones or tablets have taken over since they can be used on the go. Whether a restaurant in Chicago, a lawyer in New York, or the nearest toy store in Miami: local searches are becoming more frequent. Marketers need to have a rethink since SEO requirements are constantly changing. Local SEO – local search engine optimization – is becoming more prominent.

Local SEO – search engine optimization for regional companies

Local online marketing is an important tool for companies operating regionally since more and more consumers are looking online for services and products with a region or city in the search field. Regionally active companies obviously want to be found by users when they search their region. The potential for acquiring new customers is huge if your business can be found in local search queries such as 'restaurants in Chicago'.

To achieve this, you must make yourself as easy as possible for the target group to find. The focus of local SEO lies on optimizing web presences for local search – and therefore the discoverability in the local search results. Local SEO is an increasingly important part of general search engine optimization.

Objectives of local SEO

For local searches, Google places the best known business listings high up in the search results. This is the aim of local SEO: a place in the 3-pack which are the three search results that are displayed with the Google Map extract.

The user is shown the first local search results as well as a link to the region on Google Maps. In addition to the location, there are also opening hours, contact details, and often reviews to help the user make a decision. Click on the restaurant of your choice and you’ll be shown more information about the eatery as well as its website and directions on how to get there the quickest way possible.

There are clear local searches (e.g. 'toy store Miami') where the user can enter specific services/products and cities/regions into the search bar. If you enter a generic search term (e.g. 'toy store'), Google can also deliver local search results based on the localized IP address or a Google account that’s logged in.

Merging online and offline

For several years, Google has gradually been building up local search results. More details and features have been added. A study by Google gives some background information on the topic.

80% of users search online for local shopping possibilities. Within the next 24 hours of searching, more than half of users had made a visit to the store. This shows why brick and mortar traders should definitely start actively operating local search engine optimization: the majority of users take action after finding what they were searching for. Either they contact the business or they visit it. The study that Google carried out also shows that a clear separation between online and offline doesn’t work. Therefore online marketing is attractive for any stationary trader. This new model in which users first search online and then make a purchase offline, is known as the ROPO effect ('research online, purchase offline').

What the study also shows is that even with local search queries the use of mobile devices predominates – matching the general trend. Last year, Google recorded more searches on mobile devices than on stationary PCs for the first time. Mobile optimization is therefore closely associated with the topic of local SEO. You can read more on the topic in our guide on mobile SEO.

Three steps for local search engine optimization

An effective local SEO strategy is based on combining three steps together in order to get placed at the top of the SERPs, which would be the ideal result: Google My Business account, on page optimization, and local citation.

First step: Google My Business

The Google account for businesses is conducted via Google My Business. A complete profile on My Business is a prerequisite if you want to make it into the '3-pack' and be discoverable through Google Maps and Google+. According to a study by Moz, the signals sent out by Google My Business, rank among the most important local ranking factors (14.7%). The SEO toolbar 'MozBar' is one of the most popular SEO plugins.

All the stored information is used by Google for the local search ranking. The more information available, the better. As well as the correct contact information, companies should also provide a concise description of the company and specify an appropriate category which the business should be filed under. Uploading photos (e.g. of the front of the store) is a good idea – photos, business hours, and reviews are displayed directly next to local matches.

Second step: On page optimization

The same rules that apply to general SEO also apply to local SEO – you should optimize your website in terms of technical and content quality factors. The most important factors are: a good site structure including sitemap, logical navigation and internal linking, and a clear URL structure. The content must also be interesting: optimized metadata is just as relevant as unique content with a clear structure.

When it comes to content, you should pay attention to consistency when writing. A clear company name and correct contact details are a must. Again, the more (valuable) information, the better. On page optimization is only one of two main disciplines in SEO. Off page optimization is less relevant in a local SEO context. Many follow the strategy of supplementing a backlink profile of a website with links from locally relevant sites such as blogs, newspapers, or city portals in order to achieve local SEO success.

Tip

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Third step: Local Citation

Local Citation can be classified as part of off page optimization. Just like with general search engine optimization (where Google sees backlinks as recommendations), NAP data (name, address, phone number) counts as a recommendation when it comes to local SEO. The more often this information is provided, the more trust the search engine associates with the company and the company therefore ranks higher.

Local Citation appears in many different contexts and on many different platforms: blogs, forums, news articles, press releases, review sites, and business directories. For the latter, you can enter your business yourself, but it’s important that the entries are consistent. The company name, correct address, same writing style, and telephone number are critical for success. Additional criteria for local citation are the correct assignment of categories, photos, business hours as well as a complete profile and customer reviews on portals or Google Places.

Tip

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Conclusion

Searching for businesses or services in geographical proximity is becoming increasingly important for users. At the same time, local search results for local businesses are a valuable tool to attract new customers and retain existing ones. The potential customer first needs to find the company which means business owners have to adapt their marketing strategy and react to changing online search behavior. Only by focusing on local SEO will you get the maximum profit from the huge potential market of local search queries. Stationary trading and online marketing go hand in hand – and provide more value for customers by making relevant information available online.

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