When I started my job at Papercut, I sat in a meeting with a client who typed their business name into Google and said, “I don’t understand why we’re not in these results.” When he showed me the results page, I realized that what he was looking at was the “map pack” and that the answer to his question was local SEO. Recently, local search and local SEO have both exploded in popularity, and just like everything else related to search, best practices and guidelines are constantly changing.
As an SEO, local search is something I continually try to educate myself about. Local is a completely different ballgame from traditional SEO, and it has its own unique set of variables to consider.
Why it Matters
Before getting into the details of local SEO, I wanted to share a few stats that illustrate why it’s so important for local businesses and why it’s getting so much attention these days.
- One out of every three Google searches is a local search
- Four out of ten consumers use local search every day
- Nine out of ten smartphone searches end in an action
(Source: Moz/Greg Gifford)
This last stat is especially important because the number of local searches on mobile devices quadrupled in 2012, and 33% of mobile searches have a local intent (Source: vocus.com). So, long story short, being visible in local search can increase conversions and sales.
Optimizing for Local
As I mentioned, optimizing a website for local search requires a unique set of tactics. However, like traditional SEO, local SEO can also be broken down into on-site and off-site elements.
- NAP – This is SEO speak for name, address, and phone number. For local SEO, it’s important that you have these elements listed on your site. I’d recommend putting them in the footer—it’s a good idea to have them listed throughout your site. If you’re on Google Places and Google+ (which you should be), the format of the NAP on your Places/Google+ Local page needs to match the format on your landing page (the page on your website that you’re linking to from your Google pages). If your business has a single location, your landing page is most likely going to be your homepage.
- City + State – It’s somewhat obvious, but using the city and state throughout a website is huge for local SEO. The city and state should be listed in the title tag of your landing page (again, probably your homepage), and it’s even better to add them to title tags across the site if possible. The city and state should also be used in the copy on your landing page, and give them some emphasis with a bold tag or an H tag.
- Content – Content is a great way to provide real estate for location-specific keywords, but you can also use it as a vehicle to establish your business or company as an authority on all things local. If your business is involved with a local charity or event, talk about it. If there’s a cool festival going on it town, let people know about it. Your company blog is the perfect place to talk about your city and show the search engines that you’re an authority on your area. You’ll get some cool fringe benefits too—if you use content to show support for local events or businesses and promote that content on social media, you’ll probably see an exponential increase in its reach and, consequently, the number of visits to your site.
- Google Places/Google+ Local – This is one of the most important and most confusing aspects of local SEO, largely because, as Google has tried to simplify things, they have only succeeded in making them more complicated. To get started, see this guide for tips on how to tell which page is which (a task in itself). You can read a lot on the subject—trust me, it’s a rabbit hole—and there’s a lot I could say, but here’s the gist: claim your page, make sure your NAP matches your landing page, choose accurate categories, upload images, use a physical address and local phone number, put keywords in your description, interact with followers, other businesses and communities, and encourage (but DO NOT buy or offer incentives for) reviews.
- Citations – Citations are really just mentions of your NAP across the web. Quality, quantity, and consistency all matter here. Find your existing citations and make necessary edits, then find opportunities for new citations. Whitespark and GetListed.org are great tools for this.
- Reviews – Good reviews are gold in local SEO. You can ask for reviews, but again, don’t attempt to pay or offer incentives for them, and don’t hire people to write fake reviews of your business. Google+ Local is a great place to start building reviews, and the key to getting the most benefit from them is a gradual increase in number. Too many at once is a red flag. There are lots of ways to encourage reviews. For example, if you finish a job for a client and they’re satisfied with your work, send them a thank you note with a polite request for a review and instructions for leaving one on Google+. Or, you could leave a favorable, detailed review of another local business that you really like. Often, that business will return the favor by leaving a positive review on your page. These are referred to as barnacle reviews, and they can pay off big time.
Don’t Forget About It
The key takeaway on local search is this: if you’re a company that does most of your business within your city or area and you’re not paying attention to local search, you could be missing out on a lot of additional traffic and potential conversions. While there are some ranking factors that you can’t control, such as your physical address and your proximity to what the search engines consider the center of your city, you can improve your visibility by using a few focused local SEO tactics. Local SEO takes a little more effort, but when combined with traditional SEO, the benefits can be huge.
If you want to learn more about the top ranking factors for local search, check out this post over at Moz. And if you have questions or thoughts you’d like to share, let me know in the comments!