Local SEO is one of the most talked-about search marketing principles right now; however, jumping into local SEO, and doing it well for that matter, is something that most people and businesses, at best, have a dodgy understanding of. Though local SEO, of course, involves traditional SEO, it has many nuances that create unique needs, and execution plans that can be quite different.
What is Local SEO?
Out of all the emphasized components of SEO marketing strategies, local SEO has become a rising star for businesses looking to improve their reach within their immediate location. This is the “local” in local SEO. This is because Google emphasizes immediacy and relevance; improving search results by giving consumers real-time, local suggestions.
This push for local has been heavily influenced by the rise of mobile. Google for the last decade has been transitioning its algorithms to be mobile-first. The rise of local search results is a direct result of this mobile push. Users are using their mobile phones; therefore, they are on the move; local results helps optimize for the exact location of these mobile phones. The Think with Google blog has an entire list of mobile smartphone use and how it affects consumer behavior.
Businesses that are found by local SEO get the first crack at potential customers, so it is becoming more profitable to be seen on local results pages. Despite how profitable and enticing local SEO can be, it is not something that businesses can simply decide to do. There are factors that businesses cannot always control that determine if they can compete in local SEO.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of local SEO and the different factors that dictate its success, let’s define what local SEO is.
Defining Local SEO
We’re not going to attempt a dictionary, clear-cut definition here. We’ll leave that to the academics and SEO purists. Let’s just make sure the concept is understood, so I’ll explain local SEO from a conceptual standpoint.
Local SEO stands for local search engine optimization, and it focuses on optimizing your website to appear in searches that return local results. Thus, local SEO searches can often ignore national and informational results like Wikipedia, for example. Their specificity is what makes local SEO a powerful tool. It ensures that when a consumer searches Google for a local business, that yours is the one that appears.
Alright, so we have decided that local SEO directs Google to return local results, but there are a few characteristics of local SEO that set it apart from standard SEO.
Where Does Local SEO Attempt to Rank?
Google Map Pack
Also sometimes called the local-3 pack, is a “pack” of 3-4 local businesses that appear on Google Maps. If your business has an eye on local, the Google Map Pack is a huge priority.
Search Results that Return Only/Mostly Local Organic Results
The best way to determine if keywords are local, meaning local SEO, is by looking at the zip codes of the businesses that are returned from your search. To be thorough you can open each search result to check addresses; if they appear close to you, then your search is local. It sounds obvious, but it’s the most thorough way of checking.
There may be times where you will find a few non-local search results returned, but this doesn’t mean the search isn’t local. Google sometimes provides a hybrid of national and local searches in the results. Seeing a few results like these do not necessarily disqualify local SEO.
It can be difficult to determine exactly how nuanced your keywords need to be to compete in local SEO, but let’s say your keyword phrase is something obviously local like “Los Angeles pizza,”. In that case, you will be competing in local SEO. This again, seems obvious, but there are cases where businesses do not compete in local SEO.
Let’s say your keywords and search results have nothing to do with location( for example, “pizza dough recipes” or “how to make pizza”). These are examples of searches that will not return local results and also do not have local intent. Why we say it does not have local intent is because a user does not care if the website providing recipe or instructions to make pizza is next door or halfway across the world. In these cases, you do not have to worry extensively about local SEO because you are competing in an environment where uses and Google do not factor locality or geography.
How Do I Know if Local SEO is Right for My Business?
Much of the time, a business may strike somewhere between having local and worldwide appeal. If your business is trying to better understand how best to balance local SEO or national search, the strategy comes down to a few key decisions.
If you’re torn between focusing on a local or broader SEO marketing strategy, ask yourself the following questions:
Does Your Business Focus on a Local Area or Do You Have a Wider Scope?
If your business has specific, geographically-relevant appeal, then focusing on local SEO matters. If your business is location-independent, then the story gets more muddled.
Is Focusing on Local SEO the Right Choice?
If your business ranks locally, that doesn’t necessarily mean all your focus needs to go into ranking strongly in local SEO; there are much easier, immediate SEO strategies you could invest your resources into. On the opposite side, just because you want to broaden your appeal, doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore local SEO entirely.
For example, I’ve advised many business-owners to try local SEO despite them believing it wasn’t a good fit. Once we run a local SEO test it became their main source of traffic and lead generation. Like we’ve said, there are plenty of ways to approach and design an SEO marketing strategy, but local SEO provides a powerful punch despite its perceived limitations.
Local SEO in Action
A good example of a company that has utilized a local SEO strategy despite initial reservations is a local video production agency based in Orange County. Video production is something that does not inherently need a local presence. When working with this client, they thought local was too restrictive, however, they decided to give local SEO a shot. What they didn’t realize was because of the lack of SEO savvy of their local competitors, they were able to rank for video production related keywords in their entire county. The year after they started the local strategy, their web leads doubled and revenue improved by 38%.
This was the same for a software development company. Software development services don’t need locality or proximity to work with clients, even more so than video production. However, just like video production, Google treats software development services as a local keyword search, so this particular software development company saw their organic traffic go up 5x in a year period by investing in local SEO.
Local SEO has helped many businesses that you would not think needs it. Of course, there are obvious examples where local SEO is a must, which include local Mexican restaurants and photographers that we have helped using local SEO to grow their businesses and increase their leads from organic searches.
Local SEO tips and tricks can only get you so far; each business has its own unique conditions and optimal strategy, so a lot of research should be done before attempting this type of SEO marketing. Before you jump into local SEO, consider your market, keywords, and scope while then design your plan.