Local SEO and the Importance of Local Search
What is Local SEO?
Why is it that some local businesses thrive while others struggle to find their customer base?
When two businesses of equality quality compete, what gives one of them the edge, allowing it to grow while a similar business remains stagnant or even declines?
Chances are, it’s visibility.
If you’re a local business owner, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you need to be found online by your customers—people in your service area who are likely to be interested in your goods or services. The fact is, the local market is finite; there are only so many potential customers in the area. For local businesses to survive, they have to stand out, and that means being among the first results in a local search.
The first page of search results takes 92 percent of all traffic on average (Search Engine Watch), and the top three Google listings earn 75 percent of clicks (Backlinko.com). What’s more, the very first result gets 25 percent of clicks (SearchEngineJournal.com)
Statistics further reinforce the importance of a good search engine ranking for local businesses. For example, 50 percent of those who searched for a local business on their phone visited the physical location within one day, and 78 percent made an online purchase (SearchEngineJournal.com).
A number one position on a search results page isn’t a matter of luck. Ranking in the words or phrases customers are most likely to search (such as “animal hospital near me” or “tree trimmer in Myrtle Beach”) involves a concerted effort involving link building, content, and on-page optimization.
Which businesses benefit most from local SEO?
While business like ecommerce sites and online sellers—those without brick and mortar establishments or those who prefer to keep their location information private—are not good candidates for local SEO, other businesses can benefit immensely from optimizing their sites for local search.
Doctors and Veterinarians
People searching for doctors and veterinarians almost always want someone local, so they can establish a rapport and visit the practice for years to come. For doctors and veterinarians, that means a potential long-term, loyal customer, possibly for many years.
Reaching the top of the search results page offers several benefits for doctors and veterinarians, not least of which is the perception of quality—if you are at the top of the search results, potential patients and clients assume there’s a reason for that. In addition, making it into Google’s “three-pack” of local results allows searchers to either call or find directions to the practice without leaving the search results page.
Lawn Care and Landscaping Professionals
For these professionals, locals are their only customers, and competition can be fierce. Many landscapers and lawn care professionals also don’t have physical locations, so internet search is their best chance of being found by potential clients. Optimizing for local search can be more cost-effective than traditional advertising, because rather than paying to be seen by everyone—whether they are looking for lawn care services or not—local SEO allows the business to be found by people interested in exactly what it’s offering.
Though it varies somewhat by practice area, the click-to-call button offered in the Google three-pack is invaluable to many lawyers, because when a potential client is in a bad situation, they might not have time to scroll through the search results. Being in the local pack means the client can contact the law firm without clicking the link to visit their site; they can contact the firm directly from the search results page.
Plumbers, Electricians, Masons, and Other Contractors
These professionals can reap the rewards of immediate need—customers using the three-pack’s click-to-call feature in the event of an emergency—as well as cost-effective advertising in competitive fields. Local SEO offers substantial ROI, and a respectable rank in a Google search allows potential customers to read reviews, visit the company website, or call for services easily and without leaving the search results page.
Immediacy is key to success for local restaurants. When people are hungry, they don’t want to wait, and they don’t want to travel long distances. More often than not, they’ll choose from one of the top two or three results in a search such as “Mexican food near me.” With a good ranking in a Google search, a restaurant can take advantage of features like directions, reviews, and click-to-call. These conveniences make it easy for customers to find the restaurant or call for takeout.
Optimizing for Local Search
Achieving local rankings is similar to optimizing for organic search, just with a focus on attracting the attention of local customers and knowing how to fill their needs when they search for products or services.
Keyword research remains crucial to local SEO efforts because companies need to know which terms customers are using to search for them—and they aren’t always the expected words or phrases. Businesses need to target the keywords local customers are using by focusing on those that have the highest search volume.
It’s also important to keep in mind that more customers have access to devices with voice search, which can be used while driving and is faster and easier for many than typing. Local businesses can benefit from experimenting with conversational phrasing and natural-sounding questions.
Google still rewards content but increasingly, long-form content alone is not enough. Content needs to have value and satisfy user intent, so a dry list of facts about an area or industry may not do well. Instead, businesses should try to envision questions users might have about their industry and endeavor to answer them.
For example, a user might turn to Google with questions like “What are the risks when spaying a cat?” or “Is my sore throat serious?” and “Do I have a personal injury claim?” Professionals with experience in these matters can provide great value and information to searchers and draw traffic to their business in the process.
Local Links, Citations, and Directories
When curating a portfolio of local links, it’s important to consult Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to avoid incurring a penalty. Links that violate this guide could eventually result in the site disappearing from the search results entirely.
Building out local directories is a good place to start establishing links, and they will reinforce a site’s local authority. Industry-related local sites are another good option, and they can include entities like schools, government agencies, and local newspapers and publications. Local business partners are also an option, but be aware that Google will detect—and penalize—excessive attempts to manipulate page rank.
NAP (name, address, and phone number) citation sites are generally paid, but using them will enhance a site’s presence on Google.
Lastly, a business should establish a Google My Business profile and check it meticulously for accuracy.
Search Engines Are Evolving
Google is constantly updating its algorithms in its quest to deliver a better experience and better results to its users. Some updates are announced officially; others are not. Many in the industry suspect that the next major shift in SEO will involve NLP (natural language processing) in an effort by search engines to better comprehend user queries and intent.
Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home suggest a more conversational approach to human/device interaction and search, and SEO will need to adjust accordingly.
For now, though, the best approach a business can take is to be of value to searchers and try to anticipate questions they might have related to a specific industry.