Beyond the Minute: What Is Local SEO and Why Do I Need It?

Put simply, local SEO is the art and science of optimizing your business’s digital identity so that you appear as a search engine result when users make searches in your geographic area.

It means that when someone searches for “dentist Ann Arbor,” your practice shows up in the local pack. It means that when someone types “marketing agency Tempe” your business isn’t buried on page three of search results.

How Does Google Determine Which Local Results to Show?

For years, Google has stated that their top two ranking factors are 1) links and 2) content, but when it comes to local SEO, we’d wager that proximity to the searcher is in the top three.

Look at this screenshot for the query “restaurants in Traverse City”:

Each of those three restaurants – Spanglish, PepeNero, and Trattoria Stella – is less than 100 yards from our office. Apparently, Google thinks we are all so lazy, starved of time or devoid of opinions that when it comes to where to eat, the only thing that matters is how close it is.

Granted, those three eateries all have great reviews (and deservedly so!), but that’s just one indicator of their authority in the eyes of search engines. Spanglish’s website is pretty bad. PepeNero’s website isn’t secure. SEMrush puts Stella at an organic rank of 23 for “traverse city restaurants” – not exactly tops.

And further, none of those restaurants are close to the city center of Traverse City – the downtown – which arguably is the default physical location for that query.

In other words, location proximity is huge when it comes to local rankings. 

How Can I Overcome the Physical Limitations of My Business?

This is a question we hear all the time. Perhaps one or more of the following statements resonates with you:

  • “My business is just outside the city limits and it doesn’t show up for city-specific queries.”
  • “My business is located in Dartmouth, but most of my customer base is actually in Fall River – how do I signify that?”
  • “Why can’t I just use a P.O. Box for my address?”

So what can you do if your physical location is causing problems? The answer, in many cases, is nothing. Sadly, we may have to wait until Google stops over-emphasizing the convenience factor when it comes to serving local results.

Other times, though, you might want to try getting a little creative.

For instance, we once talked with a gentleman who owns a small custom auto shop where customers can see him, but primarily he travels to the more populous next town over where he’s established a name for himself. But for customers in that town who are searching for his services, he doesn’t show up.

So what gives? He’s doing everything else right – he’s got a great website with lots of links, amazing local content, active social presence, etc. – but his business is still suffering. We suspected that even with all these other great signals for search engines, they were still placing too much emphasis on his actual physical location, even though he rarely sees customers there.

To fix this, we suggested he change his address to his target town. Doing so would likely trigger a re-verification process, and a new postcard being sent out. We suggested he contact a friend or family member and ask them if it’d be okay to use their home address as his business address.

Even that might not work, though. The old signals for his physical location could still be too strong. He might have to close his current location and start over. It also depends on your unique situation – we ran another test that led us to conclude that you might want to stop hiding your address if you’re a service-area business.

Other Ranking Factors for Local Search

Aside from getting creative with your physical location, you need to pay attention to the other local SEO ranking factors.

These include:

Local Links

Did you sponsor the local baseball team? See if the youth sports league will link to your site. Did you fix a plumbing mess for the café across town? Ask them for a shout-out on Facebook. If you work with local businesses or individuals look for every opportunity to increase your local relevance by highlighting these relationships.

On-page Optimization

Many local businesses tend to overdo it here:

We’re honestly not sure what these pins are supposed to represent. They’re not office locations, which means they represent either cities they serve or jobs they’ve completed. Either way, don’t do this – there are better ways to communicate your geographic relevancy.

Here is an example of one of their local pages. The geomodifier density is over the top:

Keyword stuffing like this is obnoxious to read and doesn’t provide any value to the user. Include your relevant keywords and synonyms in the title tag, meta description, headers and body copy, but make sure you’re not sacrificing user experience (UX) and quality content in the process. Also, optimize for “best” and “near me” searches when you can.

Google My Business

Take control of your local presence on Google with an accurate Google My Business listing. Pay attention to your photos, too. Be sure to answer any questions that come in from the public, and if you have the resources to manage it, assign a phone number so they can text you for information.

Local Listings

How does your business appear on Apple Maps? What does it look like on Yellow Pages? If you ask Alexa what your business hours are, what does she say? Managing your business listings is a critical component of local SEO.

Number and Quality of Reviews

It goes without saying that a lot of good reviews is a good thing, but remember that most people who have a positive experience with your business aren’t going to leave a review – they’ll just thank you and go about their day. You have to encourage your happy customers to leave reviews with signage, timely email follow-ups, and more. Check out this video and blog on how to collect more Google My Business reviews.

Review Responsiveness

Do you respond to all reviews, positive and negative? Doing so shows search engines that you’re an active business owner who takes time to foster a good community experience – another part of a solid local SEO strategy. We’re still surprised when we see businesses doing this, but please, please don’t get into spats with customers online. If the complaint is legitimate, acknowledge it publicly and then deal with it privately.

Website Speed and Mobile Friendliness

Google now indexes the mobile version of your website first, which means that you must provide an exceptional experience for smartphone users. Don’t make them pinch their fingers to read your menu or bury important information five clicks deep. Of particular importance is speed – your site has to load very fast in order to send strong signals to search engines. Head on over to Google’s mobile speed test to see how your site is doing.

Social Signals

Are people talking about you on social? Do you respond quickly to questions or complaints? Maintain an active presence on the channels you manage, and search engines will pick up on it. Be careful, however, to not manage more channels than you have time for. If you’re trying to do Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube and do them all well, you’re going to struggle (unless you have a dedicated staff member or you never sleep). Having a crappy social presence does more harm than having no presence at all. Get more in-depth info on which social media channels your business should be on.

Localized Content

Google wants to see that you’re an authority for your particular area, which means creating content about that area. Let’s revisit our basement waterproofing example from earlier:

They had the right idea for localized content with “Birmingham’s Climate,” but the execution was incomplete. Here is some content that would help them improve this section:

  • Average rainfall by season or month, showing how Birmingham’s precipitation is higher than the national average, and saying when homeowners need to be concerned about flooding.
  • Are there any rivers in the area that are prone to flooding?
  • What kind of waterproofing do “Michigan basements” need? How many homes in the Birmingham area have a Michigan basement?
  • Is there a popular style of home construction in Birmingham, and if so, how does that relate to the waterproofing services they provide?
  • Are there extreme temperature swings in the spring? Does rapidly melting snow result in water problems?

Whatever industry your local business is in, creating this kind of helpful, authoritative content that demonstrates your understanding of the area will up your local SEO game.

Need help with your content marketing strategy or execution?

Activity on Your Website

The activity Google sees on your website helps inform how they rank you against your competitors. For instance, if users regularly click to your site from search results, only to quickly hit the back button (because it doesn’t load quickly, the content isn’t what they were expecting, or the site is poorly designed, etc.), that’s not a good sign. If users bounce around from page to page and only spend 11 seconds on your site, that’s a problem. Look at your Google Analytics data to get a feel for your visitors’ behavior – and the picture that behavior paints for search engines. 

These are just some of the major ranking factors when it comes to local SEO. If you’re not able to understand why your business isn’t performing as well as it could when it comes to local searches, don’t hesitate to ask us a question or get a free consultation.