Written by Ryan Jones. Updated on 17, October 2023
In the digital era, a business's success hinges (in many cases) on its visibility in local search results, making local SEO a critical tool for connecting with nearby customers. This article takes you through the intricacies of this essential practice. We'll explore local SEO's basics, how search engines handle local queries and its undeniable importance. Additionally, we will give you the crucial ranking factors that determine local search success, making this guide a must-read for SEO professionals and business owners alike!
Image Credit: https://www.brightlocal.com/
Local SEO is a specialist SEO strategy aimed at improving the online visibility of businesses within a specific geographic area. As a strategy, it focuses on optimising a company's online presence to rank higher in local, not national, search results when potential customers search for:
All are related to their location. For example, if I were to conduct a Google search for "sports shop in Derby", Local SEO would allow a business to rank well for this type of search.
Before discussing how to get your business ranking well locally, we must first understand how search engines generally work. There are four key elements to search engine ranking. Crawling, rendering, indexing and ranking. In this section, we'll dive into these in more detail.
Image Credit: https://aeroadmin.com/
Crawling is a fundamental process in functioning search engines like Google and Bing. It involves the systematic and automated exploration of websites across the web. They do this by utilising specialised software known as crawlers, sometimes referred to as spiders. Search engines send out these bots to discover new web pages and revisit older pieces of content. This helps search engines understand the vast landscape of online content.
During crawling, these bots follow links from one website to another, fetching information about each page as they visit, such as its content, metadata and URL structure. This data is then returned to the search engine's servers, analysed and indexed (we will discuss this later) and added to the search engine's vast database.
SEO professionals are crucial in optimising a website's structure and content to facilitate efficient crawling, ensuring that search engines can quickly discover and index their pages. This will, ultimately, improve their visibility in search results.
Indexing is organising and cataloguing the information collected during the crawling stage. After web crawlers discover and retrieve content from various web pages, this data is processed and stored in a vast database.
Fun fact: According to the latest information from Google, their database is estimated to be well over 100,000,000 gigabytes!
Each indexed page is analysed for its content, keywords, metadata and relevance to specific search queries. This index serves as the search engine's vast library of web pages, enabling it to quickly retrieve and display relevant results when users search different queries.
Search engines use complex algorithms to render pages, ensuring they appear correctly on various devices and browsers.
SEO specialists must be aware of rendering issues, as they can impact a website's search performance in search results. Ensuring that search engine crawlers quickly render your website is essential to providing a positive user experience and improving your search engine rankings.
Ranking is the process where search engine algorithms evaluate and order web pages in response to user search queries. When a user enters a question, the search engine's ranking algorithms analyse various factors, including the relevance of the web page's content to the query, the quality and authority of the website, user engagement metrics, and more. These algorithms then assign a ranking position to each webpage, with the most relevant and high-quality pages typically appearing at the top of the search results.
Yes, search engines work differently in a local context compared to national and international search, and understanding these differences is crucial for SEO specialists.
In a local context, search engines prioritise delivering results that are geographically relevant to the user. This means that when a user searches for a product or service in their local area, search engines take into account factors like:
They consider this data to determine which businesses or websites to display in the search results. Local SEO strategies, such as optimising for Google My Business (GMB), NAP (Name, Address & Phone Number) consistency, and local keyword targeting, become essential.
On the other hand, national and international queries focus much less on geography and more on relevance and authority. For these queries, search engines aim to deliver results that provide the most comprehensive and authoritative information on the topic, regardless of the searcher's location. National and international SEO efforts typically involve broader keyword targeting, content optimisation for a wider audience, and strategies to build domain authority through high-quality and relevant backlinks and content marketing.
Local search holds a lot of importance for most online businesses due to its ability to facilitate direct engagement with customers in the local area, driving both online and offline traffic. It enables companies to connect with a highly targeted audience actively searching for their products or services in the local vicinity, increasing the likelihood of conversions.
Additionally, local search optimisation contributes to heightened online visibility, particularly within local map packs and organic search results, offering massive benefits to brick-and-mortar businesses, eateries and service providers.
Lastly, it fosters trust and credibility by promoting a robust local online presence, encompassing positive reviews from local people and precise business information, which, in turn, encourages potential customers to favour youover a local competitor.
However, it's worth noting that the significance of local search is not universally similar across all business types. Some businesses, such as SaaS companies (like SEOTesting), primarily serve a national or global audience, which shifts the spotlight toward national and international SEO strategies. Nonetheless, even SaaS enterprises can extract value from local search initiatives by establishing a local presence that serves purposes like recruitment, forging local partnerships and cultivating a favourable image with the local community near their HQ.
In essence, while local search may not dominate the primary SEO agenda for every business, it remains a valuable component of a comprehensive SEO strategy for many, offering plenty of unique advantages.
In this section, we will take you through the key things you must do to improve your local SEO. We will explain why doing each of the below tasks is essential and how they help improve your standing in local organic search.
Claiming and optimising your Google My Business profile is vital for anyone who wants to do local SEO. Whether you're an agency doing local SEO for a client or a business owner or marketer doing SEO, this is the most essential first step.
To start, visit the Google My Business website and sign in with your Google account. Once you've done that, search for your business. You can either claim the listing if it is already available or create a new one within GMB if your business is not listed.
Once you have control, ensure your business information is accurate and consistent with your website and other online listings, such as directory entries. We've already talked about NAP data, and ensuring this data is consistent between your GMB listing and additional online citations is crucial. Once this is done, you can move into adding more relevant information, such as:
You can also utilise 'GMB posts' to keep your customers and potential customers up-to-date with what is happening with your business. You can also use GMB posts to list your products and/or services, which is a great way to introduce new customers to what you do.
If applicable, you can also integrate booking or appointment scheduling links.
Ensure you update your GMB profile with fresh content and accurate information to enhance your visibility in local search results and build trust with potential customers.
Ensuring your website is mobile-responsive is crucial for local SEO because, simply, Google prioritises mobile-friendly websites in its search rankings. This is one of the only 'ranking factors' that remains consistent in local, national and international ranking.
With most local searches happening on mobile devices, having a mobile-responsive site ensures a better user experience for local and potential customers. Still, it will also ensure you have a lower bounce rate and higher engagement than your competitors if they don't have a mobile-responsive site.
These factors signal to search engines that your site is relevant and user-friendly, leading to improved local search rankings and increased visibility for your business.
Gathering local reviews, especially directly on search engines, is paramount for local SEO. These reviews serve as valuable social proof and signals to search engines about the credibility and quality of your business. Positive reviews will enhance your online reputation and directly impact your local search rankings. Search engines like Google consider factors like the quantity, freshness and overall sentiment of these reviews when determining the ranking position of local businesses in search. Many positive reviews can propel your company to the top of local search results, making it more visible to potential customers.
Furthermore, reviews on these search engines are prominently displayed in search results, giving users a rapid insight into your business' reputation and quality. This can significantly influence their decision-making, leading to higher click-through rates and increased website traffic. Encouraging and managing reviews on platforms like Google and Bing should be an integral part of any local SEO strategy, as it improves your online image and directly impacts your local search visibility. This will, ultimately, drive more local customers to your business.
Building local links is a crucial part of local SEO as it helps businesses establish authority and relevance (just as 'normal' link acquisition does for national and international SEO) within their local community.
When other reputable, local websites link to your business, it sends a strong signal to search engines that your site is a valuable resource for the local audience. This can result in improved rankings within local search, making it easier for potential customers in your area to find your business online.
Local links boost your local SEO potential and drive targeted traffic from local sources! When users on local websites or directories click on links to your site, they are more likely to be genuinely interested in your business, its products and services. This can lead to a higher conversion rate and increased business opportunities.
Ensuring your NAP data is consistent across the web is one of the 'foundational pillars' of successful local SEO. This consistency will validate your business' legitimacy and reliability to search engines, making them more likely to trust your information and include your business in local search results.
Inaccurate or conflicting NAP data can confuse search engines (and potential customers), harming your online visibility and credibility.
Consistency is critical because search engines use NAP data to associate your business with local listings, directories and maps. When your NAP information aligns across various platforms, it reinforces your business' location and relevance to specific geographic searches. This consistency not only boosts your local SEO rankings but will also enhance the experience users have when interacting with your site by ensuring they can easily find and contact you.
To excel in local SEO, it's imperative to monitor and update your NAP data regularly (if needed) wherever it appears online, maintaining that crucial consistency to maximise your local search visibility and drive more targeted traffic to your site.
Social listening, which involves monitoring social media platforms for mentions of your business, can enhance your local SEO efforts in several ways.
Social listening allows you to gain valuable insights into what people say about your business within your local community, whether they are customers or not. You can foster positive customer relationships by responding to comments, reviews, and mentions, leading to more online reviews and positive business mentions. Search engines often consider the frequency and sentiment of online mentions when determining local search rankings, so positive social engagement can help local SEO.
Moreover, social listening helps you quickly identify and address any negative feedback or issues, showcasing your commitment to customer satisfaction. This proactive approach can prevent potential SEO setbacks caused by negative online sentiment. By harnessing the power of social listening to engage with your local audience and manage your online reputation effectively, you can bolster your local SEO strategy and ultimately improve your visibility in local search results.
Like national and international SEO, local SEO has a few ranking factors. These factors will hold different weights, depending on the search from the user, but ensuring your business 'nails' these factors will give you a great chance at ranking for relevant search queries within your local area.
An optimised Google My Business profile is a critical local SEO ranking factor because it provides essential information to both users and search engines about your business's location, offerings, and credibility.
When your GMB profile is complete (and accurate), it signals trustworthiness to search engines, who are likelier to display businesses they trust in local search results. This accuracy includes consistent NAP data, business categories, and significant additional information like your opening hours, photos, videos and reviews.
An optimised GMB profile also improves user experience by offering valuable information to your potential customers, making them more likely to engage with and buy from your business. Positive user interactions, such as clicking for directions, making phone calls, or leaving reviews, send strong signals to search engines that your business is relevant and reliable, which can positively impact your local search rankings.
Furthermore, Google will often showcase GMB profiles in SERP features like local map packs, prominently displaying businesses in local searches. An optimised GMB profile dramatically increases your chances of appearing in these prominent positions, driving more local traffic to your website and storefront.
On-page SEO plays a vital role in local SEO success because it helps search engines recognise your website's relevance to local searches and enhances user experience. As an SEO myself, who has been working in the industry since 2015, I can tell you that optimising elements like meta titles, meta descriptions, headers, and content with local keywords and location information signals to search engines that your content is tailored to a specific local area. This is especially crucial for businesses targeting local customers.
Furthermore, on-page SEO ensures that your website provides a seamless and informative user experience. Visitors are more likely to engage with your site when your web pages are well-structured, load quickly, and contain relevant, high-quality content. As discussed earlier, positive user interactions (like longer time on the page and lower bounce rates) send positive signals to search engines about your website's value, potentially boosting your local search rankings.
We know, from anecdotal evidence at the very least, that on-page SEO is a ranking factor for local SEO because it helps search engines recognise your website's relevance to local searches and enhance the user experience. By optimising your web pages with local information and providing a user-friendly experience, you improve your chances of ranking higher in local search results, ultimately driving more local traffic and potential customers to your business.
Reviews are a significant local SEO ranking factor because they provide valuable signals to search engines about the credibility and quality of your business. I can attest that search engines, like Google, consider various factors related to reviews, including their:
When determining local search rankings. Positive reviews indicate that your business is trustworthy and provides excellent services or products, which can improve your visibility in local search.
Moreover, reviews massively contribute to your online reputation, which can directly influence user behaviour. When potential customers see positive reviews on your Google My Business profile or other platforms, they are likelier to visit your website and interact more. They may click for directions, make contact or read some of your blog posts. These interactions signal to search engines that your business is relevant and in demand within the local community, potentially boosting your rankings within your chosen area.
We have spoken in detail about links, so I will keep this section short.
Links are a local SEO ranking factor simply because they indicate the authority and credibility of a business within a specific geographical area. When other reputable local companies link to a website, it signals to search engines that the company is a valuable resource and a trusted entity within the local community.
High-quality backlinks from local sources act as endorsements, improving local search rankings (in most cases) and making it more likely for the business to appear prominently in local search results. This will ultimately drive more local traffic to your website.
Earning links is part of an Off-Page SEO strategy and you can read our guide to learn more about this.
Behavioural factors in the context of local SEO refer to users' actions and interactions when they engage with a business online.
These factors have become increasingly important in search engine algorithms because they provide valuable insights into a website's relevance and user-friendliness. Behavioural factors such as:
All play a significant role in local SEO rankings.
Search engines aim to deliver the best possible results to users, and behavioural factors help them determine the quality and relevance of a website to local search queries. For instance, if users frequently click on your website from local search results, spend time exploring its content, and interact positively by clicking on directions or making contact, search engines interpret these actions as a strong indication that your website satisfies the needs of local searchers.
As a result, websites that provide a positive user experience and meet user expectations in terms of relevance are more likely to achieve higher rankings in local search results. Therefore, optimising for behavioural factors is essential for local SEO success. This is because it enhances your website's visibility and drives more valuable traffic to your business.
We know citations are a ranking factor when we speak about local SEO because they validate and verify a business name, address and phone number information across various online platforms. This establishes trustworthiness and prominence in a specific geographic area.
Consistency and accuracy of NAP data within citations will help search engines confirm whether a business is legitimate and will also help verify whether a company is relevant. All of this will help influence its rankings in local search.
This concept is well-supported in the SEO industry, with numerous studies and articles highlighting the importance of citations for local SEO, such as Moz's "Local Search Ranking Factors" survey, which underscores the significance of consistent NAP information across online directories and platforms.
Personalisation is not typically considered a 'direct ranking factor' within local SEO. However, personalisation does play a role in search engine algorithms, particularly for delivering personalised search results to users, although it is not a factor that businesses can directly control to influence their local SEO rankings.
Search engines may personalise search results based on various factors, including a user's location, search history, and device. However, these personalised results do not typically impact the core ranking of businesses in local search results. Instead, the primary local SEO ranking factors (as we have discussed above) are related to:
In today's digital landscape, local SEO is a cornerstone for businesses seeking to effectively connect with their nearby customers.
This comprehensive guide has explored the fundamentals of local SEO, the mechanics of search engines, and the critical importance of local SEO as a practice, by understanding how search engines function and the essential ranking factors involved, SEO professionals and business owners can unlock the potential of local SEO to boost their online visibility and engage with a highly targeted local audience.
Want to get involved with more SEO testing to improve your local search rankings? Consider giving SEOTesting a try! We make SEO testing easy, with various test types available. We currently have a 14-day free trial, with no credit card required to sign up.