Local SEO connects businesses to local consumers.
Local SEO has quickly become one of the most important parts of a successful digital marketing campaign. For many businesses, the most important part. And this importance is just increasing.
Although similar to normal SEO in the sense that local aims to increase your visibility organically, local and organic are different.
They rely on different algorithms and different ranking factors.
Why is local SEO important?
Local searches are intrinsically linked to your mobile device.
Any search you make on a mobile device is, by definition, a local search and utilises the local algorithm to suggest relevant local businesses.
Search engines give you results depending on your physical location which is constantly tracked through your phone’s GPS.
Mobile-intent rich moments
Search has changed considerably over the last few years.
Search patterns are becoming increasingly mobile intent rich moments.
People want information, answers to questions, and they want it now.
The way people want these answers presented has changed as well.
On some searches, our queries are best answered using videos, pictures, text and an increasing variety of local and rich snippets.
If I search for a ‘pizza restaurant’ on a mobile device, search engines will assume I’m searching for a pizza restaurant near me. They understand that my intent is local.
Additionally, search engines would understand that my intent was best met by providing me with maps, reviews and prices. Chances are, if I’m searching for a pizza restaurant, I’m planning on eating in one. Location, prices and reviews would be important to me.
To better understand why local search is important consider the following statistics:
- 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information (Source: GoGulf)
- 72% of consumers that did a local search visited a store within five miles (Source: HubSpot Marketing Statistics)
- 97% of people learn more about a local company online than anywhere else (Source: SEO Tribunal)
- 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours (Source: Nectafy)
- 61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site (Source: HubSpot Marketing Statistics)
- By 2021, mobile devices will influence more than $1.4 trillion in local sales (Source: Forrester)
- 18% of local smartphone searches led to a purchase within a day, whereas only 7% of non-local searches led to a sale (Source: Think with Google)
- 78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase (Source: SEO Tribunal)
- Searches with the phrases “near me” or “close by” included in them grew by more than 900% over two years (Source: Chat Meter)
Local search isn’t new. It’s been around since the beginning of 2008, way before Android and smartphones.
But it wasn’t until recently, with the proliferation of mobile devices and us moving onto the mobile-first index that local search has really begun to explode.
When examining anything search-related, it’s important to first step back and examine the intent behind these searches.
What is the ultimate goal of someone’s search? What are they really looking for?
People’s search intent has changed considerably and at an incredibly fast pace over the last few years. We’ve witnessed a massive shift towards local.
Additionally, local intent has also changed the way search results are displayed. We’re offered maps, three packs and more localised information than ever before.
Google’s Local Pack
The ‘Local pack’ is a term you’ll often hear in local search.
It’s also called a local snack pack, map pack, and more commonly the local 3 pack.
The local 3 pack refers to the number of organic search results that are displayed directly alongside a map. These will (usually) appear directly beneath paid ads.
If companies have reviews from Google users, you will see those reviews as well. Commonly used words from the reviews, categories and questions asked previously to contributors appear as well (‘takeaway,’ ‘delivery,’ ‘casual,’ ‘good for kids’, ‘cosy’, etc.).
Previously Google showed 7 organic listings within maps, and, you guessed it, that was known as the local 7 pack. This was changed in August of 2015.
Within the local pack, you’ll generally see
- Company name
- Reviews (if applicable)
- Business information (business address, website, phone number)
- Directions and location – relative to where you are if on a mobile device.
Because Google’s search results are in continual flux, this information can and will change.
Local search prominence
The local pack has become the most prominent position in the SERPs.
It sits above the organic search results and being a rich result it draws a huge amount of attention. On mobile devices, the local pack is even more dominant.
It takes up a huge amount of SERP (search engine results page) real estate.
As stated above, with over 45% of searches being local in nature and will trigger search results that display a local pack, the importance for local businesses to appear in the local pack cannot be underestimated.
The potential is huge and getting bigger every day.
How to optimise for local SEO?
Local search rankings follow a different ranking algorithm to normal SEO. Best of all, it’s one that’s relatively easy to follow.
To say SEO and local are completely separate would be incorrect.
If your business ranks well organically, there is a high chance that your local rankings will be affected by that too.
What are the main ranking factors?
The three biggest ranking factors are proximity, relevance and prominence:
Easily the most influential factor in local SEO is proximity. When you search for a local service or product, it’s a must that it’s close by.
The closer your business is to the searcher, the higher your business will rank.
When you search something into Google, you expect the results to be relevant and actionable.
If you search for a shoe shop, you want to see local shoe shops, not restaurants and cafes. Relevance is how local SEO connects you with the appropriate businesses.
Relevance is affected by a variety of factors: the category in your GMB dashboard, citations, descriptions, blog content, website content, and reviews that are specifically related to your products and services.
Never underestimate the power of search intent. Even the smallest of changes in a search query will lead to vastly different results.
This means that even minor changes to your categories and homepage content will lead to ranking changes.
Another common word for prominence is trust. If people commonly talk about your business in real-life and continually talk about it, Google is going to honour that and show the same in its local SEO rankings.
Having your business mentioned across the internet (citations, links, press, social media, reviews, posting regularly, etc.) is the best way to increase trust and authority. It can take a significant amount of time to build trust, and consistency is the best way to do it.
The most influential factor is proximity. Naturally, somebody who’s looking for a local product or service would prefer to go to a local business. This is why proximity matters so much. The closer somebody is to your business, the higher your business will rank.
There are ways to influence proximity, prominence and other ranking factors which we’ll examine in greater detail in a later blog post.
An increasingly local world
The importance of having a strong local presence cannot be overemphasized.
It is key to any successful digital campaign, even if your audience is primarily international. A powerful local presence has trust implications that carries through to all performance.
During the recent pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, we’ve seen search trends shift in an unprecedented manner. For many niches, searches with a local intent have dominated the landscape and they’ll continue to do so as we move into our new normal.
Never before has local SEO been more important.