Of all the different flavors of digital marketing our clients hire us to perform, local search engine optimization (Local SEO) is probably the least understood. Often, though, the relatively high return on investment good local provides makes it a no-brainer recommendation for our professional service and B2B clients.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO refers to search engine results which are influenced by the searcher’s current location. In other words, with the correct strategy, a law firm specializing in criminal defense will be advantaged in search engine results if that law firm is closer to the individual (who might be on their phone, for instance) doing the search. Local search also is involved when searchers qualify their searches with geographic delimiters like ‘criminal defense law firms in Philadelphia,’ for instance. This latter point makes local SEO important for desktop searches, as well, making it a ‘must do’ concern for bricks and mortar businesses.
What does a ‘local search’ engine result look like in Google?
Search Engine results pages have become so complicated in the last several years that understanding what the distinct parts of a typical SERP represent is often difficult. Let’s take a look at a typical example and see what we can learn.
In this hypothetical search for a criminal defense attorney the page is divided into three major types of results. Leading off the page, are four results from AdWords. AdWords is Google’s major paid search advertising offering; listings appearing here represent businesses who have ponied up cash to get to the top of the search engine results page.
Immediately following are results from the local search database. These are the results we are most concerned with. I’ll explain what they represent in just a minute.
Finally, though, following the local results, are a number of organic or ‘natural’ SEO results. These are the links to pages on websites who have demonstrated superior relevance to the search query, but aren’t necessarily ‘local’ to the searcher. Boosting visibility in these is, typically, what most people think of when they think ‘SEO.’
Our quick look at a typical ‘page one’ search engine result makes it clear that Local SEO is pretty darn important. The chunk of screen real estate devoted to ‘local only’ in our example is as significant as either of the other two categories. But how does a business get visibility in local search? To answer that question, let’s go to the source: the Google My Business support section.
Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help find the best match for your search.
Google states that it uses three principal factors to determine local ranking: relevance, distance and prominence. The first two criteria are pretty straightforward. If you’re searching for a criminal defense attorney, Google will not show results for accounting firms and, probably, won’t even show results for law firms which don’t specialize in criminal defense.
Distance is likewise straightforward and is particularly important for searches originating on mobile devices. The example SERP shown above, for instance, is showing us three firms close very close to our office’s location. (Note that, in this example, I actually typed this search in from my desktop, but Google knows where I am.)
The last criteria listed, ‘prominence’ is the one factor of the three which can be influenced by digital marketing efforts. Google defines prominence as a combination of a variety of factors but, of those the business can control, Google writes:
‘Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.’
Let’s dissect the important points here
- Links, articles and directory listings are important. Another way to think of ‘prominence’ in the sense that Google means it is ‘credibility.’ In other words, Google wants to be sure that it understands precisely what your business does, and have a very strong level of confidence that it knows where it is located. It derives this understanding from your business’s presence in local business listings and directories, the most important of which is Google’s own ‘MyBusiness’ directory. Besides just cataloging the name and address of the business, MyBusiness also allows the business owner to categorize the nature of the business, which ensures that ‘criminal defense attorneys’ don’t show up in searches related to other services.This is why, so often, the first thing a local search consultant will advise, are the creation of multiple business directory listings in MyBusiness, Yelp, Facebook and other online directories.
- Reviews and ratings. Reviews of your business are important. Not only does Google care about reviews from its own MyBusiness pages, but it also pulls data from other social review sites, such as Yelp. Most local consultants urge their clients to actively solicit reviews from satisfied customers, especially if they’re coming from the business’s MyBusiness page. Certain professional service firms, (especially law firms) of course, can get a little squeamish about social reviews but, undoubtedly a prepondence (probably around ten or so) of good ones will help your ranking in local.
- On-website SEO ranking factors. As a an additional prominence check, Google refers to a potential search result’s website. This means that your website should be built with SEO in mind. And, especially, wherever office addresses are shown, Google will want to see exactly the same addresses it is seeing within your business Google MyBusiness listing, as well as its Yelp, Bing, Yahoo and other business listings.
Tips to help your business win at Local SEO
Now that we understand how important Local SEO can be for your firm’s digital marketing, let’s summarize what you should be doing to ensure your business does well in local search:
- Make sure your business is listed in the leading directories for local, including Google My Business, Bing Local, Yelp and others. Sometimes referred to as ‘citations’ in the SEO world, the more references which exist to your business online (and its location) the better. As a Moz.com points out https://moz.com/learn/local/citations these references don’t even necessarily have to be accompanied by links.
- Make sure your listings are verified/claimed. ‘Claiming’ your listings is the process which certifies to the directory that you are the business owner and provides the highest level of reassurance that your listing is accurate. It’s been our experience that having multiple unverified listings is one of the most common shortcomings new Local SEO clients present to us.
- Make sure all your address and business information is consistent, from directory to directory. It is very important to retain absolute consistency in terms of how address and contact information appears, across directories. Minutiae like making sure that suite numbers are shown the same way, across all directories, are very important.
- Solicit reviews from satisfied customers. Try especially hard to get reviews on Google My Business. Certain professional service firms, (especially law firms) can get a little squeamish about social reviews but they are very helpful for rank in local SEO.
- Ensure your website’s SEO supports local results. Google pays special attention to your website’s contact information. Make sure all your addressing information is consistent with the addressing information you’re using for your directory listings. And, listing your office locations within the footer of all your pages is usually a best practice.
Local SEO is one of those tasks which isn’t rocket science but is also time-consuming and ever changing. One of the reasons we offer Local SEO for professional service firms is to make the tedium of local easier to bear. If your digital marketing needs a boost, please reach out to us. If you’d rather call us, we’re at (646) 522-2774.