By John Thyfault, Vice President of Search & Social Strategy, Beasley Direct Marketing
What Is Local Search Engine Optimization?
“Local search engine optimization” sounds like an oxymoron. After all, one of the Internet’s great, liberating features is that if you are on the Web, anyone can find you. Why do you need to worry about local searching if you have a global presence?
Well, if you own a chain of pizza parlors, all within a single county, you don’t much care whether people in Beijing can access your menu. All you care about is that your stores appear high up (preferably number one) in the results for a search on “pizza” when someone in your market area is feeling peckish.
Google and other search engines have largely replaced the Yellow Pages as the traditional source of information for local goods and services. Google in particular is good at targeting and delivering the best results for local searches.
Locality is determined in more than one way. Looking at a search from a desktop computer, Google will look at the physical address to understand where the searcher is located. On a mobile device, the odds are you are on a wireless network, and there’s no guarantee that the searcher is anywhere near his home address. Therefore, Google will deliver a smaller, more focused search by looking at where the device is located in relationship to cell towers, or by using the device’s GPS capability. If the searcher is using a public Wi-Fi network, Google looks at where the network is located.
Local SEO is critical for many businesses because they are trying to target the best-qualified customers. Google picks up on buying signals in the search phrase. For example, if someone types in “party equipment rental+san francisco CA,” or “computer repair electronics Austin TX,” Google will regard this as an intent/desire to spend money.
How Does Google Deliver Local SEO Results?
Google delivers results in a few different ways:
- Map-based (depending on where the potential customer is in relationship to the business)
- Relevant listings
- Combination listings/map
- Carrousel, which appears as a black background with a bar across the top with photos that searchers can scroll through. (This requires that you have great reviews, and Google doesn’t deliver a carrousel for all categories of listings. Currently, it’s mostly restaurants and entertainment.) See Figure 1 for an example.
Figure 1: Google’s Carrousel-Style Search Results Requires Excellent Reviews.
Google strives to deliver the best, most-highly-targeted results possible. By default, that will be businesses local to the person doing the searching. As a result, the businesses with lots of good reviews and mentions will come up first. Additionally, having many organic links to your site also helps. (For more information on developing organic links to your site, please download our free whitepaper, “Link Building: Staying Current in a Shifting Landscape.”)
What Factors Does Google Use to Deliver Results?
The first thing Google looks at from a local perspective is whether your business has a Google+ Business page/ Google Places for Business page. If you have selected a category for your product or service on these pages, Google looks at these selections. Use the Google category as a keyword on your website as well. And, of course, your physical address and mailing address should match the geographical area that you are targeting.
Your NAP—name, address and phone number—is also critical. Make sure you have the same NAP across every web listing you access; consistency in your descriptors is essential. Use underlying html markup from schema.org. This is simple coding that helps search engines including Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex to improve display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right Web pages.
Obtain a local area code for the phone number associated with the business. This should be listed as the primary number even if you have an 800 number. City and state descriptors should always be included in the page title on every page of your website.
Also, Google looks at the proximity of your business address to the “centroid.” (The centroid is that little drop-shaped icon that Google puts in the center of the search area.) The closer you are to the centroid, the better, but keep in mind that the centroid moves depending on how the searcher has worded the search phrase. The centroid will be in a different place for descriptors like east, west, downtown, etc. Think about how to handle that by considering all the different ways people might search for your product or service.
Further, if your market reach is truly micro-local, take that into consideration as well. Develop descriptors that will be noted by the search engines. As always, develop a good keyword description of your business on the page title.
Your Local Search Engine Optimization Checklist
The following is a checklist of the factors Google employs for local searches, derived in large part from a great ongoing Moz.com post:
- Proper category associations
- Physical address in city of search
- Consistency of structured citations
- Quality/authority of structured citations
- HTML NAP matching place page NAP
- Quantity of structured citations
- Domain authority of website
- Individually owner-verified local Google+ page
- City, state in Google + /Business/Google Places landing page title
- Proximity of address to centroid
- Quality/authority of inbound links to domain
- Quantity of native Google + /Business/Google Places reviews (with text)
- Product/service keyword in business title
- Quantity of citations from locally relevant domains
- Proximity of physical location to the point of search
- Number of citations from industry-relevant domains
- Local area code on local Google + /Business/Google Places page
- City, state in most/all website title tags
- Number of third-party traditional reviews
- Page authority of Places landing page URL
Local SEO Tools
Additionally, here are a few tools you can use to make the job easier:
- Yext: a “geo-marketing cloud” that allows businesses to manage local content, listings, store pages, social pages, and campaigns
- Places Scout: an automated SEO tool that provides tools for keyword research, lead generation, rank tracking and business reputation monitoring
- Local Citation Finder: A product of whitespark.com that helps you to find local citations and improve your local rankings
- Moz Local: creates and maintains business listings on the sites, apps, and directories that factor most into local search engine results
- Social media sites in your neighborhood
Another good resource for learning more about local SEO is http://www.localseoguide.com.
In Part 2 on this topic, we’ll cover using pay-per-click (PPC) to optimize local search.
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About the Author
John has more than 18 years of marketing, sales and product development experience, and he brings a proven track record of successful campaign, program and product development expertise. His knowledge of search engine optimization and marketing, combined with an in-depth understanding of customer identification, market analysis and segmentation, allows him to deliver high returns on our client’s marketing investment for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets.
Prior to working with Beasley Direct, John was Senior Client Services Project Director at ThirdAge.com, a first wave baby boomer lifestyle and community website. At ThirdAge he successfully led major client sponsorships for Fortune 100 companies in healthcare (Tylenol), financial services (American Century), technology (Intel & IBM) and consumer products areas (Revlon & Viactive). He was responsible for strategic and tactical goal setting, project management, new product creation and web site production. John previously worked in Channel Marketing and National Account Sales for IDG Books Worldwide, the publishers of the immensely popular “…For Dummies” book series. Additionally, he managed the wholesale distributor sales channel for Tor/Forge Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
John is active in local marketing associations, including the Direct Marketing Association, the Business Marketing Association and is currently serving on the board of directors for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association.
John has taught search engine marketing fundamentals extensively. He has led workshops for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association, Northern California Direct Marketing Association (DMAnc.org) and the Business Marketing Association. He also teaches Search Engine Marketing at (UCSC’s Extension) in Silicon Valley.