Local SEO For Small Businesses

Learn how Google works with local sites with this guide to local SEO and start optimizing your website for local search results to grow your business.  

Local SEO is a search engine optimization strategy that helps your business be more visible in local search results on Google.

Any business with a physical location or serving a geographic area can benefit from local SEO. If you perform a Google search using important keywords related to your business and a map with 3 listings appears underneath (also called a map pack), local SEO can help you grow your business.

But to understand local SEO, you first need to know how Google works.

Local SEO For Small Businesses

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How Did Search Engines Evolve?

In the early days of the internet, there were relatively few websites, so it was easy to navigate the web. However, as the internet began to grow, search engines were created to make it easier for users to find the sites they were looking for.

If you type a phrase into a search engine, that phrase is matched with websites that contain the keywords in your search phrase. Google used the same approach, but quickly dominated other search engines when it became the first search engine to use links between sites to indicate which websites were trustworthy and authoritative.

Today, Google looks at hundreds of factors, both on and off your website, to determine if it is relevant to display in search results. These factors make up your "digital footprint," and each factor has a different weight or value, which the search engine combines to return results. Your digital footprint determines whether or not you are the first result of a query a user types into Google.  

How Does Google Work?

Local SEO For Small Businesses

When you type a search phrase into Google, the engine checks the pattern of various website signals, or ranking factors, such as the relevance of your website, to return a list of sites that match your search.

Most people don't realize that Google doesn't perform a live search of the entire Internet every time someone types something into the search bar. Instead, it searches for a stored copy of all the sites it has discovered. This copy is called the Google index.

To build the index, Google uses little programs called "spiders" that crawl the Web. Each spider works the same way: It starts on a single page, then follows the links on that page, examines the content of subsequent pages, and so on.

As Web content is crawled, it is stored in Google's servers and the index is built. The crawlers work on an incredible scale, constantly crawling trillions of pages at a furious pace. This ensures that the index is as up-to-date as possible and that new sites and connections are discovered quickly.  

How Google Ranks Search Results

Google uses different processes to rank hundreds or thousands of sites at a glance. These processes are called algorithms. When you perform a search on Google, an algorithm checks the index and returns a list of websites that match your search in the organic results. These results are chosen and ranked based on the relevance, prominence, and popularity of incoming links.

The algorithm looks at a variety of on-site and off-site factors to determine which websites are relevant to your search. All relevant sites are added to the list, which is then ranked by importance. Again referring to the various onsite and offsite factors, the algorithm determines the sites that best meet your search query, and these sites are ranked at the top of the search results.

Improving your SEO influences the relevance, prominence, and link popularity factors of your website. If the right elements of your site's digital footprint are optimized, your site will appear higher in search results.  

Local SEO Is A Different Story

Local SEO For Small Businesses

What about local organic search results? After analyzing user behavior over thousands of billions of searches, Google realized that people searching for certain types of businesses needed results from their immediate area. That's why Google's local search algorithm includes a proximity factor, which is a fancy way of saying that Google takes your location into account when you search for a local keyword (a query with local intent). This happens even when the searcher doesn't include a city name or "near me" in their search.

If you're at work and want to get pizza delivered for lunch, for example, searching for "pizza delivery" on Google will show a list of establishments near your office in the local SERPS (search engine results pages).

But if you perform the same search at home, you'll get a completely different list of results. This makes sense, considering you need pizza delivered from a nearby location.

Local search has been around for years, but it was limited by the fact that people only used their desktop computers. With the recent growth of mobile internet access, however, mobile search has exploded, so local SEO has become extremely important to the success of any business offering local products or services and local marketers.  

What Is Local SEO and How Does It Work?   

What Your Business Needs To Know About Local Search Engine Marketing

Whether you are a local business or a service area-based business, your business can benefit tremendously from local SEO and other search engine marketing tactics.

Local search engine optimization is a digital marketing strategy that helps local and service-based businesses stand out from competing businesses in Google within the same region. While it is similar to traditional SEO, there are many unique challenges to overcome and tactics to employ that are specific to local search. In this article, we'll explain the basics of local SEO.   

Local Search Engine Marketing

Let's start with some local search statistics. Just Google "local search statistics" and you'll find plenty of evidence of the importance of local SEO. Here are a few that we have selected for you on hubspot.com!

46% of all Google searches are people looking for local information.

88% of searchers who search for a local business on a mobile device call or visit the business within 24 hours.

78% of local searches on a mobile device result in an offline purchase!

These days, most people looking for a local business recommendation turn to Google. Whether you're a plumber, a lawyer, or a pizza shop, if your business isn't on the first page of Google when people search for your products or services, you're missing out on a huge number of potential customers.

Local search engine marketing involves applying typical search engine marketing strategies, such as SEO or PPC, to a local business' website. People search for your services on search engines like Google - the goal of SEO is to use Google as a source of free leads for your business.

Local SEO can be extremely effective when performed by experienced professionals, but it is becoming increasingly competitive as more and more local businesses realize the value of these types of services.

While the strategy and implementation of "traditional" SEO and local SEO are very similar, the rules of engagement differ. You will want to work with a company that specializes in local SEO services (not local in terms of proximity to your service area).

Local SEO For Small Businesses

Local Searches and "Normal" Searches

People looking for a restaurant in Rabat can search for "restaurants in Rabat" or "restaurants near me". Right now, if they search only for "restaurants," Google will still show them broadly localized results:

Local SEO For Small Businesses

Google can deduce your location in a number of ways, including through your IP address, GPS information provided by your device, or the context of your search query. Additional information about each business is provided by the business via their Google My Business profile.

Once Google determines that you are looking for a local business, it presents you with an entirely different set of results based on its best understanding of your current location. Even the structure and layout of the SERPs page change for local queries. When a keyword has local search intent, we call the search engine results page (SERPs) local SERPs.  

Local SERPs

Because people searching for information about a local business tend to want different types of information, such as maps, store hours, and review information, your typical SERPs (search engine results page) are very different from a standard search results page.

Google also evaluates local businesses and their websites a little differently than other websites when it comes to ranking them in search results. While technical SEO tactics are still important, you may have less competition to "beat."

For local businesses, Google relies more on customer reviews and public perception of the business (to the extent it can derive algorithms from them). This is why Google My Business is such an important part of local SEO.

In other words, you don't need to have the best plumbing website in the world, just the best plumbing website in your city or service area. Alas, you won't be the only plumber who understands the value of SEO either.  

Google My Business

Google My Business service allows businesses to manage their business listing and profile information on Google. Business owners can claim ownership (verified by sending a Google postcard to the business address) to control their business information and profile, respond to comments, etc.   

Google will use the business profile data and information to populate the local pack and Google Maps search results when your business appears. More importantly, by properly optimizing your GMB profile, you can better tell Google what your business is and improve your chances of appearing in searches related to your business. Properly managing a GMB profile is one of the many crucial elements of a successful local SEO strategy.

Citations and Local SEO

Citations are essential "mentions" of your website that do not necessarily link back to your site. Google takes note of all citations related to your website. By taking deliberate steps to be consistent with things like your NAP (name, address, and phone number) and using the same format for your website's URL, you can ensure that Google never gets the most relevant details about your business wrong.

Citations for your business can be the result of manual placement by your company or occur naturally by people mentioning your business on the web.  

The most common elements of a citation typically include the NAP (name, address, and phone number), but there are many other details that can be referenced. When these details about your business are "cited" online, search engines use them as additional contextual clues about your business. A citation can include these types of details:

  • Hours of operation
  • Directions to your site
  • Descriptions of your business
  • Media (videos, images, etc.)
  • Payment options accepted
  • Categorization / Industry / Niche
  • Reviews
  • Taglines
  • Email Addresses
  • Fax Numbers

Since many citations occur naturally without your company's input, the best thing to do is take control of the manual citations that are managed by your company on platforms like Google or Yelp.

It's also helpful to train your entire company on topics like citations. That way, when citations or link opportunities present themselves to your employees, they are armed with the appropriate information to maximize the value of the opportunity and follow known best practices.  

Outranking Your Local Competitors In Search

Now that you understand how local SEO works, you're probably wondering what it takes to beat your competitors and use search engines like Google as a way to attract new customers to your business. The goal of a local SEO campaign is to get Google to link to your website when people search for your services. To do this, you need to convince Google that you are the best provider of these services.  

How does Google rank local sites? What increases my chances of ranking for a given search query?

Reputation - What are your customers saying about your products and services on platforms like Google My Business, Amazon, etc.? Google's crawlers have so much data that they are able to deduce a lot about consumers' overall perception of your business.

Relevance - How relevant is the search query to the product or service your business offers? For example, disability law lawyers are more likely to rank higher than a lawyer who offers this service but does not specialize in this area.

Location - General proximity to the firm. Depending on the query, users may search for firms located within a certain distance of their home or workplace.   

How Do I Know What Kind of Local SEO Services I Need?

If you are working with a reputable local SEO company, you should be able to trust that they will determine this for you. There are many types of local SEO services that may or may not be a priority depending on your goals and circumstances. However, it can be helpful to know what types of services local SEO service providers offer.  

The most important local SEO services to be aware of include:

  • Citation creation / Citation management
  • Link building
  • Website localization
  • Google My Business claim and optimization
  • Social media management (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
  • Reviews and rating management
  • Keyword research
  • Content writing
  • On-page optimization
  • Keyword reports
  • Custom reports

How Will Local SEO Help Us Grow Our Business?

Every day, more local customers are turning to the web to find local businesses on their phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops:

  • 46% of all Google searches are local queries.
  • 92% of searchers choose a business on the first page and look no further.
  • 88% of searchers who search for a local business on a mobile device call or visit the business within 24 hours.
  • 78% of local searches on a mobile device result in an offline purchase!
  • Qualifiers such as "near me" or "close by" included in searches have increased by over 900% over a two-year period.

In other words, people are relying more and more on search engines to find local businesses. If your business isn't on the first page, your competitors will get all the business, and within a few years, you'll probably be struggling to stay afloat. We don't mean to be alarmist, but the trends are clear and people will be more and more dependent on search engines in the future. Unless you can rely on traditional marketing and word of mouth, you need to focus on local search engine marketing if you want to grow your business in today's digital landscape.   

What Are Local SEO Benefits?

By focusing your SEO on local markets, you take your small-fish status out of the big pond and into a more realistically sized pool. Since most small businesses rely on local consumers to grow, the benefits of this approach are undeniable.

If you've been wondering "Should I use local SEO?", here are the reasons to get started.

1. Improve online visibility

Google's top 5 results garner 67.6% of user clicks. This figure doesn't take into account the paid ads at the top of the page.

If your business doesn't appear in those top 5 positions, or even on the first page, chances are the public doesn't even know you exist.

The number one success factor for your business is customers, so you need to start placing yourself where they are. Using local SEO techniques will help you make your way into the top organic results and improve your chances of being found.

2. Create a community

Businesses and consumers alike are realizing the importance of creating a community and keeping the local economy alive. When your business starts making efforts to connect and link with other local businesses, you'll see the effects online and offline.

Local SEO For Small Businesses

While having more reputable local backlinks is a great way to improve your rankings, it also opens the door to supportive working relationships. Direct your customers to relevant services and they will be inclined to do the same.

Your clientele will trust referrals more and often find it more effective to visit businesses in their area, to begin with.

3. More relevant traffic

72% of local searches result in an in-person visit within 5 miles of the user.

When you target local consumers, you encourage web visits from people who can actually come visit you.

Using a broad SEO approach for a business that relies on local traffic exposes you to a lot of dead-end visits. For example, let's say you've published a blog with useful tips and tricks about your product or service. If you neglected to use local targets, you will receive visits from all over the world.

While it's nice to have that kind of reach, the chances of a foreign visitor becoming a paying customer are pretty slim.

4. Returning local customers

As mentioned earlier, customers are increasingly seeing the value in supporting the local economy. In addition, it's often more convenient to do business in your local area.

With local SEO, you'll have two key touchpoints for nearby customers. First, they will discover you and stop by. Your business can then offer them an incredible experience and convince them to become loyal customers. Second, when they need the services again, your name will appear at the top of the search and trigger their memory.

5. Build trust and authority

Consumers assume that top-ranked businesses have been vetted by Google and are trustworthy companies.

By getting a top spot on the results page, you encourage your audience to trust your business and earn their respect. This high position also presents you as an authority in your niche and increases your attractiveness level.

6. Reduce advertising costs

Organic traffic has become the most valuable audience for businesses. While paying for ads may have been your only chance to get high visibility before, using local SEO will reduce your need for these measures.

By improving your rankings, you'll be able to use Google as a free advertisement for your business and get more valuable clicks than a paid ad.

7. Increased sales

An increase in relevant traffic leads to an increase in sales. With local customers ready to buy, appearing as an authority in your area will increase your chances of being the drop-off point for their purchase.

If local searchers aren't quite ready to close the deal yet, they will be encouraged by your proximity and optimal availability. Instead of finding businesses that are hours away or forcing them to buy online blind, they can visit you and get to know you as a local person.

Start SEO Business 

Now that you have a better understanding of the basics of SEO and how Google ranks local search results, you can start focusing on signals that will optimize your site's digital footprint in the guided local search ecosystem. This way, your business can appear higher on the results page, which can lead more potential customers to find your business.

Many factors influence your visibility in these searches, but keep in mind that local search continues to grow and change. To see which signals are gaining or losing importance, you can refer to Moz's annual survey to develop your strategy. Once you start improving each important signal, you'll be able to serve more people in your geographic area and grow faster. 

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