What is Local SEO (and How to Do It Well)

Andrea Fryrear on SEO

In 2015 nearly two-thirds of local customers used online search engines and directories as their main way to find local businesses. When we’re out and about, we expect to get information about businesses nearby. It’s simply a fact of life in the 21st century.

But what does that mean for local businesses that already have a hundred other things to juggle?

Unfortunately, it means that you need to start juggling your local SEO or risk losing serious market share to the competition.

To help you get started we’ve put together this helpful overview of the what/why/how of local SEO, complete with a useful infographic to illustrate the search results you’re trying to influence.

Local SEO Defined

Local search engine optimization is a subset of the larger efforts at optimizing websites to appear higher in search results. It typically focuses on searches that include geographic modifiers like, “coffee shops in Denver” or “coffee shops near me.”

In order to rank well in local search results, websites need to follow general SEO best practices, but there are a few other items that “generic” SEO doesn’t have to consider:

Local ranking factors according to Moz

Moz offers this useful breakdown of local ranking factors so you can see what type of SEO efforts are likely to pay off quickly.

What it boils down to is that local SEO is simply the process of systematically addressing all these various factors so that your business’ website comes up as high as possible in the results when people search for terms that are relevant to you.

It’s a constantly evolving set of factors, and there are a few things coming up in 2016 that could change it even more drastically than usual.

How Will it Be Different in 2016?

Mobile is fast becoming the primary method of research for consumers, and this will just increase in 2016.

Recent studies have indicated that as many as 4 out of 5 consumers conduct local searches on search engines, and 88% of those searches are on a smartphone.

We have a handy guide to getting mobile-ready if you aren’t already (it’s really not an option in 2016).

Local businesses also have to get serious about optimizing for the way people search with their voices and not just with their fingers. The use of voice-assisted search will be rising in 2016 and beyond, which is going to affect the terms that people use for searching.

Why Should You Worry About This?

More and more consumers are expecting to be able to perform a mobile search and make a purchase decision in almost real time.

In fact, a recent study showed that 50% of consumers conducted a local search on their smartphone and visited a store within one day.

Brick and mortar stores can either be ahead of this growing trend or watch as competitors pass them by. Internet searchers’ expectations are constantly rising; they won’t make allowances for small business who don’t have the time, budget, or expertise to give them information while they’re on the move.

Step-by-Step Process for Local Search Optimization

On your website there are few things that you can do to help people feel comfortable clicking on your results when they do a search (and then sticking around once they’re on your site):

  1. Meta title tag: Each and every page on your website needs a unique meta title. You get approximately 60 characters in search engine results, so keep it brief. Use keywords that are also reflected in the page’s content, and include your city and state as much as possible.
  2. Meta description tag: The supplement to your title tag, the meta description gives people a more detailed explanation of what your page is about. Your limit here is 160 characters, so get creative about how to provide good information, use keywords, and include your geographic location (city and state).
  3. URL or domain: If you’re dealing with a legacy site and you don’t have control over the URL structure, don’t despair. These aren’t as crucial to rankings as they once were, but if they’re too convoluted they can discourage visitors from clicking on your results in organic search.
  4. Helpful headers: These are HTML tags that create headlines within your on page content. They help break up the flow of text, guide readers further down into your content, and let people know if they’re going to find the information they’re looking for on your page without needing to read every single word.

Off the page, you can also help your cause by ensuring that third party sources have accurate, up-to-date information about your business.

This means checking your name, address, and phone citations to make sure they’re consistent EVERYWHERE. Punctuation and spacing matter, so pick one format and stick to it. Use the same local phone number on each and every listing for your business. Moz offers some good tools for checking these.

It’s kind of an obvious step, but make sure to claim your business listings on Google and Bing.

When people search for local results this will help ensure that you show up on the map and that potential customers can get the maximum amount of information about your business.

Tackling Local SEO

This can all sound a little daunting to small business owners, but it’s really just a matter of finding your weaknesses and addressing them one by one.

If you don’t have a social media presence, set one up.

If you aren’t encouraging customers to submit online reviews, start doing that.

If you’ve never taken a good hard look at your website to make sure it’s easy to use, now’s the time.

Start small and work your way up. You don’t have to spend ten thousand dollars this month to do it all. Incremental improvements can work really well; just take the first small step and then take another. You’ll be reveling in your search engine dominance in no time.