Local SEO: what it is and how to work on local ranking

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It is called local SEO or Local Search SEO and it is optimization for Google’s Local Search. Which is, in turn, a kind of search engine side-by-side with Google’s main search engine, capable of delivering precise, localized results based on queries entered by users, who get references to physical places where they can complete the task they need, such as buying a product or service. In recent years, especially as a result of the pandemic, the Web has transformed our daily habits for physical shopping as well, and it is no coincidence that searches with the key “near to me,” “nearby,” or “near me” have practically doubled.Now more than ever, being visible in search engine results pages is crucial, especially for companies that sell directly to the public. The way of doing business has changed by now, and consumers’ information needs have increased, so optimizing brand presence in local search is crucial to generating sales and reaching new customers.
Indeed, working on local ranking means bringing more targeted traffic, leads and conversions to the Web site, as we will attract a local and more relevant customer base.Here are some optimization tips, also using SEOZoom tools.

What is local Search

The local search of Google is therefore an integrated search engine in the main one that offers local results, that is, localized based on the position of the user launching the query. In summary, the results are determined by the interaction of three factors – the classic relevance, distance and evidence, as we will see in more detail – and appear both in the classic Research SERP and as points in Maps, so that users can easily go to the location of the activity or place of interest near the location where they are.

In addition to the type of activity/service, a basic local search query usually includes information such as city name, neighborhood or address, but activating device localization is enough that Google interprets a transactional intent to provide as a response to local results.

Google Pigeon’s introduction

Driven by the growing spread of mobile browsing, Google understood that it was shaping a new need for users, namely to find answers “closer” in the physical sense to their location to conclude their search journey. And so, local search has established itself as a smart search tool for people looking for information about businesses or services in the area, and as a powerful opportunity available especially for small businesses, which may attract new customers interested in their offer.

The system that started this revolution was the Google Pigeon algorithm, an update launched by Google in 2014 to improve and enhance the ranking of local organic results, provided according to the user’s location and the list available in the local directory.

Location and distance are key parts of this new research system, which favors activities closer to the physical location of the researcher. Another important feature is the evolution of the so-called local pack, or the SERP feature, linked to Maps, which lists and groups the main local activities positioned on Google, shown precisely when a query has a local intent.

What is local SEO

In this scenario, the local SEO has almost naturally spread, that is, the optimization of the site to reach positions of greater visibility between local and geolocalized results on Google.

Definition of local

Unlike the traditional SEO, which aims to improve the organic performances of the pages of a site at a global level (national or international), in this case the context of competition is that of a well-defined geographical area.

Local search queries often follow a search intent totally different from the others and, for this reason, we can not usually adopt the typical national/global approach.

Intercepting closer and more interested users

For these characteristics, the local SEO is crucial especially for those companies that offer services in direct contact with the public, such as accommodation (restaurants, hotels, B&B…), commercial activities, professional practices, medical services and so on, that therefore must implement solutions and interventions on the site to scale positions compared to competitors and appear more reliable in the eyes of people.

This work allows us to reach the users closest to us and our business, and therefore potentially more interested in clicking on the results and buying what we propose. And it is not just the click on the site the result to achieve: in most cases, the goal is to bring the customer into the physical venue to complete the action or conversion. According to Google, 50% of users who perform a local search from mobile devices actually visit the store within a day.

The importance of local optimization

The reason for the attention dedicated to this theme is easy to understand: optimizing the local SEO means increasing the chances of getting targeted organic traffic on the website, and especially to increase leads and conversions, as we will attract on our pages (and then on site) a more relevant and already well-developed audience of users in the funnel.

In addition to that, having a precise strategy also allows smaller companies to emerge, even surpassing the comparison with large national companies with unlimited capital, that to get traffic generally focus on more generic and far-reaching keywords and rely on the power of the brand and corporate branding.

How to work on local ranking

As an official Google guide explains, there are three criteria that guide the algorithm of local search results:

  1. Relevance, which measures the level of correspondence between the offer of the activity compared to the search intent.
  2. Distance, which precisely calculates the physical and geographical distance of a search result compared to the location used as a keyword by the user in the query (for example, when we search for “shoes in Rome”) or obtained by Google through the localization of his device (via IP address or smartphone geolocation system)
  3. Evidence, which concerns the level of notoriety of an activity. This factor is based both on the authoritativeness of a brand in the real world (as the guide explains, “Famous museums, prestigious hotels or well-known retail brands that are known to many people will probably also be highlighted in local search results”), both on signals that Google derives from the Web, such as links, articles and directories. Moreover, positive reviews and ratings also affect the local ranking of an activity, and having a good online reputation and many positive feedback will improve your ranking.

The tools: Activity Profile and more

The work on the local SEO is therefore very specific, and in addition to the classic tips to optimize the site in all its aspects – including content that also emphasize the value of the local offer, with “geographical” keywords, perhaps even trying to monitor SERPs by setting up Google search from other locations – you need to take great care in managing social media and, most importantly, the business’ Profile tab, which until recently was called Google My Business.

As we said in other insights, GMB is one of the main tools for local SEO, so recognized by digital marketers as well as by users, which find these cards in prominent locations on both Search and Maps when performing localized searches.

Social media is also an important channel to get in touch with users and understand their needs in advance, because they create a point of contact with the target and allow us to work on strengthening visibility and reliability.

Another useful contribution in terms of visibility comes from the inclusion of the company on local directory websites of value, such as Yellow Pages, Yelp and many others, or niche sector portals: this allows us to be more accurately recognized by Google in our belonging area, but also to make us find more easily by users. The minimum information to be added are the so-called NAPW (acronym of Name – Address – Phone – Web, that is Business Name, Address, Telephone Number and Home of the Web site) and a detailed summary of the activity.

How to localize the site

No less important is then to improve our company website, through which to offer a valid user experience, even for those who use smartphones (now the majority of people who browse online): therefore, it is essential to have a mobile friendly site, ensure good page loading speed, implement a simple navigation system between menus and categories, and then again immediately show the information needed by users (contacts, address, opening times and so on), properly use structured data to activate any rich results in Search and to improve Google’s understanding of pages.

Ultimately, it means working according to the basic rules of SEO and “common sense”, and this also applies to practical aspects such as the insertion of localized keywords in contents (from title tags to meta description, from headings to images up to text on page and URL), always without exaggerating and forcing with undesirable practices such as keyword stuffing – what matters is always to offer added value to the player, we must never forget it!

This simple practice allows us to “localize” our website for the geographical area in which we operate (city, province, region etc.); for companies with multiple locations, it may become useful to create separate pages or Content Hubs for individual locations. In addition, you should not be “static” but try to activate an involvement with events of the local community and submit articles and related information on the site.

Distinguishing localized keywords

There is, however, a clarification to do with the use of keywords: the local search, as we have mentioned, includes two different types of queries. That is, both those expressly localized – those that contain a search string formed by a keyword plus the addition of a location (restaurants in Milan, dentists in Rome and so on) – and implicit queries, which Google interprets as localized.

All it takes is to make a test to understand this second aspect: simply type “restaurant” on Google – via smartphone or desktop, no difference – to get the same localized results based on the geolocation perceived by the algorithm of Big G.

These are the so-called “near to me” /nearby searches – again, the expression proximity can be explicitly or implicitly understood by Google – that create SERP based in a very subjective way on the location and history of the individual user. For this reason, SEO tools cannot give objective answers for this type of keywords, but only general indications and “national”, so to speak.

How to use SEOZoom for local SEO

With Seozoom we have various tools to keep an eye on interesting keywords and, as well as in classic strategy, study the moves of direct competitors.

On the basis of the premise just made, for the specifically localized queries we have all the necessary strategic information: research volume, level of competition, possibility of ranking, tools to optimize the search intent required by Google and so on.

Different the speech of the other type of keywords, those near to me ones: in this case (and as far as explained), it is not possible to make a full local analysis of a keyword or a set of keyword with volumes and other data, but we can still use Seozoom as a rank tracker and then keep track of changes in ranking.

To do this, just add the keywords to a project and select the SERP, keeping in mind that local volumes are not currently available.

Analyzing and narrowing down the target

If target analysis is a fundamental step for any SEO strategy, to get results in local search this becomes even more true: a site should never turn to an infinite and indefinite audience, and even more so, those who seek to emerge in a “confined” space by definition cannot do so.

This means that we must use every means to study and define our target, that is, the users to whom we address our message using the words, the tone and the proposals that are closest to them: so that we can identify in advance the potential customers to attract to the site and the store, develop offers that may be more interesting for their needs, adapt the language and tone of communication.

Why optimizing the site for local search

Ultimately, the local SEO is crucial if we have a site that refers to an activity that offers products and services in a specific geographical area, because optimizing the online strategy with these tactics can bring on your pages a more qualified and precise traffic, made of people who live (or are) in the exact area where we sell our goods and services.

The attention and the strengths of this extra work can be repaid by increased economic returns thanks to greater visibility on Google and more direct and effective content, able to convince people to prefer us instead of other competitors.

Local Marketing, 7 measurement tactics to optimize results

As we were saying, since 2020 our lives have changed suddenly and dramatically, with COVID-19 disrupting the entire world, causing an impact that affected and transformed Google’s SERPs immediately, and then overwhelming the marketing industry (and beyond, of course), found itself having to reevaluate “drastically the way we view measurement and local marketing success for both channels and campaigns.”

Local marketing in times of crisis

It opens with this reflection the article by Marshall Nyman and Lauren Abramson published in Search Engine Journal, which focuses on local search and offers interesting insights to learn how to measure the success of marketing efforts in a turbulent phase, such as the current global pandemic, or in the event of other unforeseeable events.

Local marketing operators need to develop transversal skills, such as flexibility and the ability to change strategy quickly, which have become a “non-negotiable requirement”; at the same time, they need to change hard KPIs, because “what customers expect from brands requires considerable development for execution”.

The examples are there for all to see: curbside pickup, which before was a useful service to people with little time available, is no longer a unique added value offered by a brand, but a health and safety protocol provided for all consumers, as well as “contactless” delivery.

How to measure local marketing’s success

And so, in such a troubled time of frequent change – you see our studies of the impact of Coronavirus on Google SERPs in March and November, in the second wave, to get an idea – local marketers need to adapt and evolve quickly, to capture the “signals” and effectively measure the success of their strategies.

The two authors therefore indicate 7 tactics and best practices to measure the effects of local marketing campaigns valid even in times of crisis.

  1. Monitoring the Profile metrics

As we were saying, the former Google My Business is the most immediate and effective showcase for local SEO, and during the pandemic the tool took on an even more central role, allowing commercial activities to stay in touch with potential interested customers and to communicate to them updates on the actual possibilities to use the service offered in the light of the various regulations in force at the time.

Classically, among the most controlled metrics of GMB to measure the success of the strategy were the visualizations of the map and the directions, but the new context makes it crucial to know how to monitor (and on a monthly basis, rather than annual) other statistics, such as Impressions/Views from Search, Click on the site and Click on Calls, which can give us a picture of the actual interaction of users with the activity tab.

With lockdowns and the various restriction measures, in fact, consumers have gone beyond traditional research and have adopted e-commerce options: regardless of the product or service offered, each sector has been affected to some extent and all activities have had to cope with a new type of need, “keeping customers informed helping them to feel safe”.

For this reason, all updates to company operations – from temporary closures and time changes to the availability of outdoor or indoor seating – have required rapid and effective dissemination of information to consumers, and “Google Posts has become a key tool to quickly share news”, especially since the introduction of the option “Post COVID-19, which allowed companies to share critical information about safety and health directly in SERP”.

  1. Measuring all kinds of devices

The world is now surfing from mobile and the pandemic has only given a further boost to this dominance. And yet, experts explain, it would be wrong to focus only on mobile benchmarks, which cannot be the only area of interest.

In fact, brands should also focus on the analysis of desktop traffic, also on a monthly basis, “to identify immediate trends that can help to discover the current needs and expectations of the site’s customers”.

  1. Using referral traffic to measure the engagement of clients

Refferal traffic toward sites is not always a main KPI, but “a secondary KPI or support depending on the story told about the customer’s engagement”.

With changes in the way Apple Maps, Yelp and other local sources have provided opportunities for brands to share COVID-19 physical activity details, “Measuring referral traffic and increments from these platforms show how people control additional sources to continuously verify information,” as well as reiterating the need for accurate information across the local ecosystem.

  1. Focusing on the holistic strategy’s performance

Now more than ever we should work with a “holistic” research strategy, that is, integrated and unified, not dividing the efforts of organic campaigns from paid counterparts.

Today, Google has “forced brands to possess precious search terms through constantly evolving SERP layouts and integrations such as hotel ad feeds”, and therefore “adding budget for Local Search Ads or integrating Local Inventory Ads into lists can help customers find what they are looking for more efficiently”.

The advice is therefore to measure the paid performance and, if they show to be a profitable effort to undertake, add them to the overall search strategy: the basic goal is to reach and be reached by the customer, through any way or channel.

  1. Checking the sentiment of clients through reviews

Being able to monitor and know how to answer reviews during a crisis has become an even more important element of local strategy and success: in the new current context, User feedback is crucial not only in building the brand image, but also to effectively understand how to meet customer needs.

For this reason, some platforms, such as Yelp, have openly relied on customers to get feedbacks on how activities are following health and safety protocols.

In general, understanding the sentiment around a company or brand, monitoring customer satisfaction, fluctuating average rating and addressing customer concerns are all parameters that can help create a positive feeling, as well as “the speed and frequency with which the teams in charge respond to reviews and feedback have become a successful metric”.

  1. Exploiting Google Analytics to measure e-Commerce revenue

Those who work in the retail sector and had not implemented the e-commerce channel before, are now forced to develop and run it flawlessly. Business is moving almost exclusively online and further delaying means losing business opportunities.

There are daily problems, between delays in shipping times and logistic nightmares, so “it is essential for companies to ensure a process of orders without interruptions, with fast delivery times, to build a positive brand association“. But as we move towards a normal situation, experts ask, how “will it be possible to really understand how physical shops are behaving compared to digital shelves?”.

In support comes Google Analytics, which offers a feature (for now in beta) on store visits that can help brands to view their omnichannel performance.

  1. Staying up-to-date on the most wanted keywords

Even the target keywords of the activity need a pivot: in the last year have grown at an unpredictable pace the searches [near to me], [curbside pickup] and [drive-thru] and new trends have emerged as [contactless delivery].

We must therefore check whether we are actually monitoring the trend keywords relevant to our sector, because – if not – we may miss the opportunity to convert high-intent consumers.

Checking the main terms from GMB insights can help companies understand which keywords should be optimized to continue reaching current and new customers, but refinement of local marketing strategy also includes “the remodeling of Kpis and the most important metrics for the activity”.

Responding to the crisis so to organize the recover

The unexpected COVID-19 pandemic brought to light “new areas of opportunity for businesses, including new social distance services, and skyrocketed both mobile and desktop purchases”.

As a result, Nyman and Abramson conclude, metrics that were once crucial to monitor to determine the success of local brand marketing have now become obsolete, and “It is essential to stay informed and updated to recover from a largely tumultuous event and set your own business for a recovery and a future that may be favorable“.

The tips and techniques for standing out in local SEO and dominating SERPs and Map Packs

In the wake of what has been written, it seems clear that it is crucial for businesses to have optimized local listings and an effective local marketing strategy that knows how to measure the success of the work: restaurants, retail stores, and other types of local businesses have many potential customers searching for their products and services, and Google’s SERPs are constantly evolving to show these results to interested users.

Examples of this are the continuous integrations of informational features in the local panel of Google search results, which allow the user to view useful and increasingly specific data with respect to the relevant business.
Going practical, Winston Burton’s article in Search Engine Journal presents us with 12 local search tactics that can be used to help a business improve its visibility in local SERPs.

  1. Consistently managing information

The first point is to manage in a consistent and accurate way all the ads, verifying the correctness of the NAP (name, address and telephone number, without forgetting the URL of the home of the site) in the various places where they appear, that is search engines and local directories, trying where possible to remove duplicate lists.

To simplify this work you can use a platform of local search among the many on the market.

  1. Using structured data

Structured data is important to help Google better understand content and can help increase clicks, impressions and conversions, and this also applies to local search.

It is therefore absolutely important to “implement types of structured data such as local business, geocoordinates, postal address and reviews (which allow reporting local activity, geographical coordinates, postal address and reviews) to improve performance”.

  1. Taking advantage of the Activity Profile tab

“If you’re not using and optimizing your Google Activity Profile , you’re missing an incredible opportunity to make your products and services visible where it matters the most,” the author points out.

To optimize the Google My Business tab you must first enter all the information that you can include, in addition to photos, menu items, descriptions and service lines”, which is one of the most important aspects of local search optimization, dedicating time to fill in all the relevant information, such as the menu, the description of the products and so on, frequently monitoring the form to verify that the information is always up to date.

This is even more true in these periods of “imposed” limitations and times, because providing incorrect information can generate a bad user experience – for example, if you find a closed shop when the GMB card instead signaled it open, the customer may decide to go elsewhere in the future.

Today it is crucial for companies to update local research results, to communicate clearly to potential customers who are temporarily closed or who offer particular services, such as the possibility of takeaway for restaurants, also because Google started to show the attributes of the operating status of the store within Maps.

Servizi specifici mostrati in GMB

Large retailers with multiple departments in the store can use GMB to include secondary timetables; this function can be used to update, as appropriate:

  • Department hours.
  • Senior hours.
  • Drive-thru schedule.
  • Delivery times.
  • Takeaway hours.
  • Visiting hours.
  • Pick-up hours.

orari secondari in GMB

Do not forget to update the questions and answers within the GMB company profile with relevant or timely details, such as:

  • Closures or time changes.
  • Cancelled events and refunds/changes of tickets.
  • Volume of calls/e-mails and expected delays.
  • Changes to appointment procedures.
  • Measures implemented to increase the level of health and safety.
  • Changes to the services offered.

Also in the Google arena, e-Commerce brands should take advantage of Google features designed specifically to improve data communication with the search engine, such as the Google Merchant feed or Pointy, which allow them to intercept a large number of potential consumers “who search for your products and services every day, allowing them to see in-store inventory in a non-paying product tab across Google properties, including Images, Shopping and Maps.”

  1. Updating the status of events

Almost exactly a year ago the new version of schema.org debuted and, among other things, introduced new structured data to report the status of the events: using this tool is very important to allow users to know the current status of the event they are interested in.

Eventstatus attributes include:

  • EventCancelled, to report that the event has been canceled.
  • EventMovedOnline, to indicate that the event has been moved to online streaming mode.
  • EventPostponed, when the event has been postponed and the new dates are still to be defined (TBA).
  • EventRescheduled, if the event has been rescheduled to a new date.
  • EventScheduled, when finally the event is still scheduled as planned, with no changes.

Event information can be entered into the company profile via the event schedule on the website or from external sources such as Facebook, Eventbrite and Meetup events.

  1. Checking the lists

Burton reiterates that it is crucial to always monitor the search results associated with the brand, in particular to identify:

  • Automatic operational status updates (“Temporarily closed” and others).
  • Pending or suggested changes to operating hours.
  • Pending or suggested changes to attributes.
  • Changes pending or suggested to the activity details.
  • Any other indicators of pending or suggested updates.
  • Deactivated ads.
  1. Managing reputation

Online reputation management is crucial to rank high in the local Map Pack, and so you have to work to attract positive reviews and provide good customer experience; in particular, you should avoid leaving unanswered questions or user feedback, because it is a really negative signal.

People, in fact, trust the reviews and the negative ones are worse when the owner does not take the time to answer; if instead he manages to provide an explanation, this intervention “potentially increases the confidence of other users and could also help generate more business”.

Therefore, the advice is to always check and respond to reviews, both positive and negative, and focus on getting natural and not required reviews, also taking advantage of the website to upload first-party reviews.

  1. Using hyper-local content

The goal of SEO is to provide a positive content experience across all devices and platforms to help end users meet their information needs.

In SEO local this can mean trying to publish quality and unique content, suitable for individual locations related to business: this hyper-local content can help to improve visibility among potential customers who are nearby.

Useful is also the use of hyper-local terms in the optimization strategy on the page, optimizing that is heading, titles, metadata, alt-text and text, as well as always having content related to COVID: all this can create “trust from the end user’s point of view and will also help you get great reviews”, because “proving that you are taking the right precautions can actually help you sell more products and services when customers come to pick up food or shop in the store”.

  1. Using messaging systems to always stay connected with clients

Using an always-on messaging system to keep in constant contact with customers is a way to increase their trust and respond in real time to their needs.

A practical way to get it is to download the Google My Business app and activate the integrated messaging, which will allow customers to reach the activity: in cases of unavailability to phone calls or in times outside working hours, messaging can help customers get the assistance they need anyway.

  1. Monitoring trends

Closely monitoring Google Trends can help you understand changes in your search interest and behavior related to keywords and topics relevant to your brand and industry. The next step is to analyze the most valuable keywords for your business and observe how the searches are going for those articles, and then again check the site’s performance, so as to understand what are the conversions of users during this period and update the forecasts and relationships in order to take into account the impact of COVID-19.

  1. Ooptimizing for vocal search and mobile devices

“We live in a world where users constantly ask questions and your brand should provide the answer even when consumers ask a digital assistant,” says the author, who recalls how the site should also “be well optimized to provide answers to common questions about products and/or services”.

To optimize content for voice search and suggestions on what to include, you can first observe internal search metrics and analytics to see what common questions people ask about the activity, possibly using third-party tools and the Google People Also Ask (PAA) feature.

And “because most local queries are on mobile devices“, it is important that the site is optimized for mobile devices with high-quality images, content and fast loading times.

  1. Tracking rankings and building local landing pages

“Rankings aren’t everything, but they can help you track the success of your local search campaign at the location and postal code level,” stresses Burton, who recommends “create local landing pages that offer a good user and page experience, including responsiveness, fast loading times, the latest schema code base, call to action and design elements”.

All this can help the brand to position itself in all locations and improve conversions.

  1. Links are always important

The last tip refers to one of the “cornerstones” of the SEO, namely getting high quality links from sites, blogs, local and general publications, because these links “from reliable sources with good content can help users solve problems and create trust and credibility” towards their site.

Links are still a very important factor that can improve the visibility of the site and brand and help to strengthen the presence in local research, a more important element than ever given the competitive SERPs nowadays.

Being visible to win consumers

Consumers are looking for brand-related products and services, so being visible is the only way to intercept their needs and win over new customers.

With the 12 suggestions of Winston Burton you can optimize the work to reach the peak of the SERP and dominate the local results.

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