A Look at Local Search

I’m going to give credit where it’s due. I learn a lot from others and that’s one of the great things about the SEO community – we share. Just as I learn from others, I’m hoping that you learn as you’re reading this. In this case, my inspiration comes from one Mary Bowling of Ignitor Digital. She’s an absolute marvel at local search and has made me think of it differently.

Today, however, we’re not going to get overly technical. We’re going to remind ourselves of some of the advances and principles, and really remind ourselves what local search is about and how we can use that information to our advantage.

Google of Old

Like their organic search, the introduction of local results by Google was a rudimentary system with weak filters. It was easy to game and to be honest, pretty much everyone did: keyword-stuffing properties, P.O. boxes for addresses, etc. Before Google had the mechanism to filter the good from the bad, the world was your oyster.

Several iterations later, the local results are solid and more difficult to fake. Even if you are successful, it generally won’t be for very long. It’s not perfect and if you’re ever looking for Edward’s Snow Den, you know where to look, but it’s a long way from where it was.

So what does matter? How do you rank?

There are three characteristics that stand out as critical:

  1. Proximity. Is the physical business location close to the location defined?
  2. Relevancy. Is the business relevant to the search query or what it is asking?
  3. Prominence. Does this business stand out? Should it appear above others as relevant for the location?

Historically, the location was defined by the query, but since the Pigeon update, the searchers themselves could be treated as the Centroid. That is, the searcher was the location point. This is a major difference, and something we need to think deeply about in our targeting both organically and on PPC.

Not only do you have to consider your location from the context of what a user may enter into the search bar, like “new york pizza,” but you also have to consider a user that may search a generic phrase like “order pizza” from the corner of Norfolk and Staton, in which case you might as well just walk a block to Rizzo’s. These are different things from an SEO standpoint but either way, you need to take it into account, as well as what device a person will likely use to perform the query.

Before getting into direct SEO for local, let’s take a moment to pause and think about what major differences exist by the device type. If a user is on a desktop, what can we assume? We can consider that they’re more likely to want delivery than a mobile user. We can consider that they’re probably in an office or residence at the time of the query. We also know that we can present an array of tools and data to them to order online.

If the user is coming in on their phone, however, we need to consider that while they may be in a house or office, they’re more likely than a desktop visitor to be out and looking for something on the fly. With this, they are more likely to be looking to make an instant decision. They will be less able to use tools like order online easily, though it’s possible with a good app. Of course, now you have to get them to install the app when all they want is pizza so it’s perhaps the wrong time for that pitch: don’t mess with someone when they’re hungry.

The only reason this tangent was worth the journey is that it’s critical in local, or any other online marketing, to consider the device: what it can tell you about your visitor and what information or experience you should be presenting to them.

Alright, back to local.

So, You Want to Rank on Local?

The first place to start is obviously Google My Business. Claiming your business location is critical; Google does a great job of stepping folks through the process so I won’t get into that. But I will say that if you haven’t done that, ignore the rest of this article until that’s done.

Implement Schema on your site. You have the opportunity to use the Local Address Schema on your site to reinforce your location to Google.

Links and social signals are also important and no-followed links seem to help with location-specific aspects of weighting. External signal driving in your regio,n or on subjects about your region, are crucial. If you’re hunting for links or folks to share your content with, complementary local businesses and the local paper can be great places to start. Generally speaking, local link building is easier than more generic versions, given the more-personalized experience and that you may actually know the people you want links from.

What About Reviews

Mary, who’s done more testing that I have in this area, has found that reviews don’t actually have a large weighing on search results. This isn’t to say they’re not worth getting – they’re crucial for brand and reputation management, and they do play an SEO role – but they aren’t the catalyst to top rankings that they used to be. It’s definitely in the algorithm, but not as high as some might like, given that sites with low reviews can still outrank sites with dozen of good ones.

That said, I personally expect his to change as Google gets better at filtering out the false reviews and spam.

Keeping It Simple

I kept this article pretty simple, as I’m finding myself often returning to basics and reminding myself about what the core of an SEO area is. I often find myself inundated with so much data that I overcomplicate things that operate under basic principles. Local search is top-of-mind right now to me: I’m working on it daily and I’ve found the approach of focusing on the core is producing far better results than chasing every trick in the book.

And for those of you who like lists, there’s a handy one that I visit often, just to make sure I’m not missing something obvious. Not everything applies to every scenario, but his list sure helps make sure you’re asking yourself the right questions about what should be done.

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