| Aug 22 2019
Marketing is full of acronyms that can be confusing. But if you’re lookin...
| Jun 01 2019
Search Engine Optimisation | 13 Minute Read
You’re a business owner, so it’s fair to say you’re busy. But whether you’re off to your next job or off to the pub, we don’t want you to go without taking this core message with you.
Local customers are the lifeblood of your business. And to get them you need to be visible on local Google searches.
You’re probably thinking…
“I’ve already got local customers, why do I need more?”
“What’s the difference between a regular Google search and a local search?”
“Why can’t I go straight to the pub now?”
And those are all valid questions we’re going to answer for you.
Over three dozen SEO experts came together recently for a survey to identify the most important ranking factors that determine who appears when people search for local businesses online.
Forget SEO being about big money and big businesses. Local SEO is the marketing strategy that puts you on Google when people in your area are looking to make a purchase, and it’s so simple you can’t afford NOT to do it.
We know this is a pretty long blog post. But when it comes to future-proofing small businesses, we’re nothing if not passionate.
But like we said, we know you’re busy, so we made a short version to make things easy.
“In 2018, there is no one single way to boost your chances of appearing in local searches. Which makes sense, as Google doesn’t want anyone to game the system. With so many ranking factors determining local search result rankings, an integrated approach is needed. We don’t want to oversimplify the results, but links, reviews and on-page optimisation are all key. On top of that, geographical location is at the centre of a local search. After all, you don’t want to search for ‘pubs near me’ and be directed to Brisbane. That’s too far away to go for a beer and they’ll probably serve you XXXX anyway. In terms of declining ranking factors, citations have become less important leading into this year. Their decline has seen an increase in the importance of links though, with a focus on quality backlinks over a quantity of citations.
The survey identified the 8 most important ranking factors believed to be required to appear in local searches. This can be further broken down into two types of local searches. The first is appearing as a local organic listing on the first page of Google. The second is appearing as a local pack listing, found on Google maps and above the organic listings. While these 8 ranking factors are shared by both types of local search results, it is interesting to note the order of these factors changes depending which local listing – organic or local pack, a business wants to target, showing the complexity of local SEO.
The most important takeaway of this survey is that engagement based and geographically based factors are becoming central to a business who wants to appear when someone searches for local products and services. Despite this, traditional SEO techniques are still able to make a difference.
What does this mean for a local business? There are foundational building blocks that go towards local rankings, across organic local listings and pack listings, and there are those additional tactics provided by professional digital marketing agencies that can move the needle and put a local business on the first page of Google twice – once as a pack listing and once as an organic listing.
As a local business, the basic requirement is to be based in the city you’re trying to rank in. It’s also very helpful to be physically close to the searcher. In fact this is the #1 ranking factor for local pack results. In contrast, local SEO results – those listed in the traditional sense below the local pack, have more traditional ranking signals (reviews, citations, links and content) that outweigh proximity. If you want to improve your chances of ranking in both local listings you need to focus on having the proper categories assigned to your Google My Business profile, with citations added to the most important directories and websites. To really move forward, links, reviews and optimisation are the cherry on top.
While the survey includes a number of additional ways to help your business rank locally, these are the bare minimum. If you do want a little help with the subtle touches that can send you to the top of both local search results, you know where to find us.”
When it comes to appearing on local searches, the recent Moz survey provides so much more information to unpack. If you really want to dive head-first into the ranking factors behind local search and local pack listings then grab a cuppa, pick a comfy chair, and let’s get straight into it.
For a small business, appearing in local searches and on Google Maps is synonymous with success.
These are highly visible positions that lead to an increase in website traffic and the best chance of a targeted stream of people who are more likely to be converted into customers.
In the digital age, they represent the best chance of securing your future as a small business, outside of winning the lottery or realising you’ve built your business on an untapped oil reservoir.
For many small business owners, the reply to the perceived importance placed on local rankings is “Why do I need to appear online? I’ve managed to survive this far without it”.
And that’s a fair argument. There’s certainly a case for businesses being able to survive on word of mouth and local goodwill as opposed to local search engine rankings. But the window of success for those old school businesses is closing. And fast.
Those businesses are polar bears; strong, fierce and proud. But as the ice underfoot melts there’s a time to stand in the face of change and a time to accept a new way of life. Accepting the importance of local search rankings is making the most of your new environment. Staying put and hoping your traditional marketing strategies turn things around, well that’s like watching the ice break around you and drifting out to sea.
With more and more people using their mobile phones to search so they can solve problems and make purchasing decisions in real time, now is the time to transfer your visibility from your physical store to the digital shop window that is Google.
That’s not to say you should shift your focus away from your bricks and mortar store and put all your eggs in the online basket. In contrast, an integrated strategy that uses the power of search engines to drive foot traffic to your bricks and mortar store can ensure your business thrives.
Because the future is mobile and it’s vital for a small business to take advantage of this monumental cultural shift.
And that’s still an understatement.
The movement towards mobile based living has occured on a tectonic scale.
It’s been several years since Google announced that mobile searches had exceeded desktop searches on a global scale. So the movement towards mobile search has been gathering steam for some time now.
According to recent research by Google, 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone followed that search with a visit to a store in the next 24 hours. While 34% of people who searched locally on a tablet did the same.
When these two startling pieces of information are combined they show that:
a). People are using their mobiles in ever-growing figures to search for products and services
b). They follow up these searches with visits to physical locations
This means that ranking in local searches has a direct impact on the in-store traffic of a business and in turn, their success.
If you’re already using some general SEO tactics to optimise your current website, it’s easy to think you’re doing your bit and that local results will follow. But, like the man who puts diesel in his petrol engine, it just doesn’t work like that.
There’s a distinct difference between Local SEO and Organic SEO. Knowing the difference can ensure your business is best placed to capture the attention of customers no matter where they are.
The best things in life are organic. Like beef, fruit and veggies, coffee beans, and Search Engine Optimisation.
Organic SEO is the marketing strategy of optimising your website to make it search engine friendly. This is done in part by using relevant keywords to connect your supply with the demand of search engine users. And while it’s very polite to use umbrella terms like ‘search engines’, the 90.61% market share held by Google means the most effective and most important search engine strategies we’ll be talking about refer to Google. Having said that, if people are using Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine, we love your ability to fly in the face of an overwhelming majority, never change, you’re the real MVP.
While Organic SEO may include a local element and be connected to a physical address, this is not always necessary. Organic SEO typically revolves around a website. As such, the business can exist purely as an online entity without a geographical location. Think bloggers, internet marketers, or online businesses.
While online businesses rely on Organic SEO for visibility and website traffic, brick and mortar businesses also utilise Organic SEO as a way to improve their rankings on search engines for increased visibility and in turn, increased traffic to both their website and their physical store.
An example of an Organic SEO search would be ‘European Travel Insurance’. Any websites that rank on the first page of Google would have successfully worked on their Organic SEO strategies, targeting keywords associated with ‘European + Travel + Insurance’ and are deemed by Google to be trusted sites providing valuable content, information or services.
It’s unlikely you’ll find websites on this first page who don’t offer authentic European travel insurance or who have false, misleading or incorrect information. That’s the result of Organic SEO.
As a result, it’s fair to summarise by saying that Google’s Organic SEO ranks and prioritises trusted and relevant content over all else.
Organic SEO is great if you’re looking for the most trusted and highly rated source of information or services, especially if they’re available online. But what if you’re not looking to cast such a wide net? What if you’re just looking for the best burgers in Sydney?
That’s where Local SEO comes into play.
Local SEO shows the most relevant results to the search engine user, based on their location. If I’ve flipped open my phone to open up Google (just kidding, no one has a flip phone) and punched in “best burgers Sydney” then those businesses who have implemented the most effective Local SEO strategies will appear. In simple terms, Google will show me local listings based on my desire to find local products.
It’s not valuable to my state of hunger to show me the best burgers in Australia, or a recipe for the best burgers. I don’t have time to source the ingredients, and I’m not looking to jump into the kitchen myself, in fact I’m feeling weak and faint already! My intent is to find the best burgers in Sydney to satisfy my hunger. And that’s exactly what Google will show me if my search has a local intent.
What’s interesting for searches with local intent though is that the local listings can be displayed in two different formats.
Firstly, local pack listings.
And secondly, local organic listings.
Keep a close eye on how different the results will be across local pack listings and organic local listings.
Here’s my choice of burgers from the local pack results.
And here’s what’s on offer through the Local SEO results.
These results clearly show the difference between local pack listings and local organic listings. The local pack provides the immediate geographic solutions to my pain point, or in this case, hunger point, while the organic results include a more generic set of answers to my search for ‘best burgers Sydney’.
Other examples of searches that would display local pack and Local SEO results might be “divorce lawyer Sydney”, “shovel sales Cronulla”, and “thorough house cleaners Parramatta” in which case you’d find the nearest locations to provide the products and services you desire, though we’re a little worried when we connect the dots on your purchases.
These local pack results are typically displayed with customer ratings, reviews and all relevant business information including business hours, directions, physical address and contact numbers to make it easy for people to find the products and services they desire in the shortest period of time.
With Local SEO aiming to solve a geographically based query, it’s fair to summarise Local SEO as ranking and prioritising websites which represent local businesses with trusted and relevant locations.
Optimising your website – and that’s both the on-page and off-page aspects that go into an SEO friendly site, is what makes you stand out from your competition. However, Organic SEO has less to do with the location of search engine users and much more to do with whether a website is relevant for the keywords used by search engine users. The goal of Organic SEO is to have a website display for searches that aren’t primarily geographically based.
In contrast, Local SEO has an acute geographical component. If a search engine user combines a product/service/industry with a location, it can safely assume the search has a local intent.
Consider the following two scenarios and decide which person is more likely to have a local intent.
Person One: “It’s been a long day, but my job as a rodeo clown is over and I can finally head home. I need a break from this job. Maybe a holiday. I think I’ll search Google for ‘Best Travel Deals”.
Person Two: “It’s been a long day, but my job as a snake wrangler is over and I can finally head home. I’m starving though. Might grab a bite to eat. I think I’ll search Google for ‘Best Italian Food”.
No matter where Person One is performing their search, whether on desktop or mobile, at home or on the go, they’re looking for an answer to their pain point that can be provided from a variety of places and through a number of websites.
But Person Two needs a more focused solution. With a search of ‘Best Italian Food’, Google can safely assume they’re after a beautiful fettuccine carbonara (or something similar), so the results displayed will be businesses located close to them.
Google is able to differentiate between a web-based search (‘Best Travel Deals’) and a location-related search (‘Best Italian Food’) using two different algorithms.
As a local business there’s always going to be competition to rank for web page related searches. With so many other businesses competing for the same types of keywords you are, it can be a challenge to stand out from the crowd. If you want to offer the best travel deals for example, you’ll be taking on every single online flight and holiday provider just to get your website ranked. And when you see what the top results include for a keyword like that, it’s clear that organic SEO can’t be your only attempt to increase visibility and attract customers.
Take the first page results for ‘Best Travel Deals’ for example.
This is some serious competition for any business to face.
But when a search is backed with a local intent it provides a much less competitive space in which to place your business. If you’re an Italian restaurant who’s worked on your Local SEO to appear for local searches, you’re only competing with the Italian restaurants in your area, and that gives you a much better chance of ranking and attracting new customers.
With the ability of Google to infer search engine user intent, you’re not even required to add a location to your searches. Google is able to reason your desire based on the phrasing of your search and the keywords used.
As a local business, Google is an important source of customers. So it’s crucial to put your best foot forward to attract local customers using local algorithms, not just look to rank for broad organic keywords.
Ranking locally should be a focus of any small business. You want your website to be shown to those people who are searching for products and services in your local area.
After all, these types of local customers are the most valuable as their searches are backed with intent, and so they are more likely to commit to a purchase.
Remember, 50% of people who do a local search follow that search up with a visit to a physical store within the next 24 hours!
But as we’ve touched on already, here’s the catch.
There are TWO ways to show up on Google’s search results page as a local listing.
Organic local listings – These will include links to your website, a meta description, and a relevant page title – the classic Google scenario you’re used to. As you would expect, optimising your online presence to appear in local search has a lot to do with location based factors. Some of the most obvious changes required include a consistency of your business name, address and phone number, this is known as your NAP, across all local directories as well as your website.
Local Pack listings – These display businesses on a map along with ratings, hours of business and any relevant contact information. The local pack and Google Map is found directly below the paid ads and above the main organic Google search results. This location provides top exposure on desktop and mobile searches, and when paired with a Local SEO listing can make for the ultimate one-two punch.
It’s worth pointing out that these results can be the same. While for other searches they may be entirely different.
As touched on earlier, local pack listings are heavily geographically weighted, with the recent Moz survey showing the #1 ranking factor to appear in a local pack listing is the proximity of your business address to the person searching, which makes total sense. Organic local results, however, follow a more traditional form of SEO ranking signals which we’ll get into below.
The differences between local pack and local listings are clearly shown in the example above. The three plumbing options recommended to me are within walking distance and come with close to perfect ratings. In contrast, the local organic listings come from businesses with more traditional SEO efforts, with the second place taken by a large directory (the Yellow Pages). What’s interesting here is that one business has been able to rank for both local pack results and local SEO, and that’s the goal for your business.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, as a small business, getting listed locally is key. And with two ways to achieve this there’s twice the opportunity for a savvy business owner.
But with so few spots available in the local pack it is a challenge for businesses who want local visibility.
The most effective way to appear in a local pack listing is to have a solid Local SEO strategy.
While the ranking factors behind each listing vary in their order of significance, they share the same core requirements, and so undertaking a comprehensive and effective Local SEO strategy lays the groundwork for a successful shot at local pack listings.
The only hard part is determining what factors go into Google’s local ranking algorithm.
Only, that’s not so hard anymore.
The recent survey conducted by Moz asked 40 industry leading SEO experts what they felt were the most important Local SEO factors and the most important local pack factors. While the results may be confusing to the untrained eye, we’re here to break it all down for you and tell you exactly what your business needs to do if you want to be listed locally – both as an organic local listing and as a local pack listing.
None of the unnecessary jargon here, just practical tips to help your business reach the top.
If you want to appear on local searches and take advantage of local customers looking for your products and services, here’s what you need to know.
The world of digital advertising is full of acronyms and unnecessarily long words. Which is great if you want to show off to your friends and family (speaking from experience, they rarely care) but not so great if you just want the simplest way to explain what local listings are, why they’re important and the best way to appear on them.
The local pack is a section of Google’s search results page that shows local businesses relating to a search. If a search has a local intent, then Google will choose three businesses who it deems most likely to provide the answers to your search. Also known as an ABC pack, 3-pack and snack pack depending on the types of industries being searched.
These were once known as the 7-pack as they showed the 7 most popular and relevant businesses. But with the reduction to show only three businesses, a decision made to reflect the growing number of mobile phone searches, the 7-pack became the 3-pack, and the 3-pack is most commonly known as the local pack.
The local finder page is the full list of businesses that appear when the “More Places” link at the bottom of the local pack is clicked. If you’re in the juicy real estate of the local pack, the local finder are your competition, trying to steal your top-3 position. In the same way, if your business is in the local finder page, it places you perfectly to take a run at the top. Clicking any local pack listing will also reveal the full list of businesses in the local finder, so not appearing on a local pack doesn’t make you totally invisible. When customers click on a rival business, you’ll still have your chance to stand out.
A Google My Business listing is your primary listing that appears when customers are searching for your business name or service on Google. It is not a website, though adding a website to your digital presence is a great way to improve your Local SEO efforts. Instead, think of a GMB listing as the central hub where your customers can find all your important information. A GMB listing is essential for Local SEO, without it, your customers simply won’t be able to find you.
Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that goes towards a websites ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs). These scores range from 0 to 100 with a higher score representing a greater ability to rank.
NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone Number. This business information is found on your GMB listing, on your website and on your business citations around the internet. It is also used by Google when determining location based search results.
CTR stands for click through rate. This is the percentage of people who click through to your website after seeing your listing on Google.
We can’t take all the credit for the valuable information you’re about to receive. This study, undertaken semi-annually by our mates over at Moz, are the combined insights from 40 SEO experts who have compiled the most important ranking factors for a business who wants to appear in local searches.
Keep in mind, this includes what it takes to appear on the local pack as well as appear in organic local listings, so we’ll break down the differences when required so you know what works best to help you rank across both.
Participants of the survey were asked to rate the local signals they felt were most important, from the physical location of a business to the way users interacted with a website, with over 100 potential ranking factors to choose from in between.
Here’s what they found to be the most important local ranking factors going into 2018.
For their take on the survey, you can check out the full results here.
For a business who wants to gain the advantage in local search, the survey is a must-read, no matter what industry you’re in.
But we’re not asking you to go and read it yourself. A mechanic wouldn’t encourage a customer to attempt to fix his own brake pedals, just like a dentist wouldn’t recommend a patient attempt his own root canal. In both cases you’ll probably end up screaming. So we’ve reverse engineered the answers to the survey for you to show you the most important ranking factors that will impact you as a small business.
We’re here to save you time and make you money. Best of all, we’ll deliver you simple tips and tricks in even simpler language. You won’t get bogged down in jargon, only value.
So, if you want to capture local business and appear in local searches, here’s what you’ll need to work on.
Let’s get our jargon broom out right now and sweep some needlessly technical language off the table. ‘My Business Signals’ refers to a Google My Business Listing. The ‘signals’ the study refers to are the core components of your GMB listing that go into Google determining whether you should rank for local searches.
The number one local pack ranking factor is proximity of business address to the point of search. Which makes sense, Google doesn’t want to display businesses who are outside a realistic radius for the searcher. This is obviously out of your control in regards to search engine users, but luckily there are several My Business Signals you can tweak to tell Google who you are and what you do. So while it will be difficult to appear in local packs when searches aren’t nearby, these tweaks can help you to rank when they are close to you. Even better, they can help you appear as a local organic listing, increasing your visibility even if the searcher is far away.
Include keywords: Just like traditional SEO, Google relies on a range of signals from your GMB that determine your local ranking. By adding keywords to your business listing you’ll be better placed to rank for the same keywords when people search for them.
Keep your business hours accurate: It seems like a minor tip, but keeping your business hours accurate and up-to-date on your GMB is a great way to boost your Local SEO efforts. If your hours will fluctuate due to holidays or calendar changes, remember to let your GMB listing know!
Add photos: This is another obvious but vital Local SEO tip. Photos give your business a face and a personality and encourage people to visit your website. In fact, businesses with photos receive 42% more requests for Google map directions and 35% more click-throughs to their website than those without.
Manage and respond to customer reviews: Positive reviews have a positive impact on your local SEO efforts. Firstly, by helping new customers choose you over your competition and secondly, by going towards increasing your visibility in local search results.
Select the correct category: Categories are used to describe your business and provide a way for customers to find you using Google. For example, if you are a Pizza Restaurant than Google has the option to display your business when people search for ‘restaurants’, ‘italian restaurants’, ‘pizza’ or ‘linguini with clam sauce’, depending on how thorough they are.
Ensure your listing is fully completed: Local searches have been shown to favour the most relevant results, and if your GMB is completed you’ll be providing the greatest amount of information possible to help Google with it’s final decision.
The most important takeaway from this survey data is that having a Google My Business listing is crucial as it contributes to the most important local pack ranking factor. And while My Business Signals are viewed as the sixth most important ranking factor for organic local listings, the underlying message is the same – if your business doesn’t have a GMB listing, you’ll be running uphill, swimming upstream, whatever expression you prefer for the futility that will surround an attempt to attract customers and attention. No matter what industry you’re in, setting up your GMB is step number one.
If you don’t yet have a GMB, now is the perfect time to get it done.
With Google My Business the ground zero for how your business information is shown on Google, it is the most valuable tool and the prerequisite to appear on both local listings and local pack results.
We’re hammering home the point here, but with Google My Business Signals coming up at #1 in Moz’s local SEO ranking factors study, it couldn’t really be much clearer. If you don’t already have a GMB listing, you have to get the ball rolling and get one.
To make things as simple as possible, and because it’s better to give than to receive, we’ve made this helpful ‘DIY Your GMB guide’ so you can get your business on Google today.
That’s step one. Done.
After establishing your GMB listing, the second most important area of focus is link building, though this is seen as the most important strategy if you want to appear as an organic local listing. This includes both backlinks and the internal linking of your website. Google sees links as a measure of your relevance and authority, similar to a popularity contest and each link is a ‘vote’ for you. It’s always worth remembering though, each ‘vote’ is not worth the same and it’s always better to have a small number of links from highly reputable websites with a high domain authority than it is to have a large number of links from spammy or low-quality websites.
This latest Moz survey only reinforces what countless previous studies have shown, that there is a significant correlation between higher rankings on Google and the number of links a page has.
As we said above though, while links do carry importance, not all links are created equal!
A website that has a huge number of spammy links redirecting back to it will not benefit the same way a website would that has a smaller number of links from trusted and popular websites. What’s more, spamming your website with low quality links is more likely to see you handed a penalty from Google, with Google’s Penguin update swinging the sword at websites who still look to game the system with irrelevant and illegitimate links.
With links from reputable websites worth the most, here are a few ways to improve your backlinking to aid your local SEO efforts.
While Google takes into account hundreds of varying factors to determine local search result rankings, one of the most important comes in the form of on-page signals. On-page signals are exactly as they sound, they are the various on-page changes you can make yourself. These are all aspects of your website that you have control over, and should command a considerable amount of attention as a result.
This would be the same if you were entering a watermelon growing contest. Your neighbour might have the best carrots, tomatoes and potatoes, he could even be working on his watermelons too. But if you have control of your backyard and the watermelons in it, then it’s in your best interest to focus all your efforts there and not get distracted by what you can’t control.
To sum up. Your website is a watermelon.
Consider optimising the following aspects of your website to give your business the best chance of appearing in local searches. These changes can make a huge difference towards organic local rankings, so give them the attention they deserve (i.e. water your watermelons).
Page titles: Page titles are the very first thing people will see when your website shows in the search results. Optimising your page title by including a title that is unique and compelling, while still including your chosen keywords. You’ll also want to include the name of the city your business is based in.
Meta descriptions: These are the short snippets of information displayed directly below your page title in the search results. As with page titles, your meta description should include your target keywords, the closer to the start of the meta description the better. This space includes up to 300 characters (an increase on the previous limit of 160) which gives you enough space to share with readers why they should invest their time in your website. Adding a snappy, catchy call to action in the meta description can encourage more visitors to click through too.
Who wouldn’t want to read about a page with a meta description like that?!
NAP: NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone Number. Google actively searches for this information in both Search and Map results, so your NAP should be consistent everywhere it’s found online.
Content: It’s no coincidence that the sites that rank on the first page of Google are highly relevant, as shown by accurate, up-to-date and highly useful content. Optimising content includes adding target keywords to improve the relevance of your website and increase your chances of appearing in a local search pack. Mention your location within your site content too to help your Local SEO efforts.
H1 Titles: Placing keywords inside your H1 tags is a classic SEO technique. Take this a step further by adding your location to the H1 tags across the pages of your website.
URL: Add your location to your readable URL along with your keywords to help Google’s crawlers understand what you do and where you are. As with all these tips, Google sees and hears everything. Jamming your location throughout your titles and tags in an unnatural way risks their wrath.
Image ALT attributes: Adding keywords and locations to your image ALT attributes is another creative way to tell Google about your business and provide more reasons for them to display you when people search for those same keywords or locations. Taking local photos is an easy and natural way to use locations and keywords in image attributes.
Local citations are any mentions of your business name on the internet. A common example would be a business directory page, like Yelp, that includes your business information including your name, address and contact phone numbers.
These citations are a key component that goes into local pack rankings and organic local rankings. While Google becomes increasingly sure of the authenticity of your business the more it sees you mentioned around the web, you’re also increasing your visibility and giving a wider audience the chance to come across your business. Both of which are excellent for your SEO purposes.
Put simply, a website with more citations ranks higher than a website without.
When adding citations to various websites, the most important thing is that you match the NAP of your website with that of your GMB listing. What format you decide to use is up to you, but once you choose you have to stick to that format across all citation locations. Are you going to abbreviate the way your business name is written? Will you include a building number or floor number? Will your phone number included spaces or no spaces? All of these questions need answering, and once they have been, they must stay consistent.
Outside of links and reviews, citations are a primary factor that influence organic local rankings. To Google, it seems natural to assume that businesses who are mentioned online in a number of places are deserving of high rankings. After all, if everyone is talking about you, then search engine users would probably like the chance to talk about you too.
As is the case with links, citations on reputable websites, or those whose content/location matches your industry, are worth more than a number of citations on websites that lack relevance.
Citations are also used to verify the accuracy of your contact details. While contact details that don’t match across your network of citations send a negative message to Google, if your NAP matches across 100+ websites then it’s likely to be correct information. And with that correct information Google can be confident in showing your GMB listing on local pack results and your website in local organic results too.
Building up a collection of positive reviews is a great way to tell Google your business is worth showing, and that helps your chances of appearing in the local pack. While it’s not as important a factor for appearing in organic local listings, building reviews should still be a central part of your business strategy, simply because word of mouth is a huge influence behind purchasing decisions.
Think about your most recent purchase. Did you read online reviews to help shape your final decision? Recent figures suggest a massive 91% of online consumers read reviews for local businesses. While the same survey showed that 74% of consumers were more likely to trust a business who had positive reviews.
These figures reflect the dual power of reviews on your GMB. They help get you listed on local packs, and once listed, they help drive customers to your store. When those customers leave further reviews, the cycle is strengthened and starts over.
That must be close to the digital circle of life
Imagine you were looking for a plumber in Sydney.
You’d been binge-watching home renovation shows all weekend and suddenly it didn’t look so hard to install that crisp new toilet you’ve been wanting to put in. Now, with your porcelain throne in pieces, there’s a powerful stream of water coming out of the ground with a disturbing dark colour that you pray is dirt and not something else.
To jump on Google and search for ‘Plumber Sydney’ would return the following results.
Based on the above, the first result might initially catch your eye, after all it’s at the top and that’s the best place to be right?
Not exactly. The second result has 70 reviews and still maintains a perfect 5 star rating, while the top result has only 4 reviews and no image attached.
With the local pack displaying the 24 hour services and impeccable reviews of the second business, you’ll be on the phone in no time and have your bathroom cleaned up quicker than you can say “DIY-disaster”.
Where reviews are concerned, Google also takes into consideration other review signals including the quantity and velocity of any reviews you receive. So it’s no use to encourage your customers to spam your GMB listing with reviews as this will only alert Google to the fact you’re attempting to game the system.
Naturally accrued reviews reflect well on your business and will put you in good stead to appear on local packs, and stay there too.
When it comes to leaving customer reviews, Google is on record as saying:
“Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.”
A Harvard Business School study confirms Google’s words by showing that restaurants who were able to boost their reviews on Yelp by just one star saw an increase in revenue of 5-9%!
All of this makes online reputation management important, for both local pack rankings, organic local rankings, and as a business decision, and should be a central part of any small business marketing approach.
Remember, if you’re good at something you’ll tell people. But if you’re great at something those people will tell you! Use that to your advantage and have your satisfied customers sing your praises to improve your reviews.
Behavioural signals measure how people engage with your website and are rated as having roughly the same importance towards local pack listings and organic listings.
The two most prominent behavioural signals include your click-through-rate (CTR) and dwell time (how long people spend on your website). Other behavioural signals that Google takes into account when determining your local rankings are the number of times people have used your contact information to call you directly from their mobile search, the percentage of people who return to your website, and whether people continue to search after they visit your website or whether they return to Google and click on other results without entering in new search terms.
As a local business, you can work on improving the CTR of your website by updating your title tags and meta descriptions (see ranking factor number one). These small pieces of information are extremely powerful and are your fleeting chance to capture the attention of search engine users and compel them to visit your site, which will help your local listing results. And while you don’t have the same creative freedom on your GMB listing, an outstanding review profile (see ranking factor number five) – with a high star rating and a large number of reviews, will help you stand out from the competition and improve your CTR.
Installing Google Analytics on your website is a great way to stay on top of your user’s engagement. While the learning curve for Google Analytics can be steep at times, (though we’re experts in that area if you need a little help) you’re able to track how long your website visitors spend on each page before they leave. This is known as the Bounce Rate. If a certain page has a noticeably high bounce rate you should focus your attention on it. Try adding links to other useful pages you think people might be interested in, tweak your content to make it more engaging, or add prominent call-to-actions to keep people from bouncing.
By watching how users interact with your website, Google is able to gauge how well you fulfilled the pain point of each search engine user. If you provide relevant solutions, you’ll improve your local rankings. Make your website user friendly and you’ll be doing your bit to boost your behavioural signals.
Personalisation is an aspect of local pack SEO that would never have existed several years ago, which shows both the speed of technology and the ability of SEO to evolve with the times.
With the introduction of Google+, a social networking attempt that is probably best left undiscussed, Google has seen an integration of accounts across a range of services. If you’ve got a Gmail account you’ll notice you’re still logged in when you browse YouTube. The same goes for your Google search and Google Maps experiences. This perpetual state of being ‘logged in’ has given rise to the local pack ranking factor known as ‘personalisation’.
Personalisation is the process of tracking your search usage across desktop, mobile and tablet, and from Gmail to YouTube to Search and back again. The way each of us uses these products will determine what we see across our local search results.
For example, websites that you’ve previously visited and engaged with are more likely to rank highly for similar searches. If you’ve bought something online from ‘John’s Corner Cafe and Picklery’ in the past, you’re more likely to see the same business appear when you search for ‘pickle purchase’ in the future.
The same goes for businesses who have sent digital receipts to your Gmail account. These businesses are more likely to rank for keywords in the same category as your initial purchase.
Which means Big Brother isn’t just watching us, he’s also giving us recommendations on where to go, what to eat and how to spend our free time!
I know what you’re thinking, “how can I possibly optimise my website or GMB listing to reflect user intent?!’ and it’s a fair question.
Each search engine user and the keywords they search will splinter your demographic more and more, with each search result becoming highly personalised and each individual seeing a slightly different result. The key then is to solidify a relationship with your customer early, rather than hope your Local SEO efforts can capture them later in their purchasing cycle.
For a business, this means it is more important than ever to connect with your customers the very first time they interact with you and give them a reason to return to your website. When they engage with your newsletters, share your content, or receive your correspondence, Google is monitoring their visits and shares. This information will go towards shaping their future search results, giving you more chances to convert them into customers as they see your listing when looking for products and services in the future.
Unlike the rest of the local search ranking factors, there are no cut and dry methods to make your business more successful where personalisation is concerned.
However, the importance on first impressions and creating brand loyalty go towards moving the needle for you when talking about personalisation. If a search engine user clicks on your website, do everything in your power to convince them to a). Hang around at length and b). Come back again in the future. You could offer free value in the form of resources, create a dazzling website that demands to be explored, or hypnotise them with a spinning home screen, whatever works for you. Over time, if you’ve made a connection, you’re more likely to appear in their local searches. Even better, if you’ve developed their brand loyalty, they’re still likely to choose you even if your website is displayed below other listings.
Social signals refer to a businesses total shares, likes, followers, mentions and overall social media visibility as viewed by Google. It remains a great source of debate whether these impact SEO, though with evidence showing they do play a role, though not in the direct way as you might think, they’re still worth a piece of your time and effort.
With so many businesses realising how valuable a comprehensive local SEO strategy can be to boost visibility and generate more business, it really is the little things that count.
If you’ve already worked hard on your GMB listing, optimised your website content and worked hard to build a natural and trusted backlink arsenal, what else is there? Social Media!
As we said, Google has long denied that social media metrics have a direct correlation on SEO, whether local or in a more broad sense. And whether that’s true or not is actually irrelevant. Because social metrics do benefit your local SEO. But they do so in a roundabout way.
Consider the following scenario.
You’re a butcher with a thriving customer base who love coming to browse the impressive selection of products you have at your local store ‘Meat You Here’. But your social media presence is lacking. You’d much rather spend time with a ham than on Instagram.
The secret to making the most of social media is to work smarter, not harder. Google does not take into account direct social media metrics including likes, comments or shares. These are too easily manipulated and change with too much speed for Google’s ranking algorithms to keep up with them.
In contrast, Google remains focused on the core ranking factors that it has done for years – link building, website traffic, and authority. All of which can benefit from having social media users do the hard work for you.
All you have to do is produce content that’s useful, desired and highly shareable.
As the local butcher, this could consist of a how-to-guide for cooking steak, a video on the types of beef cuts available, or an experts guide to making sausages at home, whatever creative ideas come to mind.
When this content gets shared across social media, you increase the likelihood of people learning about your business and the likelihood of increased traffic as a result.
The same goes for link building. When your content is shared you’ll also be creating valuable new backlinks. With the addition of links that will direct back to your site in the form of blogs and websites who host and share your content, your Local SEO efforts will be greatly helped.
While the debate over social media and just how much of a role it plays in local SEO is ongoing, the simplest way to explain its role is this.
There is a correlation between social signals and ranking. Not a causation.
So while social media doesn’t directly impact your Local SEO, it still helps play an important role and should be a part of any small business strategy.
With Google still denying that social media and Local SEO are directly related, studies have suggested there are links. Again, while this may be a case of correlation over causation, if you do want to focus your energy on social signals, here are some simple tips.
Post daily: Posting daily will keep your business active in people’s news feeds.
Post images: Images have been proven to increase the engagement rate across all forms of social media.
Listen and respond: If people talk about you, answer them! Whether it’s criticism or praise, be there for them.
Develop partnerships: Share other links and content to build industry related partnerships.
What’s the takeaway from all this so far? There are no clear winners that have emerged as the single factor you should focus on to rank, either as an organic local listing or across local pack listings, but if you focus on these 8 ranking factors, you’ll be best placed to move up the rankings across both local searches.
Having spent too many hours to count pouring through the data, the information from the Moz Local Search Ranking survey can be a little dense. For many business owners, it’s one thing to know what the difference makers are but another thing entirely to implement those difference makers in their day to day Local SEO efforts.
But if you’ve read this far then you deserve a reward (not that beer yet, but it’s getting closer). So here are 3 easy ways you can improve your chances of appearing locally today.
One – Make sure you’re absolutely on top of the assets you own. This refers to your website. If your website is fast, engaging and encouraging search engine users to spend time there, you’ll be laying the groundwork for local success. Write fresh content that solves the unique pain points of your customers, compress your images to help improve the loading speed of your website and make sure your website is intuitive and easy for visitors to use.
Two – Focus on your GMB listing. This includes getting the little details in order – categories, business information, photos. As well as pulling in at least 10 reviews from customers who think you’ve been doing a great job. Word of mouth works in your local area. So put it to use on your GMB to create a thriving profile that’s full of irresistible pictures and shout-outs from those customers who you’ve helped.
Three – Give Google some love too. By writing meta descriptions, title tags and content that has the keywords and locations you wish to target, you’ll be giving Google an indication of the type of business you are and the type of customer you want to attract. Local SEO can seem confronting, but small touches, like adding alt texts to your website images or placing location keywords in your content H1’s can really add up.
And that’s it! If you’re a local business who’s ready to start appearing in local searches, then you’ve got all the tools to make 2018 your year.
If you need some help making the process fast and easy, we can help with that.
Otherwise, go and get that beer.