The rules of SEO (search engine optimization) are constantly changing — and it’s up to digital marketers to monitor changes and determine what these changes mean. SEO helps people find your business — the better your site is optimized, the more website visitors you’ll have, which is generally an important metric for businesses.
However, in this blog, we’re talking not talking about SEO for your website — we’re talking about Local SEO for your physical, brick and mortar business. This is important because some businesses don’t necessarily care if someone can find their website. For example, if your business is a restaurant, you might just want people to be able to search “restaurants near me,” see your listing and location, and click to see directions or call your phone number. Google local results are the most common way for people to find something location-based.
Local pack rankings are part of the Google page that shows a map with location-related search results. They provide critical visibility for any locally based business. If you’ve ever searched for a business before, you’ve probably utilized these local results. Here’s what they look like:
Google used to show seven results in the local pack, but that has been reduced to only three (shown above), making these spots much more competitive.
In this blog, we’ll discuss changes you need to make to stay competitive in the Local SEO field. As you read through these elements of Local SEO, think of the process as building a team — the stronger each player is, the better the team will perform. It’s possible to win with only a couple components (or players), but only if the competition is incredibly weak!
Listings on local business directories, commonly referred to as “citations” in the SEO world, used to have a huge impact on a business’ local pack and map rankings. Examples of local business directories include Yelp, Google, Yellowpages.com, Facebook, etc. Some SEO campaigns focused on creating these citations for years at a time. These days, having consistent and accurate citations on the major data aggregators and listings and reviews sites is simply table stakes. Once you have this foundation in place, move on as soon as possible to other SEO activities, such as content creation and link building.
Links and Domain Authority
Most people involved in SEO know that the regular organic search results are mainly powered by links that give your domain levels of authority. However, in mid-2014, Google released the “Pigeon” algorithm update, which introduced these more traditional link signals to the algorithm that powered the local pack and maps results. Since that time, this signal has increased in prominence to the point where these days, outside of extremely low competition markets, link acquisition to increase domain authority is absolutely necessary to see success in Local SEO.
“Proximity to Centroid” used to be the key location signal in the Local SEO algorithm, dictating the chance to rank in the local pack and maps results based on a business’ proximity to the center of a city. With the growing usage of mobile devices, GPS, and voice searches, Google has completely revamped the way they use location in the Local SEO algorithm.
Google now ranks businesses in local pack and map results based on how the search was performed. Local search queries (usually performed on a desktop device) were traditionally geo-modified to help Google understand the local intent, like the keyword “personal injury attorney in denver.” These, days more and more local queries (increasingly performed on-the-go on mobile devices with or without voice search) are eschewing the geo-modification for queries like “personal injury attorney” or “personal injury attorney near me” because they know Google understands their precise location.
Because of mobile searches, Google clusters the results in two different ways:
- Geo-modified searches typically cluster the search results evenly around the city
- Non-geo-modified searches typically cluster the search results around the location of the searcher. This ranking, based on proximity to the searcher, means that the same exact search from different devices in different parts of the city can provide vastly different results.
Over the past few years, Google has increasingly tuned up the influence of online reviews on local map and maps rankings. While reviews across all third-party review sites still matter, Google now places a heavy emphasis on the quantity of Google reviews a business has. This gives them a signal of a business’ popularity based on real-world interactions. Not only does the quantity of reviews matter, but Google also looks at the content of the reviews themselves to determine relevance and sentiment. So, if a review talks about a law firm’s counsel on a hit-and-run case, Google is going to pick up some relevance for hit-and-run type searches.
While these changes to the algorithm make being successful in Local SEO much more challenging, it also presents an opportunity to take action on these new signals, work them into your process and be the first mover in your market. Take this long-term “future-proofing” approach to Local SEO, and you’ll be on your way to good visibility for your business in the searches that matter most.
Whether you’ve been managing your company’s Local SEO efforts directly or working with an agency that does, these changes will help ensure that customers find your business — not the competitors’ around the corner! Want to learn more? Check our our free ebook 16 SEO Myths You Should Stop Believing.