If you are from an older generation, you most likely “let your fingers do the walking” through the printed Yellow Pages when you needed to find local businesses, products and services. Although the Yellow Pages and other “off-line” consumer resources still exist, the vast majority of us now use our fingers on our computers—primarily smartphones—to search for nearby restaurants, hotels, car rentals, shopping…just about anything.
As off-line searches for products and services declines, the number of local searches online has grown rapidly. It is estimated that more than half of all “on the go” searches (mobile and tablet) have local intent, so it’s becoming increasingly important that businesses understand what local search marketing is, how it works, and its importance in their marketing mix.
Typical Search vs. Local Search
Whereas a typical search may only include the “what” (keywords, topics, products, etc.), local search includes the “where” (geographic area or specific location). Searching online for some thing in some place is known as searching with local intent.
Local search uses specialized Internet search engines that allow users to submit geographic searches against a database of local business listings. Local search sites are primarily supported by advertising from businesses that want to be featured when users search for specific products and services in specific locations. Of course, this type of advertising can be highly effective because ads target the search terms and location provided by the user.
Tapping Into the Local Search Ecosystem
With the meteoric rise of smartphone usage and improved connectivity, local search optimization has grown significantly over the last few years. Although local SEO has a lot of similarities with organic SEO, it’s very different.
In addition to maintaining their own business databases, major search engines like Google and Bing pull business information from data aggregators. These aggregators build their business databases by scanning and transcribing phone records, utility records, business registration websites and printed yellow pages-type directories. This data contributes to what is called the “local search ecosystem.”
Using the local search ecosystem, local SEO is focused on providing the most relevant search results based on current location. Google, as an example, interprets the local intent and delivers local search results. If Google is fairly certain the searcher is looking for a local business but isn’t positive which business is most relevant, it will display a few local results at the top of the listings with phone numbers and links to more information at Google Maps. If Google is confident the searcher is looking for a business in a specific location, it will display a 10-pack of local results with phone numbers and direct links to websites. This usually appears at the top of the organic results but may sometimes be seen further down on the page.
Obviously, local search marketing is critical for retail stores, restaurants, doctors, hotels, etc., but local search can have a positive impact on B2B companies as well. Even if a business is not locally “focused,” local search marketing is still an important customer touchpoint since customers, vendors, partners, potential employees and other stakeholders will often be looking to get directions to your office, as well as other important information. A bad experience could be bad for your brand.
Boosting Your Business Through Local Search Optimization
Current data strongly suggest that businesses that invest in local search optimization now will enjoy a distinct competitive advantage in the future:
The importance of high local search rankings is clear: local searches lead to in-store visits and sales.
So how do you get started? Local search optimization has lots of moving parts, but the important thing to know is that there are basic steps to take to show up within the local search results. Just building a website—even a great website—won’t cut it.
Begin by using Google My Business to claim your company’s map listings. Then do the same thing on the other big directories and map sites, including Bing, MapQuest, Yellow Pages, Yelp, Yahoo Business and Facebook. Make sure that your business name, address and phone number (commonly referred to as NAP) is correct and consistent everywhere.
Next, focus on localized content. Let your audience know how your products and services connect with the community and that your business is addressing customers’ wants and needs. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through regular blogging, as well as posting photos/video of local interest and keeping it fresh.
An integral component of localized content is customer reviews. In a recent survey, a whopping 90% of consumers say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. So make sure your business has a strategy for acquiring reviews, as well as managing your online brand reputation.
Lastly, link building is critical to both local search optimization and good community connectivity. The key is to link to sites you want your business to be associated with. Some good examples include local: media, schools and nonprofits, partners and suppliers, awards and contests, even the Better Business Bureau. Building quality links for local SEO takes time, so make sure your links makes sense.
Businesses that execute a winning local content strategy have the best chance of prospering in their communities—establishing trust, building loyalty and ultimately increasing the value of their brands.
For a compelling graphical look at the latest stats and trends touting the importance of local SEO, check out Local SEO Statistics You Must Know from HubSpot.