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Local SEO Guide: Boost Your Search in 2021

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO refers to the process of optimising business’ online presence to increase their visibility for location-based searches, and to organically drive online customers into physical stores. Although most businesses can benefit from local SEO, there are a few types of industries that reap the most reward from local SEO, such as general services, cleaners, electricians, florists, plumbers, bars, pubs, hotels, retail and many more. You don’t necessarily have to have a physical location for your business to be eligible for a local listing either - for example, cleaners can set up a Google My Business location where they specify a service area that they can cover without having a physical store.

Why is Local SEO important for business?

46% of all google searches are looking for local information Ensuring that your local listings are all up to date and follow best practices will help your listings rank in Google and other search engines, enabling potential customers to locate and navigate towards your stores.

Local SEO in 2021: How to optimise in a global pandemic?

The global pandemic and COVID-19 has affected local businesses like never before. New consumer behaviours are emerging, laws and regulations are changing, and businesses need to adapt fast. Updating business hours, temporary closing locations during lockdown, introducing “takeaway” options, linking to virtual appointments, and many more could be introduced as part of the Google My Business listing. Good Local SEO helps customers to receive consistent and accurate information, reduces customer frustration and provides another purchase option by directing users to other digital channels (e.g. website, social media, online booking). For more information check our guide - how to retain local customers during COVID by leveraging Google My Business

The types of local results

There are three main types of results on Google Search for local searches, depending on the user intent.

  • Local Pack Discovery Search – the type of result triggered by unbranded searches, displaying the closest locations e.g. “veterinarian near me” will return a search with all veterinarians in close proximity based on one’s current location. The searches are highly tailored based on user’s location so different users may see various brands in the Discovery map pack.

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  • Local Pack Branded Search – the type of result that is triggered by a branded search, displaying all branches or locations of the same brand in close proximity of searcher’s location.

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  • Store listing Direct Search – the type of result triggered when searchers are looking for a specific store on Google Search.

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Organic search results vs. The local map pack

Map pack local results are usually displayed directly after a paid advertisement, but before the first organic local result, making them extremely valuable when it comes to users on mobile. The #1 organic result for local intent queries is often pushed below-the-fold on mobile devices, hence why it’s imperative for the business to have a presence on both - the map pack as well as the organic results to maximise on the `real estate` they own on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP).

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What are the Local SEO Ranking Factors?

While it is important to remember that your rankings in the organic search engines results pages (SERPs) will impact your local rankings, Local SEO does have slightly different ranking factors compared to traditional SEO. Naturally, Google does not specify the exact ranking factors, but based on our local experience and Google’s Support, we have narrowed it down to the following list:

Relevance – “Relevance refers to how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for. Add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your profile to relevant searches” (Source: Google Support)

Where to start:

  • Google My Business Profile – Ensure that your business' information is consistent and references an accurate Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP), and Opening Hours. Additionally, ensuring your business description focuses on the priority keywords and information on what sets you apart from your competitors. According to Google's Local ranking factors, businesses with complete information are easier to match with the right searches, which fosters a great user experience by letting shoppers know when you're available and giving them confidence that your business will be open when they arrive.

Distance - “Distance considers how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn't specify a location in their search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we do know about their location” (Source: Google Support)

What to note: Therefore, local results will differ based on your proximity to the location. We often get questions why a specific location is not displayed in the Map Pack or why certain competitors are outranking a business in an area. Remember, results differ based on geo location and proximity and if in doubt, use a keyword ranking tool to verify the store rankings or check the GMB insights to see if you are getting clicks for that keyword.

Prominence - “Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles, and directories. Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business' local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimisation (SEO) best practices apply.”

Where to start:

  • Ratings and Reviews – Reviews are serving an increasingly important role in Local SEO. At their core, reviews are essentially a form of social trust - they signal to other potential customers whether they have had a positive or negative experience with the business. Regardless of the experience users had (positive or negative), business owners are encouraged to reply to all reviews. Google themselves are pushing the use of reviews in local businesses, and have even filmed ads for Google My Business under the #DearLocal hashtag.

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There are a large number of factors which influence the ranking of your business, and the list above can be subject to change as Google is likely to continue to test and adjust their ranking factors for the coming years. Use it as a starting point but be aware that Local SEO is in a state of constant evolution, and you should continue to tweak and amend your local strategy based on what works best for your business.

How to track local success: Insights & Reporting

While Google do have a publicly available Google My Business API, they have not published any connectors built themselves when trying to integrate GMB insights into a dashboarding and reporting tool like DataStudio. If you're not keen on building one yourself, third-party connectors such as Jepto do exist, and give you a breakdown of any relevant statistics that may be gleaned from your Google My Business profile including, but not limited to:

  • Views (Search views + map views)
  • Customer actions (website visits, direction requests, phone calls)
  • Reviews (Monthly trends, comments etc.)

The Future of Local

Google is continuously trying to find ways to better connect customers and businesses. Recently, they have announced the arrival of a new Local SEO messaging feature, whereby verified businesses will be able to message customers directly from Google Maps. Once you turn messaging on from your business profile, you'll be able to start replying to customers on Google Maps from the business messages section in the updates tab. Google's push towards fostering positive business to consumer relationships emphasises the fact that customer experience is going to be a focal point of their business moving forwards, and something that should always be kept in mind in both local and general SEO.

Local SEO Best Practices

To leave you with some actionable information you can implement today, here are three steps you can take to ensure that your local businesses are performing to the best of their ability:

  1. Ensure that reviews are encouraged, and that all reviews are responded to whether positive or negative.
  2. Ensure that your local listing contains accurate and up to date information regarding the name, address, phone number and opening hours of your business. Making your way across town only to find the store you wanted to go to is actually closed makes for a terrible experience, leaving customers likely to post poor reviews.
  3. Ensure that your business category accurately reflects the services and/or products your business provides. When in doubt, take a look at your competitors' listings to identify what categories they may be ranking well for.

If you're keen to learn more about local SEO, or potentially integrating it into part of your future business plan please reach out to our Local SEO team at Merkle. Or contact us below.

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