Michael O'Neill

Of the 67,000 Google searches performed every second, about half of them are local queries.

We also know that 92 percent of all clicks occur on Page 1 of SERPs.

So the equation to capture local organic traffic is quite clear: Geo-target your content, and get it on Page 1.

But how? Where do you start?

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is the effort by businesses to increase their online visibility specifically for a local target audience. It’s similar to general SEO but with more location-based specificity, resulting in different tactics and ranking factors.

As you can imagine, if you run a business with a strong locational footprint, then local SEO should definitely be in your repertoire. For instance, if you have one or more physical store locations, it’s imperative that customers know your exact address(es), phone numbers, hours of operations, sales, promotions and reviews before they make a trek out to visit you.

Conversely, if your business is primarily online and doesn’t sell physical products, local SEO may not be as important. That’s because your target market, or target customer, can purchase from you regardless of location.

To attract a local customer, you need a local presence – digitally and physically.

B2C vs. B2B local SEO

While local SEO is traditionally an avenue for brick-and-mortar B2C companies, B2B brands can make inroads into local SEO as well.

If a B2B business is a wholesaler and doesn’t usually operate in the direct-to-consumer space, it might make sense for them to think about doing so, especially if they have a long history within a specific geographic region. As an example, imagine a produce warehouse. The fruits and veggies are typically sold to grocery stores like Walmart, but residents near the warehouse are still welcome to stop by and pick up produce at wholesale prices – rather than having to go to Walmart every time.

The same could be true for an aftermarket auto parts store. Their bread-and-butter revenue may be in selling to mechanics, other auto parts stores or to scrap yards. But they might also see a portion of their revenue from selling directly to consumers at their physical storefront, likely to those with a certain level of experience working with automobiles.

In these cases, local SEO is a revenue-positive complement to conventional business channels. It’s an easy way to provide additional brand exposure, revenue lift and customer trust.

This is not to say that B2B companies that do not fall into these categories are off the hook. EVERY business needs accurate company information available on the web, especially if they have multiple locations. In a way, that’s just old-school customer service and common sense. Local SEO can similarly provide simple differentiation in saturated markets. If I know a software provider has a really strong reputation in my city – Chicago – then they immediately have an edge over one that doesn’t, or even one that does but only in LA or some city I don’t care about.

Why optimizing for local search is 2019 table stakes

As we started with, half of all Google searches have local intent: People are wanting products and services within their immediate city or neighborhood; they want a transaction that’s trusted and quick.

Forgoing local SEO is akin to telling existing and future customers “I’m not interested in your business.” And as soon as you give off signals that your company is not as reputable as a competitor’s, you’ve lost. Simple housekeeping items like clickable links from Google Maps, a listing on Yelp and an updated business phone number are table stakes today: If you’re incapable of meeting these bare-minimum requirements, you’re stepping on your own feet and breaking customer trust.

Before diving deeper into a well-rounded local SEO strategy, below are additional quick to-dos that are nonnegotiable:

  • Business directories: Google My Business (GMB), Yelp, Better Business Bureau, Yellow Pages and other industry-specific online directories should be appropriately populated with your company name, address and phone number (NAP).
  • Customer reviews: Ratings, reviews and testimonials from past customers should be prominently displayed across these local directories (and on your site and social channels) so that prospects can quickly determine how reputable your company is. Reviews are also a significant component of signaling to search engines that your business is an ideal match for a local query.
  • Inbound links: As is the case with general SEO, links from third-party sites are crucial to your organic ranking potential and overall brand visibility. Having authoritative local websites linking to your site sends qualified geo-targeted traffic your way.

Additionally, Google connects search queries to specific types of search results. In the local SEO space, these are referred to as Local Business Cards, and there are multiple types of formats they come in. More on that here.

Local SEO ranking factors

Moz categorizes the top local SEO ranking factors as:

  1. Link signals.
  2. On-page signals.
  3. Behavioral signals.
  4. GMB signals.
  5. Citation signals.
  6. Personalization.
  7. Review signals.
  8. Social signals.

You can also see how much weight/importance SEO experts give to certain factors relative to others. So, everyone is in pretty strong agreement that factor No. 1 is indeed more powerful than factor No. 8. This differs from Google’s cryptic approach, in which the search giant never explicitly reveals its ranking factors, much less the precise order they go in.

As you can see, a lot of the core ranking factors that marketers are used to are still in play. Things like anchor text, inbound links and click-through rates are very important regardless of local or nonlocal context, and they likely always will be. But what’s different here is how impactful other factors are, and their relation to location.

For instance, social media is not a direct ranking factor under traditional SEO circumstances, but in the local SEO space, it’s weighted much more heavily. After all, social media channels like Facebook and Instagram offer their own marketplaces from which users can purchase from local companies. Strong social signals also speak to how companies interact with local customers.

Additionally, reviews are quite important.

If a lot of people leave positive reviews about your company, search engines interpret this as a sign you’re doing your job well. The same goes for negative reviews: too many of them and your online reputation is tainted. One burst of reviews from a small group of people isn’t all that helpful, though; you need a steady stream of consistent reviews over time, and they should reflect a larger audience and various points of satisfaction.

2019 local SEO strategies

Knowing that 1) proximity to customers, 2) the reviews they leave online and 3) their engagement levels with your content are vital to local SEO, you need a strategy that caters to this reality.

There are various ways to do this, so we’ve offered up nine below. These are not all-or-nothing strategies; nor are they one-or-the-other. You can implement some of these and see success, but for maximum results, it would be best practice to build a local SEO strategy that hits all of these methods.

1. Optimize Google My Business

Google My Business is a top-4 ranking factor. It’s also a completely free and easy-to-use directory.

Google My Business appears directly in search results for local queries, positioning you on Page 1 of SERPs with little effort from you. And if you remember, Page 1 of SERPs get 92 percent of all clicks, so this is right where you want to be. Here’s an example of a SERP feature – the Local 3-Pack – that pulls info from GMB:

On a mobile screen, specifically, a query for “Italian restaurant” will return this 3-pack of options above traditional business listings. It’s essentially the only thing searchers will see, so you have to ensure your company is optimized to be featured here.

To optimize your GMB listing, fill in all the required info that Google requires. You are prompted to do so in a step-by-step manner so it’s super intuitive and quick to do on your end. Follow the guidance provided by Google here.

The biggest point here is to ensure that your information stays up to date and that you are managing any reviews or questions from users. These user-generated ratings and queries are public to everyone, so be sure to respond regularly and stay abreast of lingering concerns and trends you’re seeing.

2. Incentivize customer feedback

In the same vein, you need to incentivize your customers to provide positive online feedback. The best way to get 5-star ratings in Yelp or GMB, for instance, is to provide a high-quality service. But beyond that, you can also solicit users to review your company in an effort to push down negative comments. When future users query your brand, they’re more likely to see the newer, fresher comments that speak highly of your company, as opposed to a few older reviews that were negative.

Here’s how my favorite Chicago cafe, Kopi Travelers Cafe, fares on Yelp:

They’re receiving about one review per month recently, and they’re all positive, which is a great sign. A new searcher would see this and know that Kopi is the place to be. Side note: Businesses cannot alter or pay to remove reviews, so you must genuinely rely on customers to leave reviews that put you in a good light. Simply asking them to do so is an easy way to accomplish this.

To incentivize this virtuous user behavior, you can suggest you’ll respond to questions within 24 hours, offer discount codes on products or simply appreciate their continued patronage. Black-hat techniques are never advised (never pay for reviews), and organic commentary is what you’re shooting for.

3. Refine local Technical SEO

Technical SEO encompasses the backend coding and functionality of your website. This includes things like structured data markup, which is a language that search crawlers easily understand, allowing them to best interpret your web pages and present them to searchers.

To ensure your product and informational pages are optimized for optimal click-through rates, you should be targeting Rich Snippets. These SERP features display additional data and context for searchers, beyond just a blue hyperlink, title tag and meta description. Take a look below:

You’ll see in yellow that Google is displaying user ratings. This allows searchers to know whether your page is worth clicking on before they do so. It also adds a layer of social proof to your SERP presence, since a result that has five stars is likely to prompt additional users to keep clicking due to its high marks.

Learn how to properly mark up your site with schema to generate Rich Snippets here.

4. Be mobile-first or rank last

Google considers the mobile version of a web page to be the primary version it indexes. Mobile-friendliness is also a top-10 ranking factor.

So it makes sense that your place-based business needs a mobile-first web presence. Three billion people around the world own iPhone of Android mobile devices, and it’s on these smartphones where half of all searches originate.

Additionally, consider the following mobile marketing stats as they pertain to your business:

For greater mobile usability, compress your image files, increase page speed, use clickable CTAs, reduce popups and plugins and switch over to HTTPS. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to help get you on the right track. It even presents you with an image of what your site looks like on a mobile screen. Here’s our result:

5. Capitalize on Google Maps marketing

Google Maps pulls information from Google My Business – another reason why GMB is priority No. 1.

Even if searchers have no idea your business exists, they can easily find it simply by geography. Google Maps populates your location, a short description, a URL, user ratings, images and various types of business information. It’s essentially a one-stop shop for everything a searcher may need to know about your company.

Seventy percent of smartphone owners use Google Maps, so you need to put your business where your customers are. For more specific guidance on how to dominate Google maps marketing, check out our post from earlier this year.

6. Publish localized content

Google Posts is a new-ish function that’s part of GMB, and it allows you to publish short content directly onto Page 1 of SERPs. These posts should be timely, bite-sized company updates, product changes, event promotions, seasonal sales and other highly brand-specific types of content that are 1,500 characters or less.

You can also publish gifs, videos, images, virtual tours and other visual content for users to look at without even having to click. Think of Google Posts as a way to stay in constant touch with customers and searchers, delivering content only you can provide.

Outside of Google Posts, you should also incorporate geo-targeted keyword phrases and linking strategies in your regular on-site content (more on that next). Publish and promote blog posts and guides on regional topics that local customers would crave, such as “What to look for in a Chicago florist.”

Combining on-SERP and on-site localized content amplifies your brand visibility in a way that few competitors can match.

7. Expand local link building

Considering 35 percent of companies have no link building strategy, yet links are the No. 1 ranking factor, there is a lot of room for you to outpace competitors.

Links from reputable local influencers and businesses can improve your Domain Authority and lend credence to how well-established you are in the area and why prospects in close proximity to you would be best-served purchasing from you.

Local publications, online news outlets, municipal websites and other prominent sources can direct high-intent referral traffic to your site through roundup or “best of” pieces. Think of sites like TripAdvisor, which publish itineraries and must-see “things to do” for thousands of destinations: Getting a link from TripAdvisor would work wonders for your local SEO efforts.

Let’s look at Denver, and some link options on the table:

  • Denver.org links to dozens of local establishments for those who only have three days to visit.
  • U.S. News & World Report does the same thing for two-day travelers.
  • And, of course, TripAdvisor has their version, complete with customer quotes, ratings and commentary.

Each of these roundups is a link building opportunity from trusted sites.

8. Set up brand alerts

Just because your company doesn’t receive a ton of backlinks doesn’t mean it’s not on Google’s radar. In the past two years Google has been experimenting with assigning more weight to brand mentions even if they’re not hyperlinked.

Any time your company name appears on the web it signals a positive or negative experience to searchers and search engines. So if 80 percent of your brand mentions are scathing attacks on your poor services, your local SEO efforts will be meaningless. Alternatively, thousands of positive brand mentions can lift your total online presence.

That’s why you should set up Google Alerts to be notified every time your brand is mentioned across the web. Then you can respond to each specific user who cited you, or you can request a hyperlink if you’re inclined.

Reviews and citations management can quickly become tedious, so automate as much of this as possible. Just be sure to stay on top of your overall perception on the internet. Whenever your brand name is used it could, down the line, impact whether prospects view you as credible or trustworthy. This, too, will inevitably materialize as either higher revenue or lost revenue.

9. Enrich your Knowledge Panel

Forty percent of searches feature a Knowledge Panel, the Google SERP feature on the right of your screen. A Knowledge Panel is prime Page 1 real estate, and it houses Google Posts, GMB data and important user reviews all in one pace. Keeping your Panel organized, clean and positive results in a highly effective, ultra-targeted communication channel with local prospects.

Here’s what a Knowledge Panel looks like in action, complete with NAP data, indoors and streetview photos, online reviews and a short description:

Just one more scroll down the page and you see even more super-relevant information about Jake’s Pub, such as when it tends to be most crowded, customer testimonials and similar establishments you may want to head to afterward:

As a searcher, I don’t even need to click anything – not even once. I have here, through this Knowledge Panel, everything I need to make a decision on whether to go to Jake’s. The answer is, yes, I did. I do. I love that place.

Marketing for micro moments

Local SEO is all about connecting the dots in the customer journey. More often than not, that journey starts with a mobile search query, leads to comparison shopping, then an in-store visit. But the touchpoints don’t stop there.

Prospects continue to gather information, request quotes, search for best prices, check social media profiles and rely on word-of-mouth networks to help them make a final purchasing decision. It’s within this informational supply chain that marketing exists, for those tiny moments of uncertainty or indecision. Content marketing should fill gaps, ease worries and evoke confidence when purchasing.

New research from Google illustrates how important micro moments are. Customer journeys are not straight lines; they do not fit neatly into a linear marketing funnel.

Customers, instead, navigate all over the web, across more than one device and at various times before finalizing their purchases. There are often more than 500 touchpoints before a customer actually becomes a paying customer. In the example above, “Ava” wanted to book a flight to Ireland, and she queried Google four different times to begin her journey. It took hundreds of more engagements (clicks, comparisons, etc.) before Ava completed a purchase.

Local SEO helps your business be present during those 500 potential interactions. One missed opportunity, one broken link, one nonexistent web page can push away customers, so every moment counts.