Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

… or how to get your business website to show up in Google.

If you’re a business owner or marketing manager familiar with the web you are probably familiar with the concept of search engine optimization. What you may not be as familiar with is local SEO or local search engine optimization. Whereas generally, search engine optimization is how you get your business in front of everyone doing searches online (google, yahoo, bing, etc.) – local search engine optimization is how you get your business in front of locally relevant searches.

If you’re a business that gets a lot of local phone calls, walk-ins, etc. it IS possible to double business within 3 months.

The following is a breakdown of local seo (local search engine optimization) which elaborates on a previous post on local SEO that was originally published on LinkedIn. Although the previous post detailed out what is local SEO I thought it would be important to – over time – analyze the effects of the suggestions highlighted below, measuring the results in order to actually see the effect some of the suggested local SEO tactics have on end results and finally provide some tested tips that you can implement at your business.

This post will take you through the following:

  1. What is Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – A basic breakdown of what is local seo and how it appears to your audience when they perform searches.
  2. How it Works – How does Google, Bing, and Yahoo KNOW what to show? This section explains, more technically how this happens.
  3. Why Local SEO is VERY Important to Your Business – Search has changed, and knowing about this change can make or break a company online. Luckily it’s easier than ever (in our opinion) to get in front of your hometown audience.
  4. What Affects Local SEO and What You Can do to Improve Your Own Local Website Traffic – It might be easier than ever to rank locally, but only if you’re doing some key action steps and maintaining and making it a part of your daily business and marketing practices some key steps. Here I’ll show you exactly what those are.
  5. Results – Over months of testing on some of our own sites (one of which I’ll highlight) – what we at Atilus have found works and where to concentrate. Don’t waste your time 🙂 we’ve wasted ours.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is a bit different than conventional SEO. Maybe it’s just my personal fascination with online marketing, but I feel understanding the difference between all kinds of online marketing, and knowing how to improve each, and what is the best for your business – is vital to achieving success online. As I explained in my previous post:

Local search is summarized as physically relevant search results. IE – if you’re planning a trip to Bonita Springs Florida – and do a search for activities – are the items that pop up relevant? Are they actually located in Bonita?

Local search is a combination of indicators, technology, and has changed a lot over the years. Google though seems to have finally pulled off the impossible (at least from a user perspective) presenting relevant results to searchers based on their current location (or destination) that’s local and accurate. For companies like Atilus that do SEO – search engine optimization – this becomes challenging to track, but is great for business owners who can rank easily and for their customers who receive amazingly accurate local results.

Let’s look at a real-world example of local search engine optimization in action. Look at the following search for “restaurant:”

bonita-springs-restaurant-local-seo

As you can see from the image a list of local results is presented as a flippable card at the top – and below that, there’s a listing for restaurant.com. Underneath that there’s a link to trip advisor. By closely analyzing the results we find that this is actually a mixture of 3 different kinds of results – local, national, and google news results.

  1. Local results are those listed in Red. These results are being presented to me specifically because of my location (more in a moment).
  2. Blue results are national results which appear to me independent of location and involve large websites.
  3. Finally the results at the very bottom (of this particular search) appearing in the above highlight Green – are Google News results – results from news websites that Google thinks may be relevant.

As you can see, from this one search  – a majority of the screen real estate is dominated by local listings. Hence for some businesses it will be important to rank locally, and to speak to this particular department of Google.

How Does Google (Bing, Yahoo) Know What to Show for Local Listings?

I highlighted this in my previous post on Local SEO, but it is definitely worth noting again. Local SEO is controlled by a number of factors. First and foremost Google is looking at the searcher – the person performing the search. Google is looking at the following:

  • What is a user searching? (IE Keyword – does it include a location word like a city name, or is it something like “remodeling company” that is generally associated with a local entity, organization, etc.)
  • What has a user searched (in the past)? Search engines are looking at everything, what you searched for (and the sites you’ve visited in the past) play a role in determining what you’re presented. If your previous searches were in a certain area – odds are you’ll see results from that area.
  • Where (exactly) are they searching from – between wifi location, ip location, and GPS on a phone your personal location is tracked by Google and helps to present specific searches to you
  • … Among many more things google is looking at

So this is how Google tracks the searcher, but one of the key questions we get asked (and must know) is how to get your business to rank for relevant searches? Again, let’s say you’re a General Contractor or Construction firm in Collier County and you want to rank when someone types in “Naples Construction Firm” how do you do this? Well before I answer that I think it’s important to take one tiny step back and understand…

Why Local SEO is VERY Important to Your Business

In years past with only a few quick steps a creative company with a small investment in the web could very easily rank for almost anything locally. With a good website and domain you could pretty much rank for anything – as long as you were one step ahead of your competition. That landscape has completely changed. However it’s my personal opinion that Local SEO has in many ways, become even easier to manage for a business.

90% of purchases… are first researched online

The reason it’s gotten easier is because of changes at the search engines. As I’m sure you’ve heard from “internet marketers” Google and the other search engines are constantly tweaking their “algorithms” keeping search engine optimization an allusive and ever changing goal. This is only half true, major updates are rare and what worked 5 years ago (generally) – works today – in fact I’d say it works even better! However, there are times when major updates do happen, and understanding what they are in addition to their effect on your website and business is important. One such recent update was Google’s Pigeon Update which was pushed out late last year. And to understand Pigeon, or more generally why you should focus on search just ask yourself…

When’s the last time you used the yellow pages? In a recent seminar we asked the audience this – all in very small, very conventional businesses, none of them raised their hands. In fact NO ONE HAD USED THE YELLOW PAGES FOR MORE THAN 6 MONTHS…

How we find information has changed. We can now literally say “okay google” at our phones, or ask SIRI about the meaning of life – and we’ll get a response! It’s amazing…

So, if we’re no longer using the Yellow Pages… what ARE we using? How are your customers finding your services?

Overwhelmingly search engines are how people find your services.

Nearly 75% of all of business traffic online is driven by search engines. People use Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. to find what they’re looking for.

Perhaps MOST importantly – nearly 90% of purchases for local goods and services are first researched online!

That means your clients or customers are BOTH finding you through search engines AND using this same tool to evaluate your business and help them make a purchasing decision.And if they don’t find you – then they’re going with your competitor. If they find you and they don’t like your reviews, or what your website has on it – they’re going with your competitor (but that’s a matter for a different blog post).

Think of the last time you were looking for something to eat, or a solution to a problem? How did you get the answer, or find that place to eat? Then did you take it a step further by researching that restaurant, looking at reviews, and reading about their menu?

But what about social? Social is TINY with barely a blip on the overall traffic landscape driving only 5% of all traffic (see the chart below) and overall just not the tool people use to find solutions to their needs or research and find products/services

2015 Traffic Breakdown

The following is a breakdown based on a report published in Search Engine Land, which was performed by BrightEdge just a couple months ago. The following is overall traffic across the entire Internet, however it’s important to note that when broken down into “business services” into which many of our clients and partners qualify, this data was even more heavily skewed search with more than 73% of traffic being driven by search engines:

[mk_skill_meter title=”Organic Search” percent=”51″ color=”#69b0d1″]

[mk_skill_meter title=”Other” percent=”34″ color=”#69b0d1″]

[mk_skill_meter title=”Paid Search” percent=”10″ color=”#69b0d1″]

[mk_skill_meter title=”Social” percent=”5″ color=”#69b0d1″]

At this point I hope you have a general understanding of search and how it drives so much business throughout the world. So now, let’s get a little bit more specific and actually reveal what you can do to influence and improve your local search engine ranking.

How Does Google Rank Your Business for a Local Search Result?

Thanks to Moz for the graphic and compilation by various SEOs on the factors that determine rankings. But in a nutshell ranking is determined by:

  1. On-Page Signals – Do you have your address on your website? Does it mention the CITY in which you’re trying to rank?
  2. Google My Business – Have you setup a Google My Business Page for your business and verified your address?
  3. Links – Do you have links in-to your website? From a local search perspective – do you have links in from other websites and notable community resources? Similarly do you link-out to relevant local businesses and resources? At the beginning of this article I linked to the City of Bonita for a reason 🙂
  4. External Location – Are other websites referencing your physical location correctly? For example is your business address correctly listed on internet yellow page websites or on the local chamber website?
  5. Behavioral Signals – Do you have a great site, that loads fast?
  6. Social Media – Do you have a dedicated social media following? Are they located around your targeted ranking area? Are they engaging in your posts and tweets?

Local Search Ranking Factors

 

Local SEO Results

There’s a lot of information online about the factors Google and other search engines use for ranking local businesses (see above), but we decided to put them to the test. We took some of the sites we control through some changes and measured the results using some of the tools at our disposal and recorded some by hand. For the following, we’ve decided to spare you the day-by-day details and instead provide you with a before and after snapshot.

One last important note – although it’s hard to know exactly HOW competitive our location is (Southwest Florida) as opposed to other locations I can say confidently that the sector in which this experiment was run is among the most difficult. The following is a great sample for ANY market – with hundreds of competitors within each town/city actively competing for the keywords we were going after (actively = often updated online presences).

Starting rankings January 2015:

Date

Keyword

Ranking

Change

Google (local)

1/20/2015

Bonita

4

~

Google (organic)

1/20/2015

Bonita

8 & 9

~

Yahoo (local)

1/20/2015

Bonita

13

~

Yahoo (organic)

1/20/2015

Bonita

12

~

Bing (local)

1/20/2015

Bonita

~

~

Bing (organic)

1/20/2015

Bonita

12

~

Added an additional location/set of keywords we wanted to rank for:

Date

Keyword

Ranking

Change

Google (local)

1/26/2015

Naples

~

~

Google (organic)

1/26/2015

Naples

21

~

Yahoo (local)

1/26/2015

Naples

~

~

Yahoo (organic)

1/26/2015

Naples

5

~

Bing (local)

1/26/2015

Naples

2

~

Bing (organic)

1/26/2015

Naples

2

~

~ = no ranking, the website wasn’t appearing within the top 100 search results

Final Local Rankings:

Date

Keyword

Ranking

Change

Google (local)

4/7/2015

Bonita

1

+3

Google (organic)

4/7/2015

Bonita

2

+7

Yahoo (local)

4/7/2015

Bonita

1

+12

Yahoo (organic)

4/7/2015

Bonita

1

+11

Bing (local)

4/7/2015

Bonita

2

~

Bing (organic)

4/7/2015

Bonita

1

+11

Date

Keyword

Ranking

Change

Google (local)

4/7/2015

Naples

25

+

Google (organic)

4/7/2015

Naples

16

+5

Yahoo (local)

4/7/2015

Naples

6

+

Yahoo (organic)

4/7/2015

Naples

32

+34

Bing (local)

4/7/2015

Naples

6

-4

Bing (organic)

4/7/2015

Naples

2

~

So what did we do and what impact did everything have. In chronological order we performed the following:

  1. Update all listings & make consistent across all IYPs (yelp, etc.)
  2. Moved into and added new location (Naples) for the business
  3. Add new location to Google My Business & Other IYPs – almost immediately noticed a massive pop in initial Yahoo listings, similarly Yahoo responded quickly to updates at new location
  4. Optimized on-page content more (schema.org, content, etc.)
  5. Launched updated website
  6. Tweaked local listings titles to more closely match the keywords we were going for
  7. Create and push template to help client solicit reviews

Local SEO Key Take-Aways:

So if you want to ignore any of the steps we went through and the measuring we did and just jump to the key points of our study the following are the most important details of what we discovered through this exercise:

shutterstock_90181546Physical Location is Most Important – Not surprisingly, having a physical location is important. The longer you’ve been there the more likely you are to rank because of a number of different factors. Going a step further, having a physical location – ie a building, or a unit number within a building – is much more valuable than a shared space. One of the clients we tested had both (data not included here) – and although we were able to influence rankings for both spaces – the physical location responded much more favorably. That may have also been a result of length-of-time at location.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

YelpIYP Listings Are Surprisingly Effective – more than any single thing we did this seems to have the quickest and longest lasting results. We had never been big fans of IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) because of the time involved to update, and lack of return. However, with the Google Pigeon update these are both ranking better-than-ever, as well as influencing a businesses’ end rankings more than ever. With our test and new local SEO service (which includes IYP updates) we showed a clear return on investment for the time and money involved. If you’re a local business this is definitely an area to concentrate.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

reviewsReviews (are almost) King – If IYP updating was effective on an individual basis, reviews – taken together were even more effective. We helped our client campaign for reviews across a number of different local review sites – Google My Business had the largest short term impact, but all proved to be important (and measured differently by different search engines). However, reviews alone didn’t beat out competitors – IE more reviews than your competitors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll rank better… in fact we wonder if individual reviewers carry different weight (as we know they do on YELP) on Google.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

Yahoo (is weird and) Changes Things Up Constantly – Unlike the other Search Engines yahoo in particular both responded to, and responded strangely. As of this writing, rankings fell for some keywords, despite a number of optimizations. Rankings also initially exploded, causing large spikes in traffic.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

Rankings Aren’t Always Accurate – Somehow the addresses for results were mixed with our clients’ old addresses, despite our updates/change. On local projects for clients not involved in this study we also saw some interesting map/location anomalies in that their business (verified with the correct address) would show the wrong location on Google Maps.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

Titles (and descriptions) of Listings Matter – Perhaps the biggest take away we discovered, if you’re going to spend time updating IYPs (ie superpages, yelp, etc.) titles and descriptions matter tremendously. Take a few moments to research keywords and make sure your titles and description are appropriate for your business and customers.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

Links – On a local level linking in this industry in particular is curious. We were able to consistently out-rank competitors who have more relevant, and more links, however there are probably a number of factors at stake here. Overall this is probably a matter of local links not weighing as much as other links, as “main street USA local SEO” hasn’t quite caught up with some industries when it comes to businesses in the online space. However I feel local company websites that are properly optimized  will continue to out rank national competitors (IE Houzz) when it comes to local search for the near term – or at least I feel this is the healthiest overall direction for search engines to take.

[mk_divider style=”single” divider_color=”#dddddd” divider_width=”full_width” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]

Blogging is VERY Effective – The old saying goes: A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats – no more is that true than online. During this exercise one of the clients involved went through the above motions, but also started blogging heavily. In analyzing the additional tactics we implemented we couldn’t account for the tremendous increase in traffic their website was receiving. Their search rankings were up for local searches, but had risen for EVERY type of search. This client has gone on to build out a new division shipping their previously “local-only” products – nationally thanks to this increase.

Final Local Search Engine Optimization Results

Because we’re able to analyze all the component parts of our own and our clients’ sites in the form of Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, etc. we were able to not just monitor rankings, but also what the rankings effects were on overall traffic, traffic to specific pages relevant to the local searches we were trying to get in front of, and listings on search engine results pages (SERPs). For example, if our clients website showed up for a unique, but locally relevant search like “naples fish restaurant.” The following is a total measure of all of our tests and all of the websites that were affected by these updates:

  • Total Traffic for Locally Relevant Pages: +400%
  • Total Search Engine Listings Increase: +4300% (this is how often rankings led to listings being viewed in a search engine)
  • Goals/Conversion – Across the board up 100% (2x increase in the number of calls, contact form submissions and purchases collectively)

To conclude, there’s an infinite number of ways to slice, optimize, and stress over local SEO. But concentrating on just a few key areas can have a profound impact on companies that are long-entrenched in heavily optimized and trafficked local searches. If you’re a business that gets a lot of local phone calls, walk-ins, etc. it IS possible to double business within 3 months.

Zach Katkin
Zach Katkin
Zach Katkin is the co-founder & CEO of Atilus. He is a Certified Google Professional, author, and lover of technology. He helps Atilus stay out ahead of online marketing trends and loves driving results for Atilus' clients.

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Recent Comments | 5 Comments
  • Sam
    Reply

    Thank you very much. Very useful Blog on SEO it is very important to get traffic on site.

    • Zach Katkin
      Reply

      Thanks Sam, really appreciate you coming to check it out.

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