What is local SEO? 5 quick tips for mastering it

Mobile searches with a local focus mean local SEO is more important than ever.

Local SEO has been enjoying a turn in the spotlight lately, thanks in no small part to the phenomenon that is Pokemon Go.

But it’s not just a fluke. According to Think with Google, mobile searches overtook desktop in October 2015 – a now oft-cited moment in the history of SEO – and, subsequently, 30 percent of all mobile searches are related to location. What’s more, Google cited a 2.1x increase in mobile searches for “stores open now” or “food open now” and a 1.3x increase in mobile searches for “where to find/buy/get.”

A recent post from marketing software company Moz on local search highlighted changes to Google’s local product, Google My Business, such as eliminating the ability to edit descriptions and the removal of Google+ metrics, along with the addition of more details about how customers find a business and the subsequent actions they take.

And this, said George Freitag, local search evangelist for Moz’s local search product Moz Local, indicates Google is taking local more seriously and wants more local data and reviews. The takeaways for brands and marketers, therefore, are to use Schema markup, which is markup language that helps search engines understand what content is on a webpage, as well as to ensure their business listings are not only accurate but identical across the vast, sweeping scope of the Internet, and to implement review strategies and earn good links, Freitag wrote.

Not just flash in the pan

And unlike Pokemon Go, perhaps, this emphasis on local is likely to endure. That’s in part because mobile is a big deal, but also because local enhances user experience and Google wants happy searchers that forsake all others, keeping only unto it.

“Google doesn't want to be your gateway to the Internet, Google wants to be your gateway to everything, including the physical world around you,” said Adam Thompson, director of digital at marketing agency 10X Digital. “I expect Google's focus on local to intensify in coming years as they find new and better ways to help you interact with the world around you.”

Freitag agreed, saying consumers expect search results to be personalized and geolocation data is one of the easiest ways for Google to deliver this.

In addition, Freitag said the dominance of mobile devices in both search and overall web traffic has led to more conversational searches in which consumers actually count on their devices to use location as a factor in searches, even if they don't say so explicitly.

“Local is growing 50 percent faster on mobile than any other type of search with almost a third of all current searches having some sort of local intent,” Freitag said. “This is largely because of the increase of conversational searches, like ‘stores open now’ or ‘where can I buy new shoes.’ With over half of teens and 41 percent of adults using voice search on a daily basis, we can [expect] the number of these localized, conversational searches to continue to grow.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, Freitag also pointed to Google’s intent to advertise in local as a sign it’s probably going to continue focusing on local.

“In June, Google announced that [it] would start including a paid ad in the local pack results [which are the nearby businesses Google lists under the map for certain searches],” Freitag said. “If Google is willing to invest in a completely new type of ad for a specific search result, then we know the data they're seeing suggests it’s worth doing.”

Google Posts

In addition to the tips in Freitag’s post, he called Google Posts, a feature that will allow businesses to create posts that appear directly in search results, “one of the biggest pieces of news to come out around local all year.”

Google Posts launched earlier this year, but recent reports say they will be more widely available soon.

“This further demonstrates how Google is taking one of the last offerings unique to Google+ and moving [it] to its primary platform,” he said. “The potential of Posts in the local space is huge since they will be one of the most prominent pieces of content in local results, allowing businesses and brands to communicate directly with customers through videos, promotional offers and more directly in the Google search result page.”

And that means local Posts, when available, will be immensely valuable to local SEO.

Here are five other quick tips for local:

1. Accuracy

April Jimenez, director of digital marketing at interactive agency Huemor, said ensuring accuracy of business information like name, address and phone number should be #1 in local SEO.

“There are so many factors that contribute to local presence and a fair amount of that is a bit out of your control [like what reviewers say about your business/product, who checks in there…], but what you can control is the information,” she said.

Further, per Chelsey Moter, digital analyst at SEO Works, one of the biggest problems is duplicate Google+ pages. In fact, she said nearly 65 percent of her clients have had duplicate Google+ pages without even realizing it.

“Having the same address, phone number and other contact information on multiple pages can be detrimental for users, SEO and the business,” she said. “From a user’s perspective, they might not be able to tell the difference between an updated page and an [older] page. This can affect where they leave their reviews, what contact information they see and their overall perception of the business. From an SEO standpoint, search engines can recognize most inconsistencies across websites, directories and even social media platforms. So, the more consistent you can be on [Google+], the better it will be for local SEO.”

2. Speed

Google’s mobile-friendly update – so-called Mobilegeddon -- seems like a lifetime ago, but the common sense advice that fast, mobile-friendly sites are better perhaps still bears repeating.

In fact, Brock Murray, COO of digital marketing agency Seoplus+, said one-second load times are ideal.

“In order to convert that local mobile traffic into a paying audience, your site needs to be blazing fast, ultra useful and a breeze to navigate,” Murray said. “Use AMP to deliver instant loading times on mobile and create hyper-local long-form content to delight users and Google alike.”

3. Google products

According to Murray, sites that embrace Google’s suite of products are favored, especially in local search.

“There is a consistent correlation between +1s and search rankings and a similar correlation applies to an optimized presence with other Google products in my experience,” he said. “Embed a Google map on your contact page and link to your Google My Business page. Add Google Indoor Maps and/or Interior View to provide even more information and value. Embed YouTube videos and link to your YouTube watch page or channel. Ensure that all of these individual pages are optimized and consistent with each other in all details, including the formatting of your name, address [and] place. The link between AdWords and organic search rankings is heavily implied, so don't neglect this angle, either.”

4. Content

Google is getting better at reading content like people do, which means brands should publish content consumers want to read and share.

“Humans don't read content to analyze things like how many keywords are in the content or whether their keyword is bolded,” Thompson said. “Humans read and understand content on a much deeper level – they understand topics, trustworthiness, visual appeal, emotional appeal and other factors. Businesses should focus on producing website content that impresses readers. Content that's easy to skim, yet also worthwhile reading in depth. Content that uses original multimedia that communicates meaningful information. Content that is clearly written by trustworthy experts with the reader's best interests at heart.”

5. Local citations

Local citations, or mentions of business details like name, address and phone number, are great to boost visibility and solidify search engines' trust, said Larissa Murillo, marketing manager at SEO and web marketing firm MarketGoo.

“There are structured citations that you will get on sites like Yelp or [YP], and unstructured ones that you might see on a blog or job website,” she said. “Local directories and blogs are a good place to begin. Also, if you see your competitor in a local directory, get yourself on it as well.”

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