What is Local Search Marketing? Starter's Guide to Local SEO

What is Local Search Marketing? 

Local search marketing, often called Local SEO (local search engine optimization), is a type of digital marketing service that businesses engage in to reach local markets by showing up in the local results when their target customers go online and search for things.

Local SEO is all about showing up on the maps in the local pack, regular Google Maps, and in the localized standard organic results.

The Local Map Pack
This Section is the "Local Pack" (a.k.a. the "Map Pack")

Is SEO for Local Businesses Beneficial?

Yes, SEO for local businesses is useful. It enables a business to rank higher in the search results and increases the likelihood that the searcher will contact them to do business.

There are several types of businesses that can take advantage of a local SEO strategy to reach their audience.

  • Businesses that have a physical location and serves customers in a service area (like a roofing company ).
  • Businesses that don't have a physical location in the traditional sense but still serve a local market.
  • Businesses that have franchises or chains that exist in many local markets (multi-location businesses).

The Fundamentals of Local SEO

Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo provide a bulk of the traffic to websites across the globe. Optimizing for them is something you can definitely do with the right strategies.

If you're skeptical about the value of SEO in general (many business owners are) then you may be one of the few people who do not use Google to find things online - else you're completely ignoring how people, including yourself, find information and businesses these days.

Graph depicting how 97% of people use search engines to find local businesses

Staying Compliant with Google My Business Guidelines

There are multiple search engines you can optimize for but let's be honest, Google owns over 90% of the market so when we're talking about local SEO we're primarily talking about optimizing for Google.

Your Google My Business listing is one of the most critical elements for local SEO. If your business doesn't have a listing in Google's directory then you won't show up in the local search results (also called the "map pack" or "local pack") or on Google Maps whenever people do a Google search for your business or the types of services you provide.

Example of the SERPs for a local business

Looking at the example SERP (search engine results page) above, we see the ads on top, the local results (Google listing), an organic search result of a local dentist and an aggregator website (Yellow Pages) that lists local dentists in the target location.

Note that you don't have to set this listing up yourself in order for it to appear. It can be created by Google and appear in the results if they find your business information on any other publicly available directory.

Additionally, anyone can add your business to Google's directory - they just may not be able to claim the listing and manage it as the owner.

Most people have their business on Google already and are enjoying the benefits of it.

Example of a Suspended GMB Listing
Example of a Suspended Google Local Listing

However, failure to adhere to remain compliant with the Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google can result in your business being filtered out of the map results or even your listing being suspended and removed from the search engine results pages entirely.

That means fewer phone calls, direction requests to your place of business, visits to your website, and more.

One of our small business clients provided local carpet cleaning services to people in the D.C. metro area. This business violated guidelines by using multiple UPS addresses to register Google My Business locations so they could show up in more results in the local area.

They came to us after all of their local listings, including their authentic one with a real address and physical location, were flagged and suspended by Google.

The suspension of their business listings caused their service call volume to drop by nearly 93% and severely damaged their monthly revenue.

As with most things in life, feel free to attempt to game the system if you wish but be prepared to accept the consequences when they come.

If you do things right though, you can get results like this:

Organic growth of a chimney sweep client of Ardent Growth
One of Our Chimney Services Clients in DC

Not all small businesses benefit from focusing on their rankings in the maps though. If your business provides a high-value service such as legal representation or even remodeling, then you are often better off putting your effort into optimizing to rank in the traditional organic results.

We found this to be especially true when doing SEO for lawyers. By parsing the organic traffic between regular organic results and clicks on your local listing we quickly realized that many people prefer to browse around for a few different attorneys before picking one.

So keep in mind that you may be better off focusing on top-level keywords if you're doing keyword research for law firms or other expensive services.

Build Authority with High-Quality Links

Newly registered domains, on average, have less authority than established aged domains. So think twice before you consider rebranding your business website under a new domain.

I see this mistake a lot in the transportation industry. Every time a trucking company hires a new ad agency they end up building them a new recruiting website instead of just building off of the pre-existing website, thus causing them to stay on the constant hamster-wheel of buying paid advertising (which the advertising agency conveniently benefits from).

To build the authority of your site you need to build your brand. One of the best ways to do that is by earning a recommendation from other websites online.

These can come in the form of citations in online directories (e.g. Yelp, Angie's List, Home Advisor, Yellow Pages, etc.) and links from other reputable, high-quality sites.

The quality of websites you get links from cannot be emphasized enough. Think of it like this, when a website links to your website they're associating themselves with you.

Would you rather be associated with reputable sources of information or questionable and even spammy sources of information?

Ahrefs Referring Domains and Backlink Growth
Increase Over Time of Both Referring Domains and Referring Pages

Provide a Good User Experience with Great Site Quality

Think about a time when you visited a website and it just wasn't working the way you expected it should.

It was pretty frustrating, wasn't it?

You kept clicking that damn button but nothing was happening or you spent 10 minutes filling out a form only to have it clear your answers and spit it back at you because you didn't put the date in the accepted format.

Example of a form giving the user an error message because they didn't enter a date in the correct format
Don't Frustrate Your Users

When people experience this sort of frustration they leave. It is literally the equivalent of walking into your store or place of business, getting poor customer service, and walking out.

You wouldn't want this happening at your business so why would you be okay with it happening on your website — which is the digital extension of your business?

You can take simple steps to ensure your website provides a good user experience for visitors by ensuring it follows some basic best practices.

Page Speed

Typically, the faster your website loads the better. There's a point of diminishing return here but for most cases, anything in the 2-5 second range on smartphones is acceptable (it should be much faster on desktops). You can test your website page speed using websites like Pingdom and GTMetrix.

GT Metrix Page Speed Test

GT Metrix Page Speed Test

Pingdom Page Speed Test

Pingdom Tools Page Speed Test

Core Web Vitals

Google has stated that Core Web Vitals will become a ranking factor in May 2021.

We're announcing that page experience ranking signals for Google Search will launch in May 2021. This will combine Core Web Vitals and previous UX-related signals.

Learn more: https://t.co/OrrR8LDl1a

— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) November 10, 2020

Core Web Vitals consist of three primary metrics: Largest Contentful Pain (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

Intuitive Site Structure and Navigation

Don't try to reinvent the wheel here folks. You're a local business, not Apple. If you try to get cute with the way your site is laid out you'll only please yourself (but not your bank account).

This is where Jakob's Law comes in, which states that users spend most of their time on other sites besides yours. As such, they will expect your site to work the way other sites do.

Think about when you're on mobile. Where do you expect the navigation menu to be? What about hyperlinks to other websites, what color do you expect them to be?

If you wanted to find the address or phone number of a business while on their website, where do you typically expect it to be?

Noting UX Issues on a Dental Site

On the page above we have a few issues:

  • Sidebar navigation is fine on internal resource pages but not ideal for the home page.
  • The logo is too damn big.
  • The phone numbers aren't hyperlinked.
  • The gradient blue does not contrast well with the white font colors.

Free of Malware

This should really go without saying but if your website is hacked or has malware injected in it without you knowing it then you're eventually going to suffer from it.

If Google finds that your site has malware or has been hacked then they will make users aware of this on the search results themselves.

Malware infected site shows as hacked on Google SERPs
Note: Not my Client

Who sees that and says, “Yep, I think I’ll click on that link and check out that website”?

Search Engine Optimization

You'll want to optimize your website for search engines if you want to increase the local traffic your website gets from the organic search results on Google. Local SEO is a subset of SEO and while they each run on two different algorithms they do overlap quite a bit.

Local SEO takes everything the normal organic results would encompass and localizes it. This is why you'll see different results when you search for things like leaky roof vs leaky roof chicago or leaky roof repair.

By optimizing your site you can improve your local search rankings, which results in increased traffic to your site. It's worthwhile to note that over 47.6% of all clicks are on the first three results on mobile (57% on Desktop).

47.6% of all clicks are on the first three results on mobile (57% on Desktop).

Click Through Rate Curve of Google Search Results
Click-Through-Rate (CTR) Curve

What is NAP?

NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. These are the key things that make a business uniquely identifiable. It is important that the business name, address, and phone number (NAP) are consistent all across the web.

Why is NAP Consistency Important?

NAP consistency is important for a few reasons:

  1. Consistency helps build credibility with search engines.
  2. It helps potential customers reach a business when they search a directory instead of finding incorrect or out-of-date information.

If Google crawls the web and sees a variety of contradicting information about your business then it makes it harder for the algorithm to know what’s accurate — and when it can’t determine what’s accurate, your authority drops.

Tracking Online Business Citations
Citation Tracking Report in Bright Local

You'll often find that your company already exists on many business directories you weren't even aware of.

If you've changed your business number, address, or business name at any point you may want to have a local SEO service expert perform a local citation audit for you to see how consistent your NAP results are across both national and local directories.

Many people think you need to have an absolutely perfect record across all directories. That just isn't feasible.

The Importance of Online Reviews

93% of customers say that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. So get reviews. Make sure you have a plan in place to consistently get them from your clients or customers.

You want authentic and meaningful feedback, not just positive reviews. If your online reviews look fake or are too short Google may just ignore them completely. We've often found that asking clients for feedback about their experience solicits a better review than simply asking them for a review.

When you ask your local customers for feedback you frame their state of mind to really think about the situation. Simply asking them for a review will often cause them to think they need to say something positive instead of just talking about their experience.

GMB Example of a Bad Review
Tip: Don't do this...

When you take this route your reviews will undoubtedly mention things you could have done better - and that's okay. It gives you a chance to respond to the reviewer (in a positive manner) and shows a future potential customer that you listen to what your customers have to say and are always trying to improve.

In a nutshell, if your reviews are 100% perfect across the board and people have nothing but nice things to say about you it will seem disingenuous. Several studies have demonstrated this:

Produce Content as Part of an SEO Campaign

People are hungry for content today. If you have a website you should be producing content. It doesn't just have to be blog posts (no matter what every other SEO service provider may tell you). Find your audience and publish content where they are and add links back to your site.

Blog posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, white papers, etc. are all good forms of content marketing that you can use to build your brand and drive more organic SEO traffic to your site.

Identifying Top Subfolders of a Website (Where Traffic Originates)

Note: While social media is a viable option as well, it won't really help you with local search optimization all that much, but it can still drive additional traffic to your site.

Graph displaying the decline of Facebook Organic Reach
Facebook Organic Reach is Continuing to Decline Rapidly

The algorithms most social media platforms use tend to reduce the reach of posts that have links that cause the user to leave the platform. In a nutshell, Facebook wants people to stay on its platform...not leave and go to yours.

SERP results showing video carousel
Example of Plumbers Creating Content to Build their Brand

Can I Learn Local SEO and Do it Myself?

It's not uncommon for local business owners to want to reduce costs by doing more themselves, including their own local marketing. You can take this route too if you wish, but you're going to want to hire a company that provides local search marketing services at some point.

Are you doing your own bookkeeping, accounting, payroll, taxes, legal documents, maintenance, etc? I don't mean people working for you internally, I mean you yourself.

If so, you're spreading yourself too thin and your business is going to have a hard time growing. Did you start your business because you wanted to work 80 hours a week?

I'm all about business owners learning about SEO and how it works. In doing so a business owner can better understand and evaluate the work they hire a local SEO expert or SEO company to do.

There are many folks out there who claim to know how to do SEO but all they really know how to do is use the Yoast plugin for WordPress.

P.S. if you think using Yoast is all you need to do SEO, you're wrong.

How to Learn Local SEO

To do proper SEO to improve the ranking of your Google business profile you'll need to learn how to:

  • Setup and optimize your Google My Business profile (and keep it compliant to avoid a suspension)
  • Identify and build citations on high-quality local directories
  • Optimize the HTML heading structures of your pages (this is both helpful for SEO and people with accessibility issues)
  • Identify and build high-quality, contextually relevant backlinks from other websites to yours
  • Effectively solicit reviews while also remaining compliant with Google's guidelines (and the Securities and Exchange Commission)

How Long to Learn Local SEO?

That being said, learning to execute SEO effectively takes time. There are several aspects of SEO that aren't technical but many that are and if those get messed up your entire website can end up dropping off of Google completely.

If you spend the time it takes to do SEO properly you'll probably find other aspects of your business hurting as well. You can't do everything and you shouldn't try.

If you find yourself in this position I'd recommend checking out the book Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz. It's a great book for local business owners who know they're overworking themselves and getting nowhere from it.

This post was selected as one of the top digital marketing articles of the week by UpCity, a B2B ratings and review company for digital marketing agencies and other marketing service providers.