What is Local Search Marketing? A Beginners Guide to Local SEO

Local search marketing, often called Local SEO (search engine optimization), is a type of online/digital marketing 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.

What is Local Search Marketing? 

Local search marketing is a local marketing strategy that is all about showing up on the map (especially Google maps) whenever potential customers are searching for things that your business can help them with.

The Local Map Pack

Is SEO for Local Businesses Beneficial?

There are several types of businesses that can take advantage of this channel to reach their audience.

  • If your business has a physical location and your business serves customers in the area.
  • Businesses that don’t have a physical location in the traditional sense (e.g. if you run your business out of your home office) but still serve a local market.
  • Businesses that have franchises or chains that exist in many local markets (we call these types of businesses multi-location businesses).

The Fundamentals of Local SEO

Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo provide a bulk of web 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 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 completing 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.

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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 above, we see the ads on top, the local results (Google listing), an organic 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

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 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.

Not all small businesses benefit from focusing on their map pack rankings 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 and GMB clicks 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

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.

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

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 to 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

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 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.

Local SEO takes everything the normal organic results would encompass and applies a location angle on 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).

Click Through Rate Curve of Google Search Results

What is NAP and Why is it Important?

NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. These are the key things that make your business uniquely identifiable.

Make sure that your name, address, and phone number are consistent all across the web. Not only will this help people find you but it also builds your credibility with Google.

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

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 someone perform a citation audit for you to see how consistent your NAP results are across both national and local directories.

The Importance of Reviews

93% of customers say that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Don’t neglect obtaining 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.

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 future searcher’s that you listen to what the customer has to say and are always seeking 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

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 may tell you). Find your audience and publish content where they are and link it with your site somehow.

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 search 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.

Graph displaying the decline of Facebook Organic Reach

The algorithms most social media platforms use tend to reduce the reach 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 business owners to want to reduce costs by doing more themselves. You can take this route too if you wish but I wouldn’t encourage it. 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 you are, 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. By doing so they’ll better equip themselves to understand and evaluate the work someone they hire to do SEO.

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 Yoast is your SEO strategy you’re still in little-league).

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 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.

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Skyler Reeves Transparent Background

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Founder of Ardent Growth. Advocate for small business owners. Passionate about education. Iraq war veteran. Graduated with honors from MSU’s Computer Science and Philosophy programs.

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