With the growth of mobile, and the increasing use of local factors by Google in desktop searches, ranking for searches in their locality is ever more important for businesses.
This is something that can benefit businesses small and large, and some of the techniques for improving rankings are very simple, and cost nothing.
For example, just creating a Google + Local listing for your business will greatly improve your search visibility, especially if your local competitors haven't figured this out yet.
Here, I've outlined why local search is so important, and asked a couple of search experts for their tips...
Why is local search so important?
There are a number of reasons, including...
More and more people are using their mobiles. They're using them to find directions, look for somewhere to eat, something to do, where they can buy the latest gadget, or perhaps a bit of crafty showrooming.
Here's a few stats:
- A comScore study found that the total number of US searchers using mobile phones grew 26% between March 2012 and December 2012, from 90.m to 113.1m searchers.
- Search on tablets was up 19% between April 2012 and December 2012. In comparison, desktop searches were down 6% between November 2011 and November 2012.
- According to Google's Mobile Search Moments Study, 40% of mobile searches have local intent. Similarly, 77% of mobile searches occur at home or at work, while 17% take place on the go.
- Shopping queries are twice as likely to take place while the user is in-store.
- Three out of four mobile searches trigger follow-up actions, whether that be further research, a store visit, a phone call, a purchase or word-of-mouth sharing.
- According to a survey included in the Econsultancy Mobile Commerce Compendium, 67% of smartphone owners had used their device to search for information in the previous seven days.
What tasks have you carried out using your smartphone in the past week?
(More mobile search stats here).
There are easy wins to be had
Simply ensuring that you have a Google+ Local listing can make a massive difference. This is where Google gets the information for the map-driven local search results.
Let's take the example of restaurants, a common search for mobile users.
In London, it seems that many have twigged onto this, as plenty of Google local results appear when you search for restaurants, though there are still opportunities in some areas, and you can enhance your listing with images and contact details to make it stand out from the others.
However, not everywhere in the country is the same as London, and local businesses outside the capital have the opportunity for some easy wins here.
To use the restaurant example again. Yarm, in the north east, has at least 10 restaurants, yet only four have a Google Local listing, so they're the ones that win on this search.
In fact, the Google Local results dominate so much that you have to scroll a long way down to find any of the others. If customers search directly through maps, the Local listings are even more dominant.
Creating a basic Google Local listing takes a matter of minutes, and costs nothing. Why wouldn't you do it?
What are the most significant ranking factors for local search?
Tom Gregan, SEO Account Manager and Local Expert, Mediacom:
An effective local search campaign has to focus on sending clear signals indicating the relationship between the website/business and the locations they would like to target.
This is best achieved with clear Name, Address and Phone (NAP) information, occurring both onsite and externally. Consider using markup such as http://schema.org/PostalAddress.
Having your business’s NAP information feature prominently within your website, and securing authoritative links from websites which include clear NAP information are key to sending a strong signal that you are related to searches which are either performed in that location or have that location as part of their make-up.
Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director at LBi:
This seems to be a moving target. For a start you have to consider where the local search happens; Google Maps, in Google+, a mobile search of the search engine or a desktop one. You should also recognise that Google really is very active in tweaking in this area.
I conducted a study of 500 unique searches, in G+ Local, from an Edinburgh IP address for a presentation for SES London 2013. I won’t claim the methodology was bullet proof but based on the G+ Local filters the order of importance was; Number of Reviews, People Like You, Score, Distance, 'Because you' and Your Circles.
Those labels no longer feel appropriate although Google used them at the time and the study may still have some insight into what Google was thinking.
How do local search results differ between desktop and mobile?
Local search can be divided in to searches which include a location within the query, e.g. “Korean restaurants in London” and searches which returns results that are related to where the search has been performed e.g. “Korean restaurant” when physically stood in Soho, London.
Desktop searches tend to less often be influenced by the location the searcher was when they made their search, which means it is more important to optimise for localised search queries.
Mobile searches must be more comprehensive in their optimisation, and there seems to be a preference towards showing Places/+ Local results.
With that in mind we recommend making sure your profile has clear phone information so that users can click from the result to call your business.
Once again this is a bit of a moving target as Google (and the others) experiment.
There is one constant answer though: people browse mobile results and desktop local results very differently. Your time to capture is mobile searcher is far shorter than your time to capture the click from a desktop searcher.
Desktop searchers typically use more complex query terms but that may dramatically change if Voice search becomes more popular. If that happens then expect mobile search to be responsible for far more complex queries.
How important is Google + Local for local SEO?
Registering your site/business on Google Places and Google + Local is integral to both help to categorise and provide basic information about your business.
Providing category information about your site gives Google a better understanding of the topic of your business and creates a signal that you are related to localised searches related to what you do.
Clearly stating NAP information will work as a significant signal that you are a business related to a location, which will improve your visibility.
It’s very important.
Google agreed with the FTC not to 'scrape' data from the likes of Yelp. Let’s park the debate about what the difference between indexing, crawling and scraping is and recognise that this gives Google a huge incentive to collect local data directly on to their platform and use it.
It’s also worth comparing Google Places to Facebook. No one questions that if you want your local business to be found in Facebook’s Graph Search that it needs a Page.
Facebook can present that data in whatever they want because it’s been given to their system. Google will do the same.
What is the one tip you would give a local business for ranking locally?
Get involved in with things/events happening within your locality.
Links from other local businesses, as well as local press and media, are generally easier to secure and are great for helping to improve local search visibility.
Why not register at your local chamber of commerce, within any business directories offered by local press or sponsor a local school football team.
All can be a great way to secure local, high trust links, which will work to improving the overall authority of your site.
Find out whether your city is in the Google City Experts program or not. If is; invite one around.