Optimize local SEO to improve the online visibility of your business and help customers in your area find you.

Consumers want to support businesses in their neighbourhoods. According to Google, sixty-six per cent of shoppers report they want to shop local.

The pandemic is building momentum for the shop local movement. Searches for “available near me” have grown more than 100 per cent in the last year. Over this same period, searches with the term “at home” have grown 10 times. This is true across all categories.

It’s good news and a big opportunity for any small business with a physical store. But only if potential customers can find you and your location online first. A local search engine optimization (SEO) campaign can help put you on the map for consumers ready to buy.

Local SEO explained

Local SEO — or local search marketing — shares the same goal as its more popular cousin, SEO. Both are digital marketing strategies designed to help businesses get discovered on search engines such as Google.

The difference is local SEO improves a business’s visibility on searches that include a geographic descriptor, such as the city, postal code, service area or term “near me.”

Thanks to its local search algorithm, Google takes location into account when someone has a query with local intent. It also has a set of local ranking factors it uses to make sure your business is relevant for anyone conducting a “near me” search. It then provides Google search engine results pages (SERPs) from that geographic area.

Why local SEO is important

Consumers are researching their visits to stores and restaurants more than ever.

According to Google:

● Four out of five consumers use search engines to find information about local businesses, such as the addresses, hours, product availability and directions.

● “Curbside pick up” searches grew 3,000 per cent over the past year.

● Fifty per cent of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day and 18 per cent made a purchase that same day.

● Seventy-eight per cent of mobile local searches result in offline purchases.

Investing in local SEO leads to improved visibility everywhere online. It helps put your business in front of customers ready to buy what you’re selling. It will also help you land on Google’s 3-Pack, the top three most popular businesses related to a search. This means your business will appear in the form of a snippet that includes your address, phone number, link to your website and directions.

Tip: Having a Google My Business account is growing in importance as a factor Google’s algorithm looks for when determining local pack rankings, jumping from 25 per cent in 2018 to 33 per cent in 2020, according to BrightLocal. It can also improve your business’s visibility on Google Maps.

How to appear in local search

Google’s local algorithm relies on three critical ranking factors to provide its top results:

  • Distance: How close a business is to the location term used in a search. If no location is specified in the search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about the searcher’s location. The closer your business is to a searcher, the higher its ranking.
  • Relevance: How well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.
  • Prominence: How well-known a business is and how much online credibility it has. This is based on information that Google has about a business from across the web. It includes links, articles and listings on directories. The more well-known a brand is in the real world, the better its online local ranking.

There is no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. To rank high on in local searches, a business must improve its online presence to meet the requirements of each of these factors. That’s why getting your local SEO strategy right is critical.

Let Google know where you are

Include your physical address on your site and embed a Google map showing the business location on your contact page. If you have multiple locations, create a locations page to list them all. Add location-based structured data to your site.

FYI: Location-based structured data is microdata that helps search engines pinpoint your location.

Tip: Eighty-eight per cent of people use a mobile device to search for local businesses. To help them find you, make sure your site is optimized for mobile.

Create a Google My Business page

Google My Business is a free business profile that shows up on Google search results and maps. It includes your business name, location and category. It may also include other information Google has indexed from across the internet. To boost your visibility further, keep your page up to date, add photos and FAQs, and ask for and respond to consumer reviews.

Tip: Use Google My Business Insights to track your local SEO performance. This free reporting tool will show you how many calls, website clicks and direction requests you’ve received each month from Google local searches and maps.

Grow your business profile

To help Google trust you are who you say you are, make sure your business name, phone number and address appear in well-known local and national online directories or business listing sites. These include sites such as Yelp, and Facebook, as well as Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple Maps. Make sure your business citations are consistent wherever they appear.

Tip: Build local links to your site by providing guest posts to community organizations, connecting to local events, and contributing content or getting featured in your local paper.

Do your local keyword research

This comes down to identifying the search words and phrases people are using to find what you’re selling. This will help you determine the searchable, locally-focused words and phrases you should use on your landing pages to help drive traffic to your site. It will also help you better understand the behaviours of your customers.

Also, make sure the name of your city or region appears across your website.

Tip: Use Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ feature to find alternative search queries people might use to find your business.

Ranking for local searches is getting more competitive as businesses realize the benefits. It’s also necessary to help buyers find you when they’re ready to buy. Most consumers want to buy local and are searching for terms like “near me.” If you don’t appear, you will miss out on business.