Why local search engine optimization?
If we look at the statistics of the last few years, we see an increase in local searches. While 15% of all searches were local in 2016, 39% were local in 2019 (Jumpshot, 2019).
82% of people who store via mobile search for nearby stores (Search Engine Land, 2018) and 50% of them visit the store the same day (Google, 2018).
These growth rates give an idea of how important Local SEOhas now become for local businesses. Many people think only of Google, but we should not ignore Bing and Yahoo, as well as the large number of industry sites such as GoYellow, the phone book and the Yellow Pages. These also generate regional traffic that our company misses out on if we forgo the listings.
However, just getting traffic to your own pages is not enough. 61% of mobile searchers are more willing to contact a regional business if its website is mobile-friendly. (Junto, 2019).
The loading speed also plays a major role. Because if the pages take too long to load, users are gone before they can even read the content.
With the latest Local Search Update “Bedlam” in November 2019, Google has further improved local search. The algorithm now also understands synonyms and similar terms that are in context when the user enters a search query with a local intention – and that even if no business and no specific location are mentioned. The algorithm uses “Neural Matching” for this, which is based on an AI (Artificial Intelligence).
How do we search?
When we search for a company, we usually do it in two different ways:
- Search with location
- Search without location
Example of search with location: I live in Frankfurt and have planned a visit to friends in Cologne for the weekend. Saturday I would like to go out to eat with everyone and I am looking on my PC here in Frankfurt for a good Korean restaurant. So I search for “Korean restaurant Cologne”. By specifying the city in the search query, search engines know that I am probably looking for a restaurant in Cologne and play me corresponding results of restaurants in Cologne.
Example of search without location: I have been living in Frankfurt for a week and am urgently looking for a dentist. If Google has access to my location, I don’t need to specify the location in my search query, because the search engine knows that I am in Frankfurt and obviously looking for a doctor there. Therefore, my search for “dentist” returns matching results of dentists in Frankfurt.
What do local search results look like?
Google and also other search engines give us different possibilities to be findable and present with our company in the local search. Since Google is the most used search engine in the world with more than 92% market share, we will take a look at Google search results in this post. The prerequisite for being able to appear with one’s own company in the local Google search is a Google My Business profile. All information that is displayed in the Local Pack or Local Finder, for example, comes from the data stored in Google My Business.
Google My Business
The Google My Business profile is a prerequisite to be able to appear in the local search with your own company. Therefore, a confirmed and maintained entry that provides all relevant information about the company for users is an absolute must-have in local search engine optimization.
Once the profile is created, there are several display options that Google uses.
The Local Pack displays three local search results with a Google Map overlay in organic search. In addition to the NAP details (Name, Address, Phone Number), other information such as opening hours and ratings are displayed.
Clicking on “More Places” in the Local Pack opens the Local Finder. Alternatively, this can also be reached by clicking on “Maps” in Google search. Here up to 20 results are listed on the map. In addition, there is the option to filter by ratings.
Organic search results
If a “Local Pack” is played out for a local search query, the organic search results below it are less prominently visible because the Local Pack already takes up a large part of the visible area.
What are the local ranking factors?
Google evaluates local search results based on the following factors:
By combining the three factors, the search results are played out according to the query.
Ranking factor: Relevance
Relevance refers to the quality of the Google My Business profile. The more detailed the information provided, the more relevant Google classifies the entry. We have influence on this factor! Therefore, the Google My Business profile should be as maintained as possible and contain all relevant information.
We should provide the following information in principle:
- Company name
- Primary category
- Location address
- Opening hours
- Phone number
Other information we can provide:
- Catchment area(s)
- Special opening hours
- Link for dates
- Highlights (e.g. wheelchair accessible entrance, parking spaces, etc.)
- Company description
- Opening date
- Profile short name
The information we can provide differs depending on the business we have. Hotels, for example, can store certain information for guests, such as whether there is Wi-Fi in the room or what leisure activities are offered.
In any case, we should provide all available information and fill out the profile completely. In this way, we raise the quality of the entry and ensure that all information is ready and accessible.
Ranking factor: distance
The factor calculates how far the location mentioned in the search query is from me. If I do not specify a location, my location is used for the calculation.
Ranking factor: conspicuousness
Conspicuousness means: How well-known is a company from Google’s point of view.
The most important factors here are visibility in organic search, qualitative backlinks and user ratings.
The good news: Except for the distance or location, we can optimize a large part of the relevant factors and implement appropriate measures to be better listed.
According to a study by Search Engine Land, users primarily expect information on prices, services and contact data or address on the website of a local business.
This means we should provide our users with as much information as possible about us and our products and services on the website.
But we can do much more to push our business in local search. What applies to general search engine optimization also works here.
Display of the website on all devices
Our website should be accessible across all devices (smartphone, desktop, tablet) in order to best meet the needs of our visitors.
Local reference in title, description and URL
The SERP snippet (search result) is often a potential customer’s first touch point with a company. The local reference should be given in the title and description as well as the URL structure.
Local reference in the content of the page
The local reference should be established throughout the site, i.e. we make sure that the location and our products and services are represented in the content of the site:
- body text
- Image caption and alternative text
The inclusion of a map helps our users and gives additional local relevance.
If there are several company locations, it is worth having a separate subpage for each location.
Implementation of structured data
To make it easier for search engines to rank a company locally, we should mark up the NAP data in the imprint and on the corresponding location pages with structured data of the type “LocalBusiness”.
Example: Structured data in JSON-LD format (recommended by Google)
Even if the measures mentioned so far already bring good results, the optimization for local search is not yet finished.
Citations are mentions of a company’s name, address and telephone number (NAP) on the World Wide Web.
These company listings are another important means of positively influencing your own visibility in search engines These can be listings on local or large well-known industry sites, map services, social media channels, and also data aggregators.
The most important factor here is establishing what is known as “NAP consistency” across all entries. This means that the master data such as name, address and telephone number should be uniform, correct and up-to-date everywhere. Both on our website and in Google My Business, as well as in the business directories, on social media portals, etc. Only in this way our company gains relevance and credibility by search engines and we additionally ensure a positive user experience. So if the NAP data matches across multiple portals, it has a positive impact on visibility in regional search.
Recommendation: Adapt the spelling of the NAP data to the DIN 5008 standard.
There are a large number of websites that are eligible for citation-building, i.e. a listing. Therefore, we can use tools that take over this tedious manual task for us and automatically ensure consistency, correctness and timeliness of our company listings. This saves time and we can check off another important item on our optimization list.
If you run a local business, you should take care to be findable for potential customers and clients and pull out and use all the stops of local search engine optimization. Depending on the current status, a significant increase in visibility for local search queries can already be achieved through quick wins.