Local search engine optimization (Local SEO) is similar to SEO in that it is also a process affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine‘s unpaid results (SERP- search engine results page) often referred to as “natural”, “organic“, or “earned” results. In general, the higher ranked on the search results page and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users; these visitors can then be converted into customers. Local SEO, however, differs in that it is focused on optimizing a business’ online presence so that its web pages will be displayed by search engines when users enter local searches for its products or services.Ranking for local search involves a similar process to general SEO but includes some specific elements to rank a business for local search.
Major search engines have algorithms that determine which local businesses rank in local search. Primary factors that impact a local business’s chance of appearing in local search include proper categorization in business directories, a business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) being crawlable on the website, and citations (mentions of the local business on other relevant websites like a chamber of commerce website).
In 2016, a study using statistical analysis assessed how and why businesses ranked in the Local Packs and identified positive correlations between local rankings and 100+ ranking factors.Although the study can’t replicate google’s algorithm, it did deliver several interesting findings:
- Backlinks showed the most important correlation (and also Google’s Toolbar PageRank, suggesting that older links are an advantage because the Toolbar has not been updated in a long time).
- Sites with more content (hence more keywords) tended to fare better (as expected).
- Reviews on GMB also were found to strongly correlate with high rankings.
- Other GMB factors, like the presence of photos and having a verified GMB page with opening hours, showed a positive correlation (with ranking) albeit not as important as reviews.
- The quality of citations such as a low number of duplicates, consistency and also a fair number of citations, mattered for a business to show in Local Packs. However, within the pack, citations did not influence their ranking: “citations appear to be foundational but not a competitive advantage.”
- The authors were instead surprised that geotargeting elements (city & state) in the title of the GMB landing page did not have any impact on GMB rankings. Hence the authors suggest using such elements only if it makes sense for usability reasons.
- The presence of a keyword in the business name was found to be one of the most important factors (explaining the high incidence of spam in the Local Pack).
- Schema structured data is a ranking factor. The addition of the ‘LocalBusiness’ markup will enable you to display relevant information about your business to Google. This includes opening hours, address, founder, parent company information and much more
- The number of reviews and overall star rating correlates with higher rankings in the Google map pack results.