Website owners face a dizzying array of tactics when trying to rank their sites in search engines. With the advent of more sophisticated search engines, firms now have two distinct algorithms to worry about.
In addition to the regular search results familiar to internet users, both Google and Bing have an entirely different set of results known as local search. Local search is completely distinct from regular search. High rankings in the regular search engine results do not necessarily translate to being visible in local search. As such, business owners looking to remain competitive online should create a unique strategy for local search.
What is Local Search?
Over the past three years, both Bing and Google have implemented distinct search algorithms for any search queries considered “local”. The definition of a local search varies, but generally falls into one of the following categories:
- A search which includes a specific geographic location such as “Honolulu Plumber” or “Plumber on Oahu”
- A search which does not include a location, but is considered to be local in intent. A searcher looking for an “Irish bar” is not likely to be interested in a bar in a different state.
- Most product or service searches conducted on a mobile device. Search engines treat queries from a mobile device differently as mobile searchers are different than desktop users.
- Website administrators and SEO consultants should note that a search engine may treat a query as a local query even if it includes no geographical terms. As such, it is imperative for websites to provide information useful to local searchers in visible locations rather than simply targeting local search phrases.
How to Improve Local Search Rankings
Unfortunately for business owners, local search rankings are entirely different from normal search rankings. In effect, sites are competing in two entirely different algorithms. The tactics that work for a regular search result do not necessarily translate to success in local search results.
However, there are three specific factors that are both important for search engines and easy for businesses to improve:
Review Sites and Citations
Websites which are eligible to compete in local search algorithms are distinct from general sites throughout the internet. Notably, a website must be connected with an actual offline business for search engines to consider them for a local result.
Real-world companies generally appear in popular review sites like Google+ Local or citation directories like regional business associations. Thus search engines can use a firm’s presence or absence from review and citation sites as one way to establish its legitimacy. These online listings are critical for a business competing in the local search rankings.
Name, Address, Phone Number
Always include the name, address, and phone number of your business. Make sure to be consistent with the information. Mila Matheo, a manager at local SEO consultant Article Ebook, notes one memorable example:
“One client had different variations of their name, address, and phone number on sites throughout the internet. Some sites listed their full business name while others used a common abbreviation. The company had moved to a bigger location so some references still used the old address. The company also had multiple phone numbers for different departments listed publicly.
After we spent a month consolidating the name, address, and phone information, the company saw a 200 percent increase in visitors from local search queries. Just having consistent data tripled the amount of visitors for the local client.”
Many physical businesses have websites with little mention of geographical area. For example, many restaurants provide a street address without city, state, or zip code on their sites. The business owner and repeat customers may view it as unnecessary to have a city, state, or zip code listed with a street address. But search engines have no way of differentiating one “Main St” from another.
The more detailed the information on a website, the better computer algorithms can match a real-world business to its online website. This link, between the brick-and-mortar firm and its internet presence, is critical to competing in the local search rankings. Simply adding descriptive information about a city or relevant geographic area helps search engines to place a business within a particular region for search results.
Why Local Search Matters
Business owners are often reticent to invest additional resources in an online marketing campaign. Particularly if a business website is already providing adequate information to prospective customers, spending more money on further improvements seems wasteful. Ironically, as search engines gravitate toward an increased focus on local search, it is these currently successful business sites which have the most to lose.
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Increased mobile searches, sophisticated local algorithms, and better search engine targeting mean a higher proportion of searchers will be funneled into local search results. Companies that do not adapt their online strategy to local search will see fewer and fewer visitors over time. Local SEO and a focus on local search is the new frontier in the battle for online customers.