What is local SEO?
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing a business’s web presence for increased visibility in local and localized organic search engine results. Proximity, prominence, and relevance are the three pillars of local search. Local SEO employs a wide array of technical and creative efforts to convince search engines that a business should be prominent in their results as a relevant answer to online searchers in close proximity to each business location.
Whether you’re a local business owner or marketer, one of the most actionable ways to think of integrating local SEO is as a form of customer service, which ensures nearby online searchers can find, like, connect with, and choose your local business.
The related, all-encompassing term “local search marketing” includes all online and offline efforts to promote business locations so that they become household names in the communities they serve.
A local SEO campaign is like a journey from trailhead to setting up camp. The trail is filled with challenges, but also amazing opportunities!
Why is local SEO important?
While each local business is unique, nearly all of them need to be discoverable online. Practices like optimizing a website, creating local business listings, managing reviews, and earning links all share the goal of driving increased online engagement.
You’ll find Google at the core of the majority of local SEO discussions. Why is that?
As of mid-2020, Google’s global search engine market share was 92.06%. While other search engines like Bing and Yahoo still have roles to play, their shares are tiny compared to Google’s — it’s estimated that Google processes 2 trillion searches per year globally.
Most importantly, a Google representative stated in 2018 that 46% of Google’s searches have a local intent. That’s a huge number of local searches being done every day — a statistic that makes it clear how prominence in Google’s local and localized organic search engine results can drive business to each location.
What do you need to start local SEO?
Standing at the trailhead of a local SEO project, there are four key things you need before you begin auditing a local business and creating a strategy for it.
1) The guidelines for representing your business on Google
The guidelines for representing your business on Google is a must-have document for every local business marketer. It teaches you how to think of a business in Google’s terms, how to market via the Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business), and how to avoid costly mistakes. Violation of the guidelines can result in loss of rankings, different levels of penalization, and even removal of local business listings. Bookmark the guidelines, study the rules they contain, and refer back to them frequently because Google often adds new provisions and clarifications.
At the start of your journey, the most critical guidelines for you to understand are the ones describing eligibility for inclusion in Google Business Profile. Every location must meet this requirement according to Google guidelines:
“In order to qualify for a Business Profile on Google, a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.”
In other words, if a location of a business doesn’t serve customers face-to-face during its open hours, it’s not eligible for a Google Business Profile listing and will not be able to conduct a full local search marketing campaign. Local SEO hinges on in-person service, whether that’s in a store, curbside, or at customers’ locations.
Once you’ve determined the eligibility of any location you plan to market, the guidelines then go on to describe, in extensive detail, how to fill out the various fields of the Google Business Profile, including how to name a business; how to handle its addresses, departments, and forward-facing practitioners; how to set hours; and more.
2) Basic business data
Skipping this step means running into trouble later. Make a copy of this simple, free spreadsheet, assign a store number/code to each location of the business, and fill out all of the fields. If the brand you’re promoting qualifies for multi-department or multi-practitioner listings according to the guidelines for representing your business on Google, be sure you are filling out a column for each of these entities as well.
Add additional fields to the spreadsheet if you need them. For example, if the business is a franchise, consider adding fields for franchisees’ contact information so you can quickly reach out to them when you need to communicate.
Finally, if the business has 10+ locations, you will have the opportunity to work with Google’s bulk upload functionality, which means filling out their bulk upload spreadsheet.
3) Clear identification of the business model
Take extra time to carefully identify your business model in particular. Business models include:
- Brick and mortar, like a retail shop or restaurant customers can visit
- Service Area Business (SAB), like a plumber or caterer who goes to customers’ locations
- Hybrid, like a pizza restaurant which also delivers
- Home-based, like a daycare center
- Co-located/co-branded business, like a KFC/A&W chain location
- Multi-department business, like a hospital or auto dealership
- Multi-practitioner business, like a real estate firm or dental practice
- Mobile business, like a stationary food truck
- Kiosk, ATM, and other less common business models
The guidelines for representing your business on Google have unique requirements and opportunities for each model. We won’t reproduce the entire document in this guide, because it frequently experiences editorial changes — take the time to read the entire set of guidelines to be sure you know how to strike a good path through Google’s online territory.
4) A clear statement of business goals
In some scenarios, your goal will be to develop the entire spectrum of online (and possibly offline) assets for a local business location. You’ll be touching everything from the website to local business listings to email marketing to social media profiles to review management. At other times, you may only be focusing on a smaller piece of the picture. But whether the scope of the work ahead of you is broad or narrow, setting goals at the outset is the only way to measure your success after completing your tasks.
It’s typically best when the business owner can state their goals by answering the question:
“What will success look like?”
Try to formulate an answer to that question by defining success as:
- An increase in foot traffic
- An increase in phone calls
- An increase in transactions
- An increase in form submission leads
- An increase in requests for driving directions
- An increase in links
- An increase in positive reviews
- An increase in local pack visibility for X search phrases
Steer clear of vanity metrics like “I want to be #1” or “I just need more website traffic.” At the end of the day, what most businesses really want is increased profits. How to get from A to Z is where strategy comes in, defining which tactics and messaging may result in reaching the stated goal that then translates into increased profits.
Once any relevant contributors have agreed on a goal, set a timeline. In-house and third-party marketers should be extremely clear about developing realistic time estimates. It takes time for the impacts of nearly all local search marketing efforts to fully mature, so be sure any timeline you offer avoids over-promising and under-delivering.
Now that you have the canonical business data, know the model and goals of the business, and have Google’s guidelines well in hand, you’re ready to begin your local SEO journey.