Ever since Google launched its Pigeon algorithm for its search engine, local businesses have tussled with each other to keep their business at the top of Google search results. Many businesses even hire SEO experts to help them with their local SEO rankings. But it seems that no one has exactly perfected that particular art. Ranking in local search is still a bit of a mystery. But worry not! This blog will (hopefully) clear the air on local SEO ranking.
What Is Local SEO: A Brief Study
Local SEO is basically the art of optimizing a website, preferably belonging to a small or medium local business, so that it appears in the top 10 results of Google SERP (search engine ranked pages). Specifically, these results appear quite differently from other searches in Google. Known as “Local 3-pack”, the results appear nested in the upper part of Google’s search results, below their Ad placements.
Initially, these results would appear as a group of 10 or 7 results at one time. However, in mid-September 2015, Google updated its algorithm to display only 3 local results, hence changing the results from “6-pack” to “3-pack”. This of course led to a lot of headache for local business owners, as ranking in local results even that much harder to achieve.
How it All Began
We can safely say that local SEO has existed for some years now. Ever since an increase in mobile internet users, Google started making their search results more convenient and mobile user-friendly. To that effect, they launched the Pigeon algorithm on 24th July, 2014. The forte of Pigeon algorithm is, it refines the local search results, making them more relevant and accurate. It is also closely related to search ranking results. If we look at the timeline below, we will get a pretty gist about how importance of local search really began.
- 2005: Google Maps is launched.
- 2007: Google begins listing local business information in search results.
- 2008: The Local OneBox starts displaying only 3 local businesses to 10.
- 2009: The 7-Pack becomes the 10-Pack.
- 2010: Google’s Local Business Center becomes Google Place Pages.
- 2012: Google launches Venice and ShieldsUp updates. Google+ Local replaces Google Places. Finally, Google+ Business and Google+ Local merge.
- 2014: Google creates Google My Business. In the same year, Google’s Pigeon algorithm update is launched.
Google Plus: The Crux
Google Plus – Google’s own social media platform – was launched in June, 2011, following in the footsteps of its predecessors like Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, and Orkut.
Though it was originally intended to be just a social networking website, Google soon started tying it up with the rest of its products.
So how does Google Plus fit into this topic? Well, ladies and gentlemen, Google has integrated a feature in Google plus called Google My Business. What this feature does is, it lets business users create an account and list their business details, so that they can be displayed in Google search more accurately. Having a Google My Business account is also a very important ranking signal, but we will talk about that detail in a bit.
Ranking Signals in Local Search: The Whats and the Hows
Now that we have explained what local SEO is and how it all started, we will now talk about how any business can rank in local search result. Below, we will list the major requirements that must be met to ensure good Local SEO result:
• Google My Business: As we have explained above, having a Google My Business is considered as a major ranking signal. If your business is listed here, you can be sure that Google is already considering your business as authentic and gearing up to display your business in its local 3-pack. You need to make sure that the following details have been filled out properly.
a) Your business name. This should be quite obvious, but many business owners don’t add their business names properly, or their names are slightly different. This can be problematic.
b) A unique description about your business. The description should ideally be around 150 words long.
c) The category that your business mostly relates to.
d) A business phone number that you are currently using. The phone number has to be local
e) Accurate local address of the location where you operate your local business from. You can also add the areas where you provide your services to.
f) Add as many photos of your business as you can.
g) Add a proper profile picture and cover photo to your Google plus business page.
h) Add the proper opening ours of your business.
i) Ask your customers to leave their reviews and experiences about your business in your page.
From the above points, it should become pretty clear that Google’s main objective is to increase user experience and make it convenient for them to find as many details about your business as possible. This should also increase your customer’s satisfaction level.
• Name, Address and Phone number (NAP): You need to make sure that your businesses name, address and phone number are present in every page of your website. You can also make things better by using schema markup language to highlight your NAP details for Google’s convenience. Schema markup code for a local business looks something like this:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">
<p itemprop="name">[COMPANY NAME]</p>
<p itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
<p itemprop="streetAddress">[COMPANY ADDRESS]</p>
<p itemprop="telephone">[PHONE NUMBER]</p>
<meta itemprop="latitude" content="[LATITUDE]" />
<meta itemprop="longitude" content="[LONGITUDE]" />
• Get local and authentic reviews: Like we mentioned before, getting user reviews about your business is actually a very good thing, as reviews will help you rank in local search. The more reviews your business has, the better. Also, ensure that the reviews are authentic, and not fabricated. The best way to do is to proactively ask your regular customers to leave reviews in Google and other review based websites like Yelp.
• Get your on-page SEO sorted: On-page SEO factors can tremendously boost your local business rankings. On-page SEO basically involves embedding/editing your website’s backend coding to make your website more SEO friendly. Take care of the following on-page SEO factors to get better results with local rankings:
a) Include your business locality/region along with relevant keyword in the tag of landing page.
b) Include your business locality/region along with relevant keyword in the header tag of landing page.
c) Include your business locality/region along with relevant keyword in the URL of landing page.
d) Include your business locality/region along with relevant keyword in the text content of the landing page.
e) Include your business locality/region along with relevant keyword in the tag of landing page.
f) Include your business locality/region along with relevant keyword in the and tags of images landing page.
In addition, you should also ensure that your website design is mobile-friendly. As we mentioned earlier, Google made local search an important factor because of the surge in mobile internet usage. Google had even launched a mobile friendliness update in 2015 affectionately nicknamed “Mobilegeddon” or “Mobocalypse”. So it stands to reason that if your website is mobile-friendly, your local SEO ranking will get better too.
• Local citation and link building: Link building has been a major part of SEO strategies since its inception. And there’s no exception when it comes to Local SEO as well. Compared to general SEO, citation building is even more important for local SEO since local business owners would want to make potential customers about the business. Citations are simply online references to your business, which contains the name, address, contact details, and description about your business. While link building requires sharing a URL of your business website online, citations don’t need to be linked. Both are great and albeit important ways to let people know about your business.
But these citations and links have to be authentic. Google rewards those who follow Google’s guidelines for link building, but also punishes those who break the rules by delisting the businesses from their search engine.
It’s imperative that all the above points are fulfilled diligently. In the end, these points will ensure that people are clicking the link to your business in Google search, which will further improve your web presence.
Recent Updates in Local SEO
Recently, there have been some very important updates in Local SEO ranking algorithm that we want to share. There are three factors that people need to know about while ranking their local business in Google:
1) Relevance: This point refers to how well your business’s details match with what a user is searching for in Google. Exempli gratia, if you own a restaurant in the San Francisco Bay area, there are higher chances of your business coming on top of search for a user who is searching for a restaurant in the same area, compared to let’s say, a user searching for a restaurant from Downtown area.
2) Distance: Like the name suggests, how far your business location is from the user is also a ranking factor. If the user doesn’t specify a location, Google will automatically calculate the distance based on the user’s location and the location of the business.
3) Prominence: This refers to how well known a business is. For example, some businesses are very well known in the offline world, like museums, landmarks etc., which Google tries to emulate in local searches. While some businesses are prominent online. For Local SEO experts, making a business prominent online is the primary objective. Having a healthy link distribution online through link building, citations, reviews, articles, blogs etc. can help a business become more prominent online.
1) Set up a Google My Business page. Fill up all the details diligently.
2) Focus on on-page optimization of your website using local keywords.
3) Set up your NAP listings properly across the web.
4) Ask your customers to leave genuine reviews about your business on Google and other review websites.
5) Implement schema microdata snippets to highlight the most important details about your business.
Check out our infographic below to get a visual representation of how Local SEO should be properly implemented: