The importance of local SEO cannot be overlooked. With the rise of mobile use and Google’s increasingly sophisticated understanding of user intent, ranking locally has become the best way to increase footfall into local businesses.
Rather than focus on the Local Pack (which is the map/geographic-focused results often appearing at the top of the SERPs this post will focus on rankings for locationally-focused content and landing pages in the natural results. The most important signals can be seen below.
Research by Moz
- Link Signals
As with all search ranking factors, links are still the major signal used to determine relevance to a particular query. They act as endorsements – so the better the endorser, the higher the value of your page. Google uses links in several ways. The main factors are:
- Number of different linking domains
- Authority of linking domains
- Relevance of linking pages (a big win in local search is local recommendations and locally relevant content linking to you)
- Page authority of link origins
- Anchor text of inbound links (keyword and locational relevance)
This is one of the harder areas to control, as to get links naturally and effectively, they should be earned/won rather than bought or requested. This simply requires putting out content that is more useful and engaging than that of your competitors, is visually pleasing and easy to use and, ideally, as unique as possible.
There are a number of tricks and techniques to boosting your chances of getting some links that are locally and topically relevant. Here are just several:
- A competition (this could involve local bloggers or members of the public)
- Host an industry event celebrating and exhibiting your products and services
- Nominate your business for an award
- Host a community event and provide value
- On-Page Signals
No matter how good your linking signals are, if Google can’t determine the topic or location of your page, you will not be shown for relevant locational queries.
In this context, on-page signals means the content on your page and how rankable it is. Does it relate to the search queries you want? Does it contain the information relevant to that query?
This ranges from including the basics like name, address and contact details (telephone number, email address), to ensuring you have a decent keyword density on the page. This includes frequency of locational terms as well as industry terms.
For example, if you were a gym (where x is the location), you may want to include the terms ‘x gym,’ and ‘gym in x’ a few times. Synonyms and secondary keywords should also be used, not only to prevent it from becoming monotonous and repetitive spammy robot-speak, but to fire up Google’s latent semantic indexing capacities and to help you rank for those terms.
For a fitness club in Colchester, for instance, here are some phrases you might want to consider:
‘Gym in Colchester’
‘Colchester health and fitness club’
‘Fitness Classes in Colchester,’
David Lloyd’s local club pages are handling this well:
It isn’t just density which is important – keyword placement is perhaps even more significant.
Like in our example above, make sure you include your primary keywords in your metadata, headers and secondary headers; drop a scattering of synonyms through your main copy, always making sure it reads well for humans.
- Behavioural Signals
By this we mean how users are interacting with your page. Are they finding what they are looking for and are they staying on your content for a decent amount of time? Did they engage with many elements on the page? Did they bounce?
There are three questions to keep in mind here:
Firstly, are people going to select your page over the competition? Make sure you stand out in SERPs with engaging and descriptive metadata and, where possible, snippets. This consideration is mainly to improve click through rate. If your result gets no clicks, Google will favour results that do.
Secondly, does the page serve the user’s intent? Ask yourself, what exactly are they looking for if they end up on this page? Are they looking to book something? Information? Download something? Does this page contain everything it needs? This consideration is mainly to lower bounce rate. If the majority of users head straight back to the SERPs, your rankings will soon suffer.
Thirdly, can you include supplementary content or elements to keep people interested and engaging with the page to help the average behavioural metrics? A video, a map, an interactive timetable (if you were a gym, say) or a graphic? This will help pull up average time on site. If all the people who click through spend a decent amount of time on this page, Google will assume you are relevant, useful and provide a good experience, and will rank you accordingly.
Now this is another factor that is outside your control. As Google becomes more and more sophisticated and better at machine learning, it is tailoring the results it provides to users on an individual level. For example, if your search history is SEO and IT heavy and you perform a search for ‘python,’ it will assume you are intending to find out about the coding language rather than the giant snake.
There are quite a number of things Google will take into account here, and they are all user-focused:
- User’s search history: if you are frequent visitor to a certain domain or brand, this will carry more weight than the competition when a relevant search is performed
- User’s location: if you are searching in Birmingham, you are more likely to be served up local results for that city. This is especially sensitive on mobile
- User’s social connections: This was a more important consideration when Google+ was on the rise, however, it is worth remembering that user’s connected with others on the social network will be more likely to see content from them when performing a search in Google
- Other elements, such as bookmarks, your calendar and email are also thought to affect personalised results.
To give you the best chance of scoring well in this area, make sure your locational information is accurate (including in My Business), and get your brand and content out far and wide to secure as much interaction as possible across the whole web and social networks.
- Citation Signals
This is essentially when your local business, or locational information referring to it, is mentioned online. This could include your address, phone number, business name, even photos, videos and business email addresses are thought to contribute. Google will assume businesses with a lot of mentions online are popular and useful.
The third-party sites you should be seeking out to fulfill this criterion tend to revolve around reviews or directories.
Using your business listings management tool, get your local listings actively managed on:
Google My Business (first and foremost; more on this later)
- Apple Maps
As well as actively building out your breadth of citations through outreach and content placements, ensure that your address and business descriptions are consistent across all owned media and your own properties (website, blog, subdomains, social accounts, meta data etc.)
- My Business Signals
Understandably, Google has placed particular emphasis on getting a brand’s My Business Signals correct. The tool was made for small-medium local businesses (with physical locations) to manage how they appear online; for this reason, it is very straightforward and easy to use. We’ll quickly run through the main considerations anyway.
- Ensure your address is verified. This may involve a phone call or postcard providing you with a PIN to confirm your location.
- Make sure your primary business information is accurate and up to date. This essentially includes contact-information basics, such as name/brand, address, phone number etc. Ideally, this information should be in-line with your other online properties (website, social profiles, metadata) to provide a coherent online experience for your core customers
- Optimise your category information. This is your chance to throw in topical relevance and important keywords. The primary category should be the main term for which you want to be associated. Additional categories can be related terms and secondary keywords.
- Review Signals
Anytime a customer or associate leaves an opinion online regarding your business, this can affect rankings and user signals. Search engines will use quantity and quality of rankings to assess your relevance to a locational query. Essentially, aim for as many positive rankings as you can.
The main sites associated with reviews are Google, Facebook and Yelp. These are the main three to focus upon, however, there are a number of other smaller sites to be aware of.
First and foremost you need to ensure you are doing everything to be perceived as pleasant and engaging. This thought process should consider everything from the attitudes of staff, to general ambience and decor. Is your location the kind of place that customers want to tell their friends about?
Again, because these are not controlled directly by you, this isn’t the easiest area to game; however, there are various measures you can take to optimise your chances:
- Pay attention to the views you already have and try and fix any issues, particularly the serious and reoccuring ones
- Ask for reviews directly from customers who have had a good experience with your location
- Respond to bad reviews and commentary quickly and positively
- Make the process of reviewing as easy as possible – is there any way you can encourage customers to leave one in-store?
- Social Signals
As is always the case in ranking factors, the search engines are reluctant to place too much importance on social rankings as this would make them too reliant on their data-competitors (e.g. Facebook) for determining accurate rankings.
Put simply, try and get people to engage with your location across the social networks, share your posts with your friends and follow your page for news and updates.
Following these steps will be a good start to getting your local landing pages and geographically-focused content to rank well. However, here at DAC, we have been in the local space for 40+ years and are experts in the field. Please do get in touch if you need further information or have questions.