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How Local SEO Works

January 7, 2013

Simon Fryer
Simon
Simon is CandidSky's Search Director, with strong roots in organic SEO and analytics, and a disturbing passion for spreadsheets.

So what is local search? Google Says:

“Local search ranking refers to the placement and order of local information on a Google or Google Maps organic search results page. There are a variety of factors we take into account to provide you with results that match your local search, and three of the primary signals are relevance, prominence and distance. The best way to help potential customers connect with your business is to ensure that your basic company information like its name, address and phone number, are accurate, and then to add rich details like photos, hours of operation and more. You can do this by claiming and verifying your business via Google Places. However, claimed business listings do not receive any special ranking treatment over unclaimed business listings.”

So, all you have to do is put your company name, address, post code (NAP) and telephone number on your Google places page and you’ll rank at the top of local searches for your services?

It sounds too good to be true, and that’s because it is. Much like Google’s advice on Organic search “Create great content for your users and make your site accessible”. The truth is that there is much more to it.

First of all, lets take a look at what I’m talking about when I refer to local search. There are two main parts;

Localized organic search

These are localized organic results which are not part of the Google Maps listing. In 2011, if you wanted to find a hairdresser in London, you would head over to Google and type in “Hairdresser London” to pull out results that are relevant to your area, but since the Venice update in February 2012 Google introduced a whole new kind of localized search where the results you’re given are based on your computer’s location. Now if I type in “Hairdresser”, I’m served a series of results for hairdressers in my local area based on the IP address of my computer.

Blended organic/places listings

These are the map results provided when you make a search which has local intent, and for which there are Google Places listings in your area. These are the combined results of Google Places listings, your Google+ Local page.

So when I look at a localized Google search result, what’s what?

(Click to enlarge)

Local Results Page Breakdown

 

So how does local search actually work?

Search engines like Google gather data from all over the world – Google’s ambition is to collect and organize the worlds data, and to achieve this they need to look for information in a lot of different places. Mobile search, Geo Location, and location sensitive search retrieval are all coming together to create a whole new flavour of search. In order to put your business in front of local searchers Google needs to know where you are and what you do, and then need to see this information corroborated around the web. This is where the on-going work comes in; getting your name, address, and post code in as many valuable places as possible around the web.

local search factors

Google Places

Claim your listing

Google offers a verification process for claiming your listing on Google Places. This is an important trust factor that confirms that your business is open and the information in Google Places is correct.

Use the correct business categories

You need to use your categories wisely to make sure they relate to the service(s) you aim to promote.

Keywords in local listing title

If you’re a hairdresser (which I inexplicably seem to use as an example a lot) you need to make sure that this keyword is included in your local listing title. For example “Simon Fryer expert hairdressers”.

Keywords in business description

Self explanatory isn’t it? Make sure your description is unique, well written, and contains your target keywords.

Address and phone number

Make sure they are correct and consistent with your other listings across the web/ on your website. This is one of the ways to tell Google exactly where your business is located.

Videos and Pictures

If you have videos and pictures relating to your business, try to get them on your places page. Not only does it show that you’re active and are promoting your business visiually, but it make your places page much more attractive to users.

Corroboration across other information sources

Social Media

Just as you have optimised your Google Places page, you should do this across your other social media profiles including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other niche social networks. The more the merrier (or better).

Local Business Directories

You need to get your business name, address, and postcode across as many quality directories as possible. Again, make sure they are consistent with your Places page. These are known as structured citations.

Reviews

Reviews are an extremely important ranking factor in local search. You need to gather as many reviews, on as many platforms as possible. Even poor reviews will help your search placement. Again, it’s a case of the more the better. Google Places pages in particular will rank more highly the more review that are on your page.

hCard Microformat

It’s not as scary as it sounds. A hCard microformat is the placement of structured contact details that contain a special format to help search engines understand your contact details. Ideally you should have this on every page of your website.

KML file and Geo sitemap

A KML file is the simple placement of your exact latitude and longitude in a file on your website. This won’t be visible to users but is extremely valuable to search engines. A Geo Sitemap is similar to the normal XML sitemap you should have on your site. This should be submitted to Webmaster Tools.

This is by no means the be-all and end-all of local search, but following these steps will help your performance in local search and ensure you get the local exposure you’re looking for.

This is the second blog in our SEO mini-series on local search. We’ll include links here to the other articles as they are released. Enjoy!

Part 1 – A history of local search

Part 2 – How local search works

Part 3 – The important of local search: a case study

Part 4 – What local SEO means for small businesses

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