Understanding Local SEO

Local SEO is simply search engine optimization for local businesses and services. This idea is easy to understand if you think about it this way: when I need to find something that I want, what do I do?

Most people pull out their phones and type it into Google: “Italian restaurants near me,” “best roofing company in St. Charles,” “gas stations.” The information that Google returns is the result of local SEO. In the days before social media, Google Maps, Yelp, or even the internet, potential customers would look at the yellow pages to look for desired businesses. (You probably remember doing this yourself.) The world is different now.

What Businesses Need Local SEO?

If you are a business that provides goods and services to local customers, you absolutely need local SEO. Without local SEO, your business is virtually invisible. If you are a restaurant, how will hungry customers know you exist, much less where you are and how to get there. Furthermore, without some business information, customers won’t know your hours, your style of food, your web address, or anything. How could you possibly expect to have a single customer arrive at your restaurant without any local SEO?

If you aren’t in the food service or retail market, you may be thinking that you don’t need local SEO. You may say, “I’m a roofer,” or “I’m a real estate agent,” or “I’m lawyer,” and since my business location is less important, then I don’t need Local SEO. Sadly, that’s incorrect. Almost every business could benefit from maximizing their local SEO because it helps customers find you and what you have to offer. If you are reading this, you almost certainly need local SEO.

So, with that in mind, you are probably wondering, what goes into local SEO? The broad concept is easy to understand, but there’s a lot that goes into it. We’ll break it down for you.

How Search Engines Work

Thinking Like Google

If you search the web for advice on SEO, you’ll probably across a lot of talk from web development nerds about ‘optimizing’ this or ‘adding code’ to that, and while many of these tips and tricks do work, these experts are often missing the forest for the trees. They don’t explain why Google responds favorably to some techniques but not others. If you are trying to get on the first page of Google, it’s important for you to understand why, and even more importantly, to learn how Google thinks.

Local SEO and Google Ranking

Image all of your google search requests were fulfilled not by computers but by real people, hundreds of thousands of expert researches, who, upon receiving a search request, would sift through the entire internet for the best websites and information to match the words you typed into the search bar. What would these people look for? What would they prioritize? Why would they prioritize some things, but not other things?

What information would you look for? Let’s do an exercise to take you through this whole process.

I type “Can I Sue My Landlord?” into a search engine. Now go fetch me the best web pages for my search.

What do you look for? Obviously, you probably will want relevant information. Since I talked about suing the landlord and not symptoms of Sleep Apnea, you probably want legal websites and not WEBMD. More specifically, you want a website with information on the specific topic to which I was referring. How do you know this is the most relevant information possible, or the best match for the question I’m asking?

It can be tricky. You’re not familiar with the topic but you can look for signs that you’re on the right track. What are the headers? An exact match in big bold text at the top of the page should immediately strike you as a great candidate, but what else might you be looking for?

What about the other smaller headings, the subheadings? Do they say things like, “reasons for suing the landlord?” or “reasons a lawsuit against the landlord might fail?” If you, you may be on the right track, so you continue scanning the page. What about the words themselves, the actual body of the text? Do you see a lot of talk about suing the landlord? Yes, you do. This could be a winner!

But before return to me with that perfect webpage, you stop and ask yourself: how can you trust this information? They are saying the right things, but how can you possibly know if they are telling the truth or just writing nonsense.

Next, you look for signs that the information is coming from a reputable source, and you do this by seeing whether this same information is trusted by other reputable sources. In other words, are other big, important websites pointing to this website?

Perhaps this information is coming from a law firm, and if so, does this law firm seem legitimate? Do they have an address and phone number listed? Yes, they do. This website seems legitimate. They have a business listing on google with many five-star reviews and there are numerous directories pointing to them as a reference. Everything seems good

But then you stop and continue thinking again. This website seems legitimate, the information seems great, but what if you give me the link and the website is insanely slow that I get frustrated and want to leave before it finishes? You ask yourself: is this a fairly fast webpage? Will I get annoyed by the speed?

You test it out and it loads fast, so you’re happy. You have found a search that matches the information I am looking for, it comes from a relevant search, and the website is fast enough that I’ll stick around for it to load. You truly have a winner.

There you have it. That thought experiment should help you begin to think like Google, and by understanding Google, you will better understand why certain pages and businesses rank higher than others and you can use this to your advantage.

Google My Business is a good start for Local SEO

Even if you’ve never heard the term “Google My Business,” you have probably seen it in action many times when you do your own personal searches online. A Google My Business (abbreviated to GMB) listing is the information that pops up inside the search engine after you type in the name of a business into Google’s search bar. You’ve seen it before. Check out the picture below.


Google My Business Local SEO

 herA GMB page will include a bulk of useful information about that business, including its name, address, phone number (sometimes abbreviated to NAP), reviews, services provided, hours of operation, price level, pictures, and more. GMB makes it easy for potential customers to see a lot of condensed information about a business without needed to dig through a separate website to look for it.

With Google My Business, you are immediately visible to searches. This is a powerful tool and should be used by every local business. Indeed, in the current internet age, the difference between success and failure can often hinge merely on the GMB listing, so ensuring that the GMB reviews are good and that the information is accurate and consistent. In the quest for the top spot on search engines, Google always favors businesses that can be trusted (and that actually exist!), and among the best ways to win Google’s trust is with accurate information and good reviews.

Local Citations are crucial to Local SEO

In addition to Google My Business, another important part of local SEO are citations. As we mentioned earlier, Google is always attempting to make legitimate, high-quality businesses visible and make fake businesses and scams invisible. Proving that your businesses does indeed exist is extremely important to Google. This is where citations come in. Citations are all of the various listings of a businesses in web databases and directories, ranging from sources like Apple maps to Yelp to the Better Business Bureau to Yellow Pages.

By listing your business in these legitimate and well-respected databases, you are not only increasing your visibility, you are collecting a pool of valuable backlinks (more on what backlinks mean later), or references for your business. Of course, as with everything local SEO, the information, including the name, address, and phone number, need to accurate and consistent across all of these citations.

Local Schema Markup is important to Local SEO

Schema is markup may be a little more difficult to understand if you aren’t a web developer. But in short, schema markup are lines of data that can be inserted into the code of a webpage that allows search engines to better understand information about a webpage. Schema was originally created by Google, Bing, and Yahoo as a way of helping their search engine algorithms more efficiently and effectively triangulate on the most important information about a webpage. This information can include addresses, phone numbers, logos, and other things. Sound familiar?

Once again, as with Google My Businesses and citations, local schema markup is yet another way of telling Google what your businesses is all about, so it doesn’t have to keep guessing. Having said that, Google can determine what your website is about in other ways, but local schema markup helps you get right to the point. A great tool to help you get started in schema markup can be found here at Merkle.

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