Local SEO: Gaining the Right Customers with Local Search Engine Optimization

A restaurant in New York, a hairdresser in Dallas, a nice hotel in Paris- according to Ed Parsons, specialist in spatial-geographical representation at Google, a third of all search queries had such a local reference in 2012. Many people use their smartphones in particular to find the nearest café, fashion store or workshop. The local search engine optimization or local SEO deals with the measures that should bring company websites as far forward as possible in the local search results. 

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Why is local search engine optimization becoming more and more important?

The importance of local searches is growing, especially for small and medium-sized companies. Many SMEs primarily address customers at a specific location. Anyone looking for a locksmith in New York, for example, cannot do much with search results from Dallas. Locksmiths in New York meanwhile have little from website visitors from Paris, as they will probably not commission their services.

Google wants to show searchers results that best match their query. Since 2007, the search engine has therefore been expanding its local search and endeavoring to find search results in geographical proximity. Google usually plays three different types of search results on local search queries: First and foremost are AdWords, paid ads. In second place is the so-called local pack with information from Google Maps and Google’s own business platform Google My Business. This is followed by organic search results – companies and service providers who are also geographically close to the searcher. 

If you are logged into your Google account, you don’t even have to explicitly name the search location. The search engine receives this data, for example, from the user profile or via the location data of the cell phone. In order to deliver the right results, however, Google has to find out where exactly the company belonging to a website is located. Local search engine optimization deals with the actions that convey this information to Google.

Optimizing the website

In order to find out how relevant a website is for a local search query, the search engine analyzes various sources. According to the annual MOZ study “Local Search Ranking Factors”, Google considers the following factors in particular:

  • On-page signals such as keywords, company and contact information
  • Link signals such as incoming text links
  • External location signals such as entries in business directories and rating portals 
  • Information from Google My Business 
  • Evaluation signals such as the number of company evaluations and their development over time 
  • Personalization like previous search queries and websites clicked on by a user 
  • User signals such as click rates in search results
  • Social signals such as likes and followers on social networks

The first step in local search engine optimization is therefore to optimize the content of the website. 

Content optimization

Google, but also website visitors, receive location information on the respective company through suitable keywords on the website. Such keyword combinations are made up of the keyword, city and brand, for example “Hairdresser & More New York” or “Massage center in Dallas”. This keyword combination should be mentioned above all in the page title, the H1 heading and in the running text of the start page. The combination of keyword and location can also be placed on other subpages.

However, over-optimizing by citing keywords too often should be avoided. Instead of being forced to incorporate a keyword combination into the text over and over again, a website can also be enriched with local information. These can be tips and advice on the respective city, sights or specific events. 

This local information should match a company’s offering. This form of content optimization does not make sense for all companies. On the other hand, contact details and directions via Google Maps are always helpful for potential customers. 

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Structured data

The company address should of course be found in a prominent position on the website. Almost everyone thinks of this when building their own website. The consistent spelling of the address data is just as important: Name, address and telephone number (phone) – NAP for short – should always appear on the website and in all external directories in the same spelling and in the same format.

Telephone numbers with area codes are beneficial for local search engine optimization. A code like 030 can be clearly assigned by Google to the city of Berlin. A service area code such as 0800, however, does not pass on any location information. 

Name, address and telephone number are part of the structured data. This includes all data that can be displayed in a structured manner in the form of a table, for example:

  • the web address
  • opening hours
  • accepted currencies
  • accepted payment methods (cash, credit card, etc.)

Schema.org, a joint initiative of the search engines Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex, provides a list of all structured data. 

Schema.org also provides a uniform procedure for marking out structured data. The following three attributes are inserted into the respective HTML document and convey the information to Google that there is structured data on the website:

  • itemscope = initiates the award
  • itemtype = defines what type of structured data is involved, such as address, opening times, events, etc.
  • itemprops = defines various properties of the item type

Not all structured data is relevant to every company. Here it is again important to select which data should be communicated to potential customers.

Company listing on Google My Business

Google provides companies with their own platform for easy management of company data: Google My Business. Companies can create a free profile here. 

The advantage: All Google services can easily access the data stored here. Google uses the content of the profile, for example, for rating in local search results. The entry appears in the Local Pack, including a photo, ratings, address details and opening times. Potential customers naturally notice this prominent type of presentation. 

With a Google My Business entry, the company can also be found on Google Maps and Google+. Customers can rate the company on Google and leave feedback. Entrepreneurs can access and act on this feedback through Google My Business. Google My Business also offers various evaluations and statistics. 

The requirement for an entry on Google My Business: The company must comply with Google’s corporate guidelines. This applies to all companies that have personal customer contact during their business hours. 

A company listing on Google My Business can be created in just a few steps. The entry can be assigned to different categories. Google recommends using a few, but as precise as possible, categories that correspond to the respective core business. A short descriptive text and a meaningful photo complete the profile. The entry must then be confirmed. Google usually sends a postcard for this, and Google employees also call some companies.

Local Citations: Entries in business directories and rating portals

A listing on Google My Business has many advantages. But it would be a mistake to leave it at that. As described above, Google also uses entries in other business directories and rating portals to find out how relevant a website is for a local search query.

Such entries are called Local Citations in local search engine optimization. They are the equivalent of building links within conventional search engine optimization.

Most companies think of an entry in the Yellow Pages. If you want to develop local citations, you should also look for other, well-known and trustworthy business directories and rating portals that are relevant for your own industry. 

Use of consistent data

In the section on structured data, we have already seen how important it is to always use the same spelling of the company name, address and telephone number on the website. Of course, this also applies to the local citations. On the one hand, consistent data increase the recognition value, on the other hand, they convey to search engines that each entry is about the same company. 

Many companies choose different tracking numbers for business directory entries. They want to find out which channels generate a particularly high number of calls, for example whether more customers can find the telephone number in the yellow pages or in an industry-specific register. However, Google compares the business directory entries with the data on the website. If these do not match, this can lead to a poorer placement in the local search results. The use of a uniform telephone number with area code is therefore an advantage.

Careful documentation helps to monitor and maintain the entries in business directories and rating portals. The access data for the individual entries should also be stored there so that they can be found quickly if necessary and changes can be made to the entry.

Generate customer ratings 

Google also takes customer reviews into account to determine a company’s relevance to local search. Customers leave reviews, for example, directly on Google or on review portals such as Customer Rating, Yelp and TripAdvisor. Google ratings appear as stars in the local pack, from one star (bad) to five stars (very good). A rating on Google Plus is particularly valuable as it is reflected directly in the ranking.

But by no means everyone who visits a hairdresser, a doctor or a workshop also rates them. How can entrepreneurs get their customers to leave a short feedback on the Internet after their visit?

Addressing them personally, for example in the form of a reminder email shortly after the visit, helps. The short, friendly request for a rating is followed directly by a link to the platform on which customers should leave their rating.

As tempting as it is: under no circumstances should entrepreneurs submit fake reviews. Sooner or later, fake reviews will be noticed and negatively affect the company. On the other hand, companies distinguish themselves positively when they respond to feedback in a friendly and factual manner and also respond to constructive criticism.

Investing in local search engine optimization is worthwhile. The measures mentioned help to address customers who are looking for the respective offer at the company’s location. 

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