Since the pandemic, Local SEO has become the backbone of digital marketing for thousands of businesses in Australia looking to promote their products and services.
Local businesses came to the fore in many Western countries, their cities, towns and villages during the lockdown periods, and new fervour has hit where people have changed their shopping habits and subsequently their internet behaviour.
No longer are people looking to travel out of town to Mega malls but instead want to find local businesses that provide the same products.
Statistics now show:
As you can see local SEO has now become a major player in the marketplace when it comes to enquiries. So having a well-structured and updated strategy in place for 2023 and beyond is essential.
In this guide we will look to explain more about the fundamentals of local SEO, why it is effective and how you can leverage it to gain more business and notoriety.
So let's take a look at what we will be covering:
- How to get started with local SEO
- Local SEO - What is it?
- Local SEO - Why is it so important?
- The Google Map Pack - What is it?
- Conduct a local SEO audit
- Using your Google Business Profile and NAP
- Being mobile-friendly
- Page Speed
- Citations and how to leverage them
- Get truthful feedback from your customers
- Creating premium-quality local content
- Link-building - Getting a strategy in place
- Ensure your schema is on-point
- Google Analytics and the Google Search Console
How to get started with local SEO
Before we get too deep it's important to understand the basic principles and building blocks of local SEO. Plus, the do's and don'ts to make sure you put yourself at the forefront of the searches for the products and services you provide in your local area.
So let's start with what Local SEO is and its importance in today's online searches.
Local SEO - What is it?
Local SEO is the practice of working smart alongside Google's Best Practices to ensure when a user searches for anything related to what you do or provide locally you appear on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
By appearing you are boosting visitors to your site and store (if you have one) and increasing your brand awareness.
You may have subliminally noticed since the pandemic that when you search for let's say...coffee shop, the words 'near me' become autofill next to it.
This is because of the surge in local searches since the pandemic in all Western countries.
Therefore Google using geo-location will automatically produce a list of relevant results of coffee shops in the vicinity of the user's location.
However, to be at the top of those search results is what you will learn to try to achieve from this guide.
When it comes to Google's algorithm there is no single answer anyone can give you about how you boost your performance to number one on the SERPs - so you adopt a wider plan.
You look at areas such as:
- Local Keyword Optimisation
- Link Building
- Set-Up Google Business Profile (GBP) *formerly Google My Business
NOTE: We will cover GBP later as it plays a pivotal role in results. If you service a geographic location or have a physical business, you can really enhance your business with local SEO optimisation.
Local SEO- Why is it so important?
As you saw from the earlier image - 87% of consumers 'used Google’ to evaluate local businesses.
With a statistic like that, you've got to jump on the bandwagon as it's on the move without the slightest hint of slowing down anytime soon!
As these searches are being conducted locally your conversion rates significantly increase from someone who finds you in another state.
If someone in another state found you but searched further they can likely find another company closer to home that offers the same products or services and will stay local - EXACTLY WHY YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON YOUR LOCAL AREA.
As you can see from the graph above out of that 87% - up to 40% of millennials and 28% of non-millennials physically visited the premises of what they found on their local search.
And the even better news for small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) is that Google has made a push and initiative for local businesses to take advantage of if your content is relevant to what the user is searching for.
So generic searches such as 'best restaurant' is now extremely difficult to rank high for, especially in populated areas and can be dominated by restaurants with a larger marketing budget, however, local searches like 'best Italian restaurant near me' will now favour those businesses that become relevant to the search intent of the users, given their geo-location.
The Google Map Pack - What is it?
The Google Map pack is a main feature that results from precis work on your GBP and features the best-ranking businesses by Google for a specific search term.
The Map Pack allows users to see your key information regarding products and services but also your exact business, contact and location information using map pins.
The Map Pack shows ahead of the normal SERP results, showcasing the main three businesses in the area for the search term entered into the user's browser. However, as you can imagine the competition for these three places is intense!
The Map Pack garners the majority of searches so it's where your business wants to be. With mobile searches having overtaken desktop and laptop searches some time ago the Map Pack will take up most if not all of a mobile screen.
But getting there needs an SEO strategy that is perfectly implemented and that is where for beginners, it's best to look at an experienced SEO company to assist you and get traffic coming your way quickly.
Conduct a local SEO audit
If you hire the services of an SEO agency one of the first steps they will take is to initiate a local SEO audit.
That will give them an insight into what's working well and what's not, and what your rankings are.
An audit will reveal things such as:
- Local Keyword Searches and Volume
- Analyse your Direct Competition
- Review your GBP
- Show your Page Speed, any Duplicate Content and your Schema
Based on the data they will be able to put a strategy and a rough timeframe in place to start increasing brand awareness and engagement with your website and/or physical premises.
But updates and upgrades will constantly be ongoing to keep in line with Google's fine-tuning of what it wants from businesses it represents for search terms.
Using your Google Business Profile and NAP
If you haven't made many changes in recent times you may not have heard of Google Business Profile (GBP) for years it was known as 'Google My Business' however, it is effectively the same tool, but as with everything Google it changed and advanced.
It is an invaluable tool (if implemented properly) for businesses to get noticed.
Another term you will hear if you start to work with an SEO agency is the term 'NAP' This stands for:
- Phone number(s)
- Opening days and times
- Services and products you provide
- Images of your store (if you have a physical presence)
In a nutshell, a front window to promote everything about you accurately so people know you have what they want, plus exactly how to find you and contact you.
The accuracy of your information is the key. If you have a website, the information must be uniform and aligned with any social media platforms, or business listings you have, there can be NO discrepancies.
If you haven't set up an account then your SEO agency will do so as part of a local SEO campaign, and they will keep on top of your GBP and NAP (most important).
If you are a bar for example and now you have decided to sell bar snacks, it needs to be updated as you are offering more services that Google can alert people who are searching, helping increase your relevancy for the search term.
Google adopted 'Mobile-first indexing' several years ago. When this first happened SEO agencies would tell their customers "It's advisable to make your website mobile-friendly" - It is no longer 'advisable' it is 'MANDATORY!'
But there are still web designers out there that want to make a website look as pretty as possible for a laptop and don't take this vital part of SEO into consideration.
In the busy world we live in not everyone has the time to be sat down behind a desk using a desktop or laptop they are on the go, using their mobile for information.
This can be for directions, opening hours, contact information, browsing products and more…
So being mobile-friendly is a must for local SEO services to be effective. It's no good giving a customer a slow painful experience or not showcasing your products properly on their smartphone.
The website needs to be responsive as devices come in different shapes and sizes, and any reputable SEO specialist will know this before they even start a campaign and check for that on the audit we mentioned earlier in this blog.
Attention spans are shortening due to the number of options people have online when searching Google.
So a slow load-up speed will encourage them to look elsewhere and this will affect your 'Bounce Rates' (someone who goes to your website and bounces straight off) Google monitors this and it is now one of their most prominent negative ranking factors.
Slow page speed can be due to varying reasons, such as image file sizes that need compressing or your Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) needing to be rewritten efficiently.
Again an SEO specialist will be able to evaluate these things upfront.
Citations and how to leverage them
Citations re-affirm who you ar and what you do and any mention of your NAP information spreads across the web.
When referred to or mentioned by a credible source that has authority in Google's eyes, it says to them you are a trusted source for information relating to your sector or niche.
Citations are not all the same however, there are 'structured' and 'unstructured' citations.
This is where an SEO agency would add your business information to popular directories such as Pure Local, Oneflare or Hotfrog for example.
On the other side of the fence, these citations are not web-based directory listings.
As an example, if a company is in the process of organising an event and mentions another business's website as part of that event, plus it contains their NAP information, Google's crawlers consider this as a positive local ranking.
Get truthful feedback from your customers
Online reviews for local businesses have become make or break as to whether that person will look to potentially be a customer.
These reviews can be directly on Google, your social media platforms or other directories such as Oneflare, Hotfrog and so on.
BrightLocal recently conducted this 2023 local SEO survey and came up with the following figures:
Google aggregates the reviews across all platforms and directories on the web to conclude its own rating for your business.
The bottom line is if you are providing accurate well-informed information, that is up-to-date and helpful to the users, and also delivering top-quality services and products you've got little to worry about.
NOTE - It's not all about receiving glowing 5-star reviews. It's also about engagement. When someone gives you a review FIND the time to reply to that review good or bad and address it. Not only does Google like that but it makes new visitors to you feel that they can get a personal connection with the company; you are not there just to take their money.
Creating premium quality local content
Google values original, informative content A LOT!
It's the backbone of any local SEO project and can reap great rewards if created properly and regularly.
It is the ideal opportunity to be at the forefront of local people’s minds. If done correctly will also help your rankings on the SERPs.
Though as any reputable SEO company will tell you there is no magic wand or correct way to do it as only Google know their algorithm and what the next update will be.
So the best approach is to adhere to Google's Best Practices and always stop to think about what you like or don't like when you use the internet to search for information.
A great option not just for client engagement but also for link building and to get Google's attention is a 'Blog'.
A blog gives you the freedom to write about anything related to your industry and not just about yourself and your business.
By being informative Google likes that, you can discreetly place keywords that have been identified as relevant to you but just give people solid up-to-date engaging material and they and Google will follow.
A blog is an ideal opportunity to help get some of your pages that are not ranking and target some less competitive keywords that are easier to achieve a page one ranking.
As long as you are providing additional value to the reader while it's not obvious is linked to the bigger picture for you it's a win-win.
But remember don't write an article for the sake of it, low-quality content can be more damaging than NO content. So make sure there is an intent before you post.
If you are working alongside an SEO company you can work together on content, be sure to inform them of anything new in your industry or niche.
They can either put content together that is keyword rich or advise you on what parameters and structure in which to write.
Link-building - Getting a strategy in place
Local SEO link building is different to normal SEO link building (if you have tried SEO in the past).
Here you focus almost entirely on gaining mutual links from local businesses' websites.
The location of the link will also get the attention of Google proving you are a valuable and reliable source in the area for what you provide to their users, therefore boosting your rankings.
A common thread with local links is maybe they are not high-authority links, so they will be effective for your local strategy but state or country-wide, maybe not so much.
If you are using local SEO as a stepping stone to then get brand awareness on a much bigger scale then you'll need to move onto a full SEO campaign where an SEO agency will link you with high domain authority websites.
Ensure your schema is on point
Schema can sound like a scary word to people unfamiliar with digital marketing but is quite simple really, it's helping Google and users identify exactly what it is that you do:
- Your Opening Hours
- The Geographic Area Which you Cover
- Classify What Type of Business you are
- Provide Images
- Provide your Company Logo
There, it's not rocket science, is it?
An SEO company will automatically include updating your schema as part of a local SEO package but if you want to know more, Google is here to help. Just click on Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
After you have done that you add it to the back end of your website. Then to double-check everything is in order and you've been set up properly go to the Structured Data Testing Tool.
Remember Google wants you to succeed and provide their users with good businesses that deliver what they are looking for so there are plenty of FREE Google tools available.
Google Analytics and the Google Search Console
Google Analytics is extremely useful in many ways in giving you up-to-date analytics and performance data to help you with your overall strategy.
You or an SEO specialist can decipher where your views are coming from, the device they are using, how they found you and more, so it gives a clearer marketing directive.
So connecting both your analytics to the Google Search Console is a wise move to combine data.
These are highly analytical tools that help an agency systematically plan out a strategy over a period of time that will see steady growth in both your ranking and enquiries.
With local SEO competition going through the roof due to drastic changes in online behavioural patterns since the pandemic, this sector of online marketing is no different to the big companies marketing country and worldwide. However, with the right advice, planning and a decent strategy local SEO can prove to be an effective stepping stone to increasing your bottom line and starting to grow your business in whatever direction you are looking to take it.
Business owners are getting less and less time to concentrate on SEO which is now becoming more time-consuming due to new ranking factors and platforms that you need to keep on top of. Looking for professional help is advisable. It's good knowing that someone is taking care of what is now the most powerful marketing tool on earth, while you go about your business and customer satisfaction. Good luck moving forward!