I awoke last Monday morning to start the work week only to discover that we were out of coffee at home. After a groggy drive to Mentor High School to drop off my son, I veered into the Dollar General to grab any bag or can of coffee I could get my hands on so I could start my day. Unfortunately, Dollar General wasn’t opened yet. I didn’t realize that it was only 7:30 AM. Okay, so what time do they open? I parked the car, pulled out my iPhone, opened Safari, and typed in d – o – l… and like magic, “Dollar General” was suggested after only entering the third letter.
I quickly learned that Dollar General opens at 8 AM. I sat in my car playing Sporcle to try and kickstart my brain, while anxiously waiting for those doors to open.
But this really isn’t about me, my need for caffeine, nor how addicting Sporcle and coffee are. What this story is attempting to emphasize is how search engines have evolved over the years to better understand the context of a user’s search. Google, Bing, Yahoo are sophisticated enough to factor a user’s intent when returning results to them.
That Monday morning, Google used my location in order to predict what I was searching for and returned the best possible answer to my question – even before I could ask it.
As search engines continue to evolve, it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to optimize for local search in order to be found by potential customers.
Consider these statistics:
- 85% of consumers find local businesses online
- 71% of users confirm a business location through search before visiting
- 46% of all Google searches are for particular local businesses
These statistics are proof that if you want to drive traffic through your business doors, and/or sell your products and services locally, you should be thinking about local SEO.
What Types of Businesses Need Local SEO?
So who needs to be thinking about local SEO? Any business, big or small, that wants to be found by potential customers in a specific location should have a place for local search in their marketing plan.
I remember back in the day when my Mother, myself and my four siblings toted thick Yellow Pages books in a wagon, delivering them door to door in our neighborhood. We did this annually for a few years to earn extra money. I remember how those YP books were a very important resource in all households during those times. I also remembered how heavy those suckers were, especially for a 6-year old. Like most homes, there was a special place in our vestibule closet for this important resource under Monopoly, Parcheesi and Connect Four. It would remain there until we needed to order Chinese food, find a plumber when a pipe burst, or to locate the number of Stan the TV repairman to replace a tube in our set.
Businesses paid good money to be listed in these books. Many paid a higher premium to place a full, half or quarter page ad in hopes of grabbing a customer’s attention. Some savvy businesses used a clever strategy of naming their business “AAA Auto Repair” in order to show up first on the first page.
Pretty sneaky, Sis.
Well these days, it takes a little more creativity and strategy to “rank first”. Those Yellow Pages have shrunk and seemingly disappeared over the years. Search engines are now how customers find what they’re looking for in today’s digital-centric, short attention span, instant gratification world we live in today.
Just think about the various types of B to C businesses that would benefit from being found locally. They’re the same types of businesses that would have purchased a Yellow Book listing in years past.
- Restaurants and Bars
- Law Firms
- Medical Services
- Real Estate
- Pet Services
- Lawn Care Services
- Hair Salons
Knowing that customers look for local products and services via Google, Bing, and Yahoo, business owners that want to market to them should put a high emphasis on local SEO. Small business owners, we get it – we know that you handle much of your marketing yourself and budgets are limited. But just as Stan the TV Repair Man purchased a Yellow Pages ad every year in the 70’s and 80’s, your marketing dollars should start with being found where your likely customers are looking.
Google has Gooooood Intentions
Here’s an exercise that will help you better understand how Google uses search intent to return the best, most appropriate results to the searcher.
Open up your browser and do a search for “Mexican food”.
Or better yet, let me Google that for you.
Your results should look similar to those shown above. Google has determined with this somewhat ambiguous search that I am either looking for a Mexican restaurant (left) or that I want to learn more about Mexican Cuisine (right). The results on the left have factored my location to show Mexican restaurants within my proximity.
Now Google”Mexican restaurant“.
You get a similar result, only this time, Google returns the first organic result (circled here) as a citation from Trip Advisor, a travel and restaurant directory.
Finally, let’s try “Mexican restaurants near me“
This is a very specific search query, that leaves little doubt as to what the searcher is looking for. Consequently, Google removes the cuisine info that was appearing on the right of our other searches.
When you factor in the increasing popularity of digital assistants and improved performance of voice search technology, understanding intent becomes even more important. Searches for “Mexican restaurants” will look/sound more like “Okay Google: I’m hungry, where can I get some Mexican food around here?” But that’s a topic for another blog.
The Google’s Local Three Pack
Google has a number of different ways that it can display results to you. The Local Three Pack is one of those ways. Refer back to the searches you did prior or the screens above. The Local Three Pack display was shown in all of the prior results.
It didn’t always look like this. Google used to show you 7 results and display them much differently. Here’s what’s interesting about the change to the Three Pack:
- Google has omitted the phone numbers and full addresses from the listings
- When you click on a result, you get a new list with a map instead
You have almost certainly gathered by now that when it comes to being found by your potential customers, the Local Three Pack is a good place to be. Search Engine Land, a leading search marketing publication, notes that the Local Three Pack shows in the number 1 spot in 93% of all searches.
How Can My Business Optimize for Local Search
1. Optimize Your Website Pages
Your page meta titles and meta descriptions are still important as they are the text that is displayed in search results. When writing page titles and descriptions for your web pages, ensure that they provide helpful information and describe what the page is about. Each page should have a target keyword or key phrase. Those should be placed towards the beginning of the title and description. Including the location of your business, or the locations your business serves is also helpful.
2. Ensure You Have Correct and Consistent Directory Listing
Having a consistent Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) are important. Google puts significant weight on having accurate location information across many different sources when it comes to ranking your business.
There are a slew of online business directories that can only help if your business is listed in them.
3. Claim Your Google My Business and Bing Places for Business Listing
Both Google My Business and Bing Places for Business are really important directories that you should claim and optimize immediately if you haven’t done so already.
Claiming Your Google My Business requires verification via a postcard that they send. The postcard has a PIN number on it, and once you received it, you simply log in to your account and enter the PIN number. Seems like a very low-tech method especially for a company like Google, but they want to ensure the integrity of their business listings.
Once claimed and verified, be sure to complete your GMB listing starting with your business information. Select the right business categories that describe your company, enter your operating hours, phone number, description, and even your opening date.
Explore Google My Business to see how you can improve your listing. One really useful feature is adding the ability for a searcher to message you. Once you implement this, the message icon is activated on your listing.
Don’t forget Bing! Bing Places for Business. is very similar to GMB.
4. Manage and Monitor Your Online Reputation
According to another survey conducted by Search Engine Land, 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Google My Business and Facebook are great places to promote your positive reputation. This is where your customers look for advice on what businesses others recommend. Do the reviews factor in your ranking? Google seems to imply that it does.
5. Use Structured Data
Google allows you to mark-up your site with what they called Structured Data. Structured Data allows you to help Google understand the content of your site and enables special search result features for your pages.
While search engines are getting better at understanding human-friendly content on your page, Structured Data allows you to provide Google with content that is much easier for the bot to consume and understand.
A great example of how Structured Data can enhance search results for your site is the Search Gallery. The Search Gallery allows you to add your logo, social profiles, an image carousel, and more to your search result.
If you don’t have the resources on hand to implement and manage these crucial tasks, you may consider hiring a local marketing expert. It may be more affordable than you think, and the investment does produce rewards.