For many small businesses, SEO can seem like a daunting task. How on earth are you supposed to compete with larger companies with dedicated teams and far more resources at their disposal? However, local SEO offers an opportunity to slide past bigger competitors and gain a slice of search engine real estate. In this article, we will explain how local SEO works and how it can help even the smallest businesses gain traffic and increase sales.
What is Local SEO vs Normal SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation which is the process of changing elements of your website, publishing content, referencing relevant keywords and phrases, and adding links to ensure your website and information about your business are found by search engines like Google and Bing.
Through carefully considering the above, and more, you can appear higher up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords and phrases used in searches and ultimately attract more traffic to your website.
Traditional SEO involves competing with similar businesses regardless of their location. We sometimes refer to this as national SEO, where you target high-volume keywords that other companies all over the country (or world) are trying to rank for in the search engine results pages.
Using the tourism industry as an example, this would be the process of optimising a site to rank for “UK holiday cottages” or “dog friendly holidays”. These are national level phrases without any direct local search intent.
As anyone who has tried to rank in the search engines for such valuable keywords will know, it’s really challenging to compete at the same level against well-established and better-resourced companies with a high national pr international profile. For local holiday accommodation providers, sizing up against the likes of Airbnb or booking.com is a formidable task.
Some reasons small businesses find it hard to compete using traditional SEO:
- Search engines such as Google prefer websites that publish a regular stream of quality content. It’s often more difficult for smaller businesses to publish content at a competitive quality, scale and rate.
- Google and other search engines prefer technically efficient websites with exceptional design and fast loading pages. It’s often too expensive for small businesses to build and maintain websites that operate at the same level.
- Search engines prefer websites that have a good range of inbound links from other strong websites and building these links is usually far easier for large, well-known businesses.
Luckily, local SEO provides a way for small businesses to compete for location-based searches and reach new customers through appearance in the local search results. Local SEO is relatively easy and more cost-effective than traditional SEO. Many businesses will be able to do a lot of work themselves; otherwise, they can hire the services of a reputable SEO company to complete the steps necessary to rank. So what is local SEO exactly? Read on to find out.
What is Local SEO and How Does it Work?
According to search marketing expert Brian Dean, “local SEO is the practice of optimising a website in order to increase traffic, leads and brand awareness from local search.”
Google’s search algorithm has evolved hugely over the last 20 years. After analysing trillions of searches Google has learned that people seeking certain types of businesses need results from their immediate area.
Nowadays, Google considers a proximity factor, so it takes your location into account when you search for a keyword that it deems to have local intent. It understands when local customers are trying to find local businesses and will present organic search results specific to your location.
Local search results can be generated when you search for a product or service combined with the phrase “near me” or “closeby” or the name of a geographical location (town, city, county, etc.).
This is the case for most tourism searches, which will combine the name of a place and the type of service wanted. For example, using phrases that specify a holiday destination plus accommodation type such as “Cornwall cottages” or “hotel in the Lake District”.
However, local searches also work without these additions, as Google and the other search engines will return local search results based on an actual geographical location. For example, if you simply search for “tour company” in Google right now it should display the agencies in your area first rather than every tour agency in the country. Similarly, a search for “museum”, “restaurant” or “hotel” will return local search results for the area where you are currently located.
It is clear that Google works with local websites differently from national or international sites. Local SEO can help your business rank higher for searches with local intent.
Just like normal SEO, when done correctly local SEO can help your ideal customers – those who are already looking for a company just like yours – find your business before your competitors. However, local SEO has a slightly different process than normal SEO which we will explain later.
What is the Local Pack?
The local pack is the set of Google Maps results that usually appear in response to local searches. These are natural, organic (unpaid) listings that appear near the top of SERPs and are accompanied by an image of a map.
They are often the most prominent search results on the page, appearing just below Google Ads if there are companies bidding on local keywords.
The local pack in Google search results contains listings derived by information entered by companies in their Google Business Profile, which was previously known as Google My Business or Google Local.
Holiday accommodation searches work slightly differently, returning results that Google’s travel finder has located from various sources on the internet including Google My Business, review sites and partner websites.
To see if your business is listed for local searches, simply Google the service and location you serve. For example, if you run a local tour agency, search for “tour company” and the location you are based in to see if you appear as one of the top three organic results. Also, try using an incognito or private window on your web browser to avoid personalised results which might automatically show your company near the top.
If you aren’t in the local pack or maps pack then you are missing out on high-impact space that is likely to boost your traffic and sales and you should consider putting some effort into your local SEO. So what types of businesses can benefit from local SEO strategies? I’m glad you asked…
Who Is Local SEO For?
Local SEO works for any company that has a local physical location where they serve customers. These are often referred to as “brick and mortar” businesses that have an office, storefront or depot in a specific village, town, city or county.
In addition, local SEO can work for online businesses too so long as they serve local customers in a specific area.
In the tourism industry, for example, local search engine optimisation can work particularly well for:
- Cafés, pubs and restaurants
- Tour agencies and activity providers
- Hotels, self-catering accommodation rentals and B&Bs
- Local shops and shopping centres
- Tourism attractions and sightseeing destinations
- Online tourist guides providing information on a destination
These are all types of local businesses in the tourism sector that can benefit from prominent local search visibility. Next, we discuss exactly why local SEO is important for any business that provides local services or welcomes holidaymakers to a specific location.
Why Is Local SEO Important for Small Businesses?
Local SEO offers many benefits for businesses. Just like regular SEO, local SEO will help you increase your website traffic by attracting people who search for relevant keywords. In other words, those people who are likely to be interested in your product or service.
But local SEO goes one step further by driving those people who are not only interested in your business but also located in or thinking about visiting your area, which we can assume means they are even more interested in your business.
Unlike paying for online adverts, SEO can potentially be achieved with zero financial investment which makes it ideal for businesses with lower marketing budgets. Although keep in mind that it can take some time and resources to get right, and you may need the help of a local search consultant or SEO company to achieve the best results.
But once your website is optimised for local search, it can deliver a steady stream of leads from local customers or people visiting your area. So local search ranking is vital for bookings and sales, which we get into next.
Why is Local SEO Good for Sales?
In terms of the actual traffic and sales increases you should expect your local SEO efforts to produce, the results will vary depending on the business. However, here are some encouraging statistics on local SEO that the experts at HubSpot have shared:
- Nearly 46% of all Google searches are seeking local information.
- 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business the same day
- 72% of consumers who completed a local search visited a store within five miles of their location.
- 78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase.
- ‘Near me’ and ‘close by’ types of searches grew by over 900% from 2019 to 2021.
Although every local business is different, and you should not take these stats as proof that traffic or sales will increase, from this data it is clear that local SEO can have a fundamentally positive impact on businesses.
How To Improve Local SEO?
You can improve local SEO in multiple different ways. However, Google is continually changing the rules of what works. They are unlikely to ever reveal direct instructions on how to improve your local SEO, be found by Google, and show up first in the Google Maps pack or elsewhere on the SERPs.
Luckily, the local search experts at BrightLocal have researched the best methods for improving local SEO and come up with 10 top tips which we have commented on here:
- Improve Google Business Profile (Google My Business) listing by filling in all possible information, choosing the correct category and adding revelant images.
- Build links to your website from high-authority sources such as local suppliers and partners, as well as relevant blogs and editorial sites.
- Manage customer reviews. Solicit more positive reviews and respond to them. Start with Google Reviews and then try other review sites.
- Create accurate online citations and directory listings using sites like Yell (Yellow Pages), Bing Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and other business specific directories.
- Improve website load speed and performance. Make sure it scores well in Google’s Core Web Vitals and is mobile-friendly.
- Make sure your website is localised by including location-specific keywords or restructuring your site so information on locations is more obvious.
- Create more authoritative content, such as local guides and blog posts on local or service specific content. Show that you an authority on your subject in your area.
- Optimise meta titles and descriptions. Make sure these contain your location and the key phrases you want to be found for.
- Use business structured markup (schema) to provide Google and other search engines with important information about your business.
- Engage with your community to raise the prominence of your business. Build up an an active audience on social media, and liaise with local press and local commerce and community organisations to generate mentions and awareness.
In summary, a business seeking a better local search presence should improve the local information on their website, maintain a good Google Business Profile (Google My Business), try link building to gain links from relevant sites, seek out local business listings and citations from blogs and online business directories. Do all these things to give your local SEO campaign the best chance of success.
Give Your Local SEO a Boost
With so many elements needed to get your local SEO working well, it can help to get some expert advice. But with a little effort and patience, you will get some impressive results and grow your business. If you are struggling and not sure how to start with local search feel free to check out our page on local SEO services in Cornwall.