What you need to know to rank well in local search results
Imagine this: it's a Saturday night, and you're looking for a place to eat dinner. What would you Google? “Restaurants near me,” maybe? Or something more specific like “Thai food Boston” or “Mediterranean family restaurant within 10 miles?”
These aren't any old searches. These are local searches. As the name implies, local searches return results close to the geographic area of the searcher.
Ranking well in local searches isn't a random thing. No one (outside of Google, at least) has full control over local listings. But you can use local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to win your way to the top spots.
Confused? Had a bad experience with local SEO previously? New to SEO altogether?
We can help! This article will cover local search optimization and ten local SEO ranking factors to watch out for. Plus, we'll break down Google RankBrain.
What do local search results look like?
Local search results look a bit different from your standard Google search results. Local search results have three main parts:
- Map results
- Local pack results
- Organic search results
Let's break these down using this search for “Thai restaurants near Dallas,” with our location being Dallas, Texas.
As you might imagine, the map results are the ones we can see on the map of Dallas. Users tend to gravitate towards this section of local search results when looking for a restaurant listing in a specific neighborhood. If you click on a listing, it will bring up the business's Google My Business page.
Notice the “directions” function — this is one of the most popular map features.
Local pack results
The local pack results are the shortlist of Google My Business listings that Google displays underneath or beside the map. For “Thai restaurants near Dallas,” the local pack listings are for Bangkok Dee Thai Cuisine, Bangkok City Restaurant, and Banana Leaf Thai Cuisine.
Organic search results
The organic search results are the listings for websites related to the search. In the “Thai restaurants near Dallas” example, the top listing is the TripAdvisor page “The 10 BEST Thai Restaurants in Dallas.”
10 factors that matter for local SEO
There are two main categories of ranking factors for local SEO — and I need to briefly cover these:
- Local pack/ map ranking factors. These influence your Google My Business listing and website rank on the map and local pack listings.
- Website ranking factors. These influence how your website ranks in organic search results.
Keep these in the back of your mind as we dive into 10 local SEO ranking signals you need to know.
#1. Google My Business
Every local business with a web presence is eligible for a Google My Business listing. These are the listings you see on maps and search results. Here's one for Banana Leaf Thai Cuisine, for example.
Google ranks businesses with Google My Business listings well because it knows that they help consumers get accurate information about the business in question.
Claiming your Google My Business listing is easy — you just follow these steps:
- Log into Google Maps and type in your business address.
- Press “Add your business” (on the left, in the “Business Profile” bar). Alternatively, you can right-click on the map and select “Add your business.”
- Fill in your details and verify your ownership.
Tip: If someone has already claimed your listing, follow these instructions from Google to request ownership of your listing.
Now, it's not enough to just have a Google My Business listing. You need to jazz it up and make it useful. Here are some things you should add:
- A short description of what your business offers
- Service options (like dine-in or takeaway)
- Your opening hours
- Any COVID health and safety measures you take that customers should be aware of
- A link to your website or menu
- Your logo and several photos of your business (including ones from the outside so people can find it easily!)
- Your busy periods
#2. Google My Business Categories
This ranking factor ties in with “#1. Google My Business,” but we decided to include it as its own factor because it's just that important.
When you set up your Google My Business listing, Google will ask you to categorize your listing. You can choose one primary category and up to nine secondary categories.
According to Google, your primary category “describes your business as a whole.” So if you're a grocery store with a cafe add-on, you select “grocery store.”
Your secondary categories help “customers know more about special departments or services.” A grocery store with a cafe and pharmacy would add “cafe” and “pharmacy” as secondary categories, for example.
If you select the wrong category, you won't rank highly. Your category must be accurate.
Note: It's worth noting that some categories have specific features. For example, hotels can list amenities and show class ratings.
#3. Online citations
Any website that lists details about your website counts as an “online citation.” Examples include TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Trivago, and other review sites. The most popular online citation websites (aside from Google) are Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, and Siri.
These sites often give businesses short bios with phone numbers, addresses, opening hours, menus, etc. If this bio information is wrong, it will harm your local search rankings and sales — 63% of consumers would avoid a business with incorrect listing information!
Ranking well with review sites is fairly straightforward: find incorrect listings, update them, and BAM, your problem is solved.
#4. Proximity of your address to the point of search
This local SEO ranking factor is simple: how close is your business to a searcher's current location?
You'll rank highly if your business is close (like, under 10 miles). If your business is on the other side of the state, you'll only rank well if there is no competition (mostly with niche businesses).
Unfortunately, there's little you can do to control this ranking factor except ensure your address and location details are correct. Still, we mentioned it because we thought you should be aware of it.
Potential customers aren't the only ones who pay attention to reviews. Search engines also use reviews to determine which businesses are well respected, legitimate, and responsible and which ones betray customers' trust. As Kyra Sammis from TrustPilot puts it, “having reviews publicly available conveys that you're safe to do business with.”
Now, you should never create fake reviews to boost your own SEO rankings (it won't work anyway). So how can you maximize this ranking factor? Start a review marketing campaign.
Start by asking customers to leave reviews in-store via email marketing and branded items like menus and product packaging. Give them an incentive to leave a review, like a 10% discount, a gift, a piece of swag, etc.
Then, respond to your reviews and take ownership of your review pages. Optimize your page so that it looks professional — add a logo, fill in your details, and link your website. Here's Thai Thai Restaurant's Yelp page, for example.
Over time, your reviews will improve your web presence and push your local SEO listings to the top of search results.
#6. On-page SEO
On-page SEO is anything you do to improve your SEO within your content. This factor applies to your website specifically.
Here are some ways you can optimize your web pages to rank well:
- Choose a primary keyword and include it at least four times
- Select 2-5 secondary keywords and use them as H2s and H3s
- Include visual content like graphs, charts, and screenshots, and optimize the content with title and alt tags
- Optimize your link anchor text
- Optimize your titles to make them clickable
- Use tools like Hemingway App to make your content easy to read
Tip: Read “7 Lesser-Known SEO Tools That Can Boost Your Content Marketing ROI” for advice on on-page SEO tools.
#7. Behavioral signals
“Behavioral signals” is just a fancy way of saying “how visitors engage with your website.” Google (and other search engines) care about these signals because they signify (hehe) whether your content is useful, engaging, and valuable.
Common behavioral signals include your Click-Through Rate (CTR) and bounce rate.
The best way to optimize your website for this factor is to remember NURSE.
- Navigation. Make your web pages easy to flick through.
- Useability. Make it easy to click buttons, use website features, and use widgets.
- Relevant. Make your website content relevant to visitors.
- Speed. Make your website load in less than three seconds.
- Engaging. Excite your visitors on every page.
Also, try to match your content to people's search intent.
Backlinks are links pointing to your domain from other domains. For example, when I cite a statistic like “Facebook has 2.93 billion monthly active users,” I'm creating a backlink for Statista.
Backlinks show search engines that your website is reliable as they essentially say, “look, x website thinks we're trustworthy!”
Backlinking is a big topic, so I recommend you read “30 Advanced Link Building Strategies for Marketers to Master” to really sink your teeth into it. You should also know that backlinking is something you can outsource to an agency like Mediaberry.
#9. Mobile-friendly websites
As of the fourth quarter of 2021, 54.4% of website traffic came from mobile devices. It wasn't always this way: in early 2015, this figure was just 31.16%.
Search engines like Google now consider whether websites are optimized for mobile devices. They know that non-optimized websites provide a bad experience, so they don't tend to rank them well.
You can make your website mobile-friendly by using a mobile-friendly theme, removing pop-ups, speeding up your website, making your layout responsive, removing flash, and applying other strategies outlined by HostGator here.
#10. Social media
Finally, search engines consider your social media accounts and posts (after all, 58.7% of the world's population uses social media, so why not?).
If you publish high-quality posts that are informative, fun, and not spammy, search engines consider it a sign that you're trustworthy. Thus, you'll rank better.
The best way to optimize your social media presence for search engines is to just have fun and create content that local people can engage with. Learn some TikTok moves, experiment with your photography on Instagram, and try to pick people's brains on Facebook. Get your audience invested — good user engagement is key to ranking well!
Google's RankBrain and how it affects local SEO
The message “shop local” is something consumers have taken to heart.
A 2022 study of 3,857 consumers from the U.K, U.S, Germany, and France shows that 67% of consumers trust local businesses over internet-only brands. No matter what people buy, they use the internet to find it — 96% of consumers start their research online “regardless of where they ultimately decide to buy.”
Additionally, nearly 70% of consumers surveyed search with “local intent.” The majority of consumers conduct their searches on Google.
That's where Google RankBrain comes into the picture.
Google RankBrain is a Machine Learning (ML) algorithm that helps Google decide what content to rank. For each keyword, Google RankBrain determines how important factors like backlinks, content freshness, content length, domain authority, etc. are.
Google RankBrain influences local SEO rankings and non-local SEO rankings.
Google RankBrain works by breaking down keywords to understand their context. Once it's determined what the user's intention is, it tweaks the search results to match.
You don't need to worry about optimizing your web presence for Google RankBrain — the tips in this article and general SEO strategies will already help you rank well. Just make sure that user search intent is front of mind.
How to rank in local search
Who said that shopping local means shopping offline? Today, consumers use the internet to research, investigate, and shop from local brands like yours.
Investing in local SEO is definitely worth it. It can help you increase your sales, boost brand awareness, and score more customers without adding $$$ to your advertising budget.
Here are some factors that influence how highly you rank in local searches:
- Google My Business
- Online citations
- How close you are to the searcher
- On-page SEO
- Behavioral insights
- Social media
Follow the tips in this article to score better for each factor.
And, if you're considering investing in backlinks or blog content, reach out to Mediaberry and see what we can do for you. Get in contact here!