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What Is Local SEO, How Does It Work?

Understand how Google works with local sites with this guide to local SEO and start optimizing your website for local search results to grow your business and brand

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that helps your business to be more visible in local search results on Google, It is the practice of optimizing a website in order to increase traffic, leads and brand awareness from local search.

Common tasks associated with local SEO include finding local keywords, optimizing a business’s Google My Business profile just to mention a few.

Why is local SEO important

I will not throw a bunch of random stats at you.

But I want to briefly show you a few interesting statistics to highlight just how big SEO is for local businesses.

46% of all searches in Google have “local intent” (Search Engine Roundtable).

29% of all Google SERPs contain a local pack in the results (RankRanger).

29% of all Google SERPs contain a local pack in the results (what is local SEO, how does it work?)

76% of consumers that search for something local on their phone visit a store that day (Google).

So it’s clear and understandable that local searches make up a huge chunk of the SEO world.

And if you can get your local business in front of these searches, there is a good chance they will be walking through your door a few minutes later.

Any business that has a physical location or serves a geographical area can benefit from local SEO.

If you search Google for any important keywords related to your business and a map with 3 listing appears under it (also known as a map pack) then local SEO can help to grow your business.

But to understand local SEO, you need to know how Google works first.

How does Google work?

When you type a search phrase into Google, it checks the pattern of various website signals, or ranking factors, such as how relevant your site is, to return a list of sites that match your search.

Most people don’t realize that Google isn’t doing a live search of the entire internet every time someone types something into the search bar.

It’s actually searching a stored copy of all of the sites that Google has discovered. This copy is called the Google Index.

To form the index, Google uses small programs called “spiders” to crawl the web. Each spider works the same way: It starts on a single page, then follows the links on that page, looking at content on the next pages, and so on.

As web content gets crawled, it’s stored in Google’s servers, and the index is built. The spiders work at a mind-blowing scale, constantly crawling trillions of pages at an incredibly fast pace.

This ensures that the index is as up-to-date as possible and new sites and connections are discovered quickly.

How Does Local SEO Work?

At a high-level Local SEO works like “normal” Google search.

When someone does a search, Google scans through its index to provide the best results for that person’s query.

What makes Local SEO unique is that Google uses a different set of ranking factors to rank the local search results.

In fact, local SEO has a set of unique ranking signals, including:

•NAP citations

•Keywords used in Google My Business profile

•Sentiment of online reviews

•The location that the person is searching from

•Shares on social media

•Keywords used in online reviews

•Google Maps star rating for that business

•Number of “check-ins” at that location

•Presence of Google My Business listing

How did search engines evolve?

In the early days of the internet, there were relatively few websites, so navigating the web was easy. Once the internet started to expand, however, search engines were created to allow users to find the sites they were looking for more easily.

If you typed a phrase into a search engine, that phrase was matched to websites that included the keywords in your search phrase.

Google used this same approach, but it quickly dominated the other search engines when it became the first search engine to use links between sites as an indication of which websites were trusted and had authority.

Today Google looks at hundreds of factors both on and off your website to determine if it’s relevant to display as a search result.

Factors form your “digital footprint,” and each factor has a different weight or value, which the search engine combines to return results.

Your digital footprint determines whether or not you’re a top result to an inquiry that a user types into Google.

How Google ranks search results.

Google uses various processes to rank hundreds or thousands of sites in the blink of an eye. These processes are called algorithms.

When you Google something, an algorithm checks the index and returns a list of websites that match your search in organic results.

Those results are chosen and ranked based on relevance, prominence and popularity given by inbound links.

The algorithm looks at various on-page and off-page factors to determine which websites have something related to your search.

All of the relevant sites are added to the list, which is then ranked by prominence. Again referring to the various on-page and off-page factors, the algorithm determines which sites best answer your search query, and those sites are listed at the top of the search results.

Improving your SEO influences both relevancy, prominence and link populrity factors for your website. If the right elements of your site’s digital footprint are optimized, your site shows up higher in more search results.

Local SEO is a different pattern

After analyzing the behavior of users during trillions of searches, Google figured out that people seeking certain types of businesses need results from their immediate area.

That’s why Google’s local search algorithm includes a proximity factor, which is a way of saying that Google takes your location into account when you search for a local keyword (a query with local intent).
This happens even when the searcher doesn’t include a city name or “near me” in their search.

If you’re at work and want to get a ice cream delivered for lunch, for example, Googling “ice cream delivery” shows a list of locations near your office in its local SERPS (search engine result pages).

But if you try that same search at home, you’ll get an entirely different set of results. This makes sense, considering you need an ice cream delivered from somewhere nearby.

Local search has been around for years, but it was limited due to people only using their desktop computers. But with the recent growth in mobile internet access, however, mobile search has exploded, so local SEO has become highly important for the success of any business offering local products or services and local marketers.

Start applying SEO

Now that you have a better understanding of SEO basics and how Google ranks local search results, you can start to concentrate on signals that will optimize your site’s digital footprint in the local oriented search ecosystem.

This way your business can show up higher on the results page, which can lead to more potential customers finding your business.

There are many factors that influence your visibility in these searches, but keep in mind that local search continues to grow and change.

To keep up with what signals are increasing and decreasing in importance, you can refer to Moz’s annual survey to form your strategy playbook.

Once you start to improve each important signal area, you’ll be able to serve more people in your geographic region—and grow faster.

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