If you’ve been working with Search Engine Optimization for the past couple of years, you know that local, geo-targeted search results have only increased, almost across the board.
If you search for “car insurance” or other seemingly universal search terms, you will come across listings that are geographically closer to where you are (as in, your physical location) even without search modifiers like adding your town, city, or state.
Google even started blending organic search results with Google Places pages of local businesses a few years ago.
It’s obviously gone through a few iterations since, but the intent remains the same: serve up local results alongside “traditional” organic results.
Local and social search results are probably not going away anytime soon.
Google seems to be making more of a push towards serving up locally relevant results in their SERPs.
There’s probably even a bunch of hidden opportunities here if you’re slugging it out in competitive niches.
Obviously, if you are working with clients who are tied to a particular local area, like a city or state, then having a good grasp on local citations and signals is even more important.
Let’s not forget, and this is a bonus tip: if you really have some SEO skillz, then it shouldn’t be too hard for you to set up your very own local business lead generation website even.
You know, the kind that sends local businesses, like dentists, doctors, lawyers, chiropractors, and others leads that they’re missing out on because they’re not ranking for those local search terms.
No matter what your endgame is, having a good grasp on some of the search signals, citations, and other elements of local search results is probably going to be good for your client work and own projects.
What Exactly Are These Citations And Signals?
Out of all the signals that are used for local search rankings, the NAP is perhaps the most important.
This kind of citation consists of Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP).
Basically, to collect citations across the “interwebz” would be to make the rounds to local directories, social media, and spreading your NAP around.
This would, of course, be Google Places, Yelp!, FourSquare, Facebook, SuperPages, Yahoo Local, BrownBook, YellowPages.com and so on.
Each site has its own set of signals and search algorithms, to various degrees of complexity, but we’re mostly concerned about how Google, Bing, and Yahoo treats local search results.
Okay, you got me we probably care more about Google than any other search engine. So, let’s talk about some of the more important signals and factors, yes?
Ain’t Your Momma’s Smoke Signals
What follows are a variety of signals that mostly relate to off-site SEO activity, with some on-site factors to consider, too.
Broadly speaking, and for the purpose of coherence, you can categorize these signals into a few different categories, such as:
- Ratings & Reviews
All these makeup the overall “picture” of who you are and what search engines should think of you. You know, the things that determine your rankings.
We all know about the usual suspects, but I want to highlight some that are perhaps often overlooked.
Let’s kick this off…
Popularity Ranking Signals
Often, these would be factors outside of your control (to a degree) as it’s mostly generated by consumer behavior and data.
- Social Media & Check-Ins: While we can probably endlessly debate the relative importance and degree of impact of social media on SERPs, social media signals will not hurt your rankings and can, for local search results, carry some weight. If your business is popular, and it’s showing through social media, check-ins, and a general buzz around what you do online, search engines will take notice and consider it a plus. It may not make a critical difference for the #1 or #2 spot, but it could affect you being on the two pages or far, far, far away on the third page (which is, essentially, like not existing at all).
- Click-Through Rates (CTR): Keep in mind that Google has explicitly stated, several times, that they’re looking for websites that give visitors a “good experience”. If your listing performs well, with CTRs and low bounce rate, that tells search engines that people are, most likely, getting a good experience and finding what they’re looking for. Knowing this, it probably also only make sense to do whatever you can to stand out and grab the attention in the SERPs with things like Rich Snippets — because you do provide a good website experience, right?
- User Generated Content: Aside from reviews and ratings, you should give visitors the chance to ask questions, allow comments, and perhaps even some type of forum capabilities, if it’s applicable. Your popularity on, say, a directory site can go a long way for driving traffic, which in turn would positively affect your rankings as well. Remember: traffic is what you want. High rankings is just one way to get that.
Ratings & Reviews Ranking Signals
The ultimate popularity signal, deserves its own section. Needless to say, but we’ll say it anyway: get them and get them as often as you can. Aim for as many stars as you can get your hands on.
- Spread Your Reviews: Aside from the usual suspects, like YellowPages.com, TripAdvisor, InsiderPages, AngiesList, and Yelp, you want to collect reviews all over the internet. The more favorable activity you can connect with your business listings and website, the better.
- Google Places Reviews Quantity: We’re not talking about hundreds of spammy reviews here, but if you place 5 Google Places listings for plumbers next to each other, and all else being equal, if one of them has more reviews than the rest, guess who’s winning?
- Keywords In Reviews: You know how we talked about adding as many descriptions to your citations and listings? And how you wanted to at least add a few keywords in there (but not too many)? Yeah, this is important so I’m repeating it. Don’t spam, don’t keyword stuff, and vary the keywords across your descriptions. Don’t just copy and paste!
Distance Ranking Signals
This would be the distance between the searcher and your business location. You will probably also find what kind of device searchers are using (smartphone versus desktop) and what they’re looking for, have an affect on the SERPs and where you show up.
- Geographic Search: This would be when someone uses a specific location in their search, so a search engine like Google will prioritize businesses located in the near vicinity.
- Mobile Search Radius: Searches that originates from mobile devices and smartphones will often return results populated in a much smaller area. Is ranking for search queries on mobile devices a priority for you? If you’re trying to rank, for example, a restaurant website, it probably is. If so, other signals like reviews will be a big help in boosting these rankings.
- Business Proximity: That is, how close or far away a business is. This is where it can sometimes get creepy, as Google knows exactly where you are and where you can find what you’re searching for. It won’t show you a car repair shop 80 miles away when there’s one 800 feet away.
- Business Service Area: If your business category has a wide service area, then physical location actually won’t matter as much. A bankruptcy lawyer would probably have a fairly spread out area where they can do business, as opposed to a hairdresser. Most likely, popularity and other signals will have a larger impact than just proximity.
Relevancy Ranking Signals
Fairly obvious, but these factors are usually directly related to whatever search phrases someone might use.
- Business Category: Probably one of the more important signals. Do you fall under multiple categories? On all the websites that you’re listed on, are you under the correct category? This is also where you can score some long-tail points. Also make sure you know what kind of queries your potential visitors may use if they search for what you do, as opposed to knowing exactly who you are.
- Business Services: Sure, just a different kind of categorization, but will still add to correctly determining just exactly how to rank you. An example would be Landscaper for category, and Lawn Care, Grass Cutting, and so on for services. You want to communicate all of it, right?
- Business Description: You should always aim to add a description to every listing you show up under, if possible. Now don’t go off stuffing these with keywords like you’d stuff a Thanksgiving turkey. Aim to have it contain your Value Proposition, and a short description of what you do. Sure, add keywords, but don’t sacrifice coherence.
- Business Name: The first and obvious point to make is that your business name is spelled correctly and consistently, just about everywhere — sadly, this is not often the case. If someone is searching for your particular business name, and let’s say it contains a phrase or word that could also act as an actual keyword you’re trying to rank for, well, getting this basic citation right seems pretty obvious and important, doesn’t it?
Local Competition On A Universal Scale
It’s pretty safe to just assume that, for almost every search term that involves a business transaction, you will find competition from local search results. Sure, it won’t show up everywhere and for all things, but chances are it’ll happen more often than not.
No matter what, remember that, at the end of the day, the people you’re trying to place your website in front of are searching from their desktops, laptops, or mobile devices somewhere in the world, meaning… location, location, location matters.
But that mean that, increasingly, local search results will make their way onto that desired and cluttered first page of the SERPs.
If it falls within your power to use citations and other local search signals, then you are probably better off using them than not.
Obviously, if you are trying to rank for some bankruptcy lawyer or plumber, this is a no brainer.
How often do you see local search results show up for the keywords you’re trying to rank for?