With access to search and maps in everyone’s pocket, the question “where should we go?” is answered in moments with local search. If a business doesn’t show up in the results, nobody is going to find them. Local businesses need to be found, and that happens by optimizing local search engine results (also known as Local SEO).
What Is Local Search?
Local search is all about putting a business on the map so that you can be found by people in your area.
- When you search Google for restaurants and it shows a map with local restaurants near you, that’s local search.
- When you ask Siri where’s the nearest gas station, that’s local search.
- When you can get the hours and phone number of a hair salon on the first page of results without wading through a website, that’s local search.
Why Does Local Search Matter?
It’s important to care about local SEO because that’s how people find businesses near them.
- One in three searches are about a place.
- 97% of consumers search for local businesses online.
- 50% of local mobile searches are for business info (address, phone number, hours).
- 50% of consumers who do a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day.
The key to local search is realizing how important it is. A business may be focused on their website, but without local search, few potential customers will ever get to their website.
Who Needs Local Search?
Local search is vital for businesses who want to be found. That’s probably most businesses, but it’s especially true for any business with a storefront or other location that serves customers or a service area where they visit customers (think plumbers, photographers, etc.).Any organization that interacts with people locally should care about local search. That includes restaurants, stores, local services, churches, etc.
Getting Started With Local Search
There are three steps to implementing and optimizing local search.
Step 1: Verify Business in Google My Business
Google Maps is the hub of any local search presence, so start there. The first step is to officially verify a business in Google My Business.
- 1. Find and manage the business: First you’ll want to find and manage the business in Google. Often businesses are already listed and you just need to find it and claim it. Sometimes a business isn’t listed yet and you’ll need to add it.
- 2. Verify the business: Next you need to verify that you’re representing the business. You can do this with a phone call or postcard. You may need to coordinate with a client to make sure this verification process happens—given them a heads up to watch for a postcard or answer a call.
- 3. Complete all information: Finally, you need to fill in all information completely and accurately. Pay special attention to the name, address, and phone number (NAP), as these are the building blocks of accurate local search information. Be sure everything is consistent (do they use “Ave.” or “Avenue,” a five-five digit ZIP code or the full ZIP plus four, does the business name always have “Inc.” on the end?). Don’t overlook any of the options—NAP, website, categories, hours, description, photos, services, attributes, opening date—they’re all helpful.
This can get complicated if you’re providing local SEO services to clients. As you help businesses through the process, here are a few tips that can make it easier:
- One account: Use one Google account (email address) to manage all of your client listings. This means you have a master login and don’t have to save login info for every client.
- Give access: Share the appropriate level of access with the business owner. The business owner should have owner access for the account and an agency representative or freelancer (you) should have manager access.
- You can start without a site: If your client doesn’t have a website yet you can still get the listing started. While it’s important to complete all info in the Google My Business listing, the website is not required. You can have the listing go live before the website and just add the website when the site goes live.
Step 2: Distribute Your Data
While Google is the behemoth in the local search space, they’re not the only game in town. Google accounts for maybe 70% of local search traffic, so if you quit after setting up Google My Business, you’re saying no thanks to 30% of local search traffic.
There are two ways to get a business’ search data distributed:
Option 1: Manual Distribution
You can visit each mapping site and create, update, and verify the local business information manually. So that means after setting up the Google My Business listing, you’ll need to do the same with Bing, Apple, Yahoo, etc. This is a cheaper way to go and offers more control and customization. But it’s also incredibly time-consuming.
Option 2: Automated Distribution
Step 3: Reviews & Updates
Local search is not something you can set and forget. You’ll need to keep listings updated and encourage reviews.
Reviews: Why & How
Customer reviews can be a big boost to a local search listing. They create social proof and encourage people to check out a listing. Reviews also influence search results and increase click-through rates. Reviews are a way to build a positive online reputation and ensure that a listing doesn’t just exist but that it’s effective.
Here are a few tips on how to get good reviews:
- Provide great service and exceptional products.
- Create a culture of gaining new reviews within the organization.
- Simply ask.
- Make it easy. Provide a link, ask people likely to do it, be timely.
Bonus Tip: Keep Your Local SEO Current
Check your Google My Business listings at least once a month. Make it a five-minute update to add photos, add attributes, and ensure accuracy.
You should also consider adding Google Posts into your social media efforts. These are simple, blog-like updates to your local search listing. They take about three minutes and can just highlight what’s new, an event, offer, featured product, etc. Adding a photo is a must. These posts expire after seven days, so you need to be consistent about it.
Take Action for Local Search
Now you know the basics of local search. This is a topic where people often invest time in learning, but then don’t take action. It’s easy to get excited, but neglect the follow through (like a lot of online marketing efforts). By making local search a priority, you can get found by harnessing the power and opportunity of local SEO.