Local search engine optimization isn’t just about local mom-and-pop shops anymore. Practically any business can take advantage of local SEO’s benefits. Since Google’s fan-named “Pigeon” update in 2014, the importance of local SEO has grown, leading many entrepreneurs to focus on their strategy despite going years without considering a local tangent to their inbound marketing campaign. Others, who already practiced regular local optimization strategies, saw the update as an opportunity to increase their efforts even further.
These moves are savvy, because local SEO has risen in importance, but the ride isn’t over yet. Over the next few years, I anticipate that local SEO will become even more impact and more useful for businesses. Here’s why.
Google loves local businesses.
Over the years, Google has shown slight favoritism toward newer, smaller, more agile companies. While most of its ranking biases have to do with a brand’s history and authority, Google also wants to give the people what they want — and that often means showcasing nimbler, more popular brands.
It also has to do with enabling small-business owners, who have limited access to resources, more potential in breaking new ground. Google has a long history of providing free tools — such as Analytics, Webmaster Tools and so on — to business owners for the sole purpose of helping them increase their online visibility. Because Google cares about (dare I say “loves”) local businesses, you can expect Pigeon to be only the beginning of its locally-focused updates.
There will be more individualized results.
Google also loves giving people individualized results. While its predictive and customized search features are relatively limited for the time being, already the search engine is able to generate specific results based on the person who is searching. As long as you’re logged into a Google account, your search history and your geographic location both play into the type of results you see.
As Google grows more sophisticated and users start demanding even more individualized results, the importance of local optimization will only grow.
The growth of mobile and wearable devices.
Each year, the percentage of online searches performed on mobile devices has grown definitively, and as you might imagine, the majority of mobile searches are performed while on the go. With the dawn of wearable devices, such as the Apple Watch, users will start using on-the-go searches even more frequently, with even more immediate needs.
As a result, proximity-based searches will likely start to become popular, and local searches will be based on hyper-specific locations, rather than just on a regional or neighborhood-specific basis. In effect, wearable devices will drive a much more geographically relevant network of information and eliminate even more barriers between the digital and physical worlds.
Competition is increasing.
Every year, millions of new sites are created and thousands of new businesses stabilize as formidable enterprises. In response, potential search visibility is actively dropping in many areas, with features such as the Knowledge Graph taking over search engine results pages and long-standing blue chip brands dominating the national search landscape.
Competition is increasing, so business owners will be forced to find smaller target niches in order to achieve relevant visibility. One of the most efficient ways to do this is to optimize locally, so local SEO will only grow in importance as competition continues to increase.
How to get started with a local SEO campaign.
If you’re intimidated by the notion of starting a local SEO campaign, don’t be. It’s actually a pretty straightforward process, though it will take you some time and effort.
Local citation correction. Your first job is to make sure your business is listed accurately and appropriately throughout the web. Claim your local business profile on local directory and review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as any other directories that are relevant for your business.
Ensure that your most important business information — especially your name, address and phone number — are accurate and formatted consistently across all of these platforms. If Google notices even a small discrepancy between two different sources, your local authority could drop.
Local content and relationship building. Once all your local information is in place and verified for accuracy, you can start the process of optimizing your content and external links for local relevance. For articles, this is relatively easy — just be sure to include the name of your city, region or neighborhood in your blog titles and make sure the content is relevant to your location.
Local events and local information articles are perfect opportunities for this. Be sure to guest post on local external blogs, and try to get published on local news outlets with your latest press releases.
Local reviews and ongoing management. Finally, try to encourage your customers to post reviews about your business on Yelp and other review sites. You can’t buy these reviews, nor can you solicit them from your customers in any way, but you can let your customers know that you’re on these sites and indirectly persuade them to leave their feedback. Do everything you can to increase the number of positive reviews you receive, and don’t forget to log in so you can check and respond to these reviews regularly.
There you have it. Unless you already have a dominant, nationally established presence on major search engines that newcomers can’t touch, or you don’t have a single physical location, local SEO is going to become a necessity if you want to achieve search engine visibility over the course of the next few years.
Take measures now to implement a consistent ongoing strategy, and stay committed to seeing it through. With the effects of your efforts compounding, you’ll start seeing results within weeks to months, and as further changes favor locally optimized businesses, you’ll only stand to benefit more.