Back in 2014, Google partnered with Ipsos MediaCT and Purchased to conduct a research study on over 5,000 U.S. smartphone users. It was part of a larger project to understand what information consumers search for online when they want to find things nearby. It also explored what this behaviour meant for advertisers, in terms of their campaigns and what the size of the opportunity was. The subsequent output from this study was a paper called Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behaviour.
The entire report can be found here:
The Executive Summary from this study highlighted the following insights:
Consumers search with their own location and proximity in mind
- Four in five consumers use search engines to find local information.
- They search on smartphone and computer/tablet for store address, business hours, product availability and directions.
Local searchers take action
- 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% who searched on a computer/tablet did the same.
- Local searches lead to more purchases than non-local searches. 18% of local searches on smartphone lead to a purchase within a day vs. 7% of non-local searches.
Consumers prefer and act on location-based ads
- Four out of 5 consumers want ads customised to their city, zip code or immediate surroundings.
- More than 60% of consumers have used location information in ads.
- They say it’s important to have a store address and phone number in ads on computer/tablet, plus directions and the call button in ads on smartphone.
With such a high propensity for a user to make a buying decision off the back of conducting a local search, it was inevitable the major search engines would look to capitalise on local business listings in their organic search results. The opportunity for local SEO is just too large to ignore.
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What is local SEO?
Whether you provide goods or services to a single location or multiple locations, it’s important the right people in your target area find you. There’s little value in being seen by a user in an area you don’t service.
Important: Local SEO is the process of optimising your website, (and your wider digital properties), so you have the best possible chance of appearing in search results that have a ‘local’ intent.
Wider digital properties will include your business’ appearance in search directories such as Yell.com, its Google My Business Profile (to be discussed in a later chapter), and its various social media profiles too.
What is a local search?
‘What type of haircut should I get?’ is an example of what is known as an informational query – the user is researching their options and weighing up their choices in terms of a haircut. Whereas ‘barbers near me’ or ‘best barber in [location]’ signals a clear buying intent. They are further down the purchasing funnel and have made their decision to get a haircut and are now looking for the best place to go.
Search engines can easily distinguish this buying intent and will return what they deem to be the best suggestions based on the user’s location. The rationale being users want to find a vendor who’s close – it’s a fair assumption users will not be looking to travel many miles.
When a local search is conducted on Google, suggestions will be provided to the user in a local pack.
The local pack
The local pack is a feature on the first results page which displays a map with the details of three businesses underneath.
Features presented to the user will include the following:
- NAP details (name, address, phone number)
- Google review rating
- Opening hours
- Calls to action e.g. Call now
When a business is clicked on, additional information will appear as well as displaying more local results (this behaviour applies to both mobile and desktop). This information is largely derived from the Google My Business profile associated to the business. It is important to either claim an existing or create a new Google My Business profile.
Is the local pack the same across all industries?
Google’s local pack is largely consistent in its appearance regardless of the industry that the search is for. It only differs visually for the accommodation industry. It would appear this is an area where Google are looking to offer the user with a solution of its own, rather than serving up one of the aggregator sites such as booking.com.
From conducting a search for ‘Hotels in Reading’ the local pack displayed a very different interface. Functionality appears on the page which allows the user to toggle dates for their stay and the number of guests. The listings also show USP (unique selling point) icons while the map overlays the price of a stay at each location.
Do other search engines provide a local pack?
Bing, as well as Yahoo! Search, also have a local pack for local searches. They both have similarities to Google in terms of functionality and appearance.
What items will appear on a local SERP?
A local search will also produce paid results and it will feature organic results directly underneath the local pack.
The top organic results presented to the user will often differ from the three businesses featured in the local pack.
The example above shows a mixture of:
- Local barber websites in the Reading area (e.g. Sam’s Barbers)
- An aggregator site (yell.com)
- A large directory featuring barbers in Reading (Three best rated barbers in Reading)
Important: A local SEO strategy should consider both the local pack and organic listings for the greatest impact.
How does Google determine its local ranking?
Local results are determined primarily by three factors: relevance, distance and prominence. These factors help Google determine the best matches for the search query provided. For example, Google’s algorithms might decide that a business that’s further away from a user’s current location is more likely to have what they’re looking for rather than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in the local pack.
Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding comprehensive business information to your website can help Google to better understand your business and match its listing to the relevant search queries.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. How far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If a user hasn’t specified a place in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location e.g. from the IP address they’re using to access the internet.
Prominence refers to how well-known and established a business is in the eyes of its local community. Some places are more prominent in the ‘offline world’, and the search results will look to reflect this in local ranking. For example, world-famous museums are likely to feature heavily in local search results.
Prominence is also based on information Google knows about a business from all over the internet (including referring backlinks, blogs and business directories). The number of Google reviews count and will be factored into local search ranking – effectively, the more positive reviews a business has will improve its local ranking. The position of a website in the standard organic results also comes into play, so applying SEO best practices to your website will have an effect on local search optimisation too.
Don’t forget: Making it easy for Google to understand all facets of your business is essential in your approach to local SEO.