If you’re a business owner or marketing manager familiar with the web you are probably familiar with the concept of search engine optimization. What you may not be as familiar with is local SEO or local search engine optimization. Whereas generally, search engine optimization is how you get your business in front of everyone doing searches online (google, yahoo, bing, etc.) – local search engine optimization is how you get your business in front of locally relevant searches.

The following is a breakdown of local seo (local search engine optimization) which elaborates on a previous post on local SEO that was originally published on LinkedIn. Although the previous post detailed out what is local SEO I thought it would be important to – over time – analyze the effects of the suggestions highlighted below, measuring the results in order to actually see the effect some of the suggested local SEO tactics have on end results and finally provide some tested tips that you can implement at your business.

WHAT IS LOCAL SEO?
Local SEO is a bit different than conventional SEO. Maybe it’s just my personal fascination with online marketing, but I feel understanding the difference between all kinds of online marketing, and knowing how to improve each, and what is the best for your business – is vital to achieving success online.

Local search is a combination of indicators, technology, and has changed a lot over the years. Google though seems to have finally pulled off the impossible (at least from a user perspective) presenting relevant results to searchers based on their current location (or destination) that’s local and accurate.

In years past with only a few quick steps a creative company with a small investment in the web could very easily rank for almost anything locally. With a good website and domain you could pretty much rank for anything – as long as you were one step ahead of your competition. That landscape has completely changed. However it’s my personal opinion that Local SEO has in many ways, become even easier to manage for a business.

The reason it’s gotten easier is because of changes at the search engines. As I’m sure you’ve heard from “internet marketers” Google and the other search engines are constantly tweaking their “algorithms” keeping search engine optimization an allusive and ever changing goal. This is only half true, major updates are rare and what worked 5 years ago (generally) – works today – in fact I’d say it works even better! However, there are times when major updates do happen, and understanding what they are in addition to their effect on your website and business is important.

Google Ranks Local Search

In a nutshell ranking is determined by:

1. On-Page Signals – Do you have your address on your website? Does it mention the CITY in which you’re trying to rank?
2. Google My Business – Have you setup a Google My Business Page for your business and verified your address?
3. Links – Do you have links in-to your website? From a local search perspective – do you have links in from other
websites and notable community resources? Similarly do you link-out to relevant local businesses and resources?
4. External Location – Are other websites referencing your physical location correctly? For example is your
business address correctly listed on internet yellow page websites or on the local chamber website?
5. Behavioral Signals – Do you have a great site, that loads fast?
6. Social Media – Do you have a dedicated social media following? Are they located around your targeted ranking
area? Are they engaging in your posts and tweets?

Local SEO Takeaways

Physical Location is Most Important
Not surprisingly, having a physical location is important. The longer you’ve been there the more likely you are to rank because of a number of different factors. Going a step further, having a physical location – ie a building, or a unit number within a building – is much more valuable than a shared space. One of the clients we tested had both (data not included here) – and although we were able to influence rankings for both spaces – the physical location responded much more favorably. That may have also been a result of length-of-time at location.

IYP Listings Are Surprisingly Effective
More than any single thing we did this seems to have the quickest and longest lasting results. We had never been big fans of IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) because of the time involved to update, and lack of return. However, with the Google Pigeon update these are both ranking better-than-ever, as well as influencing a businesses’ end rankings more than ever. With our test and new local SEO service (which includes IYP updates) we showed a clear return on investment for the time and money involved. If you’re a local business this is definitely an area to concentrate.

Reviews (are almost) King
If IYP updating was effective on an individual basis, reviews – taken together were even more effective. We helped our client campaign for reviews across a number of different local review sites – Google My Business had the largest short term impact, but all proved to be important (and measured differently by different search engines). However, reviews alone didn’t beat out competitors – IE more reviews than your competitors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll rank better… in fact we wonder if individual reviewers carry different weight (as we know they do on YELP) on Google.

Yahoo Changes Things Up Constantly
Unlike the other Search Engines yahoo in particular both responded to, and responded strangely. As of this writing, rankings fell for some keywords, despite a number of optimizations. Rankings also initially exploded, causing large spikes in traffic.

Rankings Aren’t Always Accurate
Somehow the addresses for results were mixed with our clients’ old addresses, despite our updates/change. On local projects for clients not involved in this study we also saw some interesting map/location anomalies in that their business (verified with the correct address) would show the wrong location on Google Maps.

Titles (and descriptions) of Listings Matter
Perhaps the biggest take away we discovered, if you’re going to spend time updating IYPs (ie superpages, yelp, etc.) titles and descriptions matter tremendously. Take a few moments to research keywords and make sure your titles and description are appropriate for your business and customers.

Links
On a local level linking in this industry in particular is curious. We were able to consistently out-rank competitors who have more relevant, and more links, however there are probably a number of factors at stake here. Overall this is probably a matter of local links not weighing as much as other links, as “main street USA local SEO” hasn’t quite caught up with some industries when it comes to businesses in the online space. However I feel local company websites that are properly optimized will continue to out rank national competitors (IE Houzz) when it comes to local search for the near term – or at least I feel this is the healthiest overall direction for search engines to take.

Blogging is VERY Effective
The old saying goes: A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats – no more is that true than online. During this exercise one of the clients involved went through the above motions, but also started blogging heavily. In analyzing the additional tactics we implemented we couldn’t account for the tremendous increase in traffic their website was receiving. Their search rankings were up for local searches, but had risen for EVERY type of search. This client has gone on to build out a new division shipping their previously “local-only” products – nationally thanks to this increase.

FINAL LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION RESULTS
Because we’re able to analyze all the component parts of our own and our clients’ sites in the form of Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, etc. we were able to not just monitor rankings, but also what the rankings effects were on overall traffic, traffic to specific pages relevant to the local searches we were trying to get in front of, and listings on search engine results pages (SERPs).The following is a total measure of all of our tests and all of the websites that were affected by these updates:

  • Total Traffic for Locally Relevant Pages: +400%
  • Total Search Engine Listings Increase: +4300% (this is how often rankings led to listings being viewed in a search engine)
  • Goals/Conversion – Across the board up 100% (2x increase in the number of calls, contact form submissions and purchases collectively)

To conclude, there’s an infinite number of ways to slice, optimize, and stress over local SEO. But concentrating on just a few key areas can have a profound impact on companies that are long-entrenched in heavily optimized and trafficked local searches.