This is a guest post by Adam Smith.
Like many things on the internet, Local Search has always existed – long before Google, Google Maps or Google+ Local.
In this article I’m going to explain how you can increase your company’s exposure through Local Search, with examples from current client Technojobs to past clients including GO Outdoors and Mothercare.
I’ll also cover how to the work involved and potential rewards, how to estimate where you’ll appear, how much traffic Google Keyword Tool says you’ll get, how much traffic you’ll actually get and to not just focus on towns and cities, but counties too.
Local Search as it was
In the dawn of time (well, the start of the internet), there was no Google Maps and the concept of Local Search hadn’t been dreamt up yet.
But you had major retailers, like Mothercare for example, who had stores in every major town, city and shopping centre throughout the UK.
So to help their customers find their stores, they created Store Finders on their websites, which in turn created a page for every single one of their stores.
It was still early days and SEO was virtually unheard of. So none of these pages were optimised beyond having “Brand Name + Town Name” as their Title Tag. They were purely there for usability.
In fact, these pages haven’t changed since then.
However, they ranked top whenever someone typed “Mothercare Edinburgh” into Yahoo, Lycos or any other search engine.
Understandably, these Store Finder pages still rank top for these brand related search terms today.
Local Search as it is now
In recent years Local Search has become more complicated with Web Pages, Google+ Local results and Google Maps embedded in the SERPs.
So while there is a tendency for marketing professionals to focus their Local Search efforts on Google+ Local pages, this is only a small piece of Local Search, because where the Web Pages, Google+ Local results and Google Maps actually appear in a Local SERP (if at all) tends to vary from search term to search term.
So why not create a strategy to optimise all of it and increase your exposure?
Linking your Local Search pages
When I worked on GO Outdoors, they were in a similar position to Mothercare, with lots of Store Finder pages, but no Google+ Local pages.
So I set about creating all of the Google+ Local pages (filling out all the fields, including the correct categories and cramming as many relevant keywords into the on page description as possible!) and then linked each and every one of them to their relevant Store Finder pages.
The Store Finder pages were then made to be as beautiful and user friendly as possible with loads of big bright photos and lovely content to entice people to visit the stores – which is the most important part of the business model for GO Outdoors.
It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many businesses still haven’t done it. Or how many businesses have linked all of their Google+ Local pages back to their home page *cough*Next*cough*.
This really baffles me, because Local Search is a very specific user action. Users are actively searching for a page relevant to their location, not a company home page (unless your business only has one location). Otherwise you’d be putting your customers all the way back to the start of their search journey. Now there’s a cue for search abandonment if ever there was one.
Obviously, we don’t want to do that.
Non Brand Search
Because GO Outdoors is such a big, powerful website it was very easy to rank in Local Search for a variety of terms without any Title Tag optimisation, for example:
“camping shop” “town name” / “outdoor shop” “town name”
Instead, Google seemed to rank the Store Finder pages based on keywords highlighted from the on page content and/or Meta Description, which was interesting. There’s also a high volume of long tail traffic around each of the pages as a result.
The same could be said for county related Local Searches:
“camping shop” “county name” / “outdoor shop” “county name”
But if Google wasn’t ranking their Store Finder pages in this way, or GO Outdoors wasn’t such a monster of a website, I could have gone even further and included more keywords in the Title Tags of their Store Finder pages.
For example: “GO Outdoors Basildon” could be changed to “GO Outdoors Camping Shop in Basildon Essex”.
This would help the page to rank for a variety of Local Search terms that include “camping shop”, “town name”, “outdoor shop” and “county name”.
For the rest, your store needs to be close to the centre of your location, have links, reviews and a number of other things summarised below.
Google+ Local Best Practice Guidelines
- Lots of locations can be a gradual and time consuming process
- Login/set up using Google Account
- Bulk upload form for multiple stores
- Fill out all fields for maximum exposure
- May need to manually place Map Pointer for each store
- Store photos should also be added to aid visibility after set up
- Some fields can only be filled out after initial set up
- Listings will not appear publicly until they are confirmed
- Every Google+ Local listing requires confirmation from its specific location
- This can be a telephone confirmation or postal confirmation
- However, listings manually approved by Google can be extremely slow to action
- Any changes (like uploading photos) will put the listing status back to Pending Approval
- Optimisation of keywords for local search terms in title and description
- Optimisation of categories
- Include location related keywords. Eg: “Brand” “Shop Type” “Village/Town/City” “County”
- Look at Mobile Search results in Google Analytics to get more location related search ideas
- Physical distance from city centre
- 5 or more Google reviews.
- Regular anchor text link building to Google+ Local results page
- Review Sites reviews: Google scrapes info from leading review sites
- Examples: reviewcentre.com, trustpilot.co.uk, shopsafe.co.uk, idealo.co.uk
- Google+ Local reviews placed by users with Google Accounts
- Google+ Local dashboard shows Impressions and Actions for each listing for 30 days
- Google+ Local dashboard also shows status of each listing
Google Location Advertising
- Companies can pay for their stores to be displayed in the Google AdWords results
- This appears as a blue pointer in Google Maps
Local search for non-physical businesses
Here at Technojobs we have a London office, so our home page ranks for IT jobs London. But we also display thousands of jobs across the UK with the majority of permanent jobs in the IT industry based in London, Bristol and Manchester.
In this niche Local Search isn’t for a physical location. It’s for a specific type of IT job in a location. So everyone is creating pages for all the different types of jobs in major towns, cities and counties.
However, Google is starting to include Google+ Local results and Google Maps in the SERPs for “IT Jobs” + “Major City” Local Search terms.
Because Technojobs is a jobs board, we only have 1 physical location, so there’s a chance that the jobs boards could lose out to recruitment agencies with physical locations in the major towns and cities nationwide.
But are these physical locations really relevant to the intentions of users’ searches?
But it’s something to be aware of for anyone whose business receives Local Search traffic without the need for a physical location to visit.
In the meantime I have a lot of link building to do, because our website isn’t one of the strongest, which means it isn’t going to rank itself like GO Outdoors did.
Forecasting the Impact of Local Search
If you’re trying to pitch a Local Search strategy to your boss or client, they will want to know the ROI for the amount of work involved.
You can start by planning out the search terms you intend to rank for, then put them all into Google Keyword Tool.
Go through the first page of results for each search term and estimate where your Store Finder Page will rank based on the overall strength of your website. It’s also worth checking your Google Analytics to see how much traffic you get for Local Searches already, which will help you get a better ‘feel’ for this.
As you go through the first page of results for each search term, also estimate where your Google+ Local Page will appear if Local Listings are appearing. This can also be based on the overall strength of your website, as well as the location of your business in relation to the centre of town.
Next, search online for the most recent Click Through Rates for each position in the SERPs.
Calculate how much traffic you expect to get for each search term based on estimated rankings, traffic and CTRs. Then apply a very big pinch of salt to manage expectations.
Once again, compare to any existing Local Search rankings and traffic in your Google Analytics so you’ve got something based in reality as a guideline for these measurements.
Authorship Markup, Geo Location, Personalisation other Google things
Local and social search are really big topics, and while I would love to dig deeper, we can only scratch the surface at this stage, because it’s all so new.
But, we can make some assumptions based on what we know!
We know that Google+ Author Markup is about giving authority to a Google+ Profile that posts and gets links back from niche specific content.
So does this mean that a highly successful Google+ Profile of a food critic could Review your restaurant and leave a 4 Star review on the restaurant’s Google+ Local page and it would benefit that page greater than a good review from the average joe?
Let’s break this down another way into basic link building and relevancy to a Google+ page from lots of other pages.
You have a page that has 1,000 links from high Page Rank websites in the motorsports niche. Any links from that page with 1,000 links will have a lot of authority (and relevancy) if they point to a web page that’s motorsports related.
The page with 1,000 links just happens to be a Google+ Profile page. That’s the only difference.
What does it mean for your Google+ Local or Store Finder page? Basically that these are the kinds of people you’d really like links from… *ahem* I mean, to invite to your restaurant, motorsports event or in-store promotion. Especially if they’re local to your location.
Which brings me on to…
Geo Location and Personalisation
We all know that if you’re logged into your Google Account, you’ll see personalised search results in the SERPs based on your user behaviour and the user behaviour of your connections.
The same goes for Local Search results. And you’ll see if your friends have +1’d a restaurant or other website you’re seeing in your results.
So that’s an obvious benefit for online marketeers to promote their business to prominent bloggers, community leaders and other Linkerati.
But there’s also Geo Location to consider. If you open a Google Incognito Window in your browser and make a generic search, like “Toy Shop” for example, you will see different results based on your location. This is partly caused by personalisation.
Rand Fishkin over at SeoMoz was explaining how at one conference he got everyone in the room to change their web browser location to the city they were in at that moment and then to make a specific search and click on a specific result.
Due to the sheer number of people searching in that location and choosing a particular result, it was promoted higher in the rankings for searching in that Geo Location the next day.
Similarly, insurance brand More Than have a TV advert where a marching band decked in the brand’s colours, accompanied by a giant teapot arrives in St Albans in Hertfordshire.
Now in theory (this is very unlikely, but bear with me), More Than could have used their analytics to identify St Albans as an affluent hot spot for their business where a high volume of insurance related searches are made.
And what better way to appear socially, geo-locally and search enginely than a marketing campaign targeted at St Albans to give their brand association with that hot spot of their prime target audience?
That’s the theory anyway.
Obviously the impact of Local Search is proportional to the reach of your business.
If you’re a nationwide retailer, you’ve got a lot of search terms to chase after. But if you’re teaching people to ride motorcycles in a car park in Hemel Hempstead, you’ll have a lot less.
But as with anything you do, the better you do it, the more rewarding it will be. Not just from a search engine ranking angle, but from a usability perspective as well.
So just continue to do good, quality online marketing and keep all the SEO and user experience in mind as you do it.
After all, Google Bot is always getting smarter and there are just too many search terms to manually link build for. Just be awesome instead!
About the author: SEO, copywriter, and internet marketeer, Adam Smith lives a life of swashbuckling adventure in the digital spaces while working in house for Technojobs in the UK as an Online Marketing Manager. For more detailed insights track him down on Google+.