The Definitive Guide to Local SEO in 2016

Written by: Jason Bayless | December 08, 2016
Local SEO is an important subfield of SEO that involves local searches. Local searches are search queries that include the names of cities or other small-scale locations or qualifiers like “near me.” Google has special rules for local search and for what ranks highly in local search results. That has given rise to local SEO, which attempts to make use of Google’s special local search rules to boost pages and content. This content or these pages might belong to a small, local brand trying to stand out from the crowd or a big brand trying to “localize” their pages to get a foothold in a local market.
The same fundamental principles govern local SEO as with regular SEO. Certain design elements, like a clean interface, meta tags, fresh content, social media engagement and so on will all benefit you as a brand trying to succeed. But there are certain actions you can take that are unique to local SEO. One of the biggest ones is local listings. Local listings, or local directories, are websites that list businesses in a particular area. Some of these are obvious, like Yelp for restaurants and Angie’s List for contractors. Others are less well-known because they are specific to a given area. For example, churches often have bulletin boards that include lists of businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce of state and local governments do the same thing. These might seem irrelevant, but they actually can hold a lot of weight when it comes to setting rankings in local SEO. In fact, a major part of successful local SEO is getting a business onto as many good local listings as possible with a consistent name, address, and phone number each time. A surprisingly high proportion of businesses have errors in their NAP data, and that prevents Google from validating the listing.
Another important piece of the local SEO picture is the Local Pack.
The Local Pack is that special box that contains the top three results for a local search. Try it yourself by searching something like “florist near me.” The top three businesses are set apart and get special treatment. You see their names, their locations on a map, ratings in stars, an address, a phone number, and perhaps a short description. Only the three businesses in the Local Pack get this extra information, and this information is a major draw for users. It removes a lot of barriers to information and therefore makes the top three links more compelling. This is even more significant in mobile searches, where the Local Pack takes up the whole first page. That keeps even more traffic in those top three results. The mobile version of the Local Pack also has one-tap calling.
The goal of local SEO should now be clear. Tap into the unique advantages of being local like listings sites and social media interactions with locals. Try your best to get into the Local Pack and make sure your extra information displays properly. Then benefit from the additional traffic and use that to expand. New to 2016 is the idea of buying ads that will appear in the Local Pack. Rather than trying to work for it with SEO tweaks, it will soon be possible to just buy a slot in the Pack. Of course, your site still needs to be well-designed enough to convert customers, so this is hardly a free ticket to more sales. It does have the potential to let a new business leapfrog up to the Pack with an injection of money and raises the possibility of an arms race of ad funding, but because this is a new feature, it is not yet clear exactly how Google plans to implement it.