What You Need to Know About Local SEO in 2015

Last August, I announced the deployment of Pigeon in the United States, Google’s first local algorithm. When this update rolled-out globally last December, search engines became capable of really understanding the ”local intent” behind a user’s queries, which created a real upheaval in search results!
When searching for “restaurant”, a very general term, Google now automatically displays the restaurants that are close to the location where you are doing your search. Therefore, the now famous “7-pack” local results will appear on the map even before the organic results.

However, local SEO has changed dramatically since the launch of the new algorithm a little over six months ago. It now represents a real challenge for web professionals, small and medium sized local businesses due to its complexity. Here is a brief overview of local SEO in 2015 and a few tips on how to operationalize it!

A Sharp Increase in Local SEO

Before considering its operationalization, it is crucial to note both the importance of what local SEO has acquired in such a short period of time, and the major changes that occurred over the last year.

  • The Pigeon algorithm dramatically changed Google’s understanding of local queries. As a result, there was a sudden and important change in the appearance and order of geolocalized queries. Many businesses saw their sites positioned lower in search engines in favor of local directories such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. This was particularly the case for employment, insurance and real estate web sites.
  • In October 2014, MOZ published its annual survey on local ranking signals, the first since the algorithm roll-out, giving web professionals some background and additional tools to understand changes brought by Pigeon. One of the main findings concerning the local results is the importance of a user’s location when conducting a search.
  • Google Maps has revamped its guidelines for local pages, so that they also reflect the changes to the algorithm.
  • There is a clear change in the appearance of results for some categories such as hotels and restaurants. The local carousel of images in local results has been removed and more relevant information and advanced options are now incorporated directly in the results, such as the opportunity to book a hotel directly from the results pages, for example.

(Source: Search Engine Land)

If Google’s efforts towards local SEO and its importance didn’t convince you, let the official statistics speak for themselves: consumers have a local intent and want to act more quickly following their queries. 

(Source : Google Think, 2014 )

Moreover, implementing a local SEO strategy will help you increase your visibility and get a better positioning in search results, while giving you several other important benefits:

  • Generating traffic both on your site and in your business;
  • Establishing your brand’s authority and recognition: people searching for similar products and services in your area will notice your presence;
  • Increased conversions: after local queries, we’ve observed conversion rates that are considerably higher as a result of high targeting;
  • High ROI: a web site optimized for local research can generate more value to a business, even with limited financial resources.

The Challenge of Operationalizing Local SEO

You are now convinced of the value of incorporating local SEO to your strategy. But before undertaking a local marketing campaign, you should know that this could be a VERY difficult task, even with significant financial resources! Why? 

First, you don’t have any control over some factors such as the location of your business. If your company is located in a suburb but has competitors downtown, you’re website could be facing a significant barrier: the “centroid proximity” principle, one of the most important ranking factors in the local algorithm that tends to favor businesses close to the city centre.

You can add to that other local ranking signals not depending on you but rather on consumers and Internet users: comments, ratings and reviews, discussions about your company and your products and services, etc. You can’t act directly on these factors and what people may say about you, but you can however find ways to strongly encourage and facilitate discussions about your brand!

Basic Local SEO Factors: Where to Start?

Knowing all this, where should you concentrate your efforts to build a winning local strategy? You should first consider ranking factors identified by Moz Local and start with simple actions in each category:

(Source: MOZ)

“On-Page” Optimization

Add “geo-localizable” content to your site’s most important HTML elements: include your city or region in your URLs, Title tags, Meta Description and H1-H2 tags, but also Alt Text images tags. You want to make sure that Google really understands your location? Add your company name, address and phone number (NAP) to each page’s footer, create a “Geo Sitemap” and a KML file.

“Offpage” optimization

To reinforce the importance of your site and its local presence, it is crucial to get a maximum of citations and mentions of your business on other web sites containing your contact information (NAP). Register your business in all reliable local directories and listings for niche markets. Don’t forget to be consistent in the address details that you submit to these sources. One single mistake could negatively impact your positioning.

Reviews and Comments

Having a diversified profile of comments and reviews about your business will help you better perform in local results, a very important signal for Google who just loves user generated content. Add buttons on the site so that your visitors know they can rate your site and services on public directories and Google My Business. Encourage critics and comments via your site, social accounts and email campaigns, and make sure you answer each negative comment.

Social Signals

Optimize your Google My Business page by making sure it is 100% completed, according to Google’s guidelines. Select the right products/services category, add pictures and customized descriptions. Be present on all major social platforms, add sharing icons on your site and use these profiles to encourage comments and reviews. Once again, make sure to expand your social profiles content with geo-localized key words.

Mobile Optimization

Since most queries are made from a mobile device, it is now crucial that your site is optimized for mobile. When designing your site, you should consider highlighting useful information for the consumers. Add a “Click-To-Call” extension so that users can contact you instantly. 

A Mobile Algorithm in 2015

The rise of local SEO is of course closely linked to the skyrocketing rise of mobile. Google continues to urge businesses to incorporate mobile to their strategies as quickly as possible. Last month, Google started issuing alerts via Webmaster Tools to indicate when websites were not “mobile-friendly”. More recently, Google officially added mobile ranking factors to its traditional algorithm, which will officially be launched on April 21st

Given the exponential increase of mobile traffic in recent years, and the anticipation that it could even exceed traffic from computers, it seems normal for Google to ensure that Internet users have the best browsing experience possible. This will likely be done through the deployment of a mobile algorithm.

What is the key to success in 2015? Make sure you have a “mobile-friendly” site, start right away optimizing it for local SEO and be on the lookout for anything new from Google, and you’ll likely be one step ahead of your competition!

This article was originally written by Laurence Soucy.