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Visibility has always been a key aspect of driving sales.

Even if your products or services have breakthrough features that no other competitor has, your target audience won’t buy from your business if they don’t know it exists. This is why companies spend millions of dollars on advertising alone to increase their reach. Because visibility is what ultimately makes the difference between a company that struggles to pay overhead costs and one that has consistent revenue growth.

But as a small business owner, you likely don’t have a multimillion dollar budget.

This is where local SEO comes in.

Local SEO is a process that involves improving rankings for local searches. Examples of local queries include:

  • Best Italian restaurants around me
  • Hardware stores near my location
  • Digital marketing services in Austin

Local search is different from a regular search.

Typing in product reviews for the latest gadget displays listings that Google deems most relevant based on a complex ranking algorithm. But results for local searches rely on different factors with location being one of them. For example, if you search for movie times for a particular movie you expect to see results from your nearest movie theater and not from another side of the country.

Google knows this of course and delivers results accordingly.

Searching for local Italian restaurants displays the following:

Google Local 3 Pack

Google relies on a different set of ranking signals to deliver relevant results for the local search pack.

But what are these signals and how can you optimize your site for higher rankings?

Here we look at how Google determines rankings for local searches. Optimizing each of the factors as detailed below will improve rankings for local queries.

Google relies on complex algorithms to deliver results for every search queries. Type in a search query and you get millions of results in an instant, all neatly organized with the most relevant results at the top. Factors that determine these rankings include:

  • Domain authority
  • Quality and relevance of backlinks
  • Usage signals (e.g. bounce rates)
  • Social metrics (e.g. number of shares)
  • Content optimization (e.g. keyword usage)

Relevance is at the center of each. Relevant results are highly favored in the search results. Businesses with complete information have a much better chance of ranking for local queries.

A site might have thousands of links from different sources. But they don’t mean much if most of them are from spammy or irrelevant sources. Meanwhile another site with fewer links from authoritative sources could easily outrank the other simply due to having more relevant links.

Take the following actions to improve the relevance of your site:

  • Fill out your profile on Google My Business: Make sure to register your business on Google My Business if you haven’t already. Then fill out all the details including your address, phone number, and business hours. Keep the information updated if anything in your business changes.
  • Verify your location: Adding a location to Google Maps is relatively straightforward. But you will need to verify that you are the owner of the listing. Go through the verification process to increase visibility in both Search and Maps.
  • Manage customer reviews: Reviews are another signal that Google uses to assess the quality of a business. Reviews are important for another reason: social proof. You might be more inclined to shop at a store that has multiple five star reviews compared to another store that has low ratings. Make the effort to garner reviews for your business and appropriately respond to all feedback.
  • Add photos: While not necessarily a local search ranking factor, it’s still a good idea to add photos to your listing. Because they enhance your profile and show potential customers what your business offers (a must for restaurants).
  • Optimize landing pages: Optimize the content and metadata of your pages to reflect the keywords they target. Be sure to include the city name as well as your brand to increase their visibility in the search results.

Adding all this information on Google My Business as well as making content changes to your own site can help improve your online presence in Search and Maps.

Prominence refers to how well-known a site is. One of the earliest ranking signals was the number of links to a page.

Each link was essentially seen as a vote. The more links a page had, the higher its rankings would be. But this naturally became an invitation for link spam as webmasters quickly caught on to the fact that more links equated to better rankings. Now the search algorithms are much more sophisticated. Attempts to manipulate rankings through questionable link building activities are likely to result in penalties.

Google looks at the relevance of everything from on-page content to backlink sources. The algorithm also incorporates other signals that affect local search rankings.

These factors include:

  • Links: Links continue to carry a lot of weight in the search results. But again the most important factor is relevance. If your business is in the fitness industry, a link from a fitness authority site is much more significant than a link from a directory. Aim for relevant links and Google will reward your site accordingly.
  • Local citations: Google relies on external sources to evaluate the authority of your business. A local citation is a reference from another site that includes your business name, address, and phone number (e.g. Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc.). Seek out local directories and create a profile with details about your business.
  • Social: Data suggests a correlation between social signals and rankings. The more shares a site receives from social networks such as Facebook and Google+ typically have a stronger online presence than those that don’t. Make the effort to implement a content strategy with your business that incorporate social platforms.
  • Visitor behavior: Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who land on a page but leave without browsing other pages. A high bounce rate is often an indication that the visitor didn’t find what they were looking for. Google looks at this factor of course and will reduce rankings for sites with high bounce rates. Make your visitors a priority by increasing engagement through quality content.

These factors all directly impact your business’s rankings for local searches.

Google’s mission is to organize information on the web and make it easily accessible. It’s not an easy task considering there are billions of webpages. So complex algorithms evaluate hundreds of different factors to deliver the most relevant results for each search query.

The key takeaway from all this is to focus your efforts on these factors to improve your rankings for local searches.

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