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Search simply cannot be ignored.

Google processes billions of search queries everyday. Higher visibility in the search results ultimately translates to more targeted traffic and sales. Not ranking for relevant terms could mean losing out on potential customers who are searching for products or services that your business could be providing. But the landscape remains extremely competitive especially with new algorithm updates that continue to roll out.

A major change that Google launched last August changes how local search results are displayed. Instead of the familiar listing featuring seven local businesses, only three are now visible. Here is an example of what a local search query looks like now:

Google 3 Pack

Additional changes to the new listings include:

  • No business addresses
  • Store hours are now displayed
  • Users need to click the “Website” icon to visit the business site
  • Direct link to get directions to the address

Another major change is the new expanded view. Clicking on a result in the local pack opens a new search view with 20 other competing results. Clicking on one of them brings in a card that displays more information about that business including its address, hours, and reviews.

Google 3 Pack Card

So what do these changes mean for local business?

The most obvious is that ranking in the local pack is even harder. But the new expanded view also increases visibility for even more businesses. As Google strives to deliver more relevant results for each query, simply having a site is no longer enough to be considered. Google looks at different factors from on-site content to domain authority to assess rankings.

So how can you gain a competitive advantage in local search? Here we look at how to improve local search rankings for your business in no particular order.

1. Optimize On-Page Factors
Relevance is perhaps the single most important ranking factor. Pages that are highly targeted to a search query stand a much better chance of ranking high. Optimize the following factors to boost visibility in the local search results:

  • Titles: Optimize page titles to include target keywords as well as city names (e.g. local SEO services Austin Texas). If your business targets multiple cities, it is worthwhile to create individual pages for each one.
  • Meta descriptions: These are the snippets of text that appear in the search results. Write a unique one for each page and be sure to include target keywords.
  • ALT text: Use images to increase the relevance of your pages and engage visitors. Be sure to include an ALT text for each image.
  • NAP: NAP refers to name, address, and phone number. Google uses this information to correctly display your business information in Search and Maps. Include these details in the header or footer so they display on every page of your site.
  • Content: Consumers use search engines to find information. Include relevant keywords throughout your content but be careful not to spam your pages with keywords. Doing so could result in a ranking penalty.

Here is an example of a perfectly optimized page:

Perfectly Optimized page

Take the time to optimize all on-page factors of your pages to increase their relevance and visibility in local search.

2. Set Up Local Profiles
Setting up local profiles provide tremendous value in terms of SEO.

Citations are mentions of your business name and address. An example would be a link from a yellow pages directory back to your site. These types of links are part of the ranking algorithm and are used to validate a business. All else being equal, a site with more citations will outrank a site without any.

The most important to get started with is Google My Business as this is where you will create a profile to put your business information on Search, Maps, and Google+.

Gooble My Business

Start by visiting the page and follow each of the steps. Make sure that all the information you enter is correctly filled out as that is what Google uses when displaying information about your business. Include a picture and a brief blurb to help your profile stand out.

Below are the top 50 local citation sources in the US:

Local Citations

Alternatively, you can do a search for keywords that are relevant to your industry. Then take note of the local directories that are on the first few pages. Set up profiles with each and keep all the information consistent.

3. Earn Customer Reviews
The importance of customer reviews cannot be stressed enough. A BrightLocal survey found that 88% of consumers read reviews when deciding on a business.

Customer Reviews

Ratings are also prominently displayed in the local search pack. Potential visitors are more likely to be attracted to a business that has higher ratings than one that has poor reviews.

Getting reviews from customers absolutely needs to be part of an on-going strategy and will have a strong impact in terms of local SEO for your site. It is okay to ask customers to leave a review for your business but never pay for them or offer incentives. Doing so could get your site banned from certain local directories such as Yelp.

Companies that invest in local SEO benefit tremendously.

But the landscape is now much more competitive than ever especially with changes that Google implemented last year. The biggest difference is that only three businesses are now featured in the local pack instead of seven. Gaining a competitive in the local search results starts by optimizing on-page factors, setting up local profiles, and earning customer reviews. Following these practices will help drive more traffic and sales to your business from local search. If you have questions about your Local SEO strategy, contact us today.

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