To recap from our last post, Google’s evolving approach to local search highlights the importance of a strategy that caters to your neighbors. Now that we understand the “why”, we can discuss the ingredients you need to build the recipe for success.
There are several factors that Google considers when generating local search results. We’ve listed them here, along with how they’re weighted by MOZ in Google’s algorithm:
Opting for Optimization: A Proven Methodology
While some of these factors cannot be directly controlled, 73-79% of the algorithm is open to influence. Starting with the most heavily weighted signals and working down might seem like the obvious approach, but our SEO experts follow a proven methodology to bring our clients success.
- Google My Business Listing Management & Optimization
- Citations from Network Listings & Data Aggregators
- On-Page Optimization
- Off-Page Content & Link Building
- User Experience
Why this order? Let’s start at the top.
It’s essential to own and manage accurate Google My Business Listings. A small error here — an incorrect phone number, or failure to link to a location page versus a homepage — can lead people to bypass you even if you’ve got solid visibility. The same can be said for Local Data Syndication. Directories such as Yelp can maintain high authorities or act as secondary search platforms.
Those are the very basics, and they’re critical. But the fact is, they’ll do little to lift you ahead of the competition in search rankings on their own.
Many companies begin their local strategy on the right track, but fail to take control of over half of the ranking factors open to direct influence. In our experience working with brands, we repeatedly find that off-page signals and on-page elements receive little or no consideration in regard to a local campaign, and most assume that user signals are a factor beyond their control. The good news is twofold: successful integration of on- and off-page strategies will lead to the positive user signals Google is looking for and will raise you head and shoulders above the competition.
The Clone Wars: Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy
Before we start linking to any pages, let’s start on the technical side. There are a number of small (but important) on-page optimizations that will make life easier for Google’s website crawlers, and therefore increase your chances of reaching your audience. With distinct brand content, businesses can set themselves apart. Unique information across localized pages enhances user experience and increases favorable rankings. Adding information for individual locations — menu specials, manager contact information, or areas serviced — will let Google know you’re prioritizing your audience needs and give you a leg up on more generic competitor pages in your neighborhood.
The Missing Links: Off-Page Opps
Once your location pages are up-to-speed with fresh content and optimizations, it’s time to move on the final stage, and the techniques that will ultimately have the greatest impact on organic visibility: off-page content and link building. Driving links to specific location pages is the linchpin of an effective local strategy for two reasons: few businesses correctly execute on this technique, and aside from GMB listings, it has the greatest potential to directly influence search results.
Depending on the size of your business and its level of exposure, there may be unclaimed link opportunities in the wild waiting to be found. These include brand mentions on other sites, as well as digital press you receive from news outlets or publications. If you’re starting from scratch, or just need to ramp up visibility, developing content that is useful to your target audience—and pitching it to relevant publishers—can be a valuable source for building relationships and soliciting positive off-page feedback. A focused backlink campaign built on a solid foundation of optimized on-page elements and accurate listings makes for a dominant digital presence.
Pay Attention to People
When visitors begin spending more time on with your content to read about your business, and your peers begin sharing links to your locations, we call those positive user signals. While on- and off-page optimizations have a technical aspect, their holistic goal is to create a more positive experience for curious, prospective customers. Positive user feedback is simply a byproduct of a thoughtful strategy and compelling content, and that’s why we focus on elements “open to influence.”
If you’re finding gaps or missed opportunities in your approach to local, you’re not alone. Local search dynamics change every year, leaving many businesses lagging behind, and very few with a comprehensive strategy that covers every ranking factor. While it may seem overwhelming, there’s a massive competitive advantage just waiting to be taken. Don't get lost in the pack.
- Damien Voita, Digital Strategist, and Drew Schmidt, Director of Strategy, ZOG Digital