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Local search tactics 2020 illustration.

Local SEO Tactics To Get You Found in Google Local Searches?

Back in September Darren Shaw, an American Local SEO specialist, hosted the Whitespark Local Search Summit. This regular pulling together of experience across our industry has revealed that the way local search engine optimisation works has changed emphasis even more over the past year or so.

Most of you will now be familiar with the way that Google presents its local search results in multiple different formats. You now find knowledge panels, sitelinks, “People Also Ask” accordions, image carousels, text ads, shopping ads and layouts… with no name yet! 😉. The same search will often present you with wildly different results from one day to the next and one location to the next: just a few hundred metres away. However, there are patterns.

The experts on this year’s survey have homed in on a range of factors as being of prime importance in local results. With Google’s search algorithms working on perhaps 200 different criteria in those milliseconds before results appear on screen, you’d probably need a PhD to really understand how it all works. Over the years, local search practitioners have identified broad groups of ranking factors. Within those groups are many detailed techniques or traits that highly visible local content share.

The Local Ranking Overview

In broad brush terms, the groups below  indicate what is matters in local searches, but don’t give a usable action plan.

Local Pack and Finder

Local Organic

1. Google My Business (33%)

1. On-page (32%)

2. Reviews (16%)

2. Links (31%)

3.= On-page (15%)

3. Behavioral (10%)

3.= Links (15%) 

4. = Personalization (7%)

5. Behavioral (8%)

4.= Google My Business (7%)

6. Citations (7%)

6.= Citations (6%)

7. Personalization (6%)

6.= Reviews (6%)

Results via Whitespark & Bright Local Summary

What this chart attempts to show is the approximate weighting that Google is giving to groups of ranking factors. The individuals involved in the survey have access to many hundreds of clients and get a pretty good picture of what’s happening in this strange world of local search. Notice how factors tied to GMB listings influence local organic visibility and vice versa.

However, this broad picture doesn’t really give practical, actionable advice. For most businesses, the searches that their ideal customers generate, will result in a mixture of SERPs layouts and so it is probably better to prioritise your SEO activities in the way that Rosie Murphy of Bright Local suggests in this rapidly drawn up piece. These are a useful set of local seo tips!

Local SEO Tactics For Businesses in The Real World

Rosie says. “If you’re looking to improve both types of local rankings, it may be useful to see how local pack and local organic factors look when combined as an average:

1. On-page optimization (24%)

2. Links (23%)

3. GMB (20%)

4. Reviews (11%)

5. Behavioral (9%)

6.= Citations (7%)

6.= Personalization (7%)

When planning your local SEO strategy, always bear in mind that different factors will require very different time investments, so it’s not as simple as reading these results and saying, “Okay, I’ll spend X% of my time on X”.

Link building, for example, is a time-intensive and ongoing task, whereas a lot of work with reviews or citations can be automated or outsourced, freeing you up to focus on other factors.”

For the majority of businesses up here in Cumbria, your priorities boil down to: sort out your website, try and get some backlinks to point at your own site, Get your GMB listing as complete as possible then chase reviews! And yes… some of that stuff is quite hard to do as you run a business.

That’s why businesses like ClimbHigh SEO exist – to help you nail this stuff down. We are able to carry out the keyword research, and identify the local keywords that are able to point the right people in your direction.

If your focus is on pushing one aspect of your local visibility… for instance, all the searches that you are interested in show local 3 packs, then focussing on the priorities in the first column are anticipated to have the most impact. If your business seems to generate a lot of organic results pages, then you might be better served focussing on the items in the second column as your first priority.

Local Pack/Local Finder
(Your GMB Listing)

Local Organic Results
(Your website)

Getting the right primary category for your business.

Local Quality and authority of backlinks pointing at your website.

Having your main keyword in your business name.

Quantity of well optimised content on your website.

How close the searcher is to you.

Keywords in the anchors of backlinks pointing at your site.

Having your own address in the city, town or locality where the searcher is.

Consistent keyword optimisation across your website for services and locations.

Understanding the Importance of Local SEO to Cumbria’s Businesses

Possibly the biggest, but least surprising, local SEO news to emerge from that Whitespark conference was the growing dominance of Google My Business (GMB) listings and Google’s continuing moves to monopolise its control of the space in search results.

A couple of years ago, some decent content a nearly complete GMB listing and a few local citations were enough to compete with most of the other businesses in a location. These techniques are still important in local SEO. Now however, they are simply the baseline that you need, to even be in with a chance of ranking. This is especially true where there is any savvy competition.

Local businesses need to make sure their Google My Business listing uses all the available features appropriate to their industry. And crucially, it is important to ensure that your business uses the most appropriate Primary Category.

I have worked on 2 businesses in the last couple of months where a completely inappropriate category has been used by the owner. Both businesses have found themselves almost completely unable to show up in search results for years.

Adding the correct categories has started to move them up the local Finder and with luck one of them will be in the 3 pack soon. The other business needs to develop a more content rich website in order to capitalise on the improvements we’ve made. For any search that produces a local pack result, your listing needs to be complete and compliant with the Google’s Ts & Cs. (We’ll talk about GMB keyword spam later. Grrrr!)

I don’t want to patronise the majority of business owners with this point but It is important to mention it. Getting your basic NAP data (Name, Address & Phone number) correct is a basic requirement. I am still finding businesses where the data is confusing, incomplete, or contradictory from one listing to another or at odds with their website. Make it clear where customers need to come… it does help!

Pay to Play is On The Way!

It is pretty clear that “G” is moving to monetise Google My Business. An experiment was rolled out in the States earlier this year, though since the announcement, I haven’t heard any feedback about the success or otherwise of this test. It would be wise to be on top of your GMB listing when it does come time to pay to play! I imagine that they will be looking for something of the order of £50 a month to be in with a chance of showing in the local 3 pack.

There is more to it than that and we will try to explain when the change is imminent. There’s a fairly well informed speculation here  and it’s interesting to note that Google have in the last week started advertising their local service ads in the UK.

A second point that business owners need to grasp is that the quality and quantity of content on their websites is now even more important than it was just 2 years ago. We are still encountering businesses who have a simple services page with all their services listed on it. It simply doesn’t cut it any more. The services page can be useful but it almost always needs to link to individual service landing pages that give a clear description of the individual service that’s useful to visitors and potential customers.

The Growing Importance of Backlinks in Local Search

It’s also clear that earning, (or seeking, begging, working for…) backlinks from other relevant websites has grown more important. Those sites may be professional registers, the common directories, similar websites in your field of work or just a local business that mentions you for a positive reason.

If you are really fortunate or astute, the best backlinks you can strive for, are from media, particularly high value news sites. A mention in the main media channel for your industry, with an editorial backlink to you, is gold dust! These backlinks are what push well structured, well written content pages up the rankings and in front of your customers’ eyes.

Backlinks also seem to be the most difficult concept for the majority of business owners to see any benefit in. The attitude of: “Why would anyone link to my website?”… is still prevalent in many quarters.

It doesn’t matter what your gut or your imposter syndrome tell you though! You need to work towards getting some good quality backlinks – they lift your website up the rankings and get your business in front of buyers or clients! The bigger and stronger the website that links to you… the better. So long as there is value or relevance for people who would click on the link.

I’ve talked about the 2 threads of local search as in the table above. However, they are not really that separate. When your website is deemed worthy of ranking in the organic results on its own merits, it helps to push the GMB listing into prominence in the 3 pack. That is a large part of why content on your website and backlinks have become so important.

Underhand Local SEO Tactics You Should Avoid… and Complain About if You See Them!

But here’s the rub. Some businesses seem to get away with the most blatant and clumsy spamming tactic in their Google Business Listings! This is using additional service or location keywords in the business name of their GMB listing… to the point where it’s still seen as the second strongest ranking factor for pushing a listing higher. This is often abused.

Google My business Keyword Spam example
It tends to work like this. The offending company might be officially called Balderdash & Cockshott Plumbing and Heating Limited. But, when your legitimate business uses the correct business name in your GMB listing it is galling to see a company called “Emergency Plumber” nudging you out of the 3 pack. You look up their website and sure enough it’s the Balderdash crowd! You followed the rules. Balderdash and Cockshott didn’t… blatantly so… but the algorithm still rewards them with pride of place.

It’s exactly what happens in Kingston in London, though the name of the real company has been changed! This example was neatly picked up by this post.

It’s a huge weakness in Google’s system for local search. Despite years of complaints it’s never really been addressed successfully. As always, there IS a way of fighting back against keyword spam that’s hurting your business.

Google have put in place the Business Redressal Complaint Form 

Google's business redressal Though the organisation says you shouldn’t expect a result, it’s clear that the problem is being addressed in a more hands on way. A whole team of people has been recruited to process these complaints. And it does work.

I have managed to get 4 businesses into the local pack – partly by letting the Google people know about dodgy listings. So, it you have a competitor spamming their listing name with extra keywords or listings for a non-existent premises… report them and have no compunction about doing so.

The final point to note from this year’s report is the fact that the report didn’t even bother to query the impact of social media posts on local ranking. It has none. You gain word of mouth and brand recognition from social media posts, if you can attract an audience, but there is virtually no influence on local rankings directly attributable to your activity on those channels.

The changes to the layout of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and the underlying algorithms that decide who is shown to the world, have been evolving over the past few years. Google controlled space has increased steadily at the expense of results for our websites, but the content of our websites is important for helping us show up in results. The space is constantly evolving and will continue to do so. Adapting to this constant change is an investment in your future.