Ranking at the top of search results is as much of an art as it is a science. Search engines keep their secret recipes (aka their ranking algorithm) locked up, and they change them often. But even with all the changes, there’s three “magic” questions you can help Google, Bing, and Yahoo answer to rank higher in local search results.
Those three magic questions for this local search trifecta include:
- Where are you located? (Proximity)
- What do you do? (Relevance)
- How well do you do what you do? (Prominence)
The more clear and thorough you are in answering these questions for search engines, the better your local business will rank. So to help you bring more customers in the door using local SEO, we’ll walk through some important steps you can take to help you get closer to that #1 ranking position.
How to Rank Higher in Local Search Results for Nearby Searches (Proximity)
First up, is the question about proximity, ‘where is your business located?’
And as you know, short of pulling a Starbucks and opening a location on every corner of the neighborhood, proximity is largely out of your control. Your business is located, where it’s located. However, since proximity is the overwhelming top ranking factor for map results like Google’s Local Pack – you want to make sure that you’re eligible to rank. You can do this by very clearly answering the question about where you’re located.
In order to be eligible to be included in nearby searches, Google, Bing, and Yahoo need to have a crystal clear understanding of where your business is located. That way, when a search is done nearby for businesses like yours – you have a much better chance of being included in those results.
Below are four ways to remove any confusion about where your business is located, to help you rank higher in local search results:
Start at your Home Base: Your Website
Begin your journey with making sure that your business location is clear on your website. Your website is the home base for your online presence, so you always want to keep this up to date with all your current contact information.
Clearly communicating your location on your website is very straightforward if you only have one location. But it gets trickier with 2+ locations, which you can see with the extra step included below.
- Name, Address, and Phone Number: Commonly called “NAP”, your business’ name, address, and phone number are the three key pieces of information search engines use to verify the identity & location of your business. You always want this information to be 100% accurate, complete, and consistent across the web. Check out our recent blog post about NAP and citations for a more detailed explanation.
- Embed a Google Map: Tell the search engines your exact geolocation using an embedded map. If you have one location, it’s best to include it on your home page and anywhere else that makes sense like your contact or about page.
- Location-specific Pages: If you have more than one location, you should create a location-specific page for each location. These pages should be full of quality, location-specific content, include the respective location’s NAP, and embed a Google map. You can find more information on how to manage multiple locations and rank higher in Google Maps in our separate blog post.
Create Listings Directly with Search Engines
Don’t make Google, Bing, and Yahoo have to do any guesswork. Tell them exactly where you’re located by submitting to their local business directories:
- Google My Business: If you don’t already have a Google My Business account, you can create one for free here. Google My Business is a critical part of local business’ online presence, so be sure to take the time to set this up as thoroughly as possible.
- Bing Places: Creating a free business profile on Bing Places is simple, and can be done easily right here.
- Yahoo Local (Yext): Yahoo Local is a bit more complicated to claim your free listing. Part of the confusion is because Yahoo outsourced their local business listing service to a third party called Yext. And in Yext’s efforts to get more businesses to sign up for their premium directory management, they make it a little tricky to get claim your 100% free listing. This guide from The Local Marketing Institute will walk you through how to bypass Yext’s marketing tactics and sign up for free.
Reminder: Be sure you use the exact same “NAP” (name, address, and phone number) to match the contact information on your website. And for multiple locations, be sure to submit each location with its specific NAP information. You’ll also want to pay close attention to the business categories that you select, being sure to select the category that most closely represents your business.
Verify Your Listings
Once you’ve created your listings with Google, Bing, and Yahoo – take it a step further and get them verified. Be sure you don’t skip this step!
Not only will the search engines trust the identity of your business more, but you’ll get access to valuable tools like Google Posts, Videos, and more.
The verification process can feel a little clunky at times, since the typical method for verification is by postcard. But it is free, easy, and takes only a few extra minutes. It will be well-worth the trouble.
Build Citations Across the Web
Beyond creating online listings (citations) directly with the search engines, there’s many other important directories your local business should be a part of. Citations with accurate NAP information help the search engines instill additional confidence in the legitimacy and location of your business which can help you rank higher. These directories can also help drive business directly into your door when a searcher finds you in Yelp, Yellow Pages, or TripAdvisor.
You can find a more detailed list of key directory listings and industry-specific listings that can benefit your business on our recent blog post.
Last Thoughts on Proximity
Be sure your business is eligible to rank in nearby searches by making it crystal clear to search engines where your business is located. Take the time to update your website with your contact information, submit listings to search engines, and carefully manage your citations across the web. All these steps will help Google, Yahoo, and Bing clearly answer the question of ‘where is your business located?’ Helping put you on the map for nearby searches.
But since closer doesn’t always mean better – next, we’ll review relevance and proximity. These are the other two factors in the local search trifecta that will help your improve your rankings from all angles.
How to Rank Higher in Local Search Results by Clearly Communicating What You Do (Relevance)
After search engines gather the list of businesses near a searcher (proximity), they evaluate relevance. They’re trying to answer the question of ‘do you have what the searcher is looking for?’
Thankfully, there’s many steps you can take to prove your relevance to the search engines. That way, when searchers type in a query about your extraordinary made-from-scratch almond milk lattes, or your award-winning yet affordable photography services in the neighborhood – you’ll be at the top of the results.
Here’s some things you can take control of to boost your relevance in search results:
- “Killer” Content: Traffic indicators include everything from the total number of visitors on your website to the amount of time visitors spend on your site once they’ve arrived. The best way to boost these traffic metrics is by adding high-value, helpful content on your site. Check out the recent post from Search Engine Land for some ideas on how to create this kind of “killer” local content.
- Keywords: Be strategic in which keywords you use. Think about which long-tail keywords customers may use to find your business. Like the examples mentioned above, ‘made-from-scratch almond milk lattes’ instead of ‘coffee’. Or ‘best affordable newborn photography services’ instead of ‘photographer’. And think about related keywords (also called semantic keywords) your customers may use to find you. For example if you own a catering service, you may want to also include ‘friendly’, ‘delicious’, and ‘luncheons’ as some of the keywords you include on your key landing pages.
- GMB Link: In your Google My Business profile, be thoughtful of which link you list in the “Website” field. You want the link to have extremely relevant, detailed content about your business. You also want it to be as authoritative as possible (relating the the links pointing to that URL, which we’ll talk more about in a moment). If you only have one location, 99% of the time you’ll want to list your website’s home page. However if you have multiple locations, it may be better to include your location-specific page to give your profile an extra “proximity boost”.
- Citations Descriptions: Make the most of the real estate across the web. Select the most relevant categories for your business, and put together long, detailed, descriptions about who your business is and what you do. Use each of these opportunities to tell your story. Go into detail about your products or services, and what makes you unique as much as possible.
Additional ways to help boost your relevance that require action from folks outside of your business include:
- Links: The quantity and quality of links pointing to your website help define your business’s online authority. Links from reputable and relevant sources like Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, the local media, or related businesses in your industry are viewed as “votes” for your business. And the more positive “votes” you have, the more authoritative and reputable search engines will view your website. And when it comes to link building for local search ranking purposes – the more local the links, the better. Get involved in the community, and see if thee are any local organizations or businesses that may be willing to link to your website. Get creative with this – maybe your business can sponsor an event or volunteer to collaborate with others in the community.
- Anchor Text: Many times the anchor text that third party websites use to link to your business is out of your control. But you should keep your eyes on the anchor text used to link to your site. If your business is called ‘The Beauty Bar Salon’, anchor text of “best women’s short hairstyle cuts” or your brand name is a lot better than anchor text of “here”. In some cases, you may be able to reach out to the linking website owner and request they update the anchor text, or even point them to a more relevant web page. At the end of the day, even just 1 or 2 well-played anchor text links can make a big difference to get you ranked higher than other similar businesses in the area.
- Customer Reviews: In order for search engines to have a clear understanding of your business, they look at content from across the web (not just your website). And the more detailed and consistent that content, the more it can prove why your business would be highly relevant to be include for specific search queries. Customer reviews are a great way to do this. The more specific the reviews are about your business’s location and services, the better it can boost your rankings for those relevant keyword searches. Ask your customers specific questions about what they enjoyed about their experience, and encourage them to post about their experiences online.
Last Thoughts on Relevance
Take advantage of all your online real estate. Tell a consistent story for your customers and search engines so everybody knows exactly what you offer. There’s many things you can directly update like the content on your website and your citation descriptions. But you can further show your relevance through links pointing to your site and detailed reviews from customers.
How to Rank Higher in Local Search Results by Showing Search Engines You’re the Best One for the Job (Prominence)
Depending on where searchers are located (proximity), and what they’re looking for (relevance) – there may be a lot of businesses to choose from. For example, I just did a search from Vancouver, WA for ‘good hamburger restaurants near me’ and got 8.1 million results. Or when I search for ‘family law attorney nearby’ there’s 14 million results. So how in the world do search engines decide how to rank all this information?
Sure, like we’ve been talking about, it’s a combination of the three questions about proximity, relevance, and prominence. But let’s dig in a little deeper.
For map results like Google’s Local Pack, a lot of the ranking has to do with proximity. But for the rest of the millions of search results, the search engines must consider relevance to see which businesses offer exactly what the searcher is looking for. The better businesses can communicate their relevance for the specific search terms, the higher they’re likely to rank. And the last factor – prominence. This is where you can give your business the extra ranking umph to climb to page one of search results.
Prominence answers the question of ‘how well do you do what you do?’ Said another way – are you the best business for the job?
The more you can signal to Google, Bing, and Yahoo that you’re the best business to help the searcher solve their want or need – the better you’ll rank in local search results. Now let’s take a look at some ways you can influence your prominence through search engines’ eyes:
- Customer Reviews: We are going to pick up where we left off with relevance. Because customer reviews can also help your business with showing your prominence. Getting high-quality, detailed, 5-star reviews on a consistent basis from customers in your service area gives search engines confidence that other searchers would love your business. And since Google, Bing, and Yahoo’s main goals are to make the search experience as easy & enjoyable as possible – these quality reviews can help you rank higher. So be sure to have a strategy in place to ask for your customers to leave you reviews.
- Local Media: Getting featured by local media in a positive story is a great way to signal to the search engines that your business is reputable and engrained in the local community.
- Traffic Indicators: Certain traffic indicators can also help with showing your business’ prominence. A great example of this is the volume of search traffic for your brand’s name. The logic here is that the more local folks from the community that know your business by name and want to learn more about you online – the more prominent you are. Networking and building connections in the local community are great ways to spread the word about your business.
- Conversions: The number of requests for directions to your business or clicks to call from search results are examples of conversions that can give your prominence a boost. Similar to the examples above, search engines view these actions as another way to verify your business’s authority. If everybody in town is contacting and visiting your business location, then the search engines can assume that other searchers would also enjoy finding your business.
- Social Signals: Social signals are yet another way to showcase your business’s popularity to search engines. The more interaction you have with your social media audience, the better. Signals like the number of followers you have or how active you are on these channels (with posts & conversations with customers) can help show your prominence. But other important ways include the number of customers that check-in at your business. This type of geotagging is great for local SEO. The more you can do to remind search engines of exactly where you’re located – the better for your local search result rankings.
Last Thoughts on Prominence
Proving to search engines that you’re best for the job is influenced by many factors. But unlike proximity and relevance where there’s many factors under your direct control, prominence is mostly in the hands of others. So in order to accomplish the lofty online prominence described above, it really boils down to being a great business.
By focusing your efforts on being a great (not just good) business, your prominence online will come naturally. When you ‘wow’ your customers with great, memorable experiences they’re more likely to leave gleaming reviews and tell others about your business. Which in turn, this can lead to more searches for your business by name, more requests for directions, more calls, more interactions on social channels – and most importantly, more customers in your door.
Proximity, relevance, and prominence are the local search trifecta. By taking steps to clearly tell search engines where you’re located, what you do, and why you’re best for the job – you can climb your way up to the top of search results and bring a lot more business through your door.
As we reviewed above, there are many factors you have direct control over like optimizing your content across the web and claiming all your online real estate like directory listings. However, for all the other factors like online reviews and link building – the best way to move the needle is to be a great business. After you take care of the technical local SEO items for your online presence, simply focus on being a great business and the results will come on- and off-line.
If you’re looking for some help with putting these steps into action, or would like to chat about other ways you can use digital channels to grow your business – we’d love to hear from you. Cheers, thanks for reading.