Local SEO Guide: Google My Business, Reviews & Ranking

Local SEO

Local SEO is the process of ranking on search engines, applications, and maps when people nearby are searching for your products or services. 

Appearing in the top Google search and map results should be a key element of marketing for any local business, and we’re going to tell you exactly how to do so in our complete Local SEO guide, which covers:

  • What is local SEO and why is it important in digital marketing? 
  • Local SEO eligibility: does your business qualify?
  • Local SEO ranking factors
  • How to set up a Google My Business listing, and why you need one.
  • Optimising your website and content for local SEO.
  • The role of SEO in your sales funnel.
  • Google Reviews and their role in local SEO.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is the optimisation of how and where your website appears on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). 

If you’ve ever searched for products or services, you’ll notice that, sometimes, the results are tailored around your location. This is due to local SEO. 

Search engines such as Google and Bing will use either your device location settings (GPS) or computer’s IP address to determine where you’re hoping to search for and find these products, and present results based on this information.

If you search for “fast food”, for instance, you’ll see something like this:

Local Pack

Google knows that I’m searching in Sheffield due to my device’s location, and has therefore shown me fast food businesses in my local vicinity. 

These are what’s known as Local Pack Results; a knowledge panel that showcases 3 top local businesses that centre around the search query. You’ll also see something similar for location-based searches (“pizza restaurants Lincolnshire”, for instance) or “near me” searches.

Why is Local SEO important for businesses?

89% of purchases begin with a search query. If you can do anything to ensure your business is not only part of that search query, but the solution to it, you’re in a good position to increase profits.

Local SEO can dramatically increase the number of interactions and amount of engagement your business receives online and offline.

Companies that spend time on this area of marketing have tremendous visibility online as they are repeatedly shown in Maps and SERPs.

The objective of local SEO is to improve interactions and boost engagement, this can come in all shapes and sizes thanks to the functionality of Local Pack results and Google My Business (more on this later). When users find you via local search queries and keywords, they can then:

  • Leave a review
  • Get in touch via phone or email
  • Check out your website
  • Find directions to your store or office
  • Ask a question
  • Book a table or room (for restaurants and hotels)

Check out the example below to see the sheer level of engagement available:

Google My Business

Local SEO Eligibility

To be eligible for this type of search engine optimisation, you need to be a business that:

  • Has a physical address.
  • Meets face-to-face with customers.

For more information on eligibility, check out: “Guidelines for representing your business on Google”.

Local SEO Ranking Factors

As is the case with traditional Search Engine Optimisation, high-quality and effective Local SEO covers a variety of factors, each of which plays a role in SERP and Local Pack rankings.

Below, we’ll go through some of the most important features you need to optimise in order to reach more local customers. When building your Local SEO, always bear in mind the three pillars that local search results are based upon:

  • Relevance: Provide Google with as much information as possible so that it can match your business with the exact people looking for your products and/or services. 
  • Proximity: Maintain accuracy and consistency when detailing your office or shop’s exact location. This way, Google is more likely to show your listing for people searching nearby.
  • Prominence: Increase visibility through positive reviews, links, articles, directories and other SEO best practices.

These do not take the place of traditional ranking factors such as backlinks and technical on-page SEO, but work alongside them to determine where on the SERP your business will feature. 

Google My Business

A Google My Business listing is an absolute must-have SEO tool and marketing resource for local businesses. Accounting for roughly one-fifth of the ranking decision, it will help you:

  • Manage and get more reviews
  • Improve your chances of ranking locally and therefore finding more potential customers. In the words of Google, “a well-organised and clear business profile may well provide a better experience for customers, and make it easier for them to find you.”
  • Engage with customers.
  • Gain more control of how your business appears on Google SERP, including sharing images, posts, services and business category.

Google My Business is where you can manage your listing, helping Google to determine one business from another. For instance, two businesses could have a similar name and address, but no two companies will have the same name, address and phone number (what’s known as the NAP). 

To set up and verify a Google My Business profile, check out – Google My Business: A Complete Guide.

Once you’ve created or gained ownership of your listing, you should ensure that you provide as much information as possible, and that everything you include is 100% accurate. 

Google will penalise you in terms of ranking position if the information in your listing does not match that of other areas of the world wide web, such as Facebook, Yelp and other business directories. Keep everything current, consistent and informative.

Do not stuff any keywords in your name, for instance. If you look us up, you’ll see we’re ‘Knapton Wright’ on Google, not, “Knapton Wright – best marketing agency Lincolnshire”. This is to remain consistent and accurate across all directories.

Remember, Google wants to provide users with as much relevant and accurate knowledge as possible, and will reward businesses who enable it to do so.

Google Reviews

97% of consumers say customer reviews play a role in their purchasing decisions online, while 92% hesitate to purchase from a business with no customer reviews.

It’s safe to say that customer feedback is pivotal in turning prospects into paying customers, particularly for the ecommerce sector. The good news is that reviews are equally important for local SEO, with search engine crawlers considering the number and quality of a business’s reviews prior to displaying them in the top Local Pack results.

To evaluate your current review strategy, we must first consider…

Why do people leave reviews?

The best way to understand and generate reviews is to examine the motivation behind customer feedback. The two key reasons tend to be:

  1. The reviewer feels a need to warn others about their own bad experience with a brand, or they simply need to vent.
  2. The reviewer wants to share the great experience they had while supporting the brand.

Unfortunately, people are more inclined to share a bad experience than a good one. It’s just human nature, I’m afraid! What you need to do is ensure that there are precautions and practices in place on how your business handles reviews, both negative and positive.

Always respond to reviews

Engage with your customers and don’t just respond to negative reviews. It is 25% more expensive to attract new customers than it is to maintain existing ones, yet you’d be amazing at how many businesses simply ignore all reviews.

Gain a competitive edge over these companies and take the time to speak with each person who has bothered to leave their feedback – both good and bad. After all, they’ve taken the time out of their days to do so.

When handling a negative review, use this checklist:

  • Do not take it personally or go on the defensive.
  • Be empathetic and assume what the customer is saying is true. 
  • Be proactive and ask yourself, is there a solution to the reviewer’s problem that I can offer?

Start with a greeting, use their name and take full responsibility for your business before explaining and validating the customer’s experience. It’s vital that you remain accountable, welcome their engagement and show responsibility. 

Do not shy away from their comments, but instead provide context, express regret and demonstrate a willingness to resolve the issue, perhaps through reassurance and a free offering.

Only through being proactive and engaging will you prove to potential customers that you are trustworthy and authentic. The way you handle reviews is an opportunity to encourage others to leave positive feedback, which will then improve your chances of ranking locally.

The more recent and positive reviews you have, the more likely you are to appear in the top Local Pack results.

Get more Google Reviews

Customers are leaving reviews for your business across many platforms. While the likes of Yelp, Tripadvisor and Facebook are crucial for attracting new customers and maintaining existing ones, Google Reviews are the most useful in terms of Local SEO.

To improve the quality and quantity of reviews on your Google My Business listing, you’ll need to create and share a Google review link via your various marketing channels.

Oh, and one last thing: NEVER buy reviews or leave reviews of your own business. Google will know!

Citations

A citation is any mention of your business’s name, address and phone number spread across the internet. Local SEO takes into account how each of these is distributed, and any inconsistencies can have an impact on your rankings.

Here are just some of the citation and propagation issues you need to look out for when conducting your own local SEO audit…

Duplication

A recurring problem some businesses have with Google My Business is duplication; when one business location has multiple listings associated with it.

This can occur when listings have been created by former employees and forgotten about, prior to new ones being created. It can also happen when users create their own listings via the “Add a missing place” function. This is an extremely common issue as it is very easy for users to do this.

To fix any duplication problems, you’ll need to follow this guide: Removing or Reporting Duplicate Listings.

Conflation

When variations exist across multiple directories due to poor listing accuracy. When this happens, directories such as Google My Business can automatically merge two different sources of information together, often resulting in inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

Inconsistencies

This usually occurs when a business’s details have been updated but the change has not been reflected across the various citations on the web. Examples of this could include a change in business name, location or phone number.

How to identify propagation issues

To stay on top of citation issues, we recommend using Moz’s Check Listing tool. This allows you to search for your business and evaluate the information displayed across directors such as Facebook, Google My Business, Google Maps and FourSquare.

Optimising your website for Local SEO

Listing management and reviews are essential elements of Local SEO, but your work does not stop there. You can further enhance your ranking with several clever signals to Google and your online visitors.

To optimise your website for local SEO, you’ll need to complete the following:

  • Ensure the correct business name and contact details are displayed on as many pages as possible. This can be in your footer. Remember, Google likes consistency when it comes to data.
  • Ensure people can get to your contact page in two easy clicks by including it in your main menu. Your contact page should also feature your NAP (name, address and phone number).
  • Use title tags that feature the name of the city or town in which you are located.
  • Create geo-specific content that is relevant to your location and industry. Think about what sites you are linking to and what sites have backlinks to you. Prove to Google and Bing that you participate in the local community. 
  • Make sure reviews are easy to find and provide on your website.

The Role of Local SEO in your Sales Funnel

There are three different types of query on search engines. These are categorised by intent.

Informational Searches

When the user is trying to find information and learn more about a particular topic.

Informational Search

Transactional

Transactional searches are conducted by users looking to complete an action, usually purchasing something. This type of search tends to produce Shopping results.

Transactional Search

Navigational

Navigational searches are when a user is trying to go somewhere. This type of search will usually display the Local Pack results, as shown below.

Navigational Search

Search Intent and the Sales Funnel

It’s important to conduct some research into the search intent and results for the keyphrases you would like to rank for. 

As you’d expect, the competition gets tougher and more crowded for navigational and transactional searches as these are the ones that usually result in conversions (sales). This is why you will see more ads in the Map results for these searches. Ads have been a part of Map Pack results since 2016, and are displayed via green icons.

To get a true understanding of the role of local SEO in your own sales funnel, consider what informational searches people will be conducting in your industry. What problems are they hoping to solve? These searches will form the top of your funnel.

Next, think about how your customers dive deeper into your industry. How do they research and compare the solutions and products you offer? These transactional searches often appear as “this vs that” or price comparisons, and form the middle of your sales funnel.

Finally, once a user has found the solution to their problem, they’ll conduct navigational searches in order to complete their goal. Whether that’s completing a purchase, downloading a resource or getting in touch with a business, this forms the bottom of your sales funnel.

Competition for rank positions increases the further a user gets down the sales funnel. This comes as no surprise given that 76% of navigational searches result in same-day store visits.

“Near Me” Google Searches

The proximity of the searcher to your business plays a key role in whether or not you snag one of the top positions in the Local Pack for an individual query. This can be based on where the user is at the time of searching or their computer’s IP address. 

You may be the best pizza restaurant in Sheffield, but if your competitor’s building is closer to the user when they conduct the search, they are more likely to show up in the search results. 

This is thanks to 2016’s Possum algorithm update, which significantly altered the way local results are displayed and radically altered the competitive landscape. When reporting on SEO, bear in mind that your search results are likely to differ from that of your client’s or boss’s for this very reason.

Following the Possum update, more online users are now using “Near me” searches to find local businesses, so much so that marketers have twigged onto this and optimised their SEO accordingly, as you can see Uber Eats’ meta title below.

Near Me Search

Analysing Local SEO for your website

Curious as to how well your company is performing locally right now? Perform the following three checks to have a look:

  1. Conduct geo-modified searches in your business’s location and see what results you get. For instance, we would search: “marketing Lincolnshire”. 
  2. Conduct “near me” searches when near your business location and see if you show up.
  3. Check out your Google Analytics and see if “near me” or geo-modified searches are producing much traffic to your website.

If you are not shown in the above results, try more granular geo-modified searches. Can you be more specific with the town or city? If you are still not showing up, a useful way of checking if you’re within Google’s proximity for your chosen town is to Google its name and see if your business’s location is within the red line.

Lincolnshire Google

Oliver Wilkinson
Content Manager