The Simplified Guide to Local Search
If you’re just getting started with local SEO, or figuring out how to get more visibility for your local business, welcome!
Our simplified guide to Google local search is jargon-free, explains everything in plain English and is packed with easy-to-action tips.
We’ll touch on the essential local SEO tools you’ll need to make your life easier and provide you with a complete overview of which areas you need to focus on to make your business more visible to local customers. So, let’s get started!
The Basics: Why local search?
If you’re new to Google local search, you may well be wondering where it’s come from and why it’s now so important to local businesses everywhere. The answer to this question lies with a piece of tech that you likely have in your pocket, in your hands or on your desk right now – your smartphone.
Around 96% of Americans own a cell phone in 2019, with 81% owning smartphones, according to the latest data from Pew Research Institute. A staggering 96% of Americans aged 18-29 own a smartphone, which means more than 9 in 10 of them have instant access to the internet wherever they are as they go about their day.
This widespread availability of mobile technology has seriously changed how we behave as consumers. We can now hop online at any time, from any location, and search for something we need or want. That means anything from the nearest pizza place to the pet grooming parlor (plus any product or service you can think of in-between) is just a few taps on your smartphone screen away.
Constant connectivity equals convenience, so more and more, everyday shoppers are heading to Google on their phone when they need to find something. According to our Local Consumer Review Survey, 27% of consumers go online to find a local business every day, 59% search for a local business weekly and 69% look online for local businesses monthly.
It’s easy to see how appearing prominently on Google when local people search for your kind of service can be lucrative!
It’s not just physically searching by text either. More and more, voice search is gaining traction. Think about it – have you ever asked Siri, Alexa, or your Google Assistant what the weather is like or what’s showing at the cinema? If you have, you’ve used voice search.
The results that are returned through voice search for these kinds of queries are local results, which means many people conduct a local search without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. Google predicts this is going to be a big growth area in 2019 so this is also an area of local search to watch as time goes on.
What is a ‘local search’? How does it differ from a normal search?
A local search is perhaps best described with an example:
You’re driving in town and get a flat tire; you pull out your smartphone, head to your web browser and type in ‘mechanic’.
Whether or not you add ‘near me’, you’re still performing a local search as you’re looking for a specific service in your local area.
Thanks to modern technology, Google is able to accurately pinpoint your location. It can use your Wi-Fi connection or GPS, for example, to get an idea of where you are, and then return results for products, services and merchants that are in close proximity (the distance) to your location.
Without being too technical, distance is one of the three key pillars of local search (along with relevance and prominence) for businesses looking to get their web presences seen by the right people at the right time.
Google will calculate how far the distance is from the search user to a local business when deciding how to rank search results. It knows that, more often than not, search users need a solution that is close to them – especially when searching on a mobile device.
Breaking down your search
You may think there’s nothing much to decode when you type a few words into Google to hunt down a vital product or service. That’s actually not the case, though.
During the 2018 Secrets of Local Search conference, which was held at Google’s HQ in California, Google’s own figures revealed that 46% of searches now have a local intent. That’s almost, but not quite, one out of every two searches. That alone gives Google a pretty good idea of whether you’re looking for a local business or not.
Of course, the words and phrases you type in before hitting ‘search’ are a pretty good indicator of whether you need something local or, whether a solution from further afield would do the trick.
“Near me” searches
Let’s go back to that city drive and your flat tire.
Now, chances are, you don’t just type in mechanic, although that is possible. In your eagerness to get back on the road with a fully inflated tire as soon as possible, you might tell Google you’re looking for a “mechanic near me”. Right away, ‘near me’ triggers a local search as you clearly need assistance close to your physical location.
The same is true of searches that your customers make. Whether they’re looking for a pool cleaner or a cable guy, ‘near me’ flags up that only someone close to their current location will suffice.
This means that Google knows to present that user with service providers from their immediate area. If you’re a mechanic in that city, you’ll want to ensure that you have your local search visibility taken care of to be visible to that customer and in with a chance of winning that job.
In some cases, rather than type in near me, you may simply add your location to the end of the search to be assured that you’ll be served relevant results. For example, ‘mechanic San Francisco’.
It’s pretty clear to Google that this is a local search and so to be useful, it needs to show you listings for mechanics in San Francisco.
If you have your location enabled on your phone, you can perform a local search without even realizing it. In most cases, if you simply type in ‘mechanic’ you’ll get local results simply because you have location services enabled on your phone.
This can vary for the type of business searched for, though. Typing popular business types like hotels, restaurants, car dealerships, are like to trigger a location-enabled search. However, searching for incredibly rarely-searched business types can still result in definitions from sources like Wikipedia (though Google is getting increasingly clever in this sense).
What is a local search result?
As we’ve seen, there are several types of local searches. Fittingly, there are multiple types of local search results, too.
Depending on the device used for the search and the type of search performed, a different type of local search result may be shown. The good news for businesses is that the tactics that improve your visibility in one type of search result almost always improve it in the others, too.
Here, we just want to share a few terms with you which pop up most often to describe local search results, so you feel comfortable with each one when you progress to carrying out local search or speaking to a local SEO agency.
The local pack (also known as the 3-pack) is a section of Google’s search results that shows the top local businesses related to your query. Whenever your query has local intent, Google will show three local businesses that might answer your query.
You’ll see the local pack appear if you go to Google and type in your search query in the search bar. It will often have an image of a map above and then three suggested local businesses below, sometimes with snippets of reviews, opening times and pictures.
For local businesses, this is the ultimate goal in local SEO, as these three spots are generally consistent across mobile, desktop and even voice search.
If you use Google Maps to perform a search, or you click on the map icon in the local pack, you’ll get local map results. This will show the location of businesses matching your search query on a map with options for filtering according to criteria such as ‘top rated’ or ‘open now’.
If you click a listing in the local pack, or on the LIST option to the right of Google Maps on mobile, you’ll find get local finder results. The local finder is the source of truth for all local listings on Google. Wherever you see listings for a particular search term in a particular location, the local finder results are what’s being pulled. BrightLocal tracks these positions in our Local Search Rank Checker.
Localized organic results
Localized organic results are a slightly different version of local search. These results show in the main search area, they are always strictly business related (so they likely won’t include specific local businesses, unless they’re performing very well in local SEO for the search term you’ve used) but they do have a strong local connection via their content.
If the searcher is clearly looking for something local, these results will often be comprised of directory listings or ‘listicle’ style articles, such as Top 10 Best X in Y) and articles from local bloggers and newspapers.