BrightLocal’s Simplified Guide to Local Search

BrightLocal’s Simplified Guide to Local Search

If you’re just getting started with local SEO, or figuring out how to get more visibility for a 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 wonder where it’s come from and why it’s 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 97% of Americans own a cell phone in 2019, with 85% 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 that 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 phones when they need to find something. According to BrightLocal’s own Local Consumer Review Survey, 21% of consumers go online to find a local business every day, 77% search for a local business at least once per week, and 91% look online for local businesses at least once a month.

It’s easy to see how appearing prominently on Google when local people search for your kind of service can be lucrative!

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 to your location.

Without being too technical, proximity between searcher and business 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 the distance 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 have a local intent (sadly, no more up-to-date data is available). 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 return to 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 need assistance close to your physical location.

Mechanic San Francisco

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 to Google that only a business close to the searcher’s 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 stand a chance of winning that job.

Geo-targeted Searches

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.

 San Fancisco Mechanic Near Me

You’d also use geo-targeted searches if you were looking for a place in a specific location that isn’t near you, for example when planning a trip. It’s important to remember this, because otherwise, it’s easy to think that ‘local search’ equals ‘near me search’.

Location-enabled Searches

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 (Google is clever enough to know that you’re probably not looking for a definition of a mechanic unless you specifically ask for one).

This can vary for the type of business searched for, though. Searches for popular business types like hotels, restaurants, and car dealerships are likely to trigger a location-enabled search.

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.

Here, we just want to share a few terms with you that pop up most often to describe local search results, so you feel comfortable with each one when you progress to carrying out local search, speaking to a local SEO agency or looking for local SEO services.

Local Pack

The Local 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 a set of 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 or beside it and then usually three suggested local businesses below or to the side, sometimes with snippets of reviews, opening times, justifications, and photos.

For local businesses, this is the ultimate goal in local SEO, as these three spots are generally consistent across mobile and desktop.

Local Pack

Google Maps

If you use Google Maps to perform a search, 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’, or even business type like ‘restaurants’.

Google Maps

Local Finder

If you click a listing in the Local Pack, or on the SHOW LIST option at the bottom of Google Maps on mobile, you’ll 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 Rank Tracker.

Local Finder

Localized Organic Results

Localized organic results are a slightly different version of local search. These results show in the main search area, they aren’t 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.

Listings site in localised organic listings

What is local search marketing?

As you’ve probably gathered by this point, local search marketing is focused on getting a particular business or page to appear for a certain keyword or keywords in a certain area.

Local search has become much more of a focus for smaller businesses and businesses with a number of physical locations in recent years, for two core reasons. The first is that it has become harder and harder for smaller organizations to break into the main search results on Google as larger brands like Amazon and Walmart often dominate the top three or four spots.

Another reason, as we touched on before, is the predominance of smartphones and the shift to using them to search for anything and everything at exactly the moment we need it.

According to HubSpot marketing statistics, this is lucrative for small businesses—with 72% of shoppers who perform a local search going on to visit a store within five miles of their location. 88% of those who perform a search on a mobile device call or visit a local business within one day.

All of this only serves to illustrate exactly how profitable it can be to focus your efforts on obtaining a prominent local search position.

So, exactly how do you go about that? As promised, now that you know exactly what local search marketing is and how it works, we’re going to leave you with some actionable takeaways. These are the activities that you (or your agency partner) will need to focus on to get your business ranking for its products and services in the local area…

Read more: What is Local SEO?

Local Search Marketing: What You Need to Do

There are lots of factors that go into obtaining a top local search resul—you can find a full breakdown in BrightLocal’s guide to local ranking factors—but in this starter guide, we’ll focus on the most important aspects of your local SEO checklist.

Citation Building

Citations can be very influential in local search. A citation is simply an online mention of your business name, address, and phone number, along with any other useful information such as web address, opening times, and email address. You can build citations in lots of different ways, from filling out a social media profile fully, to being mentioned in a local newspaper or completing a directory listing. You can find more about how to go about this in our guide to citation building.

Read more: What are citations and which are the best citation sites?

Review Generation

If you’re a regular BrightLocal visitor, you’ll need no introduction to the importance of reviews. If not, check out our Local Consumer Review Survey here or try our 5 tips for generating more local business reviews here. In short, the vast majority of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do a personal recommendation from someone they know, which makes good reviews a powerful sales tool.

Google, too, loves reviews. How many reviews you have, how many are good, how many are bad, how many feature pictures, and how quickly you respond to reviews can all influence your local search positions.

Because consumers often only look at the most recent reviews when making up their minds about a business, you’ll need to generate new reviews on a consistent basis. Google also looks for a regular, steady stream of reviews when determining local search position.

Read more: What is Review Management and which are the top review sites?

Google Business Profile Optimization

Have you claimed your Google Business Profile listing (formerly ‘Google My Business’) yet? If not, this is something you should do now, as Google Business Profile signals are an important local search ranking factor.

Filling out your Google Business Profile information in full is an easy first step. Make sure you add as much detail as you can, upload relevant images, and choose a relevant Google Business Profile category.

Adding posts, offers, and events from your Google Business Profile dashboard regularly is also important for local search success and can help you become more visible in the local pack.

On-page SEO

The content on your website is another key to performing local SEO successfully. Check that you have your full address, including zip code, present on your site. The name, address, and phone number (NAP) on your web page should be consistent with the NAP you use elsewhere online.

Regularly updating your website with useful content and including local keywords is also important, as is ensuring site speed and technical SEO is optimal.

Link Building

In the world of SEO, links are currency. If you can get another site to link back to you, it’s akin to a vote of confidence in your site. If the site linking to you operates within a similar field, is well-regarded in its own right, and located in the same area as you, you’re well on your way to having a great link.

If that link uses one of your keywords in the link text, better yet. Links aren’t just a signal of trust or a vote of confidence. They also act as pathways into your site for local consumers.

Building links is an ongoing process and one that you must take a long-term view on. Approaching sources such as your local newspaper or Chamber of Commerce, and giving them a good reason to link back to you is a great way to get your link-building kicked off. You may also want to approach local bloggers with collaboration ideas to generate links. Just be sure to target good-quality sites that are in the same or a similar field.


Now that you know the differences and commonalities between local search types and local search results, you can dive further into learning what affects these things.

Whatever you do, always be testing and learning. There’s no such thing as set-it-and-forget-it in SEO, and local search is no different. Even citations have to be updated sometimes!

Local SEO made simple

Jamie Pitman
About the author
Jamie heads up BrightLocal's content team, ensuring we produce insightful articles, research and resources that enable businesses and SEOs to get even better results in local search.

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