an acclaimed report on Local Search Ranking Factors and his work is used and cited by SEO & Local search experts worldwide. In his presentation he didn’t hold anything back, giving out advanced tips and sharing many secrets about local search optimization – his presentation was so well received that comments such as “I’m learning 10 years of local search marketing in 1 hour. My mind is about to explode from awesomeness” were heard and echoed on Twitter.
The presentation started off with any explanation of why local search is important, and then he explained the Google Places algorithm in three parts – Relevance, Prominence, and Distance. His presentation included intermediate & advanced tactics, a discussion on analytics, and even best practices for uber-competitive markets – it was an impressive amount of ground to cover in just under an hour, but David kept a great pace and wow’d the audience for an hour straight.
Local Search – Why It’s Important
First off – why should you pay attention to local search? David explained that 20% of desktop searches have a local intent – a staggering 2 BILLION queries per month. It’s more important than ever to concentrate on local search, as Google has recently revised their search results to blend organic and local listings throughout the search engine results, as opposed to separating the local results in a “7 pack” above the organic results as they used to. As Google explains in their blog, this change was made to make local results even easier to find, and it definitely gives local results (and specifically, links to Google Places) more prominence in the search results. This fundamental shift means that search marketers will need to focus on both organic and local optimization to be successful, and that local business owners should focus not only on their website, but also on their Google Places page to make it provides a useful & informative experience for users.
The Places Algorithm – How Does it work?
The Places algorithm solves a very difficult question – how do you rank a phonebook? Yet the answer is pretty simple and based off of a pretty basic framework of just three factors – Relevance, Prominence, and Distance. This is a much different algorithm than organic search due to the local intent of the user. David then broke down each element of the algorithm further.
Optimizing for distance is impossible – you are where you are. This is one factor that you cannot control. The other two – Relevance and Prominence – are where you should focus your efforts.
There are many steps you can take to improve your relevance to local search keywords – many are straightforward like having a keyword in your business name, adding yourself to the appropriate categories, and making sure your Google Place page is claimed and filled out completely. In addition to just claiming and filling out your place page, make sure to make it compelling – the goal is to get clicks, and convert visitors – not just rank well. Otherwise, increasing your relevancy is much like organic search, pick keywords that are relevant to your business, including some longer tail keywords that will convert well, and then use those keywords throughout your copy in a natural sounding way.
Prominence is the third and perhaps most difficult aspect of local search optimization – generally the intermediate and advanced tactics. Simply put, prominence is what others say about you. The easiest thing you can do to improve your prominence is to manually claim your Google Places listing. Be sure to claim your listing using an email address on your own domain, and not a Gmail account, as this will help Google verify you are the owner of the website and not just a random Gmail user. The other big factor in improving your prominence is to have a lot of high quality citations – a citation is considered a mention of your Name, Address, and Phone Number (or N.A.P. for short). Having high quality citations that are geo-relevant and related to your industry or vertical will help your business thrive in local search prominence. Another aspect of prominence is reviews – having lots of reviews will help your business, especially positive ones. There are many other advanced tactics to improve prominence, such as presence on Flickr, popular YouTube videos, and even geo-tagging in Wikipedia. There is a great write up on the SEO Training SW blog that shares some of these more advanced tactics if you are interested.
Organic Optimization for Local Search
A good SEO strategy is holistic of both local & organic – David shared with us some strategies to make organic search strategy work together with your local search optimization for optimal results. Tactics such as including the city & state in your title tags, and creating separate pages on your website for each of your locations are two easy steps you can take to improve your local & organic search optimization. And of course, links matter, as they do for all aspects of organic search – to help your local search the most, try to get links from geo-relevant sites, or with geo-specific anchor text, as those links will help reinforce the relevance of your business’ location and service offerings to the search engines.
David’s presentation was an eye-opener for many local business owners, organic SEOs, and other internet marketers as we learned just how complicated and advanced local search optimization has become. For retailers, brick and mortars, or anyone with a local presence, it is essential to start learning local search optimization and creating a holistic optimization strategy that accounts for both local and organic tactics.