When it comes to search engine optimization, things are not quite as straightforward as they once were. Search the same string on two different computers for instance and you can end up with a completely different set of results on each!
This is down to a number of factors, including Google My Business(GMB), mobile, and personalized/geo results. What’s more though, search results will also be different depending on your location. Priority is often given to local results, especially when you’re searching for local businesses, which represents an entirely different factor that companies need to keep their eyes on. This is, even more, the case when searching on mobile.
To understand this, it is useful to remember that Google’s goal is not simply to become a search engine. Google is now an ‘AI first company’ and wants to ‘index the world’s information’ and make it easier for us to find. Google wants you to search for the best place to eat simply by asking your smartphone, and present you with the answer. To reach that point – where it becomes a smart assistant that can anticipate your needs – it needs to be able to adapt to context. And location is a HUGE part of that.
If you’re going to succeed in SEO today then, you need to understand the concepts of local and global SEO – and what sets them apart.
What is Local SEO? And Why it is a MUST for Small Business
Every type of business stands to benefit from local search engine optimization. Perhaps more than any other though, the small locally based business can get the most out of this process and that’s true for many reasons.
In order to succeed at SEO, you need to be able to beat the competition for specific search terms. If you sell web design then good luck becoming number one for the term ‘web design’ – there are just far too many companies out there trying to do the same thing and many of them have a much larger budget.
Local SEO is different though. Here the search term will be prefixed with a place name for instance ‘Santa Monica wedding dresses’. Suddenly, the amount of competition dwindles significantly to only businesses in your area which makes it much more possible to rise to the top or at least to get high on the first page.
If you’re trying to rank for broad, global search terms, then you will be going up against global businesses that have billions of dollars in their marketing budgets. If you are trying to rank for local terms though, then you are going to be competing with just a few local businesses.
Local SEO is also especially useful of course for anyone who runs a local business. If you run a hair salon for instance, then it will be of relatively little interest to you how well you rank in another country – as it’s not a service you can provide remotely or deliver. (If you do find a way to deliver haircuts remotely, you’ll probably be rich very quickly!)
Get to the top of Google for local search terms and you’ll appear in the map pack results – meaning that your business will be shown on a map above all other search terms, along with your business name, a link to your website, and a button to get navigation to the area.
This is hugely beneficial as it can encourage local individuals to make snap decisions – to decide then and there to visit your store or venue and make a purchase. This is something that you simply won’t accomplish any other way unless you can provide your services globally.
Local SEO for Non-Local Business
Even if your business isn’t specifically local, focussing on your local area can provide a significant advantage as it means you’re competing with a much smaller number of competitors. From there, you can then choose to expand to compete with a larger audience as you grow and gain more capital and as you’ve built up momentum. Keep in mind that Facebook originally used this exact strategy – focussing initially only on Harvard students and later just colleges. Only after several years did Facebook begin allowing people to join from all over the world – at which point the platform already had a huge amount of buzz and a massive ready-made user base.
Most people would agree, it worked out pretty well for them!
Why Global Still SEO Matters
That said, this does not mean you can simply forget and ignore global SEO.
Of course, if you have an e-commerce business or you’re earning money from ads on your website, then you will eventually want to focus more on your global rankings. And even for local-only business, this can be an important way to reach tourists planning their holidays, to increase the visibility of your brand, and to begin expanding into other markets. You can also make money directly from your website.
And just as gaining traction in the local rankings can help you to succeed globally, so too can you succeed locally by focussing on global SEO. Think about it: if a brand is absolutely huge then it’s going to be on the first page almost no matter where you search for it. Search for “Facebook” and you get the same thing, everywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, there is limited potential when it comes to local SEO. Local SEO, of course, involves placing your links on as many different local websites as possible, but eventually, you are going to start running out of those sites to place your links on. As we’ll see in a minute, this can be a problem for gaining traction – you need to think bigger.
So, in other words, you need to look at both local and global SEO regardless of your business model. You may have more of an emphasis on one or the other but eventually, you will need to consider both.
A Guide to General SEO
Before we dive into how local SEO works and how to succeed in your region, we should first take a look at how general SEO works. That way, you can see how these same concepts and principles can be applied on a smaller scale.
SEO can generally be broken down into a few different components.
This is where SEO begins – looking for search terms that are relevant to your brand. These are the things you want people to search in order to find your website. Ideally, a search term should be something that lots of the right people are looking for, but that is currently not overcrowded.
This is the process of gaining links from other websites that point to yours – called inbound links. These are important, as they provide in-roads that Google can use to locate your pages. The more inbound links you have, the more quickly new pages on your site will be ‘indexed’.
At the same time, link building also helps Google understand the relevance of your site. If you have lots of links from sites about dog kennels, Google will assume your page has something to do with dog kennels.
Finally, link building is a testimony. Google believes that if you have lots of links from high profile sites, then you must have something of value to offer – and so you will rank higher. Keep in mind that ‘high profile’ here is very much the operative word. The more important the website, the more a link from them will be worth. Links from lots of poor quality sites can actually harm your success!
There are a few ways that you can ‘build’ links. One is through guest posting. This means sharing free content with other sites, in exchange for a link back to your page. Another is by submitting your site to listings and indexes.
On-site SEO means optimizing your site to ensure that Google approves of it. That means that your site should load quickly and should look great on any device. Google doesn’t serve the webmaster, it serves the user. Google wants people to rely on it to find great content. Therefore, it will only show your site if your site meets its standards.
At the same time, there are ways to insert keywords into your site code – such as in alt tags and file names.
It’s also important to remember that Google looks at things like ‘bounce-rates’. This indicates how long a user spends on your website before leaving. If no one spends more than a couple of seconds on your page because it’s so badly designed, then Google is going to stop showing it.
Finally, content is extremely important for SEO. Remember, Google works by answering questions, and it does this by drawing on the content from websites. What’s more, is that a lot of what the user is looking for in the first place is going to be content – they want answers to questions, entertainment, interesting things to read. And so, the more content you add to your site, the more reasons you give both the visitor and Google to find your pages.
And of course, you then have the option to lace this content with keywords. By subtly repeating the phrases you are trying to rank for, you can signal to Google what your site is about and appear in more relevant searches. BUT you must do this without forcing the issue.
Translating This Process to Local SEO
So how do all these processes translate to local?
For local SEO, keywords should be directly relevant to your region. So instead of ‘buy hats online’, you might choose ‘buy hats Gotham City’.
For local SEO, link building should involve attempting to get backlinks from the biggest sites local to your area. Try swapping links with other local businesses that aren’t direct competitors.
The limitation I alluded to earlier, however, is that you might not have as many truly ‘big’ sites in your region. In that case, you might want to additionally branch out to bigger sites online.
As for submitting to indexes and lists, there will almost always be local directories and the like that you can try to get your site onto. In particular, you should aim to get your site added to Google Maps. This is important for the way that Google now displays businesses.
On-site optimization for local SEO is largely the same as for global SEO. Of particular focus though is mobile friendliness. Mobile searches tend to be more location-sensitive as compared with desktop searches, so if your site isn’t mobile optimized, then you might miss out on that local traffic.
Make sure that your site passes Google’s mobile friendliness test, and that it is speed optimized. That way, you will stand a better chance of showing up where it matters.
Local SEO content will be similar to general content. However, you should aim to incorporate local terms and place names in order to help further make it clear to Google that your site is specific to that region.
Local-Specific SEO Strategies
There are other SEO strategies that are specific to local SEO. These include things like trying to get your customers to participate, and this is a great way to integrate social media into your SEO strategy. Get customers to post on local forums and groups, to share tips, and to recommend your business. You can incentivize this by offering them rewards in exchange.
You might also choose to combine your local SEO with a physical flier campaign, to help generate buzz.
And speaking of combining marketing methods, you can also try using PPC in order to target specific local search terms using paid ads. This way, you can see how those ads perform before deciding whether to invest time in optimizing for those terms. Facebook ads also make it possible to quickly reach a targeted, local audience.
As you can see then, both local and global SEO plays an important role in any comprehensive internet marketing strategy. These are complimentary but separate tools that belong in any internet marketing campaign – whether your business is big, small, local, or global.