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Local SEO in 2016: How to Rank & Prosper

by Matt Banner | 2 COMMENTS Add yours here | Last Updated on

Depending on the type of business you own, local SEO is either something you’re intimately familiar with or a foreign subject entirely. Whether you’ve already made a website for your business or are considering to do so, these tips for marketing on a local level will be essential.

Either way, that’s changing today.

We’re going to look at the state of local SEO, where it’s going and how we can properly leverage it for years to come. Like anything associated with the big G, it’s always changing and we need to be two steps ahead at all times otherwise, we’d be eaten alive by our competitors.

But before we get into how to rank using local seo in 2016, I wanted to share with you some interesting research I conducted recently: the most popular local searches in each in state.


Most Popular Google Searches by Each State in America

While I will admit that I expected a lot of these, some are absolutely bizarre and really interesting to see it all mapped out. Data is courtesy of Google Trends over the last 12 years.

most popular local searches

Local QueryStateSearch Volume - CPC
thrift storesAlabama[246,000/mo - $2.32]
locksmithsAlaska[368,000/mo - $15.36]
mexican food near meArizona[246,000/mo - $3.93]
walmartArkansas[45,500,000/mo - $0.04]
comic book storesCalifornia[60,500/mo - $1.24]
nail salonsColorado[450,000/mo - $2.44]
nail spaConnecticut[33,100/mo - $1.25]
bank near meDC[110,000/mo - $8.11]
floristsDelaware[165,000/mo - $3.63]
barber near meFlorida[49,500/mo - $4.32]
chick fil a near meGeorgia[246,000/mo - $9.04]
massageHawaii[1,220,000/mo - $1.23]
drive in theaterIdaho[74,000/mo - $1.80]
walgreens near meIllinois[823,000/mo - $0.80]
games for saleIndiana[2,400/mo - $0.88]
chiropractorIowa[450,000/mo - $6.65]
kansas city royals gearKansas[720/mo - $0.93]
plumbersKentucky[301,000/mo - $19.90]
seafoodLouisiana[135,000/mo - $2.34]
lobster near meMaine[30/mo - $0.00]
jewelry storeMaryland[165,000/mo - $2.86]
yogaMassachusetts[1,220,000/mo - $1.01]
doctor near meMichigan[9,900/mo - $5.18]
urgent care clinicMinnesota[27,100/mo - $7.22]
pawn shopsMississippi[550,000/mo - $3.63]
party supply storesMissouri[33,100/mo - $0.91]
office suppliesMontana[110,000/mo - $3.87]
zooNebraska[1,500,000/mo - $0.43]
steakhouseNevada[201,000/mo - $2.35]
cash for goldNew Hampshire[27,100/mo - $7.01]
gyms near meNew Jersey[201,000/mo - $3.50]
burritoNew Mexico[368,000/mo - $0.75]
chinese food near meNew York[1,000,000/mo - $2.78]
child custody lawyersNorth Carolina[8,100/mo - $14.59]
dentists near meNorth Dakota[246,000/mo - $8.17]
hospitalsOhio[673,000/mo - $2.28]
casinos near meOklahoma[135,000/mo - $2.54]
landscape servicesOregon[8,100/mo - $5.27]
contractors near mePennsylvania[3,600/mo - $5.94]
liquor storesRhode Island[673,000/mo - $2.18]
family doctors near meSouth Carolina[9,900/mo - $4.39]
mechanics near meSouth Dakota[60,500/mo - $5.06]
divorce lawyersTennessee[60,500/mo - $20.38]
delivery near meTexas[450,000/mo - $2.51]
craft storeUtah[60,500/mo - $1.10]
ski shopVermont[14,800/mo - $0.71]
civil war museumVirginia[2,900/mo - $1.68]
coffee near meWashington[165,000/mo - $5.29]
pharmaciesWest Virginia[550,000/mo - $0.50]
goodwill storeWisconsin[40,500/mo - $1.68]
groomersWyoming[27,100/mo - $0.27]

Your Handy Guide to Local SEO [Infographic]

local seo in 2016

Local SEO in 2016: What’s Working and What’s Not?

A few years ago, businesses weren’t focusing on Local SEO. Instead, they were busy with other tactics. All of that has changed, along with Google’s algorithm. Today,  everyone is using the same basic tactics to rank for local results.

Do you see the issue here?

If everyone is doing the basic elements, then we need to rise above to stand out from the pack. We also have to understand the localized version of SEO is a completely different beast than the standard one.

The way people search for local results takes in vastly different directions. It’s also governed by different factors.  What do I mean?

Let’s take a look at an example:

I’m searching for a local business that sells used video games, but just any games, I’m looking for the classics (What, a blogger can be a gamer in his spare time!). So, I start by doing a search on Google:

local search query example

As you can see, I’ve got some local results front and center. In this case, there aren’t any paid ads, but you’ll find that those do exist in local results now, something that wasn’t always the case in recent years.

Like any other person, I go through the reviews to see what people are saying about these stores. Remember, I’m looking for very specific items, so my intent is to see comments about the selection or choice.

Good reviews, but I’m also seeing a lot of GameStop stores in the results. I’m not a big fan of Gamestop myself, but someone else may be looking for that exact option. Either way, I decide to also check for some of these companies on Yelp:

yelp review example

Awesome, so now I have a few more options, including comic book stores. Games and comics go hand-in-hand so I’m fine with these results. Looks like one of them has a bad rating. I instinctively skip over that one, which is a perfect example of how important reviews are for your business.

So this is a quick glimpse at the state of local SEO, but let’s take a look at a study done by Andrew Shotland of Local SEO Guide (he’s one of the gods of Local SEO, so to speak). Looking at this data, this is what I see:

  • Companies with a solid amount of reviews are ranking higher. Google reviews, Yelp, Travel Advisor, all of these count towards better local rankings.
  • Google My Business profile views are also a major factor for local SEO.
  • Organic ranking and positive SEO practices on that front still matter if you want to rank locally as well.
  • Citations still matter, as do backlinks. What matters across both is quality.
  • Local SEO should take into account user intent and the various factors that qualify their decision.

Here are two other strategies that are working well in 2016: 

1. Local Link Building 

We’ve discussed link building plenty of times here, but building local links is a different story. These will help you rank better in the local results. Here are some of the top strategies for earning local links:

  • Head over to Meetup.com and look for local events that pertain to your industry. Reach out to these organizations and offer to sponsor them with something simple like a donation or catering their event. This will earn you a link on their site.
  • Build a resource of data about your area or your region, based on public information that people can access. Compile all of this together and reach out to local businesses and press to earn links to the resource.
  • Earn links from your city’s event page by hosting a local event of your own.
  • Sign up for press requests so you can be quoted in major publications.
  • Offer interviews for various local publications so you can get more exposure for your brand.
  • Offer discounts for residents or members of local organizations and veterans and earn links from the appropriate local websites.
  • Organize an AMA (Ask me Anything) on Reddit for the subreddit that relates to your industry.
  • Offer scholarships or jobs for local students to earn links from universities.
  • Monitor your competition and use tools like Majestic to find out where they are getting their links from.

This is how you’ll find opportunities for local links and build them naturally. Let’s look at another strategy that’s working well.

2. CTR Optimization 

The importance of a strong click-through rate (CTR) is something that has become more apparent in local SEO than ever before. In fact, a quick study done by Rand Fishkin of Moz fame found that a large increase in CTR from the SERP results brought rankings up in less than a hour!

You’ll need consistently high CTR to see long-term results, but ultimately this metric decides whether people want to click on your business over someone else’s.

Here are ways to optimize your CTR:

  • Make sure your Schema.org markup is complete with reviews.
  • Construct title tags that are keyword rich, but also readable and relevant to the individual pages.
  • Write a meta description that is detailed and ensure they include keywords that are both local and relevant to the topic.
  • Split test your CTR rates from social media platforms and use those results to modify the SERP snippets.

The Future of Local SEO and How to Prepare Now

Any experienced SEO professional will tell you two things:

SEO is not an exact science and it’s always changing

We’re more concerned with the latter portion right now. The future brings change, and that is doubly true when it comes to SEO. Knowing this, Let’s take a look at some major changes coming to localized SEO.

It’s no secret that local results have higher conversions than anything else. After all, 50% of local searches result in store visits that same day. Case and point:

People who search locally are ready to go to the store and buy something.

What’s good for Google’s customers is good for Google, and consumers are also onboard the local results train. The same study linked to above also found that 67% of consumers want their ads customized to match their city and zip code.

Okay, so this tells us that personalized (A.K.A local) results are what people want when they’re searching for something in their area. Google has already begun placing ads into the local results, but as more and more businesses strive to rank for local results and organic ones, the details are going to matter more than ever.

The biggest differentiator going forward is going to be user reviews. Positive, negative, or simply neutral, you want as many as you can get. Invite your customers to review your company on Google, Yelp, Yahoo! Local, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and anywhere else that it’s relevant.

Finally, it’s important to remember the difference between desktop and mobile users. Specifically, mobile users are not interested in spending more time than they absolutely need to find something.

Let’s not forget that the rise of smartphones has dropped our average attention span from 12 seconds to a mere 8. We’re more easily distracted, and we don’t have the patience we used to. Whether that’s technology spoiling us, or something else is a discussion for another time.

The point is, people don’t want to find what they’re looking for and they want it immediately. In this case, that includes the business information they require: the address, phone number, and so on. That’s not going to change. In fact, the focus on optimizing and streamlining your pages for mobile is only going to increase.

The ‘Possum’ Algorithm Update: What it Means For Local SEO

As of September 1st, 2016, Google started rolling out a new update that SEO specialists are calling “possum.” The name was coined by Phil Rozek, who noticed that businesses were concerned their Google My Business pages were gone, when. in fact, they were simply being filtered.

Playing possum as it were. 

From analysis  thus far, it’ looks like the update was intended to diversify the local results and primarily affected the 3-pack and local results. So, let’s take a deeper look into what changed:

Possum Update Changes

  • Businesses outside local city limits received a massive jump in rankings (previously they would have difficulty ranking if they didn’t have a physical address in the city limits).
  • Results are filtered based on affiliation and relevance. Depending on the search query, two different companies with a similar location make rank differently (one being filtered) if the other is more relevant to the exact term.
  • Physical location matters more than ever, so it’s important for searcher location to be set to the correct city. A tool like Bright Local can ensure this is the case.
  • Results are more noticeably affected by variations of different local keywords.

2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors

Local Ranking Factors

Take a deeper look into this data-driven study done by Moz that really helps highlight what makes things tick in the realm of local SEO. Sure, it’s from last year but nonetheless just as relevant today.

So, in the end, it’s clear that Google is trying to make their local results more hyper-personalized and efficient through updates like Possum. It’s also pushing apart the relationship between organic and local results, so you can’t rely on one for the other.

As with any update, this one continues to roll out. Yet another example of how Googe and local SEO is constantly changing.

Now it’s your turn:

  • Make absolutely sure that your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) is accurate on your Google My Business page and across every single other local listing you can think of.
  • You better have a specific page on your site for each location that you own and locations that you service.
  • Utilize Schema.org markup on all of your pages, and if you aren’t doing this, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage.
  • Make it super easy for customers to post reviews for your company on all the major platforms

Final Thoughts

Local SEO doesn’t have to be tricky. With this guide, you’ll be well on your way to mastering how to rank your business locally. If you’re in business right now you probably want to stay in business for at least the next 10 years, so taking the time to carefully understand the nuances within the local SEO realm, is well worth it.

How’s your business ranking locally? Have any other tips I may have missed?

Comments

  1. david@phoenixonlinemedia.com'David

    This is an awesome post on local seo. Very thorough and intuitively laid out. I love the map! I am in Arizona and would have never guessed our most popular search term here was “burrito”! But then again, who doesn’t love a great burrito? Here is an interesting continuation on this- as I’m typing this comment I opened up another tab and searched “best burritos near me”. The results in Google’s Local 3-Pack are as expected. 3 well known Mexican style restaurants, all with multiple and good reviews. What was not expected though is, even though Google picked up my location accurately as indicated by the proximity of the Mexican style restaurants in the results (all within 5 miles of my location), The top 5 organic results are all for CALIFORNIA! Looks like some missed opportunity for some of our local burrito vendors! Admittedly, the top results are from some reputable sources with high DR, but some good PR outreach and a plan…
    Once again, great post.

    Reply

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