A brief evolution of search engines
Before we dive into the implications of local SEO, let’s quickly hop into our time machine and talk about where search engines came from, on a broader scale.
Once upon a time, when there were relatively few websites in the early days of the Internet, it was easy to log on and find just about any existing website with little effort. However, as the number of websites grew, it became difficult to navigate through all of the websites to find just the one you were looking for. That’s where search engines like Yahoo! Search, AskJeeves, Dogpile, and - of course - Google came in.
Truthfully, all of those search engines worked about the same way for a while, until Google started using the links between websites as a way to determine which ones actually contained reliable and relevant information that users searched for (you may hear this called “authority”). This evolution gave searchers a much-improved experience and boosted Google to the top of the list of preferred search engines, where it remains (for the most part) today.
How does Google rank pages?
It’s a secret! 🤫 Just kidding, kind of. Although the official algorithm is not available to the public, we have substantiated ideas about how it works and what signals “rankability” to Google. It’s commonly accepted among SEO professionals that Google uses a combination of factors that affect a web page’s relevance, prominence, and popularity to determine what ranks for specific search terms over time.
What’s different about local search?
As Google analyzed infinite searches almost as fast as new webpages sprung up, it became clear that certain searchers need results for businesses that provide services in their immediate area.
For example: Imagine you live in Amarillo, Texas, and you need a plumber for a water leak, ASAP. If you search on Google for “plumber,” the original whole-Internet algorithm would return the highest-ranking plumber anywhere in the world at #1, and you may have to scroll through many pages to find one in Texas. Thankfully, Google figured out that searches like this need to factor in proximity, so you aren’t calling a New York City plumber to fix your leak in Texas just because the New York City plumber’s website ranks highest!
In recent years, local search has expanded so that users don’t even have to include “near me” in their search terms, and it now includes mobile search, both of which help searchers find what they need and incentivize local businesses to grow their online presence. In short, optimizing for local search makes keeping your business top-of-mind that much easier for people close by who just might be looking for what you offer.
Why start local when it comes to SEO?
As you may have guessed already, there are many reasons to start local with your SEO efforts! Here are five great ones:
1. Dominate the local market for your industry
Even if you are the very best and most innovative business in your specialty, it won’t matter if no one can find you! If you haven’t started optimizing for local search by creating and maintaining your Google Business Profile listing, targeting location-and-service-based keywords, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the nearby people who are looking for what you offer, you’re probably already behind your competition.
2. Advertise your business for the long term at a lower upfront cost
Compared to paying for print ads or PPC, making the investment in local SEO is relatively inexpensive. That’s not to say that it’s free, especially if you work with an agency, but the long-term return on the investment will pay off. Like a beautiful garden, good SEO needs to be regularly manicured and maintained, but once the soil or website is optimized and established, its ability to grow more flowers/organic search results doesn’t simply disappear.
By comparison, when you use pay-per-click (PPC) or print ads, you have to continue to pay for that advertising avenue in order to keep your business on the front page of search results, the billboard, newspaper, magazine, etc.
3. Attract new & returning customers
No matter how big your business gets and no matter where you sell your products in the world, your local market will always matter. Local customers are, after all, a small part of the global economy, and their word carries weight, especially when it comes to reviews and the intangible benefits of a reliable word-of-mouth network.
If you take the time to understand your nearby users/customers and their unique needs, and especially if you listen to and consider their complaints, requests, and compliments, don't be surprised to find that you draw in more new and returning business than your competitors!
4. Get a social & income boost from the “shop local” movement
Even though Wal-Mart, Amazon, and other huge corporations are everywhere, even in the smallest towns, people are still interested in supporting local business owners for many services. If you think about restaurants, home repairs, gardeners, vehicle cleaning and maintenance, hair salons, childcare, music venues, roofers…the list could go on, but these are the kinds of smaller local businesses that people are drawn to.
Customers are attracted to these businesses in their own towns both for practicality and that “home-grown” feeling they get when they support someone local. Knowing that their money goes to the parents of someone their kid goes to school with or back into nearby neighborhoods makes a difference in many customers’ spending habits. When you establish yourself as a local business and start generating more online traffic, you’ll see just how many neighborhood customers come out of the woodwork to “shop local.”
5. Cash in on mobile searches
We’ve all been out in our own towns or visiting a new city and suddenly been struck by the desire to see a local shop. Whether a restaurant, salon, brewpub, store, museum or something else, at this point, we’re all reaching for our smartphones to do a quick Google search for what’s nearby.
And Google delivers on those searches! Any time a searcher uses their smartphone, results that are local to the device come up, sometimes even displaying the distance to the business in real time. So when you’re the #1 local presence in search because you started your SEO efforts locally, you get more nearby customers who are looking for you.
Plant your SEO seeds & watch them grow into something big
With the dawn of the internet, and especially since so many aspects of our lives are online now, it may seem easy to gloss over how important it is to continue to foster relationships with your local market, both in person and online.
And while the harsh reality is that there’s no guaranteed “fast track” to success in SEO or other aspects of running a business, there are tangible reasons to invest in local SEO efforts. As with any change, small habits, like keeping your business profile updated, may grow into major rewards over time. Remember that like gardening, SEO is a long game, and while growing a garden from seed takes longer, the results are often magnificent, enduring, and rewarding.
Ready to grow your local SEO and more?
We’d love to help! We have years of experience helping businesses of all sizes, types, industries, and locations grow, in SEO and otherwise, from local to global. Feel free to check out our prior work and reach out with questions. Let's grow something beautiful together!