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Local search engine optimization (SEO) is similar to (national) SEO in that it is also a process affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine's unpaid results--often referred to as "natural", "organic", or "earned" results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine's users; these visitors can then be converted into customers. Local SEO however differs in that it is focused on optimizing a business' online presence so that its web pages will be displayed by search engines when users enter local searches for its products or services. Ranking for local search requires a similar process to general SEO but has some specific elements to rank a business for local search.
The origin of local SEO can be traced back to 2003-2005 when search engines tried to provide surfers with local results in their vicinity, be these opening times of a store, listings in maps, etc.
Local searches trigger search engines to display two main sets of result: local organic results and the 'local pack'. The latter tends to display businesses that have signed up with Google and taken ownership of their 'google my business' (GMB) listing, whereas the former includes any results from the web with local relevance. These often include directories such as Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook etc.
Information displayed in the GMB listing and hence in the local pack can come from different sources:
Major search engines have algorithms that determine which local businesses rank in local search. Primary factors that impact a local business's chance of appearing in local search are proper categorization in business directories, a business's Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) being crawlable on the website, and citations (mentions of the small business on other relevant websites like a chamber of commerce website).
In 2016, a study using statistical analysis assessed how and why businesses ranked in the local packs and identified positive correlations between local rankings and 100+ ranking factors. Although the study can't replicate google's algorithm, it did deliver several interesting findings:
Prominence, relevance, and distance are the three main criteria Google claims to use in its algorithms to show results that best match a user's query.
According to a group of local SEO experts who took part in a survey, links and reviews are more important than ever to rank locally.
As a result of both Google as well as Apple offering "near me" as an option to users, some authors report on how Google Trends shows very significant increases in "near me" queries. The same authors also report that the factors correlating the most with local pack ranking for "near me" queries include the presence of the "searched city and state in backlinks' anchor text" as well as the use of the " 'near me' in internal link anchor text"
An important update, to the Google local algorithm, happened on the 1st of September 2016. Impact on local results leads to:
As previously explained (see above), reviews are deemed to be an important ranking factor. Joy Hawkins, a Google Top Contributor and local SEO expert, highlights the problems due to fake reviews:
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