Why is Local SEO Important? Benefits of Local SEO in 2023

Woman holding up an "open" sign in front of plants in a store
Sabrina Dougall

Curious how to improve local SEO? And why you should bother? The value of local SEO (search engine optimization) lies in reaching potential customers that are physically near your business premises.

How often have you stepped out of a cab, and stood on the street, staring hard at your phone before deciding exactly where to go? Us humans like to rely on the wisdom of the crowd for recommendations of local restaurants, hairdressers, and costume stores. So it's natural to turn to Google Maps, Yelp or Bing for suggestions.

Search engine technology is increasingly important to in-person shopping: searches for “open now near me” grew over 400% year-on-year in 2020-21, according to Google Data. There's more opportunity – and growing competition – for local businesses to appear on web directories for neighborhood goods and services.

If you'd like a trustworthy SEO expect to help you boost your local business, fill in our quick quote request form. Save yourself the hassle of endless supplier research and have the SEO experts get in touch with you directly.

Or read on for more about the what, why and how of local SEO. If you're short on time, skip to the end for our five quick tips on boosting your online business profile in your neighborhood.

Need local SEO but don't know how? Hire a trusted professional

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is the set of techniques you use to get your business to appear on the phone screens of your nearby customers. More specifically, it's the practices that ensure your brand name pops up when locals search online for “get a haircut nearby” or “downtown roller disco” – or whichever search terms more closely match your particular business or service.

Your main aim with local SEO is to get your business into the “local pack” (or “Map pack”) on Google search engine results pages (SERPs). This is the three-or-so businesses that appear at the top of the page when a user types in a purchase-or-service-related query into Google.

If you're keen to get more customers through the door, check out our guide to the best SEO companies for small business.

Here's an example of the Google local pack for the search query, “dog grooming Portland Maine”:

Google business pack local SEO dog grooming SERP snippet
Google creates a "local pack" of businesses that best fit the search term. In this case, "dog grooming Portland Maine".

Google has pulled three businesses into the local pack, The Fairy Dogmother, You Dirty Dog, Port Grooming & Pet Care. Why did it choose these three? Well, the algorithm (search engine rule set) is designed to return the most useful results possible. The person who typed in that particular phrase has a commercial intention in a named geographical area.

Basically, the natural language processing technology of Google can work out this user wants to buy a service nearby. Research shows shoppers tend to visit a store within five miles after running a local search.

It's a given that someone searching for “dog grooming” doesn't want a mediocre pet care service, but the best she can find for her money. It makes sense that established, highly-rated businesses are most likely to fulfil the request.

How Does Google Know What's Nearby Me?

Google uses geolocation data from users' smartphones to give them search results for nearby businesses. Google Search and Google Maps are closely linked. The same goes for Bing Places and Bing Search. So you've got to put your business on those maps!

How Does Google Determine Local Rankings?

In a nutshell, this is how Google determines local ranking:

  1. Relevance: How closely the business matches the user's search.
  2. Distance: The physical proximity of the user to the business.
  3. Prominence: How many good reviews and backlinks a business has (gained through “off-page SEO” practices)

Google is forever tinkering with its rules on how it ranks search results, even when it comes to local SEO. What we do know, though, is the technology aims to help the user as much as possible. Google therefore places great importance on customer reviews, ranking local businesses with more five-star ratings nearer to the top of results listings.

Did You Know?

A staggering 96% of people read online reviews about local businesses, according to the latest Moz research.

Keywords (the phrases the user types into the search engine) are also important to local pack visibility. We can see in the below example that “Best Chinese” from the search query shows up in bold in the customer reviews of Local Pack results.

Let's look at this example:

Screenshot of Google local pack for best chinese food near me
Google places great importance on customer reviews, including ratings and keywords.

The Local Pack results contain the keyword “Best Chinese” in their customer reviews. The chances are, if enough other local people claim those restaurants serve the “best Chinese food”, Google interprets that as a reliable recommendation. Just like Uber or AirBnB, Google rewards high-performing businesses with greater visibility on search results.

Remember, these results are not paid. You can't get into the Local Pack by paying Google. You've simply got to ensure you're following local SEO best practices to improve your chances of showing up there.

Fake reviews are, of course, a huge problem for all business recommendation platforms. We'd strongly advise against adding any counterfeit reviews to your internet business pages. If you get called out, the platform may penalize or ban you altogether.

Why is Local SEO Important?

If you're not convinced of the need to get your business seen by locals on Google and other search engines, then take a look at these statistics:

  • 74% of in-store shoppers who searched online before their shopping trip said they searched for shopping-related info. For example, the closest store location, opening hours, directions, wait times, and contact details.
  • 53% of US holiday shoppers said they check online that a product is in stock before going in-store to buy it.
  • Google Maps searches for “shopping near me” have grown globally 100% year-on-year.
  • Google searches for “open now near me” have grown over 400% year-on-year.

As we can see from the above, omnichannel shopping should be a key part of your retail strategy. What does this mean? Customers expect their online experience of your brand to connect with their in-person experience. That means a quick Google search of your brand name should bring up your location, contact details, customer reviews and, ideally, some products you're selling with stock indication.

Convenience is a key factor for shoppers: Google searches for “along my route” boomed 1000% in 2020 compared with the previous year. That means there's hidden business opportunities to make sales from impulse buyers on longer journeys.

Benefits of Local SEO

Visibility. Brand awareness. Extra sales. These are the three important benefits of improving local SEO for your business. The truth is, if you're not getting your business listed on search engine maps and internet directories, your competitors are. If you want to increase footfall, drop-ins, and new enquiries, you've got to get seen online.

The truth is, customers already want to buy your products. More than that, they want to become fans of your brand. They just don't know you exist yet. In recent years, there's an increasing trend of “conscious shopping”. Consumers are more interested in the origin of their products and the business owners behind the brand names. You can capitalize on this by highlighting the kind of local business you run:

local pack for women owned spa in Queens NY
Users search Google for "women-owned" businesses, so make sure you select this category if it applies.

Google highlights business specifically marked as “women-owned,” “black-owned,” veteran-owned,” and, as of June 2022, “LGBTQ-owned.” We can see from Google Trends data that there's steadily increasing search activity in the terms “LGBTQ+ owned” and “LGBTQ+ friendly.” This shows users were looking for such services before Google even made a specific category for it.

graph shows increasing Google Trends search for lgbtq hair salon local SEO
There's an upward trend of Google users searching "lgbtq hair salon".

Similarly, there's increasing search traffic for “lgbtq hair salon” in the US over the past five years. If you run a hair salon that's a safe environment for the gay and trans communities, why not include this info in your business description? You could attract more local business from customers searching these keywords.

If your customers leave reviews online, keywords such as these can help get your business pulled into the Local Pack. So isn't it worth making sure everyone has a great time at your store?

Local SEO is about making sure your business has the best possible visibility in local search results on those sites. Failure to “show up” can mean losing business to your competitors. To succeed, your business has to send all the right “signals” to Google.

It can be a complicated and fast-changing landscape, and local SEO is never a once-and-done thing. Most local businesses do better working with an expert who knows the ins and outs and can execute a great strategy over time.

Nick Hopkins AVP Digital Product Management, Hibu

How to Improve Local SEO

Unless you're the only business of your kind in a certain geographical area, there's a certain amount of luck that comes into dominating the local search results. However, to give you the best chance possible, you need to register a Business Profile on Google and follow their best practices:

  • Only register one Business Profile per business
  • Accurately input your business name and address
  • Choose the fewest categories possible to describe your business
  • Add photos that show off your goods or services
  • Include contact details
  • Update your opening hours

Note: The location you register on your Google Business Profile needs to have permanent signage showing your business name.

You can claim your business through Google Maps, and verify the profile under your own name. To do this, open up Google Maps and enter your business name in the search bar. Select the business name, click “Claim this business” > “Manage now”. Then follow the verification instructions.

If your business name doesn't come up, left-click anywhere on Google Maps, then select “Add your Business”. Then fill out your business details: the address, telephone number and website (or skip if you don't have these yet).

Google maps adds my business screenshot local SEO
To add your business, simply click anywhere on Google Maps, then select "Add my Business" and follow the verification steps.

You'll then be asked to verify the business address –either through a postcard with a verification code (that takes up to four days to arrive), phone call, email, video recording, live video call or text. Not all verification methods may be available to you, depending on your business location.

Register business on Google Maps screenshot
Once you've entered your business details and agreed to Google's terms and conditions, you'll be asked to verify.

If all that sounds like more effort than you have time for – or you're looking to scale with multiple locations – you'll benefit from outsourcing the workload. Check out our in-depth guide to the best SEO companies for small businesses.

Which Businesses Can Register on Google?

Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers during opening hours can register a Business Profile on Google. Exceptions include: ATMs, express mail drop boxes and video-rental kiosks. If your business rents a physical mailing address but doesn't really operate at that address then it's not eligible for a Business Profile.

For the purposes of taking up as much internet real estate as possible, you should also check that your business is correctly listed on Bing Places as well. The profile registration process is extremely similar to Google's. Again, Bing only accepts business listings from location-specific service providers or goods retailers.

Modern search engines are becoming more like aggregators now, so all of a business' online reviews are pulled into their single profile. What this means for you is your total online presence now influences the overall appeal of your Maps or Places listing.

local SEO reviews on Bing Places
Reviews from any and all of your online business profiles may be pulled into Bing Places.

Find an SEO to Help You

By now you may be wondering if you can handle your local SEO work on your own, or if you could do with some outside help. Only you can decide if you've got the time to keep on top of algorithm changes and update all of your online business profiles as often as needed.

If you do decide you'd like to look into hiring a professional, you'll quickly find it's a bit of a murky landscape. Mixed in with the white hat SEO professionals are scammers and low-effort layabouts. Because SEO is a highly technical specialty, many well-meaning business leaders end up hiring a bad actor by mistake.

🚩Look out for the following red flags in a prospective SEO hire:

  • They won't tell you how they'll achieve increased visibility for your business.
  • You're guaranteed to get in the Local Pack or first page of Google.
  • Their English is full of mistakes (can you trust them to write your online profiles?).
  • They're significantly cheaper or much more expensive than similar service providers.
  • They offer fake reviews or bots to leave positive feedback on your profiles.

If you want a reliable local SEO professional, you can use our exclusive SEO services finding tool to request a callback. If you outline the scope of your business needs, we'll match you with trustworthy SEO experts from our roster.

Try These 5 Local SEO Optimizing Tips

Let's look at some quick-fire tips to improve your local SEO:

1) Ask your happy customers to leave Google reviews

The more positive ratings and reviews you have on your business profile, the better your chances are of appearing in the Local Pack in Google search results. Keywords that describe your excellent products and services will also come up in search results. For example, your customers may include phrases like “best dry cleaners” or “classic car rental” in their reviews.

2) Check your opening hours are accurate and consistent across all internet directories

Go through your online business profiles: Google Maps, Bing Places, Yelp listings, and anywhere else you're listed online. Specifically check that your store or office opening hours are the same across every site. And that they really reflect your in-person visiting hours!

screengrab of related searches best thai food Yelp local SEO
Google frequently tests out new types of "rich" search results, such as these "Related searches" of "Healthy restaurants near Queens".

3) Upload bright, colorful pictures of your business to multiple places online

Tempt, entice, and appeal to the senses of your local audience with alluring images of your business premises and goods. Choose a sunny day (or do your best – sorry, Alaskans) to take pictures of your storefront. Then add them to your Google Business Profile, social media, Yelp listings, Trustpilot entry, and anywhere else you can think of that locals will be searching for you.

4) Respond (politely) to negative reviews online

This is more for human users than SEO spiders (learn more about these on our page on technical SEO), but you should quickly and calmly address all public criticism of your business online. It makes you seem professional, caring and concerned about your reputation.

Over 90% of customers are influenced to a moderate or extreme degree by business owner responses to reviews (Moz). That means how you respond online really matters. Never, ever argue back. Instead, apologize for the disappointing experience and offer to resolve the matter privately. An encouraging 63% of consumers will update their negative review once their complaint is resolved.

5) Describe your business from an outside point-of-view

When writing your own business description, it's easy to forget what information new customers are looking for. You might love your DIY tool store because it's familiar or a short walking distance from your house or smells like sawdust. None of that matters to someone searching “DIY tool store” on Google. Instead, you should cut out the fluff and only include critical facts that show off your USPs (unique selling points).

Here's some more examples:

❌ “my cousin's favorite toy store, right beside Costco, stop by on your way home from the school-run”

✔️ “Family-Run Toy Store with Pre-Owned Games.”

❌ “whatever you need, any occasion, drop by any time”

✔️ “Florist, Same-day delivery, Flowers for Weddings and Events”

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Verdict: Why is Local SEO Important?

You need local SEO the same way you need a storefront: you've got to show the world who you are. Customers need to know what you do and where to find you. It's an essential form of online marketing, and you need to do it right.

As we've seen, it's easy enough to let little details slip and damage your online reputation. When it comes to online reviews, you should be responding to each one. And uploading pictures that depict your services or goods for sale. Local SEO is the equivalent of free digital advertising to your neighbors.

If you don't have the time or expertise to do this correctly, you could be missing out on critical brand exposure. Don't want to miss out on footfall? Why not find out how much outsourcing your local SEO would cost. Use our free online form to request tailored quotes for your business. Let us know how many business listings you need assistance with and we'll track down the best SEO professionals to hire.

FAQs

What is the difference between SEO and local SEO?
Local SEO is a subset of SEO (search engine optimization) – which means it's a specific effort to improve your online business listings and attract physical visitors to your real-world premises. While regular SEO involves keyword research, content creation and updating your websites to send positive signals to search engines, local SEO is much more focused on map tools and customer reviews.

While some keyword research may help local SEO for your business (as it helps you find out what search terms your customers are using), it's less important than in regular SEO. With local SEO, you're not trying to create blog articles and how-to guides as you would with traditional SEO. Rather, the main tasks of local SEO involve set-up and maintenance of business profiles on Google Maps, Bing Places, Yell.com, Trustpilot and other review sites.

What is local SEO and why is it so important?
Local SEO is the range of activities undertaken to boost the visibility of your business profile on search engine map tools. Given the rise in popularity of smartphone users searching for “X near me” or “Y open now”, there's an important window of opportunity for local businesses to show up on search engine results for such queries.

Google and Bing will display a “Local Pack” or “Map Pack” of the best local businesses to users who seem to be searching for local service or store recommendations. This means the top three most relevant and highly-rated business profiles that match the user's request will show up at the very top of the results page. These results are pulled in from Google Maps (or Bing Places), the reviews on matching business social media profiles, plus review platforms and directories such as Trustpilot and Yell.com.

Unless you properly curate your business profiles across the web, you're missing out on potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of new enquiries and sales. You'll be losing out to your competitors who took an hour or two to manage their Google Business Profile and improve their chances of being seen by search engine users in the neighborhood.

How does local SEO help small businesses?
Local SEO is a low-cost and straightforward form of digital marketing that can attract heaps of new customers to a small business. If you're looking for more in-person customers at your business premises – such as a clothing store, medical facility or restaurant – local SEO will improve your chances of being found by anyone with a smartphone.

The main activity of local SEO is setting up a business profile on search engine tools such as Google and Bing. Once you've done this, any Tom, Gill or Sally who types in your brand's name or niche into a web search could stumble across the name, location and contact details of your business on the results page.

This means more points of contact, wider brand awareness and improved chances of sales conversion for your small business. Best of all, it's free to set up a business profile with the majority of search engines and business directories on the web. Unlike paid advertising, you've got very little to lose by way of initial investment. All it takes is your time and an internet connection. If this isn't feasible, we'd be pleased to recommend a trusted SEO professional to take on this workload for you.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina Dougall Web Marketing Expert

Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master’s in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camen New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.