Searching for a new local coffee shop to work from? Or maybe you’re out in town, and need to know where to buy a new pair of running shoes? In most cases, many of us turn to Google and search for stores and places local to wherever we are at that moment.
Local SEO helps people with queries every day, and most of us have made use of it without thinking about it. Its value in our everyday lives is clear, and that’s what makes it so vital for ecommerce stores as part of their SEO strategies.
Today in SEO 101, we’re going to explore exactly what’s involved in local SEO, why it’s important, and how you can optimize for your online store.
An introduction to Local SEO
Local SEO is as it sounds - search engine optimization focused on local traffic and awareness. It can apply in a number of different scenarios, such as finding a local restaurant, looking for somewhere to buy something nearby, directions, information about a landmark, and more. It isn’t just restricted to people who actually live in a specific area, it can also apply if you’re on vacation for example and looking for things in the nearby area. That means the audience using local search is pretty broad, and a major opportunity for brands.
So, how does it work? Google’s usual criteria for ranking still applies in that content has to be useful and helpful to a search user, along with a technically optimized site. However in the case of local search, there are some additional criteria that Google looks for:
Distance - Google wants to show users recommendations that are geographically close. If you’re searching for “where to buy raincoats near me” they won’t show you a store in a different city or country, for example. They’ll show you stores that are close to where you are at that moment.
Relevance - The content shown to the user has to be relevant to their search query. This applies of course to all searches, but there is additional nuance to local search. For example, if you’re in New York but search “where to buy a raincoat in Seattle”, it wouldn’t be relevant to show you results for raincoats in New York.
- Prominence - This can refer to how well known or trusted a business is. There are some places that are well known, so will rank higher for example a local landmark. With businesses, Google looks at content about it on the web including reviews to determine its usefulness to a user. For example, if a local business has lots of positive reviews it will rank higher than one with hardly any.
These three factors allow Google to determine if a result is useful on a local level. Google can then display these results using organic links - i.e. standard blue links - or through unique SERP features like the local pack.
The local pack displays the kind of information a user is likely looking for, this might include:
- Map preview with recommended businesses
- Review snippets
- Star rating
- Price band
This allows the user to make a more informed decision using the top ranked results for their local query.
Why local SEO is important for ecommerce
If you have a physical storefront or local element to your business, optimizing your site for local SEO is a no-brainer. It’s a huge opportunity, especially given its continued popularity with users:
- 62% of consumers will disregard a business if they can’t find them online
- 46% of all searches on Google include local intent
- 97% of users searched online to find a local business
Users are looking for local places to suit their needs. We’ve also in the last year or so witnessed a return to in-person retail, with growth in this area far surpassing the growth rate of ecommerce. By optimizing for local audiences, you’re increasing your brand reach to even more potential customers and better developing a strong omnichannel strategy.
Focusing your online site purely on online-only customers means it’s less likely that search engines will recommend your store to those with local search intent. All it takes is for a competitor to have a better local SEO strategy for you to lose out on those customers. In fact, by improving your local SEO, you can also gain more customers who are likely to shop online if you have options such as buy-online-pickup-in-store.
3 key ways to optimize your local SEO
#1 - Set up and actively manage your Google Business Profile
What better way to start optimizing for local SEO than to use the tools Google themselves give brands to get found? Google Business Profiles are simple to set up, and give you an easy and immediate way to improve your local SEO. This profile is where Google will turn to first for key information about your local business if you have one. Even if you don’t have a physical storefront, it will still take into account activity on your Google Business Profile such as reviews in how it ranks your online store.
Here’s what you need to optimize right away:
- NAP (Name Address Phone Number) - Consistency is key! If your business on Google has a slightly different name to elsewhere such as your website or a third party directory, this can be a red flag to search engines.
- Description - Adding an accurate, succinct description of your business allows both users and Google to better understand what you actually offer.
- Images - While users may add their own photos from visits to your physical location, it helps to add your own images to give context to the listing. That includes what it looks like from the outside and inside, product photos, etc.
- Opening hours - After all, how can someone visit your store if they don’t know when you’re open?
- Services - This might include things like kerb-side pick-up, or other in-store services and facilities you offer. This can help when a user is looking for a specific service in-store as part of their search query, e.g. “Wheelchair accessible coffee shops near me”.
Once your profile is set up, you need to start actively managing it. This shows Google you’re engaged in providing the most up-to-date, useful information to users. Managing your profile involves:
Responding to reviews and questions - 9 in 10 customers consult reviews when making a decision about a local business. By responding to reviews, you show search engines and users a willingness to engage with customers. If it’s a negative review, it’s even more important to respond to demonstrate care and attention. Google Business Profiles allow users to ask questions, so be sure to respond to these as they may reflect something a number of other customers are also wondering.
Updating or confirming opening hours regularly - It’s a bad experience to visit a store only to find it’s closed for a specific holiday, yet is listed as “open” on Google. If you’re going to change opening hours even temporarily, add these to your profile to make sure it’s accurate.
- Posting updates - If you’ve got an event in store, new products, or new services, update your customers by posting on your Google Business Profile. Not every local customer will check your social media or be signed up to emails, so this can provide a useful way to inform users and demonstrate proactive engagement.
To maximize the effectiveness of your Google Business Profile, you should also ensure details such as your business’ NAP is consistent across different third party platforms relevant to your business that are trusted by users such as Yelp or TripAdvisor.
#2 - Conduct local keyword research and create content to suit
Keywords are vital to any SEO strategy, and the same applies to local SEO. You want to find the right keywords and long-tail phrases that local customers may use to find brands in your niche and area. You can then include these keywords in content on your site, making it more likely that Google will find and rank your content for local search.
To start your local keyword research, pick a few of your top target keywords for online-only customers, and start adding modifiers or qualifiers. Modifiers and qualifiers are additional terms added to a query to give additional context that highlight search intent. For example with local search, those may be “near me”, “in [city]”, “where can I buy [product] now”, “stores selling [product] open now” and so on. From here you can start analyzing competitors in SERPs who currently rank for these locally focused keywords. Look at the content that ranks, information available in the local pack, and also at Google’s “People Also Ask” and suggested search sections. These can give additional clues as to what your target customers are searching for.
Once you have a list of target local keywords, you need to work out how to include them in your content. This can be tricky, as you don't want to alienate either online-only or local-only customers. Here are some ideas of how to create local content for your store:
Store directory landing page - If you have more than one store and want an easy way to make the most of local SEO, then you could create a directory that details the addresses and other details of your stores. You could even have a landing page per store, giving details about events and in-store services. Alternatively, you can also include a store locator on your site.
Locally focussed blog articles - Sell your coffee beans locally? Why not write articles about the best coffee shops in town for a coffee? Or about events and team members that work in your own coffee shop? Blog articles offer an easy way to include a variety of local keywords, without adding them to the rest of your online store.
- Add local options to product pages - There are plenty of ways you can make your product pages more local friendly. This could include adding an availability checker on product pages, local delivery information, details of in-store pick up options etc.
#3 - Optimize for voice and mobile search
The way we use search is always evolving, and it’s important to adapt your local SEO strategy to consider the different technologies playing into the local search journey. Search journeys often include different devices and touchpoints. They won’t always be as linear as a user making a single query on a desktop computer.
The primary technologies to consider for your local SEO strategy are voice and mobile.
30% of all Google mobile searches are related to a location, and 78% of local search queries conducted on a mobile device will result in an offline purchase. Mobile search is easy for users looking for businesses on-the-go. For example, if they’re already out and about then mobile search makes it easy for them to find a business quickly and easily. Therefore, ensure you consider how mobile plays into your strategy. The best way to do this is to optimize your site for mobile experience, and include local keywords in site content.
As for voice search, you want to identify the long-tail, conversational keywords your audience use when they’re searching using a voice enabled device. That could be their smartphone, a smart speaker, or even a voice-enabled device inside a car. Conversational keywords will often be much longer, for example a text-based term may be “cake delivery in New York” but a voice-based term may be “Hey Google, where can I buy a cake for delivery in New York?”. Find ways to incorporate these keywords into your site, for example a local landing page with an FAQ that follows the conversational pattern of voice-based search terms.
The goal of SEO for ecommerce is ultimately to bring more interested customers to your store. By employing local SEO tactics, you can expand your brand’s reach in search results and find even more engaged customers. Not only will they discover your online store, but they’ll also be more likely to visit your physical store and make a purchase.
Want to know how to optimize your store for local SEO, even if you don’t have a physical store? Click here for our previous article about optimizing for online-only brands!