The danger with local search is that it doesn’t always interest the larger brands. Not only does the term insinuate being in a small pond (even if the clients are big fish), but it only applies to businesses that physically operate in a set area. Because of this local always seemed to be a bit side-lined.
But it’s time to take local off the bench and take another look, as we’re starting to see ‘localised search’ bring new opportunities to almost every brand and SEO agency around the world.
How Local is Changing
When Google released the update from time to time this year, all searches became local searches. That is, search results began to greatly vary depending on the geographical location of the searcher. And this isn’t just true of searchers sat at home. The data centres that SEOs have typically relied on to provide ‘the ranking results’ suddenly found their reports biased by their location.
Therefore almost every brand, business and agency in the world has been left unaware of their rankings in the locations that matter to them and a new form of local search has become necessary for websites that didn’t previously consider location-based optimisation.
A couple of years ago international search specialist Andy Atkins-Kruger wrote on Search Engine Land of Local SEO, “Ultimately, what you want to do is to target locally internationally”. And I think this is what’s now starting to become possible.
The innovation driving this change is the release of Geo-Ranking by Linkdex. With this new data, SEOs can simultaneously track rankings for thousands of keywords across locations of their choice, whether they are countries, cities, towns or postcodes. Essentially this allows any website to ensure they’re appearing for the locations they care about, identify opportunities and problems and then optimise their sites accordingly.
Linkdex’s recent Geo-Ranking whitepaper highlighted the problem of keyword variance across a selection of verticals. As you might expect, the familiar ‘local’ industries – tradesmen, restaurants, services etc. – all showed high variance.
But rankings also changed a lot for top brands and product-based industries, such as digital cameras and sunglasses.
The study showed that for SERP rankings of 1-10 (i.e. the first page of results), the ‘top brands’ vertical was the fourth most variable out of the 10 industries tested.
Even more revealing was that out of the 2,000 keyword phrases tracked across 10 locations, not one had a consistent set of rankings in the SERPs.
When we see rankings (and therefore CTR and traffic) so dependent on a search location, it undoubtedly affects optimisation strategies, regardless of the size of the business or whether they would usually consider themselves ‘local’.
Using New Data to Identify Opportunities
Though reporting rankings is becoming increasingly difficult as a KPI (with variable SERPs triggered by location, personalisation and search history, for instance), SEOs can use this granular ranking data to track rankings in places they trade-in and then implement optimisation strategies in places they’re struggling to appear.
Think of the possibilities of ‘local search’ for large and even international businesses.
If the data centre you used was based in London, you might have reported 2nd position rankings to a client, only to learn that while they’re at #2 in London, they’re actually #5 in Brighton and #13 in Manchester. There is now massive potential to further increase traffic and conversions by finding and optimising for these areas.
Another way of identifying chances is to benchmark your Geo-Ranking progress against competitors by analysing their rankings in different locations and looking at how their local pages are performing. You can also crawl their sites and find the backlinks that include location-based keywords so you can target the same link sources.
Part of identifying opportunities means seeing the locations where you aren’t ranking and building location-specific links or optimising your site. But how has this changed from the usual local search methods?
Well, optimising for location uses mostly the same tactics, especially for businesses which have branches, stores or physical ‘venues’. This might involve:
Submitting to local citation sources. You can use local citation services
Ensuring you’ve been reviewed on various sites. However, for brands without a physical presence (perhaps those that didn’t consider location until now) this would mainly involve optimising their websites.
The first step here is to consider creating pages for any of the locations you need to rank for, or the main locations if there are many. Link building will also be key to raising rankings in set locations. Build links from the local press and from blogs and businesses based in the area you’re targeting. Ask them to link to your location pages if you have them.
If you have G+ Local pages, link each one to your on-site location pages. Ensure these location pages are also well linked internally. You might also host events in target locations or even launch location-specific competitions in the area.
The location pages you are trying to rank are supposed to be helpful to people in that region. Therefore SEOs might consider embedding a Google map or including phone numbers and addresses on these local pages since these are also good location signals.
International Search Strategies
As Geo-Ranking grows and more people substitute the technology from old single-location data centres, it will be interesting to see how SEOs integrate international search strategies.
Part of this is localising the language you use, a practice backed by Atkins-Kruger and many of the Geo-Ranking whitepaper contributors. For example, Anne Kennedy, the co-author of Global Search Engine Marketing, said, “Take for example carbonated non-alcoholic beverages, aka ‘soft drinks’. In New York, you ask for a ‘soda’, in Chicago a ‘mixer’ and in Atlanta, every soft drink is a ‘coke’.”
Before creating local pages it is therefore suggested that SEOs conduct keyword research for these locations and use the right vocabulary. A localised page on ‘mixers’ in New York perhaps wouldn’t be that effective!
Another point of discussion in international SEO is using rel=” alternate” to mark up different versions of the same webpage so that searching in various countries will return the country-specific page, rather than the best ranked version.
This recent article by Pete Handley of theMediaFlow experimented with implementing rel=”alternate” to great effect and it’s something international companies may want to consider.
Adopting Localised Search
There will be many websites that are never considered optimising for locations, particularly those without shops or branches. But there are now vast opportunities available in localised search.
The old method of tracking rankings from one location set by the data provider – and then using them as a KPI – is perhaps a thing of the past, making way for geo-rank tracking and new optimisation strategies to push traffic and conversions in previously neglected areas.