Internet marketing through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) continues to evolve as an increasingly complex endeavor. As search engines develop to further consider the unique needs of every user, the techniques that previously targeted many users could end up receiving less emphasis as new search algorithms prioritize mobile and local content.
This focus on local content is a point of no return for search. As of 2015, more Google queries come from mobile devices than on PCs. This means local SEO cannot target types of queries or specific types of users in a vacuum; the same user will see different results when issuing the same query even when traveling relatively short distances during the day.
So how does Google’s local algorithm work?
First off, we must be clear: machine learning means that it is impossible to truly pin down exactly how any of Google’s search algorithms will work on any given day. No source short of an active Google engineer is capable of giving perfect advice on this topic.
That said, it is possible to track statistics to reverse engineer which factors provide the most efficient results for local businesses.
1. Backlinks Are Still Key
For all the changes to Google’s search algorithm over the years, incoming hyperlinks remain heavily correlated with search ranking, including results tailored for local queries. Backlinks have long been the foremost strategy for business SEO, and this is no different for local businesses.
For small businesses, this is a particular advantage. Local competition is less likely to engage in large-scale backlinking and other SEO techniques.
2. Google My Business Listings Boost Local Results
Participating in Google My Business (GMB) correlates with higher local search priority. Businesses with Owner Verified profiles, active review pages, and supplemental content like photos perform better than those with less complete GMB profiles or none at all.
3. City and State Mentions Aren’t That Important
There are no significant correlations between putting city and state in the title tags of URLs, or even in the body text of the content on your pages. If Google’s local search algorithm does scrape and consider this information, it does not weigh it as heavily as other factors.
For now, backlinks are still the primary tool for SEO, including for local Google results. The core feature of Google’s approach to search simply has not changed; it supplements itself with other, less weighty data points instead. The signs are there, however, that other factors do matter, and as the algorithm evolves SEO techniques will have to keep up.
Local businesses should pay particular attention to maintaining GMB pages. While the correlation to search page priority is not nearly as strong as backlinks, GMB is clearly the point where local SEO diverges from previous SEO tactics.
While it may seem obvious that backlinks are, yet again, the best way to manage SEO, there has been a lot of “common sense” advice passed around during the rise of mobile search and local results that points to local SEO being a far different beast than it is. Make no mistake, local businesses should still invest heavily in crafting a web presence that is heavily linked to.
To learn more about Google’s local algorithm and how SEO can help your small business, contact us.