local search

What Is Local Search?

Helping your local customers find you online through local search is important since most people search for businesses on the go. Smartphones are a huge resource, and having a local presence in search engine results will help drive sales.

Consumers are looking to connect with companies more than ever, and establishing an online presence through a website, blog and social channels provides a great way to fulfill this desire. Yet many small businesses lack an online presence, effectively hanging a closed sign up for their potential customers. Consider the following statistics:

  • 74% of internet users perform local searches.
  • 97% searched online to find a local business
  • 86% of people look up the location of a business on Google Maps
  • 72% of consumers, who search for local businesses, end up visiting them within five miles
  • 85% of retailers rated Search Engine Marketing as the most effective acquisition tactic.

Many startups and small businesses run a lean operation. They focus on necessities and urgent matters, only spending money when they need to. So, it’s easy to see why some entrepreneurs think a website and search engine optimization is a luxury item they can afford to live without.

Truth is, more and more people are turning to the internet first for information about businesses and products – whether they are shopping online, or simply looking for a business’ address or phone number – making a local online presence one of the most important assets for any business; not just to share information, but to build credibility.

The Localized Social Marketing benchmarking (LSM) study found that many multi-location brands and local marketers are not following basic local and SEO best practices, and that on average, only 78% of locations were claimed against the expected 100%.  Figures for India may be way lower.

The importance of local search has grown since Google’s “Pigeon” update in 2014, but the ride isn’t over yet. Over the upcoming years, I anticipate that local search will become even more impactful and more useful for businesses. 

What Is Local Search?

With this post, I’m beginning my series on “local search” by trying to answering a question that even the experts can’t agree on. That’s by virtue of the local search space being so far reaching and fragmented that it’s very difficult to understand and accept everything around it.

If a company meets directly with its customers — either through a storefront or service area — it’s termed a “local business” and the unique set of techniques and skills used to increase it’s visibility on the Internet are referred to as “local search,” or local search engine marketing.

Let me try explaining the term “local search” using these three definitions. People generally need to see all three of them before it makes sense:

  • any search aimed at finding something within a specific geographic area. Example: “Bed and Breakfast near IT Park Chandigarh.”
  • seeking information online with the intention of making an offline transaction. Example: “Regional Passport Office.”
  • anything that you would traditionally search for in the printed yellow pages becomes a local search when it is conducted online. Example: “Sagar Ratna phone number”

Whereas anyone in the world with good enough SEO and authority can rank for a search query like ‘how to fix a blocked drain’, when the query has much more local intent behind it, it becomes ‘plumbers near me’ or ‘best plumber in [location]’.

For search queries, which typically include a location or ‘near me’ (which aren’t even necessary if searching using Google Maps or if Google knows your location and assumes the search has local intent), search engines understand that what the searcher wants is business suggestions or lists based on location, and so that’s precisely what they offer up in the search results. This difference in behavior and result is precisely why local search is important and worth investing in alongside standard SEO.

By seeing these explanations together, the idea of local search will hopefully crystallizes for you. The type of businesses you’re promoting online will definitely color your picture of local search and allow you to see it in a way that best serves the business goals of the enterprises you represent.

For most brick-and-mortar businesses that are hyperlocal enterprises, drawing customers from within a specific service area, all search is local search. Examples are barbers, manicurists, dry cleaners, laundromats, delicatessens, and sandwich shops. It’s a given that someone searching for these types of products or services, intends to purchase them from a location nearby.

Some types of businesses are very location-specific, but the people searching for them are most likely elsewhere. While potential customers aren’t currently in their immediate area, they hope to be some time in the future. Examples are cruise lines, ski resorts, car rental agencies, campgrounds, and convention centers.

Some enterprises draw clients from both nearby and far away. Examples of these are financial advisors, consultants, regional hospitals, household movers, and mortgage companies.

Search engines are committed to returning the most relevant results for every query. They are continually trying to interpret local intent and want to deliver local search results when they do. For instance, if someone types “atm” and a neighborhood into a search box, she most certainly wants to get money out of a 24-hour banking machine, and for that to happen, it must be located physically close to them.

When local intent is determined, Google may deliver local search results in several ways. If it’s sure that one result is better than all others, it will display it in the one box at the top of the organic results:

Local Search: Google one pack
Google one pack

If Google is fairly sure the searcher is looking for a local business but isn’t positive which business is most relevant, it will display a few local results at the top of the listings with phone numbers and links to additional information at Google Maps. This three pack may sometimes appear in the middle of the page, as well:

Searchers may also search Google Maps directly . When they do, Google Maps displays local business results and a map with pinpointed locations.

Local Search: Google Three Pack
Google Three Pack

The last, but most apparent way that local search results are displayed are in the naturally ranked organic results. Businesses that are most well-optimized for a search query will rank above the others here in the universal SERPs. Local search results can appear in many different places and styles, but that doesn’t give you the whole picture, either.

Not all searches for local businesses happen at the search engines. For some people, offline search behavior carries over to the web; they go directly to an Internet Yellow Pages site to look for local business information. Others have learned to use websites like JustDial, Sulekha, TradeIndia and IndiaMart to find data about local enterprises. Depending on the type of business, people may also search using a vertical, or topical, directory or vertical search engines.

As you can see, just about anyone who conducts any business offline can be impacted by local search, which is a branch of SEO that focuses on optimizing a website to be found in local search results.

Local search marketing is anything you do on the web to promote a physical business that makes face-to-face contact with its customers. It applies to both single-location small and medium businesses (SMBs), national enterprise brands, and chains. It’s an incredibly effective way to market your local business online, as it helps businesses promote their products and services to local customers at the exact time they’re looking for them online.

Local searches have a positive influence on in-store traffic. This highlights the importance of having a consistent local business marketing strategy. Ensure that your business is listed on Google MY Business with a consistent name, address, and phone number.

As you can see, local search is just a big messy hodgepodge of what people are searching for, how they search for it, where they search for it, and how the results are displayed. Welcome to the world of local search!

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