Over the last few years, Google has been getting better and better at serving up local search results based on the searcher's current location. If you're out for walk and you fancy a bite to eat, technology has now advanced to the point where you can simply whip out your smartphone, type in 'where to have lunch', and instantly receive a list of cafés and restaurants that are within walking distance of wherever you happen to be standing. Google can even show you an aggregated star rating for each establishment and - in their new feature
- warn you if your chosen eatery is currently super-busy.
These capabilities are great for users, and they can actually be a huge boon for businesses too. If you're one of the establishments that comes up in the so-called 'local pack' when someone performs a search near you - and you've got a good rating, and your place isn't too packed right now - there's a good chance that Google may end up driving a lot more people to your doorstep.
Just to be clear, you don't have to serve food to benefit from this phenomenon; Google seems to be showing localised results for more and more searches every day, meaning that just about any 'local' business can have a presence in the local pack. Here are some examples of searches that now serve map results on Google:
- I need a plumber
- rock climbing
- professional graphic designers
- shoe repairs near me
- art gallery
And that's just scratching the surface. Suffice it to say that any business or establishment with any sort of localised presence can potentially appear in that local pack.
How can I appear in local search results?
If you want to show up in local Google results then there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of making the map pack. Here's a beginner's guide to local search success:
1. Add your business using Google My Business.
If you only bother with one of the points on this list today, make sure it's this one. A google my business listing is perhaps the most important part of getting your local business listed on Google. Go to google.co.uk/business
and click 'Start Now' (you'll need to sign into your Google account, or create one if you're not already registered).
Next, you'll be prompted to enter your company's address, and then you'll have to 'verify' your business in order to manage its Google listing. Usually, Google will send a postcard to your business address with a PIN that you'll have to enter online, although if Google already has a number for your business you may be able to get verified over the phone instead. This process is in place to ensure that a) you are a genuine representative of the company you're trying to claim, and b) the business really is based where you claim it's located.
Once you've claimed and verified your business, you'll be able to edit your contact details, upload photos of your business, and add extra information like your opening hours, your website URL, a short description of the service you provide, and so forth. This information is held by Google themselves, and it helps them to work out what sort of searches your company should be showing up for (and in which locations). It is possible to show up in local results without setting up a Google My Business listing, but the odds of this happening will be a lot longer and there's a chance that Google may get some of your details wrong (since the search engine will be trying to piece together a profile of your business from whatever information it can find on the Internet).
2. Make sure your contact details are consistent throughout the web.
It's very important to ensure that your company's contact details - especially the address, telephone number, email address, and company name - are exactly the same wherever they're listed. In other words:
- Make sure the information on your website matches the information you've submitted via Google My Business (see point 1, above).
- Check any other online listings you have (e.g. Yell.com, Yelp, TripAdvisor) and make sure they match the details on your website as well.
- If your company details change in the future (e.g. because you moved to a new building or set up a new phone number), be sure to update EVERY instance of the old details across the Internet.
Why is this important? Because Google can see every web page that features a mention of your business, and if every listing says something different, Google will be unable to confidently guess which set of details is correct and they won't list you in local search results in case they've got the wrong address.
3. Encourage people to review you on Google.
One great way to give your business an edge in the local Google results is to collect positive reviews and ratings on your Google listing. Ask your loyal customers to Google your company's name, click the 'Write a review' button, and share their fondness for your establishment with the world!
Not only do positive reviews encourage potential customers to visit your business instead of somebody else's, they also persuade Google that your company deserves to appear prominently in local search results. At the end of the day, Google's #1 goal is to satisfy its users, and when the search engine algorithm spots that you have lots of 5-star ratings from satisfied shoppers, it will think, 'Hey, this looks like a company that can really make our searchers happy!'
4. Get some links from high-quality websites with local relevance.
Links are still an important ranking factor for Google's algorithm. If lots of authoritative, well-respected websites link to your pages, that signifies to search engines that your own website is of a very high quality, and your search rankings should improve as a result. This applies to local rankings, too - you are more likely to rank highly for localised queries if your website has a lot of links from other sites that are:
- Authoritative (use moz.com/researchtools/ose to check a site's domain authority - try to get links from sites with a higher score than your own)
- Relevant to your business (e.g. if you own a pet grooming business, a link from a local pet shop or veterinary clinic would be more valuable to you than a link from a local sports club)
- Associated with the same local area as you (if you're trying to influence your local rankings, you ideally need links from influential people and organisations within the area you're targeting)
- Not spammy (steer clear of any websites that sell links, link to porn and/or gambling websites, or engage in other shady practices like hiding text)
Building high-quality links is a tricky and time-consuming task; as a local business owner, your best bet is probably to network with other local businesses, particularly those who operate within the same niche as you but aren't your direct competitors. Once you have built up a good relationship with another business in your area, they will be more likely to consider placing a link on their website.
Coverage from respectable local news sources will also be hugely beneficial to your business, particularly if the articles they publish include links to your website.
5. Be seen on Facebook, Yelp, etc.
Google sends a lot of traffic to local businesses, but it's not necessarily the only place you want your brand to be seen online. As a general rule, if you're a local business that's open to the public, it's a good idea to set up the following in addition to your Google listing:
You may also wish to encourage customers to review your business on TripAdvisor
if you want to promote yourself to tourists who visit your town. Businesses that may benefit from being seen on TripAdvisor include hotels, restaurants, cafés, attractions and landmarks.
Being seen in the places listed above (and collecting positive reviews from people who use these sites) will increase your overall online visibility while also sending yet more signals to Google that yours is a local business worth shouting about.