Local Search Strategies in SEO & SEM

Why is being locally reachable so important? The best way to answer this question is by showing the following stats:

  • Almost every second search on Google is a local search
  • 86% of users search on Google Maps to find the location of a company
  • 76% of local searches result in a phone call
  • 78% of local mobile searches lead to an offline purchase (Source: www.thinkwithgoogle.com)

Pretty impressive, right?

Think about the small local businesses near you, like bakeries, barber shops, restaurants, groceries, car dealers; they all need a local marketing strategy because their business depends mainly on how much traffic and clients they drive from local, on-the-go searches.

In the last few years, the growth in mobile penetration and therefore mobile searches has resulted in a boost in local search volumes. Users are looking for immediate results while on the go and want to find the answer right away - it cannot wait; whether it’s a nearby restaurant to have lunch or a bike repair shop to fix their bike. Businesses who just show up when these searches happen have a pretty high chance to gain these searchers as customers.

Major local search tactics are not that hard to apply but there is a lot of detailed work behind it which I want to point out in the following steps.

But first, what exactly is a localized query?

First of all, if you think that all local searches contain a local keyword like the city-, street- or district name, you are wrong. Google distinguishes between obvious and non-obvious local queries. This means that keywords containing a local word like "Cafes in Berlin" and "Bike Rental Berlin Mitte" are the obvious ones. But based on the intent, click, and user behavior, Google can also identify more generic keywords as local search queries which are typically consumed locally: "restaurant" or "cafe", for example, is a non-obvious local search.

Localized Search Query
Localized Search Query

And how does a local search result look like?

If you do a local search, the first result you usually see is the Google maps result containing the 3 best results. This result section is called the ‘Google Local Pack’ (or Google 3 Pack, or Google Snack Pack).

Google Local Search Result Example
Google Local Search Result Example

If you click on one of these results you are directed to a Google maps result, which is called the ‘Local Finder’. On the Local Finder, you then see all the relevant information about the company like address, opening hours, images, reviews, etc. If this information is sufficient for you, you can now calculate the route to go there directly.

Till here, you still haven’t left Google and you got everything that you needed, without leaving. Indeed, Google is sending less traffic from local search to the websites. Back in the past, it was different: the local pack had 7 results which were leading directly to the website; not to the local pack.

google local finder
google local finder

Local search results can appear on different devices and apps as well. Here you see how it would look like

local results on different devices
local results on different devices

And what if someone advertises on these local keywords? Well then the organic local pack and organic local results will be pushed further down and the local search ad will show up first:

google local serp with ads
google local serp with ads

How can we become more visible locally?

Well, Local Search became one of the hottest SEO and SEM topics in the last years, for sure. Here are a few tips and techniques on what SEOs, SEMs, and local businesses can do to plan effective local search strategies to help them dominate their brand on Google.

Local Search Strategies for SEO

To plan your local SEO strategy, you have to understand Google’s local ranking factors. Regarding Moz local ranking factors, the factors for the local packs/local finders and the local organic results seem to be slightly different. For the local pack ranking, Google My Business plays a dominant role whereas for the local organic results, link signals and on-page factors seem to be more important.

local ranking factors moz
local ranking factors moz

Optimizing for the Local Pack

In the last 2 years, Google has made many profound changes which reinforces the importance of Google My Business for Local Search. So having an optimized and updated Google My Business account can help businesses appear in the Google Local Pack. But still: 56% of local business have no GMB entry yet (Source: www.thinkwithgoogle.com), which is a huge untapped potential for local businesses.

If you are one of this 56%, now is the time to start creating and optimizing your GMB account. Consider your GMB profile as your new homepage: provide only correct and current information - no spam, quality counts!

Here is what else you need to know about Google My Business Optimization:

  1. Proximity: Proximity to the searcher is an important ranking factor! The closer you are to the searcher, the higher the chance that your business shows up in the local pack. The good thing with this ranking factor is that every company is guaranteed to be listed at some point.
google my business proximity
google my business proximity

2. Name Address Phone (or in short: NAP) is another important factor, and here data consistency is key. The NAP should be consistent everywhere: it should be the same as in other directories, as on your website, and so on.

  • Make sure that the company name is spelled correctly. Use the exact version of your registered company name; keyword stuffing to fool Google doesn’t do much good.
  • The phone number must apply to international standards and should be machine-readable. The standard can apply to the DIN Norm (example: 030 12345-67) or the ITU Norm (example: (030) 12345 67).
  • Note: for the NAP it’s important that you really have a physical address. So mobile businesses or businesses who don’t have an address at all, won’t be able to set up a Google My Business entry.

3. Website Linking: Although the user gets all the relevant information he needs to get into your physical shop, it’s still important to give them the option to visit your website. Maybe he needs more information about your service or your products, or he even prefers an online engagement rather than visiting the store? Indeed, GMB website links do not only bring in relevant traffic, but also important online conversions. However, to be able to track the traffic coming from your GMB entry, it’s important to track these links with UTM parameters - this, in order to see the traffic data in Google Analytics. Note that if you don’t use UTM parameters, all the traffic coming from GMB will count as organic traffic. A possible UTM example could look something like this: utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=gmb

4. In addition to receiving phone calls, you can now also set up the messaging option within Google My Business. This is a quite new feature and only available within the GMB App. So in order to use it, download the App and enable the messaging option in the left menu. But be aware that you won’t receive any notifications for incoming messages - to not miss any messages, make sure to check the messages section from time to time and answer the messages directly.

google messaging feature
google messaging feature

5. The category you are going to choose will give Google important information about your business. So when choosing the category, make sure that you use the most relevant one but you can also add additional sub-categories. The category can only be chosen from the category list Google is providing, so don’t try to come up with your own category naming. The good thing here is that when you start typing in the category field, Google adds the most relevant options where you can choose from. Tip: If you don't know exactly what your GMB category is called, have a look at the competition!

gmb categories
gmb categories

6. Visually spice up Google My Business with photos, because photos can have a huge impact on your Click-through rate. Photos should be relevant, but also diverse. Make sure to use photos for every photo section, and you can even add videos to your profile.

gmb photos
gmb photos

7. Treat your Google My Business as a Social Media channel: Use the Posts section to inform your audience about company updates, offers, new products, events, etc. It’s proven that GMB posts can improve your ranking. If you really post interesting information with good visuals and content, it can also help you to stand out from the competition. Plus, it can bring additional traffic to your website - but here again, make sure to track the links with UTM parameters.

As a new feature in the posts section, you can now also add products here and direct the users to your online shop. We can only recommend this as we have seen a very high conversion rate for some of our clients.

gmb product posts
gmb product posts

If you need content ideas for your posts, we suggest you use the insights report where you can see all the queries where your listing appears. This data is more accurate than the Google Search Console data as it gives you the user data, not the impressions.

8. Reviews are among the most important ranking factors; because high customer satisfaction is rewarded by Google. Try to get as many and as positive reviews as possible - and answer all of them, even when it’s just a star rating. Communicating with your clients shows that you care about them and this is what counts.

On-Page Optimization

On Page Optimization is important for SEO and so it is for local SEO, especially when it comes to optimizing for the localized search results.

But, how can we optimize web pages for better local visibility?

First of all, good keyword research is half the battle. So start your on-page optimization process with detailed keyword research. In local SEO the so-called ‘SiLs’ (= Services in Locations) keywords play an important role.

Once you are done with your keywords research, you can plan the usage of these keywords on your website. If you are a company serving in one location only, try to categorize your keywords for your services and products. Remember, the smaller the area you are serving, the higher the chance to get more organic visibility.

If you are based in more than one location, you can optimize for any local search by creating local landing pages. So for example, if you are a car rental company with offices in Berlin, Hannover, and Hamburg, you should open separate pages for each of these cities, containing relevant local information about the city itself. This includes the title tag and meta description optimization as well because Title Tag & Meta Descriptions are still very important, so optimize them as locally as possible.

To be locally visible, you need more than just good content. Put yourself into the shoes of the user and think about what information can be relevant to attract their attention. The local information, like the address, phone number and map is a must-have I would say. Office opening hours, store photos, testimonials and reviews can definitely be useful as well. Do you have other location-specific information? Like for example local events or local offers … add them to your local pages. The more relevant the information, the better it is. And before I forget: Page content sections can also be displayed in your local pack when it’s relevant to the search query.

gmb website mention
gmb website mention

Adding structured data to your local pages can help your organic visibility and can also improve your CTR. Structured data is a code that provides Google with additional information about your business, and helps Google to better understand the data displayed on your site. The most relevant structured data markups for local business can be opening hours, the NAP, restaurant menus or events.

event structured data example
event structured data example

And last but not least: optimization for local search and optimization for mobile should go hand in hand. Your website should be mobile-friendly and fast. Because how can optimized content help you, when users cannot access it when they are on the go? Remember: 30% of all mobile searches are related to location (Source: www.thinkwithgoogle.com)!

Off-Page Optimization

Link signals and citations are still very important for SEO. We know that link building is not easy, it is probably the most difficult part in our SEO work. But believe us, generating good content and being locally active makes it easier. What can you do to get local backlinks?:

  • Be active in your local community. Choose a local activity which seems to fit your business or where you think you can attract more potential clients.
  • When you are an online marketing agency like us, you can organize local meetups or events to bring together people from the industry. Make sure that your website appears on the venue website for example, or enter the event on eventbrite or other meetup sites.
  • If you don’t have time to organize an event but you have some budget instead, you can also sponsor one of these local events. As an online marketing agency based in Berlin it makes total sense to sponsor an SEO conference in Berlin, for example. This can be a valuable backlink for you and improving your ranking for a keyword like ‘SEO Agency Berlin’ would be possible.
  • Participating in or sponsoring local charities would be an idea. If you are a Vet, you can sponsor your local animal rescue organization for example and organize an event together to help street animals.
  • Sponsoring a local sports club is everyone's favorite I guess. By doing so, make sure that you are also listed on the local sports club's website.
  • Local citations in local directories, maps, phone books or listings can be important to rank better for local keywords. But make sure that the information you provide is indicated correctly. Don’t know if your citations are up to date and correct? You can do some manual searches, for example “business name” + “partial address” - “correct phone number” to find out if you have an incorrect or missing phone number in the citations you are mentioned. An external tool like Moz Local or Whitespark Citations Finder might also help you.

Local Google Ads and Geo-Targeting Strategies

Ok, you have created your Google My Business account, you keep optimizing it and you also applied the above-mentioned on-page and off-page local SEO strategies...and now while you are waiting to get organic local visibility what about getting some traffic and conversions from your localized Google Ads?

Local campaigns and Geo-Targeting lets you target your ads only to customers in a certain location. For businesses that depend on foot traffic, like for example cafes, groceries, car dealers or for businesses only serving specific areas like for example deliveries, optimizing Google Ads for local is key to get the most out of the ad spend.

Here are my advice and best practices on optimizing your Google Ads for local:


Geo-targeting is a great feature to target the locations your potential customers are based in. If you are working globally, then you can target your ads to all countries or if you are just a small local company, you can specify the area you want to target. Here are some local optimizations tips:

  • If your business targeting all potential clients in a specific city, geotargeting is quite simple. Just choose the city you want to target and here you go. But if your target audience needs to live close by your business location, let’s say you have a child day care and you only want to target parents living nearby, then you have to specify the radius you want to target, for example 2 km around your business. Combining this geotargeting with mobile-optimized ads could be very useful, as mobile local searchers are more likely to convert.
  • If you have one or more Google my business accounts enabled, geo-targeting your GMB area can also be very useful in reaching your potential clients. We see high conversion rates for offline retailers using this targeting option as people living close by tend to know the business and more likely to convert online when they see the ad.

google ads gmb radius targeting
google ads gmb radius targeting

  • If you are using different cities or radius targeting among your targeted locations, I recommend checking their performance in the locations tab to analyze which targeting areas have the highest conversion rates. If there is a difference in the performance, you can specify different bids for each location: you can higher the bids for the better performing areas and lower bids for locations which are doing not so well.

Location Extension:

Location extension can be displayed right under your ad and shows the closest store to the searcher. With location extensions, potential customers will be able to find and contact you more easily. Combining location extensions with call extensions will give the searcher the option to call your business prior to his store visit.

Location Campaign Structure:

I recommend separating your campaigns into campaigns with ‘generic keywords and geo-targeting’ and ‘regional terms and general targeting’. Let’s say you are a coworking space in Berlin, targeting local but also national or even international clients, then you can have a nationally targeted campaign including location keywords, for example ‘coworking space berlin’. People in other regions or countries looking forward to moving to Berlin for work might search for these keywords. The more generic keywords, like for example ‘coworking space’ the more smaller radius you can target, only Berlin for example. And also, try to include the name of your target location in your ad, mainly in the headline.

Google Local Campaigns:

This is a brand new ad format by Google and is totally aimed to drive in-store visits. As it is working with Machine Learning, the only thing you have to do is set the budget and decide on the design elements. Google then automatically optimizes ad delivery across Search, YouTube, Maps and websites and apps in its ad networks. Local campaigns report on store visits using anonymized and aggregated data from signed-in Google users who have opted to turn location history on

google local campaign
google local campaign

Key Takeaways

SEO changes all the time, and so does local search. But keeping in mind the following key factors and applying them accordingly, you will always be able to gain the local searchers' attention:

  1. Relevance
  2. Proximity
  3. Prominence

“Without local SEO, we are doomed to fail. Without SEO for mobile, we are almost dead !”

Halide Ebcinoğlu
27 May 2019

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