Getting local in search

The internet may be global, but for many firms of solicitors their most desirable customers are right on the doorstep in the local area and their potential customers are using the internet to find a local legal services provider. Google reports that more than 20 per cent of all searches have local intention, 92 per cent of Americans use their mobile phones to search for local business information and nearly 64 per cent of tablet users conduct a local search at least weekly.

A search for local services triggers a number of different results in the Google search results and your firm should be addressing each opportunity to maximise your visibility. The local results will vary depending on the device used to search: a PC will display different results to those showing on a mobile phone. Local SEO is all about helping your firm to rank well for local searches, irrespective of the device used to search.

The word “solicitor” triggers local intention in the search results, so even without a geographic qualifier like a city name, the results will be tailored to the searcher’s location and search history. In other words, if I use the search word “solicitor,” I will receive results tailored to my local city, Nottingham, by default.

Google local business listings

The first set of results to consider are the Google Local Pack, which displays 3, 5, or 7 of the most relevant local businesses that have a listing on Google – as shown below.

Note that each result includes also a link to the appropriate Google+ page, if appropriate a link to reviews on Google and a link to the firm’s location on Google Maps.

Your firm needs a comprehensive and correctly optimised local business listing. You can create one either via Google’s Places for Business service, which also then sets up a linked Google+ page, or by creating a Local page directly on Google+. There is currently some confusion as to how Google is merging these services.

Each business listing contains the main categories that are triggered by keyword searches, and you should identify the standard categories most appropriate to your business in preference to creating your own bespoke categories.

A complete listing can also include links to your various social media accounts, images, video, a detailed business description and product/services listings, and customer reviews.

Verifying your account

One of the most important steps in the process is to “verify” your account; Google will provide you with a PIN number through the post to verify you location, and once you have completed the process, the status of your Plus page will change to show you are verified.

A verified local business will display on Google Maps, has a posts and videos tab, and has a review function for customers to leave their own reviews. A verified local business’s Google+ Page has a verified tick next to the company name.

Organic search results

In addition to the Google Local Pack, the search results will show the top local companies in the standard organic results, ie the companies with the highest level of relevancy for the search. As a result, creating a well optimised local page on your own website is another important factor in local search. Your contact page will contain local address information, including phone numbers with local dialling codes, and these pages should also contain product and service keyword information. If you have offices in multiple locations, then create an optimised location page for each location.

In addition to “organic” websites, the natural search results also include universal results that could come from YouTube, Google News and other sources.

Your local strategy will be to generate content that is relevant to the local search intention. This means generating local press releases and including them in syndicated newswire services, creating well optimised local video content and other forms of digital media.

Your local SEO strategy

Once you have created a well optimised local web page on your site, you need to get mentioned in and also get inbound links from authoritative local sites. These mentions are called “citations” and are used to cross check and verify your company address and phone number. You want to be focusing on the quality of these linking sites, not the quantity. Trusted sites include specialist directories, geographically focused social media sites, and review sites. Delia Venables publishes a list of Legal Directories on the web and I have provided an overview of some citation sites and the local optimisation process.

In addition to Google Places, you can list your business on Bing Local in the UK and on the InfoServe site.

What do you need to do to make sure your company ranks well when geographic factors are in the search query?

I contributed to the Moz Local SEO Ranking Factors research project undertaken by David Mihm which identified the main factors contributing to the overall success of a local SEO campaign. The specific attributes or characteristics for the service being ranked are referred to as “signals”. For example, Google Place Page signals include choosing a proper category, having verified your page and the number of Google Places reviews.

There are hundreds of different signals of varying degrees of importance, and you can read about the specific signals in greater depth in the Moz Local SEO Ranking Factors report. The most important are:

  • Google Place Page Signals: 19.6%
  • On Page Signals: 18.8%
  • External Location Signals, eg local directories: 16%
  • Link Signals, meaning inbound linking: 14.4%
  • Review Signals: 10.3%
  • Social Signals: 6.3%
  • Behavioural and Mobile Signals: 6.1%
  • Personalisation: 8.3%

The top four signals fit with the standard model of search engine optimisation: having a listing in the Google directory, having a well optimised website, having links and citations in the major legal and business directories and having inbound links from reputable and relevant websites. I have written previously about some of the basic steps to take to address these elements (in the March 2010 issue).

Latest developments in local SEO

There are four new sets of signals that are also now playing a significant part in local SEO. Given they add up to a hefty 30 per cent of the contributing factors, this is a new set of activities your firm may need to be focusing on in order to stay ahead in a competitive market.

There is evidence that shows reviews on other websites are a contributing factor to improving your rankings in the search engines. Interestingly enough, it isn’t whether the review is positive or negative, but simply the fact a review has been written that adds the value to your rankings. Don’t be tempted to write fake reviews or pretend to be someone that you’re not; it’s against the law and you risk a hefty fine.

Social signals are also now adding to the ranking mix. The authority of your Google+ profile can be influential, as well as the numbers of interactions and engagement on other social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

The behaviour of searchers is an interesting development. How often a search user clicks through to a business’ page, checks-in at the location on a social network or telephones a business by clicking on a mobile web page provides a small, but significant contribution. The advent of searching via the spoken word and conversational search has led to a new and dramatic change to the way Google ranks web pages (see SearchEngineLand article on Google Hummingbird). The marketing objective, therefore, is not just to rank well and get found; we must also now ensure our content is relevant and compelling enough for searchers to also take (measurable) action.

And finally, personalisation is playing an increasingly important role in tailoring all search results. This means there is no single, universal set of results that all searchers see for any particular search. Every user can get bespoke results based on their location, on the search history, their interests and social contacts. Your local SEO strategy must be, therefore, to remain highly connected to your local community by networking digitally as well as in the traditional meaning of the word.

Susan Hallam is Managing Director of Hallam Internet Limited, a full service digital marketing agency providing search engine optimisation services, digital strategy development, social media campaigns, and paid advertising services. Susan was previously a Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University’s Law School and held senior marketing roles at BT and Capital One.

Email Twitter @susanhallam.

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