If you’ve ever used Google to search for a restaurant to grab dinner at or a nearby plumber to come and fix your kitchen sink, you’re not alone.
And, if you’ve done this recently, you’ll have noticed that a pack of 2-3 local results pops up at the top of the page. But if you think this “pack” of results showcases the best restaurants or plumbers in your city, you’re probably wrong.
Let’s talk for a moment about Google’s recent emphasis on local listings and its shift towards Local SEO. This branch of SEO deals predominantly with optimization for local businesses.
There are two ways local listings are displayed in the search results: in the “Map Pack”, which is the box of 2-3 results that show up first, and the “Organic Listings”, which are the results below the pack.
Why does this even matter? You might be asking. Surely if you go about the usual link building activities and optimization techniques you’ll get yourself on the front page, right?
Well, bear in mind that the majority of people carry out searches on their mobile phones today and, of those people, 56% run searches with local intent (basically, they’re looking for a nearby service, like a restaurant or a plumber).
And because more and more people are running local searches, Google is placing more emphasis on local linking. That means that, if you’re a hairdresser in Austin and you get a link back from one hairdresser in Austin and another in New York City, the one that’s located close by in Austin will carry more weight.
What local linking boils down to is this: the more links you get from relevant local businesses, the higher Google will rank you in local searches.
But there’s a catch.
Today it seems that the local search packs at the top of the results don’t just show businesses in the same city as the searcher, they show the businesses that are the closest in proximity, regardless of whether they have a decent amount of link backs or quality content.
The second listing in the "Map Pack" here has no website and no information filled out.
In fact, some of the listings that show up based on proximity don’t even have websites. It seems that Google no longer values traditional search ranking factors for the local pack.
However, it’s still vital to optimize your site using local SEO techniques because the organic results are still ranked on traditional factors like links, reviews, content, and citations. But, in particular, they’re ranked highly on local linking.
If you’ve been running a hardcore link building campaign to get links from the biggest sites in your industry, it might be time to look at where those links are coming from (we’re talking geographically here).
If they’re coming from different parts of the country or even different parts of the world, they might not be helping you as much as you’d hoped – particularly if your business targets customers who live in your local area.
Getting into the “Map Pack” of results at the top of a local search is the Holy Grail for a local business. Consumers hardly ever scroll past those and will often check the top results out before they do anything else.
But if you’re seeing your traffic go down, it might not be anything you’re doing – it simply could be down to where people are running their searches from.
For example, you might have the best website, the most amazing content, and loads of local links out of all similar businesses in your area, but if the person running the search is closer to other businesses like yours, those will be the ones that show up in the Map Pack.
This is why it’s important to focus on local linking and to get yourself high up in the organic searches that come up below the Map Pack.
These tend to be the same across a city and aren’t based on proximity to the searcher; they are currently localized to the city. If people aren’t satisfied with the results they get in the “Map Pack”, they’re going to keep scrolling down until they get to the organic results.
As well as local linking, you can also diversify your local SEO efforts to stand a higher chance of ranking well.
Get your business on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other popular review sites, and extensively fill out your profiles on them.
How does this help?
If the local “Map Pack” results aren’t bringing searchers what they want, they’re likely to click on the first couple of organic results which tend to be something like Yelp’s 10 Best Plumbers/Restaurants in City.
Ideally, you want to be on that list, which means claiming your profile, filling it out, and encouraging customer reviews on there.
The more complete your profile is and the more activity that is happening there, the more likely you are to show up in the Top 10 businesses of your industry.
Local SEO has done wonders for local businesses because they are able to reach searchers who are actively looking for a service at that particular moment.
Google always has the interest of its searchers at the front of its mind, so it makes sense that showing the closest business is a priority.
But even if you don’t make it into the “Map Pack” (and you often won’t, simply because your business isn’t one of the closest to the searcher), there are other ways to rank high.
Local linking is the practice of generating links from other local, relevant businesses to push your business higher up the search listings.
If you can get your business to rank high up in the organic results, it doesn’t matter if you’re not regularly showing up in the “Map Pack”; you’ll still be getting a steady stream of relevant traffic from high-quality customers who aren’t getting the results they want in the “Map Pack”.