Local Search vs. SEO – Which is Better and Why?

The way people are using search engines to find things online is changing, and search engines are changing to stay relevant to their users. Over 60% of searches now come from mobile devices and the way that Google displays results on phones and tablets is different to desktop results.

Search results on mobile devices are more likely to show results specific to the local area, so ensuring that a business is optimised for Google + with good local relevance is vital, both for small local firms and large brands with multiple locations.

The Google goalposts are always moving

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), the process of making a website more likely to be ranked higher in search results, changes constantly. Search engines update the algorithms used to decide which sites best answer a search term all the time, so how sites are optimised needs to change to keep up.

Some search keywords are highly competitive – many companies want to be top result for “insurance”, “mortgage” or “lawyer”, for example. Conducting an effective SEO campaign to appear top of the search results for one of these popular terms is getting harder and will keep getting harder as Google and other search engines introduce increasingly sophisticated variables. A site that ranks well today could be de-indexed tomorrow.

One key update that crept in largely unnoticed is Local Search, ranking search results based on relevance to the geographic area the search was made in. If you search for “florist” you’re probably not looking for best florist in the country, but the best one near you.

While search results may change, PPC (Pay Per Click), paying to place ads on search results and its preferred placement at the top of page one, remains the same. As a money-spinner for Google it’s here to stay!

Search for the most effective search marketing strategy

The first page of Google search results are defined by three factors: SEO, PPC, and Local Search. PPC is the constant, which leaves, SEO and Local Search. So which is more effective?

SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine‘s unpaid results – often called ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘earned’ results. As a rule of thumb, the higher up the search results page and the more frequently a site appears, the more visitors it will attract from the search engine’s users. People click on the results they see first.

The way web pages index successfully is often down to the use of relevant and high quality content, as well as associating the website with other similar credible sites. Local Search is an extension of SEO, but a much more specific one.

Local Search is the ability of a website or web page to appear prominently in a local search result. Often, when users search specific service or product, Google uses the IP address of that user (IP is the unique identifier associated with that device) to present the user with relevant information, in this case, local information.

So, to be found in local search results, a business must have relevant, high quality content. This means cultivating a strong online presence by:

  • interacting and promoting the company’s social media pages
  • ensuring business listing are accurate
  • generating local reviews on sites such as Google Local, Yelp, Yell and192

Anatomy of a search result

The screenshot below shows a user search for “hotels in Islington”. This, along with variants like “Islington Hotels” “Hotels near me” “Cheap hotels Islington” and many more, are being searched for over 1,000 times per month. The same happens for many services and products such as, “car MOT”, “new cars”, “restaurants”, “takeaway food”, “doctors”, “dentist”, “plumbing” etc. In fact, 80% of all business searches are now localised.

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The screen shot has been divided in to three sections to highlight how each set of results were decided. Blue represents the PPC results, red is Local Search, while SEO is green.

PPC always appears at the top. Great if you’re willing to pay, and that’s why Google will keep things like that.

Let’s look at the red box for Local Search results. The user specified a location in the search term, along with the keyword ‘hotel’, so Google presented a list of hotels within about a two-mile radius. Google ranks these local hotels depending local interaction – the more local interaction, the higher up the results they appear.

In this case, Hilton Islington is top of the pile. This is likely to be due to having more local reviews (20) than any other hotels in the area. The great benefit of this is that good reviews cost nothing (assuming the business is giving a good service – but that’s another story).

Finally, the green box shows natural results SEO. Many of these companies will employ SEO specialists, or outsource the task to third party companies, both of which have cost attached.

Competition for this keyword is fierce. The results are mostly made up of brokers, comparison sites and the big brand name – Hilton. For independent Islington hotel it would nearly impossible to hijack a place on page one of Google without a prohibitively large spend on SEO.

Local heroes

According to a traffic calculation, the highest placed natural site (SEO) would only receive around 6% of the search traffic, relatively low compared to the higher placed sites in the local searches and PPC sections.

Local Search offers a unique opportunity for SMBs to gate crash the first Google results page, normally monopolised by the big spenders. Local Search results attract more traffic than SEO sites and don’t carry the cost of an expensive PPC campaign.

By getting the best out of user reviews, smaller local businesses (or the local branches of national chains) can achieve a greater search result prominence without having to spend a fortune. What’s more, local reviews also offer genuine insight and feedback to how your customers are feeling, which can be used to improve service, and so get even better reviews in the future!

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