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Driving customer footfall: Why local SEO is so important

Dave Colgate

Posted by Dave Colgate

29 May 2024

For brick-and-mortar businesses looking to drive additional retail traffic, sales and bookings, both digitally and in person, local SEO can reap huge rewards. In certain industries, this can include listings for events, whereas other businesses, such as luxury hotels, may have separate listings for their restaurants, spas and other facilities. 

While local SEO is easily accessible, things can get pretty complicated quite fast if there are multiple locations and different listing types at play. Let’s walk through some suggested approaches to this.

Why is local SEO important?

Local SEO allows businesses to gain heightened visibility on search results for local intent-type search terms, which often have strong commercial intent. This can be in the form of a Map Pack, which occupies a large portion of visual real estate on search results above traditional listings. Map Packs are said to enjoy as much as 44% of clicks across search results which, when considering that a reported 46% of all searches are local in their nature, makes up a considerable opportunity.

Alongside the opportunity, local SEO also has its own set of ranking signals that brands need to consider. A Google Business Profile alone can show local citations, details and descriptions, review sentiments, Google Maps ratings, and the relevance and prominence of the business to the query at hand. 

What makes a well-optimised local SEO listing?

Keyword research

Let’s take a look at keyword research for local SEO. Descriptions and keywords featured in Google Business Profile listings should be centred around unique, local copy that is, of course, relevant to the area you’re operating in. 

“Near me” searches are incredibly common and often return high monthly search volumes coupled with strong commercial intent, so make sure you’re exploring opportunities here. Along with using keyword research tools to gather ideas for “near me” or “product/service + location” (such as “Italian restaurant in Oxford”), make use of features such as Google Suggest to get further ideas.  

A search around the term “men’s jackets near me” returns a list of suggestions and alternatives showing how users are searching when looking for this product:

Here, we have a lot more ideas as to what types of jackets are being searched in relation to the stem term “men’s jackets near me”.

Drilling down a bit further (something you can at scale do with Google Suggest keyword research tools) gives us further insights. Let’s take a look at “men’s leather jackets near me”:

We’ve got a bit more to play with here. Modifiers such as “motorcycle jackets”, “men’s leather vest near me” and “men’s leather jackets nearby” give us useful insights into local search behaviour and what we could be targeting. This is before we even start exploring location-specific search terms appended with keyphrases like “London” or “Manchester”, for example.

Going even further, there may be certain modifiers that people are searching for around certain businesses. Leather jacket types may have specialisms in certain styles, such as specialising in sustainability, or even themes taken from certain films or celebrities. 

This comes into its own in the food and beverage area, with modifiers such as “vegan” and “gluten-free” as well as the many types of cuisines available. Establish the core offerings and USPs of your business and use the above keyword research processes to find ideas.

Google Business Profiles

Make sure you cover all the key areas in detail. Within the admin section of Google Business Profile, you can submit details on:

  • Business name

  • Business category and services offered

  • Description

  • Contact details, online booking links, website links and social profiles 

  • Business location and opening hours

  • Languages served

  • Questions and answers

  • Updates such as events and offers

Populate all available areas as accurately and as in-depth as possible, featuring your target keywords where feasible and appropriate. Continue to update these fields as things change.

Imagery is a vital tool in local SEO too, so deploy high-quality content in this department that displays your business venue, team, products, service offerings and anything that sets you apart from the rest. Particularly when it comes to restaurants, high-quality imagery of food can be a real game changer in getting potential customers to convert. Whatever your business type, think about reasons to visit and what brings people to you over everyone else.

The importance of competitor analysis

Competitor analysis is a vital component to any local strategy and should nestle alongside your local SEO keyword research. Take a look at your competitor’s local SEO content, the extent to which their Google Business Profiles are populated, and how they’re engaging with their consumers. Look to answer some of these questions when assessing competitors for local SEO:

  • How fresh and up-to-date is their content?

  • Is there anything missing (business details, unanswered questions/reviews)?

  • As a consumer, are there any questions you need to ask after reviewing their content/local SEO presence?

  • Can you easily read and understand their local content and what their USPs are as a business?

Managing reviews and questions 

Reviews on Google Business Profiles (and by proxy, Google Maps) are a vital ranking factor. Businesses with a diverse and continuous array of positive reviews from a wide range of users will undoubtedly perform well in local SEO. 

Encourage reviews where possible, by providing easy ways for customers to leave reviews. This can be done by sending URLs to customers who have engaged with your business to direct them to your reviews page. Simple, to-the-point visuals in email follow-ups can present clear calls to action to leave reviews. Sadly, people are more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones, so you want to do all you can to encourage positive reviews where possible.

As businesses, we can’t control what customers say about their experience, but we can control our responses. Five-star reviews should be met with grateful responses that are tailored to the feedback in question. If they’re praising a particular member of staff or a product they purchase, allude to this in your response.

Negative or critical reviews should be approached with genuine apologies and an acknowledgement of the areas of dissatisfaction. If you’re able to, encourage the user to follow up with you offline and then perhaps offer a form of compensation. There are some great tips on responding to negative reviews available on the web. As these responses will be publicly visible in your Google Business Profile listing, it’s important to get the tone and sentiment right.

Google Business Profiles also have the option for users to ask questions about your business. This might be about operating hours, the products you sell, and queries such as accessibility options. Brands should proactively respond to these with as much accurate detail as possible, providing honesty and transparency.

Managing multiple locations on Google Business Profile

Businesses that operate globally, nationally, or even have more than one location in the region it operates in will likely have to manage multiple Google Business Profile listings. There will, of course, be the main address of the business in question, but it may also have multiple branches (and related listings) that will serve specific areas. 

A good example of this is a car hire company such as Enterprise. The company has its European head office listed in Egham, Surrey, but has over 400 physical branches offering car hire services across the UK. These will have their Google Business Profile listings, which, if optimised well, will show up for local queries relating to car hire depending on the user's location. This can be a great way of scaling your visibility to capture multiple local SEO search terms if you have a legitimate presence in these areas.

This can be done with relative ease via Google’s business group function within the business profile area. The business group function allows you to delegate user ownership to other colleagues so they can optimise the business listings they’re responsible for. Tools such as Yext can be a valuable help here in overseeing all your listings.

Independent keyword research will still need to be undertaken, to ensure you’re not missing out on any localised nuances in search behaviour across certain regions in relation to your business. If you’re operating in a country where different languages are spoken in certain regions (such as Switzerland, Canada or India) then this will need to be taken into consideration in how you flesh out and structure your individual Google Business Profile listings.

Citations and listings on other aggregator sites

NAP (name, address, phone number) citations are a big contributor to local SEO credentials, and ensuring they’re consistent and up to date across the board is hugely important. There are a number of tools that allow you to conduct NAP audits, gather lists of websites to submit, and edit entries accordingly. Get business listings on sites such as Yell and Yelp, and on business directory websites in your area of operation. There will also be a number of industry-specific citation sites where getting your business listed will be a worthwhile pursuit.

Getting your business listed on third-party review websites such as Trustpilot, Facebook, Tripadvisor (for travel) and Foursquare can be another worthwhile venture, as these sites often perform well for branded searches on your company name. Strong reviews (outside of a Google Business Profile presence) will contribute to your E-EAT standing, and will certainly help with moving the needle on getting potential customers to engage with you if they’re seeing positive review patterns across the board. This is something we covered in depth in a previous post on SERP reputation management.

Creating local content

In addition to your activities across Google Business Profiles and other listings providers, make sure you’re creating local-centric content that highlights local offerings on your website. A smart tactic would be to assess additional local SEO keyword opportunities alongside the terms you’re deploying on your listings. Going back to our car hire example, it’s notable that Enterprise has a lot of content and separate pages highlighting their car hire offerings across locations, certain niches, requirements, and useful things to know about car leasing and driving in these areas. 

Of course, don’t just spin up pages programmatically just to capture local SEO demand if you don’t have a service offering in a certain location (this is something Google has been coming down hard on in recent spam updates). If you have a genuine physical presence in a certain specific location (with a business address represented in the corresponding Google Business Profile) then go ahead with local content publication.   

Like other areas of SEO, local SEO doesn’t stop

Google continues to release new features and tweaks for businesses to utilise, whether this is within the admin dashboard panel or on the front end itself. Brands are encouraged to stay on top of this where they can and continue to optimise business listings where possible.

Outside of this, be sure to consistently review new local keyword opportunities that may emerge as search behaviours change. Continue to stay on top of your reviews (both positive and negative) and any questions that may come your way and, of course, continue to update your rich imagery.

About the author

With over 18 years in the industry, Dave Colgate is Head of Enterprise SEO at our fellow Sideshow Group agency – Vertical Leap. Across the group, we work with numerous clients, for which local SEO is important, including All Bar One, Domino’s, FatFace, Harvester, Specsavers and wed2b.