How to Use Organic SEO to Rank in Google’s Local 3-Pack

by Cynthia Sener, VP of Operations and Product at Rio SEO

Recently, my colleague Chad Klingensmith and I had the opportunity to participate in the Local Search Association’s information and takeaway-packed webinar, How to Use Organic SEO to Rank in Google’s Local 3-Pack. Joined by co-host Joy Hawkins, the incredibly sharp and talented founder of Sterling Sky, Inc., we explored several tactics for improving local visibility and rankings across large, multi-locations businesses.

In it, we discussed key organic ranking factors, with actionable steps to help you rank in Google’s Local 3-pack. We talked about the different ways marketers can reach consumers in their moments of need across different platforms and devices, especially in their all-important decision making micro-moments.

Local Rules: Why Organic Matters

Brands are no longer competing with other companies in their respective categories. You’re competing with the best digital experiences a user has ever had. Consumers have incredibly high expectations and those moments to transaction are growing.

You might be surprised to learn that 85% of all multi-location brand-consumer engagement happens on local pages, not corporate. Ipsos MediaCT research shows us that 4 in 5 consumers also want search ads customized to their city, zip code or ‘Near Me’ surroundings. Further, smartphone users are significantly more likely to buy when mobile apps are customized to their location.

The local opportunity is largely mobile, as consumers increasingly use their smartphones to discover and navigate the world around them. Your individual locations have the best opportunity for ranking and engagement in this landscape. But according to Think With Google research, when that experience on mobile is negative, consumers are 62% less likely to purchase from your brand in future.

Well optimized websites with strong backlink profiles are more likely to rank highly in relevant local searches. Moz research tells us that the top 2017 local ranking factors include signals from GMB, links, on-page elements, citations and reviews.

While it has been implied that there is correlation between local and organic rankings, Rio wanted to see if there is a statistical relationship by analyzing hard data.

We analyzed over 50,000 locations across major brands here at Rio SEO, and here’s what we found:

You’re always going to see fluctuations in ranking, but you can see that when the locations were positioned well organically, they did well at the local level, as well. In short, traditional SEO tactics are still going to have a major impact on your ability to rank locally. Follow SEO best practices across your brand presence and all locations.

Ranking Organically, But Not Locally

Keywords without a geo-phrase modifier rely more heavily on traditional organic SEO signals.  For example, if someone searches for “handyman” while in Tampa, they’re likely to see different results than someone searching for “handyman tampa.”

This is because keywords with a geo-related phrase or explicit location (e.g. “handyman tampa”) rely more heavily on local SEO signals like proximity, GMB categories and NAPs.

This same business ranks high both organically and locally for an implied local phrase.

Organic SEO is very important for implicit local search queries. However, proximity is still the number ranking factor for explicit local search queries.


  • Having high organic rankings increases the probability of getting into the Google Local Pack
  • Organic positioning does impact local rankings
  • A well-optimized locator on your website will improve visibility locally

The Local Pack Filter (And What You Can Do About It)

There’s been a filter to remove “similar” listings from the local pack results since 2016, as a result of Google’s Possum update. Who gets filtered?

  • Listings that share the same phone number or website
  • Listings that have addresses near each other (proximity)

For example, when Joy typed in “orthodontist minneapolis,” we found that he’s in the same building as another orthodontist. They’re separate companies and have different phone numbers and names.


However, Ziman Orthodontics is not in the organic top 100. They’re being filtered out because they share the same location (in Google’s eyes) as Dr. Colby’s office.

So who avoids being filtered? The business with the highest organic presence. In the image above, you can see that Colby is in the third organic position, whereas Ziman doesn’t appear at all.


  • Organic ranking is one of the main factors that decides who gets filtered.
  • According to a study done by Nifty Marketing in 2016, 75% of ranking local listings also rank organically on the first page.
  • Local SEO and Organic SEO are not separate things.

Joy shares more on this in her post 9 common SEO myths at Moz.

How to Engage at the Local Level

So how do we pull this all together, increasing organic signals that have local influence? Start by creating local landing pages for each store or service area. This:

  • enables you to quickly and easily publish highly relevant pages for each location;
  • ensures rankings that get your locations found in search;
  • and creates interactions that convert searches to customers.

If you do create a locator it is recommended to apply these strategies for optimal results:

  • Carefully optimized the title, meta description and H1 tags for each landing page
  • Apply hyperlocal custom content for each landing page.  
  • Search for backlink opportunities. For internal link equity make sure to utilize breadcrumb navigation.  For external link equity search for relevant, local websites that may provide backlinks to your locator pages.
  • Make sure your locator is mobile compatible.
  • Pay attention to download speeds using Google PageSpeed Insights

Incorporate local details like landmarks, events, services, products and coupons. Showcase local attractions and nearby information for travelers on local pages, and highlight additional services that your company offers. Incorporate hyper-local events and social media to engage visitors. Finally, add in-store inventory and products to drive conversions.

You need store locators for each of your locations, and depending on your offerings, may want to add localized specialty pages, as well. Here’s an example, where Petco has a locator page, but also a localized page for their dog training service in this particular city:

Each of your store locator or specialty pages needs to have:

  • Page authority to push to local pages
  • An easy to use interface
  • Logical hierarchy and structure
  • Plenty of internal text links
  • XML sitemaps
  • Schema markup
  • Meta tag & content optimization

You can further improve the consumer experience by using an extremely flat, location rich, crawlable URL architecture. Feature city and state-specific local content, managed in a scalable content management platform that’s tuned to be in-line with your marketing strategies.


  • Prioritize mobile vs. desktop content with key information upfront for mobile and more in-depth optional content for desktop users.
  • Avoid collapsed content when you’re optimizing for desktop.
  • There’s no penalty for duplicate content, but it’s filtered out of search results. Hyperlocal content helps you avoid being filtered on relevant local queries.
  • Add photos to your GMB listings for higher click-through rates and greater engagements.

How Local SEO Works Without Locations

If your brand or product has a service area but no physical locations, or you’re selling high consideration and/or higher cost items, you’re faced with the challenge of needing to optimize locally without actually having a location.

How do you tackle this unique challenge? Here are a few must-do tips:

  • Develop “where to buy it” locators & local landing pages for all individual stores selling your product.
  • Focus primarily on “where to buy” keyword queries.
  • “Digital Endcap” – give retail partners preferential treatment with incentives like cost splitting.
  • Integrate local reviews for first party data

You can avoid competing against resellers or retailers in organic results by making sure your content is different and unique — don’t simply use copy and pasted manufacturer content, for example. Offer an engaging experience by integrating local reviews, as well.

Remember, marketers can control brand exposure through locally optimized mobile content.

It’s essential that you design your mobile presence to capture branded local searches. For physical retailers, their only differentiator is the claiming of map locations. Optimize for relevant consumer searches to create a good user experience.

Organic mobile search is a long term strategy with local as a key factor.

View the webinar recording

View the slides


Ready to drive more foot traffic and revenue for each of your locations? Activate your FREE Local Presence Audit now to see how your business locations are represented and ranking across Google, Bing, Yahoo and other online search engines and directories.

By | 2017-12-19T16:25:53+00:00 August 14th, 2017|Categories: Rio SEO Blog|Tags: , , , |

About the Author:

Rio SEO simplifies complex local marketing by empowering enterprise brands with solutions that engage customers throughout the search ecosystem. Our Open Local Platform powers the marketing solutions that multi-location brands need to establish a local presence and connect with customers.