Just two years ago, it was mission critical for brands to have a rock-solid organic SEO strategy in place if they wanted to also succeed at the local level. At that time, the Local Search Association held a webinar with special guest Joy Hawkins, owner of local SEO agency Sterling Sky and the Local Search Forum, in which she demonstrated the effect organic positioning had on local rankings. 

The takeaway was that higher organic rankings directly increased your probability of appearing in the Local Pack. What’s more, we determined at the time that a well-optimized Locator was key for improving local visibility.

But with the myriad of changes Google has made to its algorithms, does this best practice still hold true?

Hawkins once again joined the Local Search Association in a webinar this past week to revisit the topic alongside Rio SEO’s Chad Klingensmith, Senior SEO Strategist, and Krystal Taing, who leads local product strategy and is a GMB Gold Product Expert. Together, the three local search experts shared an updated slate of best practices to help brands navigate this rapidly-shifting local landscape.  

Here are their most impactful recommendations, and you can check out the full webinar replay at the bottom of this post.

Make your KPIs for local the actions that users are taking on your listings.

Everything you do in marketing now needs to optimize for and encourage engagement; you’ve got to either give users what they’re expecting to see on your local listing or entice them to click through for more. 

Of course, it’s nice to rank well for your targeted terms. It’s a good user experience (and builds search engine trust in your brand) when all of your listings data is accurate. But if searchers are not doing anything when they see your listing—if they’re not clicking for driving directions, reading reviews to find more about your service, asking a question or trying to make a reservation, or taking some other action relevant to your business goals—you really aren’t succeeding at local. 

Clicks to call, clicks for directions, clicks through to your website and in-store indicators of conversion from online are the metrics by which you need to be measuring and communicating your success

Understand the correlation between organic and local rankings—and optimize accordingly.

From January to June 2017, Chad Klingensmith saw in his research a clear correlation between higher organic rankings and the ability to rank higher in local. Does it still hold true?

This time, he expanded the range to two years, from June 2017 all the way to June 2019. Google made over 3,200 changes to its algorithm in 2018 alone—about eight per day. 

And as time went on, Klingensmith noted that there were more and more deviants from the previously identified pattern of correlation between organic and local rankings. In the webinar, he referred to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, and in it the eight signals marketers need to improve upon that overlap between organic and local:

  • Link signals
  • On-page signals
  • Review signals
  • Citation signals
  • Google My Business signals
  • Behavioral signals
  • Personalization
  • Social signals

You can only succeed in these areas if you have a local landing page, he said. Without a website, you cannot accomplish these optimizations to benefit your local strategy. Today, Google My Business signals are a much more powerful local ranking signal but that doesn’t mean that on-page signals have no value. Brands need local landing pages to house their content, to provide that exceptional user experience that sends positive behavioral signals, to integrate reviews, and more. 

So what’s the future of organic SEO as far as its impact on local SEO? Our panel agreed that optimized local landing pages are key if you want to perform well both organically and locally, especially in your most competitive markets. (You can see an example of this strategy in action in this case study.)

The greatest differentiator between local and organic today is proximity

As we’ve said, there was a lot of overlap between organic and local rankings in years past. Today, Joy Hawkins said, we can pinpoint that one factor has an oversized impact on the differences between local and organic listings: proximity

At the bottom of each search engine results page, Google usually lists the city it thinks you’re located in. This assumption of your location dramatically impacts what you see in the search results. 

According to the Moz study mentioned earlier, user location is the number one ranking factor that dictates Local Pack rankings. This makes location the single most important signal brands can use to impact local rankings. Hawkins spoke of a recent study wherein search rankings for a law firm were studied using various zip codes. Even within zip codes, she said, searchers might see very different sets of search results depending on their proximity to businesses within that area. 

Make sure your map pin is correct and that all available areas of your Google My Business profile are optimized. Add hyperlocal content to your GMB and local landing pages, to help Google and customers alike understand your relevance to the area and neighborhood.

Make sure you’re attributing organic and local search traffic properly.

We know that on average, just 1 in 60 local searches results in a click through to a website. This is because Google now shows so much information in the Local Pack and in regular search results that users can call, get directions, and find their way in-store without ever having to visit your website. 

But how do you know which visitors are coming from local search versus organic?

Hawkins recently wrote a guide that explains exactly how to track this inside Search Console, provided you’re using UTM codes inside your Google My Business listing. Read it here on the Sterling Sky blog

Must-Know Local Search Insights for Brands in 2019

Other takeaways from LSA and Rio SEO’s Local SEO for Brands webinar included:

  • Organic rankings below Page One tend to fluctuate rapidly, even hourly. Local rankings bounce around even more—anything beyond the top five can move quickly. Brands need to practice good local and organic SEO and ensure that best practices are in place to ensure locations rank as well as possible in these volatile conditions.
  • Competitive research is key in local optimization. The content others include in their GMB may affect your locations’ ability to rank, particularly when Google is applying a local filter. It is imperative that competitive monitoring is a part of your strategy, so you can update listings and optimize accordingly.
  • Content is still king at the local level. A well-optimized landing page will already have the name, address, phone number and other details relevant for a local searcher. Custom content shares more locally relevant information about each location; it talks about cross streets, local landmarks and events, and other interesting information that helps the searcher truly understand the business. 

The webinar wrapped up with an informative Q&A session in which participants were able to get help with their specific local SEO questions from our expert panel. Grab a coffee and check out the full webinar for all the details:

Watch the recording here: