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Understanding How Local Search Works: An Introduction for Business Owners

Local search is hot right now. That’s because search tools — from Google to social media apps — are getting increasingly sophisticated about matching search queries to results that are physically nearby, even if the searcher doesn’t specify their location.

Combine that new dynamic with the ever-increasing market share of mobile search (as people perform searches on their phones while out and about), and you can see why businesses are scrambling to optimize their web presence for local search traffic.

But what if you haven’t quite got a full handle on Web 1.0 yet, let alone Web 2.0? If you just aren’t sure where to start, this guide will help you get your head around the mechanics (and possibilities) of local search with simple language and little technical jargon.

Why Does Local Search Matter?

As mentioned earlier, more and more people turn to the internet as their starting point in a search for a product or service every year, and the various search tools are constantly working to better match searchers with results that are more relevant (i.e. physically closer) to them.

Search result rankings are prioritized based on how relevant and useful the search engine thinks each result is to each search term. A lot more goes into your relevancy rating than just being the closest option to the person searching.

It’s all about how the various elements of your web presence — that is, your website, social media accounts and business listings — are set up to provide the things that search engines like to see.

Local search is a huge market that’s only getting bigger with time. If you aren’t positioned to be at the top of local searches, your competitors will be, and they’ll be the ones reaping the rewards.

Advertising through local search is great because it’s more cost-effective and efficient at lead generation than traditional advertising. Local search ads effectively pre-screen customers on their own, filtering only to those that are in your business area and have expressed interest in your product by entering a relevant search term.

Best of all, most of the search tools offer schemes by which you only pay when a lead takes action on your ad (i.e. clicking through it), ensuring that you aren’t wasting marketing money putting yourself in front of the wrong audience.

Where Local Search Takes Place

The local search takes place on three main types of sites and apps:
• Traditional search engines (Google, Bing)
• Social media sites/apps (Facebook, Twitter)
• Business listing sites and directories (Google My Business, Yelp)

Online businesses have to consider each of these three types of local search. You optimize your business for each of them in different ways, however.

Direct and Indirect Advertising Through Local Search

You’re probably familiar with some traditional methods of offline direct and indirect advertising. You can use local search for both types of advertising as well.

Direct advertising would mean purchasing an ad that is delivered only to people searching for terms that you specify and that are within a certain distance of your business. Some platforms allow you to refine this down to only displaying ads during your opening hours or giving people directions to your business right from their current location.

Indirect advertising is simply setting up a presence on the platform and attracting visitors with your useful and enjoyable content. Indirect advertising can lead to sales, but the primary purpose of it is to increase the visibility and reputation of your brand and to position yourself as an authority in your category. This is the method you use to climb to the top of the search results.

Next Steps

Now that you have a better conceptual handle on how local search works and what it can do for you, it’s time to take some concrete steps to get it working for you.

The three main things to do are:
• Get your business listed at relevant directory sites (or make sure existing listings are accurate)
• Implement SEO best practices on your site (like creating relevant content for visitors)
• Learn about SEM and how to target advertisements to local searchers

You can do some of these things on your own, but a good marketing agency may be the most economical choice in terms of opportunity cost and long-term value.