Optimizing Your Local Presence for Mobile Search (and vice versa!)

When you optimize your website for localized search terms, it’s described as Local SEO. While Local SEO can seem like a somewhat niche topic, it impacts a surprisingly high number of searches. Google data tells us that around 1 out of every 5 searches has local intent. So businesses with a local presence that ignore local search optimization are potentially missing out on a great opportunity.

And there’s a new player in the local search arena: the mobile web. Because of the convenience and portability factor of smartphones and other mobile devices, the percentage of searches with local intent performed on a mobile device can be as high as 40%.

Not convinced yet? Check out the following smartphone stats from Google’s Think Insights Databoard:

  • 94% of smartphone users have looked for local info and 84% have taken action as a result
  • 57% of smartphone users look for local info at least once a week
  • 25% of smartphone users look for local info daily
  • Of smartphone users who searched for local info:
    • 65% visited the business they looked up
    • 47% looked it up on a map and/or got directions
    • 24% told others about it
    • 29% made a purchase in-store
And because of the smaller size of a smartphone screen, the results which rank highest in the mobile SERPs will tend to have even more prominence than they would on a desktop.

But what does this mean for us as website owners and SEOs? Well, to optimize for local-mobile search you need to optimize your site for both local and mobile individually. You’ll need mobile friendly versions of your local-targeted pages, and you can also take advantage of mobile-based platforms, like the Local Search feature in Facebook’s mobile app.

What is Local SEO?

‘Traditional SEO is about optimizing Web sites. Local is about optimizing for a location.’ - David Mihm, SMX Advanced 2011

Although it’s not really an either/or choice between optimizing a website and ‘optimizing for a location’, the point here is that a) local SEO is not limited to on-page factors and b) the emphasis is placed on the location rather than the website. For example, consistent mentions of your business’s address and phone number in other places online, regardless of whether they link to your site, are very important to local SEO. You can use special markup for Google Maps, and you’ll find an emphasis on local linkbuilding (for example, a link from your local news site vs a link from a national news site). For a more in-depth look at areas which may contribute to local rankings, see David Mihm’s post on Local Search Ranking Factors (the results of a 2012 industry survey), and his initial thoughts on those results. [update: David has recently posted the 2013 results on Moz.com]

For years Google has provided ‘local’ search results based on Google Places (previously Google Local) listings. In February 2012, Google released an algorithm update for local search results, dubbed the Venice update. This means that Google is providing more opportunities for organic results in addition to its Local listings. The search engine is therefore taking into account more of the on-page factors including pages targeting location-based keywords. This update also included more emphasis on local SERPs based on the searcher’s IP address, even without a location specified in the search term. (So a searcher in London who searched ‘pizza’ would see results for ‘pizza in London’, etc.)

This type of result is known as ‘implicit search’, and it is something which Google is bringing to search more widely. Features like Knowledge Graph and Google Now are based on this concept.

The Growth of the Mobile Web

Over the past five years, we’ve also witnessed an incredible boom in the use of mobile devices for accessing the web. According to ComScore, 129 million people in the United States own smartphones and that number is only going to increase. And as of 2012, there are 1 billion smartphones in use worldwide.

As search marketers, we’ve also seen a boom in advice on how to optimize our sites for mobile, the pros and cons of responsive design, whether or not to have a mobile app, and more. Optimizing for mobile requires us to incorporate mobile functionality (and limitations, such as smaller screen size) into traditional websites. (For a more in-depth discussion of mobile optimization, see the Distilled best practice guide, Building Your Mobile-Friendly Site, co-authored by Kristina Kledzik and me.)

But what about local-mobile search?

Optimizing for Local-Mobile Search

How does local-mobile SEO differ from normal ‘local’ or normal ‘mobile’? Well, an obvious difference is that local search results on a smartphone seem to place extra emphasis on businesses with a Google Places for Business(/Google+ Local) listing, because these listings show up first and screen space is at a premium. You can see the difference in the screenshots below. The mobile SERP requires a significant amount of scrolling to reach non-Google-Local listings (first one highlighted in yellow) compared to the desktop screenshot.

Mobile results, in an iPod browser:

below the fold:

Desktop results:

Creating a verified Google+ Local profile will also give you a listing on Google Maps, which is valuable for smartphones because a) it’s featured prominently in the SERPs, and b) ‘local search’ on a smartphone can also happen within apps (such as the Google Maps app) that utilize Google search. Therefore, it becomes more important than ever to ensure that these listings are claimed, up-to-date and consistent across Google+ Local, your business’s website, and any other listings you might have.

Otherwise, local-mobile optimization is primarily about ensuring that your local pages are optimized for mobile, and vice versa. It’s good to work on the two aspects simultaneously, for example incorporating mobile functionality (click-to-call, geolocation, GPS) into your localized pages. You can see Google doing this above, in the Local listings, with a prominent ‘Call’ option in the mobile SERP itself.

A Quick Overview of Important Factors

There are numerous elements that go into optimizing a website for local and mobile search. Here are some of the most important to get you started, with links to more in-depth information about each:

Local Factors

- On-page Optimization: make sure you have location targeted pages with the targeted location prominent in all relevant places (such as title tags, descriptions, and unique content).

- Local Listings: Create a profile with Google+ Local (within Google Places for Business). List your business in other relevant local business directories.

Citations: Local search relies heavily on ‘NAP Citations’, which are instances of your business’s NAP (name/address/phone number) in various places around the web. Make sure that all of your citations match exactly; consistency is key. There is a tool from Whitespark which can help you with this process, called the Local Citation Finder.

- Images: Don’t forget to include images of your storefront in your Google+ Local listing. This will be shown in Google Maps. You can also include high-quality images of your products/services. This study found that users were more likely to click the result for a tattoo parlour which included photos of their tattoos as well as their storefront (compared with competitors who only used storefront images).

- Structured Data: There are particular types of structured data/microformatting which are especially valuable for Local search:

Social Profiles/Apps:
    • Google+ is the most obvious social network for local search, because of its connection to the Google+ Local listings. And, in addition to the obvious features of G+ as a social network, it’s also tied to reviews on Google+ Local.
    • Facebook: 24% of local search is conducted via Facebook’s mobile app; in fact, it’s the second most commonly used mobile app for local search, after Google Maps. So make sure that you have a business page on Facebook, and include your business address and phone number (again, ensuring that it’s consistent with all other listings).
Reviews and Recommendations: Google's recent report on Advanced Global Mobile Trends stated that, when mobile users were asked about what they want from location based services, “the depth of information available about local services in the form of reviews was often emphasised: that two or three sentence reviews from three years ago are not enough; they want frequency, volume, and insight whilst still on the go.” (pg. 16, emphasis mine)

It is particularly important to have a profile on Yelp (which is where Siri gets some of its answers from) as well as Google+ Local (since these are the reviews displayed in the SERPs). There are also some other good review sites which it is worth creating a profile for, including TripAdvisor, Yahoo! Local, Foursquare, and Zagat (for restaurants).

Some other great resources on Local SEO

- David Mihm - Local Search Ranking Factors [note: link updated to the 2013 version] - Chelsea Blacker’s presentation on Local SEO Tips & Advice - Mike Blumenthal - The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results - Mike Ramsay - Moz: Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update

Mobile Factors

- On-page Optimization:

Keyword Research: In 2011, up to 73% of mobile local keyword rankings differed from their desktop counterparts. This is significantly more than is usual for non-local keywords. Do your research, and if you see mobile visitors are using different keywords, target mobile-specific keywords on your mobile site.

Images: ensure that images are compressed and consolidated in CSS image sprites to minimize page load time.

Structured Data: Structured data can generate rich snippets, and most rich snippets are good for mobile search (again, due to the limited screen real estate, a good rich snippet can dominate a mobile SERP).

Other great resources for Mobile SEO

- Aleyda Solis has written several excellent posts on mobile SEO, including this one on mobile site audits - My fellow Distiller Kristina Kledzik has written a couple of great posts on responsive design and mobile SEO - Kristina and I also co-authored the Distilled Best Practice Guide for building mobile-friendly websites.


Now it’s over to you: do you optimize your website(s) for local and mobile search? Have any good tips/advice?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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