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!

Bridget Randolph

Bridget Randolph

Bridget joined Distilled in November 2012. An American born and bred (originally from a small Virginia town), Bridget came to the UK as a grad student in 2010, and didn't want to leave! In September 2012, she completed an M.Sc. in social...   read more

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  1. Bridget,

    Excellent, thorough piece that scares the hell out of me. As someone who works primarily with small and midsize businesses, I see every day that most are just not ready to take advantage of the local search opportunities Google has now granted them.

    Most "get" that they need to be on G+. Most of them also "get" they need keyword-rich content and a clean site to deliver it.

    Where things go awry, however, is many don't actively seek reviews, links/mentions via other local entities are ignored and mobile-friendly, responsive design is veritably Greek to them. Also, far too many local businesses, even successful ones, have not realized the priority now being given to strong brands.

    It's a constant battle.

    Thanks for sharing your insight and analysis.


    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph

      Thank you for your comments, Ronell, I hope you found it useful!

      I think that for small/medium sized businesses, it can feel quite overwhelming to take advantage of these opportunities, even as it becomes more crucial to do so. The problem is compounded if it's not immediately clear what the ROI is (as in the case of social media and possibly even brand citations).

      The good news is that even partially implementing these things can make a big difference. And as things like responsive design become increasingly widely adopted, there are also less time- and money-consuming ways to implement them. For instance, responsive Wordpress themes are becoming much more common.

  2. Great post - had to share it through Twitter and Facebook. The sooner thesmall businesses take advantage of this the better. In such a competitive landscape having local optimization helps a great deal in getting traffic and gaining visibility.

    As someone who offers professional seo services to SMBs/entrepreneurs I always emphasize this aspect of SEO. Particularly to business owners who have a physical locaiton and provide goods/service out of a retail location.

    Responsive design would be the next step in creating a user-friendly mobile site designed for hand-held devices. Not sure if its within affordable pricing yet. One step at a time, and that starts with local.

    Thanks for this great post!

    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph

      Thanks Nem, glad you found it useful!

      I agree that there's often a barrier for SMEs in terms of cost (whether time or money). I'm excited to see a lot of responsive themes being developed for Wordpress, though, hopefully that will help encourage at least some level of mobile-friendliness for small business sites. I think SquareSpace also do responsive websites fairly inexpensively.

  3. Hi Bridget,

    Excellent post!

    I would add even an extra layer of complexity... Maps apps!

    At my last visit of Edinburgh I found myself searching for businesses (mainly bars and restaurants) on my iPhone 4, using Google Maps. I never upgraded to iOS6 and the native maps app worked perfectly well and allowed us to easily plan our afternoon and evening.

    My other half however tried using her iPhone 5 that runs iOS6 (Apple Maps) which turned out to be absolutely useless! However, Apple Maps is being increasingly used so it would make sense to try and have your business listed here.

    At my return to work I found it difficult to find consistent data as to the data providers for Apple Maps. I did submit a full list of my employer's branches (UK) to Factual's data contributions team, since there seems to be a correlation between Factual's data and Apple Maps' data... but I haven't seen any results yet.

    Would David Mihm know more about how to get your business locations to show in Apple Maps? I saw his excellent presentation at SearchLove London last year and tried to implement as much as possible, but Apple Maps is still a bit of a black box to me...



    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph

      Thanks Greg, that's a great point and optimization for local search apps is an area I'd love to explore further. Afraid I don't know the answer yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how Apple Maps develops, since as you say the initial versions have been somewhat underwhelming!

      Have you seen this post from Andrew Shotland on how to add a listing to AM? I haven't tried any of these myself but it would be interesting to test. The data provider I've seen mentioned most frequently in connection with Apple Maps is Localeze. David Mihm has also posted this diagram showing some of the factors that Apple Maps draws on for its data.

    • Hi Bridget,

      Thanks for your feedback. I had actually missed out on David's Apple Maps Ecosystem (US-centric), but had read Andrew Shotland's post. The latter is where I picked up the Factual-tip for Apple Maps UK. I am now waiting/hoping to see some results.



  4. Bridget,

    Thanks for this post! There are some great tips here that I believe are simple enough for SMBs to implement. If nothing else, as you said in your comment, getting them moving forward in the right direction.

    David Mihm's 2013 Local Search Factors just published: http://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors - this is a great resource as well.

    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph


      Thank you for commenting, glad you liked it! I do hope that more small businesses can start to implement some of these things, it can be so valuable. And thank you for the link to the updated LSF 2013, I hadn't spotted it! I may update the post to include the latest version.

  5. First, let me say great post. After reading it I am left with one question though. Let's say that you have a business that services several local areas but is located just outside of it's service area. Would taking a local approach hurt your ability to rank for a city that you service but are not located in? What do you suggest in this type of scenario?

    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph

      Thanks Travis, glad you liked it!

      That's a very good question, and not my area of expertise I'm afraid. But here's my two cents:

      - I don't think that optimizing for local would hurt your ability to rank organically, as long as a) you're not doing something which could be perceived as dishonest/fake (for instance, using a fake address to get a map location within your service area), and b) the other factors are there, e.g. localized content on your website referencing the various locations within your service area.
      - Having good quality localized on-page content should mean that even if you don't show up in the 'Local' listings, you'll have a better chance of ranking as an organic result
      - You can set a 'Service Area' in Google+ Local. The recommendation I've seen for this is to provide a list of zipcodes/postcodes rather than using the 'service area radius' option. Mike Blumenthal wrote a post about using zip codes here.

      There's a good recent article by Andrew Shotland dealing with this issue.

      I hope that helps!

  6. Thanks Bridget for this incisive article. The main dilemma facing most business owners today is the choice between responsive web design or separate mobile website with regards to the impact of Local SEO. From your experience, what would be your take on this issue?

    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph

      Hi Austin, thanks for your comments!

      Generally speaking, a properly implemented responsive design vs separate mobile site should both be acceptable approaches (as is the middle ground of using dynamic serving to serve different HTML based on user agent, on a single URL).

      For a small business with limited content and resources (money/time/dev) I'd probably lean towards a responsive approach. This is because every separate version of your site will need to be kept up-to-date individually, which can be a drain on those resources. A good responsive design shouldn't require too much additional work. There are some good responsive Wordpress themes, and I've also heard good things about Squarespace.

      But the decision about which way to go really comes down to the needs and resources of the individual business. This is a topic which Kristina Kledzik wrote about in a recent blog post, and which we also discussed in more depth in the Distilled mobile best practice guide.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Awesome Post! Really great information on this blog! I didn't know so many people were looking up businesses on their smart phones! That is a huge percentage. Thanks a lot for the great post!


    reply >
  8. Great information and bookmarked this page as a reference. Another quick tip is if you aren't using responsive web design or a responsive WP theme there are mobile website companies that offer SEO elements that you can edit within their platforms. Duda is an example of this.

    reply >
    • Bridget Randolph

      Thanks Mike! Glad you found it useful, and thanks for the tip about Duda, I'll have to have a look!

  9. Wow, this is incredibly in-depth. Great work on the break down of specific and local SEO.

    reply >
  10. If you run a local or small business, incorporating Local SEO elements in your marketing campaign can certainly be beneficial. You'll get more targeted traffic from people in your area, which can turn into more actual conversions to sales.

    reply >

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