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If you have a business website, you are probably aware of SEO (search engine optimization). If you want your website to generate sales and leads, you have to make sure that it comes up for relevant keywords in Google and the search engines.

What is local SEO?

This used to be pretty cut and dry, Google would show the most relevant web pages for the keywords entered. Now that the web and technology are evolving people are using all kinds of devices to access the Internet from Android tablets and cell phones, to the ipad.

Now there is more than just regular website SEO. You have local search optimization, SEO for Google maps, social media, online reviews, and lots of other things to consider for a business website.

How Local SEO Works

Google is now showing results a bit differently depending on your keywords, your location, your google account, and sometimes the type of device your using to determine if local results should be included.

This search for “fancy red widgets” shows what google thinks is most relevant:

search for fancy red widgets

Google tries to determine when keywords are entered “should I include local results?”

Here’s a search for Ferndale plumber. Even though I know that’s a local search in Michigan Google doesn’t try to guess that and just shows normal results:

example Google search

Once I add the keyword “MI” Google knows for sure I’m looking for something local and it adds local search results. You can always tell local results because they have addresses and phone numbers that correspond to map pin points.

You can’t see it in that last image because google puts the local search results map in the right sidebar above the ads, here’s how that looks:

Google search with local results

What’s Really Happening with Google Local Results

If your business has keywords that could be considered “local”, now you have to make sure your website appears in those results (or you may not even make the first page of results at all).

When you type things in google and it tries to “autocomplete” your phrase look at what happens when we start typing “ferndale plumber”. You can see it doesn’t try to add anything local at all.

Google autocomplete example

Now visit www.google.com/local. You’ll notice that this is “Google Maps”. So Google “local” is really Google Maps results included in normal search results.

On that page you’ll see a map, and now look what happens to the autocomplete search when we start typing in ferndale:

Google autocomplete local results

Google (maps) tries to figure out what Ferndale we’re trying to search for. In normal Google search it doesn’t do this because it hadn’t decided if Ferndale just a keyword or a location because it didn’t have anything else to tie it to (like a state or address). Notice how the first result is an address I searched for in the past in that area. At the bottom of the autocomplete window you can see it mention some results are from my web history.

Look how the Google (maps) search changes as we finish typing ferndale and start typing “plumber”:

Google autocomplete local results example

In the last image the autocomplete tries to suggest, “are you looking for a plumber here, or here, or here?”

What About Google Places and Google Local?

If you directly visit the Google Places home, you’ll find you can really only do 2 things. You can claim your business listing, or visit the new Google+ Local.

If you claim your business listing you are really just registering for local search in Google (Maps), and the results will show in normal Google search, Google Maps, and (now) Google+ Local.

When you first visit Google Plus Local you’ll see these are the types of things it shows:

Google plus local example

As you may (or may not) already know, Google+ is Google’s attempt to compete with Facebook as a social network. It uses your Google account to connect with people, share links and pictures, you can add a status to your “wall”. Google Plus also has features Facebook doesn’t (like video chat in Google Hangout), and other collaborative capabilities.

With Google “Local Plus”, Google is attempting to bring together local search results, with social networking, and local (maps) results. They are focusing more on reviews and scores in an attempt to be more of what you have seen in the past from directories like Yelp!

This is what Google+ Local looks like:

Google+ Local home example

You can actually do searches here, here’s an example of a search for “Mexican” near my Google+ location:

Google Local Plus search example

It shows me Mexican restaurants near me with address, map location, score, and reviews (if it has them).

When I click on a result the Google Plus Local page for that business shows me the name, location, map, website (if one exists), menu (if it can find one), reviews, score, etc.

Google Plus Local Business Result example

On the right side of that page I can get directions, I can +1 the business, add a photo I took there, I’m encouraged to write a review, and I can also “Manage this page” (if it’s my business).

qGoogle+ Local Business Listing example

Most Business owners have no clue this page even exists. Only people that actively use their Google+ account will ever see results like this (but that number is growing everyday).

If you “claim your business” you go to the same exact signup page we mentioned earlier on Google local.

As time goes on Google is exposing more and more of these features in regular search. You will start to see scores and reviews start appearing in local results and Google maps more and more.

How Do I Get My Website in Local Search?

As a business website owner you need to ensure your website appears for both relevant and local area keyword searches (when appropriate).

To do this your website needs to be registered with both types of search. First your website should be registered and setup properly with Google Webmaster Tools. After registration and verification that you are the website owner, you need to create and submit an XML sitemap – so the Googlebot search crawler knows where to find all your pages and what to index. You should also register the same way with Bing Webmaster Tools.

Then register with Google Local and verify your business. Part of the process involved adding a name, description, and categories, with additional information and details. While you can register your own business with no technical ability at all (and registration is free), the information you enter at this stage largely determines how well you’ll actually be found in local search results.

Once registered, your business should start to appear in all the results we previously mentioned (Google results, Google maps results, Google+ Local results). For best results, have your listing setup or optimized by an SEO expert to ensure you’re getting as much exposure as you can.

JTPratt Media provides WordPress Development and SEO Services for business websites, and we are local search experts. Visit our Local Search Optimization page for more information about how we can help you.