We tend to think of search engines as the way we find information on the internet regardless of location, but in reality they’re just as much about finding local information.

The rise of mobile (and now, voice) search has only made local SEO that much more important. Hubspot reports that 89% of smartphone users search for a local business at least once a week, with 58% searching for a local business daily. In fact, 46% of all searches on Google are related to local businesses.

If your business has a brick-and-mortar presence, you should probably be thinking about local SEO. But how does it differ from regular, organic SEO? What factors are more likely to affect your page rank, and how can you make sure your business is showing up near the top results?

Organic SEO vs Local SEO

The basics of local SEO are similar to organic SEO, with the added geographic dimension. When you search for certain things, say “chinese delivery in berkeley,” Google’s search engine knows to highlight results in your area, since if you live in Berkeley you probably don’t care who’s delivering Chinese food in Duluth. To highlight these local choices, Google uses what’s called the local 3-pack, which consists of three businesses in the search area that Google considers its top choices. It looks like this:

A screen shot of Google search results for a local business

(Google does this for certain terms even if you leave out your location.) Getting into this 3-pack is the main goal of local SEO, and Google uses a different set of factors for ranking local SEO as opposed to organic SEO.

Note: Some businesses may want to rank highly for both local and organic SEO, but for this post we’ll just focus on the local angle.

What Factors Affect Local SEO?

There are quite literally hundreds of factors that go into determining whether and how high a business ranks for local SEO. At the same time, only Google’s search team knows the exact mix of factors. That doesn’t mean local businesses are totally in the dark, however. Generally speaking, there are a handful of general factors that are critical to getting into the local 3-pack:

  • Google My Business (GMB). GMB is your canonical business listing according to Google. Once you’ve added or claimed your business, you can add your address, hours, phone number, and more.
  • Links. As with organic SEO, the more links from authoritative websites that direct to your business’s website, the better.
  • On-page signals. Similar to your GMB listing, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your name, address, phone number, and relevant keywords.
  • Citations. Citations are non-link references to your business’s name, address, and/or phone number. As with links, the more authoritative websites that cite your business, the better for your ranking.
  • Reviews. More, better, and frequent reviews are all important signals.
  • Behavioral data. Are people clicking on your website? Are they spending time there? Are they checking in?
  • Social signals. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram activity can also boost your search visibility on Google, in addition to social platforms themselves.

As you can probably see, there’s very little SEO black magic going on here. It’s critical to make sure your business’s basic info — your name, address, and phone number (NAP) — is online and consistent, and you should be trying to get good reviews and links from authoritative sources like popular blogs, directories, or publications regardless of your SEO position.

How to Boost Your Local SEO

Now that we’ve looked at what factors Google considers when putting together the local 3-pack, what steps do you need to take to make sure your business is ranking as highly as possible? We’ve put together a couple of tips:

  1. Claim your profiles. If you don’t do anything else, make sure you claim your profiles and keep the info up-to-date. There are tons of businesses out there with incomplete and inaccurate profiles on Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other sites, and Google’s local search algorithm definitely privileges results that are filled out and consistent. Make sure, at a bare minimum, that your name, address, and phone number are all up-to-date on your GMB listing and also on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  2. Optimize your website. The next step should be building a website for your business that’s friendly to users and Google’s web crawlers. There are a number of SEO tools that can help you with this, but in general you should consider adding separate pages for your contact info (including a map!) and customer testimonials. That said, make sure you’re not spamming keywords or engaging in any other blackhat SEO practices.
  3. Produce local content. Beyond the basics above, there are a number of things you can do to keep your business’s name near the top of the search results. One of the best ways is by producing content that’s relevant for your locale, and an active, high-quality local blog could be one great way to get authoritative links back to your business’s page.
  4. Improve your reviews. Nearly everyone who searches for a local business or service takes reviews into account. The best way to improve your reviews, of course, is to provide an outstanding product or service. Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure you’re encouraging customers to take a moment and review your product on the sites that are relevant to your business. (Note: Different review services have different guidelines, so before you start encouraging reviews, make sure you’re not running afoul of those rules.)