While search engine optimization (SEO) is now relatively mainstream among most marketers, optimizing for Universal Search is not. Universal Search results may include, but are not limited to images, videos, local (maps) and news, and the benefit can be extremely impactful when done properly.

Today we deconstruct Universal Search, reviewing its unique value proposition, breaking down its primary ranking factors and will show how local SEO services can make a difference.

ZOG Digital defines local SEO as optimizing to make moment-of-interest connections. Unlike window-shopping through numerous websites for the best deal, consumers search for local businesses when they are in need of a product or service at that very moment. In fact, research indicates that as many as 97% of consumers search for local businesses online.

To support user experience, the search engines have been progressively adapting their search results to meet user demand for local business information. Here we can see Google’s first local search result type, introduced in 2004:

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The value of local SEO

Today, local search results are more heavily integrated with local business website information and Google’s own data found through Google+ Local.

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When conducting this identical search through a mobile device, we can see the results are even more integrated with local information, allowing the user to easily contact the business or get driving directions. Mobile search is becoming an increasingly important factor in local SEO, with the number of local searches on mobile devices quadrupling in 2012.

Local SEO ranking factors

Like all types of organic search results, the search engines do not officially state the weight of their ranking criteria that affects local search results. However, they have provided a framework for what is most important to them, and we’ve been able to combine that framework with client data and third party studies to organize our own ranking factors.

1. On-page SEO

First, ensure business location and contact pages are accurate and thorough on your website. All landing pages should include contact information (name, address and phone number). It’s important that each location is represented with a dedicated, optimized landing page.

When it comes to optimizing your site, a responsive design is best. Instead of having separate designs for PC, mobile, etc., responsive web design ensures that your site adapts to all screen sizes — by way of flexible elements based on the width of the browser screen. The benefits include increased usability, linking and ranking.

Microformats also improve search ranking in that they create easily identifiable local content for search engines to index. These rich snippets increase visibility and provide more information for both users and engines. Rich snippets include basic company contact information, as well as details such as pricing and events.

2. Search engine listings

Google, Yahoo and Bing all have their own versions of local listings, with similar search engine result visibility. We recommend claiming your listing on each. The process of claiming can be done by individual location or through a bulk, multi-location upload through the search engines. Search engine listings should be complete — including address, business category and descriptions, along with linking and images.

A unique benefit of Google+ Local pages, is the integration of search and social data. Pages are indexed with priority through Google and allow users to “+1” or share content directly from Local pages.

This is an example of the enriched search results that come up when you have a Google+ Local page:

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3. Local directory citations

Local directory citations are a simple, effective way to improve your local search ranking. Citations are mentions of your business, across directories. The more places your citation appears on the web, the more credibility is given to your business by the search engines. Some of the bigger providers include YellowBook, Yelp and CitySearch, and each of them has strong mobile versions.

The citations that appear in directories are referred to as structured listings. Unstructured listings are also important to local search rank and include mentions in news articles, blog posts, and user generated content such as social mentions. For instance, a social mention would include users that check-in at your business on Foursquare or Facebook.

4. Reviews

According the Local Consumer Review Survey (2013), 79 percent of consumers believe online reviews are just as trustworthy as personal recommendations. Additionally, 65 percent of consumers are more likely to patron a business that has positive online reviews. Reviews have a strong influence on whether online traffic converts into online and offline sales.

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Reviews carry weight in influencing local search results whether they are positive or negative. It’s important to encourage your customers to leave online reviews of products or services, calling out where you’d prefer them to go (Google+ and Yelp are priority), but don’t send them a link directly to the review page. Google will recognize review solicitations through direct links and referring URLs. Simply inform customers about the sites you’d appreciate a review.

In Conclusion

Local SEO optimizes a brand’s digital presence for moment of interest connections. The primary ranking factors within local SEO include on-page (website optimization), search engine listings, local directory citations, and reviews. With nearly everyone searching with local intent, local SEO ensures businesses are discovered at the right time.

Quality content and social media optimization is only one facet of digital marketing and a comprehensive social media strategy. Coupling it with a comprehensive paid advertising campaign and effective SEO tactics with allow your brand to increase its slice of the online pie. Contact ZOG Digital today for an audit.

ZOG Digital is a search and social marketing company that specializes in local SEO services. Contact ZOG Digital to speak to our specialists about an audit of your digital strategy.