It’s always been a challenge for small, local businesses to stand out. There’s competition everywhere, and the big guns won’t hesitate to steal the spotlight. Even if you actually do better than established brands, your lack of funds and resources to promote your name pushes your business even further behind. Add to that the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), creating an ever-expanding universe online.

You can’t help but feel like a tiny speck of dust.

But Google has changed that in the form of a local search algorithm, which ranks webpages in order of relevance, prominence, and proximity. Proximity being the key factor that separates local SEO from the search giant’s core organic algorithm. For a small business, it’s the key to getting found online.

Allow us to explain how proximity affects your ranking and what you can do to make it work for your business.

Local SEO in a Nutshell

Imagine driving aimlessly around town in search of the best pizza near you. You do a quick Google search via voice or when you pull over. Usual queries would look like this: “pizza place near me,” or something more specific, like “neapolitan pizza downtown denver.” Google runs the results, you thumb through the first three businesses that rank for that particular query. You contemplate your choices: “Should I pick the one with the 4 stars? The one nearest me? Or the one that offers the best value for my money?” You make up your mind then turn on the ignition.

This is a real-world scenario. There is urgency, need, and desire. There’s mobility, too, as well as preference and habit. And this is what Google tries to achieve with its local search algorithm – to model the real world and respond to the immediate needs of real people.

Google’s local algorithm is meant to help the little guys rank well in the local pack. It eases the burden of having to weave through the clutter and compete for organic rankings. What this essentially means for single and multi-location businesses is that they’ll have more chances to stand out if they focus their efforts on local SEO.

There are three major aspects of local search:

• Relevance: Do you offer or sell what the customer is searching for?

• Prominence: Does your business stand out from other businesses in your market and location?

• Proximity: Is your business close enough to the searcher’s exact location?

Your local search ranking will be measured against traditional SEO factors, with an emphasis on these three aspects. And as local search behaviors change, so will Google’s local search algorithm.

In the SEO community, there’s been an ongoing debate about which among the three ranking factors are more important. Perhaps, these three things are always shifting in value, and only Google will know the logic behind it.

Influence only shifts depending on the query. But in the context of our given scenario, where a “near me” is placed in the query, proximity is obviously the most influential factor behind the results. And these are shaped by Google’s trimodal local ranking algo, the Possum update, and other signals that will get a business in the search giant’s radar.

Understanding the Possum Update

The Possum update is part of the local search algo that influences your rankings the most. Rolled out by Google in 2016, this update ensures that local results vary more depending on the searcher’s location. In other words, the closer a user is to a business’s address, the more likely the business will appear among local results. So if you check your rankings from your target location, you’ll notice that your business is more visible.

One of the many benefits of the Possum update is that the SERPs are now showing a great variety of results for very similar queries, giving businesses located outside the physical city area a good boost for their ranking.

There’s a downside to it, though. The Possum update has made the local SERPs more volatile than ever, as waves upon waves of businesses are joining the pack. Again, Google is imitating the real world. So naturally, if there’s tense competition in your target location, local SERPs will reflect that. On a positive note, you’re getting more visibility than you will with organic search and with fewer cost and less effort, too.

Proximity doesn’t really distinguish between cities; it’s about radius around searchers and the businesses in that area. So if you have one or several branches in one city, local SEO is for you. If you have multi-city locations, you’ll get a better chance, too, if you combine your local efforts with organic or paid search. Again, local SEO is ideally for the little guys. It’s Google’s way of telling multi-store enterprises and franchises to stop hogging the attention and give small, local players a chance.

Making Proximity Signals Work for Your Business

Given all these factors, you may be wondering:
“What should I do to influence ‘proximity’ and get more customers to my door?”
The answer is in the searcher’s intent. Rankings never just adjust depending on proximity alone. Google’s local search is “trimodal” in nature, ensuring that consumers are not being directed to the wrong places. If you perform a “near me” or geo-targeted search, you’ll notice that the results are not arranged based on the order of which is nearest you. What doesn’t change is the essence of the user’s query.

1. Create Unique Location Pages

For instance, if you own a plumbing company that services the whole state, you can still take advantage of Google’s proximity signals by creating different pages for your target locations on your website. Be careful not to overdo this, though. You wouldn’t want to crowd your website with templated, generic copy. Pick the locations that matter to you, ones with healthy competition and enough demand for your service. Then, dive deep into every market so you can tailor your content.

2. Claim Your Business Online

In local SEO, business listings are as equally important as website optimization. Claim your business in Google My Business, Yelp, Merchant Circle, Yellow Pages, Hot Frog, Angie’s List, or any other online business directory you think is more popular in your area. By doing so, you are validating the legitimacy of your website and that you are the owner. This will also give you full control of the critical business information that will appear online. Make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number/s) is consistent across digital channels and directories.

3. Adopt a Holistic Strategy

A geo-targeted campaign may not perform well if your other ranking signals are not strong enough. Your focus must still rest on giving value and the right information to your target audience, so they end up paying for your products or services. Supercharge your local web presence with hyper-localized content, social media, email, and paid search campaigns. Don’t box yourself in online tactics, too. Find a way to get local coverage, join trade shows, sponsor a local cause, and leverage influencers in your area.

A robust local web presence is vital for small businesses. Every day, consumers do local searches using their mobile devices at an overwhelming rate. Plainly put, local SEO is an invaluable tool you can use to attract them and lead them through your door.

Navigate and dominate this landscape by working with C-1 Partners. We are a Denver SEO company focused on your growth.

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