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Understanding local SEO

Author Benjamin Denis
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Understanding local SEO

Local SEO refers to ranking in search engines when search terms indicate that the searcher wanted local, rather than national, results. Search engines can recognize the local intent of searches when the queries contain placenames (towns, cities, counties, states etc.).

A good example of a local search term would be “Indian restaurant in Seattle”.

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Results for local searches often contain map-based results, as well as organic and paid results.

Search engines such as Google will also interpret certain searches as having local intent, even if they do not specifically mention a place name. Searching just “Indian restaurant” on a phone geolocalized in Seattle will also give local results very similar to the results for the “Indian restaurant in Seattle” search. Many keywords (butcher, baker, Indian restaurant, …) automatically trigger local search results.

Local SEO is seen as a niche in SEO and has dedicated experts such as David Mihm, Joy Hawkins, Mike Blumenthal and Andrew Shotland. However, Google once declared that 46% of searches in Google have local intent. It is therefore a very important niche! For many local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, bakers, cinemas and hairdressers, it is almost certainly the only type of search results they are interested in.

It is therefore important to understand the distinction between SEO and Local SEO.

3 types of organic visibility exist for local searches in Google and are specific to Local SEO:

  • Local Knowledge panel
  • Local 3-pack
  • Localized search results

Let us have a look at these in detail.

Local knowledge panel

For most local searches, Google shows results from google Maps in results. When Google can only find one result for a search in Google Maps – typically a search for a company name – it will display information about the local business in a knowledge panel. The panel will be shown on the right of desktop searches and at the top of mobile searches.

Search result from
Search result from

If you have any type of local business, it is important that you see a knowledge panel for your business when you search your company name.

The local knowledge panel will always show the name of the company, the postal address, phone number, user-generated ratings, a photo and a map situating the postal address. Depending on the type of business, other information such as opening times, delivery options, etc.

Google Maps gets information about local businesses from its Google My Business service. Google My Business collects information from various sources, including schema on websites and phone books, to produce a comprehensive, Worldwide business address directory. Individual business owners can create an account with Google My Business to edit and improve their own listings. Use the “Own this business?” on the knowledge panel to access your account.

Local 3-Pack

When a search can have more than one result, Google will show a map with placeholders for postal addresses of businesses and list the first three results of a Google Maps search.

Search result from
Search result from

Depending on the type of business, Google will display different types of information and features. For a restaurant search, Google shows the star-rating, address, opening times and a photo. It does not provide a link to the website or telephone number. You must click on the link to Google Maps to find this information.

For other keywords and business categories, such as “web design” you will see a direct link to the website and a link to the Directions feature of Google Maps.

Search result from
Search result from

Note that in this screenshot there is a paid ad (for efelle creative) and three organic results (including efelle creative again).

When clicking on the “View all” link you will be taken to a Google Maps page showing the full list of results. In terms of visibility, it is obviously more interesting to be in the top 3 results for the Google Maps search than to rank 4th and beyond.

Google Maps

Either searching directly in Google Maps or clicking from the Google SERP to Google Maps, you will see complete results for a search. Google Maps ranks 100 restaurants for the search “Indian Restaurants in Seattle”.

Restaurants do not need a website or a Google My Business account to be listed here. Google tries to provide a comprehensive list of addresses by combining data from various sources.

Search result from Google Maps
Search result from Google Maps

Ranking is performed by a specific Google Maps algorithm that takes into account information from Google My Business and many other websites, including the company’s own website if it has one.

Searches on mobile will also use the distance from the searcher to the possible addresses to rank them, preferring to show the nearest addresses first. Without knowing the exact location of a searcher, Google may favor addresses downtown (i.e. in the city center).

Localized Search results

When Google shows results from Google Maps in search results, it also shows classic organic results with links to webpages. These results can be influenced by the localization of the searcher. In the case of a search for “Indian restaurant” typed by a user in Seattle, Google will show 10 organic results localized in Seattle.

Search results for “Indian restaurant” in for a user in Seattle
Search results for “Indian restaurant” in for a user in Seattle

These results may contain a lot of pages from other online business directories, but also the websites of individual restaurants.

But for other keywords, such as “web design”, Google will show Google Maps first but then organic results that are mainly national results (i.e. the same thing you would see if you searched “web design” in New York.). Look carefully however, as one or two results may be localized in Seattle.

Search results from a search for “web design” in for a user in Seattle
Search results from a search for “web design” in for a user in Seattle

It appears that Google has two algorithms at work for this same search term. A local algorithm and a national algorithm. The local algorithm ranks web pages too, but it also includes signals from Google Maps and takes into account business addresses and information provided on the web pages. Using structured data such as LocalBusiness schema can help rank for these searches.

Paid ads – Local Search Engine Advertising

As seen above, advertising can appear in the local 3-pack results in search results (adding a fourth result to the pack). Classic Google Ads can also appear above the map too. Google Ads gives the possibility to target audiences geographically and may be an interesting option to explore for local search marketing.

For some business types, Google also offers the Local Service Ads service. This is again paid advertising but rather than paying for clicks to a web site, you pay for leads.

Screen shot from Google’s Local Service Ads website.
Screen shot from Google’s Local Service Ads website.

Other search tools

You may also want to look beyond Google. Other services, such as traditional Yellow Pages, provide business listings and many are popular search tools too.

In Europe, in respect of anti-monopoly laws, Google show links to the other popular services. For this search in the UK for example, Google offers links to search results on,,,

Results from a search for “Indian restaurant” in for a user in Brighton, England.
Results from a search for “Indian restaurant” in for a user in Brighton, England.

To get the best local SEO you will want to rank first in Google on the Google Map results and the localized search results. Getting the most business, however, may also involve ranking on other sites such as Tripadvisor, Booking, Yell, etc.

Ranking in these sites and getting reviews from them may in turn influence your ranking in Google Maps.

By Benjamin Denis

CEO of SEOPress. 12 years of experience with WordPress. Founder of WP Admin UI & WP Cloudy plugins. Co-organizer of WP BootCamp.

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