Demystifying Local SEO and Google’s Proximity Signals

by | Jan 19, 2022 | SEO Consulting Tips

Rate this post

Standing out amidst a sea of competitors is just the first step in succeeding in local SEO.

With so much digital noise in the landscape, compounded by the changing needs of consumers in the pandemic era, how can SMBs and organizations overcome the ongoing challenges of being found online in search engines like Google?

First, Google has never stopped refining it’s bringing more relevant content and businesses to people. We can say that Google is hyper-focused on local searches now because people are usually looking for companies closest to them.

Changing How People Do Local SEO

Visualize someone driving around trying to find a local plumber for an emergency repair. Or maybe a mother who desperately needs unique ingredients to finish a complicated dish.

Whether these people are physically looking or are scanning from a smartphone, they all have one thing in common – they need a local business because it’s just more convenient to buy from somewhere that’s not a hundred miles away. This is the essence of local companies – they provide solutions fast. And people tend to gravitate toward local businesses the most because of the local component or ‘local flavor.’

So how does local search work? First, you must know the significant factors that affect local search if you want your business to stand out.

The relevance of a local listing is evaluated by how well it matches the search query. Distance ties the proximity between a local result and the user’s location.

“prominence” refers to how the virtual community knows a local business. The easiest way to gain prominence is by receiving online reviews.

On the other hand, managing those reviews is part of ongoing local SEO and social media management.

Additionally, prominence is determined by the amount of information a search engine has about a business. These resources include other organic search results, business directories, articles, links, etc.

Reviews will always be critical to the success of local SEO.

Local search rankings take your review count and aggregated score into account as the search engine measures the factors that determine your business’ position in local searches. As a result, increasing the number of positive reviews and high star ratings from past customers will almost certainly produce better results.

The Possum Update

While Google is known for rolling out plenty of algorithm updates over the years, there was one unconfirmed update in 2016 that many businesses considered a radical game-changer for local results. This algorithm update (though unconfirmed by Google up to this day) was called the Possum Update.

The global SEO community remains split as to the magnitude of its impact. Still, many observed that it affected the Google Maps results, specifically the Local Finder and the local three-pack.

Many SEO commentators believed that the Possum Update’s primary purpose was to diversity local results and to prevent spam listings from seeing the light of day. However, actively fighting spam is the foundation of an effective Google My Business strategy that businesses should undertake if they are serious about dominating local listings.

Other SEO practitioners and business owners also noticed a couple of things after the Possum Update and a purported second update that impacted local organic results.

  •       Businesses that happened to fall just outside the geographic boundaries of cities garnered higher results in local results. Before, companies not within these boundaries failed to get better rankings.
  •       Google removed duplicate local results based on affiliation. For example, if there was a chiropractic practice in a city, individual chiropractors that worked for that business usually ended up with different results on Google SERPs.
  • After the Possum Update, these duplicates were remedied, replaced by just one result, which reflected the business itself and not the people affiliated with it. Consequently, a lot of business listings were filtered out.
  •       Businesses owned by the same company or individual no longer trigger together in search results. This change is not a penalty but merely a filter to keep the SERPs robust.


How to Rank Better for Local SEO?

Digital marketers have known for a long time that if you don’t play by Google’s rules, you don’t get the prize. So creating a digital presence that is friendly to the search engine’s proximity signals is a priority. Here’s how you can start doing that.

  1. Create Powerful Location Pages

Location pages are just that – pages on your site focused on a target location. The effort, however, is much more complex than just putting generic copy to appeal to potential customers from that area. Ideally, a location page should have the following:

      Complete and updated business name, address, and phone number (NAP).

      Photos of your business (interior and exterior). Adding images regularly and geo-tagging them is a good idea – it gives Google more    juice to bring your location pages higher in SERPs because there’s plenty of relevant activity online. Don’t forget to edit the metadata on your photos.

–       Remove unnecessary information (like the camera type used to take the images) and replace them with proper geo-tagging, titles, and image descriptions. You have to help Google understand what your ideas are about.

      Create a unique description of the business for each of your location pages. Don’t swap out the city name and copy-paste generic copy.

  1. Create a GMB Account and Claim Your Business All Over the Internet

There is no good or real reason not to have a Google My Business profile. Google will show GMB profiles ahead of other platforms, so you need to claim your business there first and start managing all the online reviews and comments pointed at your company. After taking control of your GMB profile, move on to claiming your business on other directories like Yelp.

  1. Make Your Approach Local

While it is easy to write generic content, you must think of a strategy to serve local customers well. Don’t stop creating content that just gets clicks – think of how you can serve content that will be relevant and genuinely useful to customers from a specific state or city. 


Bruce Jones SEO - Structured data expert

SEO Optimization Can Benefit Your Business

Schedule a Free SEO Consultation with Bruce Jones.

Bruce Jones SEO Writing Expert