Organic SEO is concerned with the search engine’s intention to build a picture of a website based on the apparent context of its content, links, social connections and so forth. It has no geographical interest and is not concerned with people calling or visiting your premises.
Local SEO concerns itself with the Search engine’s attempts to analyse and classify a business at a specific premises where locals visit and do business primarily. It can also be concerned with local businesses that do not have visitors but that is a lesser concern.
It is perfectly possible and very common to be involved in both since you may have a head office that is both a centre of national, or global distribution as well as having a retail section downstairs.
Organic SEO is what has been happening since the web took off in mid-nineties, but over recent years Google and others have set their sites on local markets where smaller firms had become to encroach by providing specialist local services. There have been court battles over Google’s actions in attempting to lock these small competitors out, but few businesses even local ones can now expect to thrive without substantial traffic to their premises via Google and other major search engines
The difference with Local Search
The rules have been changing rapidly and this is likely to continue. Google began by expecting a number of profiles including especially the Google My Business Page and also looking at a list of local candidates and the likes of Yelp, Yellow pages etc. Each country has a well-known list and most have one or more aggregators that distribute data among these directories. Some of this is now illegal in Europe though seems to have slowed little. The many directories are referred to as citations. They are simply places where google can find your NAP, ie. Name, Address etc and therefore confirm that you are who and what you claim to be.
Further to the citations, Google also looks for reviews and checks for terms in the reviews that hint at the accuracy of the keywords you are optimising. Being all optimised, including the dreaded aggregators, mistakes can be big and unexpected and sadly a single error can get your site penalised.
If you want to thrive in a local business, you ideally need to appear in the map pack, that’s a list of three top rated local businesses that match the search terms and appear at the top of the SERP.
The mistake every intelligent person makes, especially f they have been seeing the barrage of posts about AI just everywhere, is to assume that the search engine is intelligent. No such thing. If you search for Bookkeeper and next door there’s a fabulous accountant who dos books very well, Google wont cotton on, nor will it generally try. It looks for exactly what you searched for and the does some pretty dumb stuff to find your search term in broader strings. Until recently it had no concept of a relation between terms in a sentence, it simply looked for existence, number of counts, physical distance between instances and whether ay appeared in structural places like headings etc,
If you want to get found, you need to specify precisely the terms you will be found for and optimise for them. In fact, in the previous example you ideally might have a page for Bookkeeper and a page for accountant so as not to miss opportunities because two concepts on one page can also get its glasses steamed up.
My personal experience is that it is best to research your website for the most valuable two or three search terms, then include them in posts on your GMB page and optimise it for those terms.
You will also need to make sure you have a steady stream of reviews form customers and reply to them as much as you can.
As competition grows locally and it is going to become fierce, you will also need a good selection of quality local backlinks that demonstrates the esteem your local business is held in and ideally have your links shared around on social media.
What does the future hold for local?
For many I’m afraid it will be bleak. That map pack will dominate the locality and the three businesses that appear there the bulk of the time will grow in power while the remainder will fade. There’s no escaping that fact. People use their phones first and Local search knows where they are and who to recommend based on that locality. Having this domination already will make it very hard for others to catch you. This is already evidence as the field has changed dramatically over the past two years.
Unless the law changes on mobile data collection, the approaching thing is for google to rely more on data it acquires dubiously form the phone in your pocket, Gmail and browser extensions in chrome to stalk all your customers and aggregate that data to build profiles in extraordinary depth for each and every business and human being. If you don’t already have a big customer base by then and its nearly here, you won’t be able to beat the chicken and egg scenario.
The 10 point site audit and improvement run-book anyone can follow.
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