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SEO vs. Local SEO: What’s the Difference & Which Do You Need?

Local businesses who want to maximize their online visibility are often told to engage in local search engine optimization to show up in organic search results. But what does this mean for their regular SEO campaigns? Learn more about local SEO strategies and how they differ from national SEO strategies below!

Sep 9, 2022

6 m read

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a foundational part of any online marketing strategy — but are you using SEO effectively to target customers who may be literally right next door?

Local SEO is the key to gaining online visibility in the city or town you serve. Even though it effectively converts online searchers into customers, digital marketers often overlook it in discussions about search engines.

Let’s discuss what sets local SEO apart and how businesses can leverage local rankings to geo-target customers in their neighborhoods.

Quick Definitions: SEO & Local SEO

What Does SEO Mean?

Search engine optimization is the practice of tailoring your website and online marketing strategies to boost your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) and drive organic search traffic. The higher your rank on a SERP, the more potential customers you’ll have visiting your site when they search for a keyword related to your business.

By default, SEO is a global game as search engines serve relevant results to users worldwide. For this reason, you may hear the term national SEO or organic SEO to distinguish it from geo-targeted optimization campaigns.

What Does Local SEO Mean?

Local SEO is the process of optimizing a website to target search results for users in a specific geographic area. Algorithms often tailor search results depending on a user’s location and whether they add location-specific components to their search keywords, such as “dog parks near me” or “vegan restaurants in San Francisco.”

Local search engine optimization is essential for businesses that only operate in a particular service area. In the next section, I’ll share some of the features that successful campaigns use to reach nearby customers, including Google Business Profiles, local keywords, and more.

SEO vs. Local SEO: What’s the Difference?

“Regular” SEO aims to draw in users regardless of their location. Local SEO focuses on reaching users in a specific geographic area. Many SEO best practices work for both strategies, but focusing on a local audience introduces opportunities to specialize campaigns in a few different ways.

Let’s explore a few of the things that set local SEO apart from national strategies.

Google Business Profiles

Every company needs a Google Business Profile. Business Profiles are a free tool that helps customers immediately find important information about your business, including your phone number, address, website, and hours of operation. Customers can also leave reviews and post photos of your business. Often, this is the first thing a searcher will see for your business — not your website.

Business Profiles are especially critical for location-specific SEO campaigns. Having one indicates credibility because it’s an official source of information about your business. Plus, Google uses your profile information on Google Maps and when serving search results to users. Having a complete profile can help increase your rankings for local keywords.

There’s a lot more to Google Business Profiles than you’d think. Read our guide on how to optimize your  Google Business Profile.

Local Keywords

Local keywords are associated with a specific geographic area, usually a city or state. They’re used in a search engine campaign to target people searching for products or services in that particular location.

Examples include keyword phrases containing “near me” or “in [name of place].” Think “bistros near me” or “pest control in Miami.” These keyword phrases can be described as having local intent and are often used for creating localized content.

Thanks to its many resources, Google is able to provide localized results without the use of a local keyword. However, it’s still good practice to use them.

Check out our local SEO keyword research guide for information on how to discover these keywords for your business.

Citations & Reviews

Citations are mentions of your business on a website other than your own. These can be in the form of a directory listing, a review, or even a mention on a blog or forum. The most common sources of local citations include review sites like Yelp, features in an online newspaper, professional organization directories, and so on.

Citations and reviews are essential to a search engine strategy because they improve the visibility and credibility of a business in the eyes of a search algorithm. They showcase your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Plus, they have the potential to send clicks your way for customers who might not have found you otherwise.

Companies like Yext and Yext alternatives offer local citations services to help get your company listed quickly.

Local Packs

The Google Local Pack is a collection of nearby local business listings that appear at the top of a SERP when someone enters a query with local search intent. The results are typically displayed on a map above three selected business listings. (Note that Local Packs are sometimes called Map Packs for this reason or the 3-Pack since there are three highlighted listings.)

seo vs local seo local pack example

To optimize for the local pack, ensure your Google Business Profile listing is up to date and complete. Also, focus on scoring positive reviews and building citations on high-quality websites.

Local SEO vs. National SEO: Deciding Which to Focus On

Now that you know the basics, you may ask yourself: should I focus on “regular” national SEO or a location-specific campaign?

The answer typically comes down to where you conduct business. You need a physical location or designated service area to run a location-specific campaign. Let’s look at different types of businesses and which kind of SEO they may want to focus on.

Focus on a local SEO campaign if:

  • Customers come to your brick-and-mortar office or storefront. This applies to businesses with one or more physical locations where customers can visit, including shops, restaurants, studios, salons, gyms, auto dealers, law firms, accounting offices, health care providers, daycares, etc.
  • You go directly to customers within a designated service area. Service-area businesses (SABs) include plumbers, electricians, contractors, locksmiths, babysitters, pest control companies, food trucks, mobile dog groomers, etc. “Ghost kitchens” (restaurants that exclusively do delivery) are also considered SABs by Google.

Focus on a national SEO campaign if:

  • You only serve clients over the web. Companies in this category may include fully remote agencies, software companies, freelancers, etc. You might serve customers anywhere in the world or only in specific regions, but the common thread is that you don’t need to meet them at a physical place.
  • Your shop is exclusively online. This applies to ecommerce sites with no physical storefront locations, showrooms, or warehouses open for customers to visit.

However, a local and national SEO campaign aren’t mutually exclusive. You can run both simultaneously. For instance, we’re running a national SEO campaign, but as a fully distributed organization it makes sense to highlight the cities where we have a presence outside of our San Francisco headquarters. Those local landing pages help us rank higher for “SEO agency” in certain areas even when the searcher isn’t specifically looking for “SEO agency near me.”

Local SEO vs. SEO FAQs

Will My Regular SEO Strategy Impact My Local SEO Strategy?

“Regular” SEO and location-specific SEO aren’t necessarily separate categories. Their influence on one another will vary according to how you implement them.

That said, strong national strategies often positively impact local strategies because of how the two overlap.

For example, suppose your company’s national strategy includes optimizing for certain keywords relevant to your particular market. In that case, this may help you rank higher for those keywords in local search results. Additionally, if your company’s national strategy includes building links from high-authority websites, this can also help improve your local search engine rankings.

Will My Local SEO Strategy Impact My National SEO Strategy?

As with the previous answer, there isn’t a clear yes or no. In this case, your local strategy may have a minor effect on national rankings depending on how you focus on your optimization efforts.

Google ultimately aims to show searchers results they believe are the most relevant to a search. If your Google Business Profile shows your location is in New York City and every page on your website mentions New York City, your site may be less likely to appear to searchers in Los Angeles.

However, if you target keywords that are popular across the country, Google may decide to show your site to a broader area of users regardless of your service area.

Here’s an example: say your company is a Minneapolis auto shop specializing in installing snow tires, and you publish articles on your site answering your customers’ questions about driving in the snow. If your articles are informative and well-written, Google might show your site to searchers in Minneapolis and in Anchorage, Denver, Cleveland, and other snowy cities.

Is It Hard to Run Multiple SEO Strategies at Once?

Potentially — but it all depends on a company’s size and goals. Running both strategies effectively can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, but it’s definitely possible to do both. 

Working with an SEO agency makes the process easier. At Victorious, we provide local SEO services and national SEO services to help companies manage their online presence and target the geographic areas that matter most.

How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of a Local SEO Strategy?

You can use Google Analytics and Google Business Profile to measure your local SEO efforts.

Google Analytics allows users to filter visits according to approximate geographic location. Additionally, Google Business Profiles provide important metrics about views and clicks from nearby users. 

Popular KPIs to track include:

  • Clicks and views from visitors in your target city or state 
  • Leads generated by clicks-to-call and contact form submissions
  • Rankings for location-specific keywords
  • The number of backlinks and citations from trusted websites
  • Customer reviews on your Google Business Profile or sites like Yelp

Looking for a Local SEO Partner?

At Victorious, we support our partners in securing valuable local traffic so they can grow their customer bases and increase sales. Out data-driven approach leads to long-term results and genuine business growth. To learn more about how we can support you, schedule a free SEO consultation today.

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