SEO tends to attract a lot of myths and misconceptions, and I think it’s due to the nature of the strategy. Google (and other search engines) don’t explicitly publish their search criteria or algorithm functionality, leading to ambiguity and questionable evidence when trying to pinpoint exactly what causes something to rank. Anecdotal evidence almost always reigns supreme, and unfortunately, some bits of anecdotal evidence are untrue, or are just random flukes, and end up getting blown out of proportion and syndicated to a wide audience.
Local SEO is no exception to this trend associated with its national cousin. But before you make any immediate judgments or think you know local SEO inside and out, check out these all-too-common misconceptions about the strategy:
This is somewhat true to the user, but even then it’s a bit of a stretch. Local SEO actually functions with a separate algorithm from Google’s national SEO foundation. It uses a separate series of ranking criteria, and formulates different sets of results based on the circumstances. When a user includes a geographic indicator (like a city or region), or if location data is automatically shared, a local “3-pack” appears at the top of the search results. These three top positions are coveted, as they get tons of visibility and traffic, but you can’t necessarily achieve them with a traditional national SEO campaign and a couple of extra keywords.
This is a misconception that spread thanks to the terminology of “local SEO.” The thinking is: local SEO must be for local businesses, so if I’m not a locally exclusive business, local SEO isn’t for me. This isn’t the case. Local SEO can (and should) be used by any business with a location in a specific city or state, even if it operates nationally, and even if it doesn’t have a physical location (operating only digitally). Local SEO doesn’t take much effort, yet has a much lower pool of competition than national SEO. With a few hours of extra work a week, you could easily pick up a new wing of search visibility—so what does it matter if your business isn’t a mom and pop shop?
After reading the first myth about national and local SEO being separate, you might fall for this misconception: that link building is only important for national optimization, and isn’t necessary for local SEO. Though it might have been a load off your mind, this isn’t true. Domain authority does play into local SEO ranks, and that means the quality, context, and quantity of links you have pointing back to your domain does come into play when Google calculates your local position.
Local citations are extremely important for local SEO—these are mentions or profiles of your business on third-party directories and review sites (such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, or UrbanSpoon). Google crawls these massive sites to learn more about businesses on the web, and the wider and more consistently accurate your presence is, the more likely you are to rank. However, these citations aren’t the only factors that matter in getting your site to rank, so don’t neglect the other necessities of your strategy to pursue them.
Similarly, local reviews are important but aren’t the only thing that matter. Google scopes out the quantity, quality, and context of local reviews written by users about your brand, and aggregates them to form a conclusion about how authoritative your business is. Getting more positive reviews can help you, while getting bad or zero reviews can bring you down. Still, if you only focus on reviews you’ll miss out on content, link building, citation building, and other strategies that can help your business claim a spot in that all-important 3-pack.
Social media can help local SEO. However, social media can’t directly increase your local SEO rank. Think these are contradictory statements? They aren’t. Being active on social media helps you in a few ways—it gives third-party directory sites more information to pull when coming up with your profile, gives you a syndication outlet for your content (which can then earn you more links), and even generate more consumer reviews. There’s no direct benefit for posting on social media, but the indirect benefits are enormous.
National SEO is super competitive, but even there, it’s never too late to break into the game. Just because your business is new or because you’ve waited a long time to get involved in local SEO doesn’t mean you can’t start building a presence. Depending on how much time and resources you can commit, you could start seeing results as early as a few months after getting started—and you might even have a competitive advantage that makes this time period even shorter.
Most of these misconceptions won’t hurt you too bad, but some can compromise the potential success of your strategy before it even begins. Do your research before making any flash judgments, and stay up-to-date on the latest information, as local SEO today isn’t anything like it was just a few years ago. If all else fails, you can use your own data as your guide—if you make a change and it increases your visibility, keep it. If it doesn’t, throw it out. What really matters is results, but don’t be surprised if you have a hard time getting them if you continue to buy into these myths.