The Value of Local SEO to Small Businesses

SMS Text

SEO can be challenging for small businesses. They must compete for the same market share against larger brands that often have more prestige, brand recognition, and consumer affinity.

That doesn’t mean that organic search is out of reach for small businesses as a powerful inbound marketing channel with high potential for return. In order to compete with large brands, small business owners must have an SEO strategy that offsets the often large difference in marketing budget. Because small businesses will not be able to outspend their larger counterparts on media acquisition, they must take a much more targeted and refined approach.

When it comes to short-tail SEO—general phrases with a high amount of search volume—the search engine results pages are dominated by big brands. There is little that a small business marketer with limited budget can do to change these results.

Despite various limitations, small businesses can gain meaningful search engine result real estate with a focus on areas of lowered competition. When geography is taken into account, there is often a much smaller big-brand presence in search results. That opens a window of opportunity for small businesses to gain useful organic search visibility.

Focusing on consumers looking for products and services in specific locales is a great way to limit the competition and give small businesses the ability to gain valuable real estate on search engine results pages. If the business also has an offline presence in a specific locale, there is even more opportunity in targeting these consumers. Consumers trust of a business they can visit in person, which will lead to higher conversion rates.

Geo-Modified Keyword Targeting

Part of the opportunity of location-based SEO for small businesses is to utilize geo-modified search queries. Better yet, in order to benefit from this method, the business does not necessarily have to be location-based. Geo-targeted search phrases are typically very low in competition and are often searched at the purchase stage of the buying cycle, which means they carry high-conversion rates.

Let’s use “home security” as an example. There are 22,200 Google searches for “home security” each month in the U.S.m according to Adwords. However, a small business typically would not have enough budget allocated to SEO to rank on page 1 for that query. When the geo-modifier “miami” is added to the query the monthly search volume drops to 210. This is still a decent amount of search volume and can certainly lead to home security sales.


The interesting part of this example comes when we look at competition. Examining the number of online pages that have each of these phrases in both the title tag of the page and the anchor text of an inbound link (this metric is known as In Anchor and Title) offers a picture of the relative competition for each phrase. This data can be pulled from MajesticSEO’s Keyword Checker tool.


The In Anchor and Title data show that the business will only be competing with approximately 51 other pages for the phrase “home security miami” as opposed to 248,328 competing pages for the more generic “home security.”

A business likely will not  be able to rest on the 210 monthly searches for “home security miami.” This strategy, however, can be implemented at scale. Building geo-targeted content on the site for multiple geographic areas that the business can service provides the opportunity for several page 1 rankings within a specific budget.

Marketers should start by optimizing for the geographic areas that have the highest demand for the specific product or service that is being sold and working down from there. This can be identified by looking at the location report in Google Analytics to see where the majority of existing customers are coming from. You can also use keyword suggestion tools, such as Google’s Keyword Tool or Wordtracker, to see the search demand of various geo-modified phrases.

Local Search

If the small business has physical locations that consumers can visit, local search is an absolute must. Local search campaigns are ideal for capturing consumers searching on mobile devices because they can get directions and call the business with a simple click. There is no excuse for any local business to not have an optimized presence in local search engines, particularly within the major ones (Google +, Yahoo Local, Bing Local).

By creating and optimizing listings in local search engines, small business can get a great deal of search engine presence with a limited budget while increasing their rankings within aspecific region.

Marc Purtell

Marc Purtell

VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online
Marc Purtell is VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online, a full service digital marketing agency that employs hundreds of marketing experts worldwide. He... Read Full Bio
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Marc, Great article for the small business owner. You’re right. There’s no use attempting to compete with large companies on short tale keywords. I learned some tips here that I will use to narrow down my competition via Geo-Search. Thanks again for the great information.

  • Many small businesses need to have this process explained to them as well. I spoke with a prospective client last week about a local search campaign and he was not aware that Google personalized results. So, he was searching for his friend’s business in the same category with a very generic keyword and the friend’s site was coming up first page. However, when personalized search is turned off the friend’s site is not even in the top 1000 results. So, a call that I thought was going to be a pitch turned into a learning lesson for the small business owner. I am curious to see how our follow-up call goes.

    Geo-targeted SEO is the bread and butter of search for small businesses. Often times they do not need many leads to come from search to cover their investment, so a few first page rankings for their city in their category will go a really long way!

  • I specifically use one laptop for all my search queries. I use one that is immune to personalized search results, and has no Google account or any other account (Bing / Yahoo / etc) that could affect the results shown to me. This helps tremendously when you want the true results of a query. You can use the results to see/show the differences between personalized and non personalized results.

    Geo targeting is a great way to dominate Google for a particular market. I have actually taken over half (seven) of the top 10 results for multiple keyword phrases, just by using an exact match (geo targeted) domain and some typical on page SEO.

    Bread and butter for local search? It’s more like Cheese and Wine! (really good cheese and wine!)

    Save your money on PPC campaigns, and use a GEO TARGETED SEO strategy. You’ll see the best results, and save a good amount of money in the process.

    Remember, Facebook uses Bing, and Yahoo’s right beside them… so optimize for those two search engines first, and always do Google last. Google will pull it’s information from many varied sources. Make sure you GEO TARGET so you hit that BULLSEYE!!!

  • Great tips Marc. Small businesses should invest time and budget for local marketing. Since it can be a challenge trying to compete with big business globally, one should try to capture the local scene first. Geo targeting is a good way to get ahead.

  • Certainly, small businesses can make it on top result of search engines through local SEO. Small businesses can take advantage of higher conversion rate because people who likely search for local businesses are in their purchasing state. So, being in the top search result would not only bring so much traffic to a website, it will also give in high return. This is one thing small businesses should look at and take advantage of before its too late. Since competition is higher with small businesses in the essence of locality, having online visibility will actually advance a business in the industry.

  • Excellent presentation, Marc! Small businesses should really start investing for local SEO especially if it’s a relatively new built-up site and don’t have that much content to gain recognition yet. Initial thoughts would be around establishing your NAP like in citation – while it may not seem much, staking claim of your business is a good place to start. In addition, as you’ve mentioned that people are using their devices for queries, if you can find a way to utilize your social media to connect with the “locals” around your area, that would be to the best of your advantage.

  • These are really good, solid tips! Using geo-modifiers is one of the most basic yet effective strategies for small businesses to take advantage of. I had never really considered before that location-targeted searches are often those that correlate with the buying stage (versus the research stage) of search, but it completely makes sense and further adds to the value of this sort of targeting.

  • Citations are huge when it comes to local seo – one creative way is through yelp add the services to the title to rank for the keywords + city. One thing I have noticed is using Google+ and a service such as SEOLocal Results to help push google+/maps/places (whatever you want to call it) closer to the top for certain keywords.