We've all been there: You're on a trip to an unfamiliar town and haven't the slightest clue where to eat. So, you open your smartphone and Google "pizza near me," and — voila! — a handy list of nearby pizza places pops up, with star ratings and reviews to help you choose the perfect destination.
Whether you're looking for pizza, a new hairstylist, or even a real estate agent, more and more people are turning to online, localized searches to find products and services.
And just like those pizza restaurants that appeared at the top of the local search results, we all hope our businesses do, too, when people seek out our services. This is called local search engine optimization (SEO), and it's something you should actively improve upon and maintain to help you stand out in a competitive local market..
Referrals remain a primary source of business in the housing industry, but online search is still a contributing factor. Consider this: 4 out of 5 consumers use search engines to find local information, and 21% of borrowers found their mortgage lender through an online search. Even if a client receives a referral, they'll still turn to the internet to conduct further research and determine your credibility, so having a local presence online remains essential.
Traditional SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to appear higher in online search results, with the aim of increasing website traffic.
Local SEO is the same at its core, with one key difference: the word local. In short, local SEO is the practice of getting your business to appear higher in local search results to increase visibility within a specific geographic area..
When you search for a business nearby, Google displays a map on the search engine results page (SERP) that shows relevant company listings. The top three results are displayed first. These are called the Google Local Pack, and they're a highly coveted spot for local businesses. To give you an idea, below is an example of how the Local Pack might appear when you Google "real estate agent New Orleans."
If your company doesn't show up in the SERPs, you're missing out on a lot of opportunities. Fortunately, with some effort, it is possible to rank higher on Google's local SERPs, and possibly even land a spot in the Local Pack.
Set up a Google My Business page.
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that lets you manage your business listing on Google search and maps, and it's an absolute must for local SEO. It gives you access to update your business address, phone number, website, office hours, photos, and more. You can also respond to reviews and get insight into how people are interacting with your business listing. Having a GMB page not only makes it easier for people to find your physical location, but it also ensures your business shows up on the map of local search results (but not necessarily in the Local Pack). If you don't already have an account, go to google.com/business/ to get started, or check out the Google My Business FAQ for more info on how it works. Once you set up your page, don't forget to verify it so no one else can claim your business.
Note: If you work for a brokerage or firm that already has a GMB, you should still be able to create one for yourself, using their address as a location, but linking to your own website, if you have one. Consult with your company as appropriate before setting up your own GMB page.
Optimize your online reviews.
Strong online reviews are vital for a number of reasons. For starters, they're essential for building trust and converting leads into customers: Consumers read an average of 10 reviews before deciding whether a business is trustworthy. But online reviews are also necessary to boost your local SEO ranking, as they account for 15% of how Google ranks your business. That means you need a steady stream of positive, current reviews coming in on a regular basis. The most effective way to get them? Just ask! Keep in mind, however, that responding to your reviews is equally as important; in fact, Google encourages it as a way to improve your local ranking.
Don't just limit your efforts to Google, though. Google counts reviews from other sites in its ranking algorithm, so be sure to establish a presence on sites like Yelp, Facebook, Zillow, Trulia, and other related platforms.
Create relevant content.
If you want to improve your local visibility, your website content needs to be locally driven, too. Start with the informational pages on your site that explain your products or services, and tie them in to how you serve your local market. In addition, create local, value-added content to post on your blog and social media, such as "10 Tips to Win a Bidding War in Sacramento" or "The 5 Hottest Neighborhoods in the Twin Cities." Remember to use relevant local keywords throughout your website and blog so that Google picks up on them when consumers run search queries using those keywords. If you're not sure which words to use, check out Google's Keyword Planner to choose the right ones for your target market.
Get quality backlinks.
Your content should include links to other websites, and you should aim to get other (reputable) sites to link back to yours. This is a major factor in Google's ranking algorithm. When another website links to you, it's basically vouching for you and signaling to Google that you're a trustworthy source that deserves to rank higher in its search results.
Some ideas for getting other sites to link to you include writing a guest post on a partner's blog, asking a local influencer to link to your content from their social pages, or requesting industry partners to list you in their partner directory. If you're not sure who to ask right now, focus on strengthening your ties within the community to create a stronger presence and nurture relationships. Not only will you build a broader network, but you can eventually use those connections to improve local SEO. For example, you could host an event with a charitable organization and link to their website in the event details. You could then ask them to promote the event on their website by providing a link back to your site.
While there are a variety of other factors to consider when it comes to improving your local SEO, this list is a great place to start. Maintaining a strong local presence requires an ongoing effort, so remember to check your SEO ranking regularly to ensure your business remains visible to customers who are searching within your local market.
 Google, Understanding Consumers' Local Search Behavior, May 2014.  Ellie Mae®, 2018 Borrower Insights Survey.  BrightLocal, Local Consumer Review Survey 2019.  Moz, 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey.