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The importance of local SEO leading up to Christmas.

Andy Boyle, SEO Executive

The author

Andy Boyle

SEO Executive

The ever-increasing personalisation of Google search results over the last few years means that the location from which you search matters now more than ever.

With Christmas fast approaching, a vital challenge for retailers is to ensure that they are visible in local search results to attract visitors to their physical stores.

For many, Christmas shopping can mean a last-minute rush down to the local shopping centre to buy gifts for family and friends. Thousands of search queries over the festive period will have a local intent based around visiting stores to buy presents.

Google now suggests that 76% of people who conduct a local search on their phone visit a related business within that day. Therefore, there’s a huge opportunity for retailers during this Christmas period to make sure they stand out above their competitors in local search results to attract these shoppers.

So, what is local SEO?

Local search results are usually personalised by including a Google map-pack. This interactive map normally appears at the top of search engine results pages, showing three Google My Business listings of relevant stores or branches to your search query.

Google’s algorithm decides which three listings are the most appropriate to include in their results. Local SEO is often about trying to give your My Business listing the best chance possible in appearing in one of the top-three positions in the map-pack.

Here's an example of a Google map-pack which appears for my Leeds-based search for "homeware Leeds":

Local map pack

For businesses with physical stores in sectors such as fashion and home retail, appearing in one of these top three map listings can really help to drive sales in the Christmas period.

How can you improve your local SEO?

1) Ensure your Google My Business listings are verified and accurate: The first thing to make sure is that your listing is published on Google Maps. Your listing needs to be accepted and verified before it will appear in Map search results.

Details such as business phone numbers and opening times are also crucial, as potential footfall relies on this information to make a visit or enquiry. Google’s recent update to My Business has made it easier to specify special opening hours in your map listing.

For businesses who have extended opening times during the Christmas shopping period, these fields need to be filled out to let shoppers know that you are open.

2) Manage and create business citations: Search engines use external references, or citations, as a key component in their local ranking algorithms. These citations are mentions of your business name and address on other parts of the web. A greater number of accurate and authoritative citations has a proven correlation with higher local ranking positions. National directories can be a good place to start getting mentions of your business online.

3) Promote reviews: Aggregated star ratings can appear next to your local business listing and are a great way of making your business stand-out compared to competitors. Google Map reviews are pulled through Google+. Asking your customers or clients to leave a positive review can make a big difference in terms of click-through rates to your map listing or website.

Most retailers in the coming month will be hoping that their stores will be as busy as possible over the festive period. Shoppers on the other hand, will be looking to escape the rush and stress of busy Christmas shopping.

To that end, Google’s new update to Maps now shows a live view of how popular a location is during peak hours. This real-time look into the store will indicate exactly how crowded a place is at that time, helping shoppers to decide whether to do their shopping immediately or wait.

Improving your map listings is a great way to make positive steps towards bringing more customers into your stores from search; and importantly, you should start to see the results quite quickly too.