How often do you search for something online? Every day? 10 times a day, or more? How often do you include a location with your search query? More often than not we include locations, in our search, to narrow down the results we get and to better find a business that is conveniently located to us.
Geo-targeting is how businesses are able to get their website to appear in those searches. The “official” definition of geo-targeting is the practice of delivering content to a user based on his or her geographic location. In other words, geo-targeting is how SEO’s are able to target local customers through organic search.
It is essential for local businesses to geo-target because search engines, especially Google, factor in location data when displaying search results. A local business is often chosen over larger well-known brands, so it makes sense for local business to target the areas they serve.
How Does Geo-Targeting Work?
With print, geo-targeting is an easy process. If you pay for an ad in a newspaper, or a phonebook, you know that your ad is going to be distributed throughout a specific area. Digital marketing has made the process a bit more complex. Digital media can now be seen across the world at the click of a button, which leads to the question: how do search engines decide to show what to whom and how can you ensure that my media is getting to my intended audience?
Every computer, smartphone, or tablet has a unique IP address that helps search engines identify their locations. Once a search engine identifies your IP address, it can begin to determine the best search results, based on your keywords and geographic location (geo). Search Engines will also log a history of your searches and where you search from, to help determine the best results possible.
So how do you ensure that an ad or business correctly shows up in the search engine results page (SERP), to the intended audience? Choosing the right cities/towns to target is the first step. Next comes creating meta data and content that incorporate the areas you are targeting, without it appearing forced, or spammy. Also, include a complete and accurate business listing when configuring your website. Without a proper address and phone number, it will be difficult for search engines to determine the geographic location of your business and your area of service. You want to make the search engine’s job as easy as possible because you will likely be competing with other businesses for top spots on the SERPs.
Studies show that the vast majority of click through conversions are made on the first page of the SERP. In short, the higher ranked you are, the more clicks and visits you are likely to get. With proper geo-targeting you can feel confident knowing you will reach your intended audience and be competitive on the top search engines.
Should I Target More Than One Area?
Geo-targeting is a great way to deliver tailored content based on a specific location. When it comes to selecting target locations, you have the power to define an area you wish to reach. Knowing who your audience is will help you find customers who may be interested in your products or services. When choosing geo-targets, keep in mind that most users search by city. You should be focused on the area you are physically located in, as well as the areas you serve. Some SEO campaigns should only target people who live in a specific area, while other campaigns are aimed at getting as broad of an audience as possible (like national campaigns).
Geography plays an important part in creating customized and targeted marketing campaigns. The number of target locations you come up with will depend on the nature of your campaign. Do you have multiple locations? Do you cover a large service area that includes several cities and/or townships outside of your physical address? If your business has multiple locations, it’s important to target the cities where you have a physical presence. Alternatively, if you are willing to travel outside of your city, targeting areas with new lead potential may be an important component of your SEO campaign.
When you’re dealing with campaigns that extend their products or services across more than one area, do your best to select the most important geos and start there. Choosing between several cities within proximity to the business location can be difficult. Having a dedicated SEO for your website can be extremely helpful. They can conduct the research required to determine which locations are most likely to offer the best return.
Why Geo Target for a City Rather Than a County?
As SEO’s, we are often asked by clients to cover areas outside of the city where the business is located. As discussed above, perhaps the business has multiple locations, or the client wants to target as many areas as possible to maximize lead potential. In either case, the problem for the SEO now becomes how to cover these different areas effectively.
A common misconception is focusing on an entire county rather than trying to target different cities. Why? Targeting an entire county sounds like it will allow you to cover a larger area. This might seem like an elegant solution at first, but there are a number of reasons why this strategy will not be the most effective option.
Think about the last time you described where you lived. Did you name the city you live in, or did you think of the county? Most people identify as coming from a particular city. Even people living in the suburbs often will describe their home as being in, or near, to the closest major city, rather than naming the suburb or the county. The people at Google know this, and they built their search engine algorithms around that idea. Search Engine Optimization is about providing people with the results they want. When people search by city, it points them to sites that have been optimized for that city, rather than sites optimized for a county. When people search for something near them, or “near me”, Google is automatically considering the city associated with their IP address as the search location.
Is this going to be true all the time? No. With SEO, the ground is constantly shifting and there are always exceptions. It all comes down to how the majority of people are searching. Most people live in or near cities, and most people refer to that city, but some areas are notable exceptions. Orange County, for example, is a location that might have more traffic based on county name than city name. Larger areas are possible as well, such as the San Francisco Bay Area. Even if you fall under one of these exceptions, you may still get better results by focusing on specific cities over the larger area. If you search for a hardware store in the Bay Area and find something three counties away, you’re going to keep looking because you want something convenient and close by. Some businesses might benefit from casting a wide net, but many will need to focus on an area that people will be willing to travel to.
Ultimately you will get better results and a higher lead potential when you focus your keywords on the specific city, or cities, that are located near your business. Using a county or larger area is diluting the search results and sharing your traffic with people too far away to take advantage of your services.
Is There Ever a Time When I Shouldn’t Geo-Target?
The benefits of geo-targeting an SEO campaign are obvious, and is a necessary step for local SEO campaigns to be successful. If you are planning on building an SEO campaign without geo-targeting, you will face different challenges and obstacles to rank on the front page for organic results. Simply put, if you do not geo-target your keywords, you will be optimizing your site for national rankings.
Perusing national rankings is a strategy that works for campaigns that meet some very specific requirements:
- E-commerce sites with no brick and mortar location
- Serve a product or service that is very unique and can be used by a national audience
- Pursuing a very specific market, in this case you would use long tail keywords
- Do not have any competition from large national brands (i.e. Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, Nike, etc.)
- If you have run a successful local SEO campaign that has included multiple large cities, have garnered a large amount of brand recognition, and are ready to pursue a national audience.
If your business does not meet this criteria, it is imperative that you implement geo-targeting in your campaign. From the way search engines treat search queries, to the business information on your site, you will find that many obstacles stand in your way for ranking organically on a national level. Major search engines gather as much information as possible from the searcher in order to provide them with the highest quality results. The searcher’s location is one of the most impactful pieces of data to the SEO campaign. If you are not optimizing for your location, you could be losing out on local organic traffic.
Ultimately, SEO is a necessary stepping stone to growing your business. Geo-targeting is a key strategy in this process and is very important in creating a successful SEO campaign.