Does Your SEO Know the Difference Between Local and National Search?

SEO is a marketing activity like no other: mere decades old; conducted in relation to an ever-evolving, secretive computer algorithm, made by a company tipped to take over the world; and lacking the roots in human psychology that makes traditional advertising more intelligible.

So, it’s no wonder SEOs are constantly complaining about being seen as tech-y mystics – but that’s not always a bad thing.

A slight fuzziness in client-agency relations can enable the trust in expertise required for professionals to do their jobs; can prevent clients meddling and bosses micro-managing.

But there are some things you need to know your SEO knows – pardon the tongue twister! – and one of the most important is the distinction between local and national search.

So, what’s the difference?

Location-based search

Local and national (or global) search refer to how Google interprets a user’s intent and how that’s reflected in the SERPs. The search “car repairs”, for example, has probably been made by someone seeking car repair services, and not someone looking to brush up on the subject in general – that’s the intent part.

This intent is then reflected in the returned results in that only repair services within the searcher’s location will be shown. Pretty sensible.

However, things become trickier when we consider that national and local SERPs are ordered by different algorithms. Or to put it another way – one should not optimise for local in the same way one does for national.

And this is the big stumbling block. You’d be surprised by how many times we’ve taken on clients to find their previous agency’s SEO strategy to be totally mismatched.

Why all the confusion?

Considering SEO options

For one, there’s a good deal of overlap between local and national rankings factors. Links are still paramount. On-page copy and meta data still play a part. Site speed and UX are still highly relevant. However, even in these cases, the devil’s in the details – take links, for example.

When trying to rank in local search, a high-authority link isn’t going to hurt, obviously. But link proximity (geographical) is just as desirable. Further, “local links” have their own hierarchy of SEO benefit. Links from local directories are easy to get and not that potent. A link from a local community website might take a bit more admin and creativity but will provide a much bigger boon.

You can see here how a link-building strategy – something integral to any local or national SEO project – needs to be tailored to suit the SERPs being targeted.

The same holds true, to varying degrees, across all of the major search factors, leading to the widespread muddling of local and national optimisation tactics.

How to tackle this issue

It’s actually quite simple. Working out whether you should be targeting national or local search is a matter of service radius. If you’re confined to a single city, town, or county, you’re local. If what your goods or services can be accessed by anyone in the county, then your national.

The next thing you should do is disentangle your national search optimisation form your local. This means becoming familiar with the best info on each. Moz have a great blog on this topic. And you can find more information about national ranking factors all over the internet.

Lastly, build a strategy around the type of search that brings you the majority of customers. That’s one more SEO riddle solved.

Riddle, solved