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Optimising your website based on your location is a key SEO goal for many businesses.

Specifically, registering for a Google Maps pin via Google Business is one of the most effective ways to show up for local SEO (for example, the PJWD website is primarily optimised for phrases like ‘Web Design Stockport’ or ‘SEO training Manchester‘).

That said, the pandemic has caused many businesses to embrace new opportunities to operate online, not limited to their geographic locations.

Since offering an online SEO training course, I’ve been able to help various businesses from all over the UK, rather than just my neighbours around Stockport and Manchester. Over the past two years we’ve all become so used to hopping onto a video call for everything from meetings and consulting to socialising and attending concerts. Meanwhile, local shops have increasingly started posting their wares around the country or even abroad.

It feels like we’re at a crossroads with local SEO where Google rewards businesses with a Maps pin, but where the physical location of businesses is becoming less and less important.

Furthermore, with so many businesses operating from home, there is an additional hurdle if you don’t want your address to be public in Search.

So what does this all mean for local SEO, and how can businesses optimise their online presence accordingly?

Using ‘Online’ as your location

An obvious potential solution is to simply replace the location with the word ‘online’: so a key phrase like ‘SEO training course Manchester’ becomes ‘Online SEO training course‘.

However, as ‘online’ is a much bigger area (theoretically) than your town or city, showing up for this phrase in search will be much, MUCH more competitive. Where previously you were vying for people’s attention alongside a handful of similar local businesses, now you’re up against the entire planet! So do your research and check if you can realistically stand out from the crowd for your chosen phrase.

It’s worth noting that even if you are focusing on ‘online’ customers, you shouldn’t ditch a location entirely. Even if the actual transaction/service takes place digitally, chances are many people will still be searching for you based on a location.

Analysing the Google Search Console data for PJWD, there are much more impressions (times your page shows up on search) and clicks throughs from people looking for ‘SEO training Manchester’ rather than ‘Online SEO training’.

(By the way, if you don’t know how to look at your Google Search Console data, I teach this as part of my SEO for Small Business video course.)

Focus on locations you can serve rather than where you are

While your specific location might not be important when it comes to serving people, it is important to consider where your potential customers might be. The areas you serve are likely to be a much wider area than your town (for example your county or country).

Think about what your potential customers will be searching for when looking for a business like yours.

For example, if I were looking to get my boiler serviced by a tradesperson, I would likely search for someone in my same town like ‘Boiler Repairs Stockport’.

If I were searching for a service where face-to-face time is not required, like a virtual assistant, I could cast my net further by searching for ‘Virtual assistant UK’.

It’s worth noting that in your Google Business profile settings it is possible to set an area you serve, whilst keeping your business address hidden.

Optimise your site based on your products or services instead

A more effective approach is to focus your SEO efforts on promoting what you have to offer rather than where you are.

One of PJWD’s clients, the Stockport-based craft ale shop Heaton Hops, sell to people from all over the UK who search for specific beers. Whilst regular customers will typically enter the site via the home page, much of the incoming search traffic lands on a product page instead.

The Heaton Hops website displayed on a mobile phone.
The Heaton Hops website gets lots of traffic from around the UK searching for a certain beer rather than the shop itself.

In this case, the location of the shop is effectively unimportant, as long as the customer can have the product they want shipped to them.

For service providers, make use of your niche phrases to help find your audience. PJWD collaborator Creative Wilderness optimises their site for ‘ethical branding agency‘. This cuts through the noise of the more general ‘branding agency’ phrase.

While there will be fewer people searching for a niche phrase, those that do are more likely to be interested in what you offer.

Customers want to shop local

These days there is a bigger appetite for buying from local businesses. This was initially borne out of necessity during the pandemic. Andrew Goodacre of the British Independent Retail Association has said: “In lockdown, people realised what was available to them locally and have been pleasantly surprised by what they found so want to keep shopping there.”

In addition to the convenience and willingness to support local businesses, people also find that there is an element of increased trust and commonality when they buy from businesses in the area. They can ask local friends for recommendations and hold out the hope that they won’t always need to meet with their web designer/coach/accountant via video call!

If you are concerned about using your home office address for your Google pin, consider investing in a virtual office address at a local business or co-working center.

Be local and online

Going forward, businesses will operate in a more equal mix of local and online. Even when running your local business ‘normally’, it will be beneficial to nurture the online custom coming from further afield too.

Here are some ways in which you can make sure your online presence supports this new business future.

If you’d like to learn more about SEO, check our my self-paced SEO training course and improve your website’s visibility in search!