Local Search Optimisation – Why your eCommerce Business Needs it!

We all know that online sales are the main growth area nowadays, however the types of products a retailer may sell has a massive impact on the ability to sell those products online – not all products are highly suited to the digital revolution!

As an online marketer, I know that Psychology has a big part to play in all the purchase decisions made by people whether shopping in store or online. Learning the patterns and triggers of shoppers will allow you, as an online retailer to profit where others will lose potential revenue.

Local optimisation becomes even more important for certain trading verticals such as nursery and with big ticket items like hand-made musical instruments.

Limited edition guitars, pianos and even common items in the nursery sector like push chairs and cots are in the ’emotional engagement’ category, which is Psychologist speak for ‘I want to touch it and feel it before I buy, because I really, really want it!’.

Purchasers want the re-assurance that the product they are looking to buy will not only suit their day to day needs, but function the way they expect and will suit their own aspirations… and let’s face it, with some classical guitars demanding prices in excess of £25,000, it’s a big purchase – any sensible person would want to see and hear before they buy! This means local search optimisation is paramount to success in specialist retail, get this wrong and it will be your competitors who win whilst your accounts slide into the ‘red’.

Semantic Search and Google Local

Way back in 2013, Google kicked off a seismic shift for local search optimisation with the introduction of Hummingbird, an algorithm update which would push ‘semantic search’, followed by Pigeon a year later, designed to refine rankings for local search. The whole idea was to change the way that search worked in Google, so that the actual search results would be refined depending upon ‘search intent’, that is based on the searcher’s location, the device that searcher was using (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, tablet) and previous search history. This meant that every set of search results was therefore tailored, no two set would be exactly the same.

This kind of tailored search result set brought in a new set of possibilities for both retailers and online marketers alike.

For years, the whole premise of organic website optimisation for retail websites had been based around optimising for ‘long tail’ keyphrases, that is, more precise phrases which would convert easier, because they were further down the purchase decision funnel (an example would be ‘Daniel Friederich 1972 Spruce Top Guitar’).

It’s a universal truth that search engine users employ longer and longer search strings as the ‘purchase intent’ gets stronger, however with Semantic Search, purchase intent is no longer that easy to pin down.

Because Google takes account of the ‘search intent’, if a search engine user looks for ‘classical guitars’ and is looking on a mobile device with location tracking turned on, you can almost guarantee that results will be tailored to local results, map listings and review sites mentioning those local businesses. This is entirely logical, as it’s highly likely anyone searching for ‘classical guitars’ on a mobile phone may wish to actually visit a classical guitar shop!

This opens the possibility of many businesses, not just one, ranking No.1 in Google for ‘guitar shop’, depending upon the ‘search intent’ of the search user, that user’s search history, the device used for the query and physical location when doing the search.

How Your Business Can Benefit

Make sure that, as well as well optimised product and category pages, your eCommerce website homepage is optimised for some of the common ‘short tail’ keyphrases (e.g. ‘classical guitars’ ‘vintage guitars, ‘hand-made guitars’). Content on page, as ever, should be unique and meaningful as real people (and Google!) will be reading it, however the major gains can be made in local optimisation by looking at the profile your business has online.

Much has been made of the impact of social media usage on search (always denied as a ranking factor by Google, but we all know there are very large correlation signals), however the big gains can be made in local search for your business by making sure the relevant information is contained on local business listings.

Moz, a large online marketing company in the USA offer a great tool for scanning your business’ local profile, – this tool allows you to enter your business name and zip code (works with UK postcodes as well) – the tool then goes off and finds all references to your business and suggests improvements.

Although there is a charge to use the tool as it’s intended, if you don’t want to pay you can use the results as a starting point to refine your local business listings, getting them all as correct as possible, which will help Google understand your local business better.

With more accurate and lengthy local business listings, your website has a much greater chance of being placed high in searches when people are looking for the products you sell when out and about in your area, which means more potential footfall and products sold.

Don’t Forget Reviews

Many pieces of research have been done over the past years on the effectiveness of online reviews including this one – all point to online reviews being paramount to success, especially for purchases in the ’emotional engagement’ category such as those in specialist retail stores like music shops, equestrian and nursery.

As a specialist retailer, you really do need to embrace reviews for not only the products you offer but for your business as a whole. As reviews also appear highly in local search results, this is another way to catch attention and drive that wavering purchaser back to your door!



David Fairhurst

Head of eCommerce

Intelligent Retail

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London