chicago local seo map

Remember the good ol’ days of easy rankings? It seemed like all a Chicago business owner needed to do in order to rank well on Google was have a website and a Google Plus page. Unfortunately for the end-user, those easy rankings usually served up irrelevant results and an abundance of spam sites. As competition grew and algorithms got smarter, it became more and more difficult for small and medium sized local businesses to rank well on Google. Enter local SEO. So what is local SEO, and why do Chicago businesses need it?

New Google Algorithm Updates Impact Local Search

In 2015, Google made a huge, and rather shocking, update to their Local Maps. Imagine that you’re a pizza parlor in Chicago. Historically, Google would show seven results on Local Maps with links to each business’s Google Plus page. If you were only one of, say, 3 pizza parlors in that Chicago neighborhood, Google might also show a couple of Chicago hot dog restaurants and perhaps an Italian restaurant to round out all seven positions. Even businesses that never did any local SEO were able to rank on the local listings.

However, with the update, Google whittled the local map section down to only three results. The link to Google Plus was gone, as well as the business’ phone number. With only 3 positions available on the local listings, the competition got fierce.

local seo snack pack map

How Possum Changed Local Search Results

Another big change to search came a year later in 2016 with the roll-out of Possum. This update was intended to provide a level playing field for all local businesses listed in the Local Search results. Although there are several main factors, here are our 3 key takeaways that affect local business the most:

  1. The Physical Location of the User: Considering the increasing number of users on mobile devices, this is a significant update. With Google now factoring in the proximity of the user more prominently than ever, users are going to get different results based on where they are physically located. For example, if a user is in the Loop searching for Chicago pizza parlors, they will get different results than the user in Lincoln Park.

This graph shows the increase of mobile over desktop queries, and projections for 2018 and 2019:

mobile impact on local seo


  1. Flexibility on “Location” to City Limits: Previously, businesses located outside the physical limits of a city had a very difficult time ranking for that city. In response, websites started creating micro-site landing pages to compensate. Fortunately, Google now allows companies that are outside the city limits but conduct business in the nearby or ‘neighboring’ city to be listed in the snack pack search result. For example, a pizza parlor in Evanston, located on the cusp of Chicago, would now be able to rank for ‘pizza parlor Chicago.’

  2. Location of Business: Google applied a filter to the addresses of businesses. This eliminated businesses from having more than one listing for the same location. For example Chicago lawyers in the same law firm, or a dentist with multiple locations.

So…What is Local SEO?

Local SEO, very simply, is the process of making a website more visible on the Search Engine Results Page (like Google). Through the optimization of your website, local SEO targets users who are actively searching for your product or service. This process culminates in driving more quality traffic to your website. Keep in mind that this is an on-going process. This is especially true in light of the number of Google Algorithm signals that exist, as well as the constant algorithm updates.

Why Do I Need It?

Search engines like Google have over 200 signals they take into consideration when ranking web pages. A website must be optimized, through on-page and off-page strategies, in order to gain the value these signals send to your site.

In addition, competition among local businesses only continues to increase. And with only three positions in the “snack pack” maps area, Chicago business owners need to stay on top of their local SEO strategy. Moreover, local businesses have to compete with large websites in the organic listings. Previously, it was relatively inconsequential if you didn’t rank well in the local listings but had a top presence in the organic listings. However, with sites like Yelp or Wikipedia, your organic listing that used to be #1 might now get pushed down to the 3rd or 4th position.

Therefore, Chicago local business owners must find smaller target areas in order to get more visibility and the subsequent rankings. Optimizing for local search is one of the most cost-effective marketing methods to achieve this.

Can I do Local SEO Myself?

Technically, yes. Fortunately, many of the tried and true white hat SEO techniques are still viable options for optimizing websites. While there are a lot of DIY options available, it’s extremely tedious and time-consuming for the business owner. Furthermore, unless you are experienced in local SEO tactics and keep apprised of Google’s ubiquitous updates, it can be difficult to know where to start. Although Google offers many free tools such as Search Console and Analytics, these tools are challenging for a novice to understand.

The most important thing a local business owner can do is to accurately fill out your Google My Business profile, include your Name/Address/Phone Number (NAP) on the pages of your website, build consistent citations on other websites, and then build links with good anchor text. Beyond that, you should consult an SEO agency such as Evolving Interactive for more help strengthening your site’s signals.

If your business is struggling to adjust to Google’s newest update, reach out to our SEO team. As always if you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at

Every year the very talented David Mihm releases a survey called the “Local Search Ranking Factors.” Mr. Mihm surveys some of the best minds in the industry and compiles a report to help all of us learn how the local space is changing, what is working and what could cause your business trouble.

The one constant year after year is that local search marketing evolves and this year is no different. The advent of the Snack Pack, the evolution of the Pigeon update from a year ago and the disappearance of Google+ makes this a very interesting year indeed.

In case you don’t have time to review everything from the report published on, we at Evolving Interactive wanted to highlight some of the main points of the survey and give you some insight into the major changes discussed in this year’s report.

What’s Important?

According to the experts surveyed, the most important components to a strong local search marketing campaign are building quality links and improving domain authority. This might sound a lot like a typical SEO campaign to a lot of you. Phil Rozek agrees, saying, “In the past year or so, “local” seems to have come full-circle: it’s mostly organic SEO (read: links).”

The other key component that Evolving Interactive felt was underrated by the survey is “Quality/Authority of Structured Citations.” By “citations” we are talking about local directory websites or industry specific sites that list your business (i.e. Yelp, CitySearch, etc).  Evolving Interactive has been able to help websites with little link authority rank in the local section quickly by building citations and making sure that those citations are consistent on all sites.

What hurts your rankings?

A lot of things that will hurt your local campaign are fairly commonsensical. The top “Negative Ranking Factor” was selecting the incorrect business category. It might surprise you to learn how often this mistake happens to campaigns we inherit. Before any of this advice will be helpful, we recommend that you review the Google My Business Guidelines. It’s so easy to avoid mistakes like having an address at a P.O. Box as long as you understand the rules.

Evolving Interactive also thinks it’s important to do some on-page work to help your Local Search Marketing campaign. Four of the top 10 Negative Ranking Factors have to do with mismatched NAP (name, address, phone number) either on your website’s home page, Google My Business page, or the absence of NAP data in a crawlable fashion on your home page. Contact us if you have any questions about entering this information properly.

What is the Snack Pack?

In August, Google made a significant change to their local algorithm. Instead of showing 7 results, they are now showing only 3. That wasn’t the only significant change. The snack pack marked the end of Google+ as it relates to local search. Prior to this change, Google’s search engine results page showed a link to the business’ Google+ page in the local results. That link is now removed. Interestingly, the phone number is also missing from the local results for desktop users.

This is a major change that has sparked a lot of discussion. The experts in the Local Search Ranking factors were asked about this change. Joy Hawkins explains, “With Google getting rid of links to the G+ pages for most SERPs, the push for businesses to be more active on G+ has really died down.“

Miscellaneous Takeaways

The most important thing we think a local business can do is to accurately fill out your Google My Business profile, include NAP on the pages of your website, build consistent citations on other websites, and then build links with good anchor text.

As always if you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at

3 pack image

Google made a significant change to the local pack Thursday evening. This update rolled out simultaneously worldwide, according to Mike Blumenthal and other local experts. We wanted to discuss this change and how it might impact your business.

3-Pack Instead of 7-Pack

The biggest takeaway of all is that the local section of the search engine results page is now showing 3 results rather than 7 (a.k.a. Google is showing a 3-pack rather than a 7-pack). Before last Thursday, there were some occasions where the local section might show 3 results, but the standard was to show 7 different local websites. That is no longer the case. Here’s an example of how the page looks now:

local stack screen grab

This change obviously kills the visibility of sites that were previously ranking #4-7 in the local section. It has become not only important, but essential, to be one of the top 3 businesses in the local pack.

The New Design

Snack Pack Screenshot

Snack Pack Screenshot

Businesses in the entertainment, hotel and food industries probably have seen a similar display previously. Google launched the “Snack Pack” update last spring that showed a similar result for businesses in these industries. The “snack pack” update mimicked a mobile experience on a desktop. Now this design has become the standard for all local businesses.

One of the things you’ll notice right away is that some things are missing from the listings in their current state. Before this update, Google showed the phone number and displayed a link to the Google+ page for most listings. For desktop searches, the phone numbers have disappeared and the links to Google+ pages are gone as well. For a visitor to contact you, they will now need subsequent clicks.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Mobile searchers get a slightly different view. They have a click to call option, but will need subsequent clicks to visit your website. Branded searches for a single location business that bring up the knowledge graph will show the phone number. Mr. Blumenthal points out that for local businesses with a multiple locations, the phone number does not show up and actually requires multiple clicks even when the company name is searched.

The design change is a slight benefit to organic listings a little bit further down on the page. When Google was showing 7 local websites, the searcher had to scroll further down on the page to see first page sites a little further down the page. Now that only three businesses appear, the real estate for lower ranked organic websites just got better.



What Does Pigeon Mean For Your Local Business?

Over two weeks ago, Google released a local algorithm update that industry experts are calling Pigeon. Pigeon aims at improving local search results for users by making the results more relevant and accurate. The new Pigeon update has features including spelling correction capabilities, Google’s knowledge graph, and detecting search synonyms. As a result of the update, Google is placing local directories higher in the search results than small businesses. While this is benefiting the big players of local directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor, it is hurting small businesses rankings that do not carry the same amount of SEO strength. In some cases, the entire first page is filled with local directories, for terms like “Chicago pizza” or “Miami hotels.” In a few search queries, small business sites do not show up in the results until as far as the third page.

Google’s main goal for the algorithm update is to improve the local search experience for users, and to make results appear more organic than they have in the past. To do this, Google has nearly eliminated the presence of local seven packs for many search results. The decrease has hurt many small businesses that only ranked in the local pack and are no longer being featured on the first page of the search results.

So what can you do to continue getting business even when your site isn’t ranking? First, you can consider running a PPC campaign to boost your chances of being seen on the search results page. Since Pigeon seems to favor local directories, make sure your business is listed correctly on the leading local directories, as well as directories specific to your niche. Although Google seems to no longer include local packs on SERPs, they are still using the local carousel that appears at the top of the results page for some search queries. To utilize the carousel, make sure your business has high quality Google+ photos, and encourage customers to review your business.

Google+ pages will also play a large role when ranking in local search results. When creating your Google+ page make sure your business is listed in the most appropriate categories to enhance the chances of appearing in the search results when that category is searched. It has been noted that having the same area code in your business telephone number that is associated with your business location can improve your rankings. Also having several reviews of your business can influence your local search rankings, so encourage customers to leave reviews whenever possible.

Overall, the update is trying to enhance local results for users. Google wants to make sure only the best and most relevant pages are being shown, and that the results appear as organic as possible (hence the drastic decline in the frequency of local packs), so the best way to boost your business is to make it exceptional! White hat SEO tactics are still being rewarded by Google, so make sure your website is optimized for your industry and location. Add geo modifiers to title tags, include keywords in your business title, and implement other SEO best practices.

How is your business adjusting to Google’s newest update? Reach out to our SEO team with your stories and your questions.

Link Earning in 2014

Earning links to help your website rise in the search engine rankings now involves different strategies than it did in previous years. Transparent link building plans have fallen out of fashion as Google’s backlink guidelines have evolved and become more defined. Rather than simply buying or exchanging links as part of an SEO campaign, companies need to create content that organically encourage other sites with good Page Rank to link to their webpage. While brazen SEO link building tactics are no longer helpful, there are still plenty of good ideas to consider for an effective optimization plan.

Here are a few of my favorite ideas to help build links from a recently updated Backlinko post.

Audio Sharing Sites

These sites readily accept audio files, whether it’s music or a spoken word piece. Create a great piece of audio content and the benefit is twofold:
1.      You’ll get a follow link to your webpage on the audio sharing site.
2.      You can get listeners to enjoy and share your piece, which may inspire further people to link to your website.

There are a lot of free audio sharing sites, so you can use this idea even if you have a limited SEO budget.

Scoop It
Scoop It allows users to personally curate web content onto their own Scoop It page.
You can suggest content for someone to post by using the “Suggest” feature. If they like your content, they’ll post it and you’ll be linked in the post.
You may need to sign up for a paid Scoop It account to employ this technique.

Website Feedback Sites
Website feedback sites (like Concept Feedbackor Criticue) are another way to get a link. Submit your website to be critiqued and it yields a follow link. Many of these sites involve a fee as you are given valuable feedback on your website by their staff.

Blog Aggregators
Submit your site to be included on a blog aggregator like Technorati or Alltop and if it’s approved you’ll have a follow link to your site.

.Edu Sites
A lot of universities have resource pages for their students. If your company could be useful to university students or faculty, reach out to the webmaster to see if you can be added to the list of resources.

News Sites
You might be able to get a great link from an authority news site by working with HARO. HARO (Help a Reporter Out) connects reporters with relevant sources, and if you’re able to provide useful information to a reporter, you and your website could be linked in an article.
There are both free and paid options when signing up to be a HARO source.

Sponsorship / Charitable Contribution
If you have a little more money for your SEO campaign, consider earning a link through a sponsorship or charitable contribution. Do you sponsor a local business, team or organization? They probably list their sponsors and contributors online, perhaps with a dedicated page that includes a helpful link.

These methods of earning backlinks from high ranking authority pages are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more ways to earn links if you get creative and try new ideas. Beyond that, you can also consult an SEO agency such as Evolving Interactive for more help strengthening your site’s signals.