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  • Local SEO vs National SEO: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

    Local SEO vs. National SEO: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

    Google doesn’t use the same algorithm for its national search results and its new local 3-pack, which displays three relevant local businesses for your local query.

    There are some overlapping ranking factors, of course, but the algorithms themselves and the target results are somewhat distinct. However, some experts in the industry have taken this to mean that local and national SEO should be treated entirely separately.

    For example, a local business might focus exclusively on trying to rank in the local 3-pack while disregarding national search, or a national company might ignore local ranks altogether.

    Approaching search engine optimization (SEO) from one side or the other, despite the schism in Google’s algorithms, is a flawed strategy. It’s far better to use one group of strategies for the purpose of generating inbound traffic.

    When starting out online, small businesses attempt different strategies.

    Some seek to tackle the whole world as their market; others start small by targeting their local region.

    As the online world has grown to become saturated with businesses all vying for the top spot in global reach, some are turning to smaller, concentrated markets through national and local search.

    In theory, national and local search are indeed much more promising to target.

    In the same vein, international SEO can be even more lucrative if your product is ubiquitous around the globe.

    But you need to be aware of certain key differences between them to determine which you should aim for.

    Your local vs. national SEO strategy will also shift, depending on the country in which you reside. National SEO in Europe will be very different that here in the domestic United States.

    The following is a discussion that should help you distinguish between national and local SEO.

    National SEO

    National SEO, on the other hand, refers to the process of optimizing a website for broader, national search queries.

    It is relevant for businesses that operate on a national or international level, such as ecommerce stores, large corporations, or tech companies.

    National SEO, being broader, allows you to use broader search terms. This can make it harder to rank for because the competition is inevitably fiercer at this level. After all, there are only 10 spots on Google’s first page.

    If you are competing against 30 or 50 companies nationally, and all the metrics are the same, it’s going to be tough for your business to get ahead just in terms of creating solid backlinks.

    Local SEO

    Local SEO refers to the process of optimizing a website for a specific geographic location.

    It is particularly relevant for businesses that serve customers in a particular city, region, or state. Examples of such businesses include restaurants, real estate agents, plumbers, and hair salons.

    So it’s probably safe to say that cornering local search is a lot easier.

    There’s much less competition in this area compared to national search. Optimizing for home improvement contractors by city or state is apt to be far less grueling than optimizing for a broader reach.

    But if you are just starting out, you could be facing a fairly substantial amount of work to land local citations and get listed on small business directories in your city.

    Major Differences Between Local and National SEO

    So, what are the main differences between local SEO and national SEO? Let’s take a closer look.

    1. Keyword targeting: Local SEO strategies typically focus on optimizing for location-based keywords, such as “plumber in San Francisco” or “Italian restaurant in Seattle.” National SEO strategies, on the other hand, tend to target broader, industry-specific keywords, such as “best laptops” or “luxury fashion brands.”
    2. Content creation: Local SEO requires businesses to create content that is relevant to the specific needs and interests of their local customers. This can include local news, events, and promotions, as well as location-specific guides and resources. National SEO, on the other hand, requires businesses to create more generic, industry-focused content that can appeal to a wider audience.
    3. Link building: In local SEO, businesses need to build high-quality backlinks from local directories, websites, and blogs. This helps to establish their credibility and authority within the local community. National SEO, on the other hand, requires businesses to build links from a wide range of authoritative websites across the country or even the world. Shameless plug: hire our link building services for the best backlinks in the industry.
    4. Google My Business optimization: Google My Business (GMB) is a powerful tool for local SEO, as it allows businesses to appear in Google’s local search results and on Google Maps. To optimize their GMB listing, businesses need to provide accurate and up-to-date information about their business, such as their address, phone number, hours of operation, and customer reviews. National SEO, on the other hand, doesn’t rely as heavily on GMB optimization.
    5. Competition: Local SEO tends to be more competitive than national SEO, as businesses are vying for the attention of a smaller, more specific audience. This means that businesses need to work harder to differentiate themselves from their local competitors and offer unique value to their customers. National SEO, on the other hand, is often more about standing out from the crowd within a broader industry.

    Separating the strategies adds needless complication

    Occam’s razor suggests that when solving a problem, the simplest solution is likely the best one. Similarly, in SEO, the simplest approach is likely the most meaningful. That’s not to say that SEO can be handled with only the basics (even though I’m a proponent of the minimalistic approach to SEO), but the fewer unnecessary complications you add to your strategy, the better. Adding another “wing” of SEO could potentially confuse your local SEO efforts, especially if you assign different team members to those responsibilities. For example, if you have one set of people working only on national SEO and another set working exclusively on local SEO, you could end up working toward different goals, ultimately weakening the possible success of each one.

    Every business can find value in both worlds

    Rather than focusing on both national and local SEO as separate entities, some businesses completely eradicate one side of the spectrum to focus on the other. For example, a restaurant that only operates in one location might completely avoid national SEO and exclusively focus on achieving a local 3-pack ranking. On the opposite side of things, a large financial firm with locations in multiple states might completely ignore local SEO.

    And in today’s world, both national and local businesses can use AI to scale their efforts.

    The problem is, both types of companies have something to gain from the other side of the strategy. For example, the restaurant could achieve a higher national rank and see a trickle of inbound traffic even if the majority of its hits come through on a local position. The financial firm could easily optimize for its specific locations and earn tons of local-specific traffic, resulting in more visibility.

    There are too many common ranking factors

    While each algorithm functions almost independently, they are based in a wide pool of identical ranking factors.

    Even if you decide to focus exclusively on one, you could easily start influencing the other by proxy. For example, both local and national ranks depend in part on your domain authority as an independent site. Getting more inbound links from high-authority external sources will increase your ranks for both types of SEO. Mobile optimization, too, is important for both national and local rankings. The list goes on and on, to the point where it’s far easier to manage both simultaneously than just one or the other.

    SparkToro provided detail from SEO professionals on the most prominent ranking factors in SEO. These represent only a small sample of many factors included in the search algorithm.

    Algorithm-specific strategies are becoming less important

    A handful of technological developments are making individual algorithms less and less important. A few years ago, it was possible (and advisable) to optimize separately for Bing and Google. Today, the search engines have developed so closely to one another that one set of rankings is almost indistinguishable from the other. The emergence of digital assistants like Siri and Cortana also muddy the waters by masking which algorithm they use to fetch results and combining them with other, offline search features. The modern search engine is almost algorithm-agnostic, meaning you have to pay less attention to individual algorithms’ quirks and subtleties.

    Organic visits are organic visits

    While you can easily tinker with your Google Analytics account to tease out which visits came from your local rankings and which came from national rankings, at the end of the day, what you need to focus on are your overall organic visits. Organic visits are the best measure you have to determine the effectiveness and ROI of your SEO campaign, and both national and local rankings contribute to that overall figure.

    Most best practices are focused on users

    Though there are plenty of technical requirements to earn a high rank, for the most part, all your search ranks are dependent on user experience factors. Lower bounce rates, greater content, more active social media profiles, and offsite relationship building all contribute to more brand awareness and better customer relationships, which also help your local and national ranks. The bottom line for any SEO campaign is making your users happy—because if your users are happy, Google will be happy, and you’ll rank higher accordingly. Keep your focus on the experience of your customers, and it’s hard to go too wrong.


    In conclusion, local SEO and national SEO require different strategies, tactics, and goals. While local SEO is more focused on targeting specific locations and building a strong presence within the local community, national SEO is more about reaching a broader audience and establishing authority within a particular industry. By understanding these differences, businesses can create effective SEO strategies that meet their specific needs and objectives.

    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) services - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing, assisting in everything from SEO for lawyers to complex technical SEO for Fortune 500 clients like Wiley, Box.com, Qualtrics and HP.

    Tim holds expertise in building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

    When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter