City Life vs. Country Life: Local SEO Challenges Based On Location

SMBs in cities face different challenges than more suburban and rural area SMBs. Location can influence our online review marketing and management (ORMM).Read More...
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Every local search agency wants to get their clients at the top of the search rankings.

We want to be able to say to our clients:

“Look! We did it! We’ve got your company appearing the local 3-pack without advertising.”

Small businesses in cities face different challenges compared to companies in more suburban and rural areas. The geographical location of our clients can heavily influence our Local SEO and Online Review Marketing and Management (ORMM) strategy for moving up the rankings.

I reached out to a few local search experts who face the unique challenges each location presents.

Understanding the Urban Landscape of Local SEO and ORMM

Here are the questions posed to the experts:

Are denser urban markets more competitive when it comes to local SEO?

Are customers and clients in the city more sophisticated?

If so, does that fact make generating and managing review activity easier or harder?

Or are there other consequences?

For example, is there a winners-take-all dynamic to local visibility in urban markets? Is it harder to unseat incumbents?

Justin Herring

Founder & Head of Digital Marketing
Yeah! Local

Urban markets are much harder when it comes to local SEO. It usually is just the main city of the state though, that poses the biggest challenges. For example, Atlanta, GA is much harder to rank for than Marietta, GA even though both are urban markets. It also depends on the type of industry and competition of that niche.

Many customers and clients in a major city are much more sophisticated when it comes to technology, which can make it easier to get an online review. I don’t think it necessarily makes it easier to manage the review activity, but generating the reviews is easier.

Many times the highest ranking organic company is usually also in the Google Local 3 pack, so they will dominate that niche unless you can create more authority for your site and listing. This is not achieved by hope alone, and you must get high authority backlinks to both properties and also reviews to your Google My Business Listing.

Cliff Robbins

Co-Founder & CEO
Cohlab LLC

We have the unique opportunity that allows us to work in both of these environments. What we are seeing is that the individuals in some industry categories are more competitive when compared to others.

For example, most restaurant owners (example, local pizza joints) have known for some time the value of online reviews whereas a local roofing company is just starting to realize that reviews are a big part of their business when it comes to their Local SEO.

This industry specific scenario is common regardless of dense urban markets or less.

Peter Brissette

Chief Reviews Officer
Review Me Marketing

Yes denser urban markets are much more competitive.

In general, I think business owners in the city are more sophisticated. They are more savvy at looking at overall web presence including online reviews.

Businesses in the city tends to have a higher volume of clients on a monthly basis, which makes it much easier to generate reviews. The only question is how do you compare to your competition? Are they receiving more than you?

When it comes to local visibility in urban markets, it can be a winners take all dynamic. If someone has a significant number of reviews, it will take some time for a newer business to catch up to that.

Darren Clifford

Co-founder & Owner

In most urban markets you have a greater number of businesses competing for the top result in the SERP and one of the 3 positions in the Google Local results. We have found that with a bit of work, a business can rank for their immediate area with a good SEO strategy, but once you start trying to rank for other neighborhoods you will face a lot more difficulty.

I would say consumers in urban areas are more sophisticated. I believe they expect to have more options available to them and to be catered to by businesses a bit more than people in rural areas.

In my opinion the ability to generate a review has a lot more to do with the quality of service the business provides and the relationship they build with their customers. As far as managing review activity, if you use Grade.us you should have zero issues with this.

We have actually found that there is more a winner take all dynamic in rural areas because of the limited number of businesses available. We have found a single result in the Google Local Pack far more prevalent outside of urban areas.

To unseat an incumbent, your SEO strategy needs to be better than theirs, and that is something a capable digital marketing agency should be able to map out during their competitive research.

Michael Borgelt

Head Coach & Founder
51 Blocks

Generally dense urban markets are more competitive for your typical verticals like attorneys, therapists and the like but customers are pretty similar as far as reviews are concerned. I will say that auto repair shops in dense areas are extremely difficult to manage reviews for due to the nature of their work and the amount of in-store traffic they receive.

In my experience, the difficulty of review management depends on how big of a pain/pleasure point their service is to a client/customer and how much traffic they have. That is to say that, if a business offers a service that addresses a large pain point, and they have a lot of traffic, roll up your sleeves and strap on your seatbelt.

Local SEO and ORMM Challenges for Suburban and Rural SMBs

Are there better opportunities for suburban and rural businesses in Local SEO, because there’s more visibility due to less competition?

Or does it still depend on the density of competitors even in suburban environments?

Is getting more quality reviews difficult, because they tend to have less customers to reach out to?

Or do suburban/rural customers tend to write less reviews perhaps due to less sophistication and comfort with the sites they’re asked to write the reviews?

Justin Herring:

Definitely better opportunities, BUT there also is not as much search volume. So there is a decrease in consumers looking for the service, but it is easier to show up when searched.

It does still depends on the density, but usually the farther you get away from the urban market center, the easier it is to rank, because everyone wants all the eyeballs and concentrates on the bigger city.

It’s not necessarily more difficult to get more quality reviews. It seems they get just as many customers in urban areas as long as a review funnel is set up and the process is easy.

It may be the case that rural customers write less reviews, but I don’t deal with that rural area of a customer base that cannot leave a review on Google or Facebook.

I don’t think it has so much to do with suburban or rural as much as the actual individual reviewing.

Cliff Robbins:

Due to the volume of businesses, there are better opportunities for suburban and rural businesses in Local SEO when compared to dense Urban areas.

As I mentioned earlier, the type of industry also matters when it comes to reviews. Getting reviews isn’t more difficult for suburban environments, as long as they implement it as part of their process. When a proactive review process is in place, the various companies establish a healthy volume of reviews that benefit their Local SEO.

When it comes to sophistication, we don’t see much difference. Due to the volume, the denser urban areas will garner more reviews; however, when a ratio of population to reviews is applied, we see a similar volume.

Peter Brissette:

Again this depends on each location. It is the same game. What does your review profile look like? You win when you can out play your competition.

There can be challenges for the number of reviews with a lower volume of clients. However your nearest competition is in the same boat as you.

I don’t know that there are any fewer reviews written because of a lack of sophistication of the customers. I think it is more about the owners of the business not making sure their team is geared up to motivate their customers to do it

Darren Clifford:

For rural yes, we are finding suburban businesses in large cities still tend to be quite competitive, especially in the more affluent suburbs.

I’ll go back to my previous answer: “ability to generate a review has a lot more to do with the quality of service the business provides and the relationship they build with their customers”.

We have clients that, despite having hundreds of customers in their system, struggle to get a review a week, and other clients with a few dozen that can consistently get 1-2 new glowing reviews a week.

Michael Borgelt:

There are much better opportunities, on the whole, for rural businesses and businesses in suburban areas. That sounds like a huge win for SEOs but typically these businesses will want to rank in the metro area because they don’t think suburban and rural traffic can sustain their business for the long-term.

Suburban and rural clients are typically easier to get reviews for because their relationship with their customers seems to be closer.

Is There a Difference At This Point?

Have both types of markets matured to the point that there’s little difference between the geographical challenges?

Justin Herring:

I think for the most part, yes. I do believe if you are talking about rural (way out in the country) then you may have more difficulty, but I don’t have much knowledge on that.

Cliff Robbins:

Yes, with the caveat that some industries are lagging in the very rural areas.

Peter Brissette:

This will vary by the exact location. In general, the more dense urban and downtown areas will have a degree of sophistication to them that is greater in some pockets. It will take some research in any given area to find out and come up with a plan to compete.

Darren Clifford:

They have not reached parity yet. There are still unique challenges you will have to face when working with rural vs urban businesses

Michael Borgelt:

The challenges that arise from a business’ location are pretty discrete between metro and rural areas but as online search continues to grow I think that they are becoming a lot more similar.


As you can see, the simple of question of “which is more challenging for getting reviews, urban businesses or suburban/rural businesses?” is not that simple.

Both locations present challenges, but as our experts address in their responses, we need to take into consideration the industry, amount of local competition and objectives of the business.

If a suburban business is trying to penetrate the nearest city, it’s going to be even more difficult than targeting their local suburban customers.

City businesses may have more traffic and customers, but they might not have the same personal relationships with their customers that their suburban/rural counterparts have.

One thing that comes across for all businesses though is that online review management and marketing is essential to local search. No matter the location, business owners need to put the tools and protocols in place to earn reviews from their happy customers. It’s okay for business owners to lack sophistication and knowledge of local search, but that’s all the more reason for them to find a consultant or agency to help them earn the visibility required to bring in more local customers and improve the company’s bottom line.

About the Author

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the Head of Marketing at Grade.us, an online review management and marketing platform. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.