Local search is a way for search engines to offer the most relevant results to users, which are calculated according to location data. After all, if you’re looking for a flower shop, you’re going to want to find one nearby, right?

It’s also a great tool for small businesses because the competition is smaller -- you’re only competing for position with other businesses in the same location. The better visibility you have on a SERP (search engine results page), the more likely that someone will click and convert.

Local search results are displayed in one of two ways on Google: the new Google carousel or in a listing format. The carousel format has organic and paid listings, and also comprises a map plotted with local destinations. Additionally, an indented list is sometimes used that makes it easy to see important information right away -- address, phone number and reviews.

Here are eight tried and tested tips to help improve your businesses’ local search position right away:

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1. Claim your business. Creating a local page is as easy as visiting Google’s dedicated site and signing in. You will be prompted to type in the name of your business, but be aware that your business may already exist in local search -- even if you weren’t the one who added it. What you’ll need to do, then, is claim it.

2. Categorize your pages. Pay special attention to how you categorize your business. During the process of creating or claiming your page, you will be asked to select a primary category, which is the most important category you will choose. 

Search engines have been known to not display a business that isn’t categorized at all, and if your business is improperly categorized, you’re pretty much in the same boat. After you choose your primary category, you will be allowed to choose up to nine addtional categories for your business, too.

3. Be consistent. Make sure that your business is listed consistently across the web. This means that your name, address and phone number (often called NAP data) need to be the same when it comes to your local accounts, directory listings and any other mentions of your business.

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If your business has been listed somewhere on the web unknowingly, you’ll need to track down that listing and claim it so that you can edit all of the information to be consistent (or contact whoever is in charge to get the information changed.) Something as simple as a hyphen or a missing suite number can change everything. You can find unclaimed listings by doing a search or using tools like Yext or Localeze.

4. Quantity and quality. I recommend using the Moz Local tool to make sure that you have a listing in some of the highest quality directories on the web. In order to improve your quantity, do searches for both category and geographic terms to see if there is somewhere you should be listed but are not. Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder is also an excellent tool to help you find more opportunities.

5. Reviews. Reviews are often showcased right on a SERP. You can’t do much to up your good reviews, but just working to get more reviews in general should give you a healthy ratio of accurate appraisals. Google will look at reviews as a ranking factor when it comes to local search, but, more than anything, reviews are for searchers. I personally predict that reviews are going to be much more important in the future of Google and local rankings -- but, for now, they are just a small part.

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6. On-page optimization. Once your local listing is complete, make sure you’re using every opportunity you have to make it look appealing. Post quality photos (a lot of them) and make sure your description is keyword-rich and really tells visitors what you’re all about. Finally, make sure everything is filled out -- hours, address, contact information, menu (if applicable), etc.

7. Quality inbound links. Aside from just local citations, you should try to earn a good number of quality inbound links from authoritative sources. These can come from anywhere -- newspapers, local business indexes, bloggers, etc. You can help increase your number of inbound links through social sharing, content development and outreach.

8. Hire a local SEO company? All of these steps can be taken in-house, but don’t forget that SEO never stops. You can’t set and forget. There is always work that can be done because the search world is always evolving. If you decide you don’t have the time, a reputable SEO firm will start at a couple hundred dollars a month. Be sure to check how reputable they are in the industry.

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