Thinking about starting a new business? You’re not alone — and that’s one of the main reasons you should be concerned about local SEO.
Whether you’re a dog groomer, HVAC repairman or an auto body shop, local business is a competitive space. And now more than ever, people find businesses online. According to Google, 76 percent of people who search for a local business on their smartphones end up visiting that business or a similar one within the next day.
That means that the organic traffic you receive as a result of local search is already primed to convert — wouldn’t you like a piece of that pie?
3 Basic Categories of SEO
Typically, when a client comes to us asking about search engine optimization, they usually want to rank for keywords in one of three ways:
They want to rank for keywords, in general — they aren’t interested in where traffic comes from, as long as it converts.
They want to rank for keywords across multiple countries and languages.
They want to rank for keywords locally — for example, “real estate attorneys in south Jersey.”
So let’s talk about what local SEO is, why it matters and how it differs from general SEO best practices.
What Is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the strategy of optimizing websites and marketing strategies to increase organic search traffic to local businesses.
SEO, in general, helps people from all over the Internet find your business in search. Your prospective customers see your company on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Local SEO puts your business in front of people who are more likely ready to buy your product or service. Remember that Google stat we mentioned?
While general SEO targets a few types of keywords — informational, navigational and transactional — local SEO tends to drive more conversion-ready traffic. Why is that the case? It all comes down to keyword intent.
Keyword Intent in Local Search
Search intent refers to… well, exactly what it sounds like! It’s the intent behind a search — the intent behind a keyword. So if you’re searching for “best pizza Philadelphia,” the intent is obviously that you’re looking to buy pizza in Philly — and you want the best pizza.
The same thing can be said about other keywords, like “top local law firms” or even question-based queries like, “where is the closest movie theater to me.”
What you’re trying to do with local SEO isn’t just rank for keywords, it’s to get your business in front of people and into Google’s answer box and search queries. You want to be on the map — specifically, you want to be on Google Maps.
When someone searches for products and services you sell, you want Google to realize, “hey, this product can be found at this place near you.”
Ranking in the Local Pack vs. Ranking in the SERPs
You know that old SEO mantra, “The best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google?” When users search for something, they prioritize what they see first. In local SEO, that means you want to be at the top of the pack — the local pack, that is.
The “local pack” refers to the results under the map in Google search.
(Some SEOs refer to the local pack as the “snack pack,” which we find much more charming!)
Results in the local pack are more important to local SEO than what’s ranking for #1. In fact, the sites that rank in the local pack frequently don’t rank on the first page SERP for the same keyword.
Ranking #1 for a keyword as broad as “physical therapy” is close to impossible, but showing up in the local pack is much easier, provided you’re following local SEO best practices.
And what are those best practices? We’re glad you asked!
- 8 Local SEO Ranking Factors
- 7 Ways to Improve Your Local SEO
- 1. Get On Google My Business
- 2. Get on Bing Places, Yext and Yelp
- 3. Improve Your Local Ranking With Customer Reviews
- 4. Use Schema Structured Data Markup
- 5. Make Sure Your Website Is Mobile Friendly
- 6. Nail Down Your Local Content Strategy
- 7. Earn Backlinks and Local Citations
- Put Your Small Business On the Map With Local SEO
8 Local SEO Ranking Factors
According to Moz, Google weighs the following factors when determining local SEO rank (in order of importance):
|My business signals||How relevant you are to the person’s search query — including your business category and local proximity|
|Link signals||Number and quality of backlinks (extra credit if they’re also from authoritative local sources), internal links|
|On page signals||NAP (business name, address, phone number) on your site, keyword usage|
|Local citation signals||Is your site mentioned in quality business directories with consistent NAP information?|
|Review signals||Are people reviewing your business? What are they saying? Do you have good reviews? Do you have a lot of them?|
|Behavioral signals||Are people searching from mobile? Are they checking in? Are they following through? Do they visit your website? What is their behavior?|
|Personalization||Users’ locations and personalized search — this is mostly out of your hands|
|Social signals||Are people mentioning your business on social media? Are you linking to them?|
While many of these factors are the same for both local and general SEO — backlinks, keyword optimization and social signals, for example — the addition of My Business signals, NAP consistency and reviews requires a different approach.
What kind of approach? Once again, we’re glad you asked!
1. Get On Google My Business
Your Google My Business page is a snapshot listing of your business that appears whenever someone searches for your business.
It shows your business on a local map, along with your hours, customer reviews and whatever pictures you have uploaded to represent your business. To make the most of this page, you want to include as much detail as possible, and you want to include keywords in your business’s description.
Google My Business allows you to control how your business appears in local search, while managing customer reviews and integrating your presence with Google Maps.
Creating and optimizing your Google My Business listing is one of the single most important ways you can improve your local SEO.
How to Make Your Google My Business Listing Irresistible
- Write a short, sweet, keyword optimized business description
- Add your business hours (you can also include special holiday hours)
- Add photos and videos showing off your physical location, your brand and your people
- Ask your customers for reviews and respond to ones you already have
- Enable messaging through Google My Business
- If you use one of Google’s booking partners, allow potential customers to book appointments directly from local search
- Share out Google My Business posts at least once per week
Google My Business Post Best Practices
As with other social networks, you can and should share Google My Business posts, which disappear after a week (so keep them updated!). You can create four basic types of posts:
- What’s New posts are like Facebook status updates, and a great place to link to your content
- Event posts share details about upcoming events, complete with time, location and a call to action
- Offer posts share sales and promotion details, complete with offer deadlines and coupon codes
- Product posts show off, well, your products, including price
With each of these posts, you can add one of button CTAs:
- Order Online
- Learn More
- Sign Up
- Get Offer
- Call Now
Using Google My Business posts, you can convert leads on the spot, directly from the SERPs — if that isn’t enough motivation to keep your Google My Business listing updated, I don’t know what is!
2. Get on Bing Places, Yext and Yelp
Bing and Yahoo! represent 5.59% and 7.1% of search engine usage, respectively.
With information about your business hours, a map of your location and contact information, Bing Places and Yext are like Google My Business, but for Bing and Yahoo!.
Don’t miss out on 12.6% of your potential customers!
Of course, Yelp has been a power player in the local marketing space since 2004, and if you have a brick and mortar business, you should absolutely have a presence there. Make sure to optimize your Yelp listing with relevant keywords and be kind to reviewers, even if they’re dead wrong about your famous apple pie recipe.
Which brings us to our next point…
3. Improve Your Local Ranking With Customer Reviews
If your review volume is low, you risk falling in the rankings. We’re not saying that you need a hundred reviews a week to climb, but if your users aren’t active, it signals to Google that your business might not be, either.
Annoyingly, there’s no way for you to manually sync your Google My Business listing with other review sites, like Facebook and Yelp. However, if you ensure your NAP information is consistent across your website, directory listings, and social media properties and you use structured data markup — more on that later — Google will eventually include those reviews on your Google My Business panel.
In the meantime, you can and should solicit more reviews yourself.
- Request reviews from your favorite customers through personal outreach emails.
- If you sell merchandise from a physical location, add a request for Google reviews to your business card and drop it in customers’ shopping bags.
- If a customer makes an ecommerce order, create an automated follow-up email sequence requesting a Google review.
- Make it easy on your reviewers by sending a link — simply search your business name on Google, then copy the resulting address bar link. The URL will be long and ugly, so use Google URL Shortener or Bitly to shorten it.
PSA: Never, Ever Pay for Customer Reviews.
Google is smarter than you might think, and if they catch you, your search rankings will suffer. That’s besides the fact that astroturfed reviews are just kinda slimy and unethical. Don’t do it.
4. Use Schema Structured Data Markup
What Is Structured Data?
Structured data is a way to tag certain types of content on your site to give Google more detail to add to your search results, increasing visibility and conversion. It also improves your odds of earning Rich Results, the most visible, engaging real estate in search.
Structured data, including Schema markup, enhances the search experience, and is critical for SEO in general — and local SEO especially. Schema markup is also important for syncing your Facebook reviews with Google My Business (using the sameAs property).
Using structured data, you can specify:
- Your business name, logo, location and contact information
- Your business hours
- Your products and services, as well as what they cost and their customer ratings
- What types of payment you accept
- Blog post authors, dates and images
And that’s just a brief list — there’s a pretty long list of attributes you can tag just with LocalBusiness schema, and even more specific business schemas you can choose to implement depending on your category, from animal shelters to travel agencies.
If your eyes glazed over that last paragraph, don’t worry — you can actually get pretty far with Google Search Console and a WordPress plugin.
How to Implement Structured Data in Google Search Console
Google did us all a solid with its Data Highlighter tool, which allows you to mark up data on your website by pointing and clicking — it’s way simpler than my aforementioned PHP/JSON-LD solution, at least!
Here’s how to do it:
- Log into Google Search Console.
- Click Search Appearance > Data Highlighter
- Click Start Highlighting
- Enter the URL of the page you want to start marking up
- Select Local Businesses from the dropdown (once you’re done this round, you can select Articles to mark up your blog!)
- Click Tag this page and others like it, then click OK
- Right-click elements of the page to highlight them (name, address, phone number, reviews, etc.)
- When you’re done highlighting a page, click Done
- Highlight the next few pages Google provides to complete the wizard
Schema Markup Plugins in WordPress
You can also use WordPress plugins to implement structured data on your website. There are plenty of options available, but make sure to choose one that specifically includes LocalBusiness schema, for example:
- Business Profile by Theme of the Crop
- WP SEO Structured Data Schema by WPSEMPlugins
- Rich Snippets by WPBuddy
5. Make Sure Your Website Is Mobile Friendly
Google sees local SEO as mobile-driven. If your mobile site isn’t optimized and loading in three seconds (or faster), you will fall behind.
Are you mobile-friendly? Find out using Google’s mobile-friendly test tool. You’ll either be told that your page is mobile friendly, or you’ll receive an error.
- Touch elements too close? Spread them out — you don’t want people accidentally clicking on something.
- Fonts too small? That means they’re hard to read — increase their size.
- No meta viewport tag? If you’re using responsive design (which you should be), you won’t see this. If you are seeing this error, you’ll have to add a tag to your page.
We go into these issues (and how to fix them) a bit more in 10 Technical SEO Mistakes That Kill Organic Traffic, so make sure to give that article a look.
6. Nail Down Your Local Content Strategy
Include local events and issues in your editorial calendar, and work in “local keywords.”
Local keywords are no different from “regular” keywords — they just often include a location, and might include regional slang relevant to your business (for example, “A Brief History of Philadelphia Hoagie Shops” contains a location, Philly, and the local term for a long sandwich).
Not only will this content engage readers, but it also will be great bait for local links and shares — it’ll be easier to get people talking (and arguing!) about which donut place is better in your city, instead of getting locals to argue about the best donut in the country. Maximize the value you’re getting out of your meta tags by including your town in your title and description.
Don’t just create a spammy, keyword-stuffed laundry list of towns, cities, products, etc. That’s not good SEO — be relevant and selective.
I had a client approach me once wondering why his local search traffic wasn’t so hot. He had published hundreds of blog posts on his site about the histories and cultures of various towns in the United States, with no mention of anything related to his business or customer needs.
As you might guess, his local SEO game wasn’t delivering great results, because a random search engine user researching celebrities born in Omaha, Nebraska isn’t likely to stumble on a B2B company’s website and sign a six-figure contract.
Want to learn more about small business SEO and content strategy? This guide will show you how to research keywords, create great content and outrank the competition.
Link building is always about getting the most lucrative backlinks. For normal SEO, this means targeting pages with high authority, a good link profile, and a decent amount of traffic.
For local SEO, all that is still true, but a new variable enters: local relevance.
Local relevance is exactly what it says on the tin: how relevant that site is locally. Your local newspaper probably isn’t an in-demand backlink (unless you live in a major city), but for local SEO, it totally is.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore bigger backlinks, though! Chase any high-authority backlink opportunity — just make sure your own profile contains some local link juice.
Let’s Talk About Local SEO and Directories
Directories are actually important for a lot of reasons — not just backlinks. See, Google will push more traffic to a business if they know their information is accurate. Obviously, they don’t want to be sending traffic (either foot traffic or web traffic) to a place that doesn’t exist! So they check what they have against other databases. If the info is correct, then you’ll get a boost.
Besides Google My Business, Bing Places, Yext and Yelp, there are countless business directories with solid domain authority that will list your business, including:
Search for Bloggers In Your Community for an Easy Win
National bloggers are often bombarded by opportunities — but local ones aren’t. Make sure to reach out to them. Local restaurant reviewers, movie critics, mommy bloggers and nature photographers may have just the local influence you need to boost your authority and gain leads.
You can also reach out to community organizations and other local businesses. If you write a blog post called “The 10 Best Things to Do in Philadelphia,” the companies you name in that post have a strong incentive to link to your website and share your blog on their social media profiles.
Another simple idea? Local contests!
By handing out something significant, you can get a pretty big payoff. The same goes for a big donation — anything in that vein is going to be reported by your local paper, which is an easy backlink. There’s also a chance it could make it to other papers in your area, too.
Put Your Small Business On the Map With Local SEO
As businesses innovate ways to rank higher in organic search, Google responds with new ways to make sure that people get the most relevant information they’re looking for, and local SEO goes a long way toward evening the playing field between sprawling businesses with deep pockets and your local chiropractor’s office, CrossFit gym or tax preparer.
With that said, local SEO is, in many ways, more complex than vanilla SEO — so if you need help getting started, don’t hesitate to enroll in our online SEO training course or, better yet, contact TCF to learn about our SEO services!
This in-depth, step-by-step guide shows you how to drive highly targeted, primed-for-conversion organic traffic to your website. TCF owner Kari DePhillips used these exact methods to build her freelancing side hustle into a multi-million dollar agency without spending a dime on ads or hiring a sales team.