Right now, customers around the world are using Google to find the best products and services near them—and they want answers fast. Local SEO ensures your business appears alongside other relevant search results and can result in serious revenue increases. Who doesn’t want that, right?
Unlike national SEO, local SEO requires a targeted approach to ensure success. This article outlines key actions any local business can take that will result in higher exposure among local keyword search results. Be the first to implement and wave to your competitors in the proverbial rear-view mirror.
- Proximity is the strongest ranking factor for Local Map Pack results
- Local SEO requires several specific actions not required by national SEO campaigns
- Name, Address, Phone (NAP) is like a fingerprint for local business websites
- Google My Business (GMB) pages are crucial to rank for local keywords successfully
- Submitting a business’ info to local directories helps boost SEO
Google’s success has been found largely by providing those looking for information with the most valuable answers possible. In recent years, this has included localized results more than ever before. Backlinks and relevant content were once enough to rank well nationally and locally. That’s simply not the case anymore.
Local Ranking Factors
Today, the strongest ranking factor for localized keyword searches is proximity. Businesses closer to searchers are considered much more heavily than those farther away. Things like backlinks, NAP, and on-page SEO still influence results—just not as much as they did historically.
Local SEO results come in the following two flavors:
- Local Map Pack: A list of three business listings showing names, ratings, and site links as well as a map with markers of other similar businesses in the area.
- Local Organic Results: Results below and/or above the Local Pack. These results appear just as results for national keywords.
On a desktop computer, keywords need localized qualifiers to produce relevant local results. These are terms like “sushi restaurant in New York” or “New York sushi restaurant.”
It’s easy to see how Google knows to display a Local Pack and Localized Organic Results for keywords such as these. It’s right there in plain UTF-8. For many searches, especially those done on mobile devices, localized qualifiers are determined by Google based on proximity.
Recent updates to Google’s local keyword results have been focused on proximity, as reflected in a September 2016 update and again in a November 2019 update. Local businesses are now given much stronger favor based on how close they are to the person searching for relevant keywords. Don’t overlook the influence of relevancy here—if though proximity is more important than ever!
Step 1: Google My Business (GMB)
Google My Business is a free service provided by Google (often automatically generated) to help searchers discover local businesses. Any local SEO strategy should start by claiming or creating the GMB listing filling out
This step is as simple as visiting the Google My Business sign up page entering a business’ information. Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) is the most important information. To Google, a business’ NAP is like a fingerprint.
The NAP entered in GMB should be identical to what is entered later on the website, social media profiles, and/or relevant directory listings. Businesses with multiple locations should enter their name without location specification when creating an account:
Good: Acme SEO Agency
Bad: Acme SEO Agency, New York
Different locations are added later in the process. These additions do need location-specific NAP data.
Step 2: On-Site Optimizations
All basic on-site SEO optimizations should be completed before investing in ongoing SEO. On-site SEO is like a house foundation in many ways: screw things up there and everything else might come crumbling down.
In addition to all basic SEO considerations, local SEO should make the following on-site optimizations:
Location Pages: Just as businesses should add each location to GMB, unique pages for each location should also be added to the website with original content relevant to that location.
Localized Content: Content reflecting local events, location interests, and other local businesses (not competitors!) helps Google build a stronger association with a website and local keywords.
Mobile-Friendly Design: This is important for all SEO but doubly so for Local. Many localized searches are done on mobile devices. Google will devalue websites that provide poor user experience.
Display NAP Consistently: The Name, Address, Phone information should be displayed on websites exactly as it is in GMB. Businesses with multiple locations should display location-specific NAP on location-specific webpages.
Business Citations & Directory Listings
The NAP+W format business listing is one of the strongest Local SEO factors you should consider. You want to have your business listed in the same format, with the same information, in as many key locations as possible. However, this ranking factor is more than just a numbers game.
Google knows that actual businesses list their information in certain locations. Google also knows that a lot of other locations often contain fabricated or inaccurate business information. Fortunately, there are some really great (and really affordable) SEO Tools available to help you accomplish this.
One of the largest enterprise-level SEO Tools is the Moz toolset. They help websites do keyword research, measure domain ranking potential, and also have a very powerful Local SEO toolset.
To get a quick idea on how getting local citations for your business—enter your information into the MOZ Local Business Checker. This service provides an accurate initial discovery of how your business already appears across the most important directories.
In addition, this tool can help to remove duplicate data, correct inaccurate data, and also automatically register data among these directories. This tool is as trustworthy as they come, and will likely get your business a leg up in the Local SEO battlefield. Other notable tools that can help accomplish these tasks and more are BrightLocal, WhiteSpark, Yext, Synup, and Advice Local.
These tools can all be used to better manage your Local SEO footprint initially, and often all that is needed for most small businesses. One notable tool is the White Spark Citation Building Service, which automatically submits your business’ information to relevant directories.
Geo-Tagging, Testimonials, Reviews & General Good Will
There are a lot of local SEO strategies that can be enacted to provide a fuller presence for your business in search results. These range from geotagging photos to soliciting customer reviews—and range in their potential impact. For example, proper geotagging of images uploaded to your website won’t be a strong ranking factor likely, but will improve your visual presence. On the other hand, establishing a funnel to encourage a steady flow of reviews of your business will have a tremendous impact.
Reviews & Testimonials
Testimonials & Reviews are both powerful tools in helping to establish local dominance over search terms. Again, you’ll want to ensure you use the Schema.org review format to ensure Google recognizes these testimonials.
For actual reviews you’ll have little control over the flow of information. These are reviews left on websites such as Yelp and Google+ that will be used to shows searchers an aggregated ranking for your business. It’s been shown that negative reviews don’t have as much impact on your CTR in Local Search results as review number does.
That means it’s worth getting as many reviews as you can (in most cases) even if that means a few negative ones. There’s a lot of different ways to politely request reviews from your customers, though we find followup emails with a link help to maximize results. WhiteSpark has a great Google Review Request Link Generator that can generate a link to email customers.
GeoTagging & EXIF Data
Adding images to your website with embedded location data via EXIF editing software, or Geo-enabled devices such as smartphones can help relate content to your business. If you run a restaurant, for example, embedding this type of data into images of your location can be beneficial.
While this type of data isn’t always easily understood, or produced, the Schema.org ImageObject conventions can be used to communicate this to Google. It’s noteworthy that pictures posted to social media by patrons of your business will usually include location data. These images will become associated with your local listing in Search Results in many cases.
Local Sponsorships & Advertising
A general rule to understand how Google finds ranking signals for Local SEO is to consider what normal local businesses do. Local businesses have their NAP+W found on local events pages, local school donor pages, local newspaper ad sections, and local directory sites like your city’s Craiglist postings.
These are all forms of advertising that will generate their own ROI but will also contribute to generating an SEO ROI over the long term as well. Depending on your budget, donate to schools, sponsor local events, and even create scholarship funds at local educational institutes. It’s a tax-deductible excuse to do some Good Will all while working to increase your local SEO keyword positions.
Blogs, Whitepapers, & Other Resources
Depending on the competitive nature of your niche, your business may need more than just local citations and a Google My Business registration to compete. In times such as these, traditional SEO methods such as guest posting and publishing engaging and niche-relevant content come back into play.
If you’ve been in business for a number of years, chances are you have a greater understanding of many facets of your industry than your typical customer. This comes about naturally by spending all day every day focused within your field, while your buyers rarely spend more than a brief period of pre-sale research.
Channeling insightful knowledge related to your industry or services can have a very positive impact on long term SEO. This type of content helps to build a strong contextual relationship between your website and certain keywords in the eyes of Google.
Additionally, this type of informational and engaging content is much easier to get other websites to link to. If you were a local car insurance salesman, do you think other websites would want to link to your pricing page—or an article about the first car insurance policy ever written in the United States?
Starting a blog is a great way to ease into this approach, and usually as much as is ever needed for small businesses. For more competitive niches, well-researched content that you’ve invested time and money in (market research, competitive analysis’, industry whitepapers, etc) can establish some broad-reaching authority for your website.
The Big Picture
In 9/10 situations, Local SEO can be successful simply by showing up to be considered. The vast majority of small businesses haven’t invested in SEO for their company despite the growing impact it has.
This article outlines some very basic principles of Local SEO practices, though shouldn’t be taken as a comprehensive guide. Local SEO isn’t like traditional SEO, and every businesses’ local competition requires unique consideration.
There are local-specific directories to register for, State-specific directories, different regional considerations, and different degrees of competition depending on how far away someone is from your business.
The best way to ensure you are getting the maximum ROI for your Local SEO efforts is to find a well-respected SEO Agency in your area that knows the nuances of your market. While more involved campaigns may require advanced SEO methods best-suited for Agencies, the majority of Local SEO work can be accomplished by business owners themselves, with the only expense being time.