I’m sure you already know it…

Prospective customers are looking for your business online.

Some try various apps or websites. Others scout local business listings.

But the majority - 90% of them simply use a search engine to find your phone number, address or download a pricelist.

And it’s really up to you whether they’ll succeed or not.

Positioning a business to appear in local search results is called Local SEO. And in this guide we’ll show you how it works.

From this guide you’ll learn:

  • What is Local SEO.
  • Why it is so important.
  • What are the elements of a typical Local SEO strategy.
  • The most important Local SEO ranking factors.
  • Basic tips for optimizing your site for local search.
  • How to build citations.
  • How to track local rankings.
  • And tools that can help you with Local SEO campaign.

Who is this guide for?

Local business owners

If you run a business with a physical location - a restaurant, store or an office, or go to customers to deliver a service (i.e. plumbing or building), this guide is for you. It will show you what you should do to position your business in front of local customers looking for you.

Marketing managers

If you work with a local business trying to grow its customer base, you should read this guide too. It will familiarize you with all steps involved in positioning the company in local search.

SEOs

Lastly, if you’re already work in SEO but want to offer services to local businesses as well, this guide is for you too. It will give you an overview of all steps in the local search optimization process.

Local SEO Guide

What is Local SEO?

To put it in the simplest terms, local SEO is a process of optimizing a website to appear in local search results.

But that’s probably too broad definition. Let’s expand it a little bit more then.

Local SEO is a branch of small business SEO practices that focuses on positioning companies for searches based on the user’s current or intended location.

For instance, if I search for “restaurants” on my computer right now, Google will provide me with a list of various venues in my town.

1

That’s because the search engine has a very good idea where I am and assumes that I want to find a nearby business.

I can however also define the location I want to see results from. If I search for restaurants in London, the search engine will automatically return suggestions for eating places in the English capital.

2

In both cases, apart from traditional search results, Google serves what’s known as local results – listings accompanies by Google Map pin, company’s address, phone number and other information.

Notice that in many cases, these listings take a considerable space on the page.

The goal of Local SEO is to position your site in those results for searches related to what you offer.

But does every business need to work on Local SEO?

No, of course not.

Some companies sell only digital products, for instance. Others do business across the whole country or even abroad.

But if your business has a physical location or you go to your customers’ premises to deliver a service and get at least some of your clients locally, then you should invest in Local SEO.

How is Local SEO different from national or global SEO?

Local SEO is similar to traditional, organic SEO practices that helps to rank a business’ website in Google.

There are however few crucial differences.

  • In organic SEO website is the center of all your efforts. In Local SEO however, the primary information in your listing comes from data provided in Google My Business (we’ll talk about it at length later in this guide).
  • Organic SEO focuses on building backlinks to increase a website’s authority. In Local SEO however they are replaced by citations - mentions of your business such as business listings.
  • Lastly, your success in local search results relies heavily on what customers think about your business. Both quantity and quality of reviews are strong local search ranking factors.
What is local SEO

Elements of Typical Local SEO Strategy

Before you start learning the ropes of local SEO, let’s discuss what factors contribute to a successful local search strategy.

There are at least 5 major elements of a local SEO campaign.

Website

Even though the majority of local customers start their customer journey with a search engine, they visit a company’s website next.

In 2013 Google and Nielsen discovered that 59% of mobile searchers looking for a local business visited its website. And those who made a purchase visited the site up to 6 times prior to buying.

Your website therefore should be relevant and easy to use to a local audience.

The first step in every local SEO campaign is ensuring it.

Local Content

Content on your website is what makes it relevant and attractive to local customers.

You should therefore ensure that it answers the most common questions your local audience might be asking:

  • Who you are?
  • What you do?
  • Why you do it?
  • Where you are located and more.

Google My Business

Google My Business is a platform allowing businesses to manage their information in search results, Maps and Google+.

As the search engine states:

Google My Business complements your existing website by giving your business a public identity and presence on Google.

With Google My Business you can specify information to display in search results, upload videos and photos and even manage customer reviews.

Therefore a major part of a local campaign is setting up a Google My Business account, claiming your business location and creating a business’ profile.

Citations

Citations are one of the most important local search ranking factors Google uses to determine where to rank your site.

They can be compared to backlinks in organic SEO.

A citation is simply a mention of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) on the Internet. Notice that unlike a backlink, a citation does not need to contain a live link to the site. It does however need to be consistent with other citations you build.

And just like link building, creating citations is an on-going process.

Customer Reviews

After citations, customer reviews of your business are the next most important ranking factor.

Both quality and quantity of 3rd party reviews on your Google My Business and other review sites impact your rankings in your local area.

Therefore, as a major part of your strategy, you’ll be developing ways to solicit customer reviews. We’re going to show you some strategies to achieve that later in this guide.

Elements of local SEO

Local SEO Ranking Factors

We’ve already mentioned two important local ranking factors - citations and reviews. But of course, Google uses more signals to determine how to rank your business in local search.

In their 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, Moz identified over 160 factors that affect local search rankings.

These factors can be divided into two sections:

  • Positive – factors that help achieve higher rankings.
  • Negative – factors that hinder your local SEO efforts.

I urge you to review the entire report. In this guide we’ll look at the most important ones in each group.

Positive Local Search Ranking Factors

Working on these, and many other factors is bound to help your business rank higher.

Factors related to My Business Listing

  • Categories you specify for your listing,
  • Keyword in Business Title,
  • Proximity to a Searcher’s Location.

External Location Signals

  • NAP consistency – are your name/address/phone number the same across all profiles and citations.
  • Number of Citations – how many citations do you have.

Website factors

  • Presence of NAP on each page of your site,
  • Keywords in Meta-Titles,
  • Domain authority.

Review based factors

  • Quantity – the amount of reviews your business received.
  • Quality – how is your business rated by customers.
  • Velocity – how quickly you gain new reviews.
  • Review diversity – where those reviews are. Only you’re my Business Landing Page or also on other sites (i.e. Yelp etc.)

Social factors

  • Google+ authority,
  • Facebook likes,
  • Twitter followers.

Negative Local Search Ranking Factors

Presence of these (and many other) factors can hinder your efforts to rank a business in local search.

  • Listing detected at false business location.
  • Incorrect business category.
  • Mismatch NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Citations.
  • Mismatch NAP / Tracking Phone Number on My Business Landing Page.
  • Mismatch Address on My Business Landing Page.
  • Presence of malware on site.
  • Keyword stuffing in business name.
  • Reports of Violations on your My Business page.
  • Presence of Multiple My Business Pages with Same Phone Number.
  • Absence of Crawlable NAP on Location Landing Page.
Local SEO rankings

Working on Local SEO

Equipped with all this information we covered so far you are now ready to learn how to do local SEO in practice.

Optimising a Site for Local SEO

We’ve already discussed the importance of website in a local SEO strategy.

Local customers will use it to:

  • Find out ways to contact you (your phone number or physical location). And 59% of customers who look for local business will visit it the same day (source).
  • Download your menu, price sheet, products list etc.
  • Check your opening times.
  • Book an appointment. If you provide such functionality, they’ll use your site to schedule an appointment or a call back.

It’s therefore crucial that your site is optimised to deliver to your local customers’ needs. Here are few points to achieve it:

Make the information your local customers expect prominent

  • Put a phone number on top of all pages.
  • Create an obvious call to action.
  • Include your address on every page. Footer is a great place to place it.

Include pages your local audience is likely to look for

There is certain information your customers will be looking for when visiting your site:

  • Information about you
  • Your company’s contact details
  • Your offering and more.

What’s important, they’ll expect to find it on specific pages:

  • About us page,
  • Contact page,
  • Services,
  • Location pages,
  • Blog.

If your site lacks any of them, you should consider expanding it to include this information.

When you build your services page, consider creating a separate subpage for every service or product you offer.

The same advice applies to location pages. Don’t create a single, generic location page but a separate one for every location your business operates in.

Optimize contact page with map and directions to your business

As we’ve already discussed, a lot of customers will visit your site to find out where you are and how to get to your premises. And they’ll expect to see a map along with driving instructions to get to your business.

Therefore, include at least the following information on your contact page:

  • Map,
  • Driving instructions,
  • Opening times,
  • Phone number and address,
  • Email.

Location Pages

If your business operates in multiple locations you should create a dedicated page for each of them. Make sure that it includes:

  • NAP information.
  • Map and directions to get to the location.
  • Information about services offered in the location.
  • Testimonials and reviews.

Use Schema Markup

Schema rich snippets markup is a code you put on your website to help search engines deliver more information to users. Here’s an example of a SERPs listing displaying reviews rich snippet:

schema1

The schema mark-up told the search engine to display the number of reviews and rating above the description.

There are literally hundreds of mark-up types, from reviews to location details, local business information, restaurants, events, products and many more. Here’s a full list of markup types for local businesses.

The most important you should include on your site include:

  • NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number),
  • Testimonials and reviews.

Websites with schema mark-up not only rank higher but also achieve a higher click-through-rate (CTR – the number of clicks their listing receives vs. the amount of times it is shown). Various research points out that elements like star reviews, price or others attract customers to click on a search listing.

Optimise it for Mobile

80% of Internet users now own a smartphone. And 79% of them use it for local searches (source). Moreover, 48% of mobile customers start their search for products or services with a search engine.

You should therefore ensure that mobile users can comfortably browse your website.

Invest in a responsive theme or install a dedicated mobile version of your site.

Add Trust Marks and Testimonials

Three years ago, Ujwala Dange from Priyadarshini Engineering College and Vinay Kimar from S. B. Patil Institute of Management identified trust as major element preventing customers from buying or contacting a business.

To overcome it, include elements that will reduce or eliminate a customers’ security and trust concerns:

Trust marks.

Techopedia defines a trust mark as “an electronic commerce badge, image or logo displayed on a website to indicate that the website business has been shown to be trustworthy by the issuing organization.

A trustmark gives confidence to customers and indicates to them that it is safe to do business with the web site displaying it.”

Trust marks help customers establish that it is safe to do business with you. But, as Econsultancy had discovered, customers respond better to trustmarks from companies they recognise. As the report concludes: “they are almost useless if you use a lesser known provider.”

Testimonials.

Another way to confirm your credibility is by displaying testimonials and other proof from people who have worked with you before.

Testimonials work because they help to overcome the customers’ natural skepticism by helping them connect emotionally with others who have used your services or products before.

Improve site loading time

Page loading time is one of the key ranking factors and for a reason. Users tend to abandon sites that load too slow.

But site loading time can also affect your sales. Kissmetrics discovered that 1-second delay in page loading time could reduce your conversion by up to 7%.

Therefore, optimize your site to load as fast as possible. Use Pingdom tools to establish what might be slowing down the loading time and fix those issues.

Claiming Google My Business and Google+ Listing

With your website optimised for local customers, your next step should be to set up and optimise a Google My Business listing.

Google My Business is a way for local businesses to manage their online presence in Google. The platform allows to:

  • Help get your business found on Google. Google can use the business information you provide in local search results.
  • Read and respond to reviews from customers.
  • Get insights on how customers searched for your business, and where they’re coming from.

Here’s a quick guide to setting up Google My Business account.

Step 1. Set Up A Google Account

Go to the Google My Business page and log in or set up a new Google account.

Step 2. Search for your business name

Next you need to check if your business doesn’t already have a listing on Google. Simply search for your business name and location. Google will display whatever listings match your search.

If your business is already listed, click on the result to claim the ownership of your listing.

If it isn’t click “add your business” link located underneath the search results.

This will allow you to add basic business info:

  • Name,
  • Location details,
  • And specify categories that best describe what your business does. Note that a good practice is to search for already existing categories to ensure that you use the same ones your customers would use when searching for you.

Once done, Google will create a Google+ page for your business to allow you to manage your business online.

Step 3. Optimize Your Listing

As a final step, fill in any additional information about your business on your Google+ page. This will make it more relevant to customers and ensure that current information gets displayed in search results.

Here are a few best practices for optimizing Google My Business.

Building Citations

To rank in organic search results your site needs links.

In local SEO however, they have been replaced by citations – mentions of your business online.

Let’s learn more about them and see how you could gain more citations for your business.

What are citations?

Citations are online references to your business. They can include any of the following:

  • Just the company name.
  • Company name and a phone number.
  • Company name, address and phone number (commonly referred to as NAP).
  • NAP and a link.

However, the most powerful citation is the one including your company’s name, address and phone number.

Why citations are so important?

According to Moz’s last year’s Local Ranking Factors Survey, citations are one of the top 10 local search-ranking factors. Search engines use them to assess the accuracy and popularity of a business.

They also use them to validate the information they have about a business. If for some reason your company lacks a website for instance, the search engine will base their knowledge about a business on citations.

They also validate the trustworthiness of a business. Having a business referenced from places like chamber of commerce will also confirm its authority.

Where to build citations?

Unlike with links, there is almost endless number of places you could build citations from.

Here are few suggestions for good quality citations:

Local business listings and directories. Places like your local Chamber of Commerce, City or Town Council or local business directories feature business listings you could include your company in. What’s more, many of those sites will have high authority that they can also pass on your company.

Profile pages and industry memberships. Similarly, many industry or business organisations allow creating a profile with business information.

Industry directories. Industry-based directories of businesses are another great way to build relevant citations.

Local blogs. Blogs focusing on issues in your area often do business spotlight or have a listing page where they list them. They offer be a great way to feature your business and build a citation.

Industry blogs. Similarly, any industry-focused blogs feature businesses on regular basis.

Local Newspapers. Many people use other sources for local business information apart from a search engine. Some will turn to business listings in a local paper for instance. And since many of those listings are also online, they are a great source of quality citations.

Consistency of NAP Information

When building citations, you should remember to always provide the same NAP (name, address and phone number) information. An inconsistent NAP is one of the negative local ranking factors and can hinder your efforts to rank.

Reviews and Ratings

Your customers’ experiences with you can affect your chances for appearing in local SEO too.

Why, because first, online business reviews are one of the local search ranking factors.

And second, they give customers a way to voice their opinion about a company. They can share positive and negative experiences they had.

And needless to say, businesses with more positive reviews tend to rank higher.

Google displays review numbers in local listings and maps. When you search for a local business, the first thing you see is how prominent star ratings are in search listings.

reviews

The search engine does the same in mobile results.

IMG_1176

Therefore you should strive towards increasing the number of reviews in Google and other 3rd party sites (such as Yelp).

Where to get reviewed?

It is a common mistake to think that Google values Google reviews more than those from 3rd party sites. In reality, both affect your rankings in a similar way. And thus you should strive for a diverse reviews profile.

Here are few ideas for soliciting customer reviews:

  • Link to your review profiles from your website.
  • Include a request for review on your invoice, bill or any other materials you hand out to a customer after you serviced them.
  • Create dedicated materials listing sites you want customers to review you.
  • Train your customer service staff to ask for reviews at the end of interaction.
  • Include links to review sites in follow up emails you send after completion of service.
  • Put QR code to review site on your feedback materials.
  • Put up internal signage asking customers to leave reviews.

Responding to Online Reviews

Not all the feedback you’ll receive will be positive.

Unfortunately you can’t ignore negative reviews. Customers will expect you to respond and will often base their future buying decision on that.

Getting into public debate with customers isn’t always the best option either. After all, your other potential customers are reading those reviews and your responses too.

Yet you must respond in one way or another.

When your business receives a negative review, simply the best course of action. What can you do to make it right for the customer? Prove that you care. Respond with a plan of action and help overcome the customer’s problem with your business.

Blogging for Local SEO

Blogging has been long known as the SEO secret weapon.

Posting regular and relevant content increases your chances for being found online. But it also helps you confirm your authority and expertise in your field.

It’s no different with Local SEO.

  • Blogging regularly on topics your local audience is interested in gives you a chance at finding new ways to reach them.
  • It helps you attract audience that might not actively be seeking your service yet. People search for companies and solutions only close to the end of the buying cycle. Blogging gives you an opportunity to target users in its early stages – when they know they have a problem but are seeking to learn more about it before they start evaluating alternative solutions.
  • It enables your site to rank for more keywords.
  • Blogging helps build links. Even though citations are more important for local SEO, links also provide some local authority signal too.

4 Ideas for Local Focused Blog Content

Marcus Sheridan from The Sales Lion lists 4 top content and blogging strategies for local businesses:

Focus on local laws, ordinances or regulations.

This strategy might not be useful to all business, true. But if there are any regulations that affect how you do business in your region, create blog posts about them. Educate your audience about what limitations or possible legal hurdles they might experience when trying to solve their problem.

Answer “Who’s the best for X in [Location]”

Many customers will simply search for the best company that does what they’re looking for. Be it a lawyer or hotel, it’s likely that’ the key phrase they’re going to use.

Create a content that answers this question. Simply.

List and review your local competitors

As Sheridan points:

“[…] your potential clients are vetting you and your competitors all the time. They are going to Google and typing in phrases like “Reviews of [your competitor]” and 99.9% of the time, some awful 3rd party review site is the one controlling this conversation.”

Take over the reins by creating a resource where customers could compare you to your competition.

Post about related industries to yours

Are there any other companies your customers might inquire about while hiring you? Other professions they might need to complete the project?

For a restaurant, the list would also include pubs, bars, cinemas and other entertainment establishments.

Write a series of posts answering those questions, i.e.:

  • What are the top pubs in [location]?
  • Where to go for your first date in [location]?
  • XX cinemas and theatres you should visit in [location].

Where to find ideas for local content?

Here are a few tips to help you find inspiration for local content:

  1. Subscribe to any local news sites, publications and newsletters. Through them you will be able to keep an eye on any developments in your region and spot trending topics worth posting about.
  2. Set up Google Alerts for keywords related to your industry and location.
  3. Follow local organisations on social media and monitor topics and local issues they post about.

Monitoring Local Rankings

The final element of a typical local SEO strategy relates to monitoring your progress.

Apart from tracking typical business statistics – increase in web traffic and conversions, you should also monitor your local listing’s positions for various keywords related to what you sell.

Use software like SERPs to monitor local rankings. SERPs allow to track rankings in 100+ search engines by Zip or city / region.

What’s more, it also displays accurate Google Maps letter rankings.

serps2

Click here to sign up for a demo account.

Tools that Can Help You with Local SEO

We’ve already mentioned Google My Business- the search engine’s platform for managing your information across its various products – search listings, Maps and Google+.

There are however few other tools that could help you deliver a successful local SEO strategy:

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder

You already know how crucial citations are to your local success.

And you probably have an idea how difficult it might be to find good citation opportunities.

Whitespark’s Local Citations Finder is one tool that helps to overcome that problem. The tool allows finding where to list your business to improve your local search results.

Simply enter a phrase or keyword relating to what your company offers. The tool will help you identify other potential variations of the keyword and scour the Internet to find relevant places to build citations from.

All you have to do is keep building those citations following the tools recommendations.

It’s that simple.

Yext

Consistency of citation NAP information is a crucial local search ranking factor and you know it already.

But how do you ensure consistency if there are hundreds of mentions of your business online?

A quick answer - Yext.

This tool will find all your online listings and highlight what’s missing in each, where data isn’t consistent and which ones you should fix.

Working on Local SEO

And, that’s it.

That’s all, a typical local SEO strategy in a nutshell. You should now have a good understanding what local SEO is and what’s involved in positioning a business in local search.

What’s now left is practice.

Good luck!