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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Local SEO is similar to traditional, organic SEO practices that helps to rank a business’ website in Google.
There are however few crucial differences.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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:
I urge you to review the entire report. In this guide we’ll look at the most important ones in each group.
Working on these, and many other factors is bound to help your business rank higher.
Factors related to My Business Listing
External Location Signals
Review based factors
Presence of these (and many other) factors can hinder your efforts to rank a business in local search.
Equipped with all this information we covered so far you are now ready to learn how to do local SEO in practice.
We’ve already discussed the importance of website in a local SEO strategy.
Local customers will use it to:
It’s therefore crucial that your site is optimised to deliver to your local customers’ needs. Here are few points to achieve it:
There is certain information your customers will be looking for when visiting your site:
What’s important, they’ll expect to find it on specific pages:
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.
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:
If your business operates in multiple locations you should create a dedicated page for each of them. Make sure that it includes:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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:
Here’s a quick guide to setting up Google My Business account.
Go to the Google My Business page and log in or set up a new Google account.
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:
Once done, Google will create a Google+ page for your business to allow you to manage your business online.
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.
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.
Citations are online references to your business. They can include any of the following:
However, the most powerful citation is the one including your company’s name, address and phone number.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The search engine does the same in mobile results.
Therefore you should strive towards increasing the number of reviews in Google and other 3rd party sites (such as Yelp).
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:
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 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.
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.:
Here are a few tips to help you find inspiration for local content:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.