You have recently moved to a new city. You want to try the local food or let’s say your favorite Italian food. What do you do? You probably go on Google or your preferred search engine and search for places near you serving that food.
Similarly, if you are a shop owner, your prospective customers will do the same. In fact, 46% of google search is about getting local information. 88% people searching for a store or restaurant on the web actually visit it within 24 hours.
Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is extremely important for a business having a physical presence in today’s scenario. If your business is not yet optimized for local search, you are missing out on a lot of potential customers ready to shop in your area. Local SEO is imperative for your business to stay relevant.
To help optimize your business for local SEO, we have put together a detailed guide covering topics like:
- What is Local SEO?
- Difference between SEO and Local SEO
- Who needs Local SEO?
- Advantage of Local SEO
- What does Local SEO attract?
- What is local search?
Let’s delve into understanding the basics of Local SEO.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the technique of improving online visibility for local businesses, especially the ones with brick-and-mortar locations. By following local SEO best practices, businesses can improve their organic traffic from searches performed by customers in nearby areas.
When a prospective customer in your local area searches for the product or service you deal in, local SEO comes into play. It is a series of strategies and actions designed in a way such that it improves your business visibility on Google and other search engines.
Example, local SEO technique helps a business surface in ‘search results’ or ‘maps’ when someone types ‘best bagels in New York’ or ‘best bagels near me’. Though all of this may sound technical and complicated it is an effective way to increase sales by improving your brands online visibility.
Difference between SEO and Local SEO
- The biggest difference between just SEO and local SEO is that the latter has a local component to it. Local SEO is all about a person looking for a service or product in a specific geographic area.
- Both of them cater to two distinct groups of people. SEO answers a question or provides results to a person who could be in any part of the world.
For example, someone types in “recipe for mac ‘n cheese” in Google search and it will display links to thousands of food blogging sites and YouTube videos. Local SEO on the other hand helps a person find a product or service in his local area.
Hence, both kinds of SEO’s use a different set of techniques and strategy to achieve their respective goals.
Who needs Local SEO?
- Any business that has a physical location to meet and greet customers and caters to a particular geographic location needs local SEO. Traditional brick-and-mortar stores like salons and spas, pubs, restaurants, gym, doctor’s clinic, grocery store etc. should invest in local SEO.
- People who provide services by traveling to customers in a specific locality like lock-making, painters, masseurs, electrician plumbers etc. should also invest in local SEO.
Advantage of local SEO
When you are a local business, whether a food truck selling burgers in Idaho, a restaurant specializing in Indian cuisine based out of Jacksonville, Florida, or a gym in Houston, Texas, local SEO can contribute a great deal in generating customers and conversions.
- Local SEO supports small local businesses over online shopping biggies and retail giants. In the present market landscape dominated by online retail portals it is natural for a business owner to feel demotivated.
Competing against big names like Amazon for positions in search results can be intimidating. However, by investing in local SEO a business increases its chance of being spotted by local consumers who are more than happy to shop and support local business.
- Proximity matters to people a great deal for buying their day today essentials and also for quality family entertainment or catching up with friends.
As per a research conducted by Access 92% of the people do not want to travel beyond 20 minutes for buying their day-to-day necessities or a casual family lunch or dinner. This is a reason good enough for you as a business to invest in SEO.
- Investing in local SEO can help brick-and-mortar or service-area businesses to drive more customers resulting in high revenue generation.
- Google has a defined set of local ranking factors. Basis the factors it determines whether or not your business is geographically relevant to a user by performing a ‘near me’ search. So, as a small local business you do not have to worry about competing with big players for your local business to be noticed by relevant nearby consumers.
- In today’s tech driven world any business, be it big or small has to manage both their physical and digital storefront. Local SEO helps make your digital storefront get visibility.
- Local SEO helps you gain a larger online real estate in a world where e-commerce giants have a monopoly. It boosts traffic to your website, helps you to better engage with prospective customers.
- Most importantly it helps you gain customer confidence and trust. Better reach in your local area translates into increased business leads, bookings and higher footfall in physical stores.
What does local SEO attract?
The main focus of local SEO is to attract customers in more focused areas like a particular city or town or a locality within a city. Local SEO is designed for local businesses both big and small.
The objective is to help these businesses reach a larger local audience and to drive more footfall to the businesses physical location or develop business within a service area. For most brick-and-mortar businesses, local customers are the best. You may wonder, why is it so?
- It is much easier for a business to reach and cater to the demands of local customers. Business is more aware of the local preferences and culture, challenges in a particular city etc.
- It is easier to foster a long-term and healthy customer relationship. Local customers are more loyal and getting converted into repeat customers is highly likely.
- Local SEO helps a business in improving its visibility everywhere online.
Interestingly, Google is the most-used search engine across the globe. According to a survey by Statecounter Google’s search engine market share is a whopping 92.18% globally. There are other search engines like of Bing too, but the majority of customers online depend on Google.
Keeping Google’s popularity in mind, we will be focussing on Google in context of its Local SEO features. Besides, given Google’s huge market share in the segment, most search engines tend to follow suit. Whatever strategy you implement on Google can easily be replicated on other platforms too.
What is Local search?
When a person enters a query in the Google search bar with an intent to find a product or service in his proximity, that is local search.
For example, if a person types “Bagels in New York '', and the geolocation settings of the person is active it will display all results in the vicinity. Given below is a screenshot of what the search result looks like:
Anyone around the globe with good SEO and authority can rank on top for a search query. However, it is only local businesses that can rank for high-intent searches. Examples of local intent search ‘spas near me’ or ‘best spa in Houston’.
When a user while roaming in the streets of New York does a simple search for ‘bagels’, he is presented with local search results as shown above. A person is in all probability doing the search with an intent to eat bagels rather than do a research about best bagel places on a casual day out.
This behavior intent makes investing in local SEO worthy for local business. The results that appear on these local queries are based on a few key local ranking factors. We will cover the same later in this guide.
How is it possible for Google to give such accurate results?
Google keeps a tab on our location by using Geographical Positioning System (GPS) to provide relevant search results. The bottom of search results on mobile or laptop always shows where Google thinks you are. See the screenshot below:
Search engines these days are smart and sophisticated to understand what users expect when they do a local search query. They are aware that the user wants suggestions based on their location. They precisely offer the same in the local search engine results pages (also known as SERPs).
Local SERP are results that appear in response to a local intent search. They will generate different results based on a query. Results may include localized organic results and local map packs.
Local map pack
In order to improve traffic on their websites and physical footfall, local businesses need visibility on what’s known as Google’s ‘local pack’, ‘3-pack’, or the ‘snack pack’.
This is the block of 3 business listings that appear below the map in the Google search results displayed with a local intent. When you click on a listing, even features such as posts and photos may appear. The information displayed in the local pack comes from a business’s Google My Business profile. This is a critical aspect of local SEO marketing.
Understanding the algorithm behind the results
The program that runs behind a search query to display search results is called an algorithm. The organic algorithm dictates most search results. However, when it comes to local results, the algorithm works in a different manner.
It takes into account a few other factors as well besides the standard search algorithm.
For simplifying things let us take an example of Google’s local algorithm. So what all factors does Google take into consideration when you make a local search. It takes into account the following three factors:
Relevance is a key component that is common in the algorithm used for both local SEO and general SEO. For search engines like Google to view your business as relevant enough to appear in the search results, you as a business need to make sure that you target keywords or topics that potential customers would search.
For example, if you have a place serving ‘Bagels’ in New York, you must ensure that Google relates your business to keywords like ‘bagels New York’, ‘best bagels’, or ‘cheap bagels New York’ if pricing is your USP.
You can keep the search engines informed about your business’s relevance through simple tasks such as, choosing the right category for your business on directories, include keywords in descriptions and content, creating content relevant to your business, use title tags and meta descriptions, schema markup etc.
How well does your brand stand out from the others in the same business, specifically your competitor is ‘prominence’. Local SEO algorithms consider brands having a stronger online presence and prominence as more credible and trustworthy.
As a business you’re trying to convey that Google can trust your business. Trust here implies that the information you have provided in the online domain is accurate, exists and is worth considering.
The more visible you are to Google and other search engines online, the better. Search engines gather data from all corners of the web. If you have a presence online, search engines will try to find data related to your business and rank your business based on prominence.
If your presence is not prominent enough, it is highly unlikely for your name to be displayed in the top search results. As a business you can demonstrate prominence by building (local) links, create and share relevant content and articles, get listed in directories, develop a strong reviews and feedback portfolio, being active and verified on social media platforms, listed by local media or government sites if possible.
Proximity is the most important consideration when we think about local SEO. When someone puts a local search query, proximity to the relevant place or service is important making proximity the most important local ranking factor hands down.
This is one factor which is unique to local SEO algorithms. Although relevance and prominence are important for traditional SEO, proximity is not a factor for online eCommerce stores and the like. A user can do local search in three ways namely non-geo-modified, geo-modified and near me.
As a business, always optimize for the different ways users search to showcase your proximity to Google as well as other search engines.
Now that you have a fair idea of what Local SEO is all about, have a look at the tips and tricks we have put together for you to put together an effective local SEO strategy.
Tips and tricks for Local SEO
Optimize your business for Google My Business
Google My Business is the uncrowned king of local search. Google only shares content it can support and verify. Google My Business is a tool to help a business fulfil Google's requirements.
To optimize for Google My Business:
- Make your Google My Business page and verify it.
- Encourage customers to share their reviews online
- Respond to reviews whether positive or negative, with your location.
We will discuss how you can use Google My Business in detail in a separate article.
Have an active social media presence and link the posts to Google My Business.
All search engines including Google consider content shared on social media as an extremely important aspect of any business online presence.
This is especially more relevant now with more and more people connecting on social media both personally and professionally. Once you have created your Google My Business page, share it on all your social media handles.
Be consistent online
It is important to have a consistent image online. Ensure that you have the same logo, address, contact details, name mentioned across all social media handles, website etc. Basically, everywhere your brand is present. You want to distinctly stand out and people recognize you and your business.
Optimize citations and online directories
These four map data aggregators provide a huge amount of map data for Yelp, Bing, Google, Apple, Trip Advisor, and more in the United States. As iterated earlier, accuracy and consistency is the key.
Small discrepancies like wrong spelling, incomplete address or incorrect phone number can pose major problems. If Google or other search engines find discrepancies and are unable to determine which information is correct, they may not show your business at all in search results. Ensure removing any duplicate listing.
Perform regular audits
Local SEO is an intuitive and ongoing process. It is a good idea to perform a comprehensive audit and see where your website stands. Audits help identify what you need to work on to achieve your goals. A local SEO audit may include:
- Google My Business Audit
- Google Search Console Audit
- On-Page SEO Audit
- Citation Audit
- Competitor Analysis
- Website Audit
Work on improving your internal linking structure
Adjusting and optimizing your internal linking structure will help boost your SEO rankings. Why is it important to have a good internal linking structure?
- It supports website navigation.
- It helps with information architecture and website hierarchy.
Optimize your URL, headers, meta descriptions, title tags, and content
Every new blog post is a new indexed page for a website. It is an opportunity to target a geographic search phrase, and to get recognised in search engine results pages (SERPs).
So, every time you write new content, it is important to optimize that content for search engines by using high-volume keywords in the URL, title, header, meta description, and body.
Adding location pages to the website
Create location pages in case you have more than one physical location. The location pages should contain your name, address, phone number, store opening and closing time, store description, parking information, directions, ongoing promotion and offer details, and feedback from happy customers.
Avoid duplicating content across multiple location pages. A business with a single location can create a locally descriptive About Us page. Adding a Google Map on your website and respective location page(s) will give a tremendous boost to your local search visibility.
Focus on creating local content
Google continues to get smarter, enabling content creators to write for users and not search engines. Though writing about general topics attracts a crowd, it is also important to write about local or industry news in order to attract a local audience. Take initiative to promote local industry gatherings, news, and other educational content on your blog.
Make sure your website is both desktop and mobile friendly
Both local and mobile search are important. With the arrival of smartphones most people will use your site in a mobile environment to look up reviews, find directions to your location, and search for contact information. The "near me" searches on mobile have seen 250% increase since 2017 (Think With Google).
Get relevant inbound links
Inbound links help to boost your local SEO. An inbound link is proof that you are a legitimate business entity. Inbound links also help raise your domain authority. Few ways to get inbound links can be sponsorships or partnerships, guest blog posts and scholarships.
Your personal network can be a good starting point. Include Chamber of Commerce, business improvement districts, licensing bureaus, trade associations, resellers, vendors, and/or manufacturers and other affiliates.
Sponsor a meet-up, host a community event, promote a local cause close to your heart, build relationships with prominent people and influencers. Talk to other people in your industry in a positive way and be a resource provider for the community.
Be active in your local community
Active involvement in the local community automatically attracts publicity, both digital and print. Initiatives like volunteering for a noble cause, sponsoring an event (both online and offline), appearing in the local media as an influential figure in your business domain creates awareness about your brand and generates inbound links.
Having understood what Local SEO is and how you can put it to good use to optimize your business, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some tools to do so. We have put together some of the most preferred tools that can help you improve your ranking and online visibility.
- Whitespark location citation finder: Online mention of the name, address and phone number of a business is known as local citation. Citations if managed well help a local business surface in online search. Whitespark is one of the preferred tools to manage local citations. It offers features like local listing management, suggestions on where to list business, examines competition, builds and monitors citation growth for improved local search rankings.
- Screaming Frog: Screaming frog is a desktop program that crawls through a website's links, images, script, CSS and apps for effective SEO. The program analyzes upto 500 URLs free of cost. The unlimited usage version is for $200 per year.
- Moz Local: Moz local ensures your business listing has been verified on Facebook and Google. It also distributes your listing across the search ecosystem. It also collaborates with data aggregators to push listings and ensures that your business gains visibility in online search engines. Moz is also pocket-friendly compared to other service providers.
- Ahrefs: It offers competitor analysis, insight into the anchor text other websites use for backlinking in your site, keyword research etc.
- Buzzstream: Buzzstream facilitates earning local backlinks. It helps you identify and build relationships with local influencers. It does research on influencers by tracking conversations, and providing reporting insights into your outreach campaigns, team performance, and link placements.
- Brightlocal: A comprehensive SEO tool suite built specifically for local business marketing, Brightlocal helps generate and monitor reviews on local sites, analyzes competitors in the vicinity and understands local search performance. It also offers white-label reporting.
Let us now look at ways to improve your Local SEO.
10 Ways to improve your Local SEO
By now it is clear that local SEO is a great investment specially for a small business with a physical presence in an area. An optimized local SEO translates to an increased website traffic, leads and conversions. So how do you improve or optimize your local SEO? Let’s have a look.
Keyword research is like your bread and butter. As a business owner you must know what search terms you want to rank for. It is based on these keywords that you optimize your business and undertake ranking tactics.
A few other reasons why keyword research is important:
- Helps create a landing page that focuses on most searched words and phrases.
- Helps better understand consumer search behavior and an overall understanding of the target audience.
- Helps find related markets to expand the business.
- Helps discover new ways to attract more customers.
It is imperative for a business to know what phrases are being searched for related to their business. Your own judgement as a business owner is the starting point in identifying key terms.
Ask yourself, as a consumer how would you search for a product or service you are selling. In order to build a list of core keywords, go to a search engine like Google or Bing, put your query and take notes of what competitors and other businesses in similar industries put in their title tags.
Make longer keywords, content optimized for long-tail keywords receive a higher click-through as compared to content optimized for short-tail keywords.
Keyword modifiers help to make your overall keyword strategy more diverse. As a business you benefit from less competitive organic search opportunities. You are able to reach more relevant customers. Tools like Ahrefs come handy for in-depth keyword research.
Popular tools for “Keyword Research
- Google Trends;
- Keyword Generator;
- Keyword Sheeter;
- Answer the Public;
- Keyword Surfer;
- Google Search Console;
- Bulk Keyword Generator;
- Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
Ways to do local keyword research:
- Local keyword research involves identifying three parts of your target search queries: your core term, your keyword modifiers, and your location.
- Use your own knowledge of your niche and Google search results to identify core terms.
- Create long-tail keywords by identifying important keyword modifiers either through Google SERP features or a search tool like Ahrefs.
- Organize your keyword list by importance, relevance and search intent.
Ensure your home page is optimized
Your homepage should accurately define what you do, who you are and where you are located. Make it as simple as possible on Google for others to understand these aspects of your business.
The page title tag, meta description and header tag should clearly state this information. If you website is build on WordPress, it is easy to update your website page title tag under Settings > General in the left navigation.
The opinion is divided on whether or not page title tags and meta descriptions are still relevant. However, one can’t deny that metadata is an important element in creating a lasting first impression of your web page on a visitor.
When focusing on optimizing for local SEO, the page title tags must include the name of the city that you want to be focused on. Ensure that your page title tags are optimized to include the name of the city and the product or service you offer.
This not only helps search engines in identifying the location where they can find you but also clearly explains what product or service you offer in that location.
A separate page for every service, product and location
The more pages you have the better it is for SEO. It is a good practice that each of your product/service have their own page as this enables you to apply product/service schema to each of your individual product/service offerings.
This way you offer a clear sitemap for search engines and also your product/service pages rank for that specific offering. It allows you to have specific schema applications.
A single page like "Our Services" without links to individual pages, will adversely affect your local SEO or Social Media ranking. In case you are present in multiple physical locations, it is advisable to create a page for each location.
You can’t expect your Texas location to show up in local search results if it's on the same page as your Chicago and New York locations. Exactly. This involves more work but allows each store to surface in the local search query.
We have listed below a few popular tools you can use to create quick landing pages:
- Hello Bar
- User Testing
NAP (Name, Address and Phone number) citations
As iterated earlier as well, it is extremely important that your NAP citations are correct and updated. It is important to make sure your NAP is listed exactly the same way on every page of your website as it is listed in your Google My Business listing.
In case multiple locations, create a page for each location and apply the NAP that is relevant to that location on the respective page.
Get your business listed in local directories
It is important to have your business added to local directory listings. It is a great way to optimize your website for local SEO. Although it is a time consuming task, the good news is that there are tools out there available to simplify this task for you.
The key here is to maintain consistency in citations across all your online channels. Copy the exact formatting and representation of your company from your GMB page and ensure the business is listed the same way in your local directories.
Tools like Moz Local provide a quick and free audit of in few major directories. WhiteSpark provides more comprehensive reports, but it is a paid tool. We have put together a list of top directories where you should list your business:
- Bing Places for Business
- Google My Business
Encourage your happy customers to write reviews
As your business grows, it is good to have “testimonials” or "reviews" from your happy customers. These reviews should talk about where you are located, reaffirm your claims about your product or service, people post rave reviews about your products and services etc. When search engines put together the best results for a certain search inquiry, the number of reviews a business has on Google, Yelp and Facebook is a big deciding factor.
How to encourage customers to leave reviews?
- Ask your customers for a review in person once the sale is complete.
- Send an e-mail or text asking customers to write a review post sales. Send them a thank-you note, discount coupon for next purchase in case of a home delivery with a link to fill reviews.
- Respond to all reviews whether positive or negative in a professional way and be prompt in your responses.
Getting your customers to write reviews, boosts your online reputation. Infact, getting more reviews is a good way to manage your online reputation. Read more about how reviews can enhance your online reputation here.
Optimize your local SEO for voice search
Voice search is growing rapidly in today’s world. Therefore, in local SEO, it is important to optimize for how people ask questions when they speak into devices, instead of how they type out their searches.
Practically, customers tend to use more long-tail keywords when doing voice searches compared to regular search. Hence, you must adjust the SEO of your content to fit more conversational tone.
For example, you will have to consider the traditional question starters (what, when, where, why, how and who). It is also important to consider user’s intent when optimizing for voice, as these searches are most often performed when the user needs a specific information.
If someone is craving to eat a burger and ask Alexa for recommendations, they are expecting a quick and meaningful answer. If a potential customer uses voice search to ask about your business hours, this information should also be instantly available.
Make a mobile-friendly website
As per recent surveys of mobile vs. desktop trends found the shift towards mobile for website browsing faster than anticipated. A study conducted by Acquisio shows that traffic from local searches can lead to potential conversions.
A remarkable 75% of mobile search queries are with a local intent. These convert to actual in-store, offline visits within 24 hours of the search. This is the reason to optimize your website for mobile to surface in local SEO results. Some tips to optimize your website for mobile:
- Make sure your website loads quickly.
- Use big and easy to read fonts.
- Use relevant images and text.
- Make sure that a user has a good experience browsing your website.
- You can check if your website is mobile friendly with the help of search.google.com tool.
Make sure to implement SEO best practices throughout your website
Though obvious and known, implementing SEO best practices is often ignored, especially by small businesses. Your website is your face to the online world. A good search engine optimized your website with a good content strategy and good blog posts ensure good quality in-bound links. Driving quality links is imperative as it is an important ranking factor in local SEO. It also determines your rankings in SERPs.
The technology world is ever evolving. We do not know what SERP changes might be introduced by Google in the future. However, by staying on top of these parameters you as a business build a strong foundation to adapt to new SEO features as and when they are introduced.
By following best local SEO practices you stay on top of the local SEO search queries and reap the benefits by converting search queries to potential customers. In this digital world, investing in local SEO is imperative to make your business visible and reach out to relevant audiences.