Local SEO: An Easy to Understand Guide

Posted on October 12, 2018 by in Resources | 15 comments

Local SEO: An Easy to Understand Guide

Your SEO strategy is strong. But have you thought about honing in on your local community? With a focus on local SEO, you can benefit from both general internet searches as well as specialized traffic that will bring in local customers and foot traffic.

If you have a physical location, targeting locals can be even more important than general internet traffic. Because 46% of all Google searches are for local businesses, and 78% of those searches resulting in offline purchases.

Local SEO does need a slightly different strategy than traditional, organic SEO, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. We are going to walk you through the basics and then some advanced tactics so that you can convert those Yelp reviews and Facebook likes into dollars in your pocket.

Local SEO: The Basics

In case you weren’t aware, there are a few differences in local SEO and organic SEO. The primary one being that local SEO takes the business and searcher’s locations into consideration when ranking. Ranking for keywords is important (just as in traditional organic SEO) but you have to add in various geographical metrics to make sure you’re found by the people who want to walk directly into your space.

1. Content is Still King

Keyword stuffing is still your enemy. You don’t want to have copy on your site that sounds like a bad radio advertisement:“Come on down to Besties in Your Town, USA for the best deals Your Town has ever seen. Remember, if you need this product, drop on by Besties in downtown Your Town, USA today.”

People cringe at reading stuff like that, and Google knows what you’re doing. You don’t necessarily have to blog to create content. That’s a misunderstanding about what web content is. You will want in-depth, well-written, SEO-optimized copy. It should go into pretty specific detail about what services you offer, for whom they are offered, and why you’re the best choice for the customer.

Tailor your landing pages, product pages, and about pages specifically to your ideal, local customer. Show them that you’re a part of the community. Doing so will build goodwill as well as show that you’re the choice they should make.

And if you do want to blog, feel free. You can write a ton about your community and general area. Which only boosts your ranking. Your business enriches the community and your content can provide the same kind of enrichment. You can highlight customers and community members, look at events going on in your area, or even discuss local history as it pertains to your business. Regardless, blogging doesn’t have to be on your content schedule. But if it is, you’ll see a benefit if you keep at it.

2. City Names and Neighborhoods Reign Supreme

Most of the time when people search for something near them they use the name of their neighborhood, city, region, etc. You absolutely want to use these as keywords on your site.

Sure, your business niche keywords are important. If you’re a plumber, you want to go into what services people in your area will be searching for. But just as important, you want to make sure that you target very specific parts of your city where you will be providing those services.

You might be based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, but you may be more local to the Maple Grove suburb and driving across the Twin Cities may not be worth the business. So you will want to make sure you target Maple Grove, MN more than the greater metro area.

Nicknames are just as important in SEO as actual city names. The city I live in is Florence, Alabama. However, the locals more often refer to the general area of the 4 closest towns as The Shoals. So while businesses local to me do list whether they are in Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, or Sheffield, they tend to mainly focus their efforts on the phrase/keyword The Shoals or just Shoals.

We will go into greater depth as to how you can do this later on, but keeping those names in your URLs, headings (especially H1s), blog post titles (and tags and categories, too), image alt tags, page copy, and general website title (or at least the SEO title that you set through plugins like Yoast).

If potential customers are searching for a local business and they have several choices, but one of those choices has several pages that refer to a more specific location they are looking for, that’s the site they’re more likely to visit. Even if that page isn’t necessarily ranked #1.

3. Make Connections with Other Local Businesses

Your goal should be providing the best content you can for your target customers. And sometimes, that means pointing them into a direction of a business that may not be yours. You provide your services, and what some customers need just won’t fall within those boundaries. I would be willing to bet, however, there is another business in your area that could handle their request. And chances are, you know the folks who run that business personally.

Speak with them about their own web presence. You can easily come to agreements to include links to them on your site (and vice versa) — which are great because they’re generally incredibly high quality. You can work with each other for deals and such that are cross-promoted. That way, both businesses will benefit from real-life people who are potential customers.

By partnering up with other local businesses, social networks also open up to you, with more opportunities for commercial growth via YouTube and Facebook search. While these are not as popular as Google in terms of general search, folks look for recommendations for local businesses frequently on Facebook. The more times your business is mentioned, the more you will show up in results and recommendations.

If any of your local businesses run blogs on their site, consider asking them if you can toss a post or two up there. You can generally get a new backlink, reach a new audience, and promote goodwill among your community. Guest blogging may seem like a relic of 2008, but it’s not. If your focus is local SEO, guest blogging is as relevant as ever.

4. Design for Mobile

Everyone is telling us to focus on mobile-first design. That’s never been more important than when focusing on local SEO because 89% of people search for something local on their cellphone at least once a week. Those mobile searchers are also 16% more likely to travel to your physical location within 1 day than desktop-based users. Even more useful than that, 18% of all mobile, local searches result in sales within 1 day. That’s a lot of revenue you don’t want to leave unaccounted for.

To specifically cater to this demographic, there are a few guidelines you should keep in mind specifically for local SEO that may not seem as important for general mobile design.

First, you want to make sure that your business name, address, and phone number (also known as a NAP or citation) are on your home page, prominent, readable, and (most importantly) clickable. 68% of visitors will either click the phone number to call you or click the address to open up directions to your location. Keep in mind, however, that you will want this NAP to be consistent everywhere — so as you set up your Google My Business page, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and so on, keep the same formatting and information. Otherwise, it confuses both the algorithms and users.

While it has nothing to do with SEO itself, integrating a live chat feature, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, can increase conversions, too. People are used to messaging on mobile devices. It’s a natural extension to reach out to you directly.

Local SEO: Advanced Tactics and Specifics

As you’ve seen above, the basics of local SEO are similar to traditional strategies, but just different enough to warrant special attention. However, if you want to move beyond those foundational tips and truly rank in your local searches, you’re going to need to apply some specific tactics. These can take a while to get in place, but if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease to get them working, they’ll serve you well for a long time.

1. Claim Your Google My Business Page

Outside of having a website of your own, the single most important thing you need to succeed at local SEO is a Google My Business (or GMB) page. Essentially, this is what people see when they search Google for anything remotely related to your business

You will have reviews, location, maps, questions, website links, phone numbers, etc. on the page. The ultimate NAP, really. Additionally, this information is aggregated by Google automatically, but you can take an extra step. I have highlighted the “Own This Business?” link in the image above. You can get much more out of your GMB page by claiming ownership of it, you basically get to post directly to Google as though it were your own blog. That’s awesome.

Once you’ve verified ownership of your business, start customizing the GMB page using the same strategies as above.

2. Leverage Review Sites

Similarly to GMB, review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, YP.comFacebook, and so many more are paramount to your local SEO efforts. If you haven’t claimed these business pages, go to the sites and grab them. You get many of the same benefits as you do with GMB — the customization for keywords, URLs, and the domain authority from links make this worth your time.

Additionally, you can use a plugin like WP Business Reviews to aggregate and grab multiple reviews that you want to highlight as testimonials on your site. Because Google loves testimonials for local SEO. They’re a trust signal that indicates to both the algorithms and people that you do what you say you do.

3. Utilize Facebook Groups

This one is quick and easy. If you keep up with your Facebook page as a local business (and you should because of the number of searches that can direct to you), a good habit to get into is posting in your local buy, sell, trade groups. Make checking these groups a regular part of your social strategy. Don’t spam them, obviously, but these are generally public groups that show up in searches, and depending on your area, can be incredibly active with hundreds of posts per day and thousands of users. That’s a lot of traffic for your menu or new products or anything else that you post.

Just make sure to follow any and all group guidelines so you don’t get blacklisted or worse…a bad reputation.

Finding these groups is pretty straightforward. Simply searching (inside Facebook) for MyCityName buy sell trade will likely bring many of them up. For my local area, the term sale barn is popular for groups, and other keywords like swap and marketplace and bazaar tend to work their way into titles.

You can also use this strategy to post items for sale in the official Facebook Marketplace (it’s in the main toolbar of the mobile app). Do this sparingly, but as you post items or services within your business niche, many people who searched for similar things in the past will get notifications of your new post.

4. Get Listed in Local and Niche Directories

Your local Chamber of Commerce probably has a directory of local businesses that are members. Those are links with good domain authority (probably) and generally decent traffic. You may have a state-wide directory like Alabama does through AL.com. Note that our local Chamber of Commerce shows up.

(When I was working on a book festival a few years ago, I found a niche directory made up of local festivals of all kinds in Alabama. Multiple people told me they found us through it, too. That impressed on me how useful those tools can be!)

These kinds of directories are great because they tend to target the exact demographics that you do. So take the time, search them out, and get a few links back to your site. Just make sure that you’re submitting to reputable sites. Not every directory is worth having a link from, but many are. Not only will you show up in their interior searches, but your individual page will come up in results and give people your NAP.

Moz has a good overview of how to vet the local business directories you come across. It’s a good read, like pretty much everything from Moz.

5. Make Sure Your Schema is Right

Schema.org does a lot of good for websites. Many SEO plugins like Yoast already optimize your site’s schema to talk to the search engines correctly. But you will want to make sure that your own website’s schema is also optimized with the local business markup that Schema.org lists. When you look through that list, you might be overwhelmed. I kind of am, so don’t feel bad. That’s why there are tons of schema plugins out there like Structured Data Schema or WPSSO that let you customize exactly how you want your data to appear.

6. Use Moz Local

This one may not be for everyone, as Moz Local is a paid tool that can come with a hefty price tag (from $99 to $249 per year). But if you can afford it and really want to take your local SEO game to the next level, check out the small business tool. You won’t be disappointed.

Moz is my personal favorite of all the SERP and SEM tools online, and with Moz Local, it’s drilling down another level. You get rankings and analytics of much of the stuff we talked about in this article already, and you don’t have to do the legwork yourself.

For a lot of people, that will be worth the price of admission. For others, maybe not. Regardless, the tool is pretty nifty and worth at least a cursory glance.

Final Thoughts

Local SEO is not necessary for everyone. If you don’t need local traffic and do most of your business online to audiences abroad, you should absolutely stick to worrying about traditional SEO tactics. But if you do have a physical location that makes up for a sizable portion (or really any portion) of your business done, you should focus on local SEO.

They say that word-of-mouth is the best advertising, and these days, word-of-mouth seems to happen on Yelp and Facebook and Google more often than in person. So do an audit of your site, traditional SEO strategies, and current local SEO strategies. Then you can start from the top of this post, work your way down, and watch those numbers in your ledger rise.

What is your strategy for standing out with local SEO?

Article featured image by Aa Amie / shutterstock.com

15 Comments

  1. One of the most frustrating situations I’ve encountered, especially with Google My Business listings (and I think with Moz Local as well) is that many places INSIST on you having a storefront location.

    What about we independent website builders who work out of our home office?

    We do not have storefronts, nor do we want one, and most can’t afford it anyway. We work out of our home office, and we do not want our home address published as a business address; because all of our business is conducted via email, or at worst by us going to our clients’ location.

    My biggest clients are located more than 1,000 miles from where I work.

    BJ, you would be doing a great service to a large percentage of ET customers and ET blog readers if you could address effective SEO for home-based businesses, particularly website building businesses that use ET products.

    • B.J. Keeton

      David, I ran into this earlier this year, actually. If you check the GMB photo in the article, it’s for a Storytelling festival. That one doesn’t have a physical address, either. So we were able to use the sponsoring business address (which also worked because that’s where some of the events were being held).

      For home businesses and simply remote businesses, you have two options:

      The first is list your home address. Yes, I know. But there should be a place in the listing that reads something like Hide My Address from the Public. Make sure that’s checked. Then, you will want to make sure that the box labelled My business has as service area where I visit customers at their location. That should get you a listing and keep your home address safely tucked away.

      Or you could sign-up for a mailbox service (not a P.O. Box) or drop-off address at a co-working space. That would be a space you could meet with customers (whether you do or not isn’t the question here), as well as have a verifiable identity at.

      I also believe that you could list a business a friend or colleague owns as an address and become an authorized representative for them, with it essentially acting as though you run the business out of that storefront.

      No matter which way you go on this, just make sure you can receive a postcard at that address. That’s how they verify you are actually there. Google will also do a phone call to verify if you would prefer that instead, but there’s a bit of a unwritten rule that you get better results to verify by mail.

      Does that help at all? Other than that, I think the rest of the guidelines should apply to you being home-based.

      Oh, and the official Google guidelines are here: https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177?hl=en

  2. This was an excellent article. Local SEO does have it’s own unique requirements to make it work. For the most part I understand Googles thinking on most things but the way businesses are tied to a location really makes it hard on businesses that do service work in a large area or have multiple areas they service. I have a copier sales/repair business client in a small bedroom community but they do most their business in the nearby major city. This business has to do Google adwords to show up or they have no presence in their primary market. This business has multiple servicemen covering a 30 mile radius but they only show up in the town their brick and motar is in. Your suggestions were solid but in most cases do not get the company’s website on page 1 or even 2 of the listings.

    • B.J. Keeton

      That’s a really good point about AdWords. Now that you mention it, I do see a bunch of ads for local businesses show up in both Facebook and Google searches for various things. That kind of targetting marketing works wonders to get traffic and (hopefully) conversions.

      I can see how they may not show up on the first couple of pages for broad keywords or industries/niches, but when folks are looking specifically for local (for a specific town within that 30 mile radius), I have a hard time wrapping my mind around why they wouldn’t show up if the website and profiles are set up to focus on them. That’s not a criticism on you at all, but an actual concern regarding the Google search algorithm that produces local results. I’d love to hear how things pan out in the future as you find new tactics or keep this one going. (I always want to know how to game the system for stuff like this, haha.)

  3. Want to rank on your local Google maps? We can rank and have the results to show. Get in touch.

  4. Does hosting have anything to do with local SERP rankings?

    • B.J. Keeton

      Not directly, at least that I am aware. I think the only way that hosting should have an effect is purely technical. Is the website displaying fast enough, the servers optimized to maintain traffic levels, etc. As long as you’re on a good host and it can deliver the pages as quickly as possible to your target audience, you should be good. I wouldn’t host a US-based business on an Oceanic server, or vice versa, if you’re looking for domestic, local business — just because of the latency and how Google actually ranks for page speed.

  5. After reading so many blogs about local SEO, I am glad I am on the right track. Solid post.

  6. Hey Keeton, insightful post.

    I loved your point on networking with other local businesses to grow your search traffic and leads as most people see a threat in competition but it can be good if you change your mindset and look for win/win approach.

    Local SEO also heavily relies upon (as you said), content. If you can provide valuable content to your target market, no matter what industry you are in, you can beat your competition and attract high paying clients.

    Thanks for the great write up, Keeton.

    • B.J. Keeton

      Thank you! Most of my freelance work and side gigs have come from word of mouth and work I’ve done for people locally, and that kind of marketing can’t be denied. When you take it to the online space, it generally only multiplies.

  7. Number 3 is huge.

    Not just for SEO, but in a general business sense – piggybacking on other trusted businesses that you collaborate with, are friends with or trust opens you up to whole contact spheres you otherwise wouldn’t reach, no matter the marketing budget.

    • B.J. Keeton

      Exactly. I learned that through my wife being a programming librarian. Seeing all of the success she had working in the non-profit sphere via collaboration really shows how beneficial it can be for everyone. It just takes a little outside-the-box thinking for some businesses to look externally and see how work for someone else could benefit themselves.

  8. Hey Keeton,

    I like how this guide gets across the importance of local SEO along with some actionable tips that a beginner could get started with. SEO is already overwhelming and Local SEO has even more nuances within it that can stop a lot of people from getting started.

    One thing – I think claiming your Google My Business page should be listed under the main section of the article rather than “advanced tips” because it’s such an important component of local SEO – Google REALLY looks at the GMB profile for info. No business should skip setting it up!

  9. “Make Connections with Other Local Businesses”

    I would like to point out that sounds a lot better than the reality of trying to do that.

    Most businesses are not going to link to a competitor, or mention them, whether they can serve that customer or not.

    There are certainly situations where this can work but generally, telling a potential customer that they can spend their money elsewhere, is a pretty big conflict to their business interests.

    I would suggest that it’s a better use of your time to network with local bloggers and build local citations in the relevant local business directories.

  10. Really great post, answered many questions I’ve had about local seo. Funny too, I was surprised to see a reference to Maple Grove Minnesota as I live in Blaine, about 10 miles from there. Thanks for this B.J.

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