This blog was originally posted on September 25th, 2017. It was updated in October 2019.
Before We Get Started
There are many factors that make up SEO. As you will read, local SEO is a subset of search engine optimization that can be just as daunting. The goal of this post is to equip you with the necessary materials to improve your local search ranking. Read on to learn how you can get your business to rank on Google’s local search engine.
Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, making competition online quite fierce. Local SEO, strategically, should be a core component of your online marketing. With so many businesses online, you need to have a strong online presence, especially now that mobile is changing how users search. It is critical therefore that businesses understand local intent. What, where, why, and how is your local audience searching?
Just like with SEO, this is easier said than done. There are multiple factors to consider and best practices to follow. So let’s find out more about what local SEO is, what is a local citation, why it is important, what’s required, common issues faced, and how to get ahead.
1. What Is Local SEO and How Is it Different From SEO?
A Quick Intro
Local SEO is the practice of improving your business’s visibility in the local results provided by Google. Big companies with massive budgets don’t have the edge anymore, thanks to local search marketing, helping smaller businesses get featured for local queries online is very do-able.
There are approximately seven billion unique local searches per month on Google in the United States.
Why Is This So Important to Local Businesses?
Web users are looking for information regarding products and services; they want results that are fast and within close proximity. For example, when I search for “landscapers in Lancaster, PA” I see local landscape contractors in the search results. Several years back if you searched for “coffee shops“, top spots would’ve gone to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Seattle’s Best. Now I see results for coffee shops located in Lancaster, PA such as Mean Cup and Square One Coffee. These results are more relevant and are even based upon how close they are to my current location. Are you a local business wanting to drive more local users to your location? You should, it is a game-changer. Read on to see why.
Focusing SEO to Be Local
As a local business, you want to promote yourself to the locals in your area, not those in locations you don’t serve. Local SEO is the catalyst to propel your brand forward on that local front. This is a significantly important form of online marketing that many businesses are still not utilizing to their fullest potential. If you want your local business to thrive, you need to get on-board with local SEO.
Local Search Is the New Digital
Traditional media such as the Yellow Pages are now competing against digital mediums that return local results. In early 2009, Google started displaying local results for search queries based on where the user was currently located. This eliminated the need to add a location to search for queries. For example, users can now type “HVAC repairs” instead of “HVAC repairs in Lancaster, PA”.
This has transformed the search to be more personalized and highly useful to online users.
2. Implementing Local SEO Best Practices
Local SEO should always focus on the user and search engines. Catering to only one of these is where most small businesses fail in their local SEO strategy. Your site must be useful to the user and easy to crawl/navigate around by search engines.
Is there useful content on the home page? Far too many websites have thin, uninspiring content on their site, leaving users to guess what the site is about. Do you have descriptive content to explain what your business offers, your industry, and the audience you serve? This should be evident especially considering that your homepage receives the most views.
Text and Context
Is there a useful amount of text on each page? Having enough content on each page is critical in helping your customers understand what your website offers, not only to humans but to search engines, too. You have a short span of time to convince the user that they have landed on the right page. It is integral to craft content that is useful, relevant, and that re-assures the user they came to the right page, otherwise, they leave your site.
Optimize Key Areas
We should keep in mind that search engines also need to understand your web pages so they can deliver the best results for each search query. That is why it’s essential to have your local optimization set-up.
A simple yet very effective way of implementing local SEO is to make sure the city and state of your business are included in the title tags and meta description.
Other areas to optimize include the main heading and body of content of each web page. As you read through this article, you can probably figure out that the audience I am aiming for is right here in Lancaster.
Updating your page URLs to include your city and state is also helpful for search engines. This can be tricky to do as it means pages might break, so use redirects where necessary (or ask us!)
Adding Your Business Title/Name
The title (name) of your business is vital in helping local rankings. Your business needs to have a title that is consistent across all the different local platforms; this will assist search engines in establishing the existence of your location. Different titles look untrustworthy and therefore hurt your rankings.
For example, if you use the business name “Mike’s Plumbing” in one local listing and use a different business name, such as “Mike’s Plumbing Services,” in another listing, there is potential to confuse search engines. They may consider these two different businesses. Think of the business title as your brand; keep it the same across all channels and platforms.
Google has offered clear instructions for the naming convention of your business title. Below are some of the main points you should note:
- Your business title online needs to be the same as offline (business cards, print material, etc.)
- There should always be a short business description to highlight what you offer and where. Descriptions help establish understanding.
- Use the same phone number (include local area code if possible) on all online listings.
The Importance of Backlinks and Citations
Major search engines learn about your business in two main ways:
- By visiting your website through links that appear on other websites.
- By tracking citations/mentions of your business and noting which sites they come from.
- Links act as votes. The more links you have from trustworthy sites, that are related to your industry, the higher the chance of your business ranking.
Selecting the Right Categories
This one requires a little more attention. Google uses category data to decide which businesses to show for certain searches.
The majority of the local search engines offer the option of declaring what categories best describe your business, and you can choose anywhere between two and ten categories. It is important to list at least two, as this helps search engines better understand your business offerings. The right categories improve the opportunity for your business to show up for related searches
Not all local search engines are designed the same. As a result, the categories are not the same across the board. So make sure you manually select the most appropriate category for every website you submit your business to.
Influence of Social Factors
We all know that social media is important, but how important is it for local search and helping your business rank? Social media is a great tool to help converse with your local audience, as well as respond to positive and negative reviews.
One of the main benefits I see between social media and local search is that it gives your business a human identity and a human voice. You’re not an automated voice call system that leaves users frustrated. Use social media to grow your online business.
Reviews and Ratings
We are going to dig into this more, a little bit later on, but for now, it is important to know that reviews can influence rankings. Reviews act as an immediate indicator to users. A business with consistently lows reviews and ratings is not considered trustworthy and as a result, can lose a lot of business (and vice versa). Positive reviews encourage users to at least visit your site because it is easier for a user to trust other users, rather than a business that over-promises.
Photos and Videos
This one is simple, yet often overlooked. The use of photos and videos has been proven to increase the number of clicks. Photos help showcase your business, products, and employees. A great image can help you stand out from competitors.
3. Local Listings
A local business listing is an online summary that should include:
- Business name
- Phone number
- Website address
- Short description
Beware, there are thousands of sites that you can add your business listing to, but not all are safe. Some can actually get your site penalized by Google. Therefore it is important to use trustworthy sites that have a good reputation to improve your search rankings. In this case, less is more.
Business listings were designed to help businesses like yours be found online, but they also help to improve your actual search engine rankings. For instance, having a listing on Yelp with positive reviews can help your business be found on Google Maps.
Many of the local business indexes share data with each other. That’s why it is important to have the same information displayed on each business listing you create.
How to Claim Your Local Listings
There are two main business listings that you should claim first, your Facebook business page and Google My Business page. By claiming these online listings for your business, you verify that you are the legitimate owner/admin of that company.
What you can expect to be asked:
- Directories and local listings will initially ask whether your business already exists in their index. Some sites scrape your data from other websites, so it may already be there; you just need to claim it.
- More importantly, you need to review your business information, making sure it’s correct and matches your other online listings. Be sure to add any missing information so that users can get a good idea of what you offer.
- Lastly, once all the information has been input, you will be required to verify that you are the owner or an admin and that you have permission to claim this business listing. This verification process usually requires:
- Receiving a phone call (to the phone number you entered) and entering a PIN you received online
- Alternatively, receiving a postcard with a PIN you can enter online
- Or, receiving a confirmation email with a link to access your new online business profile
Before You Start Creating Your Local Listings
Make sure all the information is exactly the same across all website listing platforms:
- Phone number
- and website
I am mentioning this again because it is really important. These name, address, and phone number (NAP) must be exactly the same across all the listings you submit to.
Create the same message. Make sure your categories and tag-lines are similar to avoid confusion.
Fix incorrect listings as you come across them. As mentioned above, you may find that you are already listed on many sites, but you need to claim your listing. You may also notice that some of the information is incorrect. Make sure to change that when you claim your business listings.
Add as much information as possible. The more information you add, such as pictures, logos, and staff photos, the better. You want your listing to stand out from the competition.
Create a long description and a short description. Local listings all require you to add a business description. Adding all this information over and over again is tedious, so create two descriptions of your business:
- A short description (about 125 characters) and
- A longer description (about 300+ characters).
With the descriptions ready, all you have to do now is copy and paste!
4. Top Local Listings to Add Your Business To
Take a couple of hours and add your business website to these top-rated business listings mentioned below.
Google My Business (GMB)
Having a GMB listing is probably the most important first step when trying to rank in the top local results. All you need to get started is a Gmail account to log in. If you don’t have one, create one. It’s easy. Adding your Google My Business listing information here will help you to be found across Google platforms, including organic search results, Google maps, and even the popular Google+ (cough, cough, just kidding).
It should be a top priority for any business to have their location listed on Google Maps. More users are searching for products and services with local intent and using GPS navigation as a way to guide them to different locations. Optimizing your Google My Business page will help your business to be found on Google Maps. Just make sure the name, address, and phone are exactly the same across all platforms to prevent the search engines from being confused.
You will need to create a Facebook business page, which means you will first need to have a personal account on Facebook. Add your business name, description, website, and connect with users socially.
Foursquare is a local search and discovery app and is a fantastic business listing to be included on. Make use of their location data by adding your business.
This business listing is powered by Bing.com and operates in a similar fashion to the Google My Business listing service. Bing Places for Business is a Bing portal that enables local business owners to add a listing for their business on Bing.
BOTW is a general web directory listing both commercial and non-commercial sites. Each listing is manually approved and, therefore, search engines value the citation of businesses listed here. This is one of the oldest internet web directories and is organized by category, offers content-rich and well-designed websites.
Most people think you need to be a restaurant to be listed on Yelp. Not true. Any US business can be added to the local business listings. From what I understand, you need at least one review/comment before you show up in their results.
This is a great online directory for any business to add themselves to. It acts much like the Yellow Pages. Superpages is a local business directory including phone number, ratings, and reviews, maps, driving directions, address, website, hours of operation, and more.
Another quality business listing directory. Express Update will automatically distribute your listings to a vast network. They will push your business info out to local search sites, navigation devices, and more.
Localeze acts as a content manager for local search engines. They allow local businesses to manage and identify their local listing across the whole web. Localeze helps businesses and data partners provide the most accurate and relevant business listing data to consumers.
Factual is dedicated to monitoring and improving location-based data. They try to keep the web clean of cluttered and redundant information. Factual uses location data helps companies build trust and intelligently grow their business. Adding your business to their directory is helping them, help you!
Citysearch is a web-based city guide offering information about local businesses using categories throughout different states in the US.
HotFrog is a commercial website directory sorting businesses according to location and category.
Acxiom is a huge company with a passion for improving data. Similar to Factual, they want to improve the web by adding the correct information.
Yellow Pages is one of the most well-known off-site and on-site directories. Everyone has heard of it or used it, at some point. Having your business listed here is a must.
Insider Pages is a web directory looking to offer users the best recommendations. Not only do you want your business listed here, but you also want people who use this site to recommend you.
5. Reviews and Ratings
When it comes to ranking on different search engines, not all business reviews carry the same weight. Encourage your audience to leave reviews on sites that will have the biggest impact on your search rankings.
Finding Good Review Sources
Acquiring business reviews need to be the top objective of your online marketing strategy. Many SEOs firmly believe that user reviews directly affect a business’s rankings on Google. Reviews also influence the user’s purchase making process. Invest time in attaining reviews from loyal customers.
Acquiring online reviews, however, is easier said than done. Below are some ways to help you build your online reviews.
Responding to Reviews: Best Practices
The combination of social media and review sites has allowed small business owners to better communicate with online users. This is a huge step forward towards engagement, customer service, and brand identity.
As you can imagine, this can go downhill very quickly if owners or employees don’t use appropriate internet etiquette when responding to negative reviews. The damage can be devastating to a brand, so be careful when responding to reviews online.
Just remember, when you post something online it always has a history, it can’t be completely deleted from the web. Think before you type. Be rational, not emotional, in your response to negative reviews. Protect your brand at all costs. Responding professionally, courteously, and promptly to negative reviews is important. This is your opportunity to have another shot at proving why you are a good company to do business with. People trust reviews over a company’s sales pitch, so use reviews to change the minds and opinions of viewers.
Business owners should not only focus on responding to negative reviews, but also positive ones. A short, simple “thank you” can go a long way in showing that you are appreciative of those who favored your products or services. This is another way to build engagement, loyalty, and goodwill.
As mentioned, review sites are becoming more dependable and a source of influence. This makes reputation management a necessity for any business owner who wants their brand to succeed online.
The objective of reputation management for any business is to replace negative information with positive. The best way local businesses can achieve this is by being engaged and being proactive. Being aware of how users are talking about you online is imperative. When you become a part of the conversation and allow users the chance to respond to you’ll see positive benefits. Being active in online reviews shows a level of dedication to service. Responding authenticity shows that there is a real human who cares, not some bot that auto-generates (insincere) content.
For example, Tower Marketing was wanting to be found for the search query “marketing Lancaster pa” in Google search and maps. According to our research, there were a significant number of users searching for this term and it was something we really wanted to rank for. We implemented the on-site best practices and the results, as you can see, were positive, despite how high the competition is.
As you can see, Tower not only ranked number one in the organic results but also was at the top of the local pack listing. This greatly increased our exposure and the number of users who clicked through to our site.
6. Optimizing Your Website
I’m sure you may have heard the phrase “Content is King.” Content is one of the most important factors search engines like Google use to understand and rank web pages.
Content marketing can be a large undertaking and can be overwhelming for a small business. Below are some ideas you can use to generate content that users are interested in and that can help your website rank.
Answer Customer Questions
More often than not, you hear the same questions again and again in the day-to-day running of your business. Use this to your advantage. Create blog posts on your website that address, in detail, each of these questions. If your audience is asking these questions offline, they are probably asking them online, too. You want your website to be an extension of your business, regarded as a knowledgeable authority in the industry you operate. Having a website that is seen as resourceful will help you rank better for local search results.
List Your Business in All Locations You Operate In
If possible, create a listing for each of the locations your business operates in. This is a best practice in regards to local SEO because now each of your locations has a higher chance of ranking for searches in that city or region.
7. Efficiently Using Social Media
I touched on this earlier. Most businesses have a social media profile, however, many lack the fundamental understanding of how to use social media. This includes what to post and when, attracting the right followers, and realizing the differences between how these channels operate.
The goal of social media is not generating sales, but rather participating in a public conversation with followers and potential clients. Use social media to develop your brand, trust, and voice. If you use it to purely sell, you will not have the engagement or the online word-of-mouth that grows a business.
8. Local Search Ranking Factors
The good people at Moz conduct an annual survey with digital marketers inquiring about what is changing in terms of the local landscape. Below is the most up-to-date local search ranking data that should be useful in helping you to decide on what areas of local SEO you should dedicate your energy on.
Local Is Big, Don’t Neglect It
This Local SEO resource covers only a small part of what businesses need to focus on in order to rank well in Google for local search queries. If you have not already started working on implementing local SEO into your marketing plan, start now. As we have already discussed this is something Google is going to be focusing on more and more.