As an agency, having the support and recognition of your local community is extremely important in making a profit and having lasting success. However, approaches, such as word of mouth and paid ad strategies, can only last so long before expiring or reaching the wrong audience.
Local SEO has become an essential part of digital marketing for small businesses and agencies in ways of improving a lasting online presence while attracting new customers and leads. We’re here to lead you down the road to victory with helpful tips and a better understanding of local search in this definitive guide to local SEO.
Local SEO is an SEO strategy that helps small businesses become more visible in local search results on Google. There are a variety of different SEO strategies (such as traditional SEO, technical SEO, etc.) that fall under the overarching SEO umbrella. However, for small businesses looking to make more of an impact in their area, local search is the way to go. Common practices include researching local keywords, managing Google Business Profile (previously known as Google My Business), and building citations to expand your brand awareness and reach using relevant directories. By offering local SEO to your small business clients, you can help increase their online presence within their local community while promoting their products and services to a local audience that is more likely to convert.
The main difference between the two is that traditional SEO focuses on a national audience whereas local search is specific to a certain geographic area or multiple areas (depending on how many locations a business has).
Many practices and strategies apply to both traditional and local SEO, but there are different ranking factors in local search that hold more weight than in traditional SEO. Local search also utilizes location-based keywords and geographical elements helping websites show up in SERPs (search engine results page) to capture the local audience they can sell products or deliver services to.
For businesses that have a local audience who can either visit a physical location or a website, local SEO is important. Even more so if your clients are a local small business. And depending on the competition level of the industry, it may generate faster results compared to traditional search engine optimization for more generalized terms. Results prove to show:
• 82% of people use their phones to conduct “near me” searches.
• 46% of Google searches are for a local business or local service.
• “Near me” mobile searches increased by 136% last year.
• 29% of all Google SERPs include a local pack in the results
With the increased use of smartphones and advanced voice search capabilities, people are changing the way they are searching for answers or looking for new products and services. And search engines are changing the way they are delivering those results.
Local SEO is no longer something that can be placed on the backburner if businesses want to succeed in their local markets. With 97% of users searching online to find a local business, the demand is quickly growing and businesses need to take advantage of these trends to gain as much exposure with their local audience as possible.
Implementing a local SEO strategy creates an opportunity for small businesses to be featured in more than one location on search engine result pages (SERPs). On Google specifically, there is the local organic SERP and the local map pack.
Local Organic SERP
This is the same as traditional SEO where websites rank on SERPs in spots that are not designated for advertisements or featured snippets. Featured snippets are often displayed in various forms including People Also Ask questions and answer boxes at the top of the SERP, and they all have their own vital roles to play in a successful SEO campaign.
Local Map Pack
The local map pack displays the Google Business Profiles at the top of the SERP, typically three at a time (also referred to as the Local 3-Pack). There will be a button that can be clicked to ‘View All’ businesses in close proximity that can fulfill the search query.
Local search results are more valuable to small businesses now more than ever! By choosing the right keywords to be placed within the website content, it can help the business show up in front of their targeted customers searching for services and products they can deliver. More individuals nowadays have switched to searching for products and services online before going out and getting them or even purchasing them online. When a small business implements local SEO strategies to help customers find what they’re looking for, it can be the first one in line to help them. Even with a local perspective, it adds another layer of value and trust to invest in your business.
More businesses are focusing their efforts on a thorough local SEO strategy as a means to get higher rankings in their local communities on search engines. Small businesses can use all the help they can get with being recognized and known to customers. Your agency can play a vital role in helping small businesses develop their local search presence, creating sustainable revenue growth for them and your own business!
Local SEO is a great way to get in front of people who are looking for a product or service now. 97% of search engine users searched online to find a local business and 50% of local searches result in a store visit within a day. Optimizing businesses for local search can help increase rankings to get products and services in front of people that are looking to make a purchase now.
When individuals search online they tend to look for the easiest and most recent answer to their search query. If your small business isn’t ranking high enough, then it will most likely be pushed aside. When your business implements a successful local search strategy for your own website as well as the websites your agency manages, it can be one of the first ones a target audience chooses to click on.
Note: SEO takes time to generate results, it is not immediate. While there are low hanging fruit opportunities to go after to see results more quickly, specific time frames depend on various factors including competition levels, website health, and available resources that can be dedicated to improving the website. While SEO can take longer to generate results compared to more immediate channels, like Paid Advertising, it is a more sustainable solution for long-term growth for businesses.
Local SEO for small businesses can be a useful strategy to attract new customers and leads and go after low hanging fruit, meaning people within the local community who are already looking for businesses that can fulfill their needs as quickly as possible. And having a physical location people can visit and make their purchase can be the advantage a business needs with the increasing delivery times for online orders. Plus, 74% of consumers desire a hybrid experience—both online and in-store shopping.
There are lots of different techniques and methods to attract new customers and leads locally. Showcasing a business in a positive and inviting manner can help customers become more interested. Updating Google Business Profiles and other directories regularly helps give people confidence in businesses by knowing what to expect. This also shows Prominence and Relevance for search engines which can help increase a businesses’ rankings.
When your business has a strong positive online presence through branding or reviews, the more likely it is that new customers will trust your small business more. User experience has become one of the most important SEO factors to consider when it comes to amping up your online presence or website. Having a fast website, easy to access information, and a user-friendly website puts your business on the customer’s good side. Having a cohesive and appealing online presence will help customers feel more trusting towards your business. And don’t forget to respond back to reviews people are leaving, good or bad. If they are good reviews, take time to thank them! This minor interaction goes a long way. For bad reviews, view this as an opportunity to transform a bad impression or experience into a positive one.
Additional resources on local SEO for small businesses:
With traditional SEO, there are over 200 ranking factors. Much of those overlap with local search but it can quickly become overwhelming trying to implement every single tactic. For the local organic SERP, here are the top three ranking factors small businesses can start optimizing their website for:
1. On-Page Signals: The most important ranking signal for local organic SERPs is on-page SEO. There are a variety of on-page strategies that can be implemented on a website, including placing relevant keywords in content. Search engines will look for these keywords and see how they’re placed (see more options for on-page SEO below). If they are placed strategically, they can help get your website ranking in specific areas for your industry. Another factor can be mobile-friendliness and user experience. Having a responsive website that’s accessible, easy to navigate, and fast loading will make things easier for users and will reflect positively on your local SEO strategy.
2. Local Link Building: The second most important local SEO ranking factor for organic SERPs is the amount of backlinks your small business has. Building quality, relevant, and natural backlinks is an essential part of any organic local SEO strategy. When it comes to local SEO ranking factors, quality is more important to remember than quantity. The more trustworthy and authoritative links you include, the more positive impact your website will have towards local ranking factors. However, this should be an ongoing practice to continue growing the number of backlinks and linking domains.
3. Behavior Signals: As the third most important ranking factor for local organic SERPs, behavior signals are how people are engaging and interacting with your organic listing. There are many behavioral signals, but here are some common ones:
• Mobile clicks-to-call
The local map pack has several different ranking factors, but the top three you should be aware of are:
1. Google Business Profile: While it’s important to have a website for your small business, now more than ever it’s extremely important to have a Google Business Profile (GBP). It’s known to be the #1 ranking factor for local map packs! Being consistent with your business information and optimizing your profile are necessary steps to increase your local rankings in the local pack. When individuals search for your small business information, it’s important to have the information on your profile and for it to be up-to-date.
2. Reviews: The third most important ranking factor for the local map pack is reviews. Getting as many positive reviews (ideally 4 and 5 stars) as you can is a huge local ranking factor. The more you can continue to get, the better. Positive reviews are what your small business seeks for, however, negative reviews are bound to appear every once in a while. It can actually help build trust with search engines and people, especially if you respond and try to find a resolution with the customer.
3. On-Page Signals: The same information above applies to the local map pack as well.
This is the process of finding keywords that are being searched for within a local community. They can be keywords that contain a geographic location, such as “dry cleaning in draper, utah”. And with 82% of people using their phones to conduct “near me” searches, incorporate those keywords into your keyword research strategy! An example of this would be “dry cleaning near me”. A good spot for this would be in the meta title of your page.
Tip #1: Use tools to help find what people are searching for and select the right target and supporting keywords relating to the business. Keyword intent is arguably the most important factor here. It will be extremely difficult, if at all possible, for a page to rank if the content does not match up with the intent of the selected keywords. Do a manual search of the selected keywords and see what Google is rewarding for those queries. If it makes sense for the business and its target audience, create content that is even better than what is currently ranking and that aligns with the searcher’s intent.
For a list of free and paid keyword research tools, check out what we use below!
Google Search Console: Every business should be taking advantage of this free tool that collects valuable data and provides insight on how to enhance your marketing strategy. Learn how to set up your Google Search Console account with our easy step-by-step guide. Google Search Console (GSC) does not list the average search volume for keywords, but it does show impression, click, and positioning data for various date ranges. GSC is a great keyword research tool because it shows what people are actually searching for that your website shows up in the SERPs for in some way shape or form.
Keyword Planner: A featured tool within Google Ads, Keyword Planner is technically free. In order for it to work properly and generate a specific number instead of a wide range for the average search volume of a keyword, a card must be on file. But unless you are running a Google Ads campaign, you will not be charged.
Keyword Planner is helpful because it provides helpful data on average search volume, average competition associated with the keyword, and various keywords that people are searching for to make your strategy diverse and holistic.
Google Suggest: This isn’t exactly a tool, but it should still be mentioned because it’s helpful. We like to incorporate this in our strategy in addition to using other tools just to make sure we’re not missing any important keywords! If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s as simple as starting a search query in Google (or other search engines) and seeing what populates at the end of it as a suggested search.
Related Searches: Similar to Google Suggest, the Related Searches are useful in showing what related keywords people are searching for that specific topic and which ones are popular among searchers. Check the search volume in your other tools for the appropriate keywords.
Listen to and speak with other people: This seems like common sense but it’s often overlooked! A good way to be proactive on changing keyword trends is to ask people what they would call a specific product or service, or what they search for when looking for something. You may be able to uncover some golden nuggets that you can start incorporating into yours and your managed websites now before other competitors do.
Semrush: Using this paid keyword research tool allows you to discover and show what specific keywords your competitors are ranking for. What you would do is insert a competitor’s domain or individual page URL into the search bar on the page. What’s unique about Semrush is that it will give you a list of the top organic keywords that the specific URL ranks for.
Just like other keyword research tools, it has a keyword magic tool that helps give you different ideas on different keywords you could use. But overall, Semrush helps give you an idea on what keywords your competitors are ranking for.
Ahrefs: This paid keyword research tool helps give you in-depth information on each keyword you’re looking at. Along with most of the data you would expect, it includes a breakdown of first page competition and how many searchers actually click on a result. They also include how many backlinks you’ll need to include to rank on the first page of Google. While Ahrefs is mainly known for backlink analysis, it has great keyword research tools that can help your business.
Moz: One of the best features that makes Moz’s paid keyword research tool unique is that it gives you more of a variety of keywords related to a specific topic. For example, if you had the keyword “weight loss” it could give you additional keywords such as, “weight loss pills” and, “weight loss calculator”.
With Moz, they would provide creative keyword suggestions such as, “foods that help burn fat for men” or, “best belly fat burning foods for men”. You usually wouldn’t find these unique suggestions from other keyword research tools. The only downside to Moz is that you have to pay for the entire suite of SEO tools to utilize this function.
Tip #2: Using the tools mentioned above, analyze the keywords your competitors are using and see which ones make sense for you to go after or avoid.
Based on the local keyword research strategy, the next item on the list of a local SEO strategy is to create localized content that can capture the target and supporting terms the business is trying to rank for. This can be different types of content like:
• Dedicated location page containing important contact information and directions to the physical business location
• Blog articles
• Service pages (ex. Dry Cleaning Services in Salt Lake City)
• Header tags
• Image alt text
• Meta titles and descriptions
And it’s important to remember that this isn’t a one-and-done deal. Content in all its forms must be repurposed from time to time to keep the information updated and relevant.
Previously known as Google My Business (GMB), it has since been renamed to Google Business Profile. This is another free business directory that all businesses, including small businesses, need to take advantage of and can benefit from. With Google having the largest market share compared to other search engines, it’s practically essential for local businesses to create and manage one (or more) of these listings. Google Business Profile listings are necessary to have if businesses want to rank in the local map pack. Websites can rank in both the local map pack as well as the local organic SERP—it gives a business twice as much visibility.
For local map pack rankings, Google determines that based on: Relevance, Distance, and Prominence.
Relevance: This is based on how well the Google Business Profile listing matches with the searcher’s intent (this is why keyword intent is so important). Remember to make your listing as well-crafted, thorough, and keyword optimized as possible.
Distance: Just as it sounds, distance relates to how near or far the listing address is located to the geo-targeted search query. And even if a location is not included in a search query, Google will determine this based on the location their bots (or spiders) can pick up on.
Prominence: The third factor refers to how well a business is known, and much of this comes from online reviews (read more about this below) and references elsewhere on the web. It also comes from backlinks, articles and content, and directories.
Google Business Profile listings provide essential business information like a description of what a business offers, contact information, website, hours of operation, amenities offered, special needs that businesses can deliver to, and much more. It also enhances the user experience of a website. Nowadays, businesses can be pushed by the wayside if they don’t have a Google Business Profile at all or if their listing is not up-to-date and features unreliable information.
There are other highly regarded and trafficked directories available on the internet. A well-rounded local SEO strategy will also incorporate directory and citation development on other platforms (in addition to Google Business Profile). It’s necessary to keep the businesses’ NAP (name, address, and phone number) consistent and uniform across the board. You risk confusing people about the brand and devaluing its power if each directory displays different business citations (this is their NAP and other valuable business information).
Tip #1: If you aren’t sure of which directories are relevant to your client’s industry, start with searching for “near me” or a review-based keyword, like “best dry cleaner near me”, keywords that pertain to their business. The organic listings underneath the local map pack often include directories that their business may or may not be listed in. If not, submit their website to those directories if it’s applicable to the industry.
Tip #2: There are tools that can help you get listed in various data aggregators* and directories, and can help you manage your citations more effectively, such as BrightLocal and Yext. These tools can save you time by making it more efficient to update listings across the board saving you the stress of updating each individual listing that’s on the internet. And they distribute the citations to additional directories getting the business even more exposure!
*Note: Data aggregators are data mining systems that distribute your business information across the internet into other directories. The three main data aggregators are: Foursquare (Factual merged with Foursquare), Neustar Localeze, and Data Axle. Get your business submitted to these data aggregators first so you can make the most impact as soon as possible (most tools will do this for you).
Link building is an authority signal for search engines and holds a significant weight as one of the many SEO ranking factors. This goes for both national and local search engine optimization. If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s when a third-party website links back to another third-party site transferring “link juice” (value) along with it. This is why it’s important to seek backlinks from reputable and trusted websites. If a trustworthy website is willing to link to yours or your client’s website, Google sees this as a reflection of your website being worthy of that same trust and authority as well.
Link building is an advanced tactic and a time consuming, ongoing process. There are various strategies that should be tested out to see what works best for the business and industry in question. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for others. And as part of a local search strategy, aim to get as many trustworthy and quality backlinks from local businesses in the area!
As mentioned earlier, reviews are one of the key factors that Prominence is based on (a ranking factor for the local pack). And not just that, but it’s a vital part of developing trust and authority with both prospective customers and search engines for better visibility. It’s been shown that having authentic, detailed 4 and 5 star reviews can positively impact SERP rankings.
Generating reviews is one of the ongoing SEO maintenance tasks and must be a priority, and both quality and quantity matter. There are rules to review generation and maintenance that are simple to follow, such as they must be authentic and asked for (they cannot be paid for).
Take a look at some helpful tips below on review generation!
Structured data, or schema markup, is not a direct ranking factor for websites. However, it does help search engine crawlers better understand what the business is, and therefore, how to display it among searchers. For local businesses, there’s already LocalBusiness schema markup that can be added to your website.
It’s so widespread that there are structured data generators that can help you generate the code without having to know web development yourself. All you need to do is input the fields it requires and place it in your website’s header file. JSON-LD is the best practice nowadays, not microdata. Test out a few schema markup generators below!
• Microdata Generator (the name is misleading but it generate JSON-LD schema)
With all of the different strategies that go into a quality local search campaign, it’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. But it’s better to start now than wait because SEO is a long-term strategy. Checkout these proven local SEO tips that can help give your agency and small business clients an advantage with local searches:
Search engines have moved to mobile-first indexing, meaning that the mobile version of a website will be crawled and indexed first regardless of how well the user experience is on a desktop. This still applies even if most of the website traffic comes from desktop instead of mobile devices.
And this is why it is so important to create the best possible user experience across all devices, not just one. You can test out individual pages using the Mobile-Friendly Test from Google Search Console and get actionable insights on how to fix a page if it doesn’t meet the standard requirements.
Always remember to check keyword intent and select the keywords that match up with your client’s business offerings the closest. You can do this by searching the term yourself in incognito mode and inspecting each of the ranking organic results on the first SERP. This will give you a better understanding of what Google is rewarding and displaying for that specific term. This process may seem tedious but it is absolutely essential.
Meta titles and descriptions are also referred to as metadata or meta information. This is how Google displays a webpage in the SERP:
When optimizing the meta title and description for local SEO, use localized and “near me” terms. The meta title holds a lot of weight in keyword placement value, so ensure that one is in there.
Note: Google announced in September that they can override meta titles and descriptions in order to improve user experience. Check back on your meta information every so often and keep track of any keyword positioning or traffic changes that can result after a change like this.
It can be service pages with the location tagged on at the end (example “dry cleaning in salt lake city”), or they can be location pages that include details on how people can find the physical location. Include NAP (name, address, and phone number) along with additional helpful information, like directions and images of the building interior and exterior so people know what to expect.
If there is more than one location, create different pages highlighting unique features for each one to help search engines determine which storefront is the better option for various geo-targeted search queries. This can include writing about geographical landmarks near the business, providing detailed directions on how to get there, and embedding a Google Map or Apple Map onto the page directly.
And while you’re creating new content for the website, don’t forget to optimize it for voice search! 20% of all Google searches are conducted on mobile devices through voice search now. An easy way to do this is to incorporate questions into the headers of the content to gain visibility and signal high importance to search engines.
Having a Google Business Profile listing is almost as important as having a website for a small business. Be sure to add updated and relevant information to the listing for individuals to find and refer to.
Additionally, there are other directories that are just as valuable. For certain verticals, there are directories that may be even more valuable than a Google Business Profile (like Avvo for attorneys). Getting your clients listed in as many relevant and valuable directories as possible gives their business information even more exposure to prospective customers or clients.
Reviews are an ongoing process and a high priority for local search. Quantity and quality matter here, meaning you need to keep generating new reviews that are authentic. The key here is authentic. If you find reviews that are spam or appear to be fake, take action against them so they don’t hurt the businesses’ reputation or local search campaign. Learn how to find and remove fake Google reviews here.
Some addition rules to remember include:
• You cannot pay for reviews, but you can ask people to leave one.
• While Google Business Profile is especially important for local search, there are other directories that are beneficial. Ask people to leave reviews on those as well!
• As mentioned earlier, respond and engage with incoming reviews. If there are negative ones that come through, take the opportunity to rectify the situation as best as possible rather than ignoring them. And don’t forget to thank the people for taking time to leave a positive response!
Backlinks are an authority signal for search engines and are a highly valued strategy. We are not going to sugar coat this—backlinking can be difficult and time consuming. But when you do it right, it can be extremely rewarding for websites and will help increase online visibility for various local keywords.
Here are some tips on where to start with small business clients:
• The local chamber of commerce
• Send out local press releases to radio station and local news websites
• Do a Google search for the brand to find unlinked mentions and reach out to the page owner for a backlink where the business is mentioned in a positive light
• Sponsor a charity, event, or scholarship (the contributing organization will typically link back to the website)
Getting more visibility and traffic to a website or specific web pages is necessary for a successful SEO campaign, and social media is a useful way to do so! Social media agencies have the upper hand by knowing how to target the right audience with content they find valuable. The target audience for social media channels is typically the target audience for the business as a whole.
Social media platforms have so many capabilities and features to identify target market opportunities as well. SEO for Social Media agencies allows you to help your clients gain even more exposure by getting them in front of their target audience looking to buy a product or service. The two strategies can work in sync and not independently of one another to generate even more value and growth, resulting in higher client retention. Learn more about how social media helps SEO!
There’s a lot that goes into a successful local SEO campaign. SEO is never a one and done deal. It constantly evolves and changes to bring users the best results and information relevant to their search query. Being able to reach countless prospective customers in a local community requires long-term effort and time.
Whether you are interested in adding SEO into your product lineup or need help delivering quality local SEO strategies to your client websites, Boostability can help! Partnering with us means that your agency will receive expert knowledge and teams with over a decade of experience in digital marketing, access to software and tools without the extra cost, resources and educational material to help you land more successful SEO deals, and so much more.