As a small business owner, 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 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 for small businesses.
Local SEO is an SEO strategy that helps your small business 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 your business could choose to work on. However, for small businesses looking to make more of an impact in their area, local search is the way to go.
Common local SEO services and tasks include researching local keywords, optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) profile, and building citations to expand your brand awareness and reach. Local SEO for small businesses is all about increasing your online presence in your community while promoting your products and services to local customers. And it can certainly be accomplished without having to invest in an exorbitant price.
Much of the practices and strategies used in traditional SEO overlap with local search engine optimization with a few nuances. The biggest difference between the two is the audience that’s being targeted.
With traditional SEO, it typically 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.
For businesses that have a local audience who can either visit a physical location or a website, local search is essential. Even more so if you are a local small business. And depending on the competition level of your 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 you want your business to succeed in your local market. 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 at the top of the SERP with three different businesses highlighted immediately. There will be a button that can be clicked to ‘View All’ businesses in close proximity that can fulfill the need you’re looking for. On Google, it displays your Google My Business profile.
Local search results are more valuable to your small business now more than ever! If you’re choosing the right keywords to be placed within your content and website, chances are your small business will end up in front of the right customers who are searching for services or products your business can offer. More individuals nowadays have switched to searching for products and services online before going out and getting them or even purchasing them online. When your 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. If your local business isn’t working on building its SEO and online presence, then you could be wasting an opportunity for your customers to choose you over your local competitors.
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. Google considers your products and services as a part of your business if they’re relevant to the customer’s location. Your small business can be relevant to a variety of individuals within your local area if you choose to work on your local SEO. Local SEO gives your small business an idea on how to improve your rankings and also enable you to build a local audience of interested searchers through local keyword placement, increasing brand mentions in relevant local directories, and developing content that addresses what people are looking for 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, you can be one of the first ones they choose to click on. Having your small business ranking at the top helps introduce your business to new and relevant customers while also being available to previous customers.
Note: SEO takes time to generate results, it is not immediate. While there are low hanging fruit 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 like yours 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 you need with the increasing delivery times for online orders.
There are lots of different techniques and methods to attract new customers and leads locally. Showcasing your business in a positive and inviting manner can help customers become more attracted to your business. Updating your Google My Business profile and other directories regularly helps give people confidence in your business and knowing what to expect. Making it as easy as possible to find your store-front with directions or creating a seamless user experience on your website for online purchases.
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 for your business, 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. 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 My 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 My Business (GMB) profile. It’s known to be the #1 ranking factor for local map packs! Being consistent with your business information and optimizing your GMB 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. Local Link Building: We already mentioned this above and the same rules apply with link building between both local organic and local map pack rankings.
3. 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.
This is the process of finding keywords that are being searched for within your 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.
Local SEO Tips for Small Businesses (Keyword Research):
Tip #1: Use tools to help find what people are searching for and select the right target and supporting keywords for your 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 your selected keywords and see what Google is rewarding for those queries. If it makes sense for your business and audience, create something even better than aligns with that intent.
For a list of free and paid keyword research tools, check out what we use below!
Free Keyword Research Tools:
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 your website now before other competitors do.
Paid Keyword Research Tools
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 you want to rank for. This can be different types of content like:
• Dedicated location page containing important contact information and directions to your business
• 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.
Google My Business (GMB) is another free business directory that small business owners 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 small businesses to create and manage one (or more) of these listings. GMB listings give your website another opportunity to rank elsewhere besides the standard organic SERPs, it can rank in the Local Map Pack (aka local pack).
For local pack rankings, Google determines that based on: Relevance, Distance, and Prominence.
Relevance: This is based on how well your GMB listing matches with the searchers intent (this is why keyword intent is so important). Remember to make your GMB listing as well-crafted and thorough 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). It also comes from backlinks, articles and content, and directories.
GMB listings provide essential business information like a description of what your business offers, contact information, website, hours of operation, amenities offered, special needs that your business can deliver to, and much more. It also enhances the user experience of your website and overall business. Nowadays, your business can be pushed by the wayside if you don’t have a GMB profile.
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 My Business). It’s necessary to keep your NAP (name, address, and phone number) consistent and uniform across the board. You risk confusing people about your brand and devaluing its power if each directory displays different business citations (this is your NAP and other valuable business information).
Local SEO Tips for Small Businesses (Directories and Citations):
Tip #1: If you aren’t sure of which directories are relevant to your industry, start with searching for “near me” or a review-based keyword, like “best dry cleaner near me”, keywords that pertain to your business. The organic listings underneath the Local Map Pack often include directories that your business may or may not be listed in. If not, submit your website to those directories if it’s appropriate for your business and resources.
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 your citations to additional directories getting your 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 yours 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 your 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 process. There are various strategies that should be tested out to see what works best for your business and industry. 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. Generating reviews is one of the ongoing SEO maintenance tasks and must be a priority. There are a couple of rules to this that are simple to follow: reviews 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 your business is, and therefore, how to display it among searchers. For small 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. If your business is not in the position to receive help from a dedicated SEO agency, rest assured that there are some things you can do now to help give your website an advantage! Check out our list below:
1. Use our free website submission tool to get actionable SEO insights on what can be improved now on their website.
2. Make your website responsive and mobile-friendly. Search engines have moved to mobile-first indexing, meaning that the mobile version of your 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 your 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.
3. Conduct local keyword research and identify your target terms. Always remember to check keyword intent and select the keywords that match up with your 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.
4. Optimize meta titles and descriptions with the target local keyword(s). Meta titles and descriptions are also referred to as metadata. This is how Google displays your webpage on 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 metadata every so often and keep track of any keyword positioning or traffic changes that can result after a change like this.
5. Create pages that will capture your local keywords. 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 your business. Include your 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 you have more than one location, you can create different pages but remember to make your content unique!
And while you’re creating new content for your 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 your content to gain visibility and signal high importance to search engines.
6. Create your Google My Business page and get listed in other relevant directories. Having a Google My Business (GMB) page is almost as important as having a website for your small business. Be sure to add updated and relevant information to your GMB page for individuals to find and use.
Adding your business information to local and relevant directories also spreads your reach to potential customers looking for your services and products. Some directories may ask for just your basic information such as NAP (name, address, and phone number). Or they could ask for additional information (website, business hours, bio, etc.). The more directories you’re able to list in, the more opportunities you have to reach potential customers.
7. Start asking for reviews from happy customers and make this an ongoing priority! 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 your 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 you one.
• While Google My Business is especially important for local search, there are other directories that are beneficial. Ask people to leave you 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 you a positive response!
8. Reach out to local businesses and news sites for backlinks. 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 your website and will help increase your visibility for various local keywords.
Here are some tips on where small businesses can start:
• Your local chamber of commerce-Send out local press releases to radio station and local news websites
• Do a Google search for your brand to find unlinked mentions and reach out to the page owner for a backlink where your business is mentioned (positively)
• Sponsor a charity, event, or scholarship (the contributing organization will typically link back to your website)
9. Enhance your SEO efforts with social media. Getting more visibility and traffic to your website or specific web pages is necessary for a successful SEO campaign, and social media is a useful way to do so! If you have a well-built social media strategy, your followers are typically the exact type of audience you want to market your products and services to. Social media platforms have so many capabilities and features to identify target market opportunities as well. Combine the two strategies together so they can work in sync and not independently of one another. Learn more about how social media helps SEO!
There’s a lot that goes into a successful 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 your local community requires long-term effort and time from your small business.
If you’re ever in need of assistance, we can help here at Boostability! We have extensive knowledge and experience in SEO services for small businesses, and have helped countless local businesses improve their online rankings to the top 10 positions on Google. Boostability can do research for your keywords, write content, optimize your website, and lay the groundwork to get your website found. Learn more about our affordable local SEO services and how we can help you get found by the right customers on Google!