- 1 Local SEO Basics
- 2 More Advanced Local SEO Tips
Local SEO has had a resurgence of interest as of late, thanks in large part to Pokemon GO and our friends at Niantic.
It’s certainly a heady topic – and one worth close discussion. As a result, we reached out to SEOs around the globe for their best local search tips — and they delivered. Below you’ll find a comprehensive guide to all things local SEO, from all the basics you want/need to nail to more advanced techniques.
Local SEO Basics
It’s Local SEO 101: the name, address and phone number, or NAP, of a business should be identical across all local business directories, said Joe Flanagan, owner of Rank Easily, a digital marketing agency for SMBs. And that’s because Google will potentially penalize rankings if the NAP is not the same across the Internet.
“You should have identical formatting for your company name, address and phone number on your website, local listings and social channels,” said Brock Murray, COO of digital marketing agency seoplus+. “Any conflicts could penalize your rankings, especially in the maps. While Google bots can identify the difference between minor format variations [like “&” vs. “and”], it’s in your best interest to be consistent. NAP is one of the few things that’s completely within your control, so get it right.”
April Jimenez, director of digital marketing at interactive agency Huemor, agreed.
“Having inconsistent listings across Google and other search engines can nosedive your local listings. Beyond being a bad user experience — Suite 2B vs. Floor 2B can have a potential client wandering the wrong hallway or the wrong building for that matter [and] incorrect phone numbers or addresses are just bad business all around, especially when a majority of searches are now mobile — it shows Google that you’re not paying attention to your local presence and can be interpreted that you are not reputable or trustworthy as a business.”
Murray also recommended keeping a record of all log-in credentials for citation sites and social networks.
“If you do change addresses or phone numbers in the future, it is incredibly time-consuming to update this information across the web and outsourcing to a citation service costs a pretty penny,” he said. “Staying organized will help you keep NAP information 100 percent accurate at all times and avoid any potential penalties or de-indexing due to conflicts. After all, that PokeStop can’t be found if it’s listed at the wrong address.”
Beyond that, Justin Mosebach, director of local search at Internet marketing agency YDOP, suggested including a map and detailed location information on a business website itself.
“Tell your visitor where parking is, how to find the main door and what landmarks your location is near,” he said. “If there is public transportation, list what routes and stops are nearby, and include a link to Google Map’s directions.”
Google My Business
Chelsey Moter, digital analyst for SEO agency seoWorks, said her #1 local SEO tip is to create a Google My Business page.
“Users finally have the opportunity to view the most important information about a business almost effortlessly. A [Google My Business] page is very easy to see and will show up in the top right of the SERPs,” she said. “Businesses can display information such as a description, business hours, directions and even a Call Now button if searched on a mobile phone. By having a [Google My Business] page, customers can find you more easily through search and Google Maps.”
Further, Murray said brands with verified Google My Business pages can easily match formatting everywhere else to mimic that listing.
In addition to Google My Business, Andrew Choco, vice president of marketing at digital agency Directive Consulting, recommended directories like Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Superpages, Infogroup and Yahoo.
Randy Mitchelson, vice president at creative agency iPartnerMedia, agreed the best course of action after creating a listing in the Google directory and claiming the pin drop on Google Maps is to replicate behavior on other high-value business directory platforms.
“Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all offer free business pages and these pages get great search results and are oftentimes found on page one of Google,” he said. “Yelp and [YP] listings also earn superior search results.”
And don’t forget the redheaded stepchild that is Bing.
Per Ian Keir, SEO associate for digital marketing firm DragonSearch, brands should also make sure their Bing Business Places profiles are set up.
“Before the organic results load, there’s the ‘local 3 or 4 pack,’” he said. “You want to make sure visitors are seeing your information there first. Visitors will be more likely to click on a business in that local pack than continuing further down the page.”
Eric Brantner, founder of blog guidance site Scribblrs.com, said local businesses stand to gain the most from implicit search as searches for topics like “coffee” yield local businesses when Google knows it is implied the searcher is looking for someplace nearby to get a cup of coffee. At the same time, many small business fail to take advantage of implicit search, he said. A Google My Business listing, however, helps businesses pop up in a list of local businesses that appear in the results of an implicit search, Brantner said.
“It’s also useful to make sure your site targets your local keywords,” Brantner added. “Not stuffing keywords like ‘coffee shop Houston’ all throughout your copy. However, using keywords which are relevant and natural can be helpful.”
It’s almost overly simple: Reviews help local SEO, so businesses should find the right way to ask customers for them because reviews give a brand credibility and Google favors businesses with positive reviews, said Tasha Mayberry, president of web design and PR firm Social Media 22.
“So if you are a restaurant, pass a post card in the billfold offering a free drink or other deal for leaving a review on Google and/or Yelp. If you are a brick and mortar store, collect customer emails – offer a coupon online and ask them to subscribe to your email list to unlock the deal or do a big giveaway around the holidays or another time of year and to enter they must give name and email,” she said. “Set up an automated email that is sent when someone subscribes — MailChimp is a great tool – and in this email thank them for subscribing and offer something of value in exchange for them leaving a review on Google or Yelp.”
Adam O’Leary, president of boutique ad agency Encite Marketing, agreed even businesses not interested in full-on SEO campaigns can focus on encouraging reviews.
“There is no one silver bullet to SEO, but this could help them in other aspects of their business. There isn’t anything as valuable as a referral and Google reviews are the digital equivalent of that,” O’Leary said. “They just need to be careful not to incentivize people to write reviews or create inauthentic ones…their audience will see through it.”
Chelsey Moter also noted that having a Google My Business page makes it easy for customers to leave a review without having to visit any additional websites or social media sites.
“It’s a great way to interact with your customers and opens another door for communication,” she said. “Lastly, it verifies your business, which allows you to build trust with your customers.”
Further, Lachlan Wells, search marketing consultant for specialist SEO agency Optimising, recommended finding the right moment to ask for a review.
“Many business owners will place a link on their website to review platforms, or add a sign to their counter or a sticker on their window, but these tend to reach people at the wrong time. If your customer is still figuring out their order, they’re not thinking about leaving a review later, they’re too busy making a decision,” Wells said. “If you’re an online retailer, add your review links to a delivery confirmation email on the day the order is due to arrive. Restaurants can add small cards to their takeout bags reminding customers that they read every review. A tour guide client at our agency emails photos to his tour participants at the end of each trip. Reliving the memories of their tour is the perfect time to invite his customers to review, so he adds links to this email.”
When planning a local optimization strategy, businesses should first assess their websites, said Damon Burton, president of SEO firm SEO National.
“Your website should act as a solid foundation for the rest of your efforts to be built upon,” he said. “Optimizing local listings, [blogs], press releases, etc. are only as effective as the website they link to.”
In addition, he recommended using a free tool like GTmetrix to analyze site speed and determine if something as simple as a better host or using a content delivery network can improve the site without having to overhaul its design.
Per Jimenez, the more engagement a local presence has – like claiming local listings, ensuring information is correct, encouraging reviews, responding to clients and engaging the local community – the more signals a business has that it is valuable to its community.
“Once your foundation is established, earning reviews on Google My Business is key, but earning links and mentions from other local sites such as blogs and news sites can really move the needle in Google’s local search results,” added Austin Lund, resident local search guru at digital marketing agency Big Leap.
Dan Morehead, SEO manager at digital agency CTI Digital, agreed businesses should not forget to expand their link profiles.
“Lots of SEOs worry about a link’s relevancy to a particular site, but for local SEO it’s this network of local businesses that can really benefit visibility and establish the site as an authentic and highly relevant search result,” Morehead said. “Making use of already existing connections is the ideal place to start in securing local links. Suppliers or [retailers]? Get in touch for a testimonial. Do they contribute to community events at a local church? Get a link. These are authentic, local websites and securing links from these are often key to successful local SEO campaigns.”
Mosebach concurred local community groups like nonprofits or school sports teams a business donates to, charities its staff volunteers for or local scholarships they have started are great to link to and to get links from.
Indeed, Jim Lastinger, CEO of digital marketing firm Deep Field, called links from local websites one of the best-kept secrets in local SEO.
“Having a website in the same city as your business link to you is a strong signal to search engines that you are legitimately located in the area and more than likely a quality business,” Lastinger added.
In addition to local sources, Alexander Grosu, digital marketer at digital marketing agency inSegment, noted businesses should pursue links from authority sources and links specific to their industries.
“Also remember that sometimes no links are needed,” he said. “In certain cases, such as hyper-local businesses, the Google My Business profile, the on-page optimization and the citations will be more than enough. These factors make for more than 50 percent of a local SEO campaign’s success – so it is of the utmost importance that you keep them in mind and apply them to the particularities of your own local business.”
Adam Thompson, director of digital at marketing agency 10X Digital, noted link authority metrics play a significant role in local rankings, but cautioned brands understand Google’s link schemes guidelines before embarking upon a backlink building campaign.
“The safest, most reliable approach to build a backlink profile is to take a 100 percent editorial approach where each link you gain is an endorsement of your website by a human editor,” he said. “Practically speaking, this usually means creating link-worthy content and doing publisher outreach to gain editorial links.”
In addition, Choco advised not to neglect local content.
“Creating an awesome piece of content that is relevant to your local area and then promoting it locally is a great way to drive traffic to that page,” he said. “This helps build brand awareness, which grows not only your organic and social traffic, but also your direct traffic as well. Promoting local content on Facebook is a great way to cheaply drive high amounts of traffic to your page, which in turn can boost your organic rankings.”
For her part, Feuza Reis, SEO and marketing strategist for creative entrepreneurs, noted bloggers sometimes miss a big opportunity in being found locally by not blogging about their location.
“The most important thing is to be a resource for your audience — what do they need help with? Write about that and get found,” she added.
And be sure to update content regularly, added Jason Hall, president and CEO of Internet marketing company My Local SEOs.
“Nothing makes Google bots happier than plenty of fresh, relevant content on your website. When you consider that every search engine’s aim is to furnish the most relevant online material from the user’s search, it logically follows that the more you can write about your business and what it provides, where, how and who by, the higher up the SERPs you will climb,” he said. “Yes, product information — including cost, benefits and availability — is paramount, but this kind of text tends to be static. You want to turn your website into a vibrant, breathing beast of business.”
That includes company news, blogs, press releases and product launches, which keep a website fresh to regular customers and when Google’s bots regularly uncover new content, its algorithm dictates that the website must be more relevant to the searcher and it upgrades the ranking, boosting it favorably up the SERPs.
“Just be sure to include more about how your product can solve the visitor’s problem or otherwise benefit them than how you intend to build your brand,” Hall added.
Abhilash Patel, president of Recovery Brands, which offers digital marketing tools to treatment providers focused on addiction, agreed competitive SEO is becoming less about making technical markup changes and more about how relevant content is to an individual’s search.
“This makes it pivotal for small businesses to make organizational commitments to make content topical and authoritative across the consumer spectrum,” Patel said. “SEO ranking signals of even greater importance include social pervasiveness, engagement velocity, app penetration, quality clicks, experiences and user intent. These signals have nothing to do with keywords, could have a lot to do with rankings and have everything to do with relevancy.”
Patel also noted video in particular is an area of opportunity for small local businesses to produce relevant, engaging content.
“Video ads are taking off and flying at us in all shapes, sizes and lengths across the spectrum of social platforms,” he said. “What’s great is that video can be extremely customized, hyper-targeted and hyper-local. It can work for the local plumber as well as for MasterCard.”
Grayson De Ritis, creative lead at web design and social media branding firm De Ritis Media, too, advocated for keyword-rich content related to the locality a business operates in.
“Quite often, a business’s social media accounts will be chock full of tremendous content about their interactions with the community but their official website is the polar opposite,” he said. “Take the vibrancy and engagement of the social content and inject some of that into a brochure site for a boost in local, organic traffic. Let’s get specific. A downtown cupcake shop may be sharing all of their smiling customers biting into their delectable creations on Instagram but the .com presence has been static for months — maybe even years.”
And businesses can easily tackle this by adding a blog and expanding on some of the most memorable social posts that have a backstory.
“Once a week, sit down for an hour or two and tell the world about how you’re part of the fabric of the community, what you bring to the business and how the photo came to be,” De Ritis said. “For an extra kick, share the post on social channels while tagging the customers featured, which usually results in instant traffic and over time can strengthen page rank.”
Further, Max Robinson of web design firm Aims Media Glasgow, said to ignore the Google+ naysayers as Google+ activity still impacts local SEO like ranking on the map pack.
“I recently worked with a business owner who’d been advised by countless digital marketers to avoid Google+ as it was a waste of time, but since starting to use it regularly as the business page, I’ve not only helped the business page reappear on the map pack, I’ve actually helped it to climb considerably for searches related to the services that the business provides,” Robinson said. “And rather than posting solely to your own Google+ page, interact with communities on the platform. Engagement definitely seems to be an important factor and there are plenty of Google+ communities where you can easily pick up +1s on your content.”
Mayberry noted businesses with lots of likes and shares do better in SEO than business without a strong social media presence.
Further, Mitchelson recommended that “visually engaging” businesses like tattoo and body piercing shops in particular maintain active Pinterest pages.
“Pinterest is the second most popular social media platform among Americans and has the highest rate of [users with] intent to buy,” he said.
Feuza also recommended using geolocation tags on social, such as location hashtags on Instagram, which can help businesses be found within their local markets.
Voice searches often have local intent, which makes them vitally important for local SEO.
“According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends, 22 percent of voice searches have local intent. It is projected that by 2020, 50 percent of searches will be by voice. Local businesses can get ahead and take advantage of this by researching what types of questions people are asking about their business and including that information in the copy on their website,” Keir said. “An example might be if a local restaurant examined [its] Google Search Console keywords…and [optimized] their keywords by answering the questions around those keywords, such as ‘When does [name of restaurant] open?’ or for a local bakery, ‘Does [name] take credit cards?’ Ideally, aim to answer the who, what, where, when, why [and] how questions about your business.”
And in order to maintain rankings, Ryan Scollon, local SEO and PPC consultant at digital marketing company Bowler Hat, said businesses need to conduct ongoing maintenance.
“I see so many companies requesting to stop working with us because they are happy with their rankings. Within three to six months, we usually get an email asking for some help as they have noticed a drop in rankings,” he said. “Local SEO is an ongoing process, it’s not as simple as following a checklist and then moving onto something else.”
Citations, for example, can be a big culprit.
“Trying to clean up incorrect citations can be a huge pain and a super-long process,” Scollon said. “We now have a three-step process that last over three months to get corrected. But even after the third month, we still have to do a quick check each month to make sure no other incorrect listings have popped up.”
More Advanced Local SEO Tips
While Ross Dempsey, head of digital at digital agency Digital Impact, conceded there’s still a lot of debate about whether search engines care about citations — some say they still influence algorithms while others discard them as worthless relics, he noted what’s most telling is that the vast majority of digital marketers still use them.
“In Moz’s most recent Local Search Ranking Factors survey, numerous citation-related signals appeared towards the top of the ranking factor list for both localized organic and local stack results,” Dempsey said. “We recommend you sign up for a free trial with a citation checker like BrightLocal and check that your business is represented across all major directories.”
Mayberry noted long-tail keywords will boost SEO faster than broad keywords.
For example, a pizza place should use keywords related to its business and location, as well as longer phrases like, “best brick oven pizza in X.”
“By being more descriptive, more people looking exactly for what you offer will find you in Google, plus you won’t be competing with so many other pizza places trying to rank for broad keywords,” Mayberry said.
Further, she noted, businesses should make sure to add long-tail keywords in:
- Title of page
- First sentence on webpage
- Hyperlinks, or “anchor text”
- Bolded words
- Last sentence on webpage
- In meta tags (title, description and keywords)
- ALT and title tags for images
- Image file name
Grosu said it all boils down to relevance.
“Make sure your on-page SEO is relevant for your business’ activity and for your location, so that users know they have found what they are looking for — e.g., a locksmith in Boston, for example,” he said.
This means businesses must pay attention to: title tags, page content, meta descriptions, header tags, maps, images and contact details.
“A big mistake I see a lot is linking words like ‘click here’ as this does nothing to help your SEO,” Mayberry said. “Instead say, ‘Click to see why we are the best brick oven pizza in Milford, Connecticut.’ And link only the long-tail keyword phrase ‘best brick oven pizza in Milford, Connecticut.’”
Indeed, Sam Binks, digital marketing manager at sports management software firm TeamSnap, noted consumers no longer just search, “best burgers in X city,” but rather “best burgers on X street in Y city,” or, even better, “best burgers near me.”
“What this means is that there are a number of cool strategies that can be used – create highly tailored website pages with unique content and geo-targeted URLs down to the zip code level, make use of relevant schema markup where possible…think about voice searches — if someone is saying, ‘find me burger places now,’ and expecting a two-to-three minute journey, how are you going to deal with that? – and make sure everything is 100 percent responsive for a kick-ass mobile experience,” Binks added.
Hyper-Local Search Terms
In addition, Douglas Small, a marketer for jewelry brand Relios, said localized keyword research can turn up drastically different results for a business than national averages yield.
“Including long-tail keywords that have a large local search volume can help one better identify relevant customer segments,” he said. “This has the added benefit of creating better on-site content, whether it’s copy- or design-focused. Knowing what local people are looking for in relation to your business helps optimize your site for them.”
Luca Alessandrini, digital marketing specialist at digital marketing firm Online Optimism, agreed it is becoming increasingly important for small businesses to understand the hyper-local search terms used to find their business or services.
“With tools available online, such as Google’s Keyword Planner via AdWords, you can identify the most popular searches in your geographic area that are related to your business,” he said. “For example, the way someone searches for a dental practice can change from one neighborhood to another. One town may search for ‘pediatric dentist,’ whereas only a few miles away people are searching for ‘dentist for kids.’ Understanding the vernacular used in searches locally will allow you to rank higher for niche terms that often have lower competition.”
Reis also suggested not ignoring your own small town.
“Service providers who travel and want to work more in bigger cities or even businesses surrounding big cities tend to think that they should use the big city name only for their local SEO,” she said. “Google knows how to filter results based on location and IP [address] and knows how far and close places are. So instead of trying to rank for the big city, which will be very competitive, don’t ignore your small town when it comes to SEO. You may be pleasantly surprised.”
Larissa Murillo, marketing manager at SEO and web marketing firm MarketGoo, advised using location extensions in AdWords to set up more than one radius around a business so when potential customers search while they are physically within that radius or search for a location that is within that radius, ads will appear.
“Try not to target a too-small radius because the result may be that your ads appear intermittently or practically not at all,” Murillo said.
In addition, Murillo said Location Groups are a good way to target consumers who frequent a certain location.
“For instance, your local business may want to target people who frequent a nearby college campus,” she added. “Take note of certain times or days when your account does not perform well [and] adjust your scheduling to totally stop ads during those times.”
In addition, brands should experiment with extensions like call extensions, review extensions and seller ratings to see what additional information resonates with local consumers, Murillo said.
Adam Vowles, head of digital marketing at design and digital agency TWDG, said he has had great success with using IFTTT recipes to find local influencers via social channels.
“IFTTT will then pull all this data to a Google Drive doc, which I can then go though and after a little manual sorting, start outreaching to them,” he said. “It is essentially prospecting on autopilot.”
Keir recommended taking advantage of schema and social schema.
“Schema, or structured data, is a markup language that helps a search engine understand what content is on a webpage,” he said. “Schema is what creates images, addresses, phone numbers, reviews, etc. in the SERPs. You can create schema for your website either through a plugin, like Raven, or with Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.”
In addition, Keir said to make sure social schema is configured.
“Social schema controls how content from your website is shared on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn,” he added. “Properly coded social schema will result in a picture of your choosing, a title and a concise description being used when people share content from your website. For Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, there’s Open Graph, and, for Twitter cards, there’s the Twitter Cards Validator.”
Per Matt Lawler, SEO analyst and local lead at digital marketing agency Zog Digital, one of the biggest pieces of advice he would give colleagues is to make sure that everything is tracked.
“I like to build out links with UTM parameters specific to each of my client’s Google My Business listings. This tracking allows me to see which locations are getting the most (and least) traffic from Google My Business, as well as what the visitor does once they get to the site,” he said. “Additionally, tracking keyword rankings for location-specific queries gives brands an idea of their visibility within each market. It’s important to track both the local pack rankings for the site and the traditional ranking for each keyword. Test different strategies with the content on the pages and see how each translates to rankings both inside the snack pack and in the traditional results. These insights, coupled with Google Analytics reporting on visitors who landed on location pages, can provide a great deal of actionable information to improve your local search campaign.”
If you have local SEO tips you’d love to share, get in touch or leave a comment below.