The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO – 29 actionable tips you can start today
Local SEO has been a growing sub-discipline of SEO in recent years. Here I explain what exactly it is, and what you need to do to succeed.
So here are some simple, actionable tips that can help you get better at Local SEO, but before we dive in, it feels like a bit of explanation is in order. First let’s agree on some terminology – Local SEO is when someone searches for a product or service that’s normally bought locally (eg driving lessons).
Then, there are non-local searches – let’s say you just look for general information on a product, or want to find out more about your favourite film or band. For argument’s sake, let’s call those ‘Conventional SEO’, so that I can explain the differences between the two types of SEO.
Local SEO – what is it and why do we need it?
Google has always wanted to give the most relevant results to users when they search for things online. Over time, Google started to realise that certain goods and services will mostly be bought locally. For example if you’re in Leeds and urgently need a locksmith, it doesn’t matter how many good reviews you see for a locksmith in London – you need someone local!
So Google made some changes – when people searched using a keyword that hinted at them wanting to find a local supplier, Google started to present the results differently. They introduced the ‘Map Pack’ – listings from Google Maps which appeared prominently within the search results to show local businesses. At first there were 10 of these, then later this was reduced to 7, and now 3 since 2015. Along the way those Google Maps listings were rebranded as ‘Google Places’ and later as ‘Google My Business’.
Local SEO on Google begins in just the same as any other search – you simply key a search query in to the search box (or directly in to your browser). Only two things are different; the way the results are presented to users, and the algorithm that drives the results.
Below the Map Pack, there are still ‘Organic’ SEO listings. The algorithm that drives these results is slightly different from the one for Conventional SEO, so stay tuned and I will explain those differences.
Is Local SEO relevant to your business?
This depends on your business – just try searching for your product or service category (eg accountant, web designer etc). If the ‘Map Pack’ appears within the search results, then yes – you’re a local business in Google’s eyes, and you need to give thought to your Local SEO.
So, let’s get started with some Local SEO tips. They start off quite basic but get more detailed as we go on, so if you implement them in more or less the order I’ve written them in, you can’t go far wrong.
(1) SEO Basics you still need to consider
First, you need to address some SEO basics. These few are largely the same as for Conventional SEO, but it’s important you address these and you may need to tweak your approach slightly to adapt to Local SEO.
- Do your keyword research – This is a real bedrock of any SEO campaign, but if you’re a local business, you must absolutely make sure that you’ve researched keywords that contain your location at town/city level. For example, if you’re an accountant in Portsmouth, the keyword ‘accountant portsmouth’ is vital, whereas ‘accountant hampshire’ is too vague and too big an area.
- On-page SEO basics – make sure that the keywords you’ve found in step 1 are prominent in all the key places on your page. So for example, let’s say you’re still that accountant from Portsmouth, so ‘accountant portsmouth’ must appear in the URL, Title tag, H1, early on in the body content, in the meta description and the alt attributes of any images.
- Advanced On-page SEO – Make sure you do all the other things you need for good on-page optimisation. On this subject, I bow to the greater knowledge of Brian Dean at Backlinko – here’s his checklist for on-page SEO. Keep an eye on it – he regularly updates it as things change.
(2) Specific Local SEO on-page factors
Now we move on to more on-page factors, but these ones relate directly to Local SEO:
- Location pages – You must have location pages on your website with address details for each individual premises, so don’t just dump them all on one page as a list. That page simply won’t be relevant enough when people search for a specific town or city. If you only have one location, use your ‘about’ page, or something similar to act as your location page. This will mean all of the keyword placements mentioned in point 2 should appear on this location page.
- Ensure you have some unique content on each location page – if you have say 4 locations and create a page for each, it looks lazy and could affect your SEO if you simply have content on all 4 location pages that’s 95% the same. Include some details of the people or some individual specialisms at each site.
- Embed a Google map on each location page – this will emphasise to Google exactly where you are based. Don’t take a screenshot of Google Maps and add a jpeg of the map, you must embed it properlyd. Go to maps.google.com and find your business listing (if you don’t have one, refer to point 9). When you find it, click the ‘share’ button on the profile bar on the left and then the ’embed map’ tab and grab the code to embed within your site.
- Add schema code to your location page– Schema is code that wraps around certain items on your page (but can’t be seen by site visitors) that tells Google what the information is. For example, your address can use Schema, just so that Google knows without doubt, that this content is your address. In short, schema code helps certain elements of your page to stand out better to Google’s spiders. As well as your address, schema can be used for your business description, opening hours, maps events, payment methods and much, much more. You can create schema code for your site, using this useful schema generator tool – all you need to do is key in your business details and it will create the schema code for you.
(3) Claim your online profiles
Online profiles on Google My Business are absolutely critical for Local SEO success. These tips will help you make sure that your profile is best-placed to get you in to Google’s Map Pack.
- Get yourself a GMB profile – You may already have one without knowing it, so go to Google Maps and search for your business by name. If there is a listing it should show up there, with a link for you to claim the listing for yourself. If there’s not, then go to Google My Business and create one. Whether you’re creating a new profile or claiming an old one, you’ll need to complete a verification process (which includes receiving a postcard with a verification code). You must complete this process for your profile to go live.
- Tell Google how you will operate – The way you operate will determine how your GMB profile works. For example, if you have a premises people can visit you at, you can include the address on your profile. If however, you visit customers at their premises or a remote location, you can define yourself as a “service area business”. For example you might be a personal trainer and work from various gyms or other locations, which don’t belong to you. In this case you would register as a service area business.
- Be honest with your categories – Select the category which best suits your business. You can select multiple categories but most businesses only really need one. Google is very good at working out overlaps in business descriptions. For example if you’re an Italian restaurant that sells pizza, you don’t need to add pizza restaurant as a category.
- Use an accurate business name – Don’t stuff your keyword in to your company name unless it’s actually part of your company name. For example a lot of accountants already include the word ‘accountants’ within their business name.
- Make your profile visually appealing – You can have your logo and some images on your GMB profile, so be sure to include these.
- Use a geographic phone number – If at all possible, use a proper, geographic phone number on your listing, rather than a mobile number or a tracking number. Whichever number you use, should match the one you use on your website.
- Add all of your locations – If you have multiple locations for your business, GMB allows you to create a location for each of them. Link each GMB location profile to the relevant location page on your website. Don’t just link all of them to your homepage.
- Think beyond GMB – Although GMB is crucial, you should also think about other profiles for Facebook, LinkedIn, Bing Places and Apple Maps.
(4) Citations – a powerful Local SEO signal
‘NAP’ citations are those which mention your Name, Address and Phone Number. Typically these are found in directory and listing sites. Although there are only two tips here, citations are hugely important, so you should always look to get more quality ones, and to maintain the quality and consistency.
- Check your NAP citations – It’s vital that you not only have sufficient citations live on quality sites, but that they are consistent. Small variations in your name, address or phone number can cause problems (for example, even if you have ‘Street’ in one profile, and ‘St’ in another). Search online for your company name, and keep a list of any out of date, incorrect or inconsistent citations.
- Speed up the process of getting citations – Sign up for BrightLocal, Moz Local or Whitespark. These services are fairly similar and allow you to submit your business details once, in order for multiple citations to be built for your business.
(5) Build your reputation with reviews
When you see Map Pack results, you’ll see that some of them contain reviews and a star rating. Having reviews can help you to show up on the Map Pack, and the better your reviews the more likely people are to click through on your listing. Many businesses have none, so with a bit of effort and a proper plan, it shouldn’t take long for you to get at least 5 reviews (any less than this, and Google allegedly don’t use it as a ranking factor for the Map Pack) and move ahead of some competitors.
- Start actively asking for reviews – Tell staff about the importance of getting online reviews, and ensure that they ask customers for them regularly. If you want to make it really easy for customers though, you could create a flyer explaining how to leave you one. If you sign up for a free account, Whitespark offer a free Handout Generator. Or you could create a Reviews page on your website to explain how to leave you a review – here’s an example of a Reviews page I made recently for a client.
- Target customers with GMail addresses first – Now the reason for my tip above is that the process of leaving a review on Google My Business is neither easy nor intuitive. Also, to leave a review, you have to have a Google account. If any of your customers have a GMail (or Googlemail) account, then they will definitely have a Google account and can therefore leave you a review. So, you should target those users in particular to ask for a review.
- Automate your review process – If you interact with a lot of customers regularly, using a service like Get Five Stars can help you get reviews in a quicker, more efficient way.
- Don’t incentivise reviews on Google – You may be thinking you could get reviews by incentivising customers – for example by offering a discount or a freebie. Don’t do this – it’s against Google’s Terms of Service and has even got some businesses in legal trouble.
- Don’t write fake reviews on Google – Stupid as it may sound, I have seen staff blatantly leave reviews for their employer! Obvious fake reviews can be flagged to Google by anyone – including your competitors. This could have big consequences for you, so just don’t risk it.
- Don’t let customers leave a review from your premises – Google is now very smart at knowing where people are at all times. So when they’re leaving a review, Google will know if they’ve logged on at your premises. Yes, it’s good to ask for a review while you’re fresh in the customer’s mind, but if they do it from your premises, Google may choose to ignore it.
- Reply to reviews – Whether they are good or bad, reply promptly and ensure that your response is well written, honest and not a ‘copy and paste’ bland statement. The golden rule with any complaint is to offer to ‘take it offline’ before the complaint gets worse.
(6) Find local links
Local links can help you show up in the Map Pack and the organic listings that appear below it. Getting links can be easier than you think, and they don’t even need to be on the biggest and best websites – good quality local ones will do. Even basic sites like schools, churches, local directories and sports teams can be beneficial. Here are some ways you can get local links.
- Look for local links from organisations you already deal with – If you already sponsor or partner with any local organisations, they’ll probably be only too happy to link to your website from theirs.
- Find ways to partner with new local organisations – look for other opportunities to get links from local organisations, such as speaking or exhibiting at events, sponsoring a local sports team or
- Create a blog category for each of your locations – If you have a blog or news page on your site and use a tool like WordPress you can easily create a category for each town or city you operate in. Use that category to write local content such as guides, event listings or reviews of local businesses. Then you’ll actually be part of the local community, and you’ll have some quality, useful content for those local websites to link to.
(7) Measure and manage your Local SEO efforts
This is a really detailed action plan, so imagine putting all that work in and not knowing how effective your Local SEO efforts have been. For example, Google Analytics is a brilliant free tool used by website owners everywhere, but without a bit of work, Google Analytics doesn’t tell you all that you need to know about your Local SEO traffic.
- Add a new Local Search channel to your Google Analytics account – It’s a little-known fact that when users click on your Map Pack listing and go through to your website, this won’t show up as organic search traffic. Instead, it shows up as direct traffic. This is not ideal – traffic from the Map Pack results is something you’ll really want to measure to see how effective your Local SEO strategy is. What I do to fix this for clients is to create a new ‘custom channel’ in Google Analytics and call it ‘Local Seaarch’. You can do this by following the instructions in this post on Analytics Custom Channels.
- Create tracking links on your GMB profiles – To get traffic showing up in your new Local Search channel, there’s one more thing to do. You need to create tracking URLs and add these to your Google My Business locations, where you link through to your website. You can create these tracking links here at the Google URL Builder.
That’s it – you’re ready to get serious Local SEO traffic!
These tips are all very actionable, and the more you implement, the better you will do at Local SEO. Like all aspects of Digital Marketing, Local SEO changes regularly, so it pays to keep up to date. Here’s the latest edition on the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors – keep an eye on this list, which updates every year.
Contact Me if you need help with any aspect of Local SEO.