If you’ve stumbled upon this page in a bid to learn more about local SEO and local search marketing, then congrats! You’re in the right place.
In this guide to local SEO, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of getting your business found in local search results, from online reviews to citations, local link building to content creation, and beyond.
Read on to discover how local SEO can benefit your business, who local SEO is for, and how to execute the key tactics and strategies required to succeed in local search.
Chapter 1: The Foundations of Local SEO
In the first chapter of this ultimate guide to local SEO you’ll find everything you need to know to get started, including who local SEO is for, who it attracts, and the benefits. Plus, we’ll break down some important key terms (like what the heck a ‘SERP’ is!)
Who is local SEO for?
Local SEO is for any business that has a physical location where it greets customers or any business that serves a set local geographic area.
Local brick-and-mortar stores like restaurants, bars, laundromats, doctors’ surgeries, law offices, and grocery stores are all businesses that should be using local SEO.
Additionally, service-area businesses (think plumbers, construction workers, locksmiths, and other similar professionals that travel to their customers) are eligible to practice local SEO, and will benefit more or less equally from the benefits it offers.
And the list definitely does not stop there!
Any business that is local and serves local customers can benefit from local SEO and the practices laid out in this guide.
The benefits of local SEO
As we’ve just established, when you’re a local business, whether that’s an auto shop in Boise, Idaho, a restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida, or a furniture store in Houston, Texas, local SEO plays a crucial role in generating customers and conversions.
In this current climate of online shopping and retail giants, I imagine that local business owners can feel unmotivated to compete against the likes of Walmart and Amazon for positions in search results.
Fortunately for you, local SEO is here to help. Local SEO favors smaller businesses over the likes of Amazon any day!
Investing in local SEO is your chance to get found by local consumers who are ready and willing to invest in your business instead.
Both Google itself and the shopping public recognize the value of local businesses. In fact, Google has a specific set of local ranking factors that it uses as a measure to determine whether or not your business is geographically relevant to a user performing a ‘near me’ search (we’ll cover this in more detail a little later on).
That means you don’t have to worry about competing against large international corporations to get your local business in front of relevant nearby consumers.
Research conducted by Access concluded that proximity matters to local consumers a great deal, with more than 92% traveling just 20 minutes or less to purchase their day-to-day essentials. For any size business, that should be reason enough to invest in local SEO.
For brick-and-mortar or service-area businesses, investing in local SEO can help drive more customers to your store, so you can begin generating more revenue.
Today, most businesses have two storefronts that they need to manage: their physical storefront and their digital storefront. Local SEO is what’s going to make your digital storefront more visible and get you more customers.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO (local search engine optimization) is a series of actions and strategies designed to improve your visibility on Google and other search engines when people close to your physical location perform a search or when a search includes a specific location.
For example, local SEO tactics are what help businesses surface in Maps or search results when someone out and about on their phone types in ‘best pizza New York’ or ‘Pizza near me’.
The same goes for people who are looking to visit your town or city and searching for businesses in your area in advance.
While it might sound complicated, at its core, SEO is just another name for the tactics that improve sales through building online visibility.
To boost online visibility, there are a few tried-and-true tactics available to you. In general, we want to show Google that your business is worthy of appearing at the top of search results for certain terms and searches.
In the case of local SEO, this may mean doing things like including your town or city name and zip code in content, building links from local websites, and getting more online reviews. We’ll be going through each of these tactics and more in this guide.
Who does local SEO attract?
As the name suggests, local SEO focuses on attracting customers in more focused areas (versus the global reach of online stores) such as those in a particular town or city. It’s usually practiced by local businesses that aim to reach this audience to drive footfall to their physical location or develop business within a service area.
For many brick-and-mortar and service-area businesses, local customers are the best customers.
Well, firstly, they’re easier to reach, and secondly, they’re more loyal and will keep coming back if they like what they’re getting.
Local SEO is the perfect way to get in front of these more valuable customers.
Local SEO focuses on improving visibility everywhere online, but we’ll largely be focusing on Google and Google Maps throughout this guide.
And no, we’re not being sponsored by Google — there is a very real reason that Google matters most!
Google is by far the most-used search engine, not only in the US but in the world. Statcounter reported in 2020 that Google’s search engine market share worldwide is a whopping 92.18%.
We’re not saying you should ignore other search engines entirely, as there’s still value to be found in the likes of Apple and Bing (which we’ll talk about later on), but the vast majority of customers who find you online will be coming from Google, so that’s where we’re going to focus our efforts.
Plus, given Google’s ubiquity and vast market share, other search engines tend to follow suit in terms of what they want to see in order to rank your business higher. So whatever you do for Google can easily transfer to other platforms, too.
What is a local search?
A local search occurs when a person enters a query into Google with local intent. For example, ‘pizza takeout near me’, ‘pizza takeout New York, NY’, or, if their geolocation is available to Google, just ‘pizza takeout’.
This is a local search, complete with local search results below:
Don’t worry, we’ll get onto the details of this screenshot later!
Did You Know? According to Google, 46% of searches have a ‘local intent’.
It sounds obvious enough, right?
But there’s more to the story.
While anyone in the world with good enough SEO and authority can rank for a search query like ‘how to fix a blocked drain’, only local businesses can rank for more high-intent searches, such as ‘plumbers near me’ or ‘best plumber in Brooklyn’.
In fact, nowadays you don’t even need to enter ‘near me’ or your location in order to generate a local search.
If I’m wandering the streets of New York and do a simple search for ‘pizza’, I’ll be presented with local search results in the form of the local pack (as seen above), or if I’m searching on maps, the local finder.
After all, it’s a lot more likely that I’m looking for pizza to eat, than wanting to just do a bit of pizza research while out.
Now, we’ve seen an example of the local pack above, but here’s how the local finder looks:
But how is it possible that Google knows where I am and what to show me?
It’s because Google uses GPS to keep tabs on your location, and to provide you with more relevant search results. Just scroll to the bottom of your search results on mobile and it’ll say where it thinks you are.
In short, Google is more clever now than it was, say, 10 years ago.
For these types of local search query, search engines understand that what the user wants is business suggestions or lists based on location, and so that’s precisely what they offer up in the local search engine results pages (also known as SERPs).
This difference in behavior and result is precisely why local SEO is important and worth investing in alongside standard SEO for your website.
The results that surface based on these local queries are based on a few key local ranking factors, all of which we’ll be covering in this guide.
What are local SERPs?
We know what a local search is. But what are local SERPs?
‘SERP’ or ‘SERPs’ stand for ‘search engine results pages’. Local SERPs are the results that are presented when somebody performs a search with local intent.
Local SERPs will generate different results based on the query, but generally, they’ll look something like this:
They can include the local map pack, localized organic results, and even rich results features (though these will be less common in local searches).
What are rich results? Rich results are features that show up in Google search results pages that aren’t just traditional blue links. Rich results can be: images, image carousels, videos, answer cards, app packs, ‘People Also Ask’, or top stories.
Here’s an example of localized organic results:
Local map pack vs organic results
In order to improve traffic to their websites and through their doors, local businesses need visibility on what’s known as the ‘local pack’, ‘3-pack’, or even sometimes the ‘snack pack’.
This is the block of three business listings that appear below the map in the results displayed after a Google search with local intent.
Below is the local pack that results from the search ‘plumbers San Francisco’.
You’ll notice plenty here that’s different from standard organic results, such as features like opening times, contact information, and review ratings.
If you click on a listing, you might even see other features such as posts and photos, like in the screenshot below.
So now you might even be wondering where all this rich information comes from.
Well, although Google is getting clever enough to pull this information directly from your website, that’s not where these elements are generated from.
Pretty much everything that’s displayed in the local pack comes from the business’s Google My Business profile, which is a critical part of local SEO marketing that’s becoming more important as Google tries to satisfy more search queries directly in the SERPs.
We’ll talk much more about Google My Business later, but for now, let’s stick to the basics.
How does the Google local algorithm work?
The complex program that decides what to surface in search results for a given query is called an algorithm. The organic Google algorithm dictates most search results, but when it comes to local results, the algorithm is a little different, and takes into consideration more factors than the standard search algorithm.
Let’s take a look at what Google considers important when you make a local search.
The Google local algorithm relies on three key things:Relevance – is the business being surfaced appropriately relevant to the search query at hand? Prominence – is the business being surfaced trusted? Proximity – is the business nearby to the searcher?
Let’s delve into these ideas in a bit more detail.
Relevance is a key component of Google’s local algorithm. In fact, relevance is a factor in the standard SEO algorithm, so it’s not just local-specific.
Naturally, Google wants to do its job right, and it wouldn’t be doing its job right if it surfaced irrelevant results.
To ensure that search engines such as Google view your business as relevant enough to surface, you’ll want to make sure you’re targeting keywords or topics that potential customers would be searching for.
For example, if you run a pizza place in New York, you want to make sure that Google relates your business to keywords such as ‘pizza New York’, ‘best pizza’, or maybe even ‘cheap pizza New York’ if that’s your USP.
You can inform Google of your business’s relevance through tactics like:Selecting the correct category for your business on directories Including your business’s keywords in descriptions and in content Creating relevant content to your business’s expertise Using title tags and meta descriptions Schema markup Getting links from local and industry-relevant websites
Don’t worry if some of these ideas look daunting right now — we’re going to cover most of them in this guide. And if you follow the steps laid out here today you’ll be providing Google with plenty of signals to trust your business as relevant.
Think of prominence as how well your brand stands out from the rest, especially your competition.
Here, you’re trying to prove that Google can trust your business – trust that its information is accurate, trust that it exists, and trust that it’s worth considering. The more Google and other search engines can find and validate you online, the better.
Brands that have a stronger online prominence seem more credible and trustworthy to the Google local algorithm.
We know that search engines (especially Google) pull data from all across the web. So essentially, if your brand is out there on the web, search engines will try to find this data and rank you based on prominence. If it can’t find you or there aren’t enough prominence signals, you’re far less likely to rank.
Let’s take a look at some important ways you can build up and maintain your business’s prominence.
Prominence can be demonstrated in a few ways:Building (local) links Creating and sharing relevant content and articles Getting listed in directories Building up more mentions of your business online Developing a strong reviews profile Having active social media platforms (verified, if possible!) Being mentioned by local media or government sites
We’ll be delving deeper into just how to achieve prominence in the eyes of Google later on, providing you with some concrete tips to build a strong presence online.
Now that we know your business is relevant to the user’s search query and has a strong prominence, let’s look at our last ranking factor: proximity.
Of course, when a person is performing a local search, how near they are to relevant businesses is important. What’s the point in Google throwing up results from three towns over?
As such, proximity is arguably the most important local ranking factor. It’s also the ranking factor that is uniquely local. While prominence and relevance count for quite a lot in traditional SEO, you don’t need online eCommerce stores and the like to be nearby in order to purchase from them.
There are three ways a user can perform a local search; non-geo-modified, geo-modified, and ‘near me.’ To showcase your proximity to Google, you should always consider optimizing for the different ways users are searching.
What are geo-modified searches? These include the city, neighborhood, or area you want to search in the search term itself. For example, ‘plumbers in Brooklyn’ is a geo-modified search.
What are non-geo-modified searches? Non-geo-modified searches do not include the location name in the search. For example, ‘plumbers’ or ‘best plumbers’.
What are ‘near me’ searches? As the name suggests, these are searches where the user specifies it wants nearby results, e.g. ‘plumbers near me’ or ‘plumbers nearby’.
Unfortunately, while it’s the most integral to local search, proximity is also the factor most out of your control. Your business is where your business is.
What’s important here, then, is to show Google where your business is so that it surfaces you for nearby search queries.
You can track your current status of local rankings using a tool like Local Search Results Checker. Enter the zip code from one road over, two roads over, three roads over and see how your rankings change based on the searcher’s location.
Just take a look at how much the local results for ‘Pizza’ change when you search from a different zip code:
Once you’ve worked out where you stand, you need to set about telling Google that.
To do this you can make use of tactics like building citations, creating local content, getting local links, localizing review content (e.g. ‘Best pizza in Manhattan!’), and more.
Everything we discuss in this guide will contribute to demonstrating either your relevance, prominence, or proximity. So if you follow the tried and tested steps outlined in this guide, then you don’t have to worry about trying to “trick” Google.
Of course, the work doesn’t stop there! Throughout this guide we’ll be sharing further reading to provide you with even more resources to succeed.
Now that you know what local SEO is, we can move onto the exciting bit: how to win with it!
In the chapters to follow, I’ll be sharing with you some of the foundational and game-changing tactics to help you climb the rankings in local search.
Chapter 2: Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most important foundational things you can do for your local SEO.
Think of this as your bread and butter. You need to know what search terms you want to rank for before you can begin optimizing your business or undertaking these ranking tactics.
Keyword research is also important for a few other reasons:To create landing pages that focus on searchable words and phrases. To understand searching behaviors better and, overall, understand your target audience better. To find related markets to expand into, and/or refocus your products or services to. To discover more ways to attract target customers (through providing answers to their questions).
You need to know what phrases are being searched for that relate to your business.
For example, you might be an artisan plant-based pizza restaurant, but that’s not necessarily what your customers are searching for. They might be more likely to search for ‘veggie pizza’, ‘healthy pizza’, ‘best vegan pizza’, or something else. So you need to be aware of the search trends and adapt to them.
For example, here I’ve performed a pretty basic search for ‘pizza New York’. Underlined are all the phrases that might be considered keywords.
In this section, I’ll provide you with some tips to get started with local keyword research and identify your own keywords.
Identify key terms
Your own judgment as a business owner is your first resource here.
What are you selling? How would you search for it if you were the consumer?
For example, if you’re selling ‘takeout pizza’, that’s one key term already identified.
To build upon your own list of core keywords, head over to Google, search for your query, and take note of what your competitors (or businesses in similar industries) put in their title tags.
For example, here’s what comes up when I search “pizza New York” in Google Maps:
You’ll notice there are a lot of diverse phrases used, both by the businesses themselves and by customers in reviews. For example, because this search is from the USA, people aren’t just using the word ‘pizza’ but ‘pies’, too. ‘Vegan pizza’ is mentioned but so are ‘unusual toppings’ and ‘nut-based cheeses’.
Searches like these can help you gain an understanding of what kinds of phrases competitors and searchers are using.
Extend your core terms with keyword modifiers
Next, you need to make your keywords longer. Content optimized for long-tail keywords receives a click-through rate up to 19% higher than content optimized for short-tail keywords.
Keyword modifiers (the things you’re adding to your core keyword) also make your overall keyword strategy more diverse, as you can benefit from less competitive organic search opportunities and reach more relevant customers.
If you’re feeling a bit lost as to what your modifiers may be, there are a few ways to find them.
Firstly, perform your own Google search – look at what phrases your competitors are using, what customers are saying in reviews (see below) and Q&A, and what People Also Asks are saying.
What is Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ feature? People Also Ask is a rich results feature that appears in search results. It offers alternative search queries that might relate to your search, based on what people have searched for. It looks like this:
Secondly, for more in-depth keyword research you can use a tool like Ahrefs to identify opportunities.
How to do local keyword research:Local keyword research revolves around identifying three parts of your target search queries: your core term, your keyword modifiers, and your location. Identify your core terms using your own knowledge of your niche and Google search results. Create long-tail keywords by identifying your keyword modifiers either through a search tool like Ahrefs or Google SERP features. Organize your keyword list by search intent and importance.
Chapter 3: Google My Business
Previously known as Google Local, and for a time, even Google+ Local, Google My Business (GMB) is your business profile on Google.
Information from your business’s GMB feeds information to a variety of places, including the local pack and Google Maps search results, but the most familiar appearance will likely be when it’s in the top right (or top on mobile) of a branded search for your business, as below.
When the GMB profile is pulled through to SERPs, the position it occupies in SERPs is what’s known as the Knowledge Panel.
Your GMB profile can include a host of information submitted by yourself, such as services you offer, contact details, business description, category, and opening times, but it’s important to note that features such as GMB subjective attributes, GMB Q&As, and Google Reviews are almost entirely generated by consumers – ideally ones with experience of your business!
A big part of local SEO is keeping your GMB profile as up-to-date and accurate as possible, so that it has a higher chance of appearing in the local pack, and is trustworthy, attractive, and appealing enough to warrant a clickthrough.
Although it’s incredibly powerful, Google My Business is just one example of what’s known as a ‘citation’, which we’ll talk more about later.
Why do you need Google My Business?
Google My Business is pretty much your new homepage.
Experts voted it the number one ranking factor for local searches and, sure, it makes sense: Google’s going to favor Google.
Our own research also showed that most local SEO experts viewed GMB optimization as very effective to improve local SEO rankings.
Google is the most used search engine, and GMB powers results for both Google and Google Maps.
Without a GMB profile, your business is not going to be able to compete in search. And what’s more, once it’s claimed and optimized, you need to make sure it’s maintained well.
When it comes to improving appearance in Google Maps, image is everything. Literally, a business’s photos can make or break a potential user action.
Steve Wiideman – President, Wiideman Consulting (How Do You Make a Google My Business Listing More ‘Clickable’?)
Google My Business features overview
In this section, we’ll take a look at Google My Business’s key features. Many of these will play a part in making your business more visible in SERPs, as well as helping to convert searchers who do find you.
But, it’s important to remember that these aren’t just “set it and forget it” features. GMB profiles need updating regularly, plus Google is known to introduce, test, and change features regularly, so you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground for any changes that might affect your profile (signing up to our newsletter is a great place to start).
In Google My Business, you’ll have the option to add a primary category and a handful of additional categories.
Having the most accurate primary category based on your business’s products, services and/or goals can make a big difference as you try to improve visibility for terms related to that category.
For example, a dine-in restaurant serving pizza and pasta should have the primary category ‘Italian restaurant’, rather than just ‘restaurant’.
Free tools like PlePer’s GMB category finder are really helpful when it comes to finding your right category (there are more to choose from than you might think!)
You can add a 750-character description to your GMB profile as part of your Google My Business optimization work. This text should describe your business in an engaging, authentic manner but it shouldn’t reference things like sales or promotions.
This text field is a place to tell local search users about your USPs and brand story, your mission, and history. But, it can also be a place to mention your most popular offerings, as Papa John’s have done in the screenshot above.
It’s worth noting that Google guidelines prohibit promotional content and links in this space. You can however, include a phone number and email address.
Google has been allowing customers to leave reviews for local businesses for over a decade. The volume of Google My Business reviews you collect is a known SEO ranking factor, as it supports the prominence of your business in the community.
Online reviews also occupy an important place in the consumer psyche, with over seven in ten consumers admitting to trusting a business more if it has strong online reviews, and around half refusing to buy from a business with a rating lower than four stars.
Did You Know? Reviews have grown in importance over the last few years – making up 16% of local ranking factors in 2020, compared to 12% back in 2018.
We’ll be covering review generation in much more detail later in this guide.
Google My Business has several visual features available when you verify your listing. The platform will allow you to upload images of your business to your profile, attach images to posts, and upload video. You can even add 360º photos and virtual video tours.
Google advises businesses to upload several different types of image, including:At least three strong exterior photos, taken at different times of the day and showing the approach to the business from common angles A minimum of three interior photos Product photos for the most popular products and services you sell One image of any common areas your business may have, such as the reception A minimum of three management and team photos For bars, restaurants, and cafes, images of the most popular food and drinks For hotels, images of guest rooms should be uploaded
…Businesses with photos receive 42% more requests for driving directions to their location from users on Google, and 35% more clicks through to their websites than businesses that don’t have photos.
In addition to your own ability to upload all of these visual assets from your Google My Business dashboard, it’s important to be aware that your customers can also upload their own photos and videos of your business. There is little you can do to control your public image via user-generated content shared in this manner, but if the images are offensive or inappropriate, you do have the option to flag them up and request removal (just click the three dots next to the photo poster’s name).
Google My Business Posts are a useful way to connect with customers, allowing local businesses to share their latest offers, events, products, and services.
Here’s an example of a service-area business using Offers within Google Posts:
The great thing about Google Posts is that when a potential customer searches for a particular business on Google, the Post can show up front-and-center in the business’ Knowledge Panel.
A Google My Business Post can include an image, copy, a Call To Action (CTA), and a URL that you can use to link to a landing page or your website.
Pay attention to the first 80 characters of a GMB post. This makes it much more engaging across most surfaces.
Ben Fisher – Founder and VP of Marketing, Steady Demand (How Do You Make a Google My Business Listing More ‘Clickable’?)
Each Post has a limit of 300 words, but only the first 100 characters (or fewer) of the Post appear in the business’s Knowledge Panel.
Posts can also be used to inform searchers of important information. For example, during Covid-19, while businesses’ opening hours and operations were changing frequently, Google My Business introduced Covid-19 posts to announce updates:
Q and A
Google Q&A, introduced in August of 2017, is a consumer-facing, crowd-sourced FAQ feature, similar to the Ask the Community feature on Yelp and Tripadvisor, that allows consumers (and businesses) to ask and answer questions about the business from the local Knowledge Panel.
These questions and their answers can show directly in Google search results. Users can also give a thumbs-up vote to questions and answers, which influences both their order and where they might appear.
Google’s goal for its local Q&A feature is to provide consumers with enhanced details about a business.
Pro Tip: There’s no rule against GMB owners posting and answering their own questions, so think of GMB Q&A as a way to share FAQs directly from Google search.
In theory, this additional information will allow consumers to find meaningful, timely answers to questions, directly influencing their decision to call or visit the business right from your GMB profile.
Book an appointment
Some businesses will also have access to a ‘book an appointment’ button in GMB. If your business uses a third-party site to organize bookings, you can link to this through GMB, which has a few perks: 1) It’s easier for customers to book with you, 2) You can keep track of bookings directly through GMB.
Here’s an example of an appointment link in a GMB profile:
As well as a classic blue link, some businesses will be eligible for ‘schedule’ CTAs, like this Barber Shop:
Finally, this feature can also manifest in the ‘Book Online’ button seen here:
If you’re a business that takes appointments and bookings, then having this feature could make things a lot easier for your customers. Just make sure you keep on top of bookings that come through third-party systems.
Businesses also have the option to turn on Messaging, so searchers and customers can reach you directly from Maps or search.
The option to message a business is visible next to the ‘call’, ‘directions’, and ‘website’ buttons on a GMB listing. It can also be visible as a call-to-action button on Google Posts.
Your customers can get in touch with you in real-time from your Business Profile on Google. You can answer questions, tell your story, and attract more customers to your business. Messaging works best as a conversation between your business and your customers. To ensure the best experience for your customers, follow the messaging guidelines.
This is a great way to provide more customer support options to searchers, but it should only be used by businesses that have the time to manage it.
After all, if a searcher asks a question and gets no response, that’s going to leave a bad taste in their mouth.
Messages sent through GMB can only be accessed in the Google My Business app, so make sure you’re happy to keep on top of that if you do turn this feature on.
GMB short names were introduced so that businesses could more easily link to their profiles.
A merchant can choose a short name between 5 and 32 characters in length. It can contain the name of the business, the location, and anything in between, so long as you do not violate any policies.
This feature came from a distinct user need: businesses were using their GMB profiles as landing pages to get leads, display photos, earn reviews, create posts, write commentary, and share directions (this alone highlights the importance of keeping Google My Business up to date).
However, it’s never really been easy to share profile links with consumers, thanks to the gigantic GMB URL. I mean, just look at this:
Not exactly memorable!
But now, short names make the business owner feel like GMB is part of their online presence, and something they can directly talk about with customers without referring to a URL with a long string of random numbers and letters.
Chapter 4: Other Maps Platforms
Google is the most important Maps platform for the same reason it’s the most important search engine. It has by far the largest number of monthly users.
But there is more to local search than just Google. Let’s take a look at some other important maps apps.
While Google should definitely be your priority for local search, Apple still plays an important role in the form of its maps app.
According to Statista, Apple Maps receives 23.3 million unique users per month – that’s not to be sniffed at.
Apple Maps certainly has fewer features than Google Maps, but it has achieved feature parity in many ways.
Apple Maps reviews
Apple Maps pulls reviews from third-party sites. In the US, that’s mostly Yelp. While in the UK it generates reviews from Yelp, Foursquare, and Tripadvisor.
Because of this, you need to ensure your business is present on each of those platforms (depending on industry).
Say you have 1,000 5-star reviews on Google. Someone finds your business through Google search on desktop. They like the look of you and decide to visit your store. Naturally, they hop in their car to drive to your location. To get directions, they pull up Apple Maps on their phone. What happens when they see no reviews — or worse, they see bad reviews — coming through from Yelp on Apple Maps? That’s right, they’re going to look for somewhere else!
The moral of the story: having good reviews on Google isn’t enough.
To make sure you don’t alienate Apple Maps users, diversify your reviews and ensure your profiles on sites such as Yelp, Foursquare, and Tripadvisor (if relevant) are glowing too.
Apple Maps photos
Similarly to reviews, photos had historically been powered by third-party review sites. This means that you’ll also need to dedicate some time to filling out your profiles fully on sites like Yelp and Foursquare.
Just like with Google My Business, try to include photos of the exterior, interior, and any products or services you offer.
Take a look at this business listing on Apple Maps:
This pizza place in New York has reviews and photos sourced from Yelp.
Meanwhile, take a look at a business that has no information for Apple to pull from:
Not only does this profile lack the information most searchers would need to make a decision, but it even makes similar businesses nearby appear more prominently.
Which business do you think a searcher is most likely to visit based on these two listings?
It’s also worth remembering that Apple Maps and Safari power Siri results, so if someone is relying on voice searches using Siri, they’ll be experiencing your business through Apple.
Did You Know? By 2021, the number of US voice assistant users will reach 122.7 million, representing 42.2% of US internet users and 36.6% of the US population.
As smart devices become even more popular, optimizing content for voice assistants is going to become more important than ever.
While it may not get quite as much airtime as Google My Business, Bing Places is very much a relevant, worthwhile addition to your local search engine optimization campaign, especially as Bing searches power Alexa and Cortana – two huge voice search engines.
Looking at this screenshot, you can see that Microsoft Bing and Bing Places are not dissimilar to Google Maps and GMB. In fact, you can even sync up your listing so Bing pulls its data from GMB.
Unlike Google local search, however, Bing shows reviews from a couple of different sources in its Explore panel. In addition to the information pulled from your Bing Places listing, your local panel may display a recent review from Tripadvisor right next to your latest Facebook review, for example. In both cases, the reviews are showcased in a box (with an average star rating where applicable) and a link to read further reviews from each source.
Chapter 5: Citations
A citation is any place your business’s NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) information appears together online, typically in an online directory or business listings website.
Simply put, NAP stands for a business’s:Name Address Phone Number
These three nuggets of information are important details in their own right, but add them together and they can be the reason why a customer walks into your store – or the cause of them getting lost, being frustrated, wasting their time, or visiting a competitor.
In fact, we’ve already touched upon citations earlier on in this guide — Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple Maps profiles are all considered citations.
There are two types of citation: unstructured and structured. Structured citations typically appear in business listings and come from form fields being filled in when the listing is claimed.
This is an example of a structured citation on Hotfrog. Here you can see the business’s name, website, phone number, and address are listed clearly.
Unstructured citations are more likely to be the result of press and social media, wherein your NAP information is visible and connected on a web page (perhaps throughout a local news piece about the business), but not in a structured format.
Unstructured citations can often look less clear-cut, but this is a pretty good example. Here, a writeup on Thrillist.com includes the name, phone number, and website of New York pizza place Juliana’s in a less structured format than the Hotfrog example above.
Getting citations for your local business isn’t just important, it’s widely known as ‘table stakes’ in local search optimization, as in ‘if you don’t get citations, you can’t play the game’.
From where I sit, the impact of citations on local search rankings has changed significantly over the last 4-5 years in two major ways. Key citations have become table stakes in many industries (i.e., if you’re not there, you probably won’t rank) but rarely move the needle in competitive markets.
David Mihm – Founder, Tidings (Expert Local Citation Survey)
While it’s key to build citations on the most relevant websites, research shows that if they’re not regularly updated and cleaned up, there can be serious consequences.
The benefits of citation building
In recent years, the relevance of citations has been frequently debated.
Anecdotal evidence points to a change in the role of citations. Citations are not what we could consider competitive difference-makers but they are a foundational factor in local SEO.
Citations are an important piece in any foundational local SEO strategy – but in our experience, they’re not often “the thing” that will give one business a competitive advantage over another in SERPs. Get them cleaned up and submitted right, and keep an eye on them to make sure nothing weird’s going on, but don’t invest a ton of time in obsessing over them.
Cori Graft – Senior Team Lead, Seer Interactive (Expert Local Citation Survey)
But what do we mean when we say a “foundational” factor?
This means that, while building citations alone won’t get you ranking #1, you do need at least some accurate and consistent citations to compete effectively in the local SEO game.
Research like our annual Local Search Industry Survey shows that citations still provide value to agencies and local businesses alike, and that citation management remains one of the most common services offered by agencies.
That’s because building and maintaining accurate citations still offer the following benefits:
Building a consistent online presenceSending trust signals to search engines Making it easy for potential customers to find you Ensuring searchers don’t get confused by conflicting or wrong information
Citations are important to get in place for local SEO, because if you don’t appear in the places people are looking for businesses like yours, you’re likely to get overtaken by the competitors that do.
Did You Know? 68% of consumers say they would stop using a local business if they found incorrect information in local directories.
Plus, this is a simple and quick way to inform Google and other search engines of your business’s whereabouts (which, if you remember our earlier discussion about proximity, you’ll know is key to appearing in local searches).
Building citations is one of the easiest local SEO tasks to complete, so there’s really no reason not to do it.
Ongoing citation building and management
Like link building and review management, citation building and management is an ongoing task.
Once a business’s initial online presence (in the form of citations and business listings) has been tidied up and corrected, new citations can be built.
But where do you need citations?
Firstly, the “big” directories are important to be listed on. These are sites like Google My Business, Facebook, Bing Places, and Apple Maps (to name a few).
In addition to these more mainstream sites, it’s also important to get listed on sites that are relevant to your industry. Remember, we want to think about where customers might find you — not just Google.
So if you’re in hospitality, you’ll want to be on Tripadvisor, mechanics should be on Carwise, and plumbers on FindAPlumber.com… you get the picture. If you’re not sure which directories are most relevant to you, take a look at this list of niche directories by business category
Now, there are a few different options available if you’re looking to begin building citations.
Building citations yourself
DIY is pretty much always an option in local SEO; it just happens to be a very time-intensive one!
Building citations in this way might suit you if you’re handling the citations of a single business. If you do go down this route, you can use a free tool like Local Listings Health Scanner to see where you’re appearing on top directories or where information is incorrect.
You can then use a good-old-fashioned Google search for business information to fill in the gaps.
Once you’ve done that, you can go ahead and update, claim, or create your listings manually. It’s best to keep track of these on a spreadsheet and check them regularly.
Using a manual service
If you’ve got too many locations to handle yourself or simply find the process daunting, you can hand your citations over to a service like BrightLocal.
With manual services like this, a team of citation builders will handle your submissions personally, getting you listed on the sites you choose and removing any inaccurate or duplicate information.
Using an API provider
API providers like Yext are better suited to companies creating citations at scale. Information is pushed out automatically to the sites you choose, and you have to pay a recurring fee to keep the data intact.
Using data aggregators
Less of an ‘or’ than an ‘and’, data aggregators are companies like Data Axle, Neustar Localeze, Factual, and Foursquare that disperse your data to apps, maps, and directories. They’re pretty cheap and straightforward to use, so they can be a good way to bulk out your online presence.
Chapter 6: Online Reviews
I’m sure you’ve dealt with reviews before reading this guide. You’ve probably even left a few of your own.
But what kinds of reviews do we care about most in local SEO?
Naturally, businesses that want to rank in local search will need to focus on online reviews of local businesses. These are unlike eCommerce reviews left on sites like Amazon, G2, or iMDB.
Instead, in local SEO we focus on reviews that contain content about products or services offered by local businesses, such as plumbers, restaurants, lawyers, and so on.
Here’s an example of a local business review (top) versus an eCommerce review (bottom):
As you might recognize, the first review comes from Google My Business and recounts the experience the user had with a service-area business — in this case, a pest control provider.
Meanwhile, the second review comes from Amazon, where a user is simply leaving a product review for a mosquito-zapping lamp.
For local SEO, we’ll be focusing on the first type of review.
We’ll also be focusing on reviews left on third-party sites, rather than reviews that are native to your website.
What are ‘native’ reviews? Native reviews (also known as ‘first-party reviews’), which means they are reviews that you’ve gathered yourself rather than through an external review platform.
Why local businesses need online reviews
Many businesses hesitate to be proactive about growing reviews, fearing that it’s too big of a job to undertake or that it could result in negative reviews, but if you make this a regular part of your local marketing routine, you’ll be rewarded with better search engine rankings and increased consumer trust.
Before you embark on growing online reviews it is worth ensuring you’re genuinely confident that you’re providing a product or service offering worthy of excellent reviews. While a couple of negative reviews are possible for even the best-run businesses (and can make listings seem more trustworthy!) you don’t want to be asking customers to review a sub-standard experience.
In local SEO, online reviews help you to do three things:Rank higher in local search Convert customers by building their trust in your business Showcase your brand personality by responding to reviews
It’s no secret that reviews are vitally important for local businesses. Online reputation is increasingly referenced by consumers and is fast becoming a ‘make or break’ metric for those looking for a local business online.
Creating a strong online review profile is also a certified way to inform Google that you’re worthy of being surfaced in local searches (again, prominence!)
Did You Know? According to local SEO experts, online reviews make up 16% of local ranking factors and are the second most important factor when it comes to getting found in local search.
But what does a “strong” review profile really mean?
Online reviews have replaced traditional word-of-mouth recommendations for modern consumers. Searchers expect to see plenty of recent reviews, need to see a certain number of reviews before developing a sense of trust, and tend to discount older reviews.
The number of reviews you have, along with how often new reviews are published, both influence your search position, therefore the more you can build a steady stream of reviews, the better your local SEO visibility is likely to be.
Sure, once upon a time, having a good average review star rating was enough to win consumers and search engines over. But now, businesses have to think about a few more things, including:Keywords: Studies have shown that when customers include keywords in reviews Google can more easily associate your business with its keywords. Keywords in native Google reviews are now considered a top local ranking factor. Freshness: Nearly half of consumers won’t pay attention to reviews left more than two weeks ago! Star rating: Only 53% of people would consider using a business with less than 4 stars Responses: 46% of people say they “always” read responses and 71% of consumers say they’re more likely to use a business that has responded to their existing reviews
You should also know that reviews go beyond just ranking.
One of the key benefits of monitoring your reviews as part of your local marketing activity is that they are a huge source of valuable customer feedback. Each review you read is an opportunity to pinpoint what customers appreciate about your product or service and identify any recurring issues that need to be addressed.
While no one likes to read a bad review about their businesses, monitoring reviews means you know sooner rather than later when something negative appears on a review site. This gives you a chance to react quickly, respond to the reviewer, and take steps to put things right.
All this means that you’ll need a steady stream of fresh reviews to generate inquiries and sales.
Getting more online reviews
Now that we’ve established just how important it is to build a pipeline of positive reviews coming in, we can focus on getting them.
We’ve discussed the importance of Google My Business, so Google Reviews is a great place to start your efforts. Plus, Google is one of the easier platforms to request reviews on, as all it requires from the reviewer is a Google login (which most people tend to have already) and less than a minute of their time.
While Google reviews are considered more of a ranking factor, building reviews on industry sites can also make you seem more trustworthy to your potential customers.
Outside of Google you should consider other sites that also integrate with maps apps. These sites, such as Yelp, Foursquare, and Facebook will also need to have an established review presence of your business.
Beyond that, any sites where you think customers may be searching for you, such as industry-specific sites will need to be considered. So lawyers will need to build reviews on Justia, hotels on Tripadvisor, cleaning services on Angie’s List, and so on.
If in doubt, do a brand search on Google for your business name and ‘reviews’ and see what review sites pop up. If a review listing for your business is surfaced on the first or second page of the search, you’ll definitely want to grow the number and quality of reviews you have there.
Now that you know where to get reviews, you can start generating them — and start getting more visibility and more leads because of it.
There are a few methods you can use to get reviews, but they all have one thing in common: you need to ask. You can’t just expect reviews to come in on their own!Ask customers face-to-face at the point of sale Email customers Text customers Be creative! Leave short links to your review profile on business cards, receipts, in-store printed materials, and more.
Generally, it’s recommended to use a variety of these methods for the maximum impact. For example, you can ask a customer in-store just after they’ve received great service, but if they don’t follow through with it, you can send a quick, personalized follow-up email.
Did You Know? Last year, 76% of consumers went on to leave a review after being asked to.
However you ask for a review, make sure to keep things polite, personal, and brief. Give your customers a couple of options to choose from (Google and Tripadvisor, for example), so you can diversify your review profiles while providing your customers with some flexibility.
What to do with online reviews
Once you’ve got your reviews, you might think your job is done. If only!
Firstly, it’s really important to respond to new reviews quickly and effectively. Positive reviews shouldn’t require much more than a “Thanks for visiting!” or similar equivalent, but try to avoid using canned responses (pre-written, generic responses) as this can come across as being inauthentic.
Did You Know? 71% of consumers say they’re more likely to use a business that has responded to their existing reviews.
If you’re unfortunate enough to receive a negative review — hey, it happens to the best of us! — then it’s even more important to respond quickly, preferably within 24-48 hours (there’s no magic number here but this is widely agreed upon as the maximum time limit by industry pros).
When you get a negative review, you need to provide crisis control and showcase your great customer feedback to anyone who may see it. You’re not just trying to appease the existing customer, but show potential ones your great customer service, too.
If possible, reach out to the customer privately to resolve their issue first, then acknowledge this in your response and publicly apologize if required.
Pro Tip: Received a bad review citing a negative experience with your service? Try to turn that one-star into five stars by offering a free sample or discount on a return visit. For example, in the example above, a soggy chicken parm has left Wilson feeling let down. Frank D could offer for Wilson to come in and try it again on the house to amend the experience.
Once you’ve got a good amount of fresh reviews, you can use these to your advantage. Showcase your happiest customers’ reviews on your website, share them on social media, or use Google’s marketing kit to display them in store.
Remember: reviews are a converter, not just a ranking factor!
Chapter 7: On-site SEO
You’ll have noticed that a lot of the tasks we focus on in this guide take place away from your business’s website.
While off-site tactics like Google My Business and online reviews are considered the two most important ranking factors, on-site optimization comes close behind.
Plus, there are a couple of other reasons having an optimized, up-to-date website matters:Studies show that users still trust a business’s website more than a third-party site or listing like Google My Business. So if your website is difficult to use or has outdated information, it could lead to you alienating potential customers. If a searcher sees your great reviews on Google, it’s very likely they’ll continue on to your website to find out more or to get a sense of your business’s personality. If the information and content on your website doesn’t match up with your Google My Business, searchers could be left confused or simply change their mind.
So for customers and for ranking purposes, it’s important to make sure you’re not neglecting your website.
In this section we’ll discuss a few different ways to optimize your site for local search.
‘Localizing’ your website means including your city, county, or region name naturally throughout your site.
For businesses with several locations, this could involve creating separate pages, content hubs, or ‘content silos’ for individual locations.
When it comes to what content to create for local businesses, there are a few options in your playbook.Get involved with local community events and write articles about them Create useful content to help visitors to your area – helpful content doesn’t always have to relate to your business! Start a ‘Meet the Team’ series. Get staff members to recommend their favorite local eateries and stores! Let your customers do the talking. Work with happy customers to create case studies or interviews. Provide updates about your store or services. Got a new product or offering? Share that update on your blog. If you’re offering local discounts or specials, share the news in blog form.
All of these content ideas will help to show Google that you should be ranking in your local area.
Optimizing for mobile
If you want to do well in local SEO, you definitely need a site that works well on mobile — after all, when people are searching on the go, they’re going to be on their smartphones.
The best thing to do first is to test your own site on your own phone. Go out and about, get on your phone, and load up your site. How quickly does it load? Are CTAs or popups obscuring important information? Are your contact details easily visible or findable on your site? If things aren’t working for you when you put yourself in the shoes of a new visitor, then you need to make some changes. Google doesn’t like slow-loading, confusing websites, and nor will customers.
You can also use Google’s very own Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
Simply enter your site’s URL and Google will generate a report that outlines whether or not your site is mobile-friendly and what improvements can be made. This is great because you don’t have to be hugely tech-savvy to make sense of it.
Improving site speed and technical SEO
Google isn’t likely to surface slow sites in its top results, so it’s equally important to make sure your site is loading quickly (on mobile and desktop).
Using a free plugin like Google Lighthouse, you can get an overall “score” for your site.
These numbers may appear daunting at first, but rest assured, if that score’s not looking so good, there are a few simple things you can do to improve your speed without having access to a developer.
Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’
Core web vitals are a subset of web vitals, an initiative set by Google to help determine how well a website is performing.
Core web vitals cover three key aspects of the user experience:Loading Interactivity Visual stability
It’s worth remembering that, just because those are three main areas might now, doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. Core web vitals tend to evolve due to changing contexts and tools.
For the time being however, the areas you need to focus on are:Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). This indicates your site’s loading performance. According to Google, in order to provide a “good” user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading. First Input Delay (FID). This signal measures interactivity. According to Google, website pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). This signal, as it sounds, measures visual stability. According to Google, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.
Fortunately, you can find out your website scores for these three aspects using a tool we’ve already discussed: Google Lighthouse Report.
Chapter 8: Local Link Building
Not to be confused with your standard link building for SEO, local link building demands a lot more involvement in the local community, and unlike standard SEO, local links don’t even need to be ‘dofollow’ links to make a positive impact!
What is a ‘dofollow’ link? ‘Dofollow’ links (the opposite of ‘nofollow’ links) are HTML attributes that signal to search bots that they should follow the links. If a webmaster links to your site with a dofollow link, then search engine bots and crawlers will know to follow that. This is what a dofollow link looks like in practice:
To boost the locational aspect of your business’s website, page, or hub, you’ll need links from local websites (community groups, church groups, even neighborhood watch websites).
This is something larger brands will definitely need help with, as local community websites are there to prop up local, homegrown businesses rather than multinational chains.
Simply put, it’s generally easier for a truly local business to get a local link. However, with the right approach, a good local SEO agency or consultant will be able to find clever ways to get those all-powerful links, whether it be from sponsoring an event, contributing to the community, or helping out a local charity.
It should be noted that all of these practices give a great boost to your business’s standing and reputation, so it’s a win-win!
Why is local link building worth your time?
Local link building is a time-intensive activity but the rewards are more than worth it, as it’s one of the most effective ways to boost rankings in local SEO.
According to local search experts, local links come in second place in importance to localized organic rankings and in joint-third when it comes to local map ranking factors.
Local links are a great way to increase visibility across all of local search.
How does local link building differ from standard link building?
Local link building differs from regular link building in a few ways.
Firstly, local links don’t need to be “dofollow” to be useful. It’s more important that you’re building links with local sites, whether that’s a church down the road or the local high school. These sites also don’t need to have a high domain authority to influence your rankings. With these links you’re just showing Google that your business is where it says it is and is also trusted by these other local institutions, in order to boost prominence.
Here are a few tried-and-tested methods to build links locally:
You can use links from a sponsorship page to drive leads for a specific offer that is highly relevant to the audience of the sponsored group, organization, or team. For example, local sports shops sponsoring local youth sports teams and offering team-specific discounts.
Where does your local community come together? Are these local events published or spoken about online? Sometimes local government sites will get involved in promoting local events and these can be great opportunities to earn links that also generate leads for your business. Look for event sites that have a track record of linking back to partners and contributors.
Offering scholarships remains a really effective link building tactic. However, it’s important to go in with a healthy attitude and not to only want links from the situation. While scholarships can provide great linking opportunities, this shouldn’t be your sole goal when proceeding with them.
Consider offering local scholarships to students who might also be customers. You might be surprised just how effective this can be for generating goodwill, building brand awareness, and, additionally, building local links.
When it comes to building local links, you might have more existing connections than you think. Has a local paper written about you? Are you included in a local directory? Reach out and ask if they’ll add a link to you! Lean on the connections you already have, because those are what are going to pay the most dividends.
My final piece of advice when it comes to building local links is to remind you that this is an ongoing activity. You’re not going to build hundreds of local links overnight, but it’s an activity that’s well worth pursuing as it can be a competitive difference-maker. So, stick with it, reach out to existing connections, and review your efforts on a regular basis.
Chapter 9: Local SEO Reporting
When all’s said and done, how do you know you’re doing local SEO right? In this next section, we’ll discuss how to measure and report on the success of your local SEO campaigns.
How do you know you’re doing local SEO right?
If you’ve made it this far, props to you my friend! We’ve just fired a whole lot of information at you, but you’re now a whole lot closer to becoming a local SEO pro.
But, there’s one last step.
Once you’ve begun on your journey in local SEO, you’re going to need to know if you’re going in the right direction.
Key metrics and what to report
It’s easy to get bogged down in the tactics themselves, but it’s important to remember why you’re here.
You invested in local SEO to get more leads, and more business, so the first metric you’ll want to look at is just that. Head on over to GMB Insights for a good idea of how things are going for your business profile performance.
What is ‘Google My Business Insights’? Google My Business Insights is a free data reporting tool that accompanies your Google My Business profile. As it’s connected to your listing, you can use GMB Insights to find out how many calls, direction requests, and website clicks you’ve received from Maps and Google local search each month. GMB Insights is accessible via your GMB login.
Are you getting discovered more? Are you getting more phone calls? More website clicks? More direction requests? All of these indicate that you’re doing a better job of getting found in local searches on Google and converting searchers.
Finally, look at your bottom line. Have you seen an increase in sales and revenue since you undertook this project? I’m betting the answer is yes.
Frequency and methods of reporting
How often you choose to check in on your local search efforts will really depend on your goals and current benchmarks. That said, it’s a safe bet to delve into the data on a monthly basis so that you have enough information to work with and see where your tactics are really making an impact.
When it comes to reporting, you have the option of doing this manually, using a service, or recruiting an agency to help you.
If you don’t have a lot of budget to work with but have some time to spare, this will likely be the route for you. It can be a good way to get to know local SEO reporting before investing in a tool or service.
To report on the impact of your local SEO strategy you’ll want to make use of the free tools already at your fingertips, like Google Analytics (to track site traffic and attribute that to sources like social media, GMB posts, and so on) and Google My Business Insights (to see if you’re getting discovered more through local search and how that’s impacting calls and direction requests).
Once you’ve got your data, you can keep track of it in a spreadsheet and compare how things are changing (and hopefully, improving!) every month.
Using a reporting tool
Tools like BrightLocal will more or less do the reporting for you. All you need to do is enter your business info, paste in your target keywords, and sync up your GMB account in order to see data showing the online performance of your business location.
Using a tool is a great option if you’re a little time-poor and have some (but not heaps) of budget to spare. You’ll have to digest and understand the reports yourself, but it’s much more efficient than tracking things manually in spreadsheets and the like.
Hiring an agency
If you’ve got budget aplenty then you may want to invest in an agency. Not only will they do much of the legwork we’ve discussed in this guide, but they’ll also report back to you and provide the sorts of insights that only come with local search experience obtained from working with multiple local business clients like you.
Agencies will be able to help you understand what’s changed in your online performance over time, pinpoint what caused those changes, and suggest what to focus on next.
Chapter 10: Conclusion
…and breathe! That was a lot of information to take in — congratulations for completing our local SEO superguide.
Now that you’ve made it this far, you should feel fully equipped to take on local SEO headfirst. Plus, with our extra recommended reading throughout you can take local SEO learning to the next level.
There’s just one last thing to say: Good luck!
Stephanie is responsible for managing BrightLocal’s community outreach and engagement, as well as producing and managing content to help inform and educate the local SEO community.