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The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO

Do you ever feel like your small business is a solitary fish swimming upstream against the tide of established businesses? Especially with the global reach of the Internet, it can feel as though you’re duking it out, David and Goliath-style. 

Here’s the thing: your business can win the Internet battle with larger businesses. In fact, you can leverage the Internet to your advantage on your doorstep and further afield. 

The struggle for many small businesses is getting on the map. This is where local SEO can help you. And if you’re ready to make 2020 your year, it’s time to learn the art and science of going local. 

What is Local SEO?

Don’t know your SEO from your elbow? No worries. Local SEO isn’t as complicated as the acronym would have you believe. 

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the alchemy that lets Google know you exist (oh, and other search engines, too). Basically, it’s the process of improving search visibility and traffic through organic results, i.e. au naturel, totally-stumbled-across-this-by-accident. 

It’s (theoretically) free, and it relies on getting pages ranked based on quality rather than running paid ads. 

This brings us to local SEO

Regular SEO is all about being found online, but local SEO is focused on real-life, brick-and-mortar connection. As in, getting customers to your physical address. 

Since your website is your best digital marketing tool online, optimizing for local SEO is all about getting real visitors and about getting noticed by customers in your geographic vicinity so that they might pay your business a visit in the near future. 

Local vs. Organic SEO

So, if regular SEO gets customers through organic results, and local SEO also relies on organic results, are they the same thing? 

Sort of, but not quite. 

Both rely on organic traffic, i.e. traffic that you don’t pay for. But from there, their optimization efforts diverge. 

Let’s say you’re a coffee shop in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and you want to get customers walking through your front door. Hey, blogging/working/living is hard work that demands coffee. How do you think a random customer who’s never heard of you will stumble across you? 

Nowadays, it’s usually by virtue of their phone. 

Where once we were inclined to wander the street or ask for a recommendation, people nowadays whip out their phone and type in a search, usually some variation of “x near me,” in this case, “coffee shop near me” or “coffee shop in Scranton.” Once they do, Google reviews its listings and populates SERPs with the most relevant results. 

It will also give you a nifty map display showing the coffee shops closest to your current location, along with relevant information like their opening hours, directions, and website. 

Coffee shops like the one in our example are benefiting from the art of local SEO. You see, local SEO is based entirely on localized efforts to draw in a specific crowd. It doesn’t do you much good to attract a coffee searcher in Taipei if you’re a coffee shop in Los Angeles. 

It does this by focusing on geographic signifiers rather than broad keywords that could apply to anyone anywhere in the world. 

Google Snack Pack vs. Regular Results

This is also where the Google local ‘snack pack’ comes into play. 

Let’s say that you’re looking for a snack. So, like many hungry people in the modern era, you open your phone and search “coffee shop near me”. 

When you do that, you get two sets of search results: 

  1. The ‘snack pack’ results
  2. The ‘organic’ results

Google Snack Pack is a boxed area appearing on the first page of SERPs when you make a location-specific search. It displays the top three relevant businesses in your area, along with their location on a map. After the Snack Pack is the regular run of organic search results. 

And trust us, people like snacking–33% of clicks go to snack pack results, while 40% of clicks go to organic results. The verdict? It pays to rank in both, and local SEO can deliver on both. 

Local Ranking Factors

This means that the ranking factors for local SEO are dependent on geography, though the basic elements remain consistent. 

According to one Moz study, the top local ranking factors include: 

  • Link signals (inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.)
  • On-page signals (NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.)
  • Behavioral signals (click-through rate, check-ins, mobile clicks to call, etc.)
  • Personalization
  • Citation signals (NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.)
  • My Business signals (categories, proximity, keyword in business titles, etc.)
  • Review signals (review quantity, review quality, review diversity, review velocity, etc.)
  • Social signals (Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.)

Of all the local search ranking factors, link signals remain the strongest, followed by on-page signals and behavioral signals. 

Why Local Search Matters

Remember our earlier example of the intrepid business (you) fighting your way upstream, trying to get noticed among bigger and louder contenders? This is a common struggle for many small and mid-sized businesses who don’t have the resources to match larger competitors or the search engine weight to throw behind organic SEO. 

This is why local search is so important. 

Local SEO is all about increasing visibility for businesses who serve their customers face-to-face. This could be a business with a physical storefront like a dentist office or grocery store, or it could be a business serving a specific geographic area, like an electrician or plumber. And it delivers real results. 

For example, did you know that 50% of people who did a local search on their phone visited a store that same day? Or that 34% of people who did a local search on a tablet did the same? Plus, 18% of local mobile searches resulted in a sale within one day, and 78% of local searches made on a mobile device resulted in offline purchases. 

In addition, local SEO is specifically tailored for sellers who do business in person at specific geographic locations. That means that online sellers, private businesses who don’t share physical locations, and local online-only sellers are eliminated from the competition altogether. 

Types of Content That Will Help Local SEO

Once upon a time, local SEO, like organic SEO, was a straightforward affair. You got your keywords, checked your business information, threw it online, and called it even. 

Nowadays, you need to abide by the familiar SEO adage: content is king

The good news is that, again, your coffee shop doesn’t need to compete with Starbucks on keywords like “best coffee”. But you can beat them out in local search rankings on keywords like “best coffee near me,” especially if you have locally-oriented content to back it up. 

Don’t believe it? One case study found that you could increase traffic almost 300% in six months by focusing on local content for less competitive local keywords. 

That said, local SEO relies on…well, local content, which means that not all content that works for regular SEO is applicable here. Here are a few types of content that will win you brownie points (and the coveted first page slot) in the local SEO scoreboard. 

City-Specific Landing Pages

Want to rank for location-specific keywords? One of the easiest ways to do it is with city-specific landing pages. Plus, this is one of the easiest ways to let your site visitors know that you’re open for business in their city. 

And if you’re a multi-location business, or you happen to serve several cities? No problem. Take cues from other multi-location businesses and create a page for each location. That way, you can always be sure that you’ll show up to the right customers and your customers will have no doubt that you serve their area. 

Regional Landing Pages

Okay, we hear you. Creating content alone sounds daunting. Creating multiple city-specific pages? Even worse. 

If you can’t create multiple city pages due to time constraints or marketing budgets, a good place to start is by creating regional landing pages instead. If you serve multiple counties, for example, you can create pages for each county rather than specific locations within each county. You can also do this if you serve multiple states and want customers to winnow down. 

Local Events

You’re a local business, right? And chances are, you’ve already discovered the social media magic of hosting regular local events at your storefront, drawing on the swathes of people who scroll their social media each week for new events to try. 

There’s just one problem: you don’t list your events on your webpage. 

This costs you serious local SEO mojo–almost as much as you gain from having the event on your social media page. It’s also a trust and clarity problem. If customers decide to come to your event but don’t see the event listed on your site, they might think you’re not having the event after all, or worse, the business itself isn’t legit. 

If the idea of hosting a local event gives you stress dreams, no worries. You can still get the SEO benefits of a local event by partnering with other local events–if you post the event on your website as well. A good way to do this is by sponsoring local events. It gets your name out there to the public and you get SEO points without having to organize an event yourself. 

Frequently Asked Questions

You might not think your frequently asked questions page would score many local points. You would be wrong. 

FAQ pages are a delightful one-stop shop for all things SEO. And it’s all thanks to voice search changing the nature of location-based queries. 

Nowadays, when people search, they often do it by asking the question out loud to their phone, Alexa, or other listening electronic assistant. This means that people are searching for content the same way they talk. And some of their most frequent questions are location-related. 

This is great news for the savvy local SEO expert. After all, your FAQ page is literally a list of questions. Plus, if you optimize your FAQ pages, you can see your page appear as a featured snippet

Blogs

Last but not least are your favorite source of content: blogs. 

There is no silver bullet for SEO, but if you were looking for a dose of rocket fuel, blogging is it. If you want to boost your blog for extra local brownie points, optimize your posts to focus on geographic signifiers. 

If you’re not a blogger (or if, like many business owners, you just don’t have time to blog) there are plenty of ways to see the local benefits of blogging without driving yourself up a wall. 

For example, you can publish updates from your location, post event information, post product announcements, and even post interviews–social copy plus local SEO for the win. 

Best Practices in Local SEO

That’s all fine and good, but how does that translate into actionable tactics on your website? 

To thrive in the local SEO arena, you need three things: 

  1. An optimized Google My Business account
  2. Optimized directory listings
  3. On-page updates

If that sounds like moving the ocean in a thimble, it’s entirely feasible with a bit of dedication. Let’s take a look at what you need in each area code. 

NAP and User Experience

NAP information is the foundation of all your local search mojo, since it’s one of the first things Google will consider when determining which businesses to show for geographically specific searches. 

NAP information is: 

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number

Pretty simple, right? These are all things that your business should list anyway. 

The key with NAP information is consistency. You see, SEO experts believe that Google and other search engines validate your information (and choose how to rank you) based on your NAP consistency across directories. If your business has taken the time a) list address information and b) list it consistently, it’s far less likely you’re a spam site. 

This means that your NAP information should be listed consistently across all reputable online business directories. The greater your spread, the stronger your NAP information looks to search engines cross-checking it. The joy of these “local citations” is that you can list many of them yourself and validate others. 

The best way to ensure breadth, depth, and consistency is to do a manual NAP audit. This will help you uncover all current variations on your NAP information and correct them in one swoop. But if you want a quick check, Moz Local is useful in this regard. 

Optimize for Google My Business

This brings us to Google My Business, which has become the creme de la creme of local search. After all, Google likes to ensure a great user experience, and it’s comfortable providing that experience with information that it can independently validate. 

Fortunately, adding and updating Google My Business is pretty easy. In fact, you may already have a listing, even if your marketing team never actually created one. 

If you don’t have one, head over to Google My Business and create one. If you’re not sure whether you have one, simply Google your business–if you already have a listing, it should pop up in the sidebar. At this point, you can validate your listing and correct any inaccurate information (hint: do this ASAP). 

From there, you can encourage your customers to engage with you. Invite reviews on your Google My Business page and respond to your reviews authentically. When you do respond, make sure to specify the location so that you get those critical local points. 

Website Updates

We’ve talked a lot about updates and audits performed outside your site. And while these are important, your site remains your digital storefront. If it’s not open for business and ready to get to work, your customers won’t think your brick-and-mortar storefront is open for business either. 

This is what we call on-page SEO, and it’s just as important in local SEO as it is in regular SEO. After all, without on-page updates indicating geographically specific information, search engine web crawlers won’t have any way of knowing that your business has a specific location. 

Oh, and your customers won’t either. 

Here are a few critical website updates you need to make if you want to hit the mark on local SEO. 

Local Keywords

Look, we can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether keywords are dead or still the reigning king of content. The fact is that keywords have changed as search engines evolved, and that factors into their role in local SEO. 

In ye olden days of SEO, you could throw as many keywords on the page as you could fit and it worked out alright. You got results. Search engines are smarter now, and they want you to make your keywords count. 

The same is true of local keywords. 

Keywords remain the easiest way to wave a neon flag to web crawlers letting them know that your site has location-specific content. But you won’t get points for them unless you use the keywords naturally. The best way to go about this? A combination of strategic keyword usage on your webpages and your old BFF, your blog. 

Look for keywords that specify a location. These include things like: 

  • …near me
  • …in Pennsylvania
  • …in New York

The idea is to give a location clue. When in doubt, open up a Google search browser and start typing various iterations of location-specific searches–no better way to generate a keyword list than the source itself. 

Titles and Metas and Headers, Oh My!

Remember when we said you should optimize your webpages? Your time has come. 

When adding local keywords, you should focus on a few strategic locations: 

  • URLs
  • Title tags
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headers
  • Captions
  • Alt image text

This is especially important for new blog posts, as every new blog post is indexed as a new page for your site. Web crawlers will focus on specific areas, including those listed above, to figure out how to index the page. Look for high-volume keywords you stand a chance of competing for. 

And if you’re not sure how to generate location-specific content in these areas? Look for content that lends itself to the task. Customer success stories and case studies are perfect candidates for geo-targeting. 

Add Location Pages

Thought you were getting off the hook with location pages? Think again. 

Every unique store location should come primed with its own location-specific page. Each of these pages should have its own relevant location information, including: 

  • NAP information
  • Unique store descriptions
  • Store hours
  • Parking and transit information
  • Directions
  • Location-specific specials
  • Location-specific customer testimonials

The keyword here is unique. Do not create cookie cutter pages for every location, even if your locations are cookie cutter. Tweaking around minor details in location-specific pages and repeating them is a great way to get marked as spam. 

And if you’re a single-location business, fear not. You can still see the benefit of a location page–shoot for a locally descriptive About Us page. 

Ready to Conquer Local SEO?

Ready to go forth and conquer the internet? 

If you’re still struggling with the basics of local SEO, no worries. That’s what we’re here for. We offer powerful, smart marketing tailored to your business and your goals. Whether you’re a small startup or a multinational, we can help you find the best ways to win your marketing goals and beat out the competition. 

Ready to change the way you think about SEO? Then let’s talk. Click here to get in touch.