A Beginner's Guide to Local SEO
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
As consumers make more searches via mobile, the importance of local SEO will only increase. In fact, the importance of local SEO cannot be overstated. Many businesses are already taking advantage of the enhanced visibility this tool offers. Are you? Local SEO can provide you with a steady stream of potential customers who are ready to buy right now.
In this concise guide, we’ll endeavor to demystify local SEO. We’ll show how to take the first steps toward massively increasing your traffic—both to your brick and mortar store and to your website.
The Basics of Local SEO
When you hear someone say, ‘local SEO,’ they’re talking about the process of optimizing a business’ online presence to attract more, you guessed it, local patronage. Where does this additional traffic come from? Why, relevant local searches, of course. The vast majority of these searches take place on Google. In fact, Google still enjoys between 80-92 percent market share, depending on who you ask. Bing accounts for around 2.5 percent of searches, and Yahoo! gets around 1.5 percent.
For this reason, this guide will focus on getting started with Google. Specifically, Google’s free service for business owners, Google My Business. But more on this later. For now, it’s enough to know that every small business can attract more customers by optimizing local SEO. It’s not some airy fairy gimmick; it’s a real tool that you can use right now to exponentially increase your business.
And if you don’t care about SEO, consider this: your local competitors probably do.
So What Is It, Exactly?
Simply put, local SEO is an extraordinarily potent method of marketing your business to the people who are both:
Looking for your product or service right now
Sounds good, right?
When someone uses Google to find information on nearby businesses, they’re said to be searching with local intent. When someone searches with local intent, they’re looking to satisfy their needs on-the-fly. That is to say, they’re typically on the move—using a mobile device as they hit the town.
So how does local SEO differ from regular SEO?
Well, anyone in the world with strong SEO Skills can theoretically rank for something like, “How to fix a blocked drain.” But what about a search with local intent? What if the search is, “How to fix a blocked drain in Rochester, New York?” That’s a different ball of wax entirely. For that, you’ll need to seek out a local SEO specialist, or you’ll need to learn the ins and outs yourself.
For searches like these that demonstrate local intent, Google understands that the searcher wants suggestions about local businesses. Basically, the searcher is saying, “Hey, Google, solve my immediate problem.”
You want to be in the local search results, or SERPs, because that person is highly motivated to make a purchase. So how do you get started? Undeniably, the first step along the way toward a local strong SEO presence is to get acquainted with a nifty free resource called Google My Business.
Getting Started with Google My Business
In this section, you’ll get all the information you need to get started with Google My Business right away.
What is Google My Business?
Google My Business is a free tool for business owners that allows them to list or claim their business. Indeed, creating your Google My Business entry is the critical first step in any local SEO strategy. Your entry makes it much, much more likely that you’ll show up in Google’s Local Map Pack, Local Finder and other Google services. In fact, according to Moz, claiming and verifying your Google My Places entry is one of the most important factors for ranking highly in organic results and in the Snack Pack—which we will cover later. Remember, Google is by far the most popular search engine, and you want to be where your customers are.
Throughout the sign up process, you will provide Google with key info on your business, such as name, address, etc. Then, going forward, Google will use this data when listing your business in local results. This gives you unprecedented control in how you appear in search results.
After all, it wouldn’t do much good to show up in local results if your address, phone number or hours of operation were all wrong, would it? What’s more, confirming your address with Google ensures that your business displays accurately in Google Maps, providing customers with a quick, easy and reliable way to get to your brick and mortar location.
How To Set It Up
Don’t worry, this is by far the easiest part of local SEO. Simply go here and follow the steps. We’ll outline them here too, so you’ll know what to expect.
Step 1: Enter Your Business Name
First and foremost, Google needs to know your business name. If you suspect that your business already exists in Google’s database, you can click “Claim an Existing Business.” Then input your business name and select it from the list if it posts up. If not, click on “Create a New Business” and you’re off to the races.
Provide Google with the name of your business as it appears on your own internal documentation. Don’t try to game the system by adding your location to your business name as a keyword. This is against Google’s guidelines.
This is okay:
Todd’s Expert Plumbers
This is not:
Todd’s Expert Plumbers Rochester, New York
Step 2: Enter Your Address
If you found that Google already had your business in its database, simply confirm that your address is correct. If you’re creating a new listing, provide Google with your business address in the space provided.
If you have a brick and mortar business, use your business address.
If you work from home or have no physical office, use your home address.
If you have multiple business partners and you all work from home, use the address closest to the city you operate in.
If you operate a business that offers delivery, check the “I deliver goods and services to my customers” check box.
Additionally, if you don’t run a brick and mortar operation, you may want to tick the “Hide my address” check box. This way, Google will hide your address from searchers.
Important: Before going to the next step, double-check that your address is correct. Entering a fake or inaccurate address is against Google’s guidelines.
Step 3: Tell Google Your Precise Location
An address is one thing, but Google wants to know your actual coordinates. Google will provide a map right there on the page, and often, it will guess correctly where you are based on your address. However, sometimes it is not entirely accurate, simply drag the pin over your exact location.
Step 4: Enter Your Business Category
When you’re first setting up your account, Google will only let you select one category, so choose wisely. If you need advice on how to select a category, see this guide from Google, here.
When selecting a category, you want to think about your business in broad terms. Take a holistic approach. Don’t think in terms of ‘my business offers X.” Instead, think in terms of, “This business is an X.”
The focus should be on what you do as a whole, not on the features or amenities you offer.
Tip: Unsure what to pick? Look up your competitors in Google My Business so you can see what they chose.
Step 5: Enter Your Phone Number and Website
This is optional, but we can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to do this.
Step 6: Verify Your Listing
Follow the on-screen instructions to verify. Exciting, right? For help on how to verify, see this page.
Step 7: Optimize, Optimize, Optimize!
For some reason, many business owners stop at step 6. Don’t be like them. Remember, any edge in business will help you outperform those pesky competitors. If optimization sounds intimidating, consider hiring a qualified local SEO professional. Seriously—it’s worth it.
For now, let’s look at what you can do once Google has verified your listing:
You can add more categories
You can upload photos
You can list your opening hours
You can list all of the services you offer, including any unique attributes and amenities
You can add any additional phone numbers
Plus, you can go back into the tool at any time to update info.
Note that you will have only one Google My Business profile, even if you have multiple locations.
You can add new locations to your profile at any time. At the time of this writing, if you have more than 10 brick and mortar locations, you qualify for bulk verification.
What Is The Snack Pack?
If you do a local search on Google right now, you will notice that it looks different from a standard search. Go ahead, try it. Type in something like coffee near me. You will be presented with:
The normal organic results
The Snack Pack results
Google Snack Pack is a nifty little box at the top of the page. The Snack Pack displays the top three local business listings that are most relevant to a given search term, as determined by Google, naturally. Needless to say, you want your business to show up here. It’s prime real estate.
According to this analysis, around 33 percent of clicks go to the Snack Pack. That may seem small at first blush, but consider, if you are one of the three business listed there, that means you could see an immense boost in traffic, and that is the power of local SEO. To get access to the Snack Pack, you’ll need to focus on on-page SEO and site structure.
On-Page SEO & Site Structure
Entire books have been written on local SEO as the topic is quite complex. Full strategies are beyond the scope of this article, but we can provide you with the basics to get you started. To start with, you should know that many of the typical SEO practices still apply. For instance, you should make sure that the following are optimized, at a minimum:
Keyword in H1
Meta description is succinct yet descriptive
Keyword in URL, and URL is as short as possible
Keyword in title tag
Find Your Keywords
Before you think about your homepage and overall site structure, you’ll need to know how to come up with your SiLs. A SiL is a ‘service in location’ keyword. Let’s revisit our plumber in Rochester, New York. He might come up with SiLs like these:
Plumber in Rochester
24 hour plumber in Rochester
Emergency plumber in Rochester
Clogged drain help in Rochester
You can surely come up with several of these for your business. The more you come up with, the better.
Important: Make sure to list plural variations, too. For instance, ‘Plumber in Rochester’ can also be, ‘Plumbers in Rochester.’
If you serve multiple areas or cities, you’ll need a separate landing page for each. The format looks like this:
This format sets you up for success as it will help you rank for location-based terms. However, don’t do this if you don’t actually have a store or office in said city or if you don’t actually service that city. So, for instance, if you were a plumber in Rochester, and you only serviced Rochester, you wouldn’t create dozens of landing pages for surrounding towns.
Those extra pages will never be linked to since you don’t actually service those areas, and they won’t receive much traffic, either. Focus on optimizing your homepage and your legitimate city-based landing pages instead.
Optimizing Your Homepage
For most businesses, it’s a good idea to optimize their homepage around their primary location. For instance, our friend in Rochester would optimize their homepage with terms like ‘Rochester plumber.’ Think about it: if you tried to rank for ‘plumber,’ how successful would you be? And even if you did get on the first page, how many of those searchers would be local?
What’s more, these days, when someone searches ‘plumber,’ they’re very likely to be given local searchers first anyway. It depends on their location. So trying to rank for ‘plumber’ may not be a productive use of your energy, time or resources. You can, however, put energy into ranking for your area. That’s what Google would rather you do, too.
A few more pointers:
Add NAP data in your footer—this is your name, address and phone number
Embed Google Maps in your homepage, showing your locatio
Display testimonials and reviews
Add relevant schema markup
Note: If you actually do have dozens or hundreds of locations, it’s okay to focus your homepage on relevant keywords rather than on a single location.
Just as with regular SEO, getting links to your site is important. In this case, you want links from other local businesses or organizations. Fortunately, these are easier to get than you might think. Look for businesses in your area that have their own blogs, and offer to guest post. Most blogs are happy to receive content for free, and in exchange, you’ll get a link back to your own site.
Additionally, you can find writing opportunities in your local area with the following Google search string:
[location] intitle:”write for us”
Simply replace [location] with your own city.
You may also be able to find podcasts centered on your local area. That way, you get an on-air shout out and a backlink in the show notes.
Of course, if you haven’t started your own blog yet, you’ll probably want to do that first. You may also want to consider starting a YouTube channel. Our friend in Rochester, for instance, may be able to drum up a lot of links and business by starting a how-to channel around plumbing. After all, there’s a lot of things home owners can try first before seeking out a professional. If you provide that valuable information to consumers, you become a local asset to the community.
We hope this concise guide has helped you get started on your journey to boost your search engine ranking! If you have any questions, or would like some help along the way, we'd love to help you reach your goals!