Local SEO – The Complete Guide

Local search engine optimization is the process of optimizing once website to rank for localized search terms such as "cafe near me" or "Clayton plumbers."

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Local search engine optimization is the process of optimizing once website to rank for localized search terms such as “cafe near me” or “Clayton plumbers.” 

Ranking locally used to be a pretty straight forward. The increase in digital marketing practices and the realization of the importance of SEO from local business owners have increased the difficulty of ranking locally. 

In this article, you are going to learn how you can improve your organic visibility through search engines (and other mediums) using local SEO. 

Local SEO is more important than ever if you are wondering why then here are some statistics that might help you decide if you should invest in it. 

  • 46% of all Google searches are local-related searches
  • 78% of local related searches result in offline conversions 
  • 88% of customers call or visit a store within a day of searching from their mobile device
  • 72% of users who performed a Google search visited a store within 8km of where they performed the search
  • 56% of local businesses have not claimed their Google My Business (GMB)

Hopefully, when you finish this article, you will have a competitive advantage over your competitors by knowing 

  • How to claim your “Google My Business” profile and optimize it to always comes first in Search Engine Result Pages
  • How to claim your Bing for Business profile
  • What is important to have on your website (or how to create one if you don’t have one yet)
  • How to build local links pointing to your business (with examples of proven techniques used by me)
  • What NAP is, why it’s important, and how to keep it updated in multiple locations with ease.
  • How Google ranks local businesses 
  • and many more little bits and pieces that will help you and your business succeed

Claim Google My Business

Claiming your “Google My Business” (GMB) is the most significant step you can take today to improve your local SEO strategy. Businesses that claim their GMB have increased chances of appearing in local searches and Google Maps. 

Here’s a step by step guide on how to set up a free Google My Business account. If you already have claimed your GMB profile, you can skip the guide and move directly to the next chapter, “Picking the correct category

Start by searching for your business. It’s very common, especially if you have a local cafe, restaurant or store that’s been around for a while already. Google might have created a profile for your business collecting information from social media profiles or anything that they could gather from the web. 

Own this business - Google Local

If a business profile already exists, click the “Own this business?” link.

Another window was you will be asked to approve the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2nd-Step-1024x500.png

The next step is the authentication process. There are a few ways that you could authenticate. If a business number exists on the profile, then Google will suggest you verify it with a call, which is the faster approach you could take. 

authentication step

If you can’t authenticate with a call for any reason, you could initiate authentication with mail. It will take a few days depending on your location, but from experience, it usually takes around a week. 

authentication with address google my business

If a business profile doesn’t already exist, then you have to initiate the process yourself. 

By following this URL  https://business.google.com/create to initiate the process. 

Google will ask you to provide the name of your business. If the business profile already exists, a drop-down menu will appear if it doesn’t continue to the next screen.

First step - no existing profile

Similarly, with before, Google will ask you to accept the terms and policies to continue with the creation of your “Google My Business” profile.

On the next screen, Google will ask you to choose a category for your business. This is a crucial step. Make sure to select the correct category if you are not sure which type you belong to check a competitor. Google has a vast selection of categories, so you are bound to find the one your business falls into.

choose a category Google My Business

If you have a shop or an office that you receive customers, make sure to select yes on the next screen. If you don’t accept visitors, please select no.

If you selected Yes, the next window will ask you to add the address of your business, and the following screen will prompt you to locate your address on a map with a pin.

Locate Map and Pin

In the next step, you need to add a location that you serve. You can add multiple locations, so make sure you add every area you feel comfortable serving. Don’t add more. Selecting numerous sites that you do not service won’t help you rank higher but instead will hurt your rankings if people contact you just to find out that you are not servicing specific locations that you claimed you did.

serving locations

Select the Region that your business is based on with the following form.

selecting region

Add your contact details and website if you have one. Google gives you the option not to add one or even create one for free with the features that you have added. Google My Business websites are basic websites that can work perfectly for SMBs. 

contact details

Google will prompt you to receive recommendations for your “Google My Business” profile, and I usually recommend that you do click yes on this. 

Stay in the know

In the final step, Google will ask you to verify by selecting an address. If you selected that you don’t have an address for customers, Google will ask you to provide a postal address that will stay hidden from users. 

postal address to verify

Picking the correct category in GMB

Picking the right category is very important for your local SEO strategy. Even though Google gives you the option of selecting multiple categories, the fewer you choose, the better it will be for you. 

google my business category guidelines
https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177?hl=en

TIP: If you are not sure which category you fall into, try checking your competitor GMB. 

Category GMB

GMB Photos & Videos 

Google My Business offers a variety of tools that can help your business’s organic visibility. Adding photos and videos, for example, is an important step and one that not everyone is utilizing. By that, I mean that you could be the one making the difference, and by making that difference, you are giving your self a competitive advantage over others. 

Studies have shown that multimedia assets are incredibly engaging and capture the attention of people far more than simple text. 

There is a misconception that you need to have some particular video editing skills to work with videos. In reality, all you need is a mobile phone, and if you want something unique, tools like – Placeit.net can help you create professional-looking videos that you can use in social media and your GMB and Mixkit.co can help you find the right music for your videos. 

But don’t feel like you have to do that. This study showed that more than 80% of the people watching videos on their phones with the sound turned off.

Just make sure that you use real, fresh (take new ones now and then) photos and videos from your place and not some stock photos that you found online. That can cause a horrible user experience with people expecting to find what they saw on your Google My Business profile. 

Keeping your hours accurate

Keeping your working hours accurate is an essential first step. This includes holidays, weekends, special hours. Having accurate hours that people can find helps them trust you and gives confidence that they won’t travel to your location to find a closed sign hanging on your door. 

Tip: Google ranks local businesses using three main aspects, Relevance, Distance, and Prominence. We are going to discuss Distance and Prominence later, but Relevance is defined by the attributes we discussed above. Having a fully optimized GMB with the right categories, description, and hours of practice is vital for your Relevance score.

Bing Places for Business

Bing, even though less favorable than Google, is still used by millions of people daily. The actual statistics of unique daily users and the number of searches on Bing will blow your mind and can very well be the catalyst for changing your business from receiving a few searches a day to hundreds.

Bing Search Data
https://about.ads.microsoft.com/en-us/insights/planning-tools/microsoft-search-network-data?Market=GLOBAL

Find more details on how to set up your own Bing Business profile here.

Number of positive reviews

Positive reviews can change your business, this is probably something owners already know by heart, but reviews can make a difference for your business. Regarding rankings, a high amount of positive reviews can make a difference. 

“High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location. Encourage customers to leave feedback by creating a link they can click to write reviews.” https://support.google.com/business/answer/7091?hl=en

Keep in mind that it’s against Google’s guidelines to ask users to provide a positive review in exchange for services or products. Reviews must be genuine and from real users. 

Responding to Reviews (Positive & Negative)

Receiving reviews is not enough. Responding to them is essential for improving the quality of your business. It makes your users feel that their feedback is valuable and that you are actively working to improve on it. It also builds trust between you and your already and potential clients. 

Responding to reviews holds for both positive and negative reviews. There is a high correlation between the percentage of responses to negative reviews and top rankings. 

There are multiple ways that you can respond to your user’s reviews. Here’s a step by step guide for all of them

Social Media Business Profiles

It’s essential to understand your users and where they search for a product or a service like yours. Whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Linkedin, you can set up business profiles in all of those platforms. 

That can be beneficial for the user and your business. Keep in mind that making turning someone into a client takes time, and a significant percentage of the people looking for something go through various stages of researching. 

Seeing your business in all those places helps them trust it more. 

Here are some easy to follow guides on how to create your own business social media page on known platforms.

Consistent NAP

Consistent information across all listings is vital. Sending out wrong signals can profoundly affect your local rankings. Few of the most common issues are

  • Change of physical store location without updating all listings online
  • Change of number or making use of dynamically generated numbers for tracking purposes that expire after use.

Google wants to offer the best experience to its users. Traveling to a location only to find that the business has moved can cause an awful experience for anyone. 

Updating your online a list of citation sites can become bothersome, but here’s where the use of tools such as Moz Local, SEMrush Local, and others can help you streamline the process.

The Technical Factors 

The separation of factors is simple to prove that most of the required changes for a local business to succeed profoundly rely on factors that anyone can optimize. Reading a guide, such as this, or even by spending some time and figuring things out for yourself, is all that is required.

The below technical factors are, by all means, essential but also, in some cases, taken care of by most Content Management Systems (CMS) out there.

Structured Markup Data

Google always tries to understand websites and their content better. Structured data is one of the best ways to figure out what your site is all about and a pretty good way to make a connection between your business, your social media accounts and promote you in a local search when someone is searching for your services and products.

As I previously said, most CMS will help you one way or another. You can install plugins such as Yoast or Rank Math for WordPress that take you through an installation wizard to add all the relevant information for them to create the markup automatically. 

In cases where you want or need to create the markup manually, you can follow Google’s guide on how to do so. 

Local Outreach – Local Link Building

If you’ve done any search regarding SEO before finding yourself reading this guide, you probably are aware of what backlinks are, and you probably already read several articles on link building techniques. Not wanting to diminish the power of links towards rankings, I don’t believe they are the top near the top critical factors for local SEO. 

In terms of local SEO, though, link building has to changes in a more localized form. 

For example, 

If you have a local cafe in Brooklyn, a link from a local newspaper in San Fransisco might not affect your local rankings as much as a link from a local blogger that has a much lower domain authority website than the newspaper.

How do you reach out to the local blogger, or how do you formulate a localized link portfolio?

Below I have a list of ideas and methods that I used in multiple local businesses through the years with almost 100% success rate. The idea behind the list is that it will enable you to think outside of the usual way of acquiring links. 

Local Library 

There has never been a local library in the history of this planet that couldn’t do with a few more books, pens, pencils, notebooks, etc. Donating to your local library will get you a link in their donor’s page on their website and, if nothing else, people will appreciate your donation. 

Keep in mind that local SEO relies on people’s perception. If you do the right thing, it always comes back to you. In SEO terms, it might come back in the form of a link from your library’s website or from a favorable review from someone that heard what you’ve done and came to your business.

Donations

Similar to donating to a library, multiple local charity organizations rely on local businesses and the entire community to survive. In Australia, for example, almost every suburb has it’s own no matter the size. 

In some cases, it even makes sense for you to drop a few things off that you no longer need. Asking for a mention in their local website could make a difference.

Local/Community Newspaper

Every community has one; if not, maybe you could even be the one to create it. That’s a lot of work and a million other things that this guide is not about but, if you do have a local community paper, maybe it’s about time you make a visit to their offices or even ask someone that writes on it to write a piece on your unique business. 

Why not point out what your differentiator is? What about the things that you bring into this community that no one else is doing?

Schools/Universities

If you have a school in your area and need some help, why not help them out? What if you could offer them something like a discount for teachers or students attending that school or uni. 

They will somehow need to communicate this offer to the students and faculty members, and it might get you a link from a .edu website. If you are wondering – that’s very good.

Another method that I used in the past is approaching specific members of a University club. What if you could give a discount to members of the photography club at MIT. University clubs have their own .edu page that they are required to update with news and activities. Getting a link on that page is exceptionally beneficial.

Chamber of Commerce sites

Every country has something similar to a chamber of commerce. It might have a different name in your country, but they are there. Essentially a chamber of commerce is a network of businesses. 

Take the time to advocate your business and ask for a link from their website to your business if you are offering something unique or hosting an event that brings me to my next point.

Local Events & Celebrations

Local events can make an impact on a community. If there are events that are happening now and then try to help out or even host those events in your business if you have space. If you can present to those events even better. 

These are but a handful of ideas that you can use today to start earning some local links pointing back to your business. You might need to tweak the approach a bit, but as I mentioned above, they are here to make you think of ways that you can accomplish your goal in a more localized way than most link building techniques teach.

You can only call local link building, local when your backlink helps you achieve one thing. Talk directly to your audience. 

Don’t fall into the trap of link building that agencies and the online world sell to you. If you have a local business, nothing will help you more than being an active member of your community, advocate for your business when it makes sense but mostly support and give. 

TIP: The above highly affects one of the three factors that Google is using to rank your business locally, which is Prominence. 

“Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking.” https://support.google.com/business/answer/7091?hl=en

What does that mean? Sometimes it’s not about the backlink. It’s about being a good member of your community.

Localized Content – Content Marketing with a Spin

Have you ever heard the phrase “Content is King”? Well, I like to add that relevancy is everything else. You can spend your days writing content, but if it’s not relevant to the user, it won’t convert or even rank organically. 

I’ve seen local businesses such as dry cleaners having a blog talking about finance. I am not saying that you can’t, but what’s the point? If someone is looking for financial advice, do you think that a local dry cleaners website is going to rank no1 for it? The answer is no. If, by any chance, it did rank at the first position, though, what would you gain for it?

Content should serve a purpose, if there is no purpose for it to be there, then quite frankly it shouldn’t be there. 

Think about what your local audience questions are. Is there anything that you, as a local business, can offer to someone local to gain their attention or even trust? Is there anything that only you, as a local expert, can write to solve a local query? 

Here are some examples of local content that you could add within your site or GMB to rank higher. 

  • Local Events 
  • Local charities needing support (link to them maybe they will link back to you)
  • Changes in the local community that might affect your business or other businesses as well
  • Something unique that you are doing that people might find interesting 
  • Local Specials – write about your free coffee for every meal or write how you are offering a discount for your suburb’s firefighters.

Localized Landing Pages

Just to clear the air on this. I am heavily against creating a page just to create a page. Creating landing pages and changing the suburb name to a different suburb doesn’t work; it’s unethical towards users, and you shouldn’t try it. 

Landing pages are essential to capture the right people to the right page. If, for example, you are a lawyer servicing five different locations, you can always create landing pages to target those locations. The catch? Make sure that you are offering value to the local users that are reading that page. 

Maybe legal situations are different in one location versus the other. Make sure to reflect those changes in your copy. Add your local details if you have a physical office to that location, make sure that you add the right names, change the maps, use the proper hours. 

Copy pasting the same text from one page to another, and just changing the location will, if you are lucky, be ignored from search engines, or get you into some serious trouble if you get spotted. But talking from a user perspective, it’s unethical, and it destroys your brand. 

User Location Proximity – Distance

As I previously mentioned, proximity is one of the main factors that Google considers when it serves local content. Google will serve the best possible option when it comes to a user’s query, and some times the best is the nearest. 

For example, If a user is searching for “Brooklyn plumbers” Google serves only plumbers that they know to be situated in Brooklyn. If someone is searching for “plumbers near me” then it calculates the proximity of the user to the nearest plumber. 

That is why it is vital for you as a business owner to have your NAP set up correctly in all places you’ve added. Also, if you notice that someone is linking to you or mentioning your business using the wrong NAP, it’s preferable to reach out and ask for correction rather than let it be.

Responsive Website Design

You can try to improve your local rankings with what we discussed above and find that no matter how much time you put in content or link building, it can’t help you rank high unless your website is functioning correctly. 

Since the majority of local searches are done via a mobile phone or to be more clearly, the majority of all searches are done via mobiles, having a website that poorly works on smartphones. There is no point in advertising your business. 

Imagine finding a local store and visiting their website only to see a broken page or one that takes a long time to load. The majority of users will click back in frustration just to visit the next result. That frustration does not evaporate. It’s targeted at your business and stays there for a long time. They will probably remember your name the next time they walk past your building while one their way to visit the one that had a functioning website. 

TIP: You can use any website builder in the market such as Wix or Squarespace, whose target audience is small businesses, but if you want something that can be improved and something that can change to whatever you want it to go with WordPress. Pick a decent theme from Elements or ThemeForest and ask someone to build your site for you. If you are technically savvy, you could even give it a go yourself. Hell, you could also try learning how to create a WordPress site using Tuts+. 

On-page Optimization 

No matter what they want you to believe, on-page optimization is not rocket science. Especially when it comes to small business, on-page optimization can be as easy as spending 10 minutes every time you write an article and simply crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. 

If you are wondering what are those t’s and i’s, then here’s a guide on how to do on-page optimization for your business that explains everything.

Conclusion

Most of the above tips and tactics can be worked on without any technical knowledge. The reality is that Google, Bing and other search engines has really been working on making anything related to local SEO as easy as possible for the owners of SMBs to implement without external help. Some of the most technical requirements like structured markup might require some help but if you are using a CMS such as WordPress, Shopify or even a website builder like Squarespace or Wix can handle all this by default.

There is no better time to start building your local seo, than right now.

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