Local SEO is the optimization of your online properties so you can be found in localized searches. By using the resources and strategies in this guide, you can ensure that your business will be found when your target customers search online.
When we talk about local SEO, we’re talking about any types of searches that are being localized. The strategies in this guide affect LOTs of different areas of search, so let’s take a look at some of the places that you’ll want to show up.
Here’s what a typical search looks like on Google:
As you can see, it’s 100% ads above the fold. HAHAHA!
This is supposed to be a joke, but it holds truth. Google has been pushing more ads into local search results over time, so this is something you’ll want to keep an eye out for going forward.
OK, here’s what it looks like after the ads:
This is commonly referred to as the “Local 3 Pack” / “Snack Pack” / “Map Pack”- You can see a maps pack with 3 listings, and then you can see the normal organic results underneath.
But that’s not the only place that search is influenced by Local SEO.
This also affects when people search in Google Maps:
It affects mobile results:
It affects knowledge graph:
Even when you search without a geo-modifier, you can get localized results.
So, local is everywhere and if you have brick and mortar business, or service area based business, then this guide will help ensure that you are showing up where you need to be.
Let’s get into it!
What Influences Local SEO?
When we think about Local SEO, we can divide it into 2 parts:
1. What influences the map / 3 pack rankings, and other map results
2. What influences organic listing rankings
So what influences these rankings? Let’s take a look at the data!
Local SEO Pack / Map Rankings Factors
Check out this local SEO case study by Moz:
You can see the #1 factor is My Business Signals – Which means you’ll need to properly optimize your Google My Business listing. (We’ll cover that in a bit more depth below).
Going down the list you can see that links are very important, as well as onPage signals from your website, citation signals, and reviews.
Some call this a “blended algorithm” – previously, map results were less influenced by your website’s ranking signals, but now the two are intertwined. If you’re not ranking in maps, it may be because you need stronger signals to your website.
Let’s talk about that:
Organic Listing / Website Ranking Factors:
This is about the section below the maps in the organic results. Referring to the same Moz Study, here’s the top ranking factors:
You can see here the #1 ranking factor is link signals. Links still remain a vital part of ranking organically.
As we go down the list, we see OnPage signals (optimizing your website with appropriate keywords and content), behavioral signals, personalization, and NAP citation signals.
We’ll consider all these factors in this guide!
Your Google My Business listing is ground zero for how your business data is displayed on Google in the maps and knowledge graph.
Quick Note: In that past, Google has changed how this works and the naming scheme. At one point it was called Google Local, it was also once a part of the Google Plus+ ecosystem, but now it has all been de-coupled and separated into just Google My Business.
In the 2017 Moz study about local SEO ranking factors that we previously cited, Google My Business signals comes up the number 1 most important factor for ranking in maps results.
If you don’t already have one, then you need to claim your Google My Business page and optimize it!
First, Head to this link and click Start Now.
An important reminder: for a more professional touch, use your business domain email as your login (read: not @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, or any other general email client).
You should be taken to a form to put in your business information. Enter the same NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) info that you displayed on your website and pay attention to the category section at the bottom.
Listing the correct category, which lets customers (and Google’s bots) know exactly what your business does, is important for displaying your business in the right search results. Google allows you to use multiple categories, so use as many as are relevant to your business. Be as specific as possible.
Next, to make any further edits to your account, you need to verify it.
There are a few ways for you to do so:
Via postcard: Google snail mails the verification code to your listed address.
Via phone: Google sends the verification code to your phone through an automated message.
Via email: An instant verification option, which is available if you use the same login details in your Google Search Console for your My Business account.
Some options may not be available, and the most popular way is to receive a postcard in the mail. Your eligibility to verify using any of the options depend on what type of business you have.
Google provides more detailed instructions for every process on their support page here.
Make sure you fill out every section possible, including uploading photos and filing out all the categories.
After you have verified and completed all the information for you Google My Business profile, you’ll want to move on to getting awesome Local NAP Citations!
How To Get Local NAP Citations
After your Google My Business page is set up and optimized, you’ll want to get NAP citations.
What does NAP mean?
NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone number. More recently a few terms have been thrown around like NAPU (Name, Address, Phone Number URL) or NAPW (Name, Address, Phone Number, Website).
You’ll want to get NAP citations on relevant directories around the web for a few reasons:
Many people ALSO use these directories to search for businesses (not just on Google!)
Many of these directories rank for localized terms
You can also get a relevant link to your site by creating a listing!
As you can see, having correct NAP citation is important for lots of reasons!
Warning: Citation Inconsistency Can Cause Ranking Issues
Sometimes business can run into a pickle if somethings has changed like your address or phone number. It’s time to do an audit to make sure all your citations are consistent.
Why is that important?
A citation is any online reference to your NAP. It does not need to link to you, but Google evaluates them as a local signal to determine an entity’s online authority.
Having inaccurate and inconsistent NAP can negatively affect your local SEO.
According to Search Engine Land columnist Myles Anderson, citation inconsistency is actually the no. 1 issue affecting local SEO ranking.
If you have too many variations of your NAP scattered around the web, especially if some or many of those are outdated, this makes it hard for customers and thus, Google, to trust your information. If Google thinks your data is untrustworthy, this could downgrade your local search ranking.
So, how do you check for citation consistency?
How to Audit and Optimize your business’s NAP Consistency:
The most complete way to do a citation audit is to do it manually and uncover all listings and variations of your NAP.
But if you just want to do a quick check, you can use Moz Local.
Enter your business name in the input bar to the left, and your zip code to the right, then click Check my Business Listing.
Moz local pulls up all corresponding listings related to your website from the main local indexing platforms (high authority resource listings that will have the most impact) and displays any inconsistencies it finds.
Once you see these inconsistencies, record them in a spreadsheet and make a note to contact the website owners to correct the NAP info with the one that’s consistent with what you have.
The results from Moz local are limited to the top indexing platforms that Moz has tagged, so it is possible that you may still have citations from other less authoritative or structured sources.
These other citations may have less of an impact, and it will take you time to do a proper audit for every last one, but if you’re so inclined, we created a citation audit and cleanup services that can do a more comprehensive, in-depth job for you.
Another alternative is to use our citation audit service – it’s relatively inexpensive and we’re pros at it.
After you have audited your citations, you can move on to building citations.
How To Build NAP Citations
All businesses are different, and you’ll want to create custom citations based on your industry and area. 2 good places to start with creating directory citations are these lists:
With these lists, you can find the TOP directories that you should be listed in based on your situation.
When building these listings, you’ll want to make sure to fully fill out the profile, including your business description, hours, photos, NAP, and more.
Citations can be a bit of a pain to create yourself though, which is why we created a service that will do this for you called HOTH Local!
Next, we’ll move on to optimizing your website!
Optimizing your pages are important in order to rank for the keywords your target audience is looking for.
We discuss this a bit in our article on local keyword research.
There are a few major things you’ll want to make sure you do in order to rank your website locally.
1. Set Up Your Website Structure To Rank Landing Pages
If you serve multiple cities, you can create city specific landing pages for each city. This is a common workaround for a business that only has 1 location, or does not have an office, but serves an entire area.
For instance you may set up your website to have multiple landing pages for each area that you serve:
This will allow you to rank organically in places where you may not have a physical office!
2. Optimize Your Title Tags, Meta Description, Headers and Content
All normal OnPage optimization elements apply here. You’ll want to include your city as well as your keywords in the title tag and on the page.
3. Display Your NAP In Schema Format On Your Website
Make sure you display your name, address, and phone number combination on your website, and preferably in schema format.
Make sure that this NAP is consistent with your business listings.
P.S. Don’t forget to put your business hours!
4. Embed a Google Map
It’s a great idea to embed a Google map to your location so that users can easily find it.
6. Include Clear Calls To Action
Not only do you want people to visit your website, you want them to convert! Make sure that your phone number is clearly and prominently displayed and there are easy ways to contact you. Guide the user and use CTAs to tell them what to do next (call you, request a quote, etc).
7. Include Reviews & Testimonials
Displaying reviews on your site will help improve conversions, giving users confidence in your service.
8. Make it Mobile Friendly
Google has a large focus on mobile friendly websites and we saw the start of this with Mobilegeddon in 2015. You’ll want to use Google’s mobile friendly test to make sure your website displays correctly on mobile devices.
If your website doesn’t pass the test, you should consider a website re-design or updating your wordpress theme.
Getting links to your website is as important with Local SEO as it is with any other type of SEO, and many of the same techniques work here.
This includes the need to publish valuable content for your audience, promote to relevant influencers, guest post in other blogs, and get links on relevant resource listings.
What distinguishes local link building from general link building is its specificity. You should aim to place your links in more locally targeted resource listings and blogs.
We assume you already know what valuable content is, how to promote to influencers, and all the other usual things we’ve already mentioned.
Finding local listings to get linked to
Let’s head straight to what’s new: finding your locally targeted leads. Whitespark has created a list of the top 50 local citation sites by country that you can refer to.
If that comprehensive list failed to cover everything you need, you can also find more local leads by mining on Google.
Below are combinations of queries you can use for business listings and directories:
[location] business listings
[location] business directory
[business type keyword] business listings [location]
[business type keyword] business directory [location]
[business type keyword] directory [location]
For trade organizations:
[location] [business type keyword] alliance
[location] [business type keyword] association
[location] [business type keyword] council
[location] [business type keyword] society
Strategies to get local links
Gather the results of your search into a spreadsheet and organize by priority—which ones to connect with first, depending on their relevance and influence.
Join the most active, massive, trade-based organizations related to your business.
Partner with charities, non-profit organizations, or schools. Offer services, sponsorships, scholarships, or even an office space to host their events.
Participate in or spearhead community events.
Mine your connections to set up an interview with prominent local figures (such as elected officials) then pitch it to your local newspapers.
Network with local bloggers and other small businesses in your area. Choose which ones are the most relevant connections, and open up a link or promotion exchange.
Open a mentoring program, whether for the community or for local schools
Speak at your alma mater’s next events, or, even better, grant an interview.
Once you do any of these things, pitch the announcement or story to your local newspaper.
Why are these important?
Getting featured by any of these local resources may yield you some very authoritative .edu, .org, and .gov links.
One local link building case study cited on Moz, where the owner opened a local scholarship, got featured in their local paper, and even got so far as to get a link from the Wall Street Journal.
Even better, participating actively in these local events not only gives your local SEO a boost, it will increase your local visibility—and, if you deliver your projects right, boost your reputation within your local community.
What establishment would the locals rather support? The business that keeps posting about how good they are on their blog and on social media, but have yet to make any connection with their locality, or the business with an active presence and consistently makes a positive impact to the community?
It’s time to boost your business’s local reputation. This means getting more positive reviews!
Which restaurant would you rather go to? A B&B with no online profile, a 3-star rated burger place peppered with dissatisfied customer posts, or a 4.7-star rated Italian place downtown with dozens of glowing reviews?
If you’re not one to take chances with a good meal for your buck, you’d probably go with the safest choice—the restaurant you can find online, and read verified, good reviews about.
According to a recent local consumer reviews survey, around 87% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
But the wonder of online reviews doesn’t stop there. Reviews can also help drive search rankings up.
What’s more, a study cited by marketing resources firm econsultancy found that having reviews on sales pages can increase conversions by 18%.
So when you improve your online reputation, you get not two, but three birds with one stone: a vote of consumer trust, a boost in search rankings, and a chance for increased conversions.
Now that you know the significance of online reputation and reviews, let’s head on to process.
Claim Your Business Profile On Top Review Sites
First thing you need to do is to claim your business profile on top review sites.
Hubspot published a list of the top 19 consumer review sites here, which includes Yelp, Google My Business reviews, TripAdvisor, Better Business Bureau, and Amazon, among others.
First, prioritize which sites will actually bring you the most value.
Choose which review sites are the best for your industry. If you’re in the housing business, Zillow is the review site for you. If you’re in the restaurant business, TripAdvisor would be an appropriate place to start.
You can also check your customer service or onboarding reports to track how many customers reportedly found you via which consumer review website, if any.
If you don’t find anything conclusive, then you can stick with the basics: Google reviews—as they show up alongside your Google My Business page, along with your star rating; and Facebook, which also uses the same star rating factors in your reviews.
Yelp, with its more than 100 million users, would also do well for almost all locally targeted businesses who want to show up on the map.
For Google and Facebook, once you have your business accounts up and running, the review process is as simple as customers leaving comments on your business page.
For Yelp, you can claim your business listing by entering your business name and address.
If it’s not listed, Yelp will prompt you to create a business profile.
It will take a while before Yelp’s moderators verify your business, but after that, you’ll receive an email and you’re good to go.
Why is verification important?
It lets you edit your business information and respond to any user reviews.
So you’ve got your online business profiles down pat, how do you go about the painstaking process of building up your online reputation?
Increase the Quantity of Quality Of Reviews For Your Business
Increasing the volume of quality reviews doesn’t have to be hard if you have a system in place. In fact, here at The HOTH, we’ve been able to collect over 1000+ reviews just by asking!
You can read the step by step process in more detail on getting more reviews here.
But to try to put the whole process in a nutshell, you’ll need to:
Collect positive reviews through review-prompting widgets, email autoresponders, and email signatures, (linking to your website or other online business page profiles) then incentivize these to encourage more
Resolve negative reviews before they go out by redirecting lower-star reviews to customer service
If you’d like some help with this, you can check out our review software, HOTH Stars which will help you get more reviews!
Studies have consistently shown that the majority of consumers are highly influenced by online reviews.
So the more quality, positive reviews you get, the higher your chances are of convincing customers to choose to spend their dollars on your business.
Make sure to prominently display these reviews on your website!
And there you have it. Now that you have the knowledge, the tools, and the process, it’s time to make the time and get started.
If you have any other pointers, suggestions, or questions, let us know what you think in the comments below!