Local SEO Starter Guide
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the process of optimizing a website to appear in search results when people search using queries that demonstrate local search intent. It’s all about reaching people who are looking for something (usually a particular type of business, but not always) in a given geographical area.
Some examples of local queries would be:
- Restaurants near me
- Gas station near me
- Doctors in San Francisco
- Lawyers in Chicago Loop
- Coffee shop near me
Notice the parts in bold: phrases like "near me", cities and neighborhood names are dead giveaways for local intent.
How is local search and SEO different from "normal" search and SEO?
The difference between local search and "normal" search is that local search results are designed to help people find something in a specific place, whether that be an address, neighborhood or wider area. That “something” might be a retail store, service provider, a tourist attraction to visit or an event to attend.
"Normal" search results (sometimes also called “organic” results) are designed to help people find specific content on the web — such as a video or web page — that answers their query (what something is, how to do something, where to order a product, etc.).
As we covered above, this difference is visible in the queries people use ("plumbers near me" vs. “how to fix a sink”). The difference is also easily seen in the search results themselves. Here are the results for “plumbers near me”:
The map and three results listed below are known as the "map pack" or “local pack”. If you click on the “More places” link, you’ll be shown more local results for your query:
If you scroll down past the local pack you’ll see the traditional Google results of "10 blue links" (although any pages you’ve visited will likely be purple). These are localized organic search results. They’re like the normal search results (which we’ll get into in just a second), displaying the content Google thinks is most relevant to your query and location.
So now let’s compare those local results to a non-localized results page.
Here are the results for at the non-localized query "how to fix a sink":
You’ll see the biggest difference right away: there’s no local pack. Instead, you’ll find SERP features like:
- A video carousel
- Featured snippet
- Related questions
- Knowledge panels
- Google Shopping results
Aside from the non-localized SERP features, the organic results will contain sites that aren’t necessarily locally relevant.
Analyzing the content of search results pages (ads, local results, featured snippets, etc.) is a great practice in general since it’s an of determining what search intent Google sees for a particular query.
What’s the point of local SEO?
The point of local SEO is to make sure people looking for your product, service or location online are able to find it when they need it. But is it worth the effort?
Here are some stats to help you decide:
- A Google survey found that half of the people who did a local search on their phones visited a store within a day (download the Google research).
- One-third of mobile searches on Google have local intent (and more than half of all Google searches are on a mobile device).
- 71 percent of people will look on Google for a local business’ information to confirm its existence and/or location before visiting.
- It takes an average of 10 reviews for someone to trust a business and 57 percent of consumers will only use a business with 4 or more stars.
In light of those numbers, local SEO (and local search) makes sense for all stakeholders here:
- Searchers: If you’re looking for a pizza place near you, you don’t want to get search results for a pizzeria on the other side of the country.
- Website owners: Take the searcher perspective and flip it. If you’ve got a restaurant in San Francisco, you don’t necessarily want to be attracting someone looking for tacos in Boston.
- Google: Google’s prime motivation is to keep people using its search engine, so anything they can do to provide more relevant results is in its interest. Which is why local search exists.
Who needs local SEO and who doesn’t?
Local SEO is for any business that wants to use its website to attract people to a physical location (or locations) or who restrict its services to a particular geographic area (or areas).
The possibilities, obviously, are endless but some examples of business that benefit from local SEO include:
- Law, medical and dental practices
- Retail shops
- Plumbers and HVAC technicians
- General contractors and construction companies
- Gyms and personal trainers
But not all businesses are local businesses. Those who aren’t based on a physical location won’t really benefit from local SEO. Businesses such as:
- Ecommerce sites
- Content publishers such as blogs
- Software developers
- SaaS businesses
- Agencies and consultants willing/able to travel for clients
It’s worth noting that some people who operate locally but don’t want their information public, like private sellers or collectors, are also not great candidates for local SEO.
Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool from Google that lets you manage your business’ information online and — to an extent — in search results. It’s completely free to set up and maintain. Any discussion of local SEO has to start with your company’s GMB listing.
Who’s eligible for a GMB listing? From Google:
In order to qualify for a Google My Business listing, a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.
In other words, GMB is for any business (that’s owned or represented by the person making the account) that interacts with customers offline.
Google uses the information it finds to show results in not only its local pack, but knowledge graphs for local searches and Google Maps searches as well. This information includes:
- Business name
- Location (city, state)
- Business category/type and a brief description
- Phone number and address
- Star rating and reviews
Setting up your GMB
If you’re just getting started with local SEO, your Google My Business account is the first place to start. Setting up GMB is pretty easy.
- Create a Google account for your business, or log into your account if you’ve already created one.
- Go to the Google My Business website and click one of the 2 Manage Now buttons.
- Enter your business name.
- Enter your business address.
- If you don’t want people to visit your physical location (like if it’s a dispatch center, for example), make sure you’ve checked the "Hide my address" box. If you go to your customers (instead of having them visit your store), check the box for “I deliver goods and services to my customers”. Click “Next” to set your delivery area or radius.
- Choose your business category. Make sure you pick the one that is most accurate to what you actually do since this is your way of telling Google what sort of customer they should send your way.
- Add the phone number and/or website for your business.
Once you’ve entered all your information, it’s time to verify your business. There are 4 ways to verify your business on GMB:
- By mail: Google will mail a postcard to the address you listed on your website that contains a verification code. Once you receive your code (usually in 5 days), log in to GMB, click the "Verify" button and enter the code on your postcard. If you lose your code or don’t receive a postcard, you can request a new one.
- By phone: Google will send a verification code to the phone number you listed for your business via text message. Verifying is as simple as entering the code Google sends you. For this method to work you need a phone number that can receive text messages.
- Email verification: Google will send an email to the address you listed for your business. To verify your GMB account, simply click the button in the email.
- Instant verification: This option is available to those who already have a Google Search Console account for their business website. For this to work, create have to create your GMB listing using a Google account that’s authorized to access your site’s Search Console account.
The instant verification feature isn’t available to all business categories, though, so if you don’t see a notification to verify your business using Search Console, you’ll have to choose one of the other 3 options.
Once you’ve created your GMB profile and verified your business, take steps to optimize your Google My Business to maximize your local SEO.
Setting up and optimizing your GMB listing leads directly into earning and leveraging positive reviews for your business. Your business’ reviews online a vital factor in determining where your site appears in Google’s local pack.
Building GMB reviews
The best place you can have people leave reviews for your site is on your Google My Business listing. Google trusts these reviews more than any other platform. And your business’ star rating here will show up in Google’s local results and Google Maps searches.
Generating positive business reviews on your Google My Business listing starts with your great products and customer service. It sounds obvious, but can’t really be overstated: customer service is the number one factor that impacts a person’s trust in a company. What’s more, people are more likely to leave a review or share a review for a business after a negative customer service interaction.
Some tips to generate GMB reviews include:
- Integrate the link to the GMB review form into all of your digital marketing and customer service interaction. Put the link at the end of your emails and on your website.
- Look for a correlation between reviews and customer lifetime and value. Use this data to ask people who have been customers the longest or who are most valuable to your business for reviews.
- Incorporate materials instructing customers on how to leave a review into your offline interactions. Print it on receipts, mailed newsletters or signs in your store.
- When you have an email address available, write personal emails to customers after a positive interaction asking them to review your business on GMB. Make sure to include a couple of small touches to make it apparent that it’s a personal email, not a mass-produced one.
Consistent NAP Citations
NAP: Name, address and phone number
NAP refers to a business’ name, address and phone number. NAP information is a vital part of optimizing your site for local search results. Specifically, consistent and accurate references to your business’ NAP information around the web.
Google relies on a business’ NAP information posted around the web to gauge how trustworthy a business looks.
References to your business’ NAP are known as citations. Although these references don’t contain hyperlinks to your site, citations function as a sort of backlink for local SEO.
Recent research has suggested that NAP citations are one of the top ranking factors in both the local pack and the localized organic results (although you usually have to take these ranking factor lists with a grain of salt).
On the flip side of that, inconsistent NAP citations can have a negative impact on your local SEO rankings. Just imagine if you saw ads for a business on TV that had a different address each time. Would you trust that the business could deliver trustworthy information, products and/or services?
Unfortunately, inaccurate NAP citations often happen naturally. Businesses move, change phone numbers or rebrand all the time and if it’s been around for a while it can be difficult to know where all your citations live. However, given how important citations are to local SEO and localized rankings, it’s worth it maintaining a list of your most important citations and updating those any time your NAP changes.
Local directories in local SEO
So we’ve mentioned directory sites a bit here while talking about NAP citations. Directories have a bit of a cloud over them thanks to spammers. In the early days of SEO, listing your site on a low-quality directory was a way of building links to a website. However, these directories had little to no value to users. But that doesn’t mean all directories are the same.
For local SEO, you should be listed in these directories:
- Yellow Pages
There are also directories for specific cities and business categories that you can use to build helpful citations.
Local Link Building
A local link is a backlink pointing to a page on your website from a page with a local focus.
What’s the difference between a local link and a "regular" backlink? Take this example:
Say your business is a diner. A good local link to your site would be from a blog post about where to get breakfast in your city. A "regular" backlink would be, for example, something like a link in a blog post about different egg dishes available in diners.
That second link is still helping your SEO and very likely passing link juice, but not as much as the first when Google detects a local search query.
If you’re trying to decide whether a particular backlink is working for your local SEO ask yourself "will this link send traffic that is looking to visit my business?" If the answer is “yes,” you should consider it a local link.
Finding local link opportunities
The exact sites you’ll want to target for local link building will vary depending on your business and location, but some places to start looking are:
- Local news and media outlets
- Pages that write about local events such as festivals or concerts
- Blogs that are dedicated to your city/area
- Local charities
- Other local businesses, especially any you work or partner with
When researching sites to reach out to don’t get distracted by looking for the biggest sites with the most traffic. It’s better to have a backlink from a smaller website that’s hyper-focused on your location than a backlink from a larger site that’s not as specific.
Content for Local SEO
You’ve likely heard the adage "content is king" when reading about SEO. That holds true for local SEO. And, like in the case of backlinks, you need local content for local SEO.
To target a particular local keyword, create content that’s optimized for that location. If your business has multiple locations, create a page for each location and list its NAP information. If you have a single location, put your NAP on the homepage.
Some other local content ideas include:
- Local specials: Everyone likes a deal and specials and discounts for customers in your city/area can help generate a lot of attention for your business. It’s a great way to attract a lot of locally-focused backlinks and social media attention.
- Events: Events can take a lot of planning and resources, but it’s well worth the effort. Hosting an event can put your site at the top of a local search in the form of Google’s even carousel:
- Don’t want to go through the bother of organizing an event? Take a shortcut and get involved with existing events as a sponsor or other partner. Create a page for that event and promote it yourself.
- Long-form content: Locally-focused long-form content can help your site rank for local long tail keywords. Make it relevant to your business, so something like a guide to the pet-friendliness of different neighborhoods would be a great idea for a realtor while an explanation of local zoning laws for new construction would work for a general contractor.
If you're looking to take a deeper dive into local optimization, check out WordLift's guide on structured data for SEO. This is a phenomenal resource to really maximize your local presence.
Now that you’re ready to get started with your website’s local SEO, where do you start?
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