Everything You Need To Know About Local SEO
The internet is a massive place, home to more than 1 billion websites. Ask any experienced online business leader, and they’ll tell you that to stand out and reach any audience, you need to understand and practice search engine optimization (SEO).
But what if you’re not looking to reach just anyone on the world wide web? Suppose you’d rather hone in on the folks in your neighborhood. In this case, to grow your business and attract more customers online, you’ll need local SEO.
Local Search Engine Optimization: Definition & Overview 💁🏻♀️
In the U.S. alone, as many as 60 billion Google searches take place each month. Of those searches, 46% have local intent—that is, the user is looking for something within their local vicinity.
Local SEO is an optimization strategy that takes advantage of these searches to promote your business to a specific area’s audience. When done effectively, local SEO can improve your website’s position in search engine results and make it more visible to nearby consumers.
When a consumer looks up a phrase on a search engine like Google, the search engine uses a variety of processes, or algorithms, to rank and display results. In the past, search engine algorithms focused primarily on keywords to find relevant websites. However, in recent years, they’ve incorporated local SEO patterns in their ranking methods.
Previously, you would’ve needed to include “near me” to search for local plumbers; nowadays, just searching “plumbers”—or any other service for that matter—automatically yields results for nearby businesses. See for yourself below. Google’s search results for “plumbers” versus “plumbers near me” are nearly identical, except for the search ads.
What Ranking Factors Matter to Local SEO? 🤔
Google considers many ranking signals to determine what businesses are shown to the user. Broadly speaking, the most important factors are:
- Relevance - This refers to how closely a business matches the user’s query. Imagine searching for “dog groomer” on Google. You’d get results for pet salons because they’re most relevant—not barber shops or hair salons for humans.
- Proximity - How far is the business in question? Simply put, your business’s geographic distance from the user (based on the data Google has about their location) makes a difference in how high it’ll rank. If you search for pizza, you’ll get a list of nearby pizza parlors, not one in another state.
- Prominence - You can also think of this factor as reputability. Google weighs how established and credible your business is when determining local research results. Part of this is name recognition; more well-known businesses like popular restaurants, hotels, and museums tend to perform better. That doesn’t mean your business needs to be famous, though; online reviews and ratings also contribute to better local SEO.
Why Is Local SEO Important? 🙌🏽
It used to be that everyone had a handy phone book available. They would rifle through the yellow pages in the back to look up local businesses and decide on the best one. Back then, if you wanted your business to survive, you’d have better made it into the phonebook.
Today, this is no longer the case. Phone books have all but disappeared, and study after study shows that the vast majority of people use online searches to find local businesses. In fact, 97% of people learn more about a local company online than through other sources.
In other words, whether your business thrives or fails now depends on your ability to cultivate a solid online presence.
Local SEO helps you do this. Effective local SEO means getting your business to the top of search results so that people notice your business first when they look up a relevant product or service.
11 Tips for Effective Local SEO Marketing 💯
SEO is hardly a precise science, especially since Google and other search engines are constantly changing and refining their algorithms. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, though. Below are 11 tried-and-true tips for improving your business’s local SEO.
1. Get Started with Google My Business 👨🏾💻
Considering that more than a billion people regularly use Google, creating a Google My Business (GMB) profile for your business should be a top priority. This profile is the box of information that appears whenever someone searches for your business on Google.
Although Google isn’t the only search engine, it’s by far the most popular one. For that reason, optimizing your GMB profile is well worth your time and energy—it’ll be the first thing users see when they search for your business.
To optimize your GMB profile, you’ll first need to see what your business looks like from a user’s perspective. If a profile already exists, you can claim it by clicking “Own this business?” and following the instructions to verify ownership.
If no such profile exists for your business, you can create your own GMB account.
Pay special attention to the following fields:
- Business Name: Make sure Google displays the correct name and doesn’t display any duplicated entries.
- Address: If you operate a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll want to double-check that Google displays the correct address. If your business address is your home, but you deliver goods or services to your patrons, click the checkbox that says, “I deliver goods and services to my customers” and either leave the address section blank or tick the checkbox “Hide my address (it’s not a store).” If your business doesn’t fit either of these options, then it may not fit GMB.
- Service Area: If you're a "Service Area Business" that delivers goods and services, be sure to specify the exact regions you serve.
- Choose Business Category: The category you select will influence how your business appears in Google searches. Certain GMB features are specific to business categories—for instance, hotels display what amenities they offer. You can always change your business category, but you'll need to re-verify your business each time you make a change.
- Contact Information: This is a crucial one—after all, if your customers can’t get in touch with you, how will you get business? At the very least, enter your phone number, email, and website URL. Double check that this information is correct; there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to reach a business and finding out the phone number is wrong or the website URL is broken.
- Verify: After submitting all of your information, you'll need to verify your business by entering a verification code. Google provides three options for doing so:
1. Postcard: This is the most common method and involves a verification postcard sent to an address you provide.
2. Phone: If you’re eligible, you may choose to receive a verification code via an automated message.
3. Email: Not all businesses can use email verification. If you’re eligible, you'll receive your verification code via email.
Once you’ve set up your GMB account, you can write a business description and add visual elements like in-store photos. You can also use other tools to optimize your business’s profile; these include GMB Insights, GMB Q&A, and similar tools to learn about your audience and increase your business’s online exposure.
Most importantly, be sure to use GMB to monitor your customer reviews. While you might not be the one writing them, reviews are essential to getting a higher ranking in Google’s search results. Because you can respond directly to reviews, they also provide an opportunity to interact with customers, build your brand, and find both constructive feedback and positive testimonials.
2. Think Both On-Page and Off-Page 👏🏼
GMB is specific to Google, but your website is universal. In other words, it’s important to have a solid website that potential customers can easily refer to information about your business.
That makes having an SEO-friendly website crucial—and creating one necessitates both on-page and off-page SEO tactics. In case you’re not familiar with these terms:
- On-page SEO is anything done directly to your website to increase its online visibility. This includes using keywords strategically in your content, writing compelling meta titles and descriptions, and designing your site to have a smooth user experience.
- Off-page SEO includes activities done outside of your site to improve its search performance. Remember prominence as a ranking factor for local SEO? In essence, off-page SEO works on giving your site a better reputation and thereby making it more prominent. Common tactics include publishing guest posts and getting your site listed in relevant directories.
To improve your site’s local SEO performance, you’ll want to use both on-page and off-page SEO tactics. For starters, you should:
- Make your website indexable.
- Incorporate images and other visuals into your content.
- Make your website easy to read and navigate.
- Include social share buttons on your site.
- Participate in online forums related to your business’s product or industry.
- Reach out to influencers in your industry, and ask for feedback or even a quote.
- Get your business listed in relevant directories or roundup articles.
3. Produce Quality Content ✍🏼
A big part of on-page SEO is creating quality content. This matters to not only SEO in general but also local SEO.
What exactly is “quality” content? 👀
Consider the websites that you visit frequently or enjoy browsing. What is it about them that keeps you on them rather than clicking the back button?
As Google’s webmaster guidelines advise, “Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”
Simply put, create meaningful content that your audience will find valuable. After all, content is meant to help establish your business as a trustworthy and reliable provider. Do not write lies or fluff, and do not copy content from other sites.
4. Localize Your Content 🏡
Besides creating quality content, you’ll want to also make it localized. That is, create content that refers specifically to your target area and is relevant to the community.
What’s the significance of this? As with any effective marketing strategy, you have a target audience you’re trying to reach. In the context of local SEO, location is a defining factor of this target audience.
To that end, you may want to focus on creating exclusively local content. After all, if your goal is to optimize your site for local customers, there’s no need to write to attract visitors from another city or country. Instead, strive to be the reliable local authority in your community.
You can do this by:
- Providing region-specific tutorials, local customer success stories, and regional case studies
- Partnering with local businesses
- Getting involved with local events
- Using social media tools to connect with potential customers
For an example of how this might look, take a look at the site Houston on the Cheap. Dedicated to helping locals save money in Houston, it regularly publishes new content about upcoming events in the city as well as evergreen guides, like this one about nearby campsites.
The result: targeted local SEO for anyone searching for activities in the Houston area.
5. Provide Information About Your Business’s Location 📮
This one’s a no-brainer: To enhance your site’s local SEO, clearly display your business’s location on its site. Besides sharing its address, you can also embed Google Maps onto the page.
Check out how Houston’s Pet Barber does this below.
It also helps to outline the areas that you serve or operate in and provide information about your store hours and special promotions.
If you’ve got multiple branches, provide information about each brick-and-mortar location—but do not duplicate content across pages. For a more personal touch, include a unique and descriptive “About Us” page for each branch or office.
6. Optimize Your URL 💁🏽♂️
Your website’s URL plays a crucial role in branding and SEO. For the best results, your URL should be both concise and memorable.
A URL that contains major keywords related to your business is straightforward and easy to remember. Just consider the following URLs:
All three sites offer plumbing services in Houston, but one URL makes it clearer than the others—the second one for Texas Best Plumbing. If you weren’t familiar with what rooters are, you might not even realize that the third, Mr. Rooter, is a plumbing and drain service.
Of course, this doesn’t mean unique brand names are off the table. However, you should consider creating targeted landing pages and naming them appropriately. For instance, Mr. Rooter has a Houston-specific plumbing page with the following URL: mrrooter.com/houston/
It’s the perfect example of creating localized content with an optimized URL.
7. Clean Up Your Website’s Meta Tags 🧐
Meta tags, such as meta titles and descriptions, are indispensable pieces of info for SEO.
While meta tags aren’t displayed on the web page itself, search engine algorithms parse through the meta tags included in your webpage’s HTML to gain additional information about your website. Including relevant keywords—like where your business serves—in these tags can thus improve your site’s local SEO.
Here’s an example:
Just remember to write your meta tags naturally. Don’t stuff your meta title or description with keywords (e.g., “Houston wedding planners for Houston brides grooms Texas”). Instead, use articulate and persuasive copy; write with the goal of convincing users to click on your website in Google’s search results.
8. Link Internally on Your Site ⛓
Your business website likely consists of more than one page. How do you keep all of your web pages organized for customers, search engines, and yourself? Use internal links.
Internal links are hyperlinks that point to different pages on the same website. Including these helps to establish your site’s architecture and allow users to easily navigate your content.
Besides including links directly in your body text, consider adding a navigation bar with key pages at the top and bottom of your site. This way, it’ll always be easy for your visitors to access crucial pages, like those about your business’s pricing and services.
9. Get Added to Online Directories
Directories are the new yellow pages. These sites list your business's basic information, such as company name, physical address, phone number, email, website link, and operating hours.
Getting your business' information on as many sites as possible helps to establish your site as a credible resource—not to mention, it can boost traffic. You’ll want to get your business’s name on directories relevant to your industry, though. For instance, if you run a law firm, it makes the most sense to get it listed on U.S. News’ law firm rankings directory or Martindale—not a restaurant directory like RestaVista.
Another important note: You must verify that your information stays consistent across all online directories your business gets listed on. Even minor discrepancies will harm your business, so check for and correct misspellings, incorrect phone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses.
10. Get Relevant Backlinks 👈🏽
Backlinks (also called “incoming links,” “one-way links,” or “inbound links”) are links on websites that lead to pages on other websites. They’re also one of the most well-known off-page SEO methods for getting the spotlight on your business and improving your site’s reputation.
Getting relevant backlinks to your site for better local SEO involves interacting with your community. For instance, you might want to become a sponsor for a local event or partner with other businesses on various projects and collaborations.
11. Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly 📲
Given these numbers, making your site mobile-friendly is a must. If your business’s website isn't optimized for mobile devices, you’ll lose clients to competitors that have taken the time to make their websites more appealing and scannable for phone users.
Technology is constantly changing, and it’s affected how consumers behave as well as how businesses interact with them. Whether you run a mom-and-pop shop or a franchise business, you’ll need a solid local SEO strategy to tap into the surrounding community.
Make no mistake: Traditional methods like word-of-mouth referrals and newer strategies like social media marketing have their place in helping a business expand its presence.
However, more and more people are looking online for products and services to meet their needs. As more companies and startups enter the arena, local SEO helps to ensure your business keeps up with the times and stands out from the competition.
This article was written by Joyce Chou. Joyce is a Content Marketing Strategist at Compose.ly, a B2B content creation platform that matches businesses with seasoned freelance writers. Apart from managing and writing for Compose.ly’s blog, Joyce also contributes to other publications about digital marketing, personal finance, and business and eCommerce.