Local search engine optimization encompasses quite a few areas so we created this ultimate guide to give you a roadmap.
If you do everything in this “Ultimate Guide to Local SEO”, it will help you dominate Google’s local search rankings.
We recommend you do them in order but if you must, go ahead and skip around as needed.
Local SEO Best Practice #1 – Create a Google Business Profile
Your Google Business Profile (formerly known as a Google My Business listing or GMB) has become the starting point for all successful local SEO campaigns.
Your Google Business Profile is the foundation of local listings and without it, a business will not show up in the local listings. These listings are already becoming more competitive as time goes on. Google used to include a “7 pack” (list of seven local businesses in map format) but they’ve dwindled that down and only the top three businesses are shown in the map area. The only way for a business to appear there is by creating and optimizing a Google Business Profile with the appropriate information i.e. business name, category, hours of operation, description, payment methods accepted, etc.
You can set up your profile in less than an hour. Business owners should visit https://business.google.com/ to get started. Click on the ‘Manage Now’ button and follow the subsequent instructions.
Google gives business owners the option of filling out as much or as little information as they’d like, but it’s most recommended that as much information as possible is provided.
Other tips to follow when creating your Google Business Profile:
- Choose a profile picture that is intriguing to users and is relevant to the business. Ideally, this would be your logo.
- While the picture is important, the title of the image file is also important. It should include a keyword, which could be the business’ location, name, or phone number.
- Upload multiple images as this not only gives users better insight into the business, it also gives Google more relevant keywords.
- Categories are one of the fields Google will search first when users are searching for a particular type of business. Because of this, business owners must carefully choose a category for their Google profile.
- Multiple categories can be chosen and although Google recommends keeping it to one or two, we’ve never had any issue adding several.
- Once your profile is published, the exact name, address and phone number of the business needs to be used when you create directory listings. It’s very important that all listings are consistent when it comes to the NAP.
Local SEO Best Practice #2 – Business Listings
Citations … Business Listings … whatever you call them, they are important. They are actually a lot more important than most business owners realize.
Google Business Profiles might be the gold standard of local search engine optimization (local SEO), but you should be aware that there quite a few online directories that business owners should also utilize. They operate in a very similar way as Google, and each only takes a few minutes to create. If possible, you should hire a local seo professional to create your listings so that you ensure all the little things are handled.
Having as many listings as possible across multiple directories will give business owners a bigger online presence and can help further promote the brand. The listings are seen as authoritative and help add credibility to your website thanks to the fact that they link to your website.
The trick with multi-location businesses is you need to add each location to the directory so that you get citations for each one. Be sure to use the correct address and phone # on each listings. For the URL, link to the specific location page vs. the Home page. You may want to link to your homepage for your primary location though.
The top online directories every business should appear on are:
Local SEO Best Practice #3 – Keyword Research
Researching your keywords is a huge part of local search engine optimization. Once a business appears across all online directories, they will have naturally increased their page ranking for certain keywords. These are the words users enter into search engines when they’re looking for a particular service, product, or information. Google uses those words and searches across pages online to deliver the most relevant results to the user.
Businesses wanting to succeed in their local SEO efforts need to do a bit of research on these keywords. While some keywords, such as ‘plumber’ for a plumbing business are going to be obvious, others won’t be. And business owners that don’t perform keyword research will miss out on some phrases that could be very valuable to them.
Google is the authoritative voice when it comes to SEO of any kind, so it makes sense that they would also offer the gold standard in terms of keyword research tools.
Ubersuggest is free to use, and it’s also one of the best keyword tools available. it tells website owners how many people are searching for keywords that are relevant to their business. The tool will also break this amount down into a monthly amount. This can be especially helpful for owners of seasonal businesses that may offer different products or services during different times of the year.
Keyword research can be started by entering the main keyword and there’s even an option to find the keyword phrases that are most likely to rank on page 1.
With local SEO, it needs to be taken a step further as you need to find phrases with geographic intent i.e. “local seo albany ga” vs “local seo”.
Ubersuggest is just one tool that’s available to help business owners generate keywords. There are many more out there, and while some do have a small fee attached, it can be worthwhile when quality keywords are delivered. Don’t underestimate the power of this seo technique!
Some of the best keyword research tools available are:
o Long Tail Pro (my personal favorite!)
Local SEO Best Practice #4 – Creating Keywords
With a list of generated keywords in hand, any business owner will be well on their way to improving their SEO efforts. However, the keywords provided by the research tools aren’t enough if they don’t include local keywords and long-tail keywords.
Many people think that using local keywords is simply attaching the name of the city or state at the end of a keyword. That’s partly true, but just like the keyword ‘plumber’ can generate dozens of keywords, so can locations.
For instance, local keywords for the term ‘plumber’ could include ‘New York plumber’, ‘Plumber in New York’, ‘Plumber near New York’, and more.
When using local keywords, business owners make it much easier for local people to actually find their business and use it. These keywords aren’t typically used so much for the search engines, as they are the people that are using them.
The opposite is true for long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are keywords that make up a phrase of about 5 or more words. Google and the other search engines love long-tail keywords because they best reflect the user’s intent; they tell the search engine exactly what the user is looking for. Like local keywords, long tail keywords have a lower search volume, but they do have a much higher conversion rate than head, or standard, keywords.
In addition to local and long-tail keywords, keyword modifiers can also be used. These come in the form of adjectives or secondary products and services.
When using adjectives as keyword modifiers, they can be anything from ‘best’ to ‘cheap’ or ‘affordable’. These are terms that users often use when searching for a business because they’ll likely be spending money there, and they want to make sure they’re using the best business to get the most value for their money.
Secondary services the business offers are also considered to be keyword modifiers. In the case of the plumber, this might include keywords such as ‘plumbing repair’ or ‘commercial plumbers.’
Using keyword modifiers won’t only broaden the list of keywords available, combining them with local keywords will also give business owners great long-tail keywords.
Local SEO Best Practice #5 – Analyzing Keywords
Once a list of keywords has been generated, they then need to be analyzed. This isn’t something that all businesses do, but they should, as it will show which keywords are still quite relevant, and which are starting to fall in popularity.
Google once again, is on top of this. Using Google Trends, found at https://www.google.com/trends/, keywords can be entered and business owners can see which keywords are searched for most often. Even more, Google Trends will also break down this volume into specific areas, making it a huge asset to those focused on local search engine optimization (local SEO).
Of course, while Google might be the first go-to for many webmasters, there are others out there to try, and just like Google, they’re largely free.
— SEO Book
— Web SEO Analytics
— Internet Marketing Ninjas
Local SEO Best Practice #6 – Great Title Tags
Once all the research has been done, the next steps to improve local search engine optimization (local seo) actually happen on the page, and it all starts with the title tag.
A title tag is the title that’s shown in the search engines as the title of the webpage. It also appears at the top of the browser of any webpage. And when it comes to content, the search engine algorithms place a lot of importance on them, as they really give the robots and algorithms an idea of the context of the webpage’s content.
But what makes a great title tag?
— They are less than 55 characters.
— The business’ name is clearly visible.
— They include one primary keyword that has high volume and is highly relevant to the business.
— Use keywords close to the beginning of the title tag, if possible.
— Title tags should be unique, with each webpage having its own title tag.
— When focusing on local SEO, the geographic location should also appear in title tags.
Local SEO Best Practice #7 – Create Great Meta Descriptions
After the title tag, the next aspect of any webpage the robots will search through is the meta description. The meta description are the one or two lines that appear underneath a page’s title in the search engine result pages. Like title tags, meta descriptions appeal not only to the search engine robots, but also to readers who are looking for interesting information.
Also like title tags, there are tips business owners can follow to make sure they’re creating great meta descriptions.
— They should contain important keywords relevant to the business, and that have a high search volume.
— Each meta description should be unique, just as title tags should.
— Each page within a website should be optimized for different keywords.
— Users will also see the meta description, so it’s important that it’s engaging and entices them to click onto that webpage.
— Like title tags, for local search engine optimization purposes, the geographic location should also be included in meta descriptions.
Local SEO Best Practice #8 – Optimize Images
Optimizing images is important for a couple of reasons. The first is that image files are by their very nature, much larger than text files and therefore, take much longer to load. However, Google and the other search engines now consider the loading speed of a website when ranking pages, and they’ll place slower-loading pages further down in the search results page.
But while the search engines may realize that a webpage has a file on it that will take longer to load, they cannot read or understand image files. So when there is an image on a page, the search engines only know that it’s an image file; they don’t understand what the image is actually of. This is another reason why image files need to be optimized.
Luckily, there are a few ways to optimize images so that the search engines can better load, and better understand them.
— Resize images to the smallest file size possible, without affecting the quality of the image.
— Inserting ‘Alt Text’ code to each image when it’s uploaded to the website will tell the search engine what the picture is of. This way they’ll be able to identify and understand the image and rank the page appropriately. Adding ‘Alt Text’ code to images is different for every blogging and website creation program and platform, but it’s generally very easy across the board.
— Name all images that are uploaded to the website, and be sure that their names include relevant keywords. This will help the search engines understand what the image is about.
— Ensure the filenames of all images have a unique name.
While it may seem odd to attach a geographic location to an image file, it’s important to do so, as it will tell the search engines even more about the file.
Local SEO Best Practice #9 – Optimize Anchor Text
Anchor text isn’t something that webmasters and business owners have complete control of, but they can optimize it to work in their favor.
Anchor text is the text that is used when one website links to another website, otherwise known as backlinks. Business owners want anchor text linking to their website that is relevant to their business, so keywords such as “plumbers in New York” or “plumbers near New York.”
While anchor text isn’t completely within the control of the business owner, anchor text is also included within an actual website, when one page links to another. This is an area where business owners can truly optimize their own anchor text, as it helps the search engines understand the keywords business owners use to describe their own page.
While you might not be able to fully control the quality or quantity of backlinks, business owners can analyze and track their backlinks through a number of resources. The most commonly used are:
Local SEO Best Practice #10 – Go Mobile
Mobile, mobile, mobile – it can’t be said enough. If business owners want to improve their local search engine optimization (local SEO), they must ensure that their website is mobile-friendly; there’s just no way around it.
In one of their latest updates, Google announced that that they had focused on mobility, and that sites that weren’t 100% compliant with the new mobile requirements would be penalized. And that those penalizations would come in the form of those websites being placed lower down on the search engine results page.
There is really only one way for business owners to make sure that they are 100% compliant, and that’s to speak to their web host, webmaster, or website design team. Making a website fully compliant with every mobile device and smartphone on the market is a job that can only be done behind the scenes.
Local SEO Best Practice #11 – Use Headings and Subheadings
Using headings and sub-headings on a website is another great way to grab the attention of the search engines. These again, give the search engines an indication of the context of the webpage, but it helps if the headings and sub-headings are tagged.
Headings are the most important, and there’s typically only one on each page. These should be given an “H1” tag, which will tell the search engines that text is for the main heading on the page. Sub-headings can be given tags as well, and these are typically “H2”, “H3”, and so on as needed for each subsequent sub-heading.
Of course, wherever there is text within a webpage, there are also keywords and this includes headings of all kinds. The most important, or most relevant, keyword should be included within the “H1” tag. And when it comes to local search engine optimization (local seo), the most important keywords should include the geographic location of the business.
Local SEO Best Practice #12 – Optimize URL Structure
The URL is the address that can be seen in the browser and it indicates the webpage that a user is visiting. URLs are often overlooked by business owners when performing SEO, but they can be very important.
For instance, the following URL: www.aaaplumbers.com will tell visitors and search engines that the webpage most likely falls under the plumbing category. However, this URL: www.aaaplumbers.com/plumbing-services/newyork tells users and search engines so much more about the page and the company.
Like meta descriptions, optimizing URL structure is something that is done within website creation platforms and programs, so each will be slightly different. However, in most cases, it’s not difficult and will take just minutes to do.
Local SEO Best Practice #13 – Use Schema
Schema.org has revolutionized the way search engines display websites in their results pages. Schema is a markup code that can be placed on any website to allow search engines to give more information to the user. This information can include things like online reviews, prices, sitelinks, number of hours, and even entire menus right within the search results.
Not only does Schema help the search engine robots, which will in turn increase a website’s page ranking, it also helps users and thereby can increase the click-through rate.
Because Schema gives the users so much more information, they tend to click on more websites that have included Schema because they know so much more about it. This can increase a site’s CTR (click-through rate), which will also increase a website’s page ranking.
To include Schema markup code on a website, visit schema.org and click on ‘get started!’ The schema markups that local businesses tend to make the most use of are:
Local SEO Best Practice #14 – Increase Local Citations
Citations in the local search engine optimization (local seo) world are any mentions of a local business on other websites. In order to be considered an actual citation however, the name, address and phone number must all be included. This is known as ‘NAP’. The search engines love citations, even when there is no backlink to accompany them.
Often business owners make the mistake of thinking that just like anchor text, they have no control over the number of citations for their business online. However, this is not true. One of the best ways to get citations is to create profiles across all of the online directories mentioned in Best Practices 1 and 2. Because these will all include the NAP for the business, each will be considered an individual citation.
The best places to get or create citations are:
— Third-party websites, such as online directories
— Local blogs
— Industry-focused directories
— Industry-focused blogs
— Citations from competitors
Local SEO Best Practice #15 – Get Positive Online Reviews
Reviews online today are the driving force behind most of the purchases that are made, both online and in-store. More than ever people are researching products and businesses before they use them, and having no reviews online can be just as bad as having negative reviews out there.
In order to get reviews, all business owners have to do is ask their customers. Ask them to visit review sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp and leave positive reviews. Also, make sure that this is a consistent effort. Having a few reviews online just isn’t enough. Business owners need to continuously make sure new positive reviews are being added all the time, both to keep them up to date for users, and to keep the search engines happy.
Some tips to help businesses increase the amount of positive online reviews they receive are:
— Make it easy by including “Find us on Google/Yelp” banners on the business’ website.
— Place direct links to review websites within different areas of the business’ website and/or in email signatures.
— Send thank you cards, and ask for a review by including a link in the card.
— Offer an incentive, such as a monthly draw for all reviewers, to entice people to leave reviews.
Be sure to always thank reviewers.
Local SEO Best Practice #16 – Create Social Media Profiles
Social media has a huge influence on local search engine optimization (local SEO) for a number of reasons. One is that it lets a business claim more of their business’ name and brand online. There may be lots of “AAA Plumbers” or even “AAA Plumbers NY”, and the first business that claims that name across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms will have the advantage in building that brand and image.
Social media is also a great way to get reviews and citations that are mentioned above. Every time someone mentions a business on Twitter, their followers can see it and your followers can see it. And if that mention gets a retweet or two, the number of people seeing that tweet about that business can quickly escalate into the thousands.
Social media also lets business owners interact directly with their customers, which is another reason it’s a great boost to local SEO. Business owners can tweet about their upcoming promotion or upload photos of their newest products. This will drive in the business that’s right around the corner of a local business, and that’s what local SEO is all about.
The biggest social media platforms businesses should be on are:
Local SEO Best Practice #17 – Track, Track, Track
Once all of the SEO and local SEO work has been done on a website, the last thing a business owner should do is leave it to run on its own and hope for the best. Algorithms for Google and the other search engines are always changing, certain keywords trend more than others at different times, and things are always changing. Business owners that don’t keep up with those changes regularly will be left to eventually, do all the local search engine optimization work all over again.
And this is an area once again, where Google has provided an answer, and it’s in the form of Google Analytics.
Google Analytics, which can be found at http://analytics.google.com, is a tool that can be used to track every activity that happens when users visit your site – and it’s completely free to use. Once an account is created and Google has started to track conversion rates and other aspects of the website, it takes about 24 hours for a website’s stats to appear. After that it will track continually, and users can look at it any time of the day to see what their website has been doing for the past hour, day, week, or month.
Also, check out this very unique rank tracker for your Google My Business listings. I have to warn you though. It’s quite addictive. The good news is it gives you lots of helpful information in a way that no other software gives it to you.
Local SEO Best Practice #18 – Audit Your Competitors
Let’s just put it out there. You often want to audit your competitors. Every business wants to know how their competitors are ranking higher, am I right? What we really want to know is if they are doing better than them. Some business owners will visit the store or inquire among mutual customers but no matter how they do it, they generally keep an open ear for news about their competitors. That’s human nature so it’s certainly nothing to feel bad about.
The good news is that you can audit your competition and their local search engine optimization (local SEO)efforts to see how they stack up, where improvements could possibly be made, and where they have an edge over your business.
Performing local SEO audits on competitors isn’t difficult, although it can certainly take quite a bit of time if you aren’t using software. One way to audit your competition without software is to do google searches for the keyword phrases that bring money in for you (as well as some that don’t) and find out where they rank. It takes longer without software of course but it can certainly be done.
Are they ranking higher than you for any important keyword phrases? If so, try to figure out why. Do they have the keyword in the title but you don’t? Do they use the keyword phrase on the page more times than you do? In reality, it’s just checking all the same steps and Best Practices that have been mentioned but tracking them for the competitor. This may involve checking out their Twitter profile, or their Google My Business listing. A quick search of the competitor’s name in Google will bring up relevant results, as will searching for reviews and citations.
it’s important to audit your competitors and their Local SEO efforts. This way, you know what you need to do to increase your rankings. because, just like all other areas of business, it can help one see where in relation their business stands.
Local SEO for Multi-Location Providers