A solid SEO strategy is at the core of any successful digital marketing strategy. But for businesses that may want to focus on a specific geographic region, additional steps can be taken to reach qualified searchers who are seeking solutions nearby.
In this quick-start guide to local SEO, we’ll outline practical tips and considerations to help get your business to appear in search results.
Local searches make up a significant portion of online search traffic. The following stats highlight just how huge SEO is for local businesses.
If you can get your business in front of those people, there’s a good chance that they’re looking for services just like the ones you provide.
Local SEO can be viewed as a sub-discipline of “regular” SEO. Before diving in further, make sure you have a baseline understanding of SEO optimization using keyword research. Brush up with our guide, How to Create an SEO Strategy Without Becoming a Content Factory.
Now, here's an example to consider. Let’s say you own a plastics manufacturing business. A prospective customer types in the term “plastics manufacturing” -- and that triggers Google to scan through its index and provide the best results for that search query. So far, it’s business as usual for search engines. How do you refine your SEO strategy to reach more local searchers? The difference has to do with your ranking factors.
There are a number of ways that Google will make decisions on which results to display in search results. We call these ranking factors. Ranking factors include everything from the geographic distance of a searcher, to keyword relevance (how closely your website content matches the search query), to website performance and website authority, and so on. There are hundreds of ranking factors, so below is a checklist of notable ones to help you prioritize.
A key ranking factor of local SEO relies on “NAP”: your business Name, Address and Phone number. These are called NAP citations, and they exist in all the various places where your business information is displayed. This information is critical for ranking in Google! Consistency is key, so make sure your NAP citations are consistent on all of your website pages as well as third-party listing platforms and directories. Consistent NAP citations give Google a good indication that your business information is valid and legitimate.
If your business is operating in multiple locations, you may be tempted to list them on one main page on your website. This is a common SEO error -- in reality, it’s best to build out separate pages for each location. This gives each of your different locations its own NAP, and each page has elements (such as meta descriptions, H1 headers, an embedded Google map, local reviews and so on) that can be optimized for local SEO. There are a few different ways to accomplish this through your website design, such as a directory linking to separate location pages. Massage Envy is one such example.
Google recommends implementing structured data markup for your address information, which is explained here. You can pass this link along to your website developer for implementation. This ensures they extract exactly the right information to display on their listings.
No reviews yet? No more excuses! Customer reviews are known trust-builders -- and where there is trust, there is site authority. Reviews also help Google understand what your services are all about -- and page relevance is another key influencer on SEO.
Concerned about the impact of negative reviews? Just be sure to monitor them. An empathetic response to criticism can show you take your customer relationships seriously. Not only do reviews make good business sense by uncovering ways to improve your service, but the SEO reward is often worth the risk.
This is a big one. Today's searchers are increasingly likely to look for local business solutions on their mobile devices. A site that’s non-optimized for mobile puts your business at a notable disadvantage. A poor user experience translates to high bounce rates; in turn, driving visitors away and negatively affecting your ability to rank. According to one study, 61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact your business if you have a mobile-friendly site. Optimizing for mobile isn’t necessarily a quick fix, but it's a necessary one!
As part of your larger content strategy, consider keyword researching themes that are highly relevant to your business and highly relevant to your geographic area. For example, a construction company in the Florida area may offer blogs around hurricane-proof construction. You may also want to explore some ways to tie your business to local events -- for example, take HubSpot’s INBOUND conference. A Boston tour guide company may want to create content around staying an extra day to explore the best Boston has to offer.
Social media is not necessarily a direct ranking factor but can have a positive influence on your local SEO strategy -- especially when done in tandem with the other strategies listed here.
Facebook, for example, offers searchers important details about your business services (be sure to enable the "Services tab") and ties it to critical location data. Those details, which may include an address and map, can pop up in Google results. Similarly, customer reviews and ratings may appear alongside your business name in a Google search. Social media can also be a great way to integrate local industry events or news stories relevant to people within a specified geographic area.
Where can you list your business for better local visibility? With your website as the anchor, there are many options that can improve your local SEO strategy. Let’s start with four primary sources of information in local search that you can begin (or ensure the accuracy of) right away.
Sign up for a Google account if you don't already have one so you can set up and verify your business on Google My Business. Report any inaccuracies to Google Maps. This is the same account you will also use for Google Analytics, Search Console, AdWords and YouTube. Everything is accessed through a single Google login. We recommend forwarding your Google Gmail account to your business email if you don't use Gmail for work. The verification process in Google My Business typically involves a phone call to your business or a postcard verification.
Pay attention to the contact information you provide, hours or operating, and so on. Carefully choose from the available categories. If you don't see an appropriate category, pick the best one for now -- or you may provide feedback and ask for a new category. Check back in a month or two to see if new category options have been added.
What if your service territory goes beyond the city in which you are located? In Google My Business, you have the ability to designate your service area. This will trigger your site in local map search results in the radius you specify.
Not sure if your business is listed on Business Bing Maps? Simply go here to check -- and if nothing comes up, follow the steps to "Add a Missing Business.
Sign up for a Microsoft account so you can similarly verify your business listings on Bing Places and then submit your site to Bing Webmaster Tools . If you also want to sign up for Bing Ads, you'll use this login.
Don’t forget about an Apple Maps listing for your business. Why is this so important? According to Statistica, 46.9% of U.S. users are on iPhones. The default mapping app on iPhones and iPads is Apple Maps (not Google). Assuming users have not changed their default app, those searching for a local business from their device (which includes Siri voice searches) will likely see Apple as the top result. Those could be your future customers! Start here and follow the directions for setting up your Apple ID/account.
Consider citations (both paid and free) on a range of other platforms as well. Industry-specific directories, for example, are a great way to focus your efforts.
Allison Woodbury has been a Content Marketer for PMG since 2016. She’s a content marketing, writing, social media and branding guru who spends her writing time alternating between getting in the shoes of her readers and scrutinizing super-niche industries. She loves to see what her readers like – so tell her what you want, what you really, really want (to read more of)!