How to leverage Local SEO to Grow Your Business

Local businesses are more important than ever. From providing local employment options to stimulating local economies, supporting those smaller businesses has never been more critical. For those that run their own local business, it can be easy to resign yourself to limited growth. However, by focusing on a local SEO strategy, you make it easier for local residents and visitors to find you exactly when they need you. Whether you’re a restaurant in a small town or an independent retail outlet in a bustling city, local SEO can dramatically improve your potential to generate more of a profit.

Local SEO can be a sprawling, challenging subject to tackle, and one that is prone to sudden changes. However, even understanding the basics can transform the visibility of your business and make growth much easier.

A Note on Search Engines

SEO of all kinds will discuss Google a lot. There are plenty of other search engines available, but with 86% of the market, Google is undoubtedly the most important in terms of your SEO. However, the steps that you take to become more visible on Google can also be done on Bing, DuckDuckGo, or Quant. Local SEO can even go beyond the internet, because word of mouth, local media appearances, and even hand-printed flyers can get you social media mentions and interactions. So indirect methods should never be overlooked. For this guide, we’ll be focusing specifically on improving your local SEO online.

What is Local SEO?

There are different types of SEO, and businesses should have an awareness of the basics of each. From technical SEO to eCommerce SEO, it’s essential to make use of all of the types that best suit your business. Local SEO is its own unique strand of search engine optimization: a means of improving your position on search engine results pages (SERPs) when a potential customer is looking for your kind of business, product, or service. When you want people in your city or town to be able to find you quickly and easily, then local SEO is the key. Think about how common it is to use the following search questions yourself:

  • Restaurant near me
  • Where’s my nearest plumber
  • Best realtor in Chicago
  • Doctor in Santa Clarita

For local brick and mortar businesses, local SEO is the key to getting found, and you can use a wide range of techniques to make that happen. When up to 46% of all Google searches are intended to find a local business, it makes sense that you do all that you can to appear in those searches.

Local SEO provides maximum benefits certain types of businesses

Types of Business that Get Maximum Benefit from Local SEO

While any business that serves a specific local area should use local SEO, some business types are particularly suited to it. These are the businesses that will see the most traction from their local SEO work.

  • Medical services
  • Lawyers
  • Food and drink outlets
  • Tradespeople (plumbers, electricians, etc.)
  • Pet services
  • Realtors

However, many business types will benefit from local SEO, so even if you’re not in one of the above sectors, you should still dedicate time to ensuring that your basic local SEO tasks have been carried out.

Businesses that don't need local SEO

Despite what professional digital marketers might tell you, some business models will not tend to see any benefits from optimizing their local SEO. These tend to be the business types that don’t rely on location-based sales or who want to remain more private. Ecommerce stores and private online sellers, or even creatives (writers, artists, etc.) can often do without local SEO. Instead, they should focus on technical SEO, content SEO, and Mobile SEO.

How to get started with Local SEO

Local SEO works in much the same way as other search engine optimization types. It uses the same tactics but uses them in a way that targets a more localized approach. That means that it is more focused on geography. However, before you even start with local SEO, you need to ensure that you have already got the essential elements right.

That means your website needs to be appealing to look at, easy to navigate, and just as usable on mobile devices as it is on a PC or laptop.

Local searches are far more commonly carried out on a mobile device, so if your website looks confusing or cluttered on a smartphone screen, or requires lots of zooming in just to see text, then anyone that gets taken to your site will quickly leave to find a better option.

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Once you’re confident that your website looks good and is easy to use, then you can start getting down to the nitty-gritty of local SEO.

Business

There is the first step that must be taken. This will be the cornerstone of your entire local SEO strategy: Google My Business. Almost 60% of businesses haven’t claimed their Google My Business (GMB) listing, so even just doing this small task will immediately give you an advantage (especially if your local competitors have yet to claim their GMB). Don’t forget that other search engines have a similar listing template available as well, so don’t overlook filling out those.

Google My Business - Local SEO

Google My Business is free to use and very straightforward. Not only will filling out your GMB template immediately make you easier to find online, but it will also put you on Google Maps.

Filling out your GMB listing is very quick, but you must provide as much detail as Google asks for. This will mean:

  • Your Business Name: If Google already has your business name listed, then this will be easier, but you can also choose to create a new business. It’s essential here to stick to using your name alone, and not to try and squeeze your SEO keywords in there. This is common to see but will tend to result in some form of penalty because it is against the guidelines provided by Google.
  • Your Address: If you have chosen a business name that Google already has listed, then your address will often be filled out for you already. If not, then it’s a simple matter of filling out your details. Of course, this can sometimes get a bit complicated, especially if you work from home, have multiple brick and mortar addresses, you own a mobile business, or run your business from a virtual office. Your goal here should be consistency, so decide on the best address to use and make sure that address is then used in all business communications. It is against Google guidelines to use a virtual office address unless it is staffed. In those cases, it will be best to use your home address. If you are claiming an address that Google already has listed, don’t forget to go through all of the info that they have to check that it’s all correct.
  • Location Setting: You will then see a map with a location pin. In most cases, this will already be in the right spot, so you can simply click confirm and move onto the next step. If the location is in the wrong place, then simply click and drag it to where it should be.
  • Category: You will then have to choose a category type for your business listing. Luckily, Google themselves have created a comprehensive guide on how best to use this function. Ideally, think about the kind of business you run, and use the suggestions that Google prompts you with as you type. If you aren’t sure which category is most suitable for you, an excellent way to clarify is to see what categories your competitors have chosen.
  • Phone Number and Website: Although this is very straightforward, many business owners forget the need to be consistent here. As with your primary business address, consistency is vital, so choose a phone number and stick to it. If you change your phone number or website URL in the future, then don’t forget to update on GMB.
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You will then be asked to verify your GMB listing, and all you have to do is follow the onscreen steps (usually, a phone call is the quickest option).

Optimizing GMB

Once you have your initial GMB listing set up and verified, you can take things further to help improve your local SEO.

You can choose to:

  • Add more categories
  • Use photos of your business (even better if you take those photos at the address where your business is listed as being as this will also add some location metadata to your GMB profile)
  • Add your opening hours
  • Add any secondary phone numbers
  • List your complete services

The more information that you add to GMB, the better.

Remember that you should also use other listing options on alternative search engines. Bing Places is the Bing version of Google My Business, and you set this up using much the same process as GMB.

Local SEO Next Steps

Once your GMB listing is filled out and verified, you will be in an excellent position to move onto the next stages of your local SEO strategy. This will mean understanding some of the key terms used in SEO. If you already have some understanding of basic SEO techniques, then many of these terms will be familiar to you. If this is your first time planning an SEO strategy, then you’re going to need to understand what these terms mean and how to use them.

1. Keyword Research

This is a fundamental part of all SEO, but for local SEO, it is even more critical. The most basic explanation of keywords is that they are the words used to identify quickly who you are. A clean example would be a restaurant in Charleston, Illinois.

That business would want to use the keywords’ restaurant’ and ‘Charleston’ at the very least. This is known as basic Service in Location (SiL) keyword use. Depending on if they provide takeaways or food delivery, they might use a combination of basic keywords:

  • Restaurant
  • Charleston
  • Takeaway
  • Illinois
  • Delivery

These words can be pluralized where possible as well to make sure that every search query becomes relevant. Those keywords can also be fine-tuned so that the specifics of that restaurant can be highlighted (pizza, traditional, fast food, etc.).

Keyword research for Local SEO

However, the obvious keywords are just that: obvious. Keyword research will mean going more in-depth into an exploration of the most common words used by customers when they are searching for your kind of business. There are many online tools available for conducting in-depth keyword research. There are also some additional, fast ways to get a better idea of the best keywords to use. You can:

Use online listings: Craigslist (for example) can be extremely useful for finding out more keywords. Simply go to their services section, choose your business location, and enter your business type. There will be postings related to your sector and your location, and you’ll find that they will often use similar terms. If you’re an electrician and you see that many of those listings have the terms’ lowest priced’, ‘certified’, or ‘industry-trained’, then those are keywords that you should use.

Use Google: When you type a word into the Google search bar, then you’ll see that the search engine has some autocomplete suggestions. This can be a fantastic way to identify what keywords are valuable and what people are looking for. You will also see that at the bottom of the page will be similar search queries related to yours. This, too, can be useful for generating ideas for keyword use.

  • Competitor Research: Always have a look to see what keywords your competitors are using. See how well they perform on a search query and where they rank. Often, seeing what your competitors are doing right (and wrong) can take you down entirely new keyword avenues that can help you stand out when people are searching for you online. If you only have a few competitors in your local area, it’s always good to research the keywords that similar businesses are using in large cities.

The keywords that you use will not be of any value if you don’t know how to use them. Your keywords should be used in your URL, included as text on any images that you use, in your page descriptions, anchor text, and even on social media. However, if there’s one area to use your keywords, it’s in your content.

Why Content is So Vital

SEO experts have been highlighting the importance of the right content for years, but smaller, local businesses often dismiss its importance because they think it’s not relevant to them. Ignoring the value of content is a mistake because when it comes to local SEO, content can have a dramatic effect on your search engine rankings.

Localized content in the form of blogs, product guides, or local, industry-relevant news is more valuable than ever.

Those keywords that you have researched and listed can be used strategically throughout your content to further boost your online signal. Content gives you the chance to not only make yourself more visible on search engines but also gives you a chance to create a fantastic first impression that highlights your expertise in your industry. Boost your local content by:

  • Using Google Trends and check your location for trending news that’s relevant to your business.
  • Use your FAQs page to identify common queries that you get asked and turn those questions into in-depth blog posts.
  • Write about any local events, especially if you have been involved with them.

If you’re running out of ideas, consider looking at related but non-competitive niche subjects. For example, if you are a plumber, you might want to write about home improvements in general. Dentists can have an entire blog category based on health content (for example, 10 reasons why water is good for you) tying it back to dentistry.

When it comes to content, using keywords is not enough. Your content also needs to provide real value to its audience. If you’re not confident about your writing skills, consider hiring someone to create that content for you. Don’t forget that content also includes videos, so user-tutorials on products can also be highly valuable.

Local SEO Link-Building

When a website that’s totally separate from yours uses a link that sends its readers to your website, then that shows to Google that your site has value. The higher the quality of that website, then the more value your website will be seen as having. Link-building is the process of making sure that the right websites are using links that will send people to your pages. Put simply, link-building needs to be a priority, but it also needs to be done in the right way. High-quality backlinks are indispensable, but they can be challenging to get right. The goal should be:

  • Getting links from local websites in your area
  • Making sure that links are relevant to your industry
  • Identifying links that will encourage people to head to your website
  • Using industry links that will establish you and your reputation

Now, these can be hard to achieve, and there are lots of bad ways to get those links. So-called ‘black-hat’ techniques are all too common, and they are high risk. The short-term gains that you might get from using black-hat link-building tactics will only ever result in search engines penalizing you. Your website can quickly vanish from search engine results pages if you resort to using sneaky ways to get more visibility. Instead, there are some practical ways to improve the links that lead back to your pages. These include:

  • Do research into new, relevant websites regularly.
  • Check out the backlinks that your competitors use and see if you can replace them.
  • Reach out to the websites that you want to be on (you could offer to write a content piece for them that will include links to your site or an author bio that does the same).
  • Create reviews or case studies of local businesses that have relevance to you (this can encourage social media sharing and is a great way to build relationships with other website owners who will be pleased to see their products or services discussed by a professional).
  • Visit local businesses in person and establish connections that way (local SEO makes it much easier to build those all-important relationships). Look at your suppliers and their content, or local clubs, associations, rotary clubs, and local events.
  • Make sure that your business is included on local business listing platforms, especially those focused on your industry.
  • Use links on your pages to lead back to the websites that link to yours (but do so carefully because using this too much can result in your being penalized by Google).

Link building is vital for local SEO, and it achieves more than just getting you higher up the SERP rankings. It can also be incredibly useful for attracting new audiences and customers to your website, where you can start introducing them to your sales funnel, leading to a purchase.

The BERT Update

One of the most significant updates from Google has been the BERT update. While Google updates its algorithms and search parameters regularly, BERT (which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) has had a significant impact on local SEO. The focus of BERT is natural language processing, which is a fancy way of saying that it helps Google to understand more about what a search engine query is about.

The result has been that search engine users are getting more precise and relevant answers to their questions.

That means local businesses need to be very careful about the words that they use on their website, and they can make significant SERP gains by tailoring their websites to a specific audience (your local community). The clearer your language across your entire online footprint, the more BERT will work on your behalf, delivering Google users to your pages in a way that provides them with the solutions they need.

How to EAT with Google

If there’s one area of SEO that spreads across the entire range of types, EAT is always a constant. An acronym, EAT stands for:

  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness

If you want your website to stand out from the crowd, then you need to have all three of those factors. That’s because search engines want to provide the most high-value results to their users. Link-building is very useful for establishing EAT, but your content needs to do the same.

How To EAT with Google - Local SEO

Across every page of your business website, you need to provide the relevant information that your customers will want to see, which will depend on your business type. Use helpful titles on every page, have your site serve a purpose beyond making a sale, and your EAT ranking will go up. That means that you will start to rank higher on SERPs, which leads to more site visitors and more potential to make a new customer.

Local SEO and Voice Search

More than ever, people are getting the answers that they want, not by typing a query into a search engine but by asking questions using their voice. From smart assistants on your phone to smart speakers in your home, voice search is changing local SEO. This is a trend that is not going away and is set to become a significant factor for SEO of all types well into the future. The best way to optimize for voice search is to look again at your keywords. Those SiL keywords are going to remain as your starting point, but you’re going to need to also start using ‘long-tail’ keywords. Long-tail keywords are more specific and tend to have a lot more words. That means they may not get as much traffic from a standard search, but when it comes to a voice search, they will prove indispensable. Think about how you ask a question using your voice instead of a typewritten query.

Typed: pizza restaurant in San Diego

Voice: Where’s the nearest pizza place in San Diego?

Those keywords that you have listed will be essential to integrate into your website, but you also need to factor in a more conversational language across all of your content. Look at creating a question-and-answer format and making sure that your FAQs page is written in a more natural, conversational way. Remember to use your keywords and continue to do keyword research regularly.

How to Measure Local SEO Performance

Once you have done all of the groundwork that results in your local SEO is exceptional, you will then need to regularly track just how well it’s performing. You must continue to track, measure, and analyze the reports of your SEO impact. The good news is that you have access to an almost endless volume of data. The bad news is that the data you have access to is not always of value, and it’s easy to get swept up in low-value data sets that redirect your SEO goals. An example of this is ‘vanity metrics’. These are essential social media likes and shares, which, although being of value in terms of audience reach, have much less critical when it comes to your SEO.

Choosing the Right Analytics Data

Your first step is to identify your key performance indicators (KPIs). These will be the relevant insights that highlight how well you are doing in terms of your local SEO goals and are best performed by taking the following steps.

Step One: Check Your SERP Ranking

Take the time to regularly check how high you appear on a search engine results page when you type in (or say) your keywords. Don’t forget to carry out these checks across all of the top search engines, not just Google.

Step Two: Local Search Rankings

As well as checking your performance on search engines, you also need to evaluate your footprint on local sites. From Facebook and Yelp to Citysearch and any other third-party sites that are relevant to your industry, make sure that you not only have a presence but also check regularly how you rank on those sites. If you find that you are either too low in those rankings or that you are starting to appear lower and lower, then it’s a sign that your competitors are paying more attention to those platforms than you are, and reaping the rewards. Don’t forget to interact with reviews on third-party platforms, because engagement is more critical than ever, even (or especially) if you see negative reviews.

Step Three: Consistency Checks

Never underestimate how important it is to remain consistent everywhere that you appear online. That means all of your information (contact details, address, and branding images) are the same, no matter where a customer sees you. That means you have to be very aware of the platforms that you appear on and monitoring those lists regularly. This can be a time-consuming task, but the more organized you are, the faster it will go! Don’t forget to check out your competitors on those pages too.

Step Four: Activity Analytics

This is where the crux of your local SEO strategy will play out. Your website will have tools available that will give you some key pieces of data, including:

  • The websites that have brought people to your website
  • The pages that they visit when on your site
  • What actions they take when on your pages

This is critical. If you notice that Facebook is sending more people to your site than Twitter, then you have a clearer idea of where your target demographics are spending their time online. However, if those people coming to your website from Twitter are more likely to make a purchase, then it may be that you need to start using that platform more.

Look at the sites where you have taken steps for link-building and monitor how much value they are providing you with too. And if you notice that you have a much higher traffic volume at certain times of the year or when you have a specific special offer available, then you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.

Optimizing your website for local searches is not a quick task. SEO of all types is less of a race and more of a marathon, so pace yourself. Take the time to build a website that has value, and always monitor just how well you are performing on search engines. As people continue to turn immediately to their devices to get answers to questions, local SEO can have a massive effect on your ability to reach out to new customers, make more sales, and continue to grow your business.