Please note that since writing this post, Google has changed the name of Google My Business to Google Business Profile.
If you own a small, local business, showing up on page one of Google is critical to your success. This post will highlight why local SEO is so important and the steps you can take to improve your local rankings.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a topic many small business owners know about but few truly utilize.
But here’s the thing — showing up on page one of Google can be the difference between your business booming or just getting by.
And when it comes to getting your business to rank locally, utilizing Local SEO can be a crazy-powerful strategy if done right.
Local Search Engine Optimization (Local SEO) is simply what you do to increase your search engine visibility so your business ranks better for a local market of potential customers.
Here are a few tidbits to show you why optimizing your Local SEO is so vital to business success:
72% of consumers who did a local search visited a store within five miles. (Source: Wordstream)
88% of consumers who search for a type of local business on a mobile device call or go to that business within 24 hours. (Source: Nectafy)
And, according to a study by Chitika, 92% of searchers will pick businesses on the first page of local search results.
So there’s the proof. Now, how do you start your own Local SEO strategy?
Fortunately, there are some basic (and painless) steps you can take to improve your local rankings. Here are the details on how to get started.
Six key steps to win at Local SEO
- Create (and optimize) your Google My Business listing
- Get listed on directories (build your local citations)
- Manage your online reviews
- Write content with a local focus
- Master on-page local SEO basics
- Local link building (Partners)
Note: The competitiveness of whatever business you’re in may dictate your end results.
1. Create (and optimize) your Google My Business listing
Optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) listing might be the most important thing you can do to improve your local rankings.
Why? Because Google IS your new business card. If someone searches for your business online, your Google My Business listing is what they’ll see first.
What the heck is Google My Business?
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that’s built to help you manage your online presence. It’s easy to use and is step 1 to improving your appearance in local searches.
If you search for a business by name, you’ll usually see what is called a knowledge panel or business profile.
On a desktop, it will appear on the right. If you’re searching on mobile you’ll see it at the top.
You might also see a GMB listing when you type in search terms like “dentist in Cincinnati” or “bike shop near me.”
And the Google Local 3-Pack (or Local Pack) is a listing of the three businesses you’ll see after a search.
Take a look at my local pack results after I searched for “bike shop Denver.” All the details you see in the image below are pulled from each bike shop’s Google My Business profile.
An optimized Google My Business page will help your business appear in the 3-Pack. And it will help your business’s local ranking.
How to claim your Google My Business listing
Claiming your Google My Business profile is step #1 to helping a local audience find your business.
A listing may already exist. If so, Google will let you know. And don’t worry, this is common, and if you’re authorized to manage the listing, you can request ownership transfer.
We put together this easy-to-use guide on how to set up your Google My Business page: Let’s Set Up Your Google Business Profile (A Guide for Small Business)
Once you have a listing, it’s time to optimize it.
One of the most powerful local SEO strategies a business can use to improve their local search rankings is claiming and optimizing their Google My Business (GMB) listing.
How to optimize your Google My Business listing
You now have a Google My Business listing. Bravo!
The next step is to provide additional details about your business to help a user find what they’re looking for.
Google is continually updating Google My Business, but here are some features you’ll want to optimize…
- Business Photos – Give visitors a peek of your business. Think about the type of pictures they’ll want to see. Shots might include inside and exterior views of your shop, employee photos, your products, etc.
- Reviews – Maintaining a good reputation is a must for businesses today, and you want users to see positive reviews on your Google My Business listing. This deserves its own section for sure. I take a deeper dive into this later in this post.
- Posts – With the post feature, you can link to your most recent blog post, announce a sale, promote an event, and more. It’s a powerful feature most businesses don’t take advantage of.
These are just a few of the things you can do to optimize your listing. And taking advantage of the features within Google My Business will help potential customers learn more about your business, which is great for you and them.
To fully optimize your Google My Business listing go to this page we created: How to Optimize Your Google Business Profile.
Google My Business is a crucial part of Local SEO but is simply one example of a Local Citation…
2. Get listed on directories (build your local citations)
A citation is basically a mention of your business’s name, address, and telephone number online.
You can create citations on a variety of platforms, including your local chamber of commerce, Facebook, Yahoo Local, Yellow Pages, and potentially hundreds more.
As I mentioned, Google My Business is a citation site. Some of the more authoritative citation sites are Bing, Apple Maps, and Yellow Pages.
The reason citations are so important is because today people decide who they’re going to buy from after researching online. So, if someone is looking for an HVAC contractor, they’ll look to places like Angie’s List or Yelp first (these are where your citations are listed).
92% of searchers will pick businesses on the first page of local search results.
And having your business appear consistently (same name, address, and phone number) across the web will help boost your local rankings.
Citations are just one component of small business SEO, but they are a foundational component you need. The more often your business appears online with consistent contact information, the better off you will be.
When it comes to local search engine optimization, getting citations for your local business is a key step in your local SEO strategy.
The image above shows what a local citation on Yelp looks like for a Burger Joint in Fort Collins, Colorado. I’ve highlighted the Name, Address, Phone, and Website (NAP+W).
If you’ve ever been in need of a particular service and searched for a business online, you probably noticed that some of the listings are not company sites but directory sites.
This is just one example of why local citations are so important (e.g. maybe you own a kitchen remodeling company, and you are listed on all the above directories).
So, how do you build citations for your business?
- You can do it manually. This involves finding the sites you think your business should be listed on and then manually going to each site and entering your business details. This is a valid option of course but can be incredibly labor-intensive.
- Another option (the option I recommend) is to use a citation building service like BrightLocal or Whitespark. And there are other options out there too, including Synup, AdviceLocal, Yext, and MozLocal.
- Keep them clean and consistent. There are a ton of sources that Google relies on to pull data from because they want to get the most accurate picture of your business. This is because Google does not want to point someone to the wrong address. A service like BrightLocal will help you clean up your citations so they are the same across the board.
The image above shows a business with inconsistent citations, different addresses, missing information, and some listings not found.
I’m not calling out this business at all. No, in fact, a large number of small businesses have imprecise details, missing information, and more, just like the business above. I’m not picking on them, just showing you the importance of consistency.
So, if you haven’t done so, get busy using some of the great tools I’ve mentioned above, like BrightLocal, MozLocal, or WhiteSpark.
68% of consumers say they would stop using a local business if they found incorrect information in local directories. And 80% of consumers lose trust in local businesses if they see incorrect or inconsistent contact details or business names online.
We put together a helpful guide on how to set up local citations for your business: How to Get Your Business Listed on Local Directories.
3. Manage your online reviews
Want to know about one of the most important business-building strategies you can employ starting today? Getting more online reviews from happy customers.
Here’s what online reviews can do for your business:
- Trust – According to BrightLocal, customers will read about 10 online reviews before feeling like they can trust a local business. And the same survey also shows that potential customers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
- More sales – Star ratings impact click-through rates. Meaning that if someone sees a link to your business with 4 or 5 stars, chances are better that they will click on that link to your business, and this should certainly have an impact on your sales.
- Higher Search Engine Results – Online reviews are a ranking factor and will help improve your search engine results, particularly for local searches.
These are just a few of the benefits of online reviews. If you need more convincing, take a look at some of the key statistics below taken from BrightLocal’s Annual Local Customer Review Survey:
- 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses (including 95% of people aged 18-34)
- Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust a local business
- 57% of consumers will only use a business if it has 4 or more stars
- 91% of 18-34-year-old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
Bottom line: People trust reviews from other people. Just about everyone reads reviews, and getting more positive reviews is one of the best things you can do for your business.
Just automating the process of asking, gently reminding, and leading customers through completing reviews on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Angie’s List will increase the number of positive reviews you receive.
Google is your new business card, and online reviews are now front and center as the new social proof you need. Great SEO will get them to your business. Plenty of positive reviews might convince them to work with you.
If you’d like to do further reading on setting up a review system for your business, read this post and get busy setting up your own review funnel.
4. Write content with a local focus
So far, I’ve outlined several Local SEO tactics that you must put into action if you want your business to rank well locally. But a powerful strategy that is often overlooked is writing content with a local focus.
Writing content with a local focus means publishing consistent blog content. You might be thinking, whoa, Craig, I’m just a local business, blogging is for the big boys with big marketing budgets.
Well, that’s simply not true. In fact, there are some relatively simple yet powerful strategies you can employ (on your blog) to bring in more local customers.
Most small business owners I talk with don’t start writing local content for two reasons:
- They know it will take a lot of effort (and are overwhelmed by yet another task).
- They simply don’t know how to get started (and need a framework to do so).
I’m here to tell you that if you’re trying to improve your local presence, you need to write local content. Without it, it’s going to be more difficult to improve your rankings and beat your competitors at the local SEO game.
How to write local content
Here’s the thing – writing local content is not as hard as you think. A clear strategy is key. Look at the list below and start thinking of how you might include several in your blogging plan. You don’t have to use all of these suggestions, of course. These are just some ideas…
Note: While most of your content can and should be about your ideal customer and how you can solve their problems, you should include subject matter that focuses on your community.
- Local industry gatherings. Attend a local event and write about it (it doesn’t have to be industry-specific). This can also include local news and local industry news.
- Write about local experts you know in aligned industries. You can even let them guest post on your blog. Create a “Top 10” list, or “Best of” list. The posts are about local businesses that provide services or sell products that are similar to yours but are not in direct competition with you. Think strategic partners in aligned, local companies. Then build lists people will be searching for.
- Create similar “Best of” lists for local things totally unrelated to what you do. Say, if you’re a dog walker in Albuquerque, New Mexico, you could create a “Dog lovers guide to Albuquerque.”
- Write about local causes, organizations, and associations. If you do any charity or volunteer work, support a community sports team, or are involved in any way, write about it in a local voice.
- Case studies. Feature your customers and what you did for them in a post detailing a successful outcome. Localize it by including details of the area where your potential customers live.
Think like a local customer and craft content you think your audience would want to read.
And while you’re thinking about blogging and writing local content, don’t forget to write about what you know. Focus on solving your customer’s problems by writing posts based on your products and/or services and how they will help.
I’m here to tell you that if you’re trying to improve your local presence you need to write local content. Without it, it’s going to be more difficult to improve your rankings and beat your competitors at the local SEO game.
Most of the strategies above are great because you’re writing about other people and organizations and linking to their sites.
You can then contact them via social media (and possibly email) and ask them to take a look, link to your page, share on social media, etc.
I recommend this because you build your brand this way AND you get links back to your site which are invaluable (the more backlinks you have pointing to your website, search engines will reward you with higher rankings). We’ll detail that in step #5 below.
What NOT to do
When you write out a list of local topics you plan to write about, focus on what you want to accomplish with each piece. DON’T just pump out a bunch of local content (that’s spammy).
DO think like your customer, tie your business to it, and focus on value. That’s how you’ll drive traffic to your site. Don’t forget this rule: Write it so someone will want to read it.
Learn how to improve your local presence by writing local content.
5. Master on-page local SEO basics
Good design is important, but your business doesn’t need a pretty site. What you need is a powerful marketing platform built for local SEO. And part of that is getting the basics of on-page SEO right.
On-page SEO (or On-site SEO) is basically everything you do on your website to improve how it ranks. This includes:
- Website coding
- Website copy
- How your site is structured
In his book “SEO for Growth,” John Jantsch describes on-page SEO as the glue that holds everything together: “Without SEO to glue the code, design, and content all together, a new website is destined for the search engine abyss.”
So, when building your website, you should treat SEO as a key component of its foundation. And the best way to start is with the basics of Local On-page SEO…
a. Optimize your home page
Your home page is the most valuable page on your site. It should clearly convey your business name, what you do, and why someone should hire you.
But if you’re trying to rank locally, you must also clearly show where you are located. And when it comes to local SEO, there are a few best practices to follow.
Weave in some location copy.
If you’re serving a specific area, mention that. If your business is in Fort Collins, CO, you might include copy at the top like in the sample: “Serving Fort Collins and Loveland, CO.”
A cleaning service in Seattle, WA might weave in the following somewhere on their home page: “Beth’s cleaning service provides spotless, local house cleaning services in Seattle, WA and surrounding areas.”
Include customer reviews.
I mentioned reviews above. With every review you should ask that person if you can also publish their review on your website. If they approve, create a review page and link it directly from a block on your home page. This isn’t exactly a ranking factor, but it’s the additional proof you need to get people to buy from you.
b. Optimize your page titles and meta descriptions
Titles are one of the first things visitors will see on your site, and they affect your search engine ranking so make the most of them!
Use keywords in your page titles that indicate where you are and what your products or services are. This tells search engines what you do and where you are so you appear in the right searches and appear higher in the results.
Optimizing meta descriptions
The same goes for meta descriptions. A meta description is the little description of a webpage that appears with the page link in an internet search.
While they have minimal influence on your ranking, a meta description with the right keywords will attract more views.
Have you ever done an internet search and noticed a website with one of the main words of your search crossed out below it, indicating that link did not address exactly what you were looking for? You probably skipped that link.
A meta description that includes the city you want to focus on and what you’re offering there helps searchers pick your business out of a crowd of less relevant websites when they are looking for something specific.
c. Optimize your footer
A big part of Local SEO is not overlooking the finer details. For instance, is your business address in your website footer?
When referring to your business address in a marketing context, SEO pros refer to it as your NAP—name, address, and phone number.
Your NAP is one of the ways search engines find your website and associate it with your service area, so it’s pretty important for good Local SEO. You should have it on every page of your site, starting with your footer.
For an example, take a look around my website. In the footer of every page, you’ll see McBreen Marketing’s NAP:
1202 Crestway Ct
Fort Collins, CO 80526
There’s our business’s name, address, and phone number, styled the same every time.
It’s also important that your NAP appears identical everywhere you put it. Otherwise, search engines might identify your address as two different businesses.
A good way to check for this is to check how your business is listed in your Google My Business listing and ensure it matches your NAP on your website.
It’s a small detail but one that can have a big impact on your search engine rankings.
d. Embed a Google Map on your website
Nothing tells your customers and Google where you are better than a map. An embedded Google Map, to be exact.
Putting a map of your business’s location on your website attracts even the most directionally-impaired client to your site and helps them find where you are physically.
How to embed a Google map
Never put a Google map on your site before? Here are the basic instructions:
- Go to Google Maps.
- Find the directions, map, or Street View image you’d like to embed.
- In the top left of your screen, click Menu.
- Click Share or embed map.
- Click Embed a map.
- To the left of the text box, select the size you want by clicking the Down arrow.
- Copy the text in the box and paste it into the HTML of your website or blog.
e. Add an image Alt tag to your photos
Much of SEO is about getting as many keywords into your site as possible. Those keywords are not always visible, however.
For a small bump in your search engine ranking, try adding Alt attributes to images on your business’s website. An Alt attribute is a description of the picture that is included in the code and is often used by viewers with vision impairments to see what the picture depicts. It’s also a sneaky way to add more keywords.
You can maximize this covert SEO strategy for Local SEO by giving the images around your site useful descriptions that include keywords such as your service area or location and what your business does.
Then, what was just a courtesy for visitors is now one more Local SEO tool in your pocket!
f. Create a unique page for each product and/or service you offer
Your business is multi-faceted, and your website should show that. While it’s okay to have a main “products” or “services” page, your Local SEO efforts and search engine rankings will benefit if you have a separate page for each product and/or service.
When you combine all of your products or services onto a single page, it’s harder for Google to “see” you as an expert in a specific area, and this will decrease your ranking potential.
Creating multiple pages that each highlight the specifics of what you offer gives you more authority and creates more opportunities to use the keywords that prospective clients are using in their internet searches.
Ideally, each page should have a minimum of 350 words, including keywords to clearly define your product or service. As for Local SEO, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate your city or service area names in your service pages as well!
g. Create unique pages for every location
In addition to creating specific service pages for your business’s website, you should also create individual pages for your different locations. This helps Google associate your service with your target service areas when a prospective client is looking for what you offer in their town.
Having these multiple location pages gives you more opportunity to use keywords that target searchers in your area. These are also ideal pages for including your NAP as I mentioned above.
Please don’t spam the search engines
The key is including your city/region throughout your website without getting spammy.
For example, if a dentist in Denver, Colorado used the word “Denver” 29 times and the word “dentist” 30 times in their home page copy, this is a BIG NO NO. In fact, keyword stuffing like this will most likely hurt you more than help you.
A good rule to follow? Simply write naturally for your audience and weave in your keywords and location without overdoing it.
The more backlinks you have pointing to your website, search engines will reward you with higher rankings. One of the best things you can do to improve your Local SEO.
Want to learn more about mastering on-page local SEO basics? This post is for you: Master On-Page Local SEO Basics With These 7 Tips.
6. Local link building (Partners)
If you are at all familiar with SEO in general, you may know that the more links to your website that are sprinkled throughout the internet, the better. But for a business that is trying to target local customers, you need to focus on local link building. This means getting links published on local sources.
There are a number of ways to do this. Some local sources are easy to directly share your link on. Others require networking and building mutually-beneficial relationships. But all can get more views for your site and increase your search engine ranking.
a. Get listed on local directories
We’ve talked about citations before, but this kind of “mention” on a local business directory site can really help your online visibility because 1) it’s another mention of your business NAP for Google to pick up, and 2) that local directory automatically ties your business to the community you are targeting.
b. Partner with other local businesses
The best way to do effective link building is to work with other people. Other business owners are also looking to build links and are often willing to basically trade links.
For local link building, reach out to other local businesses who complement (not compete with) your business. You can refer customers to one another, host events together, and share one another’s links to give you both more exposure.
Bonus tip: create a partner page on your website featuring these businesses. You can link to them in return for them linking to you.
c. Sponsor local events or organizations
In addition to building relationships with other business owners, your business can also support local events or organizations. Usually, sponsors have links to their websites included on the event’s or organization’s site, giving you an extra mention online.
Just be sure to sponsor organizations or events that are relevant to your business and align with your values so the sponsorship is authentic.
d. Join a local professional organization
This is like a combination of the previous link building techniques. With the help of your local chamber of commerce, you can seek out relevant professional organizations and ask if membership includes inclusion in a directory.
Joining such an organization has lots of benefits, including one more link to your website shared on a local source!
e. Host a fundraiser
Similarly to being a sponsor, hosting a fundraiser builds relationships with others who want to get the word out about what they are doing. Their online communications will likely include your link for all of their supporters, as well as local journalists and bloggers, to see and share further.
f. Write and promote local content
You probably already know that content creation is a vital part of marketing, but did you know you can use it for Local SEO too?
The trick is to create content that is related to local issues. Use content that links your business to topics that are also of interest in your community. This can be attractions, events, news, social issues, local trends, and more. Doing this will help Google associate your business with your location.
g. Reach out to local bloggers
Like partnering with other businesses and organizations or causes, partnering with a local blogger can give you one more place for a link to show up online.
Of course, there has to be something in it for them. Reach out to local bloggers and ask if they can provide a review of your business in return for a free product, service, or another perk. They’ll have new content for their blog and you’ll get another local mention!
h. Look for round-up pages
You have probably seen local websites share lists of “the best” places in your area. Maybe the best parks, the best book shops, or the best diners. Perhaps you can nab a spot on their next “best” list?
This strategy doesn’t have a high success rate, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Contact websites who write these kinds of articles in your community and ask them to consider your business. Of course, offer to link back to their site if they do include you. That’s only fair!
Alternatively, you can write your own round-up post for your website and ask the businesses you feature to link back to you.
i. Write guest posts (or get interviewed on local podcasts)
Thus far we’ve mentioned how you need to make it worth someone’s while to share your business link on their website. Guest posting is one more way to do this and probably the most common.
When you write guest posts, you do the work of creating content for someone else’s website with the understanding that your content will include links to your site. So they get free content and you get more online presence.
Another option is to offer your services as a guest on a relevant podcast. This also gets your business’s name out there, plus you can request they put your link in the episode description.
For the Local SEO spin, seek out local bloggers or bloggers who are interested in content that allows you to give your expertise a local twist. Once again, this notifies Google that you are an authority on your subject and are associated with the area you serve.
j. Create a detailed local resource page (or local guide)
In Step #5 for winning at Local SEO, I discussed creating webpages for individual services and locations. I’m going to suggest one more page your website needs: a local resource page.
Your resource page should include helpful information and links that are pertinent to your business and unique to your service area. And like my other link building tips, be sure to request that the websites you put on your local resource page provide a backlink to your site!
Curious about local link building? Learn more from this post: 10 Tips To Build Your Business With Authentic Local Link Building.
Rise through the ranks with Local SEO
Every business owner knows the more people who hear about them, the more business they get, and that’s the whole point behind SEO. Local SEO, however, targets those people who are the most likely to buy from you. That’s why Local SEO strategies are so important.
Sometimes business owners feel overwhelmed by the many marketing strategies out there. That’s understandable! But nothing I’ve covered in this guide is difficult to do. Sure, these strategies take some time and effort, but the reward of rising through the ranking in Google searches and drawing in new customers is worth it.
After all, aren’t you good enough to show up on the first page of a Google search? You try your best to be #1 in your services and products. With these six Local SEO strategies, you can take your place amongst the best-ranked businesses in your area and outrank the competition.
Optimize your Local SEO with McBreen Marketing
Don’t let your competitors outrank you. With these six steps, you can up your Local SEO game and get your small business on page 1 of prospective clients’ Google searches.
Improving your Local SEO is easy when you have the right strategies, tools, and partners, especially when one of those partners is McBreen Marketing. Our SEO services will help your business get listed in the right directories, optimize your business for Local SEO, and enhance your site for search engines. Together, we can improve your search engine ranking and grow your business.
Want McBreen Marketing to improve your local marketing? Get started by contacting us for a free consultation today.