Improving rankings in the local pack is of increasing importance to local businesses, especially those who find themselves unable to compete with big-ticket rivals in the main search results.
If you’ve recently been charged with improving your brand’s local search rankings, read on for 10 tips to take action right now. We also have more advanced local SEO tips here for you after you’ve completed this list.
What is Local SEO?
In basic terms it’s the optimization of your website and owned media to help it rank more effectively for localized keywords in search engines. Read our complete “What is Local SEO?” guide for a more in-depth description.
Tip 1: Improve Local Rankings with Google My Business
No local SEO tips piece could begin without first advocating for Google My Business (GMB) optimization. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to learn that Google wants to encourage use of its Google My Business platform but, according to our analysis of the trends seen in the Local Ranking Factors survey, GMB signals have become more important than ever over the last five years.
A quick glance back through previous surveys shows a notable jump in the importance of GMB signals between 2017 and 2018 – a shift that coincided with the launch of a variety of new tools across the platform.
If your business hasn’t yet claimed its free Google My Business profile, do this now. Our step-by-step guide to getting started talks you through the whole process, from setting up a new Google account to completing essential profile information such as business category and contact email.
With the basics done, you can begin to optimize your profile. Keywords are an obvious place to start – you’ll need to add keywords that are important to your business to your profile, just as you would on your website.
Adding photos can also help with your local visibility, with Google advising, “Businesses with photos receive 42% more requests for driving directions to their location from users on Google, and 35% more clicks through to their websites than businesses that don’t have photos.
“In addition to your logo and the picture you’d like to appear first on Google Maps results, you can post photos of products and events to keep customers in the know and show them what you do best. If you have a website, put your website’s photos to work by also posting them to your listing using Google My Business.”
Make sure that all profile information, especially your physical address (if you have one), zip code, phone number, opening hours and website URL are up-to-date and correct.
As Forbes columnist Jayson DeMers says, “Many third-party sites rely on Google for their information, so completing your business profile will increase your chances of getting featured on them. Google will also have more information to categorize your business, so it’s more likely that you’ll show up for relevant local searches.”
It’s also well worth starting to explore the potential of Google Posts, adding details of your offers, events and latest news a couple of times per week.
Tip 2: Improve Local Rankings by Building Links Back to Your Website
Building good quality links from good quality local websites is critical for local pack visibility. Links are a well-known way of improving local rankings, and their importance isn’t diminished when moving from traditional organic SEO to local SEO. In fact, our research shows that 100% of local SEO experts think link building is an effective way to boost local rankings, with local news, community and industry sites being the best sources of inbound links.
As you might expect, community is at the heart of local link building. Seeking out volunteering positions and searching for ways to give back to your community provide tons of link-building potential for local SEO.
Many of the link-building tactics you may already be familiar with can be adapted for local link acquisition. Creating locally-relevant content is a good placed to start, as is reaching out to local newspapers and media outlets with newsworthy updates from your business.
Local and regional media will often host annual business awards: entering a relevant category can lead to coverage and a link. Collaborating with a local influencer could also be an option, depending on your industry and business type.
Tip 3: Improve Local Rankings by Managing Customer Reviews
The 2018 Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study put customer reviews high up on its list of the top 50 most powerful local ranking factors, and reviews are still considered as important in 2020 — in fact, Whitespark’s 2020 version of the survey named them the second most important ranking factor. The volume of reviews you have, how often new reviews are posted, how many positive versus negative reviews you have, and how many reviews you have mentioning keywords or using images are all taken into consideration.
As with most of our local SEO tips, taking time to establish a review generation and management process has wider benefits beyond simply boosting your local search rankings. Reviews are used as a decision-making aid by the majority of consumers, meaning they can directly impact on your bottom line, too.
Google is a popular review platform in its own right and generates more new reviews than its closest rival Facebook by a large margin. It makes sense to boost your business’ visibility in its immediate geographical area and focus on generating Google My Business reviews from unbiased local customers, especially if resources are limited.
To get started, develop a few ways to physically ask all of your customers to leave a review. This could be done as part of a transactional email confirming shipping, for example, as a courtesy message a few days after a sale, or using a tool such as Kiosk Mode or Link Mode in BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager. Make sure that you offer a quick outline of how to leave a review for customers unfamiliar with the process and include a link to your review page on Google.
Once reviews start coming in, be timely with responses, thank customers for their feedback, and take note of any areas which pinpoint opportunities for service improvement.
Tip 4: Improve Local Rankings through Accurate Citations
Building citations is one of those things that sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. A citation simply means your business information (name, address, phone number) is displayed online. Typically, you’ll find these on business directory sites, on social media profiles, and in content such as event listings or local newspaper stories online.
Citations are often included with beginner local SEO tips because they are easy to implement and are a local pack ranking factor. They’re considered ‘table stakes’ for local search. If you don’t get citations, you don’t get a seat at the table.
Google and lots of other websites use citations as a source of business information, so it’s important that you have sufficient citations to be found and that those citations are both consistent and accurate. Out-of-date or incorrect details can send confusing signals, both to search engines looking to verify your data for local pack purposes and to consumers wishing to find your business with a view to contacting or visiting you.
If you’re going to build citations manually, you’ll need to source a list of citation sites and visit each one to submit your business information in turn. It’s vital to ensure that your NAP is entered consistently on every site. You should aim to build a mix of citations from local sources, industry sites, and general directories.
Tip 5: Make Sure Your Website Is Mobile-friendly and Fast-loading
None of us like to feel like our time is being wasted so the fifth in this list of local SEO tips is performing a speed test and mobile-friendly check. It’s well-known that the majority of searches now take place on mobile devices, so you can safely assume that a good chunk of your traffic will be visitors to your website coming from their tablet or cell phone – even if they do come back later from a desktop device. That means you’ll want your site to be easy to use on a mobile device and quick to load.
Google announced that page speed would become a ranking factor for mobile in July 2018. To check your page speed, Google suggests three tools;
If those tools show that your page is loading slowly, you’re not just missing a chance to improve your local pack rankings. Research shows that around half of your visitors will bounce from your site if they are made to wait just three seconds. Another study found that the average bounce rate for pages loading within two seconds is 9%, and at 10 seconds it’s 65%.
Slow loading pages can be:
- Ramped up by optimizing (compressing) image file sizes
- Minimizing or entirely eliminating page redirects
- Improving your web server to cut down on server response times and load the content the user sees first, first. That means having the server send data required for above-the-fold content first, with remaining data sent as the web visitor is consuming the first piece of content.
- Google’s open source AMP markup for mobile will also give page speed a helping hand.
Tip 6: Make Sure Your Website is Localized
Whether you have a single bricks-and-mortar location or multiple stores in various locations, localizing your website is an essential, yet fairly easy, task. For single-location businesses, localization can take place site-wide.
An easy place to start if your local business website is focusing on one location) is to check that you have your full address on each page of your site (most likely in the site footer). You should also add local keywords into page titles and page content, where it’s relevant to do so.
For businesses with more than one physical location, you’ll need to create a dedicated landing page for each of your premises. Each page should include that location’s full address, including street name, zip code, and state, as well as useful information about that outlet.
For example, you may wish to offer driving directions, a list of services specific to that location, opening times, and other helpful details such as the location of the nearest car park (again, including street address).
For both types of local businesses (single and multi-location), localized content should also form part of your content marketing strategy. Search Engine Land’s Kristopher Jones says, “Local content marketing incorporates a number of different strategies, including sharing user-generated content, optimizing landing pages with local images and descriptions and optimizing online reviews.”
Jones suggests brainstorming content around local events. He says one option is to “…[answer] local questions, such as “What are the Best Places to Shop in Washington, D.C.?” or “[Create] content centered on your industry and unique to your area, such as “How Seattle’s Minimum Wage Laws Affect Retailers.”
Tip 7: Improve Local Rankings with Authoritative Content
This is another local SEO tip that can easily translate into traditional optimization techniques, too. We’ve already touched upon the importance of localizing your website or location-specific landing page with street names, zip codes, and city information, but you can also take your local content efforts much further.
Committing to creating strong, locally-focused content can help to build your Domain Authority online and prominence in your local area. This content page then carries more weight when being linked to or from your Google My Business page, sending strong trust and credibility signals to Google.
Of course, you’ll need to invest time and effort in creating local content, but the good news is that you shouldn’t ever be short of subject matter or inspiration. From writing about local events and sharing area guides to posting interviews with local customers and developing FAQs, you should find that there are plenty of ways to add local content to your site.
Google Trends will also provide useful insight into which topics are trending in your region if you do find yourself short of inspiration. We’ve got a list of 12 content tips for local SEO here for additional help.
Tip 8: Improve Local Rankings by Optimizing Title and Meta Descriptions
It’s a common misconception that meta descriptions help with SEO – they aren’t a ranking signal – but they do perform an important function and are worthy of some attention as you work towards better local search visibility.
It might seem strange at first glance to include a non-ranking factor in our local SEO tips breakdown, but stick with us. The meta description is the snippet used on the search engine results page (SERP). A compelling description can encourage local search users to click through from the search results to your local business website..
When compiling meta descriptions for your local business website, first ensure that each one is unique. Aim for around 160 characters (not words!) with the description specific to the page in question. Use locally-relevant keywords and make the text interesting and engaging, so search users are tempted to click to find out more.
Optimized page titles can help with local search visibility. Each page title on your site must be unique and specific to the page. Again, use your local keywords and search phrases where appropriate. Don’t duplicate page titles, and keep them to around 60 characters.
Tip 9: Improve Local Rankings with Business Structured Markup (Schema)
When you go to Google and perform a search, you’ll often find the information you need right there on Google, without having to click through. If you’ve searched for the opening hours of your local branch of Walmart, for example, you may recall that the store hours were displayed as part of the search result. You’ll likely have been presented with an image, the address and telephone number too. This type of search result is created using data the search engine knows about your business to be immediately helpful to the user.
And how does the search engine get this information? Via structured data (also known as data markup and Schema Markup). The markup is formed by adding Schema Markup code to your site, to tell Google and other search engines snippets of information about your business.
Schema.org, which is the ‘vocabulary’ created by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex to help with this process says, “Your web pages have an underlying meaning that people understand when they read the web pages. But search engines have a limited understanding of what is being discussed on those pages. By adding additional tags to the HTML of your web pages—tags that say, “Hey search engine, this information describes this specific movie, or place, or person, or video”—you can help search engines and other applications better understand your content and display it in a useful, relevant way.”
You can use a Structured Markup tool to provide these details, so you don’t need to worry about learning code.
Tip 10: Improve Local Rankings with Active Social Media
Google says that it determines local listings based on prominence, distance, and relevance. Its definitions, as given on its support page, are;
- Relevance – Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for
- Distance – The distance of each potential search result from the location term used in a search
- Prominence – How well-known a business is
Of these three pillars, prominence is a little more multi-faceted. Some businesses will naturally be more well-known than others, perhaps because they’re a local landmark for example or a famous venue. Google says that it judges prominence against other criteria, taking note of how many links a business has, how many articles it’s mentioned in, how many directory listings it has, and so forth.
Getting active on social media and encouraging users to talk about you, engage with you, link to you and mention you can help to establish prominence in your area. Essentially, you want to build a buzz.
Apart from truly nurturing an active social media community, you may want to court your local press to get newspaper mentions, secure guest blog spots to establish your authority and seek out opportunities to be quoted by industry websites. All of this can help to raise your profile and establish prominence.
Bonus local SEO tips: monitor, measure, adjust, repeat
If you try any of our local SEO tips, remember this: it’s critical that you monitor the impact of the work you’re doing, measure progress, make adjustments as necessary and then repeat.
Keep track of your local search positions with a local rank tracker and record web traffic volumes along with in-store visits as appropriate. While search positions will fluctuate as you implement our local SEO tips, monitoring them helps you to see if you’re making positive changes or need to adjust your approach.
You can also see your real-world local rankings across a map, and make quick decisions based on keywords and proximity of searches, by using a local rankings grid tracker.
Local search visibility is more important than ever thanks to the rise of mobile and voice search. Improving local rankings means occupying prime search engine real estate, above the main organic search positions.
If you’ve been charged with improving a business’ local search ranking position, these local SEO tips will help you do everything you possibly can to get in front of local consumers as they hunt for products and services in your area.