How to Optimize for Local Search
Making sure your website is fully optimized to attract organic and local search traffic is crucial for all local businesses. In this best practice guide, learn how to optimize for local search in 7 steps.
Learning how to do local SEO is something has dominated many a local business owner’s thoughts in recent years, as the upsurge in mobile device usage and a narrowing of consumer local shopping habits takes place.
For ‘mom and pop’ stores and smaller local brands, local pack listings also offer an opportunity to compete on a more level playing field against nearby rivals, as multinationals like eBay, Amazon, and Walmart hold steady at the top of the main organic search results.
When you sit down to plan how to do local SEO for your business, you’ll need to focus your attention on two distinct areas; on-site and off-site. On-site SEO covers everything that happens on your own website—including page content, keyword use, page loading time and design. That is, things that the website owner or marketer have full control over.
Off-site SEO is, as the name suggests, a term for all of the SEO factors that exist away from your domain, such as the number of links you have, the volume of reviews you receive, how many online citations you create, and how well optimized your Google My Business listing is.
Read on for our 7 techniques to optimize a site for local SEO.
1. On-Site: Local SEO Best Practices
The very first thing you must do when improving a business’s on-site SEO is to ensure you know and follow local SEO best practice. In short, the basics of good search engine optimization must be observed if you want to see your site rankings rise in the local pack.
To do this, you’ll need to carry out thorough keyword research. If you’re already using Google Ads or another form of paid search, begin here—look out for keywords that are generating higher click-through rates and conversions. And if you aren’t advertising already, there are lots of keyword tools available to help you identify the most appropriate search terms for your local SEO campaign.
Your keyword list will inform the rest of your on-site SEO activity. You’ll need to create a content schedule—best practice dictates that your content shouldn’t just be written to help you rank for a certain keyword. It should also be useful, informative, educational, entertaining or otherwise add value to your audience.
When creating new pages, ensure that you complete all metadata and give each page a unique title and useful meta description to entice searchers to click through.
You’ll also need to perform on-page checks regularly. This helps you to identify any underlying issues that could prevent better local SEO rankings or hinder the user experience. Make sure your site is free from errors by using an audit tool specifically for local SEO.
2. On-Site: Use Local Business, Organization, Product and Service Schema
Schema for local businesses is an under-utilized on-site SEO tool, with just 31.1% of websites employing this method of optimization—and the majority only using it in its most basic form. While search engines are increasingly sophisticated and use a host of AI and machine learning techniques, they can still only understand around 80% of what’s on a page.
Google has made great strides in recognizing search intent (you now no longer have to use the modifier ‘near me’ in local search to generate local search results, for example) but it can still use a helping hand. This is where schema markup comes in. It’s a piece of code which tells search engines what a particular piece of content is, and how it relates to other pieces of content.
You can use schema to help search engine algorithms understand the facts about your business more easily. Use schema markup tags that denote a local business, organization, product or service as a minimum throughout your site to help your content rank. Once done correctly, this can generate rich results in search with content highlighted in a knowledge graph (as a recipe, a review or article carousel, for example).
Schema is especially useful for local businesses as research shows that rich results generate more engagement, drive a higher quality of traffic, increase time spent on page, and push up visitor numbers.
3. On-Site: Improve Page Load Speed
Page load speed on mobile is now a critical factor following the Google Speed Update. This means that taking the time to optimize your page load speed can directly help you to improve local rankings. Likewise, the Speed Update will result in rankings loss if your site is slow to load on mobile devices.
The first thing to do is run a check on your current page load speed. There are several free Google tools available for this, making the task easier. Try PageSpeed Insights, the Chrome User Experience Report, and Lighthouse.
If your website is slow to load on mobile devices, you not only risk losing out on top search positions, you’re also likely to lose a lot of traffic. A poor page load speed should be tackled as soon as possible. There are several steps you can take to get your website back on track. Start by compressing images, using AMP for content, and displaying above the fold content first.
4. On-Site: Make Your Site Mobile Responsive
In the age of the mobile-first index, mobile responsiveness is absolutely vital for local businesses. Offering the best experience possible for users visiting your domain from mobile devices is one of the core requirements to optimize a site for local SEO results.
The nature of local search—and the prevalence of mobile as the search device of choice—means that many people searching for local businesses will be using their smartphone or tablet on the move. Ensuring your site delivers the same content—and the same quality of experience—on mobile and desktop is non-negotiable.
Running your site past Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test will flag up any causes for concern. You should also double-check that you’re using mobile-friendly fonts and don’t have lots of big text blocks.
5. Off-Site: Optimize Google My Business
In your quest to discover how to do local SEO, you’ll undoubtedly have come up against Google My Business mentioned as a ranking factor time and time again. This falls under the category of off-site optimization and is the number one way to drive better local SEO rankings. In fact, the Moz Ranking Factors study cites it as the number one ranking factor for local results.
Claiming your Google My Business listing is quick and easy. It’s a totally free listing and is used to influence how your business appears in Search and Maps on Google. When registering, you’ll be asked to provide basic business information, such as your business name, address, and contact info.
Beyond those essentials, you can optimize your listing. Optimization can take several formats and it’s a necessity to continually invest time and effort in keeping your Google My Business profile up-to-date and relevant.
That means regularly checking all information is accurate, using Google Posts as much as possible, adding images to your GMB listing, and taking advantage of any new features as they become available. You’ll also need to:
- Make sure you’re using relevant keywords in the correct places (including in your business name, if possible)
- Choose the correct category or business type
- Use Google Q&A and Google Posts features as much as possible to add depth and richness to your listing
- Use photos that represent your business accurately and in a good light
6. Off-Site: Citation Building
Citation building is another important part of local SEO best practice. In SEO, a citation is any mention of your business online that includes the business name, address and phone number (NAP). If you’ve ever submitted your business to an online directory, you have built a citation, perhaps without even realizing it.
As well as being a valuable ranking factor, citations are an important aspect of local SEO because they make it easier for customers to find you online.
To improve local rankings, make sure that you build business listings on a range of sites. This should include building citations on general citation sites such as Yelp, Bing, and Yellow Pages, as well as a decent amount of citations on sites that are specific to your niche (such as TripAdvisor, Avvo, or Zomato).
Citations need to be accurate and consistent for every local business location you own. NAP consistency affects rankings but above that, research shows that consumers don’t trust businesses with out-of-date information online. Not only will citation building help you win favor with the local search algorithms, it can also have a direct impact on your business’s credibility online.
7. Off-site: Link Building
Every local SEO best practice guide you’ll ever read will include the importance of link building. What it may not clearly explain—and what we want to specify here as part of our local SEO guide—is that unlike standard SEO activity, the authority of the domain linking back to your site is less important than local relevance.
When you’re link building for standard SEO purposes, the pressure is high to score great quality links, from high quality or high profile domains back to yours. When it comes to local SEO rankings, Google recognizes that your local business is unlikely to have lots of links from the likes of the New York Times. You may well have links from your local radio station or town newspaper, though, and these are just as valuable in local search.
There are lots of link building tactics for local websites. You could consider becoming engaged in the local community, for example. You may decide to sponsor an event, a local youth sports team or community initiative. You could even hold an open day, host a local event yourself, throw a party, launch a local business networking club, work with a local influencer or enter for a local award.
Why use BrightLocal for Local SEO?
BrightLocal has been helping local businesses, multi-location businesses, and SEO professionals understand and improve their positions in the local search market since 2009.
Understand your rankings
Track hundreds of keywords across Google, Bing, and Yahoo. See a detailed breakdown of organic, mobile and Maps rankings. Compare rankings against your competitors and create ‘roll-up reports’ to view ranking trends for multiple locations.
Manage your reputation
Monitor and grow your business’s reputation by tracking and analyzing your online reviews across 35+ sites, including Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, Tripadvisor, and more. Guide customers to leave reviews on the sites that matter to you, and reply directly to Google and Facebook reviews within a single tool.
Build accurate citations quickly and effectively
Whether you use our manual citations team or aggregator submissions, our citation-building services can push your data to thousands of online business directories, mobile apps and mapping services worldwide, ensuring NAPW consistency and higher visibility in local search.