For today’s consumers, it’s second nature to turn to Google to find a local business, service, or product.
Whether that’s an emergency plumber to fix a leak, a restaurant for dinner, or a groomer for the dog, our smartphones are a conduit to the things we want and need on a daily basis. For local businesses that are easily found, those Google searches turn into store visits and physical sales.
Conducting a local SEO audit offers you peace of mind that you’re doing all you can to be visible to as much of that local traffic as possible. It’s also a chance to identify and rectify any underlying issues that might be making it easier for your competitors to outrank you in local search.
Conducting a local SEO audit for the first time can be daunting; there’s a lot at stake and lots of different factors to consider. Taking a methodical, step-by-step approach turns what could be an enormous weight into a more manageable task.
It’s important to note that you will need to repeat this process at regular intervals due to the frequency of local SEO algorithm changes.
Why should you carry out a local SEO audit?
An audit is a thorough examination of all the components that make up a local search strategy and local pack ranking. It is the only way to ensure you have a clear picture of how your site is performing, where problems have emerged, and where opportunities exist.
If your site has suddenly lost rankings or traffic has disappeared, working through a local SEO audit checklist can help you understand why.
It can help to think of an audit as a systematic health check—a great way to perform local SEO analysis. It allows you to pinpoint areas of concern without hastily jumping in and potentially spending a lot of money unnecessarily on a knee-jerk reaction.
What is included in an SEO audit?
There are three key areas of the local SEO algorithm:
- Proximity: How close (or distant) the search user is from your business.
- Prominence: how prominent is your brand online? (do you have lots of inbound links, article mentions, reviews, and citations for example?)
- Relevance: How relevant is your business to the term being searched for?
Local SEO Audit Checklist
Because so many different factors need to be reviewed, it’s best to split your checklist into different categories and then analyze each one in turn.
- Google Penalties
- Local keyword research
- Links and website authority
- Brand mentions / implied links
- Google Business Profile
- Reviews and ratings
- Social media
How to Carry Out Your Local SEO Audit
Create a spreadsheet or document with a section for each of the items listed 1-9 above. Input the findings from your local SEO analysis as you complete each one to build out your audit.
1. Check for Google Penalties
A Google penalty can seriously undermine your SEO performance.
It’s thought that just 5% of sites submit a reconsideration request after fixing the problem that triggered a penalty. This means many local business websites are missing out on the chance to recover lost rankings.
Checking for Google penalties in step one of your audit means you won’t make that mistake.
Related: How to Create Relevant and Engaging Local SEO Reports – Free Online Course
A drop in rankings doesn’t always mean you have been given a penalty. This can make it difficult to determine if you’re falling behind, haven’t adapted your strategy after an algorithm update, or really are being penalized.
Common reasons for penalties include:
- Thin content
- Sneaky mobile redirects
- User-generated spam
- An unnatural link structure to or from your site
If you are subject to a penalty, you will be sent a notification in Google Search Console (details for how to register can be found here).
That notice will detail why the penalty was issued, so you can take steps to fix the problem.
A Manual Actions Report is also available from your Search Console dashboard. This lists any penalties being applied to your site.
When you’re confident the problem has been addressed, you’ll need to submit a reconsideration request.
2. Conduct Local Keyword Research
Because the search terms used to find local businesses evolve constantly, you’ll need to perform keyword research on a regular basis.
As new keywords are identified, they can be added to your local SEO strategy. This ensures you’re targeting relevant terms and are visible for appropriate local searches.
Google Keyword Planner will suggest keywords relevant to your business and give some insight into search volume. You’ll need to open a Google Ads account first but this is easy to do.
For additional keyword inspiration, it’s also worth checking out Google Trends. Input a search word or topic to reveal search volumes along with a list of related queries.
3. Check Your Local SEO Rankings
As part of your audit, you’ll need to find out where your site ranks for your target keywords.
Local pack ranking functions differently from the main organic search results so you will need to conduct searches from specific locations. Use a rank tracker like BrightLocal’s Local Rank Tracker tool to automate this process.
4. Audit Your Links and Website Authority
Link quantity and quality is a recognized local SEO ranking factor and should therefore be a key part of your local SEO analysis.
Your link profile also relates to two of the three core pillars of local SEO; relevance and prominence.
In this part of your audit, you’ll develop a big-picture view of your link profile. This means:
- Researching the number of inbound links you have (prominence)
- Deciding whether those links are from good-quality and authoritative domains relevant to your business location or its industry (relevance)
- Identifying any very low-quality links which could be classed as spam
- Assessing anchor text for use of relevant keywords and natural variety
- Identifying opportunities for organic link building to grow relevance and prominence
You can use a tool such as Ahrefs to collate a list of inbound links. From your link report, you can then check the quality of your backlink profile using the criteria above.
Once you know where you stand, repeat this same process for a competitor’s website. This gives you a benchmark to measure performance against. You can also use the competitor’s link audit to identify new inbound link opportunities for your own site.
5. Audit Citations
Local citations can help Google to confirm what it knows about your business, can increase prominence, and help with relevance.
Duplicate or inaccurate listings are damaging to your local search visibility and inconvenience local consumers. They directly damage consumer trust and confidence in your brand.
According to our Local Citations Trust Report:
- 93% of consumers are frustrated by inaccurate information online
- 80% lose trust in a local business if there are inconsistencies or inaccuracies in contact details or business information.
- 71% of local consumers say that incorrect information has resulted in a negative experience for them.
Related: How to Perform Local SEO Audits for Multi-location Businesses – Free Online Course
We recommend that you check the top citation sites for your business and verify that all data is accurate and correct. If there are any discrepancies, they will need to be corrected to optimize your search presence.
If you or your client’s local business has many citations, BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker can help you hunt them all down.
6. Audit Brand Mentions and Implied Links
Have you ever considered the power of implied links or non-linking citations?
Implied links are references to your business that don’t come with a hyperlink back to your site but do offer some sort of contact information such as your address or contact number.
Implied links can help you build prominence, so you need to factor them into your local SEO audit.
A Google search for your business name will help you to find all implied links.
Look out for local news pieces, blog posts, reviews, event listings or ebooks, white papers, and industry news.
7. Audit Your Google Business Profile
Your Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) provides Google and local consumers with lots of useful information about your business.
You’ll need to keep up with any changes made to Google Business Profile as it is a very important part of your local search presence.
As part of your local SEO audit, work through each element of your business listing methodically to ensure best practice is being followed:
- Choose the best category and sub-category for your listing
- Check the frequency of Posts updates
- Review your Google Business Profile Insights
- Check contact info, address and opening hours are correct
- Verify the public email address is still monitored
- Ensure the Question and Answers feature is being used
- Check if videos are being uploaded
- Review your images
- Respond to any unanswered reviews
Once you have audited your own Google Business Profile, check out a competitor listing. Review how their profile appears in local search to identify if there is anything you could do better.
8. Audit Reviews and Ratings
Online reviews help you to attract consumers, establish trust and drive traffic to your site. Review signals are also a compounding factor in local pack visibility.
For this part of your local SEO audit, you’ll need a list of the top review sites for your business. Check each review site in turn and note your average star rating. Our Google Reviews Study breaks down average star ratings by industry, for benchmarking purposes.
Look for any reviews that don’t have a response. Note the proportion of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ reviews.
When auditing reviews and ratings, ask yourself whether there are any reoccurring negatives that need to be addressed such as slow shipping, slow check-in, or untidy stores. Note them down as you proceed with your review of these reviews.
Fake reviews are a concern as they can erode consumer trust in the genuine reviews earned. Not sure how to spot a fake review? Here’s how to identify and report them.
As your final task for this part of the audit, list any review sites you come across where you’d expect to have reviews, but don’t. These are review opportunities and something you can factor into your local SEO strategy.
9. Audit Your Social Media
The final thing to review in your local SEO audit is social media. While your local business doesn’t need to be present on every social network, it should have a profile on the ones that are a good fit with its target consumers. A law office, for example, won’t need to prioritize Instagram but should have an active LinkedIn profile.
As part of your audit, verify that your ‘About’ information, logos, and cover images are consistent across each network. Is each profile being regularly updated? Are questions being responded to?
It’s worth reviewing the social presence of a few local competitors, too. Are they using a feature that your business isn’t? Do they use tactics you don’t, such as giveaways, ‘Lives’ or ‘Stories’? Anything you can pinpoint should be recorded so that you can factor it into your marketing moving forwards.