If you want your business to be discovered by a local audience, then you’ll need to get to grips with local search engine optimization (SEO). Without it, you’ll certainly struggle to boost your brand online, which can affect offline sales, too.
To understand just how important local SEO is, consider that 46% of all Google searches are made with local intent.
Local intent is the desire to find products, services, or information in the local area. This type of search is usually identified by the addition of ‘near me’ to the keyword, or the addition of a geographical location, such as the town or city of the searcher.
For example, a Google search for ‘raw dog food’ is likely to be a general search for information about this type of dog food. Whereas, ‘raw dog food near me’ or ‘raw dog food Syracuse’ has local intent—the searcher is clearly to find a local supplier that sells raw dog food.
Approximately 8.5 billion Google searches are made every day, and, with nearly half of these searches having local intent, it’s easy to see how many people look online to find what they need in their local area. If your business isn’t making an effort to use local SEO to get a piece of the action, then you can bet that your competitors will be!
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a marketing technique that involves optimizing your online presence for better visibility within the local search results. This enhanced visibility is achieved through a variety of tasks, such as:
- managing your Google Business Profile;
- developing your reputation;
- optimizing your website;
- building citations;
- monitoring your competitive search landscape;
- monitoring and exploiting changes in Google;
- local link building; and
- spam fighting.
We’ll explore these actions in more detail later.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
The Local Pack appears at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) for a local search. It’s usually made up of three organic results—although ads can feature here—alongside a map with pins for each ranking business.
In the image below, you can see the Local Pack above the localized organic results:
It’s important to note that it’s a business’ Google Business Profile (GBP) that ranks here, not its website. Therefore, without GBP, it’s not possible to feature in the Local Pack.
The order of results in this section is primarily based on their proximity to the searcher, the relevance to the search query, and the prominence of the profile.
Being featured in Google’s Local Pack is one of the most important search goals for any local business. These three top-ranking results naturally enjoy the most clicks—and therefore the most website traffic—which can lead to higher sales and profits.
The Local Finder is an extended list of GBPs for relevant local businesses.
Clicking on the ‘More places’ button at the bottom of the Local Pack will take you through to the Local Finder:
Localized Organic Results
The localized organic results are those that most people will be familiar with when considering Google search results. This is the list of blue links to websites that appears beneath the Local Pack for a local search:
The order of the websites featured in the localized organic results is determined by the local search algorithm, which considers ranking factors such as on-page optimization, links, and behavioral signals.
Google takes search result data from GBP for Maps results in the same way as it does for the Local Pack and Finder. The difference is that a much longer list of results will be provided within Google Maps as it returns results from a broader area.
It’s not uncommon to see ads at the top of the results in Google Maps, although this isn’t true of every industry.
When returning Maps results for a local search, Google will present the results in a list on the left with the locations highlighted on a map to the right:
You can move the map and use the ‘search this area’ function to update the results as you look around at different locations. You can also use the filter options at the top to discover the results that are most relevant to your requirements.
As GBP is essential to visibility in the Local Pack, Local Finder, and Google Maps, this should be a key focus of a local SEO strategy.
Who needs local SEO?
A number of different business types can benefit from implementing a local SEO strategy, such as:
- local businesses;
- SEO agencies working with local clients;
- multi-location brands and franchises; and
- service-area businesses (SABs).
It should go without saying that all local business owners will want—and need—to attract the attention of anyone who’s searching to use a business like theirs in the area.
If your business isn’t showing up in the local SERPs, then you’re missing out on a huge chunk of potential custom.
Local business types that can benefit the most from local SEO include:
- medical services;
- legal services;
- hospitality venues;
- real estate services;
- pet services;
- fitness and leisure venues; and
- many more!
GBP offers users the opportunity to choose from a wide range of categories, and can therefore be used by all kinds of different business types.
SEO Agencies Working with Local Business Clients
There are several important differences between traditional SEO and local SEO. This means that agencies working with local businesses need to understand these differences and have a local-specific strategy in place.
If you’re an agency working with local business clients, then you’ll need to have the knowledge and expertise to help them reach their specific goals.
Multi-location Brands and Franchises
Multi-location brands and franchises are in the complex position of needing to rank in many different places. This could be a handful of locations, or it could be hundreds.
Succeeding at multi-location SEO will require a comprehensive strategy and a collective effort from all locations. Learn more about the multi-location SEO essentials that need to be considered.
Service-area businesses are those that deliver or serve customers in their own homes or businesses, across a wide area—as opposed to having a physical location that customers can visit.
- pest controllers;
- locksmiths; and
- many more!
SABs will generally work in a range of different locations, some of which may be far from where they’re based. If you operate a SAB, then local SEO is an essential tool for getting your services seen in all of the locations that you serve. Learn how to help service-area businesses succeed in local search.
What are the benefits of local SEO?
There are numerous benefits to implementing a local SEO strategy. They include being able to reach more people, drive more conversions, and build your reputation.
When you successfully begin to achieve these outcomes, then it’s natural to expect that your business will grow.
Reach More People
Better visibility in the local search results will lead to more people discovering your brand. From here, the searcher might visit your GBP, click through to your website, or decide to visit your business in person.
Appearing in the Local Pack is one of the best ways to reach potential local customers, and successfully ranking here should be an SEO priority. However, it’s not just the Local Pack that you should pay attention to. Increased visibility in map apps—such as Google Maps and Apple Maps—can also increase footfall to your business.
People who are searching for a business on the move, such as those looking for a cafe or restaurant to visit, will often do so via their map app of choice.
It’s important to note that Google Maps is different from Google Local Finder, and you’ll need to consider both separately.
Google Maps results are not confined to a specific geographical area. On the other hand— and as the name suggests—Google Local Finder only delivers search results from the local area.
Drive More Conversions
Taking action to increase search visibility will naturally lead to more people visiting your business website—and more web traffic can result in more conversions.
Depending on your specific business type, a conversion may be one or more of the following:
- product sales;
- service sales;
- account signups;
- newsletter signups;
- phone calls;
- free trials; or
- form submissions.
Since online consumers can often find the information they want within your GBP, they don’t always need to visit your website to convert. This increases the value of ranking in the Local Pack and means that businesses with websites that have low organic search authority can still perform well.
As you can see in the image below, a searcher can get directions to the business and make a phone call without leaving Google Search. They can also see the opening hours and other details about the business:
Enhance Your Reputation
Regardless of what type of business you’re in, your reputation is imperative to your long-term success. Certain local SEO actions will contribute to building your reputation and establishing you as a leader within your industry.
Your review profile is one of the most important aspects of your online reputation. It demonstrates to potential customers why they should choose you over your competitors. It also allows consumers to observe how you deal with unhappy customers when you respond to negative reviews, and to get a taste of the personality of your brand.
The 2022 Local Consumer Review Survey revealed that 89% of consumers would be ‘fairly’ or ‘highly’ likely to use a business that responds to all reviews—regardless of whether the reviews are positive or negative. On the other hand, 57% of consumers stated they would be ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ likely to use a business that doesn’t respond to reviews at all.
Our guide to Google Business Reviews provides more information on why reviews are beneficial and offers tips for getting more of them.
Did you know that having a mix of positive and negative reviews boosts your trustworthiness among consumers? A high number of five-star reviews alone can make a business appear suspicious, both to potential customers and to Google.
What are the key local SEO services and tactics?
The practice of local SEO encompasses a wide range of different services and tactics, including:
- managing your GBP;
- developing your reputation;
- optimizing your website;
- building citations;
- monitoring your competitive search landscape;
- monitoring and exploiting changes in Google;
- local link building;
- spam fighting; and
- local SEO reporting.
Let’s take a look at these in more detail.
Managing Your Google Business Profile
Setting up Google Business Profile should be one of the first steps of any local SEO strategy. If your business, or the business you’re working with, doesn’t have GBP, then it’ll be impossible to feature in the Local Pack, Local Finder or Google Maps.
As you can see in the image below, the GBP will appear on the right of the SERPs when someone specifically searches for the business.
Once the profile is set up, you’ll need to undertake some initial optimization tasks, such as adding photos and writing a keyword-optimized business description.
Moving forwards, GBP management and ongoing monitoring and optimization will involve:
- keeping the information up to date;
- regularly adding new photos and videos;
- regularly making new Google Posts;
- interacting with your audience through GBP Q&A;
- responding to messages (if feature is enabled); and
- requesting Google reviews.
Signing up to our BrightLocal Academy course will help you to become an expert at Google Business Profile management.
Developing Your Reputation
As we touched on a moment ago, reputation building is a key component of a strong local SEO strategy. This is largely achieved through earning reviews and expressing your brand personality online, such as through your social media activity and email marketing.
When it comes to earning reviews, this starts with consistently delivering excellent customer service, and this should always be a core consideration. If you know that you don’t truly deserve five star reviews, then you shouldn’t expect them!
The example below shows Yelp reviews for a cafe in New York. We can see that good service has prompted customers to leave glowing reviews. Additionally, in the first review, the customer points out that they visited the cafe because it already had so many good reviews on Tripadvisor, proving that positive reviews can easily lead to more customers:
As the reviews begin rolling in, it’s essential that you respond to them in a timely and professional manner. If you’re unsure how to accomplish this, then our review response templates will set you up for success.
Review management can be a big task but it’s one that often provides big rewards. You can conquer this aspect of local SEO with our complete guide to online review management.
Your social media and email marketing activity will power your brand reputation, and it’s important to be consistent across all of these communications. Make sure your brand and your message is always front and center, and that you maintain a professional but friendly tone when interacting with your online community.
Optimizing Your Website
Strategically optimizing your website for the local search algorithm is essential, and it’s an action you should prioritize early on. To optimize your website, you’ll need to:
- create great content;
- build internal links;
- ensure the site is fully responsive on mobile devices;
- optimize image and content metadata; and
- provide a positive user experience.
Let’s take a closer look at these important actions!
Create Great Content
Creating high-quality, relevant content for your website is a critical component of local SEO. Your content can take many forms, such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, animations, and more.
The key is to make this content valuable for your audience and that’s why it’s important to undertake keyword research first.
Although creating great content is a fantastic way to provide value to your audience, it also serves to generate links to your site, which is fundamental to your SEO efforts. When people enjoy and appreciate your content, they’ll link to it from their own sites. These links are an important part of earning and maintaining top rankings.
Build Internal Links
Building internal links across your site is a simple yet powerful action, but one that’s easily neglected. Internal links are those that go from one part of your site to another, as opposed to external links, which come from other sites.
Internal links help Google to better understand your website. They indicate which pages on your site are the most important and also help Google to identify what the pages are about.
When you’re adding internal links, make sure they always point to relevant parts of your site and that the anchor text makes sense.
Anchor text is text on a web page that is clickable and links to another page, either internally within the same website or externally somewhere else on the web. It’s considered best practice for SEO that the anchor text is descriptive and relevant to the content it’s linking to.
When your website is mobile responsive, then it will always adjust appropriately to look good and work perfectly across all screen sizes. This has become a key aspect of SEO because it ensures a good experience for the user.
You can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to check how responsive your site is on mobile.
In 2021, Google rolled out the page experience update, which considers a number of factors relating to user experience. Site owners can check their ‘page experience score’ within Google Search Console. An important aspect of this update is Core Web Vitals, and this should be prioritized when considering mobile responsiveness.
Optimize Image and Content Metadata
Using images is essential as it makes your website visually appealing. As well as choosing high-quality, relevant images, you should always optimize your images for the search engines.
Image optimization involves using keywords in the file name, as well as adding helpful alt text and a description—this is great for search discoverability and helps with web accessibility. You’ll also want to make sure your images are the optimum size and format to avoid slowing your website down.
Content metadata helps to explain your site content to the search engines. This involves the use of attributes such as title tags and meta descriptions.
It’s a wise idea to spend some time going through your website to make sure you’ve optimized your images and your content.
Positive User Experience
Providing a positive user experience should be at the heart of everything you do on your website.
Your site should be designed with a consistent color scheme and be easy to navigate. If someone can’t find what they’re looking for on your site because the layout is confusing, then they’re going to look elsewhere.
Additionally, ensure all of your information is easy to consume and provides genuine value to the user.
Building Local Citations
Local citations are mentions of your business name, address, phone number, and website (NAPW) on sites besides your own. The most popular place to build local citations is on online business directories, and mentions on these sites are known as structured citations.
Many online directories are industry-specific, whereas others are more generic. Being featured on industry-specific sites has more SEO value than being present on the more generic ones.
When Google can see that the same information exists across a wide range of authoritative websites, then this trust can be passed on to your business website. Also, you’ll be getting potentially beneficial backlinks from each of the directory sites that you’re listed on.
As you can see in the image below from Yelp, these listings can contain a range of information, such as reviews, business category, driving directions, opening hours, and images. This helps a business to create a more comprehensive profile and helps a searcher to find the best fit.
As well as structured citations, there’s also an SEO benefit to unstructured citations. The unstructured variety are mentions of your key business data—such as NAPW—on a web page, but where the information isn’t deliberately grouped together.
Unstructured citations often come from news articles or blog posts. These mentions are still valuable as they build awareness of your brand and help Google to trust your business information.
Local citation building is a foundational local SEO technique, and one that you’ll need to allocate some time and attention to on an ongoing basis. This is because once you’ve built your citations, you’ll want to make sure they’re maintained with accurate information.
Want to learn more about local business citations? Our comprehensive guide will teach you all you need to know.
Monitoring Your Competitive Search Landscape
Keeping an eye on your competitors is definitely a task worth dedicating some time to. Doing so will help you to understand how and why they’re succeeding, and to determine if you should make adjustments to your own strategy.
When monitoring your competitors, you’ll want to pay attention to the kind of content they’re creating, the keywords they’re targeting, and where they’re getting their backlinks from. It’s also a good idea to check out where they have citations and what their review profile looks like.
You can use a number of BrightLocal tools to keep track of your competitors and identify opportunities to improve your own efforts.
Monitoring and Exploiting Changes in Google
Google is consistently making changes to its search algorithms, and this means you need to keep a vigilant eye on your rankings. Being able to anticipate and understand any changes—and react accordingly—can make a huge difference to your search success.
Although Google doesn’t share the algorithm secrets, SEO experts are largely in agreement as to what influences search results. In 2021, the top local search ranking factors for the Local Pack were believed to be GBP, reviews, and on-page optimization. For the localized organic results, on-page optimization, links, and behavioral signals were understood to be the most important.
Being able to monitor volatility in the SERPs is a great way to stay informed of any potential algorithm updates. LocalRank Flux is an efficient tool for this purpose and it’s free for everyone to use.
Local Link Building
Link building is integral to any SEO strategy and is known to be one of the most important ranking factors for local SEO.
Local link building is the process of getting links from other businesses and organizations within the local community. This helps search engines to understand the local relevance of a business, while also demonstrating that the content being linked to on the site is considered valuable by others.
To get started with building local links, it’s a good idea to check where your competitors are getting theirs from, as well as reaching out to other nearby businesses to discuss collaboration. Building local citations is also a good place to start.
You may find that creating interesting local content on your website will encourage nearby businesses to link to you naturally, without you having to ask.
In order to push their GBP up the search rankings, some businesses will engage in spammy tactics. This might involve keyword stuffing in the business name, listing inaccurate location information, or creating entirely fake accounts.
Although it can be frustrating when you’re outranked by a spam profile, you do have the opportunity to fight back. If you believe a business is violating Google’s guidelines in any way, then you can report it and the profile may receive a warning or a suspension.
Fighting GBP spam is time consuming, but it can also be extremely worthwhile if it pushes your profile up the rankings.
Local SEO Reporting
If you’re a marketer working with local clients, then creating reports to document your progress is essential. This is a simple way to keep clients up to date on your actions as well as to demonstrate your value.
Your reports might include key metrics such as web traffic, conversion rate, search rankings, new links, and bounce rate. However, the data that you track and report will vary from client to client depending on what their specific goals are.
Learning how to create relevant and engaging reports will help you to produce fantastic insights for your clients that prove your worth.
Local SEO: An Example
To further explain how local SEO can be utilized to improve a businesses online presence, I’ve chosen a small business at random to use as an example.
This business is a unisex barbershop in San Francisco. As you’ll see, any identifying information has been blurred out.
Google Business Profile
Although this business has GBP, there are a number of ways that it could improve its use of this local marketing tool, including:
- Q&A; and
- business information.
No new photos have been added to the profile since 2017. This could give the impression that the business has closed or indicate that the business is not engaged online.
The photos that are listed on the company’s GBP are predominantly of hair products, whereas potential customers are more likely to want to see examples of different haircuts and styles.
By regularly adding new and helpful photos, the business could highlight the skills of the people who work there and show customers what to expect.
The business isn’t using GBP Posts. This is a missed opportunity to connect with customers by sharing promotional offers. Posts are also a great way to share new information on products and services, and to make other announcements.
Although using Google Posts likely doesn’t improve local search rankings, it can help businesses to attract attention and therefore to earn new customers.
A potential customer has asked a question through the Q&A section but the business hasn’t responded. Similarly to the previous point on photos, this could lead a potential customer to assume the business is closed, or that it doesn’t prioritize customer service.
Responding to customer questions is a quick and easy way to build relationships and share information.
The business address listed on Google doesn’t match the address listed on the company website. This could be confusing to customers and also sends mixed signals to Google, which could be harmful to search rankings.
Local Link Building
In order to build local links, this business should be reaching out to other local businesses in San Francisco, especially those within the hairdressing and beauty industries.
Launching a blog on the website would be a powerful way to start building the authority of the site and to earn links. The business could also get valuable local links by creating local citations.
This barbershop has created citations on a number of sites, including:
- Better Business Bureau; and
Although the business has built some citations, they aren’t all being consistently managed or maintained. For example, the business has been reported as closed on Yelp, and the business hasn’t rectified this:
Note: There is nothing to indicate that this business has closed. The business website has been updated in the last few weeks and recent reviews have been left, so it seems unlikely that this is true.
Additionally, the prices listed on various business directory sites don’t match the prices from the business website.
Discrepancies in business information across the web doesn’t create a good impression for potential customers and is also harmful to local SEO.
Several GBP profiles in the same category are using spammy practices to boost their rankings, and a number of them are outranking the business in question.
For example, a number of businesses are using the words ‘barbershop’, and ‘barbers’ in their GBP name, even though these words aren’t in their actual registered business name.
The business in question could spend some time reporting these spam listings to get a boost up the rankings.
Although a great deal of local SEO is specific to Google Business Profile, there’s still much to be gained by having a strong website. As I explained earlier, the localized organic results are made up of websites, and this is still an important source of traffic for local businesses.
There are several ways that this business can optimize its website. The areas to address include:
- the reviews page;
- social links;
- keyword research; and
- image optimization.
The site has a dedicated page for reviews, but only four reviews are featured:
Given that the business has hundreds of positive reviews across multiple platforms, this is a missed opportunity to showcase this feedback. The reviews listed are also several years old, which will likely not encourage a potential customer to use the business.
In fact, only highlighting a very small number of old reviews could actually be harmful to the business reputation. This is because a user might assume they don’t have more positive, recent reviews to share.
The website links to a Facebook account that hasn’t been used since 2016 and only has eight followers.
The website also links to the company YouTube channel, which has only one video from four years ago.
This lack of activity might give somebody the impression that the shop is closed and cause them to look elsewhere.
This business isn’t using any other social platforms, which means they’re missing out on reaching new audiences. Instagram is a particularly great place for barbershops to promote themselves for free.
If the business were to create an Instagram account, then it could be connected to the website to automatically feature new photos there. This would demonstrate the expertise of the staff, and also show potential customers that the business is active—both online and offline.
The website for this business ranks for approximately 200 different keywords. However, the only search term on the first page is the exact match term for the business name. The remaining keywords rank on page two and beyond. The amount of monthly traffic to the website is estimated to be very low.
It’s likely that the business hasn’t done much (if any) keyword research to inform the content used on the website.
There are typically around 1,000 searches per month for ‘barber san francisco’, and 720 searches for ‘best barbershop san francisco’. It’s evident that ranking on the first page for these search terms, and similar terms, would be advantageous.
Creating a keyword-informed content strategy and using it to launch a blog could soon help to get this website ranking well in the localized search results.
Several different images are used across the business website, but none of them are properly labeled or optimized. As you can can see from the image below, the photos have generic file names, which has no SEO value.
By using data from keyword research for the file names, the business could target relevant search terms through its images. This is a simple fix and could give the website a boost in the rankings.
The business doesn’t appear to have responded to any customer reviews across multiple platforms in the last few years, such as GBP, Yelp, or Facebook.
Given that the business has several negative reviews, this is a huge missed opportunity to salvage its reputation and rebuild these relationships. It’s also a lost chance to say thank you to those who left positive reviews to encourage repeat custom.
Although this business seemingly has a lot of happy customers, there’s a lot that it could be doing to enhance its online presence. Addressing the issues mentioned here would help the business to build a better reputation and potentially drive business growth.
Getting Started with Local SEO
If you’ve read through this introductory guide and you understand the enormous benefits of local SEO, then you may want to further develop your learning.
Our complete guide to local SEO contains all of the information you need to evolve your strategy and take your business to the next level.