Now that you know what local SEO is, we can move onto the exciting bit: how to win with it!
In the chapters to follow, I’ll be sharing with you some of the foundational and game-changing tactics to help you climb the rankings in local search.
Chapter 2: Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most important foundational things you can do for your local SEO.
Think of this as your bread and butter. You need to know what search terms you want to rank for before you can begin optimizing your business or undertaking these ranking tactics.
Keyword research is also important for a few other reasons:
- To create landing pages that focus on searchable words and phrases.
- To understand searching behaviors better and, overall, understand your target audience better.
- To find related markets to expand into, and/or refocus your products or services to.
- To discover more ways to attract target customers (through providing answers to their questions).
You need to know what phrases are being searched for that relate to your business.
For example, you might be an artisan plant-based pizza restaurant, but that’s not necessarily what your customers are searching for. They might be more likely to search for ‘veggie pizza’, ‘healthy pizza’, ‘best vegan pizza’, or something else. So you need to be aware of the search trends and adapt to them.
For example, here I’ve performed a pretty basic search for ‘pizza New York’. Underlined are all the phrases that might be considered keywords.
In this section, I’ll provide you with some tips to get started with local keyword research and identify your own keywords.
Identify key terms
Your own judgment as a business owner is your first resource here.
What are you selling? How would you search for it if you were the consumer?
For example, if you’re selling ‘takeout pizza’, that’s one key term already identified.
To build upon your own list of core keywords, head over to Google, search for your query, and take note of what your competitors (or businesses in similar industries) put in their title tags.
For example, here’s what comes up when I search “pizza New York” in Google Maps:
You’ll notice there are a lot of diverse phrases used, both by the businesses themselves and by customers in reviews. For example, because this search is from the USA, people aren’t just using the word ‘pizza’ but ‘pies’, too. ‘Vegan pizza’ is mentioned but so are ‘unusual toppings’ and ‘nut-based cheeses’.
Searches like these can help you gain an understanding of what kinds of phrases competitors and searchers are using.
Extend your core terms with keyword modifiers
Next, you need to make your keywords longer. Content optimized for long-tail keywords receives a click-through rate up to 19% higher than content optimized for short-tail keywords.
Keyword modifiers (the things you’re adding to your core keyword) also make your overall keyword strategy more diverse, as you can benefit from less competitive organic search opportunities and reach more relevant customers.
If you’re feeling a bit lost as to what your modifiers may be, there are a few ways to find them.
Firstly, perform your own Google search – look at what phrases your competitors are using, what customers are saying in reviews (see below) and Q&A, and what People Also Asks are saying.
What is Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ feature? People Also Ask is a rich results feature that appears in search results. It offers alternative search queries that might relate to your search, based on what people have searched for. It looks like this:
Secondly, for more in-depth keyword research you can use a tool like Ahrefs to identify opportunities.
How to do local keyword research:
- Local keyword research revolves around identifying three parts of your target search queries: your core term, your keyword modifiers, and your location.
- Identify your core terms using your own knowledge of your niche and Google search results.
- Create long-tail keywords by identifying your keyword modifiers either through a search tool like Ahrefs or Google SERP features.
- Organize your keyword list by search intent and importance.
Chapter 3: Google My Business
Previously known as Google Local, and for a time, even Google+ Local, Google My Business (GMB) is your business profile on Google.
Information from your business’s GMB feeds information to a variety of places, including the local pack and Google Maps search results, but the most familiar appearance will likely be when it’s in the top right (or top on mobile) of a branded search for your business, as below.
When the GMB profile is pulled through to SERPs, the position it occupies in SERPs is what’s known as the Knowledge Panel.
Your GMB profile can include a host of information submitted by yourself, such as services you offer, contact details, business description, category, and opening times, but it’s important to note that features such as GMB subjective attributes, GMB Q&As, and Google Reviews are almost entirely generated by consumers – ideally ones with experience of your business!
A big part of local SEO is keeping your GMB profile as up-to-date and accurate as possible, so that it has a higher chance of appearing in the local pack, and is trustworthy, attractive, and appealing enough to warrant a clickthrough.
Although it’s incredibly powerful, Google My Business is just one example of what’s known as a ‘citation’, which we’ll talk more about later.
Why do you need Google My Business?
Google My Business is pretty much your new homepage.
Experts voted it the number one ranking factor for local searches and, sure, it makes sense: Google’s going to favor Google.
Our own research also showed that most local SEO experts viewed GMB optimization as very effective to improve local SEO rankings.
Google is the most used search engine, and GMB powers results for both Google and Google Maps.
Without a GMB profile, your business is not going to be able to compete in search. And what’s more, once it’s claimed and optimized, you need to make sure it’s maintained well.
When it comes to improving appearance in Google Maps, image is everything. Literally, a business’s photos can make or break a potential user action.
Steve Wiideman – President, Wiideman Consulting (How Do You Make a Google My Business Listing More ‘Clickable’?)
Google My Business features overview
In this section, we’ll take a look at Google My Business’s key features. Many of these will play a part in making your business more visible in SERPs, as well as helping to convert searchers who do find you.
But, it’s important to remember that these aren’t just “set it and forget it” features. GMB profiles need updating regularly, plus Google is known to introduce, test, and change features regularly, so you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground for any changes that might affect your profile (signing up to our newsletter is a great place to start).
In Google My Business, you’ll have the option to add a primary category and a handful of additional categories.
Having the most accurate primary category based on your business’s products, services and/or goals can make a big difference as you try to improve visibility for terms related to that category.
For example, a dine-in restaurant serving pizza and pasta should have the primary category ‘Italian restaurant’, rather than just ‘restaurant’.
Free tools like PlePer’s GMB category finder are really helpful when it comes to finding your right category (there are more to choose from than you might think!)
You can add a 750-character description to your GMB profile as part of your Google My Business optimization work. This text should describe your business in an engaging, authentic manner but it shouldn’t reference things like sales or promotions.
This text field is a place to tell local search users about your USPs and brand story, your mission, and history. But, it can also be a place to mention your most popular offerings, as Papa John’s have done in the screenshot above.
It’s worth noting that Google guidelines prohibit promotional content and links in this space. You can however, include a phone number and email address.
Google has been allowing customers to leave reviews for local businesses for over a decade. The volume of Google My Business reviews you collect is a known SEO ranking factor, as it supports the prominence of your business in the community.
Online reviews also occupy an important place in the consumer psyche, with over seven in ten consumers admitting to trusting a business more if it has strong online reviews, and around half refusing to buy from a business with a rating lower than four stars.
Did You Know? Reviews have grown in importance over the last few years – making up 16% of local ranking factors in 2020, compared to 12% back in 2018.
We’ll be covering review generation in much more detail later in this guide.
Google My Business has several visual features available when you verify your listing. The platform will allow you to upload images of your business to your profile, attach images to posts, and upload video. You can even add 360º photos and virtual video tours.
Google advises businesses to upload several different types of image, including:
- At least three strong exterior photos, taken at different times of the day and showing the approach to the business from common angles
- A minimum of three interior photos
- Product photos for the most popular products and services you sell
- One image of any common areas your business may have, such as the reception
- A minimum of three management and team photos
- For bars, restaurants, and cafes, images of the most popular food and drinks
- For hotels, images of guest rooms should be uploaded
…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 own ability to upload all of these visual assets from your Google My Business dashboard, it’s important to be aware that your customers can also upload their own photos and videos of your business. There is little you can do to control your public image via user-generated content shared in this manner, but if the images are offensive or inappropriate, you do have the option to flag them up and request removal (just click the three dots next to the photo poster’s name).
Google My Business Posts are a useful way to connect with customers, allowing local businesses to share their latest offers, events, products, and services.
Here’s an example of a service-area business using Offers within Google Posts:
The great thing about Google Posts is that when a potential customer searches for a particular business on Google, the Post can show up front-and-center in the business’ Knowledge Panel.
A Google My Business Post can include an image, copy, a Call To Action (CTA), and a URL that you can use to link to a landing page or your website.
Pay attention to the first 80 characters of a GMB post. This makes it much more engaging across most surfaces.
Ben Fisher – Founder and VP of Marketing, Steady Demand (How Do You Make a Google My Business Listing More ‘Clickable’?)
Each Post has a limit of 300 words, but only the first 100 characters (or fewer) of the Post appear in the business’s Knowledge Panel.
Posts can also be used to inform searchers of important information. For example, during Covid-19, while businesses’ opening hours and operations were changing frequently, Google My Business introduced Covid-19 posts to announce updates:
Q and A
Google Q&A, introduced in August of 2017, is a consumer-facing, crowd-sourced FAQ feature, similar to the Ask the Community feature on Yelp and Tripadvisor, that allows consumers (and businesses) to ask and answer questions about the business from the local Knowledge Panel.
These questions and their answers can show directly in Google search results. Users can also give a thumbs-up vote to questions and answers, which influences both their order and where they might appear.
Google’s goal for its local Q&A feature is to provide consumers with enhanced details about a business.
Pro Tip: There’s no rule against GMB owners posting and answering their own questions, so think of GMB Q&A as a way to share FAQs directly from Google search.
In theory, this additional information will allow consumers to find meaningful, timely answers to questions, directly influencing their decision to call or visit the business right from your GMB profile.
Book an appointment
Some businesses will also have access to a ‘book an appointment’ button in GMB. If your business uses a third-party site to organize bookings, you can link to this through GMB, which has a few perks: 1) It’s easier for customers to book with you, 2) You can keep track of bookings directly through GMB.
Here’s an example of an appointment link in a GMB profile:
As well as a classic blue link, some businesses will be eligible for ‘schedule’ CTAs, like this Barber Shop:
Finally, this feature can also manifest in the ‘Book Online’ button seen here:
If you’re a business that takes appointments and bookings, then having this feature could make things a lot easier for your customers. Just make sure you keep on top of bookings that come through third-party systems.
Businesses also have the option to turn on Messaging, so searchers and customers can reach you directly from Maps or search.
The option to message a business is visible next to the ‘call’, ‘directions’, and ‘website’ buttons on a GMB listing. It can also be visible as a call-to-action button on Google Posts.
Your customers can get in touch with you in real-time from your Business Profile on Google. You can answer questions, tell your story, and attract more customers to your business. Messaging works best as a conversation between your business and your customers. To ensure the best experience for your customers, follow the messaging guidelines.
This is a great way to provide more customer support options to searchers, but it should only be used by businesses that have the time to manage it.
After all, if a searcher asks a question and gets no response, that’s going to leave a bad taste in their mouth.
Messages sent through GMB can only be accessed in the Google My Business app, so make sure you’re happy to keep on top of that if you do turn this feature on.
GMB short names were introduced so that businesses could more easily link to their profiles.
A merchant can choose a short name between 5 and 32 characters in length. It can contain the name of the business, the location, and anything in between, so long as you do not violate any policies.
This feature came from a distinct user need: businesses were using their GMB profiles as landing pages to get leads, display photos, earn reviews, create posts, write commentary, and share directions (this alone highlights the importance of keeping Google My Business up to date).
However, it’s never really been easy to share profile links with consumers, thanks to the gigantic GMB URL. I mean, just look at this:
Not exactly memorable!
But now, short names make the business owner feel like GMB is part of their online presence, and something they can directly talk about with customers without referring to a URL with a long string of random numbers and letters.