How to Optimize for Local SEO

Making sure your website is fully optimized to attract organic and local search traffic is crucial for all local businesses. Here, we'll give you the seven top ways to optimize a site for local SEO.

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—things like page content, keyword use, page loading time and design. That is to say, things that you as 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. Things 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 profile is.

Read on for our seven ways to optimize a site for local SEO…

1. On-Site: SEO Best Practices

The very first thing you must do when conducting on-site local SEO for a business is to ensure you know and follow SEO best practice. In short, the basics of good search engine optimization must be observed if you want to see your site rise to prominence in the local pack.

First things first, 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. 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 meta data and give each page a unique title and useful meta description.

When carrying out SEO for local business sites, 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 SEO errors by using an audit tool specifically for local businesses.

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, we estimate that 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 your business facts better. 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 local business website is slow to load on mobile devices, you not only risk losing search position, 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 local business SEO back on track. Compressing images, using AMP for content and displaying above the fold content first are all steps in the right direction.

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 the majority of people searching for local businesses will be on the move and using their smartphone or tablet. 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 (GMB) 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 to aid in your local SEO for business mission. Optimization can take several formats and there is an expectation that you’ll 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 new Google My Business images and taking advantages 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 develop your listing and add depth and richness to your profile
  • Use good photos that represent your business accurately and in a good light

6. Off-Site: Citation Building

Another important piece of the local business SEO puzzle taking place away from your site is citation building. 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.

Citations are an important aspect of local business SEO because over and above their value as a ranking factor, they also make it easier for customers to find you online.

As you work to improve local rankings, make sure that you build lots of citations on a range of sites. This should include having a citation on a large site such as Yelp as well as a decent amount of citations on sites that are specific to your niche.

Citations need to be accurate and consistent for every local business location you own. NAP consistency affects rankings but above that, research shows that people don’t trust businesses with out-of-date information online. Not only will citation building help you win favor with the local pack algorithms, it can also have a direct impact on your business’ perceived credibility online.

7. Off-site: Link Building

Every local SEO guide you’ll ever read will include a mention of link building and its importance. 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 ,though, Google recognizes that your local business is unlikely to have lots of links from the likes of the New York Times or similar. 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.

Find out more about BrightLocal’s Local Search Rank Checker

Manage your reputation

Monitor and grow your business’ 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 most to you, and reply directly to Google and Facebook reviews within a single tool.

Find out more about BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager

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.

Find out more about BrightLocal’s Citation Builder