The organic search results are already a tough place to fight for top rankings. Local search results?
Besides traditional SEO, there are a variety of local SEO ranking factors that small businesses and even larger franchises have to worry about when jockeying for the top positions for localized keywords.
These factors include:
- Google My Business – category, keywords, location, etc.
- Mobile Signals – mobile friendly site, clicks, check-ins
- On-page optimization – title tags, meta descriptions, NAP, content
- Link building – trust flow, authority, amount of links linking to
- Off-page local signals – citations, listings,
- Reviews – quantity, quality, source strength, variety
- Social signals – localized facebook profiles, twitter and instagram accounts, etc.
- Personalization – your search history, likes, previous reviews, etc.
In a nutshell, Google has compartmentalized these into three main local ranking factors:
So, how do you separate your business from your local competitors?
Some people lend more weight to different ranking factors, but as a safety net you should ensure that all of your boxes are checked.
Start by heading creating a Google My Business (GMB) profile.
GMB pertains to each of the three local SEO ranking factors for businesses that Google outlined above, so this is really ground zero for your local SEO efforts.
Ensure that all of your information is correct and the category you use to describe your business is the most accurate.
You only need to create one GMB profile for your business and from there you can add additional locations if you’re a franchise.
Your address will dictate where you appear in localized search results as well as contribute to your business’ appearance in local packs and local teaser packs.
Since the closure of Google Map Maker, it’s extremely vital to get all of your business’ local information correct here as I would argue proximity is one of if not the biggest local ranking factor as you can see below.
The further away the searcher is, the harder it is to rank highly. Despite this, it’s important to track keywords in surrounding local areas so you know where your business has the most SEO clout.
The rest of the GMB information is pretty self-explanatory, but just to be sure you should run through this checklist:
- Accurate addresses across all locations that are consistent with local directories
- Local numbers for each location (don’t use 800 or 888 numbers)
- Business hours
- High-resolution images of your products and locations (you can geotag them as well for an added local punch).
- Get reviews from different sources
Once your Google My Business profile is up, you should find it in the SERP results for branded queries.
Businesses can now take advantage of Google Posts. Google Posts is a feature which enables businesses to share relevant content, updates, or offers on their GMB profile in the SERPs.
The content can come in the form of videos, images, links, or just textual updates that are designed for quick engagement with users.
For small local businesses, they provide a great way to post about special offers and information to users searching with branded queries.
NAP is one of the strongest ranking signals that tells search engines your website and business is a possible solution to a localized query.
Given that your NAP will cover Relevancy and Distance – 2 out of the 3 most important factors – it’s extremely vital that you are consistent on these fronts.
NAPs are what will appear in citations around the web when other websites (like local listings) mention your business.
For small businesses with one location, ensure that your NAP information is consistent and place it into as many local listing sites as possible.
If you have multiple websites then it’s a good idea to keep a database of every location you have and ensure that every detail is catalogued somewhere.
You can simply add in a new location as noted above with your Google My Business account.
Do not attempt to increase the breadth of your business’ reach by allocating your business to a larger area; they already know where you are.
You can create your NAP with the Local Business Schema.
Barnacle SEO will play a big part for small businesses in sending local signals to Google that other people have reviewed your business and that the information you’ve listed is consistent in different places.
The listings specifically will help with identifying your website as a local solution (distance), within the right categorical listings (relevancy), and they will help you garner more positive reviews (prominence).
The most popular citation sites include:
- Yahoo Local
- And more
Once you’re present on a variety of different citation sites, you should run a check to make sure all of the information is correct on each one.
You can use tools like Yext to identify which local listings your business is showing up in and correct any mistakes you find.
Appearing in as many relevant local citations as possible will send good local signals to Google that your SMB is a solution for related queries in the corresponding areas.
Don’t just shoot for the top listings though; city specific listings are important as well as the national or worldwide directories.
It’s important to keep your own database of where your business has been listed so you don’t duplicate any of your local listings. This can cause the search engines to index the wrong data and affect your rankings for localized queries and local pack appearance.
A good way to avoid this is to run checks for your business’ name, address, and phone number individually when inputting your business into a new local listing.
This includes old phone numbers, previous businesses names, and former addresses. Even abbreviating something like Pine Tree Avenue to Pine Tree Ave. could cause you to miss a previous listing.
Once you’ve ensured that everything is consistent, you can double-down on your listings with each of business location to garner more reviews and help your business’ prominence signals.
Your business’ online prominence is how prominent or well-known your business is to your local community.
You and your friends probably have a list of your favorite restaurants you like to visit and recommend to anyone who will listen. Google does its best to emulate that with it’s prominence ranking signal.
Essentially, Google scours the web to see how people have rated your business and what they say about it. The more positive reviews you have, the more prominent your business is.
Some citation websites are more prominent than others, with the top 5 in the U.S. being:
- Google My Business
- Bing Places
- Apple Maps
There are numerous places that Google will pull reviews from and list on your GMB panel.
Having high scoring reviews will not only help you rank for Local Packs, but they can also be featured in normal organic results as rich snippets reviews, which help with your click-through-rates.
Both review types will help convince customers to pay your business a visit, and the higher quality reviews you have, the more prominent ranking signals you’ll send to Google for local results.
If you’re collecting email addresses from in-store customers via your app, special offer signups, or redeemable gifts, you can automate reviews by sending out special offers in newsletters or in-store to customers who review your business online.
But remember, quantity isn’t everything. You have to really give them a positive experience for the reviews to shine.
Don’t be too afraid about a few bad reviews either, as they let Google know that the people reviewing your business are human and no business is perfect.
There’s a common myth floating around that once you optimize for Local SEO, your on-page optimization and content doesn’t matter as much.
This is wrong.
Valuable SERP real estate exists outside of standard Local Packs and your well-optimized content is your ticket to take up that space.
It’s a good idea for small businesses to extrapolate anywhere they can to send more local seo signals whenever possible to increase the breadth of their relevance to queries.
Make sure your homepage H1 and/or title tags feature your business name and city as they’ll lend weight to your local ranking.
Don’t just stop there though. You’ll need to be consistent with your SEO across your entire domain, so make sure to reference the larger metropolitan area if you can (if applicable).
Your appearance in Local Packs will depend on your actual physical address; however, you can still rank for traditional organic results by placing the larger metropolitan areas your business typically services in your content.
Too often I’ll see a webpage that just lists store locations and stops there.
Instead of opening each location up to its own webpage, the links go straight to Google Map directions.
This takes away an extra opportunity for small businesses to improve their local SEO content with location descriptions.
A good location description would look like the following:
Located just off the 405 freeway in the beautiful Brentwood Area, our customers enjoy our finely brewed European coffee in the heart of West Los Angeles’ burgeoning college community. Sit outside on our patio and watch the sun set just behind the Santa Monica pier or get your coffee to go as you make the short walk to Hollywood Blvd.
The description lists a few prominent local landmarks not far from the local coffee shop and does so without being heavy handed with keywords.
It’s a good description as it enhances local SEO efforts without the small business losing any integrity.
Small businesses can also add more photos of each location when each has it’s own page. This allows them to optimize the alt tags and filenames with city and state to rank for images.
Some businesses will geotag their images for more exact location matches, but it’s not a must as Google has gotten exceptionally good at recognizing the locations where images were taken.
To maximize their appearance in local searches, small businesses should create the relevant pages or subfolders for each location.
With the city and/or state in your URL, you’ll send stronger local ranking signals. If you’re going to change your URL structure, make sure to set up 301s to the new URLs so you don’t lose any traffic or link juice.
Optimizing your meta descriptions with local keywords will help drive CTRs for people looking at your business in the organic results.
Meta descriptions are not direct ranking factors; however, a well written meta description can entice users to click and build up your on-page metrics, which do affect rankings.
Building links from other local peers can build up your sites relevance and prominence ranking signals.
Small businesses should be looking for links that are from:
- Locally relevant sites
- Industry relevant sites
- Highly authoritative sites
The goal is to push your website up the SERPs from obscurity to relevancy, and the more quality local SEO signals you have the more locally featured your website will be.
Many small businesses don’t have the time or budget to hire a content creator. Most of the time they need to rely on local articles and publications to feature their business for a variety of reasons.
How do they do this?
Small business owners can reach out manually to a few different local publications such as:
- Local papers
- Review blogs
- Schools to sponsor kids
- Local event hubs
These websites spend time and effort to give valuable content to their readers, so if a small business provides value and interest, they will feature it.
You can also post in job directory sites if you’re hiring. The links aren’t super valuable, but with enough they can give you a small boost.
Ranking in Local Packs is akin to winning the local SEO lottery.
This is where all three main local SEO factors come into play:
- Prominence – user reviews are compiled here
- Relevance – the category of your business is in conjunction with the query
- Distance – displaying local results that are close to the searcher.
When a searcher has their location settings turned on for queries that contain near me, close by, closest, etc., Google will typically show the closest results.
However, when I searched for “pizza near me” on a desktop device with my browser’s location settings with allowed permissions for Google, I received a Local Pack result with three pizza restaurants.
As a direct search for restaurants in close proximity to me, I should expect that these may be the three closest pizza restaurants.
This was not the case.
There were approximately five other pizza restaurants closer to my exact location than the 1st Local Pack result.
When typing the same query from the same position on a mobile device, I got the exact closest three results in real time.
Location settings on mobile devices are more user friendly in terms of the user’s knowledge about whether or not they’re turned on.
Thus it’s more atypical that a searchers direct location is known by the search engines and they return more results based on a business’ direct proximity and not prominence.
When local queries are entered without the “near me” or “close by” keywords, more of the traditional local SEO factors come into play such as:
- Address proximity – how close is it to the searcher
- Citation consistency – having all citations listed exactly the same
- Citation authority – how strong are the citation domains referencing a business
- Your domain strength – it’s SEO prominence is a big factor here
- Business category – its overall relevance to the query
- On-page factors – bounce rate, time on page, etc.
You can track your appearance for the Local Pack SERP feature in any Unamo SEO campaign so you know when upticks in web or foot traffic may be incoming.
Don’t forget that social media channels like Facebook act as their own citation sites.
Sections like Facebook’s Places list their own reviews, descriptions, and locations of listed businesses. Make sure you create individual listings for each location so you can separate business hours, special offers, and more.
Always link to and from your site with your profiles to foster more engagement and reviews. While the biggest ROI for small businesses usually comes from search, social media platforms have their own role when the search engines are overcrowded and competitive.
Remember, people still visit your website from your social profiles, which help with your on-page metrics.
If your business is on Twitter or Instagram, take advantage of local hashtags that your business can be found on.
Optimize as many social media profiles as possible for each business location you have to increase your local signals and engage with potential customers.
Small businesses attempting to solidify themselves as top ranking domains for local searches need to ensure that their local seo efforts are as coordinated as their traditional SEO efforts.
There have been too many documented cases of local businesses being buried in the search engines due to bad keyword optimization, inconsistent NAPs, poor business categorization, a lack of industry related links, or just poor service in general which leads to too many bad reviews.
Execute your local SEO as flawlessly as possible and you’ll at the very least ensure that you’re one of the top ranking domains in terms of categorizational proximity.
Monitor your SEO efforts for local and national results and optimize your website in the areas that require the most improvement.