Local SEO is a brilliant way to drive foot traffic and compete with larger enterprises if you’re a small brick-and-mortar business.
If you aren’t already using local SEO, you could be losing tons of customers to your local competitors that are taking advantage of how users find local stores.
In this article, we’ll explore everything to do with local SEO, from why it makes sense to incorporate it into your SEO strategy to a step-by-step guide on how to start reaping the benefits.
What is local SEO?
Simply put, local SEO helps businesses appear in local search results.
Unlike the SEO you usually read about that targets your audience on a national or international scale, local SEO is specifically helping users find physical stores near them.
Familiar with these kinds of search results?
This is the result of a well-performing local SEO strategy.
What businesses benefit from local SEO?
It makes sense for some businesses to focus their efforts on their local SEO strategy more than others.
Typically, these are brick-and-mortar businesses, including:
- Cafes and restaurants
- Estate Agents, dentists, lawyers
Cafes and restaurants are likely to attract only local customers, emphasizing the importance of a local SEO strategy.
But even if you are a shop on a main street that also ships nationally or internationally, having a local SEO strategy opens you up to a whole new way to acquire local customers with high purchase intent.
Can you do local SEO without physical premises?
The intent of local searches is for a user to find a close service. Even if that intent isn’t explicit by the user adding “near me” to the search, Google still implicitly understands some queries as having a local meaning. When you search “pizza,” it’s likely you want to order pizza, not find the history of pizza.
If you can’t service a local intent, then local SEO isn’t for you.
If you can service a local intent but don’t have a physical location, local SEO may still be possible.
Many businesses work as service providers, connecting local businesses to their surrounding audience. A great example of this is the flower delivery company Interflora, which works with local florists who create the bouquets and deliver them. While an intermediary service provider shouldn’t list themselves, they can always encourage or manage the local SEO of the local businesses working with them, increasing their local SERP footprint.
What’s the size of the opportunity for local SEO?
The path to purchase has changed massively over the past twenty years. The internet and prevalence of smartphones mean when a user enters your store, they’ve likely already:
- Researched a product
- Compared prices
- Looked for similar stores to yours in the area
How often do you look for the best local lunch spot near you? Or need to get some flowers locally for an upcoming occasion?
Searches by users looking for stores near them are growing. In May 2018, Google reported a 500% growth in two years in people searching for “near me” as part of a search query.
If you have a store, office, or cafe/restaurant, this highlights a massive opportunity to up your local SEO game and acquire new customers, especially as local searches increase as the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end.
Why use local SEO?
Competing with large corporations like Amazon can be overwhelming for any business, especially a small one. However, for local SEO, Google favors local businesses over large online companies.
In addition, recent research by Access on consumers’ spending habits in the US concluded that “93.2% of consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less to make their everyday purchases.” These stats highlight the importance of acquiring local customers.
For businesses that provide a good service, local SEO is a tactical way to take advantage of search engines’ popularity to drive local footfall.
The local pack
Familiar with this?
This is called the local pack, also known as the map pack.
Three local businesses are usually shown, with their locations drawn from Google Maps.
If you’re a local business, this is what you need to target.
According to research data, 16.3% of clicks go to the local “snack pack” results. This number speaks for itself, emphasizing the difference appearing in the local pack could make to your business.
Be aware the local pack doesn’t work like the usual SERP, as it has its own algorithm. It’s not always simple, as results can change literally mile by mile depending on the searcher’s location, especially in bigger cities with more local shops.
Tracking the local pack is a crucial part of your local SEO strategy to know how well you’re performing.
If you want to know where you’re showing in these results, use a local rank tracker like Advanced Web Ranking.
Local SEO tips
Now that you know more about local SEO, we’ll detail how to grow your local performance on search engines.
Want a quick overview? Here is what you need to be doing to optimize for local SEO.
- Build a site with strong foundations.
- Use keyword research.
- Create a Google My Business page.
- Keep your name, address, and phone number consistent.
- Build local citations and links.
- Collect reviews.
- Improve on-page SEO.
Build a site with strong foundations
First things first, build a site that needs minimal maintenance and has a strong foundation.
The whole idea here is as a local business, you want to focus on running your store, not maintaining a site.
It’s essential from the get-go to have a site that:
- Covers a lot of the fundamentals of SEO
- Is user-friendly
- Looks good and represents your brand well
Why? The value of covering the above is immense and sets you up for success with your local SEO strategy. Fast, user-friendly web experiences directly impact your SEO performance.
Because of that, I can’t stress enough the importance of leaving web design to designers and developing to developers.
If you’re serious about growing foot traffic to your business, that is the baseline for starting.
I recommend looking for developers who build sites using WordPress.org (not WordPress.com; it’s different). For simple, well-optimized sites with minimal maintenance, WordPress is still the best choice.
Find a developer
If you’re looking for a developer to build your site, you can always start searching locally for one. Alternatively, use a service that vets developers, such as:
Find a designer
Sometimes developers can help with designing, but web design is really an entirely different skillset, so you’re likely to get better results from your developer by finding a web design specialist. Some ways to find a good designer:
- Behance – Go here and browse some portfolios and reach out to designers you like
- Dribbble – Same as above
- 99designs – A vetted service for design resources
Pick a good host
Many developers offer their hosting solution; I recommend you don’t rely on a developer for hosting but that you remain in control of your site and ensure it’s with a great hosting provider.
You can get a managed solution for hosting your site relatively cheaply.
And chances are, when you pay the premium for hosting via a developer, they’ll just be using one of the popular hosting providers.
Some suggestions for WordPress hosting:
When the developer sets up your site, they should manage the actual “getting it live” stage on any hosting provider.
If you have any issues after that, it’s as simple as reaching out to support, and they’ll help diagnose them, or you can pay your developer to communicate directly.
Make your site lightweight.
To reduce costs, you may want to pick out a WordPress theme, or the developer may wish to use a page builder. Both are incredibly useful and recommended.
However, make sure you pick a theme that is fast and lightweight. Many themes try to cater to everyone’s needs but end up being bloated and slow to load. Some great themes that are an exception to this are:
If the developer is going the page builder route, check what they use, as many page builders result in inferior performance metrics. On the other hand, using something like Oxygen Builder sets you up for a lightweight and fast site.
Use plugins to cover SEO fundamentals
WordPress is inherently a relatively SEO-friendly platform, but that doesn’t mean it comes without issues.
WordPress has SEO problems out of the box that can wreak havoc on performance for sites if not properly managed, especially if they are larger sites.
My recommendation for an SEO plugin is Rank Math.
Having this installed makes it easy to fix the issues within the default WordPress setup. It also makes more advanced SEO concepts like structured data more manageable.
Do not think just by installing the plugin you’re covered; read the setup guide and hire a professional to set it up if you’re unsure.
Create a blog
As part of setting up your site, make sure you have a blog, but only if you’re going to invest time into having a proper strategy for it.
You will not rank better in search engines purely by having a blog with content on it.
The content needs to be:
- Well researched
- Written by an expert
- Matched up with user interests
That means that a blog is relatively useless SEO-wise unless you invest time and money into both a great strategy and experienced writers.
If that isn’t something you can do currently, skip the blog until it becomes viable.
As always, start with keyword research
We’ve now got a great site in place, so we can start building out our local SEO strategy.
You may think you know what you want to show up for, but in reality, it’s not that likely.
Users can search for your local business in many ways. Using a data-led approach is essential to take the guesswork out of what you’re optimizing for.
There are a few different ways you can do this; we’ll explore them all below.
Use your knowledge
Think of how you’d categorize your business. Are you a restaurant? If so, that’s an obvious keyword, and location is likely to be in the search query. Examples:
- ‘Restaurants in Chicago’
- ‘Places to eat in Chicago’
- ‘Chicago restaurants’
List your services along with locations you provide a service in.
HigherVisibility has a nifty tool that generates plenty of keywords instantly if you need some help.
You can take this keyword set to a site where you’d usually perform keyword research to see what the search volume looks like.
I use Ahrefs, so here’s what it looks like for me:
It’s important to understand that just because you call your business by a certain phrase, it doesn’t mean that others do. That’s why it’s essential to use keyword research tools to validate the most popular ways people search for your service offering.
A directory site’s auto-suggest functionality is a great place to find tons of keywords. People visiting sites like Yell.com (UK-specific) have a local intent, so its autosuggest can provide you with some ideas.
Check your competitors
Like traditional keyword research, it’s good to know what your competitors are ranking for, as those might be good keywords for you, too.
Find your local competitors by searching within Google for “[your service] in [location].”
Alternatively, start on a site like Yelp.
Once you’ve got your competitors together, use a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush, enter a competitor’s website, and see what they’re ranking for.
You’ll also see the keyword search volume to help you prioritize your optimization, but be aware, the volumes shown here are for countries. The volumes will be much smaller for a single city or town.
There are plenty of ways to use Google to assist in your keyword research, but autocomplete is handy for local businesses.
Type your business category, and Google will predict what the search is, based on what others search for.
Create Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple map listings
Google My Business
For a local business, creating a Google My Business account is incredibly important.
Just follow our step-by-step guide below.
- Start by going onto Google My Business and click Manage Now.
- Add your business name, or claim an existing business.
- Choose a category
Google limits you to select only one category.
As you type in the box, suggestions of categories will begin to display. Choose the category that fits your business.
- Enter your address. Triple-check this is accurate and discoverable via Google Maps!
If you don’t have an actual physical store, then list the business owner/partner’s address.
Another box will pop up asking if you deliver goods. If you do, check the box, which includes if a third-party service does the delivery for you.
If you tick this, another box will pop up with “hide my address.” It’s a good idea to check this if you don’t want just anyone to see your address, for example, your home address.
Google will still know your location, but your address will remain private to everyone else.
- Enter your exact location
A map will now show with a pinpoint you can move around. Move this to the exact location of your business.
It’s likely to already be in the right place, but you can move this if not.
- Add your business phone number and website.
- Verify your business
Verification is required before your business listing goes live.
Google will present you with instructions on how you can verify.
And there you have it; your business is set up on Google My Business!
It doesn’t need to end there. There are more ways to optimize your listing, including:
- Uploading imagery – these should be of your business displaying the location, store, and products.
- Listing your opening hours
- Additional phone and email contact information
It’s important to stay active on Google My Business instead of creating your listing and forgetting about it.
Google advises that you respond to customer and client reviews, update with new photos, and use Google Posts to communicate directly with your customers when they see your listing on search results.
Next, you’ll need to set up Bing Places and Apple Maps listings.
While Google may get more traffic, Bing and Apple are still important and open you to additional opportunities to acquire customers whenever anyone searches using either maps service.
While it may not be as popular as Google Maps, it’s quick and easy to set up and worth doing.
- Go to Bing Places and select “New User.”
- If you’ve set up Google My Business, simply import. If you haven’t, add your business manually.
- Select your business type (there are four to choose from) and location.
- Enter your business name, address, website.
- Choose your business segment and category.
You can pick multiple categories here but remember to select only those relevant to your business.
- Add a business phone number and social information
Here you can add your business phone number and business profile for media platforms.
- Add imagery
Upload images that are relevant to your business here.
Follow these steps, and you’ll have listed your business on Bing Places.
Lastly, it’s time to get your business live on Apple Maps.
Apple Maps is the default map in all iPhones. Apple products like CarPlay also use it, so ensuring your business is listed there will be beneficial.
To get started, head to the Maps Connect page, sign in, and go through the steps.
Once this is set up, as with Google My Business, you can further optimize your Apple Maps business listing.
Good reviews for any business are like gold. They can instantly sway someone who is on the verge of making a decision — but of course, you want these reviews to be positive, or they’ll have the wrong effect!
Local reviews directly impact where you show in the local pack, meaning they should be one of your main focus areas once you’re all set up.
Reviews also impact where you show up on other platforms, so it’s important to implement a strategy to collect reviews on the various different ones available, such as Yelp.
Some tips on acquiring local reviews:
- Start with your existing customers. They already know you and are in a position to give you a review.
- Use social media. Why not ask a question on different platforms, directing them to answer in a review? It’s great feedback for you if you have a specific question, and it generates reviews!
- Use in-store signs to encourage reviews. These could be flyers, banners, or maybe even a little something at the bottom of a receipt.
- Just ask! When speaking with a customer, why not ask if they’ll be happy to leave a review?
It can take time to build up reviews, but they can significantly impact your business once you do.
NAP (name, address, phone number)
These are three things you need to keep consistent throughout your website and other sites.
Have a wrong or old phone number, and you can cause confusion for users and decrease Google’s confidence that they have your correct information.
Google wants to have confidence that the information they provide on search results is valid. Consistent NAPs are the key to achieving that.
At the very least, have your NAP on your contact page. Better yet, have it in the footer of each page, make it easily accessible.
Enhanced with structured data
If you have no idea what this section is about, start by reading Google’s guide on understanding structured data.
A quick overview — structured data provides Google with explicit information about your website and its pages with a language called schema.
When I say explicit, I mean it tells Google precisely what a piece of information is. For example, it’ll tell Google that your site’s address is your own, or a number on your site will go to your business’s customer service department when called.
Structured data is a handy tool for the modern web as it removes any ambiguity a search engine may have about your content.
When it comes to NAPs, structured data is crucial as you can specify business information within it and reinforce signals on what your name, address, and phone number are.
Here is an example of structured data from Google’s Local Business documentation.
You can start by following the guidelines on that page, editing the examples, and testing your code in the Structured Data Testing Tool.
Or you can use this handy Schema Markup Generator.
Alternatively, if you’ve followed this guide and implemented RankMath, you can let the plugin handle it all.
RankMath has a guide on setting up their structured data implementation, and it’s as easy as filling out some fields in the admin area.
Even better, RankMath provides you with a shortcode for displaying your NAP across the site in a nicely formatted and consistent way
It’s essential to also monitor your NAP across the web on an ongoing basis.
Moz Local is the tool of choice to do that. It’ll automatically monitor the accuracy of NAP information and audit any existing directory listings you have.
It has a whole host of fantastic features that will make NAP management easy.
If you want to see an at-a-glance review of your current NAP consistency across the internet, take a look at their free listing score.
Local link building and citations
Usually, link-building campaigns consist of relevant and good-quality links from a variety of sites.
With local SEO, local links have a more significant impact. Relevancy is still vital, but you’ll get that extra boost if they’re a local website, such as a shopping center or a directory specific to your location.
High-authority websites are still going to help, but that shouldn’t be where your focus is.
Typical link building techniques you may already be familiar with will work, but you should try to use tactics to build links on local websites.
Citations (links from directories like Whitepages) are another way to get your name out there locally and reinforce your NAP. A great place to start is scanning through local directories, using the Moz tool we previously mentioned or trying out Whitespark’s Citation Finder Tool.
Using these tools, you’ll quickly find there are hundreds of citation opportunities, all available at the click of a button.
Link building tips
It can take time and lots of trial and error before you feel confident about link building.
Here are some tips to make it a little bit easier for you:
- Create a local resource using public data. Nothing attracts someone (and links) more than local information!
- Create content about your local business and outreach it to the local press. The local media love a positive story.
- Work with local influencers in your area. While the primary focus should be promoting your business, you may also get links off the back of it.
- Use meetup.com to find relevant, local events in your industry. A lot of these ongoing local events have a website and may list you as an attendee.
- Look for local review sites and try to grab a spot. Every town and city, no matter the size, has one!
- Create a tool or asset that is helpful for anyone local. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
These are just a few ideas of different ways to help build links if you don’t know where to start.
You’ll notice with all the above ideas, the basis of them is you doing or creating something.
If you’re already well established, you’ll have these kinds of opportunities to grab a link all the time. They’ll happen entirely naturally just through you promoting your business.
It’s important to try a few different tactics and not give up after one doesn’t work. By continuously testing, you’ll soon see which one works best for your niche.
Another great way to find link building opportunities is using the Ahrefs Link Intersect tool.
Simply enter some of your biggest competitors’ URLs, and it will bring up a list of websites that are linking to all of them.
Chances are, if they’re linking to multiple competitors, they’ll be interested in what you’re doing as well.
As well as entering competitors, also consider adding other stores near your location. You may find opportunities where other local businesses have received links, even if they are a coffee shop and you sell workplace safety gear:
- Local event websites you could take part in
- ‘Shop Local’ communities
- Local councils
Amplify with social advertising
Alongside using link building to get your name out there, local social media advertising can have a second-order effect on your overall local SEO strategy.
By amplifying your local business via social media, you’ll increase your popularity and gain new customers, which can mean reviews for your business or links from local review sites as more customers become aware of your presence.
Overall, it’s a great way to engage with and attract potential customers.
Have an offer on or want to make an update about your business? Try doing so via social media, and you’ll instantly be put in front of a large audience without having to have already built up a client base.
If you have those strong site foundations mentioned earlier, this section will become much easier.
Some key elements to consider are:
- Title tags
Create a local optimized landing page
In some cases, businesses might operate in multiple locations.
For example, someone may own a cinema in Vermont and have one by the same name in New York.
In this case, create a landing page for each location containing both the NAP and local business structured data.
If you’ve got quite a few locations, you may also want to organize them in a directory like the below:
While most users tend to opt for using the local pack results rather than the organic listings that are usually below it, by creating landing pages like this, you’ll show in both. The result? You’ll increase your SERP coverage and gain more traffic (if you rank well).
You can see popular cinema chain AMC doing this for searches like ‘cinemas in New York’ resulting in them showing in both the local pack:
As well as below it.
It’s critical to use both your H1 and title tags to target what users are searching for explicitly with each one of these location pages.
In the case of the above URLs, this could be as simple as having an H1 of “Cinemas in Vermont” with a matching title tag:
Cinemas in Vermont | [Cinema Brand Name]
Provide useful content
Alongside showing the NAP and optimizing for search queries, you want to make these pages valuable to the user.
Creating useful content on these pages is especially important if you’re making lots of them.
In some cases, sites can have a large number of local landing pages for all their different stores. Creating many pages with little content on them is always a bad idea.
Having a large portion of the total pages on your site having low-value content increases the likelihood of being negatively impacted by things such as the Panda algorithm.
So, what can you do to make these pages more valuable to users?
This is something you’ll need to decide on a case-by-case basis. Some things to consider would be:
- The store facilities
- Short descriptions for directions
- A team area that has a short write up for each team member
- Any historical information about the store
- An overview of services offered, for example, does the store offer gift wrapping?
Optimize your homepage
Make sure your homepage is optimized for your location!
If you have a primary location, it’s in your best interest to use your homepage to target users searching for that specific location, as optimizing one page for multiple locations will only confuse Google.
For example, if you’re a local hairdressing business and you optimize your homepage for “men’s hairdressers,” without specifying a location, you can see on the SERP that your competitors are targeting locally, and you’ll ultimately miss out.
Implement a blog content strategy
The key to a successful blog is creating high-quality, targeted content regularly.
The how-tos of implementing a content strategy and writing content optimized for search are out of scope for this guide. Still, it’s essential to highlight the second-order effect great content can have on your overall SEO strategy.
A well-implemented content strategy can work wonders for positioning your local business as the expert within your field of work. Not only that, but it also builds trust with potential customers and helps nurture them from first learning about your business to making a purchase.
Here are a few quick tips to help guide you on creating a content strategy:
- Don’t publish content for content’s sake. One high-quality article a month will perform better than several lower-quality pieces.
- Create well-researched quality content that you know people have an interest in.
- Publish articles about your business such as what it is doing, how it is growing, and what events you are running. Use these to outreach to the local press. You may just get a featured article.
Nurture leads with email marketing
While this is an SEO article, I’d be remiss to not briefly overview why you shouldn’t use the great content you create for organic across other channels.
Email marketing is a great example of that.
Not everyone is ready to buy when they come across you, which is why email marketing is a great tool to help maintain your relationship and enhance brand awareness.
Use the content you create for organic to acquire top-of-funnel leads that you can then nurture and speak directly to via email.
Your emails should have a call to action. Perhaps you have an event coming up they might be interested in, or you’re offering a discount.
Top emails tips:
- Personalize your emails, make the customer feel as though you are speaking to them, not just another number.
- Make sure you don’t overdo it! There’s a fine line between making your presence known and annoying people by popping up in their inbox multiple times a week.
- Make your emails mobile-friendly – chances are, this is how they’ll be viewed.
- Keep your emails concise – they’re likely to be read on the go. Paragraphs of text will only put the reader off.
- Automate emails when possible.
There’s a lot to take in, and if you’ve already created a general SEO plan, you may be tempted to skip it. But don’t! Optimizing for local SEO can help attract so many more customers, many of which will be already warmer than those you’re targeting miles away.