Search engine optimization for local businesses and SMBs is becoming more difficult and competitive. Local SEO best practices are continuously changing to keep up with new features that search engines add to how they display search results for local search queries.
For local businesses and SMBs, there are generally three main types of local SEO strategy categories to concentrate on:
- Optimizing local listings and citations.
- Optimizing your website and its content.
- Optimizing and working on the links to your website.
Among these three main categories, there are specific strategies that will help optimize your local presence, ultimately bringing more traffic and visibility. Let’s look at each of these local SEO strategies in more detail. Then, I’ll list even more local SEO strategies and quick tips that you might not have thought of yet.
Optimizing Local Listings & Citations
Let’s start with your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) data. In order to get listed and ranked in Google Maps, you need to be a legitimate business, and in some areas, you’ll need a business license (depending on the type of business you’re in). That NAP needs to be consistent and listed the same everywhere or you’ll have problems later on.
Before you get started with local listings and citations, you’ll also need the following:
- NAP of the business.
- Website URL (list of internal location pages if more than one location).
- A short description (up to 50 characters) which should include your main city name and type of business.
- A longer description (up to 250 characters) that describes who you are and what you do. Include the city name and areas served if applicable.
- Recent photos of your business.
- Category of your business.
- Keywords (that you’d like to rank for). These are typical “cityname keyword” type keywords.
The main strategy for local listings and local citations is to get as many as feasible in the right category, with consistent information such as your NAP data.
Local citations are mentions of a local business, which includes NAP data. Local citations may or may not include a link to your website. There are generally two strategies for getting local citations:
- Get the local listings yourself
- Hire someone else to get them for you
Taking the time to get local citations yourself can be a really big project, especially if you’re in a competitive industry in your area. Competitors could have up to hundreds of thousands of local citations, which is nearly impossible to do manually.
If you’re a local business (SMB) in a fairly non-competitive market, then getting a handful of local citations manually is a good strategy. If that’s the case, a non-competitive local SEO strategy for local citations is to get these listings:
- Google My Business
- Yahoo! Local (currently requires a payment to Yext)
- Apple Maps
- Bing Places for Business
- Angie’s List
- Home Advisor
The last two on the list are specific to certain industries, and you’ll want to search certain directories that are specific to your local business’ industry. Typically, these are easy to find — they’ll rank in the top 10 search results (on the first page).
Submitting to directories (and getting listed) will allow your local business to take advantage of what’s often referred to as “barnacle SEO.” Your business gets listed on pages on other websites that rank well for a certain keyword you’re targeting.
So for “Dallas carpenters”, Google lists sites like homeadvisor.com, thumbtack.com, houzz.com, and angieslist.com. Getting listed on those sites will bring the business leads, as they’re ranking well in Google.
Once you have secured (and verified) those local listings, the next local SEO strategy is to get listed with the main data aggregators. There are four:
The data aggregators will take the information of the local business and aggregate it (make it available for literally thousands of websites to use). Be sure you’re using the correct NAP data and website URLs, as once the data aggregators get hold of your data, it’s tough to get it corrected and updated and can take quite some time.
Using a Third Party for Local Citations & Listings
Another local SEO strategy is to outsource local citations and listings. Several third-party businesses allow you to submit your local business listing to them (the NAP data, short and long descriptions, URLs, etc.), and they will then use their connections to get that data on other websites. Many have agreements with certain data providers, and can efficiently get hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of local citations.
These third-party services include:
- Advice Local
Some of these services are better than others, mainly because of the agreements they have with other websites and their technology. Some submit to only 30 websites, and others like Advice Local will end up getting a local business thousands upon thousands of local citations, many of which include a link to the website. Be wary of any third-party websites that set up a local listing on behalf of the local business but won’t give the local business the login and password for those listings.
Reviews Are Key
Getting reviews of your local business, especially on Google, is going to help rankings and it will encourage others to visit your business. People do read reviews online, especially for service-type businesses (hotels, resorts, carpet cleaners, home inspectors, carpenters, and even car dealerships). So if your local business is a service-type business or another business where reviews are important, then creating a good strategy for dealing with reviews is key.
Local businesses need to request and encourage their customers to leave a review. There are a lot of ways to encourage customers to leave a review. Some businesses post a plaque at the business asking for reviews. Other SMBs encourage reviews by offering a “prize” each month to a random reviewer (one local business I frequent gives away an Apple iPad once a month to a random reviewer).
The local business should respond to reviews just as quickly as they are left, regardless if it’s a positive or negative review. If it’s a positive review or comment, thank the customer for leaving a review. If it’s negative, deal with it quickly and offer to take the issue offline to minimize any future problems and the negative review getting out of hand.
Too many local businesses will take the time to verify their local listings but won’t properly deal with reviews and respond to them in a timely manner. Local businesses should take the time to develop a strategy for encouraging reviews, tell employees what that strategy is, and designate one or two people to respond to reviews.
Here are a few other ways to manage reviews:
- Designate one or two employees to handle the reviews.
- Encourage reviews by asking your customers when they check out or pay for services.
- Send customers a letter or postcard in the mail, asking for a review after you provide services.
- Outsource the monitoring of and responding to reviews. Typically, your social media or SEO company (or consultant) will help monitor and respond to reviews. If not, hire someone part-time to handle it for you.
- Add a link on your website to a few other places where customers can leave a review.
- Add a form on your website so they can anonymously leave a review (or leave their contact info if preferred).
- Create a comment box at your business, and provide a pen/pencil and forms. On the form, add a line for the customer’s email address. Ask them if you can post their review or testimonial online.
Reviews sent directly to the business can be posted on the company’s website (with the permission of the customer). Reviews left on a third-party website (like on Google, Yelp, etc.) cannot be copied and posted on the company’s website.
Reviews on third-party websites have in fact been given extra weight lately by Google. So sites like these, where customers can leave reviews and feedback, could potentially help with local rankings on Google:
- Yelp (yelp.com)
- Trip Advisor (tripadvisor.com)
- Yellowpages (yp.com)
- Better Business Bureau (BBB.org)
- Manta (manta.com)
- Angie’s List (angieslist.com)
- Foursquare (foursquare.com)
- Facebook (facebook.com)
Another way to get more local reviews is to create a postcard or handout that’s given to customers. Tell them you’d like their feedback, and use that feedback to make your business even better. They can leave you a review on your website, or on any of these third-party websites (list the websites where you’d like them to leave a review).
Optimizing Your Local Website’s Content
Without going into too much detail about optimizing a local website, there are several on-site local SEO strategies that are important to consider:
- Optimize for “Near Me” search queries
- Optimize for local
- Be a local content machine
- Buy a local website or blog
Optimize for “Near Me” Search Queries
Lately, there has been an upswing in the number of search queries that include the phrase “near me,” such as “restaurants near me” or “pharmacies near me.” Those two search queries assume the search engine knows where the searcher is located.
Local SEO Guide recently published a list of “near me” local SEO ranking factors. These include:
- Google Reviews
- Backlinks with city in anchor text
- Percent of backlinks within city in anchor text
- Profile views
Local SEO Guide found that for “near me” searches, you only really have to be located in the city in order to show up in the results for keyword queries that include “near me.” They found that “being closer doesn’t necessarily mean you rank higher.”
There are, however, things you can do to influence the rankings:
- Add “near me” or “nearby” in the title tag of pages on your website. If, for example, you have a Store Locator on your website or a page that lists your locations, consider adding “Near Me” or “Nearby” in the title tag of that page.
- Make sure you have a unique web page for each business location. If you have more than one location, each location needs its own page on your site. If you have more than one location in one city, consider optimizing each page for that part of town or the neighborhood.
- Add “near me” or “near” and “nearby” in the copy of the pages whenever appropriate. For example, mention your location is “near the railroad station” or “the Dallas railroad station is nearby.” Consider using the names of other local event venues, city landmarks, or popular locations that people might search for.
- Consider using “near me,” “nearby,” and “near” in the internal anchor text of links to location pages on your website.
Work on getting more backlinks specifically to your individual location pages that include “city name + keyword” in the anchor text of the links.
Be a Local Content Machine
One interesting tactic or “local SEO strategy” I’ve seen lately that works well is becoming a local content machine. Essentially, by adding a blog to your local business website and writing about local news and events, you’re producing content that others in the city will want to read and share, especially on social networks.
While you’re not necessarily writing about your local business, you’re branding the business locally. When someone wants or needs a company’s services, they’ll think of your business first since they’ve seen it so much online.
A local auto accident and personal injury attorney hired a writer to write articles every single day about accidents in their city. While they weren’t targeting the actual victims they wrote about, the social media shares went up dramatically and the attorney got his name out there in front of people in the city. Those social media shares did end up creating links to the website, which in turn helped local rankings.
Buy a Local Website or Blog
If you’re looking to add a lot of content fairly quickly to your local business website, consider purchasing a local website that already has the content you need. It could be a local hobby website with local news or articles, or it could be a local blog that has the content. Perhaps the owner doesn’t have the heart to keep up with the content like they used to or they could just use the money.
Approach a local website or blog about buying their site and incorporating and moving their content over to your local business website. Setting up redirects from the old domain name to your local business website will help pass any link equity and history over to your local business.
Optimizing and Working on Links
Google’s Possum algorithm update that happened in September 2016 put more of an emphasis on links. More specifically, local links or links from other local businesses and organizations are important.
Greg Gifford, from DealerOn.com, recommends that you can “find easy link opportunities by looking at the relationships you already have.” Local sponsorships, local volunteer opportunities, and local offline groups can all lead to local links.
Need more ideas for local links? Use Majestic.com to analyze the link profiles of similar businesses in another city.
Another local SEO strategy for local links is to get links from competitors. Use a web crawler such as the Screaming Frog SEO Spider to crawl their website and review all of your competitors’ outgoing links. Then, see if there are any links you can get from websites your competitors are linking to. Essentially those competitors are passing link credit or PageRank to the other website that then passes it to your website.
Additional Local SEO Tips
Those are a few local SEO strategies that will help local search engine rankings. But if that wasn’t enough, here are a bunch more local SEO tips and pointers that you may not have thought of yet.
- Undoubtedly, the number one local search ranking factor is the “proximity of the business to the point of search.” How far is the business away from the person who is doing the search? For example, Google knows where the searcher is (especially if they are using a mobile phone). The closer the business is to the person doing the searching, the more likely that business will show up in the Google Maps and Google local listings in the search results. Some businesses have been known to get a “virtual office” location (or multiple virtual office locations) just for this reason, especially if the customer never visits their location. While this a local SEO strategy I don’t endorse, it’s a local SEO strategy worthing noting — as a company’s competitors might be doing it.
- Keep your local online listings up to date. If you know you have an update to your NAP data, make sure it gets changed online as soon as possible.
- If you’re moving, start updating your local listings. As soon as you know the new address, start updating local listings online. It can take months for websites to update your listing, so the sooner you start, the better. Just as you update your “snail mail” with the US Postal Service when you move to a new location, you’ll want to make sure your local listings are updated as well. As previously mentioned, the address with the USPS should be the same exact address used in your local listings. Search engines most likely have access to USPS data and inconsistencies can lead to local ranking problems.
- Consistency is key when it comes to NAP data and your business’ ability to rank well locally. Make sure your local listings are consistent and the same as it is on your website.
- Audit your local citations. Inconsistent NAP data across multiple websites is one of the issues I see a lot. Auditing your local citations to make sure your NAP is consistent everywhere can really help local SEO. You might have multiple phone numbers, different versions of your address, or even a different address on some websites that list your NAP data. Removing duplicate listings and updating inconsistencies can make a huge difference.
- Add updated photos on a regular basis to local profiles. Get on a regular schedule of taking new photos of your location and your business. Add new photos on Google My Business, your Facebook page, and other sites that will accept photos such as Yelp.
- Add a budget for local ads. Use Google AdWords to target specific locations and target potential customers in your area. Google is now offering ads on Google Maps listings, so setting aside a budget for those ads will pay off.
- Work on getting more reviews. It’s always a constant battle to get more online reviews than your competitors — but it’s worth it in the long run. Ask customers for reviews — in-store, at your location, and even via email if you have your customers’ email addresses. Ask for a review on Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor if you’re a hotel or resort. Always respond in a timely manner to every review that’s left, whether it’s a positive or negative review.
On-Site Local SEO
- Add the proper link to your telephone number. Adding a “tel://” type of link to your phone number where it’s listed on your site will allow mobile visitors to click on the link and call you. This can also help search engines display your phone number in the phone call extension area in mobile search results.
- Speed up your website’s load time. Optimizing your site for mobile devices can seriously (and quickly) help rankings. I’ve seen Google send more traffic to a website just because the website loads faster than it did before. This might mean moving web hosts, redesigning the website, or using a CDN.
- All photos of your business should be tagged with the appropriate location information and keywords. Use an EXIF editor to add location information, keywords, and descriptions of each photo. Each image file can be updated with this information, which can include geotagged location information.
- Multiple locations? Create a section on your website for each location. Don’t create just one page for each location, add additional content if possible. Each location will have its own unique personality with its location and employees. Why not consistently add content relevant to each location? Add a blog, add photos to make it relevant.
- Use the proper syntax and keywords in your URLs. For each location, use a format like www.domain.com/location/. Link to each location in the main navigation on your website, but don’t link to sub-pages under each location.
- Consolidate separate websites for each location to one main website. If you’ve set up a separate domain name and website for each location, move those websites to your main site. Redirect the domain names with 301 redirects and move the content to sub-sections on your main website. Each location will feed off of the main website’s authority to become more powerful. Don’t forget to update your location’s local listings so they point to the new URL on the main website as well.
- Some local search queries can trigger featured snippets. Depending on your topic, you can increase your website traffic and visibility by showing up in “position zero” for some search queries. Position zero is the “featured snippet” that Google shows above all of the other search engine listings. Use SEMrush.com to analyze the keywords you’re currently ranking for, and see if any of them include a featured snippet. Optimize the content to show up for the featured snippet. Other search queries may also trigger the knowledge graph, instant answer, local pack carousel, or images that you can optimize for.
- Move your website to HTTPs. While you may not be taking credit cards or personal information on your website, moving your entire website to an SSL secure server will give you a leg up. HTTPs is now a search engine ranking factor for Google, and many local businesses haven’t moved their websites to HTTPs yet. So moving to HTTPs will put you ahead of your competition.
- Add a blog. Write blog posts on a regular basis about local news, local issues, and local events. Post those on social media and link back to your blog post. Photos are always liked by local residents, and quite often they’re shared.
Local SEO Audits
- Perform an audit of your website. There are several different types of audits available, including link audits, on-page audits, and local citation audits.
- Local citation audits are good for identifying duplicate listings and inconsistent NAP data. I’ve recently seen a rash of negative SEO being done in the local listings, with some businesses receiving listings being built “for them” with bad data, courtesy of competitors. A local citation audit can identify a lot of these issues so you can deal with them properly.
- Link audits are important, as local maps algorithms are increasingly relying on link data. Having low-quality links and off-topic links pointing to your website can hurt rankings.
- On-page audits are also important to identify areas for improvement on your website. Fixing issues like formatting, metadata, heading, and even page load speed can improve rankings.
Off-Site Local SEO
- Get your customers’ email addresses and use that data to target them on Facebook or for an email newsletter. You can upload your customers’ email addresses and phone numbers to Facebook and target them with ads. Then, create a lookalike campaign on Facebook to target even more people with the same demographics as your current customers.
- Optimize for voice search. More people are using voice search to find local businesses. They use voice search to help them find a business near them. For example, they might ask, “Where is the nearest Italian restaurant?” Check out the Local SEO Guide study of “near me” local SEO ranking factors that I previously mentioned. It’s an interesting read.
- Use the barnacle SEO strategy. For your main keywords (the ones you want to rank for), take a look at who is currently ranking — and it may not be your own website. If you can optimize your listing or show up well on another site that’s currently ranking for your keyword, then you’ll still see some traffic and get business. If a Yelp, Home Advisor, Thumbtack, Angie’s List, or BBB page is ranking, then make sure your local business is listed on those pages.
- Participate and sponsor local events, local organizations, and help local non-profits. These will increase your local visibility and will quite often include a link back to your website, which ultimately helps your search engine rankings.
After doing local SEO for a lot of businesses over the years, I can’t point to any of these local SEO strategies or tips that will be the one “trick” to getting better local search engine rankings. It’s generally a combination of several (or a lot) of these local SEO strategies that boost a local company’s search engine rankings in both the maps listings and the organic SERPs.
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Author: Bill Hartzer