A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LOCAL SEO
The SEO strategy for attracting a national or global audience is different than getting people to visit your physical location or getting exposure among a regional population. If you want to reach potential customers closer to home, you’ll need to perform a few additional steps.
The overarching idea of SEO can be overwhelming. That’s why we created this SEO guide for local business owners. It covers all the basics as well as advanced strategies, all in terms that even a newbie can understand.
Why SEO Is Important for Local Businesses
Traditional media channels are still effective, but you need alternative ways to get found and become known to potential customers in your area. That’s where a digital strategy comes into play. Your company’s website might be the most beautifully designed page in the history of web design, but if no one can find it, it won’t do you any good.
And believe us when we tell you that people are searching online for businesses just like yours.
Fun fact: 46% of all searches on Google are local.
Do you want these people to visit your competitors instead?
You’ve probably heard some buzzwords over the years. Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is an umbrella term that encompasses all the tactics that help your site show up at the top of the search engines. In the early years of the Internet, there were all kinds of “black hat” tactics companies would use, like keyword stuffing, bogus link building, and creating hundreds of microsites to dominate search results.
Small and medium-sized businesses had a hard time earning top search rankings when their sites were competing directly with multinational corporations. All of that changed relatively recently. In 2012, Google started including local businesses in the top-ranked Google Places results page as well as in organic search results.
Google has gotten incredibly smart over the years, and their newest algorithms (the rules that help you get found) take into account the user experience more than anything else. This guide will walk you through the steps you should take to create a positive experience for your website visitors. And, of course, we’ll also include some ninja, “white hat” tricks that will help boost your rankings, too.
Perform a Competitive Analysis
We won’t spend a lot of time on this step because we believe in outperforming your competitors, not copying them. However, it is important to know where you stand and how strong the competition is. There are several free tools you can use to analyse your competitors and see how strong their SEO strategy is. You’ll be able to see how many backlinks they have, what words they rank for, and even how often they publish content.
Use this information as a guide so that you know what you’re up against, and then do better than them. Tools like SEMrush, Google Search Console, and Ahrefs can help you compile and make sense of the data.
If you don’t want to use an automated tool, or you want a quick overview of the competitive landscape, then go to Google and browse the top 10 search results that come up for your niche. Enter “local area + keyword phrase.” If you are a dentist in Sydney, then simply type into Google “Sydney Dentist,” and pay particular attention to the top 3 results. Those are the ones to beat.
Get a Keyword Targeting Strategy
One of the first places to start with any local SEO plan is with a keyword strategy. What are the keywords that people are typing into the search engines to find businesses like yours? If you are currently running ads on Google, you can use their Keyword Planner to determine relevant keywords and search volumes.
These tools are helpful because not only do they provide you with valuable insights about your desired keywords, but they also give you inspiration for other words and phrases you might not have thought of yet.
Select Your Keywords
In addition to the obvious, low-hanging fruit that you’ll find with a keyword planner, look for words that have high search volume, low competition or are highly targeted. Look for long-tail keywords, too. A long-tail keyword is a combination of words that form a longer phrase.
For example, if you are in the retailing flooring industry, then “flooring” is going to be an extremely competitive term. You may be able to rank for it locally, but you’ll need to rank for other phrases in order to signal to the search engines that flooring is relevant to your business. In this instance, we would suggest additional related keywords like “vinyl flooring planks,” “vinyl flooring pros and cons,” etc.
Next, we’ll dive deeper into this strategy, which we refer to as building a keyword silo.
Build a Keyword Silo
One of the biggest mistakes we see clients make is that they choose a couple of keywords that they want to rank for, and then they try to make every single one of those pages rank for those few, specific terms. It’s an understandable mistake because it does seem logical that if you want to rank for a couple of important keywords, a good way to do it would be to create a bunch of content that supports that goal. However, that’s not the case.
What ends up happening with that approach is that you confuse Google. The search engines see several pages on your site that are all competing for the same keyword, and they struggle to decide which one of those pages is the most useful to the person performing the search.
As you might imagine, only one (or none) make the cut, and then you’re left with a bunch of web pages on page 12 of Google. Have you ever actually bothered to click through to the 12th page of a search query?
A better strategy is to create a keyword silo. Here’s how to do it in 3 easy steps:
- Make a list of all the keywords and phrases you want to rank for.
- Make a list of all the pages that are on your site.
- Assign two keyword phrases for each one of your pages.
This procedure allows you to create an organised site structure while also ensuring that all of the words you’d like to rank for are included prominently in your content.
Focus on the User Experience
As you create content for your business’s website, focus on the user experience, and you can’t go wrong. Resist the temptation to stuff keywords into your content that adversely affect the readability. Instead, write conversationally.
Include images that are high-quality and engaging. If possible, add videos to your site. Make sure you create original content that your audience and customers would find helpful. Don’t just regurgitate information from Wikipedia. Instead, create pages and blog articles that educate, inform or entertain your visitors.
One ninja tip to find out what your audience might want to know is to visit a site called Answer the Public. This website aggregates all search queries about a given topic into an easy-to-understand visual chart.
If you’re a chiropractor, for example, you might be struggling to know what types of blog articles to write. If you type the word “chiropractor” into this tool, you’ll find the top questions people ask about chiropractic. There’s also a list of more than 100 long-tail keywords you can include on your pages and in your content pieces.
Include several testimonials on your site and consider adding a page dedicated to testimonials. If you’d like the testimonials to include keywords or stay focused on certain topics, give your clients and customers a survey to fill out with room for comments. Then you can select the excerpts from the testimonials that best fit on your site. As you may have guessed, keyword-rich testimonials will also help you rank more highly in the search engines.
Get Listed in the Directories (Major, Local and Niche)
A directory is a list of businesses. Directories are often highly ranked in search results, so if you want to be found by a local audience, make sure you’re listed.
The first step is to get listed in the major directories like Yelp, Google My Business, and Yellowpages.com. You’ll also want to appear in local directories like the Chamber of Commerce. And finally, don’t forget to submit your business information to industry-specific directories. For example, if you are a law firm, then submit to directories that include lists of lawyers.
A citation is any mention of your business online that includes your NAP (name, address, phone number). The more of these you have, the stronger signal to the search engines that you’re a legitimate business.
There are two types of citations:
- Structured: A mention of your business on a directory like Yelp or the online Yellow Pages. With a structured citation, you manually input and verify the information is correct.
- Unstructured: Any mention of your business’s contact information on a site that’s not specifically a directory. If an online newspaper covers a story about an event at your business and gives your address, for example, this would be considered an unstructured citation.
An important SEO tip to remember is to maintain consistency across all of your citations. There should be no variations in the way your name and street address are listed. If you use an Pty Ltd after your company name, keep that consistent any time you submit your business information. The same goes for how you structure the name of your street.
Sign up for Google My Business (GMB)
Uploading your information to Google My Business is perhaps the most impactful ranking factor you can do for local SEO. It’s almost like having a standalone site hosted by Google. Include your basic details like NAP and operating hours, and also make it stand out from the competition by adding photos and videos of your business. You can even use GMB to gather reviews and book appointments.
Be Active on Social Media
Social media platforms help with your citations and your backlinks. They also naturally drive traffic to your site, which is another key indicator for the search engines. You don’t have to be active on every single platform. Use your time wisely and create content on platforms that your customers use.
For the other social media channels, create an account and maintain a presence, but don’t worry as much about being active. Some social media platforms where you should create accounts include:
You might have heard about getting backlinks. That’s when websites post a link to your business on their pages. Typically, the higher the domain authority of the site that links to you, the better. A link to your business from The Huffington Post would be more valuable than a link from an unknown media company.
When it comes to local SEO, the rules are a little bit different. Almost any local website will be a powerful ranking factor for you. Google interprets the links, even from small sites, as further indicators that you’re a legitimate business servicing a specific area and that your content is valuable.
To start the process of building links, the first step is to ask. Contact other businesses in the area and request that they include a link to your site on one of their pages. Alternatively, offer to guest blog on local media properties in exchange for a link mention. Not only do you get the link, you also get valuable exposure, too!
Reviews are helpful for your business, even outside of an SEO strategy. If there are two seemingly similar bicycle shops, and one has ten times the amount of reviews as the other, then where do you think most customers will go?
When it comes to being ranked highly by the local search engines, reviews also play a major role. Given the fact that many people won’t write about a business unless they either have a bad experience or are asked directly, take a proactive approach and ask your customers to review you. If they happen to say something negative, make sure you respond promptly and professionally.
You may have noticed that we mentioned testimonials earlier this local SEO guide. For the purposes of SEO, reviews and testimonials are different. Think of a review as something that’s posted off of your site, like on a local directory or social media. You don’t have control over what someone publishes on a review site.
With a testimonial, you’re the one who publishes them with the permission of your client or customer. They’re helpful for SEO because they can contain keywords, they encourage people to stay on the site longer to read what others have to say, and it can also lead to more prospects becoming customers.
Don’t Forget the Technical Details
Many of the above steps require little or no technical knowledge, but there is some heavy lifting involved as you refined your local SEO stratetgy. Below are seven technical aspects of this guide that you may need to get expert guidance to complete.
Add a Map that Shows Your Locations
There’s more than one way to do this, but the gist is that you want a visual representation of where your location is on a map. This Google page has step-by-step instructions, and there are also free tools available that make it even easier. If Google’s instructions are intimidating, try this site, which generates the code for you automatically.
An often-overlooked piece of the local SEO puzzle is the structure of the URLs. Your URLs should be descriptive and include the relevant keywords that you’re targeting for the page. Just don’t repeat them. That’s considered spamming.
Also, strip out unnecessary words like prepositions and articles. Be consistent with how you use upper and lower-case letters. As a general rule, we recommend only lower-case letters. A final tip is to keep them under 164 characters. Anything longer gets truncated.
Page Load Time
When deciding where to rank your page, search engines take a close look at how fast it takes for your site to load. Users will click the back button if there’s a long delay, and that makes for a poor user experience. Make no mistake: Google will penalise you heavily for that.
You can test your page load speed from a variety of free places online, including Pingdom. You’ll get a letter grade with a detailed performance insight summary and suggestions on how to make your page load more quickly.
Rich snippets (schema markup)
A rich snippet is a visual piece of data that shows up in search results. An example is when you type into Google asking for the definition of a word or when you want to know the conversion rate from Australian Dollars to US Dollars.
Similar functionality has been extended to local businesses. By putting data like your reviews, location information, and phone numbers into something called a Schema markup, the way your business shows up online gets an upgrade. The steps to implement a local business schema can get complicated, so if you’re looking for a quick, easy, and free solution, then use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. It will do all the hard work for you.
Locally Optimised Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
Your title tags and meta descriptions are what show up on the search engine results page when your page appears in a search query. For national and global brands, a location might not matter, but for local businesses, this is essential information to include.
Your title tags and meta descriptions should ideally have the name of the city or community you serve. If people are searching for your type of product or service using postal codes, then add those as well.
A well-written title tag and meta description not only helps you rank, it also encourages a higher click-through rate (the percentage of people who see your link that click on it). And, the higher the click-through rate, the higher a page will rank in the search engines.
Submit an XML Sitemap
Once you’ve completed all the above steps, it’s time to submit your XML sitemap to Google. This is typically a one-step process that allows Google to crawl and index all of your pages, so they can begin to show up in the search results.
It’s no longer optional to have a mobile-friendly site design. If you want your local website to rank highly, it must be mobile-friendly. This includes a responsive design that scales appropriately on devices of all sizes. It also means you must limit popups. Never allow a popup to take up the entire screen on a mobile device. If Google detects this, then your ranking will drop.
As you get started on the recommended steps in this guide, and you start ticking off boxes, keep in mind that Google is placing more emphasis than ever on the user experience. When you work on your site or hire developers and content marketers to help you on this journey, make sure they understand this rule.
Every change or improvement made to your site should be done to enhance the experience of your visitor. If your site is useful, easy to navigate, and loads quickly, then you’re well on your way to a top ranking.