This article was updated in February 2020.
TL;DR This article outlines the key areas which you should focus on when it comes to launching a local SEO campaign for your new or already established business. The article covers topics including, but not limited to –
- Google My Business Account Setup
- Local Citation Acquisition
- Local Link Acquisition
- Review Acquisition
- On Page Optimisation
- Schema Markup Implementation
Long gone are the days where ‘Brick & Mortar’ businesses can rely solely on word of mouth and local advertising in order to attract customers (although this still helps of course). Since the rise of the internet and especially smartphones, consumers are finding local businesses in different ways, and if your business hasn’t yet adapted, you may be losing out on a large number of potential customers.
There have been numerous studies of the past several years into how many searches in Google are made with local intent (ie. people wanting to find a service, restaurant, shop etc. within their current location). A study conducted by Google themselves, suggests that 56% of searches conducted by consumers on the go from their smartphones have local intent, and that 4 out of 5 consumers used search engines to search locally. This particular study was conducted in 2014, and since then the use of smartphones has only increased, and with this also has the number of consumers searching with local intent. This is why optimising your business for local search within Google is more important now than ever. SEO experts Moz, released a list of of ‘local ranking factors’ in 2018 suggesting the importance of individual factors when it comes to ranking within the Google’s ‘local pack results’ –
For more information on how Moz gathered this data, read the full article here.
As can be seen in the graph above, although there are multiple areas to consider when it comes to optimising your business for local search, but it seems that having a well optimised and full Google My Business Account is one of the most important factors when it comes to ranking locally, and as such, this is where we’ll start.
Google My Business
Google My Business is Google’s own directory of sorts where you can create a local business listings which appear within Google’s search results. Before your My Business listing will show in the search results, your business needs to be verified by Google. This can take up to 2 weeks, as Google needs to send a postcard containing a verification pin code to your given business address (thus verifying its existence and that you are the business owner). Some businesses can be verified by either phone or email, but for the vast majority however, post is the only way, and unfortunately this process can’t be fast tracked.
Whilst waiting for your My Business account to be verified, you should optimise your profile and add as much relevant information as possible, as this will increase your chances of appearing in the ‘local pack results’. Alongside including accurate NAP (Business Name, Address & Phone Number) information and correctly categorising the business (it’s important that this is as accurate as possible), you should also include the following information –
- detailed description of the business
- opening hours
- business offerings
- price range
- payment method
If you have a website, which ideally you should, the website address should also be included. Also be sure to include plenty of photos of the business and your company logo within the profile. If there’s options to add more information which you feel is relevant to your business, don’t hesitate to do so, again the key is to make your profile as complete as possible.
Local Citations & Links
Local citations are mentions of your business name and address on other websites. The most common types of local citations are directory pages. Most businesses will want to be included within high authority directories such as Yellow Pages, True Local and Yelp, but also smaller local directories and directories which are relevant to your business are also great places to be listed. For example if you own a cafe in Melbourne which serves exclusively gluten free food, it would make sense to have your business listed on a website such as the Australian Gluten Free Eating Directory (this directory was taken from the top 10 results when searching for ‘Restaurant Directory Melbourne’). Searching in Google like this ‘[business category] “Directory” [location]’ is a great way to find local relevant directories to add your business to.
One thing you need to keep note of though is the consistency of the citations. It is important that the NAP information included on all websites is exactly the same. If it needs to be updated, unfortunately it should be updated across all directories in which it is listed. This is because Google uses these citations to determine what information to return about the business within the search results. If the information found in these citations is inconsistent (even down to small typos), Google may provide incorrect information within the search results, or even worse not return any result for the business at all.
Local directory listings often provide backlinks to your site, and links are just as important for ranking locally as they are as a ranking factor in general, but you shouldn’t rely on links from directory listings alone, as quality directory links can often be ‘nofollowed’, meaning that they don’t provide link value (although in 2019, Google did start choosing to use nofollow links as ranking signals at their own discretion).
Editorial links are important when it comes to building link authority to your site. Often these types of links come when your business becomes more popular and publications start writing about it. However, these types of links can also be earned by reaching out to local bloggers or influencers working within your niche, and developing a working relationship, hopefully leading to your business being featured on their website in some way or another.
Using the Gluten Free Restaurant example from earlier, a link to your restaurant’s website in a post on local food blog would help to push the needle when it comes to local SEO. Not all links have to be editorial however, another great way to earn local links from related business who don’t directly compete with your own. For example, if you run a local butcher’s shop and you supply meat exclusively to a number of local restaurants in your area, these restaurants may have supplier information on their website, by leveraging your existing relationship with the restaurant owner, you could politely request for a link to your own business website to be placed on the restaurant website.
There are many different ways to build local links to your website, but it can be a long and arduous task, so you should start compiling a list of potential directories to list your business details, alongside local influencers and relevant websites where you may be able to have your business mentioned and linked to from as soon as possible.
It’s also worth noting that when it comes to ranking locally, links pointing to your site which contain the location name within the anchor text (e.g. the name of the city your business is located in), may help improve your chances of ranking within the ‘local 3 pack’ results and also for ‘Near Me’ searches, which have been increasing rapidly over the past few years.
Local SEO Guide released a comprehensive study on these types of searches in 2017, which reinforces the idea that Google is using link data to determine where business as placed within the ‘local 3 pack’ results for ‘near me’ searches.
Reviews are massively important when it comes to local search and Google has said that having “High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility”. Google uses metrics such as the review rating given, number of reviews, and diversity of the reviews to help determine where it will place your business within the search results. So obviously, having a high number of 4 or 5 star reviews gives you a better chance of ranking higher for local search results, and maybe even within the ‘local 3 pack’. Obviously, as it’s Google we’re talking about, Google reviews themselves are the most important when it comes to how your business is ranked (and you can even sort the local results by the Google review score), however as mentioned, review diversity is important, and Google will also takes reviews in other popular websites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor into account, as well as looking at reviews on your business’s Facebook page and other social media platforms.
Reviews definitely shouldn’t just be considered as a ranking factor for local search however. Reviews can make the difference between a consumer choosing to visit your business or taking their patronage elsewhere. The 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey conducted by BrightLocal provides somes invaluable statistics when it comes to how consumers see online reviews. The results show that 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, 91% of consumers will be more likely to use a local business more if it has positive reviews, 76% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations, and 58% of consumers believe that the ‘recency’ of reviews is the most important factor when it comes to making their decision. These statistics alone are enough to show how important online reviews are to your local business.
The question now is; “how do I get these reviews?” Firstly, as tempting as it may be, never create ‘fake reviews’. Google has explicitly warned against this, and it’s spam detection algorithm is pretty good at picking these up. What Google does recommend is to prompt actual customers to your business to leave reviews in their own time, whether it be by giving them a business card with a reminder on it or sending a friendly email a few days after they have visited or used your service.
Don’t just focus on getting reviews for Google, encourage customers to review your business on different platforms such as Facebook or Tripadvisor etc. Also be aware that some websites such as Yelp have a policy against directly asking for reviews, so be sure to read the website’s terms and conditions before reaching out to customers. The results of the survey show that 85% of consumers are willing to leave a review for a business, whether it be positive or negative. It goes without saying that there’s no point asking for reviews if your customer service isn’t up to scratch, as all you’re likely to get is negative feedback. However, as long as you provide your customer with a great experience, when asking them for a review, the odds are in your favour.
Inevitably, chances are you will still get a negative review from time to time, as no matter how much you try, you just can’t make everybody happy. When this happens, instead of panicking, just respond to the criticism in a polite and professional manner, and use it constructively. Displaying your willingness to accept fault, and deal with the complaint appropriately will show other potential customers reading these reviews that you are a professional and courteous business owner, hopefully making them less likely to be dissuaded from visiting your business based off of a few negative reviews.
On Site Elements & Schema Markup
As with SEO in general, optimising on site elements such as Meta titles and descriptions is also hugely important when it comes to local SEO. Including target keywords within the Meta title (and elsewhere throughout the copy) helps Google to understand what the purpose of the page is, and these can also be optimised to target your local area, e.g. ‘[Business Type] – [Location] | Business Name’. An example of this is for the following result for the search ‘Dental Clinic Fitzroy’ –
Although not the perfect snippet, the title does include the business type (dental), location (Fitzroy & Melbourne) and brand name (Gorgeous Smiles).
Using keyword research (you can read our article on generating long tail keywords here), you can find out exactly which keywords to include within the title of your businesses homepage (assuming this is also the target landing page), and optimise them accordingly (note that, although page titles are considered the most important element when it comes to keyword placement, be sure to use target keywords throughout the on page copy where applicable too, this can be as small as just including the name of the location where your business is located). However, be aware that there are character limits for Meta titles, and if you exceed this limit your title may be cut off within the search results. The ideal length for a Meta title is anywhere between 50 – 60 characters as Google will be able to show all of the title, but up to 70 characters is often allowed depending on pixel width. It’s best to check how your title looks in the search results first, to ensure that it isn’t being cut off.
Like Meta titles, Meta descriptions also have a character limit, which in this case is up to 160 characters (or 180 depending on pixel width). Unlike Meta titles however, Meta descriptions don’t affect how Google will rank your business page, but having an informative, well written description (alongside accurate Meta titles) has been shown to increase CTR (click through rate). As with Meta titles, be sure to check how your Meta description looks within the search results, to ensure that the entire description can be seen. Fully optimising Meta titles and descriptions can make the difference between a potential customer clicking through to your website, or choosing a more enticing option from the search results.
Including the appropriate Schema Markup within your business pages can also help when it comes to local search visibility. Schema markup is code which can be added to web pages to help search engines better understand the content and therefore return more informative results to users. At the very least, it’s advisable to add NAP (name, address, phone number) schema to all contact information throughout the site (this acts as almost a ‘virtual business card’), as well as adding organisation schema around the business logo (this will show Google the preferred image to return for the business within the knowledge graph). There are endless types of Schema that you can add to your local business website, and a number of online schema markup generators which make this process quick and easy. Below is an example of basic Schema markup for a business address –
This code would be added to the Contact page (or wherever the address can be found on your website). You can use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to ensure that the code which you have created is fully functioning before adding it to your site.
One last thing to note with regards to local SEO, is not to forget the importance of traditional SEO practices, such as ensuring that your website is technically sound, easy to navigate for users and search engines, contain high quality content and pages load properly etc. It may make sense that your business only needs to rank for local searches, so this is where you put your focus your energy, but your business website still needs to be fully accessible and up to Google’s standard in order to perform well. Not to mention, there’s no point going to all that effort of getting your business found, just for a customer to leave your website straight away due to a poor user experience (and Google also takes user engagement metrics into consideration when deciding where to rank businesses locally.)
Launching a local SEO campaign is a substantial task for any new or established business, and results cannot be expected overnight. However, if you use the above information as a starting point, you should increase the visibility of your business within the local search results, thus hopefully leading to more customers, more sales and more success!