The data is irrefutable — local SEO is an absolute must-have for a business serving its community. For example:
Unfortunately, as the local SEO opportunity continues to grow, so does the competition for the local search traffic and local search visibility.
That’s the reason for this guide – to help you identify local ranking factors that will help position your business in all locations in which it operates in an effort to reach potential customers.
In this Local SEO Guide, you can expect to learn the following:
Let’s start with some basics about how local SEO works in 2023.
Local SEO refers to a whole range of practices aiming to position a business in different elements of local search – Maps, local pack, and localized search results – to attract customers from relevant local searches.
When thinking of local SEO, it's critical to remember that the practice goes beyond just Google. Customers search for local businesses from a wide range of search engines and platforms – Google Maps, Google Search, Bing Local, Bing Maps, Apple Maps, and more.
In fact, Apple recently launched Business Connect which allows local businesses to claim and optimize their Apple Maps locations. This new directory gives businesses the opportunity to build their local presence with an estimated 75-100 million Apple Maps users in the U.S.
Having said that, Google continues to dominate the market. For that reason, we will primarily focus on attracting local traffic through the search engine in this guide.
Recommended Reading: 8 Challenges of Local SEO (and How to Solve Them)
Anyone who operates a brick-and-mortar store can benefit from local SEO and earning more visibility through search.
Whether you're a small business owner or an SEO at a large enterprise company with hundreds of store locations, local SEO is a great way to generate more foot traffic to your place of business.
Recommended Reading: Win at Multi-Location SEO with these 5 Strategies
The easiest way to explain how local search works vs. organic results is by an example. So, let’s imagine that you need to find a place to take a client for a lunch meeting.
The simplest way to do so is to fire up a search engine and ask for recommendations. Here, we’ve searched the query “places for business lunch near me”.
Notice the two distinct sections in the search engine results page (SERP) above? One is a local pack, the other includes organic results.
Both results are localized and deliver information that matches my search criteria. Each of them does it in its unique way, though.
The local pack shows the top businesses that rank in Google Maps for the target phrase. It also includes some additional information about each company to help me decide which option is the best for my needs.
The other section contains the regular content you’d see in any SERP. Although, in this case, as you can see in the GIF above, it is targeting local information as well.
Here’s an incredibly vital thing you must remember about local SEO:
Since local rankings are unrelated to the website, what affects where your business shows up?
Google, for example, lists three key attributes that help determine the local ranking:
Here’s how they work in practice.
There are two separate aspects of local SEO:
And here are the factors that determine your success in each.
Being found focuses on one thing only – ensuring that your business shows up prominently in Google Maps, the local results, and other prominent platforms like Apple Maps.
Whether you do is affected by several factors:
The easiest way to understand Local Attributes is to think of them as Schema. Both serve the same purpose – they help define the content to Google better.
In the case of Schema, the goal is to make various sections of a page clearer to the search engine.
Attributes, on the other hand, help distinguish the business and its various qualities so that the search engine could display it for relevant searches.
These attributes define almost every aspect of service delivery or business operations.
This restaurant that appeared in the SERP for business lunch earlier, for example, decided to list the following attributes:
Here's another example:
Having adequately defined attributes within the Google Business Profile will result in Google understanding your business better, and be able to rank it for relevant local searches.
As previously stated, Apple's launch of Business Connect also provides an opportunity for local businesses to customize their information on Apple Maps.
Setting up and claiming locations only takes a few minutes and allows businesses to view and edit location details, add photos, and review the engagement and performance of their Apple Maps locations.
Taking advantage of Apple's new directory gives businesses the ability to build their local presence with millions of Apple Maps users.
Reviews are the other major factor contributing to your local rankings. Overall, three specific review-related factors affect your local search positions:
Businesses responding to reviews (and doing so fast) come across as more customer-oriented and caring. Naturally, the search engine will want to promote them over companies that do not make such an impression.
Recommended Reading: LocalClarity Guide on Best Practices and Instructions for Google My Business Posts
Factors above help you work with the local algorithm to ensure rankings and local visibility.
Unfortunately, in local SEO, that’s only half of the battle. The other part is being selected from all the options a user has in Google Maps.
And those options can be plenty. Here’s a quick maps search result for the phrase “coffee shops near me”. Mind you; it represents only above-the-fold results. Yet, if I were looking for a coffee shop, I’d have a tough time deciding!
In a crowded market or area, it can be difficult to pick out your business's name from the group, which means it's even harder for users.
(Local search results for "coffee shops near me".)
So, what factor affects whether your business is being selected?
Remember the role reviews play in being found? The number of reviews, your overall score, and your responsiveness affects how your business shows up in local search results.
But what customers say in those reviews is what makes them pick you … or skip you.
This also means that any negative reviews might not influence the ranking algorithm that much. However, they will be damaging to a person’s selection process.
A few simple tweaks can go a long way in earning more search visibility. Here's a quick list of local SEO strategies. To learn more about these strategies, head over to Local SEO Tips: 12 Best Practices to Improve Local Search Visibility.
Optimizing your Google Business and Apple Business Connect Profiles is a must for local SEO. This opens the door to additional discovery.
You can enhance your listing by responding to reviews, having updated store hours, correct contact information, and plenty more.
As local search becomes more visual, businesses can also optimize their listings by using unique, high-quality images and videos for each category or product on their profiles.
Your customers won't always have the same intent. For example, some may be looking to find directions or contact information. In that case, you'd want to have easily findable contact information like a phone number.
Again, this is a great time to optimize your Google Business Profile with that information!
Other customers may be interested in looking up product availability. That's another intent to match. This time, likely in the form of schema.
Online reviews can be great resources to understand customer feedback. You'll be able to see what's going right, but perhaps more importantly, you can see if your customers have feedback that can be addressed.
Maybe some store locations have more complaints than others. Monitoring online reviews is a great way to find that out.
You can't know what's going right if you can't measure progress. Just like you would monitor your other rankings, this is important for local SEO efforts as well.
Recommended Reading: A Strategic Approach to Geo Reporting in SEO
Each business location has unique attributes. Maybe a coffee shop has an outside patio, for example, or offers free Wi-Fi.
You can promote these attributes on location-specific landing pages.
A common digital marketing mistake with local SEO is to hide local landing pages deep into the site's architecture. Some are so buried that it's nearly impossible for Googlebot to find them with the available crawl budget. (Google won't explore your site forever.)
Recommended Reading: 4 Steps to Create an XML Sitemap with Hreflang Tags for Multi-Location Sites
Today, NAP (name, address, phone number) consistency does not hold the same strength as a factor in local search or map rankings, but it's still important to get it right.
Including location names and specific identifying features within landing pages’ meta titles will increase their chances of appearing higher in local search.
Plus, searchers may be enticed to click if they can see from the SERP that your listing is the location they're looking for.
Voice search may have lost momentum, but it's still a common way that people search for information.
Searchers may ask about store hours, directions, etc.
The importance of mobile, especially for local SEO, can't be overstated. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly so as to not turn away people who are searching on the go.
Don't be afraid to get specific with your keyword targeting. You can even go as granular as the zip code level. For example, the keyword "car rental chicago illinois 60602." Long-tail keywords like this often have less competition and higher conversion rates.
For optimum results, try to include a local-focused target keyword on each URL.
Schema allow you to offer more information about your site. Then, some of that information can present itself on the SERP — things like reviews, star ratings, etc.