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 2021.
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.
Having said that, Google continues to dominate the market. For that reason, in this guide, we will for the most part focus on attracting local traffic through the search engine.
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 and the local results.
And 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 My Business account will result in Google understanding your business better, and be able to rank it for relevant local searches.
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.
There’s something I’d like to stress deeply before we begin: What follows is far more than a “dream list” of local SEO tips and best practices. Everything I mention below will have an incredible effect on your local SEO strategy.
The reason I tell you this is because following those practices is your ticket to high rankings.
You see, most companies do not prioritize and implement it all. As we’ve established (data from LocalClarity,) only 5% of companies follow best practices in their Google My Business account.
In short, merely implementing the advice below will set you far ahead of the majority of companies!
So, what are those best practices I recommend? In no particular order:
Just like each blog post and content asset needs to be optimized, so do your Google My Business listings.
Claiming local listing for every location is the first step to gaining local visibility, of course.
However, to capture this local opportunity fully, you must go beyond the standard set up of the Google My Business account.
We’ve discussed many of the local ranking factors in the previous section. So, as a recap, appearing in Google maps results and the local results pack is enhanced by the following:
Similarly, you already know that the number of reviews, their score, and your engagement with reviews affect rankings as well.
Therefore, don't only solicit more reviews but also become more active when it comes to processing and responding to those.
Tip: Leverage online directories like Yelp and Foursquare to share your business information to a wider audience.
Finally, traffic from your local listing (note that I include phone calls and looking up driving directions in this category as well) is enhanced by:
To win, your GMB listings for each location should target more than the most necessary information but expand it with all the above to ensure a higher chance for exposure. And don't forget those additional directories!
Rankings are not the end goal of any SEO strategy, of course. But a proper tracking and attribution is key to evaluating the success of your work, and to prove the value of your actions.
Naturally, local rank tracking is far easier if your company operates in a single location. An enterprise company, however, one with multiple locations scattered around the country or even the globe, must rely on far more powerful data. What’s more, to fully evaluate the impact of various campaigns, it must have all this data in one place.
To succeed, set up local rank tracking for every location you operate in, ideally down to the ZIP code, if necessary.
seoClarity offers the most accurate local rank tracking explicitly designed for enterprise companies operating in multiple locations. It uses geo-located IPs to collect local ranking data from local data centers.
Earlier on, we’ve talked about local attributes – factors that help distinguish the business and its various qualities so that the search engine could display it for relevant searches.
These attributes can define whether a coffee shop has outdoor seating or whether it is a place suitable for business lunches and so on.
But there is another way you can use those attributes to win in local search.
You see, these attributes come predefined by Google. You select the ones that relate to your business or location from a list. But what’s little known is that the search engine adds those attributes based on what users are searching for.
This means that attributes relate directly to the audience’s needs, and so, they are the information customers expect to find when reviewing the business.
One way you can use attributes to your advantage further?
Include information relating to relevant attributes on location-specific landing pages.
Using our example above further, a coffee shop’s page describing a particular location should boast about its outdoor seating and business facilities. This way, the page also becomes more relevant to various local searches for such a service.
This local SEO tip relates to a common mistake I see enterprise companies making over and over again.
The mistake is hiding local landing pages in the site’s architecture.
On many such websites, those location-specific assets are not linked to from any other page, a practice that, obviously, dramatically reduces their chances of being crawled.
On others, local pages are buried so deep in the architecture, that it’s almost impossible for a crawler to reach them within the allocated crawl budget.
Now, I can understand the logic behind such practices. Some brands, particularly stores operating both online and physical locations, see those pages as one-way doorstep into the site. Those companies would rather get the sale online than offline and prefer to hide those pages.
Unfortunately, the fact remains that such a practice diminishes their chances for strong local rankings.
Naturally, you don’t have to link to local landing pages everywhere. But even a dedicated page listing those assets will help crawlers access and index that content easily.
Hilton Hotels’ website, for example, features a Locations page, listing and linking to all the company’s location pages – both region and then, individual properties in that location.
NAP – an acronym that stands for Name, Address, and Phone Number – relates to the business and contact data published about your business’ specific locations across the web. These are also referred to as local citations, since they list information about your business. Some SEOs include the page's URL here, too.
For the search engine, consistency of the NAP data used to confirm that whatever information it had on the business or location was accurate (and thus, the listing was worth pushing higher in rankings).
Today, NAP consistency does not hold the same strength as a factor in local search or map rankings.
Given how many customers search for local information outside of the Google eco-system, it’s still worth updating the local citation data to ensue it's up-to-date and consistent.
As an SEO, you know very well the importance meta titles play in achieving higher organic rankings.
Their effect on local rankings is no different.
Including locations within landing pages’ meta titles will increase their chances of appearing higher in local search.
Referencing locations in the meta description, on the other hand, will make your listings more likely to be noticed by searchers.
The use of voice search might have plateaued for now. However, it remains one of the top 5 ways of how customers ask questions on their smartphones.
And needless to say, many of those questions have local intent. According to the data from KPCB, 22% of voice queries focus on finding local information (cited after Search Engine Land).
What does that mean to your strategy? Well, for one, your website should be optimized to deliver answers to the most common questions people might ask about your product or service, at least.
For example, you can assume that customers in a specific location will inquire about your nearest outlet, phone number, opening hours, or any other information that will help them connect with you.
Ensuring that all this information is readily available on each location’s landing page is a great start.
Answering questions about your product or service is the next step. You may have to do some work, trying to envisage what information they might inquire about. However, all that time will be well spent to ensure that you’re delivering the answers your customers need.
The two terms – local search and mobile – are so related that they could as well be synonymous.
Most local searches take place on mobile devices, after all. What’s more, local mobile searches offer an incredible business opportunity.
Here are just some stats that prove it (compiled by HubSpot):
And so, it goes without saying: To win in local search, your website must be optimized for mobile.
In fact, as another data point from HubSpot proves:
61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site.
This means that all your pages display well on small smartphone screens, the content is easy to read, pictures are clear and can be scaled up if needed.
Your pages must also open fast on mobile devices, even if a person is on a slower network.
It seems logical to target keywords that are relevant to local customers. Yet, I often see companies ignoring that rule when optimizing local landing pages.
They focus either on general keywords or, at most, specify the location in general terms (like city or state).
However, there’s far more you can target in local search.
Customers might search for granular information, based on their ZIP code, for example.
Or a specific location or a landmark.
The opportunities might be many, depending on your industry and customer needs.
Research your local keywords thoroughly, then. Next, ensure that you include them in all the page elements that affect on-page SEO: meta tags, headings, within the body copy, image alt tags, and more.
Search listings, local and organic alike, are often enhanced by additional information – opening hours, reviews, a business’ address or phone number, etc.
Google accesses and displays much of this data from the structured data markup (Schema) it finds on a page.
Therefore, the more information you mark up with Schema, the easier it will be for Google to find it and use it to enhance your local search listings.
Not all Schema relates to local businesses, of course. But many markup elements can help you enhance local listings.
The most common ones include local business schema, and ratings and reviews.