A Comprehensive Guide to Local Search Engine Optimization in 2021

Local search is powerful for small businesses: 46% of all Google searches are for local information. If your business isn’t optimized for local search, you can miss out on potential customers ready to shop in your area. In short, local SEO is crucial if you want your business to stay relevant.

To help you optimize your business for local SEO, we’ve created a comprehensive guide that includes tips and tools for local SEO.

By the end of the guide, you’ll know exactly how to optimize your business to reach potential consumers who will use local search to choose which products or services to buy.

What is Local SEO?

Local Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving search engine visibility for local businesses, especially those with stationary locations. By following local SEO best practices, businesses can improve organic traffic from searches from customers in nearby areas.

To collect information for local search, search engines rely on signals such as local content, social profile pages, links and quotes to provide the user with the most relevant local results.

With local search engine optimization, companies can position their products and services for local prospects and customers who are looking for them.

Local SEO tips

  1. Optimize for Google My Business.
  2. Use social media and add posts to Google My Business.
  3. Make sure your name, address, and phone number are consistent online.
  4. Optimize online directories and citations.
  5. Perform a local SEO audit.
  6. Improve your internal link structure.
  7. Optimize url, title tags, headers, meta description and content.
  8. Add location pages to your website.
  9. Create local content.
  10. Make sure your website is cell phone compatible.
  11. Receive inbound links with relevance and authority.
  12. Get involved in your local community.

1. Optimize for Google My Business.

Google My Business has become the crème de la crème of local search. Since Google is understandably most comfortable sharing content that it can support and review, Google My Business is the tool your business can use to meet Google’s needs.

To make sure you’re optimized for Google My Business, here are some things to do:

  1. Create and review a Google My Business page
  2. Use Google Posts in your account
  3. Encourage your customers to share reviews online
  4. Respond authentically to reviews and provide location. For example: “We look forward to your feedback in the [city, state]. We appreciate your contributions and look forward to working with you again. Thanks from the [full company name] Team.”

If Google can validate your business as authentic, the search engine may be able to reward your business with a coveted sidebar area in local Google search.

Don’t just do this for SEO, either. By doing reviews and keeping your contact information and uptime up-to-date, you will improve the experience for potential customers to find you. Finding up-to-date information is more important than ever for consumers today as consumers’ shopping behavior and business operations will be disrupted in 2020.

For more information on how to use Google My Business, check out our full post here.

2. Use social media and post on Google My Business.

Google believes content shared on social media is more important today than ever.

Now that you’ve created a beautiful Google My Business page, you can share the page on social media and keep social and search focused.

3. Make sure your name, address, and phone number are consistent online.

You have to make it easy for people and search engines to find you. To do this, set up your NAP, which stands for name, address and telephone number (with area code). This should be included on your site as crawlable HTML text.

Avoid the common mistake of including only the NAP in an image – images cannot be crawled by search engines like HTML text. The most common location for the NAP is in the site footer or header.

4. Optimize online directories and citations.

For US companies, these four map data aggregators provide a large amount of map data for Apple, Yelp, Bing, Google, Trip Advisor and more.

Consistency is key: make sure your citations in these four data aggregators are consistent and complete.

Discrepancies such as misspellings, abbreviations, missing suite numbers or incorrect telephone numbers can be problematic.

If Google can’t determine what information about your business is correct, your business may not show up in search results at all.

Also, remove any duplicate entries that you find. Bonus points for highlighting a Chamber of Commerce membership in your community, giving you an external inbound link.

5. Perform a local SEO audit.

Once you understand the basics, putting your foot on the brakes can be tempting. However, SEO is an ongoing and intuitive process. Rather than stop there or just make changes and see what’s up, it’s helpful to do a full audit to see where your website is and what you need to work on to meet your goals. A local SEO audit can include:

  • Google My Business Audit – How is your Google My Business displayed in the SERPs? Is the information correct?
  • Google Search Console Audit – Is Your Website Crawlable? Are there any bugs that would hinder indexing?
  • On-page SEO Audit – Does your website contain all of the on-page SEO elements that contribute to ranking?
  • Citation Checking – Are All of Your Citations in the Top Business Directories Correct?
  • Competitor Analysis – How does your website fit in with that of your competitors? Are there any loopholes that you need to fill? How do you align on inbound links, content, design and positioning?
  • Website Audit – How Well Is Your Website Working?

6. Improve your internal link structure.

While external links pointing to your website are ideal (which I’ll get into soon), adjusting your internal link structure will also improve your SEO ranking.

Why is the internal link important? It does the following:

  • Supports website navigation
  • Helps with information architecture and website hierarchy
  • Distributes the page authority and ranking among the pages

If you’re looking to improve your internal link structure but aren’t sure where to start, check out Kissmetrics’ The Seven Commandments of Internal Linking for Great SEO.

7. Optimize url, title tags, headers, meta description and content.

When it comes to content, each new blog post is a new indexed page for your website, a new page that a geographic search term can be targeted, and a new way to be found on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Every time you write a piece of content, you need to optimize the content for search engines by using high volume keywords in URL, title, header, meta description and text. If you’re struggling to create geo-targeted content, highlight customer success stories and case studies.

8. Add location pages to your website.

If you have more than one stationary location, create location pages. On the location pages, readers receive your name, address, telephone number, opening times, clear business descriptions, parking / transit information, promotions and testimonials from satisfied customers.

It’s also important that you avoid duplicating content across multiple site pages. For single-location companies, create a locally descriptive About Us page. You will get great time bonus points when you add a Google Map to your website on your respective location pages.

9. Create local content.

Google is getting smarter, which means that content creators can now really write for users, not search engines. While writing on general topics attracts a wide crowd, sometimes it’s more important to sharpen your focus and write on local or industry news to attract a local audience.

Be the local authority for your industry by promoting local industry get-togethers, news, employees, and other educational content on your blog. Think of great content that goes beyond what your company sells.

For example, if you’re a local security company trying to attract companies new to the area, create a helpful resource for introducing those companies to your city. A map of local service providers or a calendar with city-wide events can both add value to your person and contain highly relevant local signals on the page.

10. Make sure your website is suitable for cell phones.

Local search and mobile search go hand in hand (61% of all Google searches are performed on mobile devices).

Some of the most common ways people use your website in a mobile environment are looking up reviews, getting directions to your location, and finding contact information. In fact, mobile searches “near me” have increased 250% since 2017 (Think With Google).

Make it easy for your prospects and customers by making your website mobile-friendly.

11. Receive inbound links with relevance and authority.

Inbound links are incredibly powerful ways to improve your local SEO. Every inbound link tells Google that you are a legitimate business, and inbound links can increase your domain authority as well. Here are a few ways to get inbound links:

  • Sponsorships or partnerships
  • Guest blog posting
  • Scholarships

Start with your own personal network, which can include the Chamber of Commerce, business improvement districts, license offices, trade associations, resellers, sellers and / or manufacturers, and other affiliates.

Consider sponsoring a webinar or meet-up, hosting a community event, promoting something local you love, and building relationships with celebrities and influencers. Also, learn to reach out to partners to see if they can add you to their partner directory.

As a guest blogger, you can also gain links. Talk to and about (positively, of course!) Other people in your industry and act as a resource provider for the community. When you actively participate in community conversations, the excitement grows around you in the form of inbound links, social media growth, and media coverage.

12. Participate in your local community.

The more you get involved in the local community, the more digital PR you will get. Partnering with a nonprofit on a campaign, a volunteer day at your organization, sponsoring an event (even an online event!), Or appearing in the local media as an authority on your industry are all ways to generate press, brand awareness, and notoriety to obtain embedded links.

Given that .edu links are the knees of the bee for domain authority, you can earn some links for yourself by awarding a scholarship in your geographic area. It should be relevant to your industry, send the right signals to your domain (given schools backlinks) … and make you feel good too! Moz has created a solid guide on the steps to success for effective scholarship delivery.

Local SEO tools

Now that we’ve looked at optimizing your business for local SEO, let’s examine some useful tools that can help you improve your ranking in the areas where it matters most.

1. Whitespark Local Citation Finder

A local quote is an online mention of the name, address, and phone number of a local business.

Quotes are important because they help local businesses search online. Having local businesses actively managing their quotes to ensure data accuracy helps build trust in these online listings.

Whitespark knows this realm well – really well. Whitespark provides local listing management, recommends where to list your business, researches your competition, and reliably builds and monitors your citation growth for better local search rankings.

2. Screaming frog

This desktop program crawls the links, images, CSS, scripts and apps of websites from an SEO perspective. Curious if you have 404? Are you wondering about missing meta descriptions or H1? Screaming Frog analyzes up to 500 URLs for free and offers an unlimited paid version for $ 200 per year.

3. Moz Local

Cheaper than most of its peers, Moz Local will ensure your business listing has been verified on Google and Facebook and distribute your listing in the search ecosystem.

Additionally, Moz Local will work with data aggregators to support push listings and ensure your business is gaining visibility.

4. Ahrefs

Ahrefs helps check backlinks, which is important as these links (which are directed to your website) act as an indicator of the website’s authority.

Ahrefs also provides competitive analysis, keyword research, and insights into the anchor text that other websites are using when backlinking your website.

5. Buzzstream

BuzzStream makes it easy to collect local backlinks. This is a great way to identify and build relationships with local influencers by studying influencers, tracking conversations, and providing insights into your outreach campaigns, team performance, and link placement.

6. BrightLocal

BrightLocal is a comprehensive suite of SEO tools specifically designed for local marketing needs.

This tool allows you to create and monitor reviews on local websites, understand the performance of your local search, and analyze nearby competitors.

BrightLocal also offers customer access and white label reporting, making it suitable for both agencies and brands.

Local SEO is an important part of any local business SEO strategy. If you have a storefront or service area, local SEO will help your audience find you when they search online.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated for completeness.

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