Local SEO: The Definitive Guide (2023)
By: Ananyaa Venkat
Updated On: March 28, 2023
Let’s face the truth. Local SEO is important.
Just look at these numbers.
46% of Google searches are local.
89% of online users search for local businesses via their smartphones and 58% of them do local searches almost every day.
That’s big, right?
So, if you aren’t optimizing your business for local SEO, you are missing out on a profitable opportunity every time someone performs a local search to find out about products and services like yours.
Now, let’s deep dive into what local SEO is, how it works, local SEO tips to boost your local visibility on search engines and so much more.
What is Local SEO?
Let’s start from scratch.
So, what is local SEO?
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to drive more web traffic, boost your online visibility and increase brand awareness, all from local search.
In other words, local SEO helps you rank higher on SERPs for local searches.
With targeted local SEO strategies, you can get more qualified leads from specific locations and expand your business in the right direction.
Importance of Local SEO
The first step to attracting these leads is to be visible to your local customers. That’s exactly what local SEO helps you with.
Let’s say you run a bookstore in New York. That means your business has to show up when people in New York search for “bookstores near me” or any other local search term for bookstores.
According to Google, 76% of online users who conduct a local search via mobile phones visit a store within 24 hours and 28% of them end up buying the product or service.
The more your prospects get to know about your business via online search, the more likely they are to visit your store or trust your brand.
Local SEO comes in handy to improve your online visibility and turn people’s interest in favor of your business. So, it is crucial for businesses that intend to strengthen their local customer base to focus on local SEO.
If you know how to leverage local SEO the right way, it can do wonders for your business.
How Does Local SEO Work?
Simply put, local SEO works just like a usual Google search. When a user performs a search online, the search engine fetches the best results from its database related to the given query.
So, what makes local SEO different?
Search engines like Google leverage a unique set of ranking factors to rank results for local search.
These ranking signals include
- The location from which the user performs a search
- Google My Business listing availability
- NAP Citations
- Keywords included in the GMB profile
- The sentiment of online reviews
- Keywords used in online reviews
- Check-in rate at the location
- Social Media Shares
- Google Maps Rating
Focusing on these factors should help you rank in the Map Pack, also known as the Local Pack of Google.
But wait. What is this ‘Pack’?
The Local Pack is a set of top 3 results for a specific query with a virtual map of their locations extracted from Google Maps.
That’s exactly where you have to appear to drive more local organic traffic and achieve local SEO success.
How to do Local SEO Keyword Research?
As you see from the ranking signals for local SEO above, keywords play a vital role in influencing local search results.
That said, it is imperative to do streamlined keyword research to fuel the success rate of your local SEO.
The good news is that local SEO keyword research is a one-time process.
Alright. Going forward, let me tell you what you should leverage for focused keyword research for your local SEO.
Google Suggest is one of the best tools for keyword research.
While “ Your Keyword”+ near me is a good place to start, you can pull up many more local SEO keywords with the search engine giant.
Type a seed keyword along with a location you want to target. I’m choosing New York.
Those are your new opportunities to be visible for local searches and drive more people your way.
Enter a keyword from your industry that a user in a specific city or town will use to find businesses like yours. Let’s say, Find “Bookstore” Near “New York” and see the magic unfold.
This tool goes a step ahead and displays not just keywords that contain your search term but also the ones that don’t contain it but are still relevant to your industry.
That way, Yelp Suggest helps you tap new keyword opportunities you might otherwise miss out on.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is another great tool to identify keyword search volume for specific locations.
This way, you can devise a keyword strategy that increases traction and thereby boosts your ROI.
If you already have a set of keywords you want to target, this tool comes in handy to pick the best ones out of them based on the search volume.
On the contrary, if you are just beginning your keyword research, use the tool’s “Start With a Website” feature.
Enter the URL of one of your competitor websites and Google Keyword Planner will generate a list of keywords based on the same.
You can also choose between using the entire site or a specific page URL for the tool to come up with new keywords.
Local Voice Searches
Voice search is a game-changer in the online market at the moment.
In fact, 58% of people use voice searches when they look for local businesses.
Unlike usual keyword searches, voice-based searches often rely on natural language. Targeting long-tail keywords can help your business appear for voice-based searches.
For example, if someone types “best restaurant Houston” for a Google search, they will probably use “best restaurant in Houston that’s open right now” when they perform a voice search. That’s the difference.
Local SEO Ranking Factors
As you know, local SEO ranking factors can make a big difference. That said, you need to get a bigger picture of these factors to do local SEO the right way and drive desired results.
Let’s delve into the major local SEO factors to consider right away.
Google My Business Profile
According to Moz, your Google My Business profile is the #1 local SEO ranking factor you need to take into account to appear on the Local Pack.
While your local business website, the content you feature in it and the backlinks you build are important, your GMB profile tops it all.
I’ll explain GMB optimization in detail later in this article. Let’s focus on the other local SEO ranking factors for now.
NAP citations (Name, Address and Phone Number) are yet another crucial aspect when it comes to local SEO.
Your NAP citations denote instances where your business name, address and phone number are mentioned online.
Google leverages these citations to validate the authenticity of your business information.
The more citations you earn, the more reliable your business is in the eyes of Google.
That’s why it is more than important to gain NAP citations in trusted sites and keep them consistent.
The online reviews you get are yet another essential parameter for local SEO ranking.
You need to get a majority of positive reviews because they help you climb to the top of the Local Pack. However, ensure you don’t purchase paid reviews in bulk to avoid facing Google’s wrath.
On the contrary, negative reviews can hurt the online reputation of your business and hold you back from ranking higher for local SEO.
While it is inevitable for any business to receive some negative reviews, make sure you respond to those reviews and take the necessary steps to fix what’s not right. This gesture helps a lot in building trust.
Usual SEO Practices
All other Google ranking factors, from content quality to backlinks, apply for local SEO as well.
In the words of Google, “Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.”
That means the higher you rank in organic search, the higher you will rank in the Local Pack.
So, ensure you optimize your content and web pages for SEO and strengthen your link profile with high-quality backlinks to secure a better ranking in web results and local SEO simultaneously.
Keywords in Google Business Profile Title
Keywords are users’ way of finding what they are looking for online. To business owners, keywords are the trump to boost online visibility and shout out their presence to their potential customers.
Titles are the best place to include keywords. By using keywords in the title tag, you give Google a sure-shot idea of how relevant your content is to searches based on that particular keyword.
Use the same formula for local SEO. Include keywords in the title of your Google Business profile. This will help your site appear for more local searches and achieve higher local search rankings.
Make sure your keywords are naturally placed and don’t stuff them. Try to place a location-based keyword in your title. After all, you are targeting local opportunities.
Proximity of Address to the Point of Search
The distance between the user and your local business store matters in ranking your business higher for local searches. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can control.
Think of it this way. Let’s say your business is 700 meters away from the user’s location while your competitor’s store is 500 meters away from them. In this case, when the user performs a local search, Google is likely to rank your competitor’s site higher than yours.That’s because Google prioritizes the convenience of users, especially for local searches.
While it is hard to gain the upper hand here, using precise NAP citations improves your chances of influencing this kind of local searches. If your competitor located closest to the user’s location is fragile in terms of NAP citations, the user will likely be choosing you over them. That’s the strategy.
Quality of Backlinks from Local Websites
As a rule of thumb, high-quality, relevant backlinks are a must-have to rank higher in search and local SEO is no exception.
Build backlinks to your website from authoritative local websites that are relevant to your niche. Google counts on these local backlinks as endorsements to you, especially as they come from websites with an established local presence.
The higher the authority of the local website linking back to you, the more powerful your local backlinks.
Alert: Make sure you avoid building backlinks from spammy local sites. As much as the links from authoritative sites can boost your rankings, low-quality links can bring them down.
Dedicated Page for Each Service
If you are someone offering multiple services coming under a niche, you shouldn’t miss out on this one.
Different customers use different services and so are their use cases. That said, featuring all your services will confuse the search engine and users. It will negatively impact your SERP position. This is true for local SEO too.
So, when you are targeting location-specific leads, creating dedicated service pages for each service and including location-based keywords in your content will help Google to make sense of your services and show them up for relevant search queries. The clearer Google understands your content, the better your rankings.
Internal Linking Across the Website
Creating an intact internal linking structure across your website prompts faster crawling and indexing of your web pages by search engine spiders.
For example, when you create a new page targeting a specific location, make sure you build links to it from other relevant pages within your site. This way, when the search engine bots crawl the older page, they will follow the link to the new page and crawl it too.
Getting your local pages indexed faster by the search engine opens doors to quicker ranking. Use internal linking efficiently to stop your pages from becoming orphaned and also translate it into a ranking advantage.
As said earlier, I’ll walk you through GMB optimization in this section, one step at a time.
Consistency is paramount for GMB.
It’s good if the information in your GMB profile matches exactly with the details on your website. But that’s not the end.
The particulars furnished in your GMB profile should also match with your NAP citations on other websites.
When that’s done right, Google considers your business credible.
On the contrary, if there is a discrepancy in one or many places your business details are featured, that’s a red flag.
And the result?
It creates a negative impact on your local SEO.
So, make sure you maintain consistency everywhere. BEWARE. The smallest inconsistency in terms of your business information will affect your local SEO enormously.
Use All Possible Data Points
Google offers you a score based on how complete your GMB profile is.
Filling in the basic details regarding your business should help you reach a decent score. However, if you want to rank for high-volume keywords in your industry, stopping here isn’t a wise choice.
I’ll tell you what people majorly miss out on when filling in data points. That will help you avoid mistakes and be more precise about your business.
Let’s take category selection.
Google prompts you to select a primary category to describe your business. Unfortunately, you have to choose from limited options and you can’t create your own primary category.
However, once you select your primary category, Google allows you to add additional categories of your choice.
Hard luck. Many people fail to fill in these categories.
These additional categories are SUPER important.
These categories directly influence the keywords and search terms your business wants to rank for.
So, never forget to use additional categories to your local SEO advantage.
Also, fill in the “Products” and “Services” with precise information. Those sections tell Google and online users what you are selling.
Update Critical Business Data
Make sure your key business information in your GMB profile, like operating hours, holidays, etc., are up-to-date.
This factor doesn’t affect your local SEO, at least not directly.
So, why do you have to care about that?
I’ll give you a real-life example. Let’s say a customer visits your store after checking your operating hours on your GMB profile but finds your store closed.
One, you will lose the customer to one of your competitors. Two, if the customer is disappointed because you misled them with outdated information, they are likely to write a negative review about your business.
Now, that negative review can spoil your online reputation and bring down your local SEO ranking.
Respond to Reviews
As I said earlier, online reviews are one of the major ranking factors for local SEO.
Make sure you respond to every single review. That way, you tell your customers that you care about them.
While positive reviews are what you look forward to, you should also know how to react to negative reviews.
People don’t always take the time to write reviews on their own. That’s why you need to prompt your customers to write reviews.
And importantly, make the process really quick and easy for them. No customer wants to spend time looking for a space to write reviews.
Send your customers a review link via email or SMS. That should make it simple for them.
Okay. How do you create a review link?
I suggest two ways.
One, visit the Google Maps platform and choose Place ID Finder.
Once you enter your location, the platform generates a place ID for the specified location.
Then add your place ID next to this URL https://search.google.com/local/writereview?placeid=
Now, you have your review link.
Two, log in to your Google My Business account and head to the “Get more reviews” section to generate a brief review link.
Share it with your customers and ask them to write reviews.
That’s easy peasy, right?
Local SEO Tips
Now that you know local SEO better, it’s time for some local SEO tips to help you achieve perfection when it comes to devising a strategy.
Share on Social Media
Social media certainly helps widen your business reach and increase its online presence.
That said, once you create a flawless Google My Business page, make sure you share the page on your social media handles to let your followers take a closer look at your business.
Run a NAP Audit
As I mentioned earlier, your NAP citations should be exactly the same everywhere, including your GMB profile, your website, business directories and local listings.
Use a good citation tool like WhiteSpark to find your current and historic (if any) NAP citations so that you can fix the incorrect ones and ensure 100% consistency.
Why are NAP Citations Important?
NAP citations make it easy for users and search engines alike to locate your business name, address and phone number online.
What if you feature two different addresses or phone numbers for your business in two different places? Which one will the user count on?
It’s misleading, right?
NAP citations are a crucial local SEO ranking factor and Google certainly doesn’t like a piece of information that confuses or misleads users.
So, that will make your business untrustworthy in the eyes of Google, which, in turn, will bring down your local SEO ranking.
I understand it’s a nightmare for any business owner. To stop that from dawning upon your business and increase your business credibility instead, ensuring your NAP citations are exact matches is important.
Optimize Online Directories and Citations
Any discrepancy, from misspellings to abbreviations, can create havoc for your local SEO.
Go ahead to verify for consistency and optimize your citations with trusted data aggregators like Express Update, Foursquare, Neustar Localeze and Factual.
Also, ensure you remove duplicate listings to avoid potential issues.
Perform a Local SEO Audit
SEO is an ongoing process. So, once you are done with the local SEO fundamentals, you may consider performing a local SEO audit.
A comprehensive local SEO audit covers everything, including GMB audit, citation audit, Google Search Control audit, on-page SEO audit, website audit and competitor analysis.
Your website plays a massive role in bolstering your local SEO efforts.
In this section, I’ll let you know what you have to optimize directly on your site to drive local organic traffic.
Optimize On-Page SEO Elements
On-page optimization includes optimizing your title tags, headers, meta descriptions and content for search engines.
Let’s take a new blog post, for example.
It is a newly indexed page within your site you can use to target specific geography by including location-based keywords.
That creates an opportunity to rank higher on SERPs for a particular search term.
The higher you rank in organic search, the higher you will rank in the Local Pack, right?
That’s the motive.
Every time you come up with new content, make sure you include keywords with high search volume not just in the content but also in title tags, headers, meta descriptions and URLs.
If you find it difficult to produce location-based content, you can use your case studies and customer success stories to complement your local SEO efforts.
Add Location Pages to Your Site
If you are targeting more than one location, it is best to create individual pages for each geo-location.
These pages allow you to provide unique descriptions, addresses, operating hours, holidays and more for specific locations.
Location pages also make way for you to include location-based keywords naturally in your content seamlessly. However, make sure there is no content duplication.
On the other hand, if you are targeting a single location, create an About page that’s locally descriptive (adding location-based keywords).
To top it all, you can embed a Google Map pointing to the precise location on each of your location pages.
Create Local Content
Google is fond of the kind of content its users want to read. So, you create content not just to convenience the search engine but also the users.
From a local SEO perspective, you need to become your industry’s local authority and feature local news and updates and other engaging content that attracts the attention of the local audience.
Selling your products or services to local customers is what you what to do. However, you should gain the confidence of the local audience in the first place.
That prompts them to keep coming back to you for more local information and count on you as a local authority.
At such a point, you can use purpose-driven campaigns to convert these local visitors into your customers.
Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
Google claims that “near me” searches on mobile have increased by 250% since 2017.
That means one of the chief reasons why people perform a mobile search is to find local businesses, identify directions and check online reviews.
So, when you want to rank higher on Google for local searches, you need to optimize your website for mobile devices.
If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, it is likely to drive a great number of prospects away from you.
Add Schema Markup
Schema markup allows you to provide precise information about your content when your business appears on search results.
Though it is not a search engine ranking factor, schema markup helps you to enhance the user experience by giving them access to the kinds of information they are looking for right away.
Add schema markup to your local web pages and improve the chances of your potential customers visiting your website.
Focus on Your Internal Linking Structure
Internal links are as important as external links. While external links bolster your SEO from outside, internal links do it from within your website by distributing authority.
Improving the internal linking structure of your website makes navigation easier not just for your users but also for the search engine bots.
Build internal links to your local pages to provide more relevant information to your visitors and boost your local SEO rankings.
Local SEO Link Building
As said, external links and internal links are equally important for SEO and this holds true for local SEO as well.
Apart from strengthening your internal linking structure, focus on building external backlinks to fuel your local SEO success.
Check out the ways you can build backlinks for your local SEO below.
Develop Local Partnerships
Local businesses often collaborate with each other in order to reap mutual benefits.
Why not use it for your link building advantage?
Develop partnerships with local businesses in a specific area. Start with people you already know and expand your network gradually.
Then, look for specific web pages on their sites to create backlinks to your site.
As you already know these people, gaining backlinks from their websites shouldn’t be difficult.
Use Local Chamber of Commerce
One of the best ways to get backlinks to your site is to ask for them in authentic places where you are likely to get them.
Your local chamber of commerce is one such opportunity.
One SUPER advantage of a chamber of commerce link is that you often get a NAP citation with your link.
Talk to your local chamber today to get another powerful contextual backlink to your website.
Local Event Sponsorship
Local event organizers often look for sponsorships.
Step forward to sponsor a local event and you will certainly get a link placement on the local event website naturally.
Besides, sponsoring a local event helps you strengthen your relationship with other local businesses, which, in turn, will unlock more link building opportunities for you in the near future.
Local news sites are waiting to feature interesting stories about local businesses.
Whenever something noteworthy happens around your local business, get in touch with these people to cover it and translate it into a backlink.
Social media is the best way to locate good local PR opportunities for your business.
Take Part in Local Communities
Participating in local community activities helps you let others in the community know your presence and create awareness for your brand.
It opens doors for you to attract the attention of local media and transform into a local authority for your industry in the long run.
Once you reach that milestone, earning links from local online sources should be a cakewalk.
Local SEO Tools
SEO tools come in handy to simplify and streamline the process for you.
They help improve your online presence, increase audience reach and engagement, measure the performance of your marketing campaigns and so much more.
Some of the best tools for local SEO include
- Listing Management Tool by Semrush
I’ve covered local SEO tools in detail if you want to learn more.