Did you know four out of five consumers use a search engine to find local information? If your business isn't optimized for local search, you could be missing out on 80% of your potential customers.
That’s why local search engine optimization (SEO) is critical if you want your business to be seen at the exact time when local customers are looking.
For bricks and mortar businesses, this is a non-negotiable. A staggering 71% of people say they search for the location of a business before they visit for the first time.
So, if you’re not showing up in local search at the exact moment a customer is looking for your business, they’ll go to the competition. It doesn’t matter how great your products and services are – you need to get in front of them.
But you can’t rely on ordinary SEO tactics to get results. Sure, they will get you some of the way, but Local SEO requires a whole new set of tactics for real success.
And we’re talking about real revenue-shifting success. A staggering 80% of local mobile searches result in an offline purchase within 24 hours, and half of all people who did a local search on their phone went to a physical store within one day.
Read this guide to local SEO for what you need to get started with Local SEO optimizations, including our top tips to rank on search engine results, plus must-have Local SEO tools.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a proven way to get your products and services in front of your target audience in a specific geographic area. It’s all about location.
Search engines like Google look for signals in content, links, social profile pages and directory listings so they can provide the most relevant local results to the searcher.
This is called the Local Pack.
The Local Pack is a section of Google's search results that shows the local business best related to the search query.
Whenever a query has local intent, Google shows three local businesses that might answer the query. These are the Local Pack results.
That’s why Local SEO typically focuses on city or town names because people add city or town names to their search phrase when they use Google.
For example, they might type "lawyers in Portland" into Google search to find a local lawyer.
How many times have you searched “pizza near me” or “coffee shop near me”?
Google “near me” searches increased by 500% from 2015 to 2017 alone, according to Google’s insights.
With a good Local SEO strategy, search engines will start associating your business with a certain area, bumping you up the rankings and boosting your local profile.
Say, you’re the owner of Bob’s Fried Chicken shop. It’s unlikely you’re going to be able to compete with big chains for keywords such as “best fried chicken”. But you may be able to rank for a term like “best fried chicken in Hudson.”
You might be wondering, is Local SEO very different from normal search marketing? The answer is yes and no.
As this guide will show, the same basic SEO foundations apply, such as content, inbound link building and keyword research, but you give it a localized spin.
So, when would you use Local SEO versus search engine optimization?
Local SEO is mostly used for brick-and-mortar businesses. No surprises there! We’re talking shops, cafes, restaurants and salons, as well as services, like plumbers, lawyers and real estate agents. It doesn't matter whether yours is a small business or big franchise, if your business has a physical location or wants to appeal to people in a certain geographic area, you want to make sure it’s right there in the search results.
How can Local SEO benefit your business?
Let’s start with a few stats from Google that prove why local businesses cannot afford to ignore Local SEO:
30% of all mobile searches are related to location. (Think With Google)
76% of people who search on their smartphones for something nearby visit a local business within a day. (Think With Google)
18% of local smartphone searches led to a purchase within one day. (Google/Ipsos Media)
54% of smartphone users search for business hours and 53% search for directions to a local store. (Think With Google)
Around 45% of shoppers buy online and then pick up in a brick-and-mortar store. (Think With Google)
The bottom line? Local search is exploding and local businesses need to get on board.
More than half of all online searches specify a location, something which is known as ‘local intent’. It means consumers are specifying the name of a city, town, or region when they type a search request. Rather than typing “shoe repairs”, you type “shoe repairs in Brooklyn”. You’re telling the search engine that you don’t want just any shoe repairs, you only want shoe repairs located in Brooklyn.
The other reason you cannot afford to ignore Local SEO? Mobile. It’s now a habit for people to use mobile devices to search for services or products when they need them.
Exactly when they need them.
The benefits for businesses of being in the local search results for mobile search are clear: half of those people who did a local search on their phone went to a physical store within one day. They physically act on their mobile search to visit local businesses. So, how about when they do a local search on a PC? That number drops to 34%.
To recap, Local SEO gets you in front of tons more customers, so they can find your business on a search engine when they need it. This helps you sell more, which means more profits.
But there’s one last reason you need Local SEO: if you’re a brick-and-mortar business with a physical address, you cannot afford not to rank high in a local search. Because if you don’t, you’re just sending customers straight to all the other local businesses who do rank.
10 Local SEO Optimization Tips
1. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly.
For Local SEO, you need to make sure your website is fully optimized for smart phones. We’ve already shared a few statistics about mobile search, and just to drum it home, here are two more:
65% of people use their phone in their “I-want-to-buy” moments (Think with Google)
61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site. (Bright Local)
Quickly see how well your website is optimized for mobile visitors by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool:
When we tested The Search Assembly site, Google confirmed what we already knew – our site is mobile friendly.
If your site’s not mobile-friendly, don’t panic. Google will provide a few recommendations to improve it, such as increasing the page load speed, image size, and so on.
Make mobile your priority for Local SEO. There’s no point investing in Local SEO if you’re going to lose customers as soon as they land on your site.
2. Optimize for Google My Business.
The next most important thing you can do to boost your local search ranking is to claim and optimize your Google My Business account. Any expert guide to local SEO will tell you the same.
Google My Business is a platform that lets you take charge of how your business is displayed across all of Google’s assets, including its search engine results pages, reviews, Google Maps and more.
Every business is given its own profile, including a location on Google Maps, photos, reviews, website, contact details, opening hours, and more. It tells people what you do and where you do it. The best part is, it’s free.
Get it right and you should be rewarded with a top spot in Google local search. Get it wrong, and you’ll struggle to get your local business seen by local customers. It is the quickest, most effective way to get your Local SEO up and running.
Start by claiming your Google My Business page. This gives your control over your listing.
Once you’ve added your business name, you need to choose a category:
Follow the steps to create your profile. Google provides an easy guide.
Then, go into your Google My Business account and optimize your profile. Your goal is to make your profile the best and most complete listing it can be – add your phone number, choose the correct categories, add high-quality pictures, collect happy reviews and respond to them, make regular posts, and so on. This ensures it stands out when listed with other local businesses in the local search ranking.
3. Collect reviews from happy customers
Ever noticed the star rating next to a local business listing on Google Maps?
This comes from reviews.
Reviews are essential for Local SEO. Just make sure they’re good ones!
Encourage happy customers to leave great reviews on your Google My Business listing and you'll start building a star rating.
The higher your rating, the better the click-through rate.
A study by CXL found that star ratings in search engine results significantly improve click-through rates by as much as 35%. That’s got to be worth the investment for local businesses.
We’re not saying this isn't important if you’re not doing a Local SEO campaign. Positive reviews will always propel leads and conversions for local businesses. It’s just that when it comes to ranking with Google, they’re an extremely important ranking factor for Local SEO.
How do you get a regular stream of positive reviews?
Put a simple process in place so your employees know how to ask customers for reviews, and where to send them online (such as review sites). This is the easiest way for small businesses to win continuous reviews.
The second way is to send an automated email to customers a day or two after they visit, while the experience is fresh in their mind, like this one:
4. Optimize for voice search
No longer a fad, voice search is one of the fastest-growing types of search. Some 39.4% of internet users in the US operate a voice assistant at least once a month, according to eMarketer.
This has been accelerated by COVID-19. Now 32% of consumers are interested in hands-free technology that would limit touching or contamination, according to Gartner.
Because people are often using voice search on their smartphone when they’re on the move, they tend to be searching for local products and services.
That’s why voice search must be part of your Local SEO optimization strategy.
It’s similar to normal SEO, but there are some nuances to how you should optimize for voice search AND local search.
Start by focusing on conversational keywords. Rather than using short tail keywords, people tend to ask a complete question on voice search. For example, rather than “hairdresser near me”, you might ask “where’s my nearest hairdresser in New York?”
Voice search enables users to ask hyper-local questions. So, make sure the important location-specific details such as directions to your store and opening hours are readable on your website to both visitors and search engines.
5. Hone in on local keywords
For Local SEO, just like traditional SEO, Google uses a variety of signals to serve local search results and (surprise!) one of the top local search ranking factors is keywords.
Your goal is to drill down into the local keywords and search phrases and include these in the most important places:
The good news is finding keywords for local search isn’t rocket science.
Start on Google itself. Search for “hairdresser in Scottsdale” and you get a list of suggested keywords related to that search:
For local search, you’ll generally want to stick to common phrases like:
[business type/service/product] in Scottsdale
Scottsdale [business type/service/product]
[business type/service/product] Scottsdale
Best [business type/service/product] in Scottsdale
This will help you rise to the top local search rankings in organic results for the keywords your customers are searching.
6. Add location pages to your website.
Are you a retail business with multiple locations or franchise with more than one location? Add geo-specific location pages to your website.
These pages are a top local SEO tool because you can still optimize your site for local search without worrying about which location to focus on more.
Chances are each different store location has a different audience, maybe even slightly different services and promotions. So, this is your chance to be hyper-local on your website.
There are lots of businesses that do this well. Here's one you might recognise:
7. Create local content.
Creating local content is essential if you want to scale the ranks on local search results. But what kind of content should you publish?
First, write articles or create videos about local events or industry news. Think local news, fundraisers, sponsorships and other topics relevant to your business and your local audience. This will tick Google’s boxes while also cementing your profile as a member of the local community.
Consider local tips that you can give that are specific to your expertise.
For example, do a Google search for the “best engagement photo spots in LA”.
You’ll see that one photography studio has optimized their FAQ pages for this exact question and are now a featured snippet.
The other content to focus on is FAQ pages. FAQ pages are one of the best ways to spruik your local SEO content. Similar to the above example, consider the questions that local customers will ask which are specific to your products and services.
8. Optimize online directories and citations.
Google My Business isn’t the only local business listing you should focus on for Local SEO. Google looks to lots of citations to make sure it’s giving out the right information about your business in local SERPs.
This means that as part of your local SEO efforts, you must create local listings for your business across other major and niche business directories too. The more directories your business is listed on, the more a search engine will trust your business and the higher you will place in local search rankings.
Here are a few SEO tips to make sure your listing has once you add it to a directory:
Consistent NAP. If you add or update your business on multiple listing sites, make sure you give the same business name, address, phone number (NAP) across every single one. Keeping your Google My Business up to date will ensure the accuracy of your business’s information in Google, and any apps and services that rely on Google for their information (phew!). But it’s down to you to make sure other business listings have the right information. That’s the time-consuming part.
Business description. Customers want to know more than your name, address and phone number, so include a detailed description of your business. What do you do? What are your values? How do you go above and beyond to help customers?
Website link. Backlinks, aka inbound links, add to your website's domain authority. But they must be good quality, which is where citations can help.
Multimedia. Include a picture or video of your store or office and your team.
There are lots of places where you can claim or add your citations, depending on your business.
Better Business Bureau
9. Get inbound links with relevance and authority.
Inbound links are an incredibly powerful factor to boost your ranking in local searches. As well as telling Google you’re a legit business, backlinks can also raise your domain authority.
Focus on building links that are local and relevant to your business. Here are some places to start to boost your local SEO ranking:
Local partner and supplier sites
Local newspaper and radio sites
Citation / NAP sites
Local directory websites
Industry-related local sites
Local chamber of commerce sites
One of the best Local SEO tools you can use for this is Ahrefs – it’s great for anything related to links in search marketing.
10. Engage on social media and add posts to Google My Business
The final step in our guide to Local SEO is social media marketing.
Google now considers content shared on social media more important than ever. Here are a few things you can do to bring your social media and local search marketing all together:
You’ve made it!
Our guide has shown that Local SEO requires a targeted, strategic approach. It’s not as simple as adding a city name to your keywords and content and the search engine to send local customers flooding through your doors. If you want great local exposure, when it counts, you need an SEO strategy that manages all the relevant ranking factors and sends you to the top of the local search rankings in your city or region, right where your potential customers can see you.
Now you've read our guide to local SEO, what's next? If you want an intelligent local search marketing strategy that can help you dominate in local search rankings and beat the competition, start with your FREE Digital Audit. Our team will dive deep into your search marketing and identify the challenges and opportunities to reach your goals, then provide you with a strategic plan and timeline for success.