“If you want to bury a body, you put it on the second page of Google” is something we’ve all heard about. But what happens when you have a business and your primary focus is not organic page results, but appearing on top of local searches?
What can you do to have your business location discovered by as many people as possible?
Local SEO is most likely your answer to this question.
A HubSpot study has shown that around 89% of people search for a local business on their smartphones at least once a week and 76% of local searches result in a phone call.
These two numbers alone should give you a good picture of what you’re missing out on if you haven’t worked on the geographical component of SEO as well.
But what is local SEO?
Local SEO is pretty much similar to organic SEO, but in this case, the geographical component plays the most important role.
You might ask: “How different could those results be?”
Google always tries to provide searchers with the most accurate results for their query. But these results depend on the context of the query.
You could get results such as:
- Web page results – Let’s consider queries such as “how to get more traffic to my landing page“. No matter where you’re searching from, you’ll most likely get a list of the top 10 pages that best answer your query.
- Local business results – Think of the times you were on a weekend city break and searched for “seafood restaurant”. The results were part of the Google local-pack, that recommends top 3 businesses that answer your query.
- Featured Snippets if your query can be answered quicker, by showing the results directly.
- There are other types of results as well, such as video suggestions, tweets etc. but we’ll cover these in another article.
In this article, we’ll be talking only about Local business results. Or the Google local-pack.
What’s the Google local-pack?
The Google local pack is a collection of the top three location results that best answer your query.
This is what people see when they’re looking for nearby business such as restaurants, shops, auto dealers, mechanics, electricians, clinics, real estate agencies and the list could go on.
This is where your business needs to be and where local SEO comes into play.
Let’s get to it!
How to optimize for Local SEO? Contents:
- Add or Claim your business on Google My Business
- Optimize your website for local searches
- Use Schema markup
- Get your social media profiles ready
- Start building links
- Build citations for your business
- Get as many reviews as possible and manage them properly
1. Add or Claim your business on Google My Business
Any serious business with a physical location is eligible for a Google My Business listing for that location.
Make sure that before creating a location from scratch, you search for your business and see if it has already been listed. People could have added it before, or Google might have indexed it from other websites. Claim that one if it’s available and wait for the verification letter from Google.
Google My Business goes through a lot of changes lately.
More and more features are being added, and you can now even create your own mini-website directly inside the platform or you can post content, offers, and products directly in you GMB page, which will then show up in your local business listing once people click the result.
That could be your first chance of contact with potential clients and you should think of creative ways to do it.
In my opinion, Google is trying to offer you a platform to represent your local business directly inside the Google results, so users don’t feel the need to go to other websites or pages in order to make a decision.
The Google My Business platform is more complicated now than it used to be nowadays, but here are the main things you should do, the first time you launch your business.
Fill in your primary business information
- Name, Address, and Phone (NAP for short).
These are the basic information for your business online, and you should make sure you always keep them accurate.
I’ve seen cases of restaurants that had a bad number added to their contact info, so I picked another one at which I was able to call directly from the Google result and make a reservation.
Make sure you list your business in the right category. Google can detect the category your business is in from the information available on your website or online, but you should make sure the one you pick here is the one that you’re in.
If you’re managing multiple locations, this can either be your company’s website or the individual pages for each of your locations.
See what fits best for the users to see and give them a better sense of your business and use that.
- Photos and images
These are the first things that people will see once they want to see more details about your business on Google. People will often select (or reject) a business based on its photos.
Make sure you upload some that best describe your location and most important, make sure they speak the truth about it. A client feeling deceived when seeing the actual place is worse than one that never comes to your business.
Selecting your open hours is pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to modify them when holidays and special events are coming in order to keep your customers constantly informed.
You should know that Google also displays the busiest times in your location. Although this is out of your reach, it can benefit both you and your customers. You can take a look and study the busiest times and have some additional staff present and clients can use this feature to plan their visit beforehand.
2. Optimize your website for local searches
Google has been as secretive with the local ranking algorithms as it has been with all it’s ranking factors since forever. But that doesn’t mean you can follow best practices that have been proven to work, in order to reach the top of the SERPs.
Your website is one of the most important assets, and without proper optimization, it will be hard to reach the top. Good news is, it’s also the one you control the most.Your website is one of the most important assets, and without proper optimization, it will be hard to reach the top. Good news is, it's also the one you control the most. Click To Tweet
Here are some of the most important things you can do to optimize your website better for local SEO:
Create a dedicated contact page
Make sure you include the “NAP” of all your locations there. Customers will be looking for one of them and will get frustrated if they don’t find them with ease.
Sitewide display the most important contact information
We’ve discussed before about making it easy for customers to find the information they’re interested in. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to contact you or find your address too. No matter what page they land on first.
If your current design allows it, display the address, phone number and email in the header of your page.
Make phone numbers and emails clickable
The easier to reach you the better. Phone numbers and emails are a quick way for customers to get in touch, especially if they’re listed in the header. But if they’re not clickable, they’re close to useless.
Make sure you insert “mailto:” and “tel:” links to your contact information and make it dead easy for anyone to get in touch with you.
Add an embedded Google map
Either add the Google map directly in your contact page, or in your footer and make sure you include all your locations. You can easily customize the map before embedding and make sure it includes all your locations.
Here’s an example from one of the top private clinics in Romania, where they’ve used a custom Google Map to display all their locations in the country.
Make sure you include testimonials and reviews from your customers. This will increase your chances of getting a phone call or e-mail from potential customers and will act as trust signs for people just getting to know you.
Here’s a great example from BowlerHat of how an optimized local landing page should look like
3. Use Schema.org markup
This point is closely related to the website optimization efforts as well, but I preferred to keep it separate because it is a more complex one.
What is schema.org markup?
Schema.org is a joint effort, to improve the web by creating a structured data markup schema supported by major search engines. On-page markup helps search engines understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results.
More specifically, Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo! agreed to provide us with a framework that will help us display our website information so that search engines can understand it better and provide the best results possible.
Adding Schema markup to your HTML improves the way your website displays in SERPs by adding different snippets of information to the results.
All these snippets marked with arrows from below, as well as the information in the Apple information card can be obtained by properly adding schema markup to your website.
It’s not clear whether marking up your contact information in schema.org will directly improve your rankings. But what it will do for sure, is give your organic results a visual boost, increasing the changes that customers will click on your result.
Find the one that’s suited to your business and implement it on your website.
This can be tricky to do. If you’re using WordPress, use the Schema plugin to add it to your website.
If you’re using other platforms, or a custom website built by you, make sure you read the very detailed description and examples of how to implement schema, directly on the official website.
4. Get your social media profiles ready
In the past, there weren’t many things that a good social media strategy could’ve done for your local ratings. Luckily for us, things have changed nowadays.
Here are some of the things you should do on social media that are more or less taken into consideration by the local SEO algorithm Google has in place:
1. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+
Make sure you at least have a business profile/page on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+, even though you don’t intend to use all of them.
Potential customers may look for you on those platforms and those searches shouldn’t come empty-handed, or worse, return another competitor or business with a similar name.
2. Get good reviews on Social platforms
Facebook and other citation websites or business directories are constantly crawled by Google.
One of the latest things you might have noticed is displaying the ratings your business has on those platforms directly in the local business result it returns.
There is still controversy around how much does Social Media affect your local rankings because with the exception of Twitter, with whom it has a direct relationship, Google doesn’t really display dedicated results from other social platforms.
But there are two things you should consider before crossing social media off your list:
- most often, your social media profiles are going to be the ones that get listed first for branded searches. You wouldn’t want to have an empty or rubbish social profile listed in the top 5 results in Google.
- Social Media is used as a means to engage with your customers and distribute your content. In this case, it helps your content get more reach and extends its life. Guess what’s that helpful for…
5. Start building links
Inbound links are one of the most important ranking signals in Google. That’s how Google assesses the credibility of your website and you should think of them like the real-life recommendations a person gives you or your business.
This has long been the case and you can find information about what it is, how you can do it and different tips, tricks and techniques all around the internet.
Long story short, the more links you have pointing to your business website from other websites, the more credibility you have.
But that’s not all, because links can come in different shapes and sizes.
The ideal scenario for you would be to get as many links as possible from authority websites in your own niche. These are the ones that Google considers as the most relevant.
I would highly recommend you read this amazing definitive guide from Brian Dean at Backlinko, about link building and how you should get started with it.
You might say: Ok, wait. We were talking about Local SEO, what does this have to do with ranking in the local pack?
Well, according to Moz, Link signals are the second most important ranking factor for local searches.
A good way to start would be to engage in conversations with as many relevant people and businesses in the area.
Don’t go to competitors for backlinking, as that will most probably have 0 impact on your efforts. Instead, think of complementary businesses or blogs that can write about your business. Here are some examples:
- Industry relevant blogs
- Other local businesses
- National Industry organizations
- Vendors (for testimonials)
- Interviews or press releases
- Partners announcing new deals with you
- Guest blogs
Link building means playing the long game. Build meaningful relationships with people in and around your niche and in time your backlink profile will start growing.Link building means playing the long game. Build meaningful relationships with people in and around your niche and in time your backlink profile will start growing. Click To Tweet
6. Build citations for your business
Over 10 years ago, Google’s algorithm relied heavily on the number of links pointing to a website for rankings. It was the most important factor in SEO at that point.
When Google Maps launched in 2005, there were lots of businesses listed there that didn’t yet have websites. So they had to find a proper way to rank those businesses by other signals.
What are citations?
A citation is an online reference to your business, that includes your NAP (remember? Name, Address, Phone number). Just like links to your website, Google considers them as ranking signals for your business, but unlike inbound links, they don’t need to be pointing to your website. Plain text NAP will do just fine in the eyes of Google.
Citations are for Local SEO what links are for organic page rankings.Citations are for Local SEO what links are for organic page rankings. Click To Tweet
Where can you get citations?
1. Local search sites & blogs
To keep its index updated, Google constantly crawls the web for new citations that will update the already existing information.
To increase your chances of being discovered and increase your rankings, start by listing your business on sites like Yelp or Foursquare.
Dedicate some time to find directories in your country and make sure your business is listed on as many of them as possible.
Local blogs are also good for building citations because mentions of your Name, Address or Phone number are just as valuable on other websites as well. Just make sure that whenever you’re mentioned, there’s enough context for Google to properly indentify that your business is the one being mentioned.
2. Industry specific directories
The thing with citations is that they Google judges them almost similar to inbound links.
Citations from industry-relevant directories will carry more authority over general directories. Also, these websites are very focused on keywords and topics closely related to the niche you’re in and will give Google a hint about the types of keywords your business is relevant for.
Chances are you have already navigated through some of those websites and haven’t thought of them as “directories” that you can use for improving your local SEO.
You can easily put Google to work for you and find the most relevant directories and blogs for your business by using the following search queries:
- “your industry” blogs
- “your industry” directory
- “your keyword” directory
- Top “your industry” blogs
- “your industry” “your country” directory
7. Get as many reviews as possible and manage them properly
In the study published by Moz, Reviews(review quantity, diversity and velocity) are listed as the 5th most important ranking factor for local SEO.
Think of it like this, how many times, when searching for new places, have you picked something that has less than 4 start?
Exactly, me neither.
Check your business’s ratings on Google and if you have less than four starts, you need to start working on them.
Poor ratings will not only make your business listing go to the bottom of the local-pack, but even if people ask to see more results of nearby businesses, they will be turned off by your rating.
The lack of ratings will not help you either, because your business doesn’t look too trustworthy either.
So what can you do to improve your Google ratings?
Before we get started on what you should do to improve your reviews, you should know that there are multiple types of reviews that Google also indexes and displays, along side those on its own platform:
- Social sites. There goes without saying that sites like Facebook, where we spend most of our online time everyday or Yelp will be taken into consideration. If your business has the reviews section on, it may be displayed in your Google local-pack listing.
- Industry specific reviews, from platforms that are connected to your niche. TripAdvisor(for travel), Metacritic(for movies), Foursquare (for coffee shops, restaurants and the list could go on), Listen360 (platform that specializes in customer feedback).
- Critic reviews, in a limited set of categories related to nightlife or restaurants. These are being displayed from known editorial sites in those niches. Not sure yet if they have an advantage in Google’s ranking factors, but your potential customers would be delighted to see a good review from a well-known critic before deciding.
Now, about getting more and improving your reviews…
First thing first, you should understand that getting reviews and keeping them good is an ongoing process and will never end.
This will depend more on the way you do business, on the way you treat your customers or on your products.
You will get negative reviews along the way, everyone does. What matters most in those cases, is how you react to those reviews.
Make sure you answer your reviewers, consider their opinion and do your best to fix everything. Perhaps even invite them for a second visit to show them how you’ve handled their complaint. This kind of good attitude and openness to customers will take you far away in business.
- Ask customers for reviews, but only after you have checked the platforms Terms & Conditions about this. For example, Google allows you to generate a link that you can share to people in order to get reviews but forbids offering anything in return for those reviews.
- Offer good services & products – Captain Obvious here, I know. But really, if you don’t, you should close shop until you have a business that people will enjoy coming to, or asking for services from.
- Don’t ask for more reviews all at once. A sudden spike in your review number will look suspicios on many platforms and can lead to either eliminating them or getting your business deleted completely.
Now that we’ve covered what you should do in order to improve your local rankings, you should understand that climbing the SERPs is something you do on the long term, and it can be tough at times.
Local SEO is very important for your success, especially if you’re playing in a crowded niche and don’t have the budget to play head-to-head with the big guys in spending money on ads.
Your efforts of growing the business will definitely not succeed if you only focus on doing the things I’ve listed above.
Diversify your marketing strategy and besides Local SEO, try building an audience on social media as well, or investing a small budget in advertising.
These will give you a boost and you will start seeing what works and what doesn’t for you.
Ultimately, there’s one thing I can guarantee.
Your business will be successful and growth will come easier if you focus on building an outstanding business.
Your first and main focus should be offering great products/experiences/services to your customers and only after you made sure of that, take your time and start focusing on getting to the top of the rankings.
Did you find this guide useful? What are the local SEO strategies and tactics that brought you the best results? Let me know in the comments!