Whether you’re a small, medium or large business, it is essential that you understand Local SEO.
By ignoring it, you are not only losing out on local demand for your products or services, but also missing an opportunity for increased visibility in the SERPs.
Throughout this guide we will discuss key factors and techniques to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of Local SEO, which will help you generate more website traffic, enquiries, physical visits and boost your company’s reputation. We have also put together a comprehensive Local SEO Checklist to ensure that you can audit your website performance for local search and strategise accordingly.
So, what is Local SEO?
Local SEO isn’t all that different from traditional SEO, however it focuses solely on generating exposure for searches with local intent.
By focusing on local searches, your aim is to appear in both the organic listings and local pack, therefore generating a higher SERP real estate. For example, if you’re a local Chinese restaurant, you will want to appear in both the organic listings and map pack whenever somebody enters a query such as ‘Chinese restaurant in…’, ‘Chinese restaurant near me’ etc.
If you aren’t running a Local SEO campaign, you’re missing out on over 56% of mobile searches, which is only set to increase further with advances in technology.
Let’s get started…
Whether you already have a thorough understanding of Local SEO factors or you’re a complete novice, this guide aims to help increase your knowledge.
Some of the factors are backed up with facts, whilst others are controversial and arise from influencer speculation. As with everything in this industry, nothing is set in stone, but let’s get started…
- Authority of inbound links to the domain: Links have always been the primary trust signal that Google use and local rankings are no different. The authority of inbound links are still the number 1 ranking factor. You can take a look at your backlink profile using Ahrefs, which is arguably the best software for backlink analysis.
- Authority of inbound links to Google My Business landing page URL: Google places particular importance on the Google My Business landing page (usually the homepage), therefore the quality of inbound links to this URL should be prioritised. You should look to gain authoritative links with a high domain authority (DA) for the best results.
- Diversity of inbound links: Since Penguin, a domain’s link profile has had increased importance, with Google favouring diverse link profiles. The days of having thousands of guest posts or reciprocal links have long gone, you now need to acquire links from multiple sources in a natural manner.
- Inbound links from locally relevant domains: Many SEOs overlook the importance of links from locally relevant domains, meaning that this is an area to exploit for many local businesses – for example; an inbound link from a local church could be just as valuable as a high authority link when it comes to local rankings.
- Topical keywords used in anchor text of inbound links: Whilst exploiting keyword rich anchor text links will result in a penalty from Google and land you in a messy situation, it can still be extremely powerful if done correctly. Your link profile should include a mixture of keyword rich, branded and generic anchors from a variety of sources.
- Distance between address and search location: If your business’ physical address is in close proximity to that of the searcher, you’re more than likely to appear higher in the SERPs.
- Business Address is in the city of search: Many businesses have struggled with Local SEO due to being located outside of a city’s borders. As a result of the Google Possum update, this has changed and many businesses outside of borders have seen an increase in local rankings, however, it still seems that Google favours those based within a specific location.
- Branded search volume: A recent study from Tom Capper outlined that branded search volume has a higher correlation with rankings than domain authority. As a result, increased social media advertising and PR could have a positive effect on your Local SEO strategy.
- WHOIS information: Ensuring that your WHOis information is consistent across the web can cause a slight ranking boost for both local and non-local searches. Research shows that if your information is inconsistent, or even worse hidden, your rankings could suffer. You can read more about this here.
- Authority of third party reviews: Whilst acquiring reviews on Google should be the primary objective, third-party reviews from websites such as Yelp, Yell, and Trustpilot also contribute to your local results. Third party reviews can also act as a trust signal, provide referral traffic, and be marked up using Schema to display rich snippets.
Google My Business Factors
- Verified listing: Not only does verifying your Google My Business page allow you to manage your listing, but studies have also shown that Google gives a small ranking boost to businesses when their listing is verified.
- Category associations: Correctly selecting a Google category can often be one of the deciding factors whether a website shows in the local map pack; It really is that important. Your category should be what your company is, not what it provides. It is recommended being as descriptive as possible when categorising your business and Google recommend choosing as few categories as possible, however, if you feel that more than a couple of categories are necessary, it is more than likely that Google will too.
- Google My Business title: It is recommended that your product/service keyword is included in your GMB title, however, it is important that this doesn’t appear spammy. If you over-optimise it may cause Google to recognise this, whilst it can also negatively affect CTR and user trust.
- Age of listing: Ultimately, the more mature your Google My Business listing, the more Google trusts the company. As a result, Google is more likely to place you higher in the map pack and organic results for searches with local intent if your page is older than that of a competitor’s.
- Quantity of Google reviews: Google wants users to use their review feature and 90% of customers state that buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Due to this, Google uses the quantity of a business’ reviews in their native reviews as a factor in their local algorithm.
- Quality of Google reviews: “Quality over quantity” is definitely relevant when speaking about reviews. Users don’t want to see hundreds of 4-5 star reviews with no context and neither do Google; therefore Google will prioritise lengthy, topical and contextual reviews. These will carry greater weight when ranking a website and also appear higher than reviews that Google deem ‘low quality’.
- Including a local area code: Google’s guidelines suggest that you should always include the local area code within your business listing. Tip: this should match your NAP on both your own and third party websites.
- Adding relevant photos: Google favour businesses with photos from both the company and (if applicable) customers. Not only this, but new users will also have a better experience when they land on your GMB profile, particularly if there are high-quality images rather than a screenshot from Google Maps.
- Having a visible address: By hiding your address in Google My Business, you’re instantly shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to Local SEO. The primary focus of Local SEO is to gain a local presence, however, if you’re hiding vital information Google is likely to rank a competitor that’s being transparent higher in the local listings.
- Listing hours of operation: You don’t want potential customers arriving at your premises to find shutters down, so why would Google? By listing your hours of operation you are giving Google more information and providing a better customer experience.
- Correctly placed map marker: A simple mistake can be costly and that’s definitely the case here. By incorrectly placing a map marker, you could be directing users to the completely wrong location, which could result in a poor user experience, loss of revenue and even poor reviews.
- Add posts to GMB: An update to Google My Business in the last quarter of 2017 allows you to add posts to your profile; these can be used to promote events, promotions, products and services. The rich content will be delivered to users when they find your business listing on Google and is an excellent way to increase CTR. It is unknown whether Google will give a ranking boost to businesses using posts, but even if they don’t, they can still be a great way to drive interactions.
- Respond to negative reviews: Although it is not concrete whether or not this is actually used as a local ranking factor, it should be imperative for business owners to interact with, and try to resolve negative reviews. By doing this regularly, you are not only showing new users that you care about customer satisfaction, but you’re also increasing the possibility of resolving the issues with that customer, resulting in the negative review being removed.
- Duplicate listings: Just as duplicate content has been an issue in SEO for years, duplicate Google My Business listings pose the same issue. If you have two listings for the same location and business, Google will often see this as spam and filter out one of the listings. It is also worth noting that if you are at a shared location where two companies have the same category, Google will often filter out one of the company listings.
- Legitimate business address: Using a fake business address is something that Google has been tackling aggressively due to it being exploited to gain an advantage in the local search results. They’re tackling this by doing random spot checks on registered addresses and if you’re found to be violating the terms and conditions, your listing could be removed. In the past, fraudsters have registered P.O boxes to receive a postcard from Google, before verifying and changing their location within that geographical area, however, this is much less likely to work today.
- Domain Authority: As one of the leading contributing SEO ranking factors, domain authority isn’t something that should be overlooked when undertaking a local campaign. Although competition is bound to be less than a national or international campaign, to dominate your local field you need a high DA and trust from Google.
- Topical Keyword in the domain: The days of keyword rich domains are over since Google tackled the growing issue in 2012, however, a study from Canirank found that keyword rich domains still rank 11% higher than brandable domains. The main reason for this is that Google believes that the website has a higher relevancy, combined with inbound links including the keyword in your business name, e.g. https://hotels.com/.
- NAP address is featured sitewide: If you are a company with less than 10 physical addresses then you should have each address added to your website’s footer. This should be the same as your NAP in Google My Business, third-party websites for consistency and marked up using Schema.
- Phone number structure: If your website is optimised for conversions, it is highly likely that you will have a phone number present in the header, footer and on the contact page. Your phone number should include the local area code, be clickable on mobile, be marked up using structured data and match other citations.
- Outbound link quality: The outbound links from your website should all be of a high quality. If Google deems your outbound links to be of a poor quality then you could see this harm both your local and non-local rankings.
- Outbound link themes: Relevance is just as important as quality when it comes to outbound links. As with inbound links, each outbound link should relevant to that page, whilst linking to local pages also sends out signals to Google for local results.
- Outbound link volume: Whilst outbound links are important, it is also imperative that you aren’t linking too much or too little. If there aren’t enough outbound links on a page, you could be losing out on opportunities, whilst if you have too many outbound links, Google could deem this spammy which could negatively affect organic performance.
- Presence of malware: Malware on your website will seriously harm your organic performance and can result in a manual penalty from Google. If you have malware present on your website you may aswell say goodbye to both your local and non-local rankings until the issue is resolved.
- Length of content: On average, a page which ranks on the first page of Google has 1,890 words according to a study carried out using SEMRush data. It is recommended that you take a look over competitor websites to get a true gauge of what is required in your industry and look to better their content in terms of both length and quality.
- Site-wide content relevance: If you’re a local business, the content on all your pages should be not only relevant to keywords you’re targeting, but also locally relevant. This can be achieved through techniques such as in-content links to local websites and including references to your target areas within the content where applicable.
- Content relevance on GMB landing page: The content on your Google My Business landing page is imperative for success in the local map pack. The content on this page (usually the homepage) should be relevant to the category you’ve selected and be locally relevant for the best success.
- Google My Business landing page title: Title tags (also known as meta titles) are one of the key elements for on-page SEO. As a result, you should ensure that the title tag for your Google My Business landing page is relevant both topically and locally. Tip: Remember that your title tag will appear in the SERP’s. If your title appears spammy it can harm CTR.
- Header tag relevance: Header tags carry more weight than the rest of the text on a page, therefore it is important that all of these are optimised. For Local SEO it is best practice to try to include both your primary keyword and area in your H1 heading.
- HTML NAP matches Google My Business: Your NAP (Name, address, phone number) should be consistent across the web, however the most important is that your Google My Business NAP matches that which appears on your website. It is also recommended that you markup all relevant information using Schema/JSON-LD to ensure that Google recognises the data.
- Optimise for ‘near me’ searches: ‘Near me’ searches are growing rapidly as more people perform local searches on portable devices. As such, it is important that your website is optimised for these, which can be achieved by tailoring your content, ensuring that your GMB signals are perfect and managing citations/links.
Social Media Factors
- Facebook page likes: Page likes act as an authoritative signal for Local SEO, with Google more likely to trust a business which has 4000 page likes, as opposed to one with just a few hundred. Not only this, but the larger your Facebook following, the more users you are reaching out to with every post, which can increase shares (another trust signal).
- Age of Facebook page: Just as humans are more likely to trust an adult over a child, Google trust a Facebook page the more mature it is.
- Facebook shares: Share-worthy content is a must for any successful campaign and there has been speculation dating back to 2010 between social shares and organic rankings. Many tests have been carried out over the years and although nobody are certain, a recent study by Larry Kim confirmed that by having more Facebook shares, your page is more likely to rank in the top 10 results for both local and non-local searches. By attracting more Facebook shares, you are also increasing your potential audience and the possible attention of influencers, who could provide invaluable inbound links.
- Facebook reviews: As mentioned earlier in the guide, Google uses reviews as a trust signal and Facebook’s reviews act as one of the major third-party review signals. Although not as important as Google reviews, Facebook reviews are an important Local SEO ranking factor and can increase the chance of a conversion for new users. Recently, Google has also started displaying third-party display data alongside your Google My Business listing.
- Twitter followers: Just like Facebook page likes, Twitter followers are a trust signal that Google uses when analysing a business’ online presence. The more you have, the more likely it is that Google will recognise you as a trustworthy local business.
- Twitter engagement: Likes, Retweets, mentions and replies are all metrics that business owners use to judge the success of a Twitter campaign and the same is true with Google. Not only this, but if you have a tweet that performs particularly well, it can actually display in the SERP’s as a structured snippet and can be great bait for generating inbound links.
- Snapchat Geofilter’s: Although Snapchat provides no crawlable content, it is a great tool for local businesses to advertise and should be integrated into every local SEO campaign. Once you have created your Geofilter and it’s been approved by Snapchat, you can expect buzz from other social media outlets and should also reach out to local media outlets, with the aim of generating invaluable local inbound links to your website. For the best outreach results, it is also recommended that you have a landing page on your website that is relevant to what it is you’re promoting.
- Social Links to and from your site: There is no point investing resources in your social channels if search engines can’t link them to your website, therefore it is recommended that you link to your social pages on every page of the website (usually within the header/footer) and link to your website from your social pages.
- Topical bio: Your social media bios are a great opportunity to add both topical and locally relevant content. It is recommended that the content is unique and tailored to your audience on each channel, for example, your bio on Linkedin should be different to that on Twitter due to both of these having a different audience.
- Consistent NAP references: You’re probably bored of reading about your NAP by now, but it really is that important for a successful Local SEO campaign. Social media pages provide further opportunities for unstructured NAP’s and should be consistent with the rest of your references.
- Interaction: Engage, engage, engage is what you hear from all Social Media experts and this is also true if you want to drive a successful SEO campaign. By engaging with relevant users, you are much more likely gain more social shares, therefore increasing the possibility of inbound links and increased rankings.
- Apple Maps Connect: A bit off track with this one, but it’s something that is missed by a lot of local business owners. Although Apple Maps aren’t generally used for non-branded searches, they’re still a great way to capture local branded traffic. By listing your business using Apple Maps Connect, you can ensure that firstly, your company will show in Apple Maps, and secondly, that you can manage your listing.
- Consistency of Citations: Consistency is key when building citations and if you get it wrong, it could confuse Google and have an adverse effect on your local rankings. Initially, we would recommend building citations through directories such as Yell, Yelp, Foursquare and Thomson Local. By stepping into Google’s shoes, it’s easy to understand why they would be more confident displaying a website which has 40+ consistent citations over one which is sending mixed signals.
- Quality/Authority of Structured Citations: When selecting where to place your structured citations, you should think about both the quality and authority of the website you’re placing them. A study from Search Engine Land showed that the most important aspects to look at are industry relevance, local relevance, domain authority and the number of competitors that are listed.
- Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations: While structured citations are most important, you shouldn’t overlook the importance of unstructured citations. These are citations which come from sources such as newspaper articles, blog posts, government websites and industry associations. If you want to dominate the local pack in your niche, it is unstructured citations which can give you the competitive edge.
- Citations from locally relevant domains: Where better to place your NAP than on a website that relates directly to your geographical area. These websites include local news outlets, blogs and community websites.
- Relevant landing pages: For the best results you need landing pages which are relevant both topically and locally. Without a relevant landing page for each of your products and services, it is increasingly difficult to send the signals to Google of what you do. If you are trying to target too many topics on one page, it is likely that you won’t succeed due to the optimisation being diluted.
- Mobile-friendly website: Since the mobile-friendly and Mobilegeddon updates, Google has been pushing for every website to be designed for mobile. If your website is mobile friendly then Google will give you a small ranking boost and it is expected that Google will roll out the mobile-first index imminently, which will see websites that aren’t mobile-friendly drop for both local and non-local results.
- Site architecture: High-quality internal linking is just as important as inbound links. Internal links pass authority from page to page, therefore if a page is deep in your link structure, Google will deem it to be a low priority which will affect rankings. It is recommended that no priority landing page is more than 3 clicks from the homepage, with the highest priority pages featuring in the primary navigation. Methods for improved internal linking include adding structured breadcrumbs, including in-content links and having a flat site-architecture.
- Structured data markup: While not directly affecting rankings, structured data is something which you can’t ignore if you want to increase your organic visibility. If you markup information using structured data then it can be used by the search engines to generate rich snippets and gain you a higher SERP real estate. For local businesses, the most popular schema markup includes address, opening hours, price range, reviews, and breadcrumbs – you can see a full list of structured data options on Schema.org.
- Duplicate content: One of the biggest issues for SEO is duplicate content, which can single-handedly cause huge problems for a campaign. If your content isn’t unique and is a direct copy from elsewhere on your website or an external website, it is highly likely that performance will be less than impressive. Instead, you are likely to get a cannibalisation issue in which you have pages competing against each other for the same phrases, which will cause rankings to fluctuate. For many local businesses who don’t have a lot of services, this is likely to be less of an issue, but for a website with many pages, it can be harder to manage.
- Canonical tags: A canonical is a HTML tag that is placed in the <head> section of a page to prevent duplicate content issues. Each page should include a canonical tag to ensure that the canonical URL is indexed by the search engines – this should either be a self-referring canonical or a canonical to the preferred URL. For local retailers that have an e-commerce website this is particularly important, however, it is also important if your website displays multiple versions of the same URL. An example is that https://www.test.com/Men/clothing.php?sessionid=273749 is the same as https://www.test.com/Men/clothing.php, therefore to manage this you would have to specify the canonical URL in the page’s source code.
- URL structure: URL’s are a touchy subject with webmasters, however for local SEO the best structure to follow is always using a single domain or subdomain, followed by a keyword rich slug. When possible it is recommended that you exclude dynamic URL’s, use less than 60 characters (where possible) and try to match URLs with your H1 tag. For Local SEO, it is always preferable to use the topic of the page as the slug, followed by the area where applicable.
- SSL certificate: Since January 2017, SSL encryption has been a factor in Google’s core algorithm, meaning that websites that utilise SSL technology get a slight ranking boost. For local businesses fighting for less competitive keywords, switching to SSL could provide a boost that will see your rankings rise and it should be fairly easy to implement with the help of a developer or hosting company
- Hreflang attribute: The hreflang attribute tells the search engines what language you are targeting on a specific page, which helps them serve the page to users searching in that language. It is particularly important if you have various versions of the same page, which serve different countries. For example, if you have two versions of a page targeting both the Republic of Ireland and the UK, you would need to implement hreflang tags to tell Google which page to serve in each location. Without being correctly implemented you could experience cannibalisation issues, high bounce rates, and low conversion rates.
- Server location/site speed: Google states that the third most important geo-targeting metric is server location. It is recommended that your server is located in the same country as the majority of your customers – this is more of an issue if your server is slow and you have a long TTFB which will increase bounce rate and cause usability issues. If you are a local business in a competitive industry, users aren’t going to wait around forever so you want your site speed to be as quick as possible!
- Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs): ccTLDs are generally utilised to indicate that a website is relevant to a particular country or region, for example, if your website is targeting the UK you should use the following ccTLD: .uk. Google says that this is the strongest signal you can send that your content is targeting a specific country, and as such is particularly important if you’re running a Local SEO campaign. If you correctly implement ccTLDs, hreflang attributes and have your server in your targeted country, you are sending all of the right signals to Google.
- Click-through-rate (CTR): You can calculate CTR by dividing the number of impressions by the number of clicks. This data is available to all webmasters through Google Search Console. Google uses this data to establish whether or not your website is relevant to the user intent, which can then be used as part of their algorithm to rank you for a particular keyword. For example, if you are a local Chinese takeaway and your CTR is low for ‘Chinese takeaway near me’, it is likely that your rankings will decrease for that query. In order to increase CTR, you should ensure that your titles and meta descriptions include USP’s and are written in a way to stand out. You can also use schema markup to show structured snippets in the SERPs.
- Time spent on page: Due to Google using time spent on a page to define Ad Rank in AdWords, it is also speculated that they use the same metric for organic results. Moreover, you should ensure that when a user lands on your website that they have a positive experience, and spend some time browsing the available content. You can increase the time a user spends on your page by adding visual content, creating engaging text and ensuring your landing page is relevant to the query.
- Bounce rate: Bounce rate is a metric that Google uses to measure whether somebody stays on the page, or leaves without navigating to another page. If you have a high bounce rate, it is likely that there is an issue with page load time, there are usability issues or the page isn’t relevant for the query. If you have a high bounce rate (which can be viewed in Google Analytics), it is likely that Google will presume there is a usability issue and therefore won’t want to send users to the site, thus resulting in lower rankings.
- Number of clicks to call: Users can call a business directly from the map pack and Google has access to all of that data! As a result, if your business receives many calls in comparison to impressions, Google is more likely to believe that you are a trusted local business and rank your website higher as a result.
- Directions to business clicks: Most local businesses will want customers to visit their premises and Google collects data both from directions to business clicks. The data which they announced they gather includes driving logs to review counts, temporal signals, and direction information, which can all then be used to help deem the rankings of your local business in the SERP’s. For example, if Google can see that people are willing to travel further to your business than one of your competitors, it shows them that it is a popular, trusted business.
Time to conclude…
So what are you waiting for, grab a coffee and begin to put your Local SEO knowledge to use!
It’s easy to identify where you can improve your local presence by working through our Local SEO checklist – it will help you identify areas for improvement & strategise a plan to blast the local competition out of the water.