Fact: 46% of all Google searches are local.
If you' re not gaining visibility and customers from local search, then you and I are gonna solve that problem right now with a jam-packed local SEO tutorial.
Hi, my name is Seth from Oregon Web Solutions. I've got quite a complete tutorial for you on how to do local SEO, so even if you're just starting out, this article should simplify the process for you quite nicely and help you gain visibility in local search. Let's dive right in…
What Is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the process of optimizing your online presence to attract more business from relevant local searches. For example, if I type in best Mexican restaurant Toronto, you'll see that the top of the search results are dominated by a box of local listings on Google Maps, which is called the “Snack Pack”. Below that are your typical organic search results. It's super important that you can gain position in the “Snack Pack” because they generate 33% of clicks on the search results page. But it's equally important to rank in the organic search results since they attract 40% of clicks. So bottom line, It pays to rank in both spots, which is where local SEO comes in.
Now, Google has an estimated 87% market share, in the US, which means that most people are using Google to search for local businesses. So in this tutorial, we'll be focusing on local SEO in Google only.
Now, let's get on the same page and draw out an example scenario. Let's say that I'm opening up a new coffee shop in downtown Toronto for cool, hard-working people like SEO's and entrepreneurs. We'll be open 24/7 because our target audience tends to work around the clock. And of course, there will be fiber internet because there's nothing more frustrating than slow public WiFi. To differentiate ourselves from other coffee shops and build some nice recurring revenue, we'll be offering virtual office services for a set monthly fee, which includes bottomless coffee, your own private cubicle, and incoming mail service. I've invested in this concept, I've dropped a lot of coin, but no one knows about my business because they're finding other coffee shops like this in Google search.
Is Your Website Optimized Properly?
Alright, so we're going to start with step zero, and it's something all local businesses need to do. And that's to ensure your website is optimized for mobile. According to Bright Local's study, 61% of mobile users are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile site. You can use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Just enter in your domain or URL and shortly after, Google will tell you whether your page is mobile friendly, or if it's not.
Google My Business Listing
On to step one, and that's to claim and optimize your Google my business listing. This is arguably the most important part of local SEO. And it's actually quite easy to do. Just go to google. com/business, sign into your Google account, and the first thing you'll need to do is enter in your NAP, which stands for name, address, and phone number. If you have a business with multiple locations or you purchased a franchise, then you can start typing in the business name, and you'll see a list of businesses that are already registered in Google's database.
My business is called Oregon Web Solutions, so that's all I'll write and click next. It's important to note that your business name is not meant for keyword stuffing. So I wouldn't write something like “Oregon Web Solutions Portland Oregon 24/7 – Oregon Web Solutions”. It's not going to help you rank, so don't bother.
Next, we'll enter in our address. Now, since we are an SEO Company, we'll obviously have a physical location, but if you're an independent service provider like a photographer or a work-from-home consultant then your typical client meetings might happen in their office, or in a coffee shop. If that's the case, then you can enter in your home address, select the “I deliver goods and services to my customers,” then choose to hide your address since it's not a store. Now, when your business shows up in Google search, it'll just show the city and province/state where you work from.
Since that doesn't apply to our business, let's move on to the next step, which is to pin the marker on the map. Google's pretty good with this, but you'll want to examine the map and make sure it's in the exact position where your store is located. Just drag and drop it and click next when you're done. As Google recommends, don't add multiple categories to list all of your products and services. Instead, you should focus on this statement: “My business is a blank. “Rather than “My business has blank” So in the case of Oregon Web Solutions, our business is an Internet Marketing Company, even though it has virtual office space. Just start typing in a description and select the most appropriate one from the drop-down.
Let's go to the next step, which is to enter in your phone number and website, which is pretty straightforward. This step is optional, but I recommend including both. Now, we'll need to finish off the process and verify the website, which can be done by phone or mail. You just need to follow the instructions from Google and your my business listing should be active in no time. Before you continue, you should add a few more optimizations to your listing. You can click on the info menu in the sidebar. Then you can click on the pen icon to edit different parts of your listing. So you can add more relevant categories, for example.
Other things you should do is to set your hours of operation, add specific URLs to important pages, add a description of your business, and photos of your actual location.
Now that we have the foundation set up for local SEO, let's move onto step 2, which is to do some keyword research. There are some obvious terms you'd want to rank for like “Portland SEO”, “Search Engine Optimization Portland“, “Portland Marketing Agency”, and “Portland SEO Company”. With these kinds of local search queries, Google pulls the information from the Google MyBusiness listing. For example, if I type in “what time does Starbucks close”, Google will pull up the Starbucks in my vicinity and show the hours of operations for all locations on the map. And if I specify a location or use a single location business, then you'll see a quick answer box like this, which is pulled directly from Google My Business. So rather than going deeper into the “Snack Pack,” or Google Maps listings we'll be talking about keyword research for the organic search results. First, we need to brainstorm your SIL’s, which stands for “service in locations”. As a Marketing Agency, I'd want to rank for queries like these:”SEO Companion In Portland” “Internet marketing company in Portland” and and so on. We'd also want to rank for synonymous variations like “company in Portland”. A photographer, on the other hand, might want to rank for “photographer in Toronto” or “photographer in a nearby city.”
Here are a few ways you can generate solid keyword ideas. First is to use Google's autocomplete. Just type in the main query you want to rank for, and you'll see a few good suggestions here like “open late”, “financial district”, and “Portland Oregon”, which may likely come from tourists or travelers. If you're in the services industry, then you can look at local classified sites like Craigslist. So I can search in their services category and use a seed keyword like “photographer”,and you'll see some cool ideas here like “experienced”, “freelance”, “engagement shoot” and more. But in my opinion, the absolute best place is to find the keywords that your competitors are already ranking for. And the reason why this is so effective is because this is basically telling you which keywords that you can also rank for. You can use a tool like Ahrefs' Site Explorer, and enter in the domain of one of your search competitors. Next, go to the organic keywords report. And this report will show you all of the search queries that the domain is ranking for.
You'll see that they're ranking for a lot of branded queries, so you can use the exclude box, and type in the brand name, which will give you a nice list of relevant keywords to target. And just from a quick scan of this list, there are a couple of keywords that I would have never thought of like “Portland SEO Experts” and “search engine optimization Portland Oregon”.
You should have a solid list of keyword ideas now, so it's time to move onto some on-page SEO. If you're familiar with SEO, then you'll find that a lot of the typical on-page SEO best practices apply here. For example, it can be advantageous to include your keyword in your H3 tag, add your target keyword in the title tag, set the URL slug to your keyword, and use short URLs.
But there are a few other things you should specifically do for local SEO. Now, these optimizations will vary depending on if you have a single location versus multiple locations. So I'll cover both.
Optimizing Your Home Page
The first thing you'll want to do is optimize your homepage. In general, most single location businesses should optimize their homepage around their primary location. So as a Portland-based marketing company, I would probably target keywords like “SEO Portland Oregon,” rather than SEO.
Here's why: If you look at the organic keywords report for your competition, you'll see that nearly all of the keyword rankings tend to revolve around their homepage and you can see where they rank in the “Snack Pack” for that keyword phrase.
So here are a few on-page optimization tips for your homepage. First, show NAP information, which again is name, address and phone number on the homepage. In fact, you can add this to the footer of your entire website if you operate from a single location as you can see in this example here. And it's absolutely critical that your name, address, and phone number match exactly or as close as possible to what you've submitted to Google My Business. You can also add testimonials or reviews of your business here and use Schema markup, which we're going to attack right now.
Schema markup is code that you add to your website to improve the way search engines read and represent your page in the search engine results. You can use Google's structured data markup helper to eliminate a whole mess of complicated coding. Just select a data type, so in this case, we'd choose local businesses, then enter in the URL of the page you want to markup and click the “start tagging” button.
Next, just click on the elements that you want to tag. So if I click on the logo, I can set it to the name. Then I'll scroll down to the footer of the page and add a few more markup elements.
The last thing I'll add is the address. You would need to select all of the different parts of the address and choose the correct field. Also, you'll see that they include their address here, but left their postal code out, so in this case, if I were this business, I would include that in the footer too. Once you're done, you can click on this button, and a piece of code will come up which you can add to your website.
Now, if you're a business that has multiple locations, then you're exempt from the rule of optimizing your homepage around your primary location. And by multiple locations, I'm not referring to a couple brick and mortar shops 10 miles from each other, but bigger companies like hotels or car rentals where they might have hundreds or even thousands of locations. Instead of the home page, you would want to optimize local landing pages by including key elements like the location's NAP, operating hours and sprinkle in related keywords targeted at that location.
Building Local Citations
The next step is to build local citations. And citations are online mentions of your business. There are two main types of citations. They are structured and unstructured. Structured citations are mentions that include your NAP information and it's usually presented in a visually-structured manner. So this would include places like business directories and social profiles. Unstructured citations are mentions of your business that don't follow a structure. So this might be in blog posts, preferred vendors pages or on other websites. And building local citations is super important. According to a 2017 study done by Moz, citation signals were one of the top local ranking factors, which was true for both Google's “Snack Pack” results and regular organic search results. And this is likely due to having consistent NAP information from all over the web, which verifies that the data Google has in their My Business listing is accurate. On the other hand, inconsistent NAP information can confuse or mislead both Google and potential customers.
So your job is two-fold: First, you need to make sure that your existing citations are correct and consistent. And second, you need to build more relevant citations.
So to handle the first part, you need to perform a citation audit. More often than not, some of your citations will be incorrect and/or incomplete. And you can run a quick search using Moz's local search tool. Just enter in the name of your business, and choose one from the auto select options from the best results. From here, you can see a breakdown of the complete, incomplete, inconsistent, and duplicate citations, which you can then manually fix. You can also do a manual audit using Google search operators, which I won't get into now, but you can check out our local SEO blog post. The link's in the description. After you've completed your audit, you'll want to build more citations.
Now, if you're a new business, I would start with a list of core structured citations. Whitespark.ca has a great resource on places to build these structured citations, whichI'll leave a link to in the description. Just choose a country, and you'll see a list of places to add your mark. You can then branch out to other relevant local directories like your local chamber of commerce, other local business associations and then expand to niche specific websites like TripAdvisor, HomeAdvisor, Findlaw and more.
Another great place to find citation opportunities is to let your competitors do the work for you. So using Ahrefs' Site Explorer, look up the homepage URL of one of your competitors since most citations will lead to the homepage. Next, go to the anchors report. In here, you can use the search box to look for any of these keywords: These are common anchor texts that you'll find in directories, which make them easy citation opportunities. So if I search for “website,” then I'm gonna click on “details” and “referring domains,” then you'll see a bunch of places where we can build both structured and unstructured citations.
Another hyper-effective tactic you can do is to use the Link Intersect tool. In the top section, enter in the name of a few of your organic search competitors. With these citation hunting methods, it should be enough to keep you busy for a while. But we can't stop here because we still need to build quality editorial links.
Building Quality Links
According to Moz's 2017 survey, link signals were the most important ranking factor for local organic results. For the local “Snack Pack,” links were the second most important factor. Rather than focusing on a full-out link building tutorial, I want to leave you with two tried and true tactics that work.
The first is to create and promote a useful resource. In this case, a local resource related to your niche would be ideal. I know I say it all the time, but people are more willing to link to helpful articles over salesy content like product and services pages. So a couple ideas would be to create local “best of” guides or content that would appeal to your target audience.
So for example, we could create content on how to rank your business in Portland, where we can plug our own products. We could also create content targeted at small business solo preneurs on the best and affordable local places for office space, since we offer virtual office services.
The second tactic would be to guest blog. Even though guest posts normally come with a link back to your site, I want you to look at this as an opportunity to build yourself up as an industry expert. This is particularly important for people in the services industry. People want to hire professionals they can trust and know will do a good job. And often times, they're willing to pay a premium to have the peace of mind that the job's gonna get done right the first time. And you can look for local blogs that accept guest posts by googling any of these queries.
So looking at the search results for “Portland” “write for us”, you'll see some very relevant local websites that are seeking writers. You can also do this in Content Explorer to expand your list of potential guest posting prospects. Just type in a topic related to your niche. So I'll type in “coffee beans” and I'll also set the search to a title search for more relevant results. Next, click on the “one article per domain,” filter, since we don't need to contact the same website multiple times. Scrolling down a bit, you'll see this post on The 12 Best Coffee Beans to Buy. From here, you could easily pitch yourself as a pro barista that runs a cafe in Toronto and share some actionable or interesting insights on something like roasting beans.
The last and final step is to take care of ongoing activities. Even though you've set up your Google My Business and built a bunch of citations, these are all things that you want to have well-documented. In business, things change. That might be you moving to a new location, changing your phone number, or even changing your business name, in which case, you would need to update all of your citations. So the first thing you need to do is ensure that you keep your Google My Business account active.
There are 3 important regular tasks that you need to take care of.
- First is to consistently respond to customers and client reviews. This includes both positive and negative comments.
- Next is to be on the lookout for inaccurate edits to your Google My Business listing. Anyone can click on “suggest an edit” on your My Business listing and sometimes Google will accept these suggestions without notice to you or the business owner. In fact, scammers have even swapped phone numbers with legit businesses for a quick payday. So it's your job to ensure that your listings are up to date and correct at all times.
- Finally, is to use Google Posts to keep your customers informed and engaged. Google Posts is a micro-blogging platform within Google My Business.
- And all of these updates are visible in the Knowledge Panel and accessible with the click of a mouse.This provides an opportunity to attract more attention to your listing, connect with your audience and ultimately boost conversions. You can create a Google Post from within Google My Business by going on the posts menu, click “Write your post” and then add an image and up to 300 words of text. This is a great way to share your promotional offers or teasers for your blog posts. You can also choose a call-to-action button from a list of preset options to bump click-throughs.
I recommend all local businesses play around with this feature and stay active with Google Posts. It doesn't take any more time than a tweet and there's a ton of potential to garner attention from Google searchers.
Now we've covered a lot here, so what I recommend doing right now is putting these techniques into action, and watching some of our other SEO articles, which will dig deeper into some of the topics we've talked about like link building, SEO for blogs, and on-page SEO techniques.