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The Ultimate Local SEO Ranking Guide

Local SEO allows local businesses to cater to the numerous local customers specifically looking for the types of products and services that they offer. 

Businesses both large and small can benefit from local SEO. Without it, your business will not show up in the search results. That means losing out on a lot of business opportunities, and in this case, business opportunities from those close and more likely to have converted their visit to your site into actual business.

Local SEO is a branch of SEO specifically designed for local businesses and, while it shares similarities to more traditional SEO, there are also some differences between the two.

Whether or not you have not invested time into optimizing your site or you are looking for tips and tricks to rank higher, this comprehensive article will cover everything you need to know about local SEO and how to rank.

Given the comprehensive nature of this article, we will get started right away.

 1. Set Up Google My Business (And Bing Places)

When it comes to local SEO, the first step is to set up your Google My Business (formerly called Google Places) if you haven’t already. 

Google My Business is highly important. It ensures that your business appears in local map pack listings, which Google displays when people make local-based searches.

Local map pack searches are even placed above organic searches. Wouldn’t you want your business to come up first when people search for the kinds of products/services you offer?

The good thing is that setting up Google My Business is very easy. Here are a few quick tips when you’re setting up your profile. First of all, your public email address should be your business domain as opposed to something like your gmail account.

Here are a few extra tips that you should follow to further optimize your Google My Business listing:

  • Ensure that you have completely filled out your profile
  • Absolutely ensure that you have correctly selected the appropriate category for your business. This is actually a ranking factor in and of itself – not selecting the correct category is actually a negative ranking factor. (Google also says that having as few categories as possible is best).

You will also want to select a category based on what your business is and not what it sells – this recommendation is directly courtesy of Google themselves.  If you own a hair salon, you would enter “hair salon” as opposed to “hair care products.”

  • Choose a high-quality profile image and cover image – make it interesting and yet relevant (also save all images with your keywords in mind).
  • Include a local phone number – avoid 800 numbers; also use your local area code if possible.
  • Include your business address, ensuring that it is consistent with your website and elsewhere on the web.
  • Include as many images as possible – this will improve your click-through-rate; avoid generic images.
  • Include opening/closing times if applicable.
  • Include reviews as a means to personalize and also create trust via third-party endorsement.

While on the topic of Google My Business, Bing Places also deserves a mention. Businesses don’t give Bing enough attention, but they are missing out on a lot of traffic by doing so.

While you certainly want to maximize your presence on Google given that it’s the biggest search engine in the world, Bing is the second largest. If you want to give yourself an advantage, start by setting up Bing Places..

2. Implementation of the Local Search Ranking Factors

With regular SEO, there is on-page optimization, backlinks, link building – the structure of traditional SEO applies to local SEO as well. It just looks different.

On-Page SEO

SEO always begins with on-page SEO – that is, optimizing your specific website. Before we touch on the ranking factors when it comes to on-page SEO, a brief discussion of keyword research is necessary.

Keyword research is, after all, the foundation of on-page SEO as it gives you insight into what those in your area are searching for. Ultimately, it allows you to attract customers who are interested in your specific products or services.

Of course, this is the same for both traditional and local SEO, which means you are already likely familiar with using Google Keyword Planner to generate a list of keywords to include on your website and in your actual content.

If not, this free tool will help you to generate appropriate keywords for your business. Don’t forget to target long-tail keywords; these are of particular importance when it comes to local SEO because they really highlight user intent.

Don’t forget keyword modifiers like “cheap” or “best” for more keyword ideas. It is also a good idea to use Google Trends to see if interest in your keywords are increasing or decreasing – many businesses do not do this as much as they should.

Follow the trends and adjust your keywords appropriately in order to maximize their value and always having it working in your best interests.

Pro Tip: If you are in need of more keyword ideas, use your competitor’s keyword planning to your advantage. Using Google Keyword Planner, simply copy and paste the URL of one of your competitor’s landing pages into the designated landing page field.

You can even upgrade to a more advanced tool that will also tell you how well those keywords performed for your competitor. Ahrefs and Moz are two such tools.

1. The Basics: Keywords in Titles

When it comes to on-page SEO, good practices also include proper use of title tags, meta descriptions and headers, regardless of whether it’s a traditional SEO campaign or local SEO. As a brief refresher, here are some tips:

  • Ensure that the name of your business is clearly visible in the title tag.
  • Include your best primary keyword in the beginning of your title tag (i.e. the keyword that has a high-search volume and also encapsulates what your business does), as well as your meta description.
  • Include your city name in everything from title tags, URLs, heading tags, image file names, landing pages, etc.

2. NAP (Accurate and Consistent)

NAP is short for your business’s name, address and phone number. It is one of the primary ranking factors when it comes to local SEO. First of all, you want to include your NAP on all pages of your website.

It is also important to get your NAP listed elsewhere on the web (more on this to come). When your NAP is listed on another web page (such as an online yellow pages directory) these are called “citations.” Note that these listings don’t have to link back to your website in order to qualify as citations.

Ultimately, businesses with more citations will rank higher than those without if all other aspects are equal. The important thing is that the format of your NAP needs to be 100% accurate and consistent everywhere on the web, especially on all top directories.

Even a difference between the use of “street” or “St.” can negatively impact your position. In fact, inaccurate and inconsistent NAPs is a negative ranking factor.

Use Bright Local to determine how consistent your current listings are. This tool allows you to see all of your competitor’s citations, giving you the opportunity to add your own alongside them.

3. A Mobile-Friendly Website

A mobile-friendly site is highly important when it comes to local SEO. In fact, Google will now penalize non-friendly mobile websites.

Remember, too, that desktop ranking positions are different than mobile ranking positions; just because your business ranks high on desktop, doesn’t mean that it will be in the same position on a mobile device. This becomes an important focus as more and more users search the Internet on their phones or tablets using a mobile browser.

4. Click-Through Rate

Google is paying more and more attention to click-through rates. One way to increase your CTR is with Schema markup. In fact, this is one of the most effective and yet very underused ways to increase your SEO – and it is especially so for local businesses.

Schema markup is essentially code that you add to your website so that search engines display more informative results (from prices to hours of operation, etc.), therein improving the user experience.

In turn, this increases your visibility as a business, and click-through rates.

For local businesses, it is important that they use Schema.org markup on their NAP, but it can be used to structure any pages on your website

You can also increase your CTR in other ways, such as making sure your title tags are clear and relevant.

Off-Page SEO

1. A Lot of Quality and Diverse Local Reviews

A study by Now Digital Marketing Works found that Google reviews (both positive and in high number) is the most important ranking factor. It all goes back to social proof. Not only are positive reviews important, but the rate at which you get them is of equal importance.

The importance of local reviews shouldn’t be surprising when you consider it from a customer perspective. Did you know that 90% of customers are influenced by positive reviews before making a purchase? 86% of them are also equally influenced by negative reviews.

So, the question becomes: how do you get more positive reviews? Start by simply asking your customers. For example, did a customer send you an email complimenting you? Ask if they’d leave a review.

Send out a thank you email after a customer has made a purchase, providing them with a link of where they can leave a review.

Indeed, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your current base of customers. Remind the customer that leaving reviews is quick. You might want to even take this a step further by incentivizing them in some way. A great way to do this is through your email list.

Whether you offer a discount or a small free gift, you have a lot of options for getting more reviews. You can also do a monthly giveaway to a random reviewer. But, there’s a caveat in all of this process for review. You have to make the process of reviewing simple. Put review links in prominent areas of your website, in your email signature or in your header/footer.

And going beyond this, you could even use automated services that will send out feedback requests. In fact, Yocale can help you to gain more reviews with their automated review requests and also help with your efforts to move up the ranks with their Google optimized mini website.

In the meantime, here is a list of all of the ways that local businesses can generate more customer reviews.

You can even create a page on your website that is specifically about how to review your business. Don’t forget to thank all of your reviewers for leaving a review – again, whether their review is good or bad, interaction and response is important.

Of course, just as it is important to generate more positive reviews, it is also important to take care of negative reviews. First, start with an apology. You can also try to contact the reviewer by a more direct line of communication such as email. Some platforms allow this.

You can also always try to request that the platform remove a review. Remember, too, however, that Google takes into account the frequency at which reviews are left, even negative ones.

In short, cultivating reviews is an on-going process for businesses, but one that they need to prioritize.

2. Quality Backlinks

Off-page optimization always begins with link building and backlinks. Just like in traditional SEO campaigns, backlinks are important in local SEO, too. And, as always, the more quality backlinks you have from authoritative websites, the better you will rank.

Note: there is a difference between citations and backlinks. Citations mention your NAP but don’t require a link back to your website. Backlinks require an actual hyperlink back to your website.

To start off with, you can use a tool like Ahrefs or Moz’s Open Site Explorer to get a sense of what types of backlinks you currently have.

With that in mind, there are many ways to get backlinks, but it does take work. Here are some ideas:

  1. Sponsor industry-related events (this may be as simple as organizing a lunch). Go to Meetup.com
  2. Create local resource pages for your business
  3. Sign up to press request services
  4. Guest post on local business websites and conduct interviews

3. A Lot of Citations

As we mentioned above, citations are very important when it comes to local SEO and they act as yet another ranking factor. Not only do citations need to be consistent, as mentioned, but there also needs to be a lot of them out in the world wide web.

With that in mind, the question inevitably becomes: how do you get more citations?

Manually, you can post on third-party websites such as Yelp and FourSquare. You could publish a guest post on local or industry-related blogs, local business directories (these are very important, but you only need to pay attention to the ones that are spam-free) or industry-related directories.

Moz also has a comprehensive list of citations. WhiteSpark will do all of the work for you. There are also other automated tools such as Moz Local that can also help you to get more citations as well.

3.  Test Everything

Testing is always important. This means tracking how well your campaign is going on a regular basis as well as a running an SEO audit on your website (you should also do this on a regular basis).

This audit should monitor everything from a keyword analysis to your organic search results and everything in-between.

It is imperative to measure your results – to see what’s working so you can optimize for better results and eliminate everything that isn’t helping. This is essential to your business’s ability to not only thrive but to survive entirely.

Here is how to go about performing a SEO audit on your website.

You should also conduct a local search engine optimization audit, which should include everything from research on your Google Business My Page listings to your local citations. At minimum, do a NAP accuracy and consistency analysis.

When it comes to your campaigns, ensure that you monitor your traffic, conversions/traffic, mobile traffic, etc. Google Analytics is great tool for this. This guide will show beginners everything they need to know about Google Analytics.

Remember that local SEO is just as much of an ongoing process as it is for traditional SEO. Google is continually changes its algorithms, which means that businesses must do their best to stay on top of the changing local SEO landscape if they want to rank well and plan to do so for some time.

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