Whether you’re a large regional industry or a mom-and-pop storefront, local SEO builds online visibility that will draw customers to your door.
But what is local SEO exactly?
Local SEO is the process of optimizing your online presence for local-intent searches. Consumers make local-intent searches when they need a specific product, service, or business in their area.
According to Sagapixel, 46% of searches on Google have local intent. In these instances, Google's local search algorithm highlights a few businesses in that location rather than the most optimized content for a given keyword. This is excellent news for the featured businesses that find themselves in Google’s highly coveted spotlight.
Local search engine optimization (SEO) casts a small but precise net, working to get your community’s rich haul of customers to your business. These audiences are the true benefits of local SEO since they have a higher probability of actually going to your office or store.
This comprehensive guide will show you how it works.
The Importance of Local SEO for Brick-and-Mortar Stores
If your line of work involves greeting customers face-to-face, local SEO should be a priority. Your goal is to attract as many potential customers to your site as possible, and if someone is too far away to visit you, they don't fit that description.
It's better to focus your time and budget on customers who need you — people searching for "oral surgeon in Cleveland" instead of "What is a root canal," for example.
That goes for multi-location brick-and-mortar businesses, too. Even if a national dental care chain has offices nationwide, their patients are still looking for "compassionate dentists near me."
Whether you have multiple locations or just one, Google is your best friend for getting new locals to your business.
How To Do SEO To Increase Visits to Your Local Business
If you've done traditional SEO, you know success comes from giving Google what it wants. In other words, you have to build your presence according to Google's search ranking factors, which range from high-quality content to website loading speed.
When you target local searches, you also need to match local SEO ranking factors. Those include but aren't limited to:
- Relevant business category (or categories)
- An address near the searched location
- A dedicated web page for the searched service
- Relevant keywords on your Google Business Profile landing page
- Relevant topic keywords across your website
- Quality content on your service
It sounds like a lot, but hang in there. It's much more approachable when you take it one step at a time.
Do Keyword Research Based on Localized Search Intent
Your first step is to do local SEO keyword research and find the terms your target audience uses.
Local searchers often use terms like "near me," "nearby," or their city's name — but not always. Sometimes, they search for a type of business that's implicitly local, meaning customers have to receive the product or service in person. Plumbing, medicine, and appliance repair are common examples.
Make a list that includes:
- Your business type, such as "locksmith" or "auto repair shop"
- Your products or services
- Your customers' needs and pain points
Include as many customer problems as possible. Remember, someone needing a locksmith might use a search query like "lock picking services" or "locked out of my house."
Next, add location words. Include the classic "nearby" and "near me," but don't forget the name of your town. Depending on how people search for nearby businesses in your area, you might want to get more specific and add the neighborhood or street.
Finally, enter your listed terms into one or more keyword research SEO tools, such as Google Keyword Planner. You'll get a sense of which options are easier to rank for, as well as suggestions you may not have thought about.
Improve Your Domain's Authority to Rank for Local Queries
What is local SEO if not a more focused version of standard SEO? Those standard rules still apply, and authority is high on Google's list of important qualities in a website. In fact, it's the "A" in the ranking factor algorithm E-E-A-T:
An E-E-A-T website features quality content that comes from an expert source. The content is valuable to audiences and has facts to back it up. It targets relevant keywords and, ideally, comes from an author with direct experience in the field.
Implement NAP Consistency
If you've only ever done traditional SEO, the importance of local SEO citations can take you by surprise. A local SEO citation is any mention of your business's name, address, and phone number (NAP) in third-party business listings.
Your business needs consistent NAP citations everywhere it appears. Google's crawlers see inconsistencies as red flags that some mentions must be wrong, but it doesn't know which ones. Your site may drop in organic rankings as a result, and you might disappear from local listings.
Boost Your Google Business Profile's Optimization
You can't answer the question "What is local SEO?" without talking about Google Business Profile (GBP), formerly Google My Business — by far the #1 tool for local SEO.
This free service allows businesses to craft a profile on Google so that they can show up on Google Search and Maps. Once you've signed up, it creates a box (the “Business Profile”) showcasing your business, photos, and description in the upper right of Google search results. It also “pins” your business to Google Maps.
Just like other content on Google, you can also do local search optimization on your Business Profile. Check out these local SEO tips specifically for formatting:
- Choose your categories and business types carefully, as these have a big impact on search algorithms.
- Sprinkle relevant keywords liberally in your business description. It's crucial to fill out 100% of the information requested so that customers can easily find you.
- Add your logo. Your business profile will highlight this image, which helps to establish your branding and make it more recognizable to users.
- In addition to your logo, include carefully curated photos of your “business in action.” That includes photos of your products or services.
Fresh content matters to Google, so keep your profile up to date. Add photos regularly and encourage people to leave reviews. Most importantly, update your NAP data if there's ever a change.
Attract Quality Inbound Links
Inbound links direct customers from another website to yours.
They direct traffic your way and, in doing so, help to boost your SEO. They telegraph to Google's search engine that you’re an authority website or trusted business. The best sites for inbound links are credible sources such as schools, government, or local media.
Sound hard to get? Not at the local level. Here are some simple ideas for getting inbound links:
- Make sure your local chamber of commerce posts a link to your website on their page.
- Sponsor a school event and ask the school to link to your website.
- If the local paper runs a story on your networking event or business milestone, make sure it includes your website URL in the story.
- Write a guest post for a nonprofit or another organization — preferably one related to your niche — in your area. Ask them to include your business URL at the end of the post or in your author bio.
Incentivize and Showcase Reviews
Customer reviews also play a crucial role in boosting your business’s visibility and rankings. In fact, according to the BrightLocal Local Customer Review Survey 2023:
- 98% of consumers read online reviews of local businesses, compared to 87% in 2020
- 87% of consumers go to Google to find authentic reviews
- 94% of consumers say a business's star rating impacts their willingness to use a business
Positive reviews show Google that your business has earned your community's trust. Let your customers sing your praises and build your brand along the way.
Of course, customers often need a nudge to leave a review. To encourage them to review, consider handing out cards with a link to your reviewing page. Try a variation of:
“If you enjoyed our service/product/brand, please consider writing a Google review.”
Aim to respond to all reviews, especially each negative review. Responding shows reviewers that you care about their user experience, and it's a chance to demonstrate how you interact with customers.
Optimize Your Website for Mobile First Search
Almost two-thirds of all web searches — 63% —are from mobile users. Compare that number of mobile searches to 27% just 10 years ago, and you see why Google now ranks sites based on the quality of their mobile versions.
Even if most to all of your customers do business in person, you need to put your best foot forward on mobile. Google will use it in local rankings.
- Ensure your mobile site has all the same content as your desktop site.
- Keep the same title and meta-description elements.
- Keep paragraphs short and use plenty of white space for readability.
- Use high-quality images in a supported format.
Coding elements need to be optimized, too. Check that your site builder tool uses mobile-responsive design, or point your web designer to Google's mobile-first indexing guide.
Add Location Pages to Your Business Website
Building local landing pages can help you optimize search visibility, especially if you have two or more locations. Locally specific pages offer more value and relevance for a location-based search, so they have an edge over general landing pages. They'll also help your website rank in the Map Pack when you link them to your GPB profile.
For best results, each local landing page should include:
- Accurate business NAP data and embedded Google Map
- An engaging, location-specific title tag and headline
- Location-specific images and copy, including unique keywords
- Enticing links and calls to action (CTAs)
For example, when doing local SEO for restaurants, you might link to a catering page, embed a menu, and add "Order Takeout" and "Call Ahead" buttons.
Improve Your Visibility on the Map Pack
The Google Local Pack, or "Map Pack," is a section at the top of the results page showing high-ranking local businesses. It catches the eye with key information about each business, including its physical location on a map. Ranking on the Pack helps you generate more traffic and customers.
A complete GBP profile gives you the best chance of ranking in the Map Pack. Make sure you include all information possible, from business hours to exact location.
If you have more than one business location, consider building distinct profiles for each. This lets you connect locally specific landing pages, which Google will read as more relevant and helpful to local customers.
Don't Neglect Online Directories
GBP is the heavy hitter, but it isn't the only directory people check. Keep building citations by listing your name, address, and phone number (NAP) on as many sites as possible. This includes Facebook, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Apple Maps, Citygrid, Foursquare, and Superpages.
Depending on the nature of your business, you might also use industry-specific business directories like findlaw.com or Angi, formerly Angie’s list. The more your NAP is out there, the more Google will favor your website.
How To Monitor the Effectiveness of Your Local SEO Strategy
If you're looking to build a successful strategy, "What is local SEO?" is only the first question to ask. Now that you have the answer to it and have learned how to optimize your presence, your next step is to track your success.
To do that, you'll need data and a way to analyze it. GBP Insights is a good start. It shows you which searches brought people to your profile and what they did when they got there. For example, you can find how many people clicked through to your website or searched for directions.
You'll get even more information by setting up Google Analytics for your website. It shows you essential information about visitor engagement, letting you track metrics like average visit duration, overall traffic, and organic search conversion rates.
By tracking these metrics over time, you can determine how well your local SEO efforts are driving people to your page. Pay special attention to how those metrics behave after you make SEO changes, such as updates to your GBP. Those insights let you perfect your strategy and get the most from your efforts.