If your business has a physical location, you’ve undoubtedly been told that you need local SEO. But for many business owners, local SEO remains shrouded in mystery; what does “Local SEO” even mean? What do you need to do? Why do you need it?
My goal was to create the ultimate resource for local SEO, including an action plan you can immediately execute whether you’re a small business owner or an agency SEO with a local SEO client. Admittedly, I learned a lot from this interview, and I hope you do too!
1. What types of businesses need Local SEO?
Any business that gets some or all of its customers or clients locally should consider local SEO. That could be a local restaurant, retail outlet, doctor, dentist or lawyer, but it could just as easily be a local ad agency. If you have a physical address in a city and expect people to go there, you should be doing local SEO for that location.
2. How is Local SEO different from National SEO?
While all of the elements that apply to national SEO also impact local SEO (on-page factors, links, social, indexing, etc.), local comes with a few unique elements.
The first and probably most important is that for local SEO you need to create and claim a local profile on Google (and other platforms as desired.) Your local listing is what will show (usually) for localized search results.
The second most important thing is called a citation. A citation is any place online that uses your company NAP (name, address, phone number) all on the same page, in the same format as your local listing. This same format bit is pretty important. While Google is pretty smart, it’s best to make sure that your local citation efforts match your local listing as closely as possible. Don’t abbreviate in one and not the other (St. vs Street, (800) vs 1-800, etc.)
Third, reviews. Lots and lots of reviews (preferably really good ones.) Quantity and quality of reviews left for your business on your Google Places page is one of the most important local ranking factors.
3. How does on-site optimization differ for Local SEO vs. National SEO?
All of the same elements apply, but there are four things you should strongly consider mixing in. One, make sure your name, address and phone number are used on every page of your site, in the same format as your Google local listing (in the footer is an ideal location.) Two, use your City and State names in your Title tags, Meta descriptions, and the content on your site (as it fits, don’t just force it in there.) Three, make use of Schema local markup to better help search engines identify and show your location. Four, include a KML file on your site (Keyhole Markup Language). While some of this may seem redundant, it never hurts to send as many legitimate signals as you can 🙂
4. What are the most important signals that boost local SEO rankings?
The three biggest factors in local listings appear to be the number of citations, the number of reviews (primarily on your Google Places listing, though other places do count), and how positive the reviews are overall. From what I’ve seen, positive reviews will trump citations, so persuading your customers and clients to leave great reviews on your Google local page is the single most important thing you can do. Of course, there are some things that have a big impact and that may not be directly in your control, such as how close your business is to the city center.
5. What does the location of a business to the city center have to do with anything?
Google uses something commonly called “centroid bias”, which means that if someone searches for, say, Seattle Dentist, there will be a bias towards the dentist locations that are closest to the center of the city. While it is possible for a business in a neighboring city to rank for a metro keyword (i.e. a business in Cambridge trying to rank for a Boston keyword), if you’re on the outskirts of a city, or in a city neighboring a major metropolitan area, you’re going to be at a disadvantage.
6. Can you outline a brief action plan you’d recommend for new company looking to compete for local search results?
First, claim your local listing on Google Places, and make sure to complete your listing until it’s at 100%. This will require adding images, videos, and more. When creating this listing, DO NOT use any keywords or location names in your business title or business description that aren’t a part of your official business name or absolutely critical to accurately describing your business.
Second, use a service like Yext to make sure that the information from your Google Places page is spread across all of the other major local platforms, in the same format. Each of these will become a citation, which is hugely valuable.
Third, use a tool like KnowEm to snag all of your social profiles (while not strictly local-centric, many profiles will show your name, address and phone number, which will instantly give you a whole pile of local citations.) Google of course is free, but using Yext and KnowEm will set you back $500 to $1,000 per location depending on the packages you select (KnowEm is a one-time fee, but Yext is ongoing.)
Next, make sure you have your on-site SEO in order (see #3), and that at least some of the links you build contain your target City/State combo (you can also use some Zip codes in your anchors as well, to spice things up.) If you aren’t doing link building yet, that’s OK, we’ll cover it.
Last but not least, do everything you can to get your happy customers to leave positive reviews for you on Google Places. You aren’t supposed to directly solicit positive reviews, but there are plenty of ways to encourage great reviews.
7. Can you recommend some ways a local business can get citations?
You can use a tool like the WhiteSpark local citation finder to locate the best citation sources for your city. Guest blog posts are also a fantastic way to get citations, as you can often work them into your author bio.
8. Can you recommend some ways a local business can get reviews?
Let your customers or clients know that they can rate their experience with you on your Google Places profile. Have logos up in your windows or in your office showing the places where people can leave reviews. Include your profile links in your email communications (particularly in follow-up emails after a purchase or visit), direct mail, and anywhere else you can think of to get it in front of customers. Of course, if you want positive reviews, you need to provide a product and/or service that warrants them.
And while this should go without saying, DON”T BUY REVIEWS. While Google doesn’t always catch fake reviews, they are working constantly to get better at it. Yelp on the other hand errs on the site of extreme caution, and often banishes overly positive reviews.
9. Do you recommend small, local companies do local SEO in-house or hire an agency?
What are the pros and cons of each? This depends entirely on your budget. There are plenty of guides out there that will walk you through local SEO, and you could quite easily put an intern in charge of reading those posts and following instructions (getting citations isn’t terribly complex.) Of course, if they mess things up, neither you nor they may realize it until it’s far too late. An agency will almost certainly be able to do the same things much, much faster, and while an agency may cost more upfront it might end up being worth it for the speed and accuracy.
10. Are there any specific services, websites, or tools that you recommend to help companies with local SEO?
The WhiteSpark local citation finder should be your first investment. It’s pretty cheap, about $16/mo, and is the best tool available for finding citation sources. This should keep you busy for quite a while. You should also use something like MySEOTool to track your rankings with localization (your rankings as seen by someone in your City/State.) You’ll also want to set-up Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, so that you can effectively track what keywords are driving search impressions and traffic to your site.
11. What price range should a typical small business expect to pay for local SEO, (in house or agency)?
Local SEO via an agency could range from $100/mo for the most basic work all the way up to tens of thousands of dollars per month for a competitive space with hundreds or thousands of locations. Pricing will be based on the competitiveness of your space and the number of locations you have. In-house, you could be paying $2.50/hr for someone in the Philippines to build citations, all the way up to $100,000+ for a top notch in-house SEO. When it comes to SEO, local or otherwise, you typically get what you pay for, and cheap = risky.
12. Is Local SEO an ongoing endeavor, or is it more of a set-and-forget expense?
There’s an upfront set-up cost, but there is absolutely an ongoing component. You should be getting new citations, reviews, social mentions and links each and every month.
SEO, the art and science of ranking well in search engines, is one of those things that is easy to learn but hard to master, so let’s focus on the easy part. You’ve got a website and it’s not ranking in Google so well for whatever search term you are coveting. So what do you do?
Here are some (hopefully) simple things you can do, or even better tell someone else to do, to get your SEO strategy in gear:
1. Figure Out Your Target Audience
Until you know who you are targeting there is not much point in doing SEO. What words are your potential customers searching with when you want to be found? What are different modes are they in when they are searching? Are they ready to buy? Are they just doing research? Are they big spenders or are they cheapskates?
In general pick terms that match up with your service, that you think will convert well (conversion is a another five minute discussion altogether btw) and that have good search volume. To get an idea of search volume use Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool which can be found here:
Once you come up with your target keyword list…
2. Update Your Page Titles
The page title or “title tag” is perhaps the most important element of SEO. These are the words that appear at the top of your web browser when you are on a page. They are also the words that show up in the blue links in Google.
Put the search terms you are targeting in your page titles. In general keep the titles as brief as possible while at the same time making them appealing to searchers. No easy trick. Put the most important keywords at the beginning of the title. Don’t worry about getting this perfect the first time as these are very easy to change and Google usually reacts to these changes quickly. And if your website developer tells you these are really hard or expensive to change, get a new website developer.
3. Make Each Page Title Unique
It is also important that all of the pages on your site have unique page titles. A quick way to see if you have more than one page with the same title is to do the following search in Google:
site:yoursite.com intitle”the words in the title”
The results of this search will show all of the pages in Google that have these words in the title. Once you identify these problem pages you can update the titles to make them unique.
And make sure you add your city name to the titles as a lot of people search for your service in your city.
It also couldn’t hurt if you added some text to the actual page that uses the keywords you are targeting as well, in both the body of the text and the
h1 tag, which is typically the headline of the page. If you don’t have a page that targets the keywords you are using, add a new page that does.
You also should check the meta descriptions tags of each page to make sure those are unique as well.
4. Add a Few Internal Links
The number of links a page gets from its own site and which pages link to it matters. The home page is the most important on the site and so the pages that are linked to from the home page are also important. Figure out which pages you want to rank the most (and don’t say all of them) and add links from other pages to these pages. Make sure you use relevant keywords in the text of those links. For example if you want to rank the page for “pizza” use the word “pizza” in the text of the links that go to that page. Try not to use the exact same phrases in each link to make it look more “natural”. For example in some of the links use “best pizza” or “man that’s a helluva a pizza”.
5. Add Your Address to Every Page
Ideally every page should have your address and phone number. This is helpful for users but it also reinforces your location to the search engines. If your business has multiple locations then you may want to create a separate page for each location or at least a single page that lists all locations. Make sure you link to these pages from as many pages as possible on the site. It would probably be a good idea to list as many location names as possible on the home page too.
6. Claim Your Profile on Merchant Circle, Google Local Business Center, Yahoo Local, etc.
There are a huge number of yellow pages-like sites that allow you to update your business information for free. These sites get a lot of traffic and tend to rank well. At the least you should go to each one, claim your profile and make sure they are linking to your site. You may be surprised at how much business you can get from these free listings. Here’s of sites that offer a free yellow pages listing:
7. Make a Video
And I am not talking about a multimillion dollar production. Ask your kid to point the camera at you and start talking. Explain your service and try to be charming. Mention your website a lot. Then upload it to YouTube and every other free video site and title the video with your top keywords (e.g. “Best Pizza in Pleasanton”). Make sure your website is linked to from your profile. Then link to these video pages from your site with the keywords in the link text. You will be amazed at how easy it is for these pages to rank for your search terms.
8. Add a Blog To Your Site
A blog is just a simple way to add pages to your website. A good, or even bad, web developer should be able to set up a simple blog for you in a few minutes. If you don’t want it super customized it shouldn’t cost that much. Once it’s up start writing. I am not talking novels or even journalism. I am talking keywords. If you want to rank for “Pizza in Pleasanton” write a blog post called “Pizza in Pleasanton: What’s Cooking Tonight At Joe’s Pizza”. Go to http://blogsearch.google.com/ping and add your blog’s URL to Google’s blogsearch engine. Now everytime you write something on the blog it will instantly be added to Google, and each of those posts has a chance of ranking for the term you are targeting.
9. Make Sure You Don’t Have Any Technical Issues
There are a number of technical issues that could be preventing your site from ranking. An easy way to identify them is to sign up your site to Google Webmaster Tools at www.google.com/webmasters/start. By copying a short line of code to your site you can get an idea of some of the common problems that Google is having with it. Google provides you with some detail about the problem. There is not much you yourself can likely do about these problems, but you can at least show them to your website developer or a SEO guy and ask him/her to figure it out.
10. Get Links
Now none of this stuff will work very well if you don’t have any links to your site. The big search engines look at links from other sites as a sign of quality and trust. So you should spend the remainder of your five minutes thinking about what other sites you think you can get links from. Here are some of the obvious ones:
– Chambers of commerce/local business groups
– Local business directories/Local newspaper site
– Friends who have sites (including your kid’s blog)
There are hundreds of other ways to get links like writing articles for other sites, sending out press releases, adding your business info to social media sites, making a fool of yourself in public, etc.
It’s important to understand that SEO is not a one-time thing just like running a TV ad campaign is not a one-time thing. It’s a marketing tactic like any other. And as more people use the Web to find local services, SEO could become one of the more important components of your marketing plan. So get familiar with it today so you can master it tomorrow.
Ok, so maybe that took more than five minutes, but half the battle of marketing is just getting your attention right?
The Best Online Local Business Directories for SEO
While many of your potential customers search Google for information on local services, inevitably a large portion of them find their way to a local business directory. Many of these directories not only have substantial brands/marketing budgets to drive traffic, but they also do well in organic search rankings for important search terms. So even if you can’t get your site ranked high for a specific search term, you can appear on the local directory site that ranks for that term. Perhaps even more important is that links to your site and mentions of your business (aka “Local Citations”) can help your site rank well in both “national” organic search as well as in the Google Places results (I still can’t bring myself to say the “Google+ Local” results).
So with this in mind, we thought it would be helpful to provide a list of the best local business directories for your SEO efforts. While other sites have put together similar lists, invariably they focus on a grab-bag of sites, many of which are irrelevant. We wanted to go for only those that are truly important and worth spending time on.
We have divided them into two lists:
- The Largest Local Business Directories in the US
- The Top U.S. Local Citation Sources
The 55 Largest Local Business Directories in the US
These local directory sites, according to Compete.com, have the largest amount of traffic and are listed by size – largest first. In cases where the site is more than a directory, such as Mapquest, we have tried to estimate what % of their traffic goes to the directory. Improving your presence on these directories means your business will be exposed to a wide audience of local searchers.
- Google Places (aka Google+ Local)
- Yahoo Local
- Insider Pages
- Best of the Web Local
Top U.S. Local Directory Citation Sources
GetListed.org and Whitespark.ca recently released some amazing data on the top local citation sources by city and by category. We thought it would be interesting to take that data and determine which directories on average had the most citation influence in the entire country. While it’s good to focus on your service area and category for citation building, in most cases, regardless of your location or industry, these are the sites you should almost always include while citation-building.
- Yahoo Local
While a number of expected brands made the list, Facebook and YouTube are perhaps the two biggest surprises here. Then again, they are two of the biggest sites in the world and each has local business content, so perhaps it’s no surprise that they would emerge as important citation sources.
I have seen it happen so often – a guy who knows “design” gets a new gig, spends the next three months coming up with a new look for a site, spends three months building it, launches it with huge fanfare and gets canned because the site loses 75% of its search traffic on day one.
If you are considering a website redesign then I strongly recommend you get advice from someone who understands SEO. Here are some questions to ask:
- What pages are we deleting?
- What keywords do the deleted pages get search engine referrals for and how many does each get?
- What pages do the deleted pages link to (what internal links are we losing)?
- What URLs are we redirecting the deleted page URLs to?
- Are these redirect pages targeting the same keywords that the deleted pages are targeting and how well do they do this v. the old pages? (this is a hard one to answer but it should definitely be considered)
- Do we have to delete all of these pages? Are there any we can keep?
- How is the site architecture changing?
- What pages will have their prominence within the site hierarchy change? (e.g. did the page go from being a main navigation tab to a sub navigation tab?)
- How are the internal links to each page changing and what is your plan to compensate for that change? In particular what links are we losing/gaining on the home page and the main navigation?
- The text of which pages (including page titles & meta descriptions) are going to change? What is your estimate of how this will change the search engine referrals for each page.
- Which graphics are changing? Do we currently get search engine referrals for any of the graphics that are changing and if so what is the plan to compensate for this?
There are a number of other issues, both technical and creative, that should be considered as part of website redesign, but chances are that if you have answered the above questions, you probably have a good grip on SEO and should be able to figure it out.
With any radical change to site architecture it is common to lose some traffic as the engines recrawl and figure out the new pages. But if you do your job right the traffic loss can be kept to a minimum and you might even start out with a traffic increase.
I also recommend that you compartmentalize the changes as much as possible. For example launch your new architecture and let that settle first before you start rewriting pages. This way you’ll be better able to isolate the cause of any problems.
Local SEO Tools & Software
A list of some of my favorite non-Google tools for doing SEO. Some are free.
Yext Powerlistings can automatically update your business’ information across 50+ of the top local search sites out there including Yelp, Yahoo Local, SuperPages and more. They also now do review monitoring. It’s not free but the amount of time it can save you is huge. Check it out here.
Here’s their fancy graphic showing where they send their data:
Full Disclosure: I get paid every time someone buys a Powerlisting via that link. It’s not much, but it helps keep the lights on at the blog – and I do think it’s a great service. Ok, end of shill…
Whitespark Local Citation Finder: Excellent tool that finds citations for top-ranked businesses for specific local queries in Google
SEMRush: Great way to find keywords that your competition either ranks for or targets with Google Adwords. Not so great for small sites though.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider: A tool to crawl your site like Googlebot would and discover all sorts of screwy things. Essential for bigger sites.
GetListed: See how your business is listed on Google, Bing and other local search engines. Created by David Mihm and definitely worth checking out.
Google Places Category Tool: Mike Blumenthal created a way to see all of the Google Places categories in one place. Tres useful.
Generate Local Adwords & Keyword Lists – Helps you build a list of local keyword variations.
Local Search Toolkit: SEOverflow’s tool pulls the top Google Places listings for a query and shows you the business name, the web site title tag, # of citations, # of reviews, # of images, whether it’s claimed and distance from city center.
Local Search Rank Checker: A great rank checker from Bright Local
Catalyst EMarketing Tools: Linda Buquet has a great selection of nifty free local SEO tools including a lat/lon checker and a rank checker.