The current global pandemic is reeking complete havoc in the local business community. With only essential businesses remaining open, like grocery stores and pharmacies, and retail and small businesses deemed non-essential being closed it’s going to force many to remain closed.

Savvy businesses are scratching and clawing to stay above water during these times, and for those that do make it out of this situation and remain open, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Local SEO is very important for every local business, whether they generate sales directly on their website or not.

Consumers use their mobile phones for everything these days, and the vast majority of all local intent searches are done via a mobile device. Over the past few weeks I have talked to several small business owners and many of them asked me about local SEO. What works? What should they be doing to better themselves during this down time?

After speaking with a few and noticing that there was a lot of misunderstanding of local search engine optimization I figured it would be worth writing a blog post on the topic. If their questions were any indication, there are a lot of questions throughout the small business community regarding local SEO.

So, if you want to know what you need to do in order to improve your local SEO, keep reading, and implement the eight key factors I’m going to outline below.


How is Local SEO Different from Regular SEO?

This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked, and the reality is that local SEO works in the same theory as “regular” SEO. Google’s main goal is to provide its users the best results, whether it’s a broad search or a local intent search.

While the concept is the same, the ranking signals Google’s algorithm takes into consideration for local results is different. Currently, there are eight signals that are very important for local search. I’m going to touch on each below and explain why they are important and how to position yourself to optimize fully for each. Doing so will help your local visibility tremendously.

1. Google My Business Listing

When it comes to being found online for local searches, there isn’t anything more important than your Google My Business listing. This is the central hub of information and data that Google pulls from when determining what and when to display to its users for any location intent search.

A local pizza shop that has a listing that is half completed or lacking some information will be overlooked in favor of a location in close proximity to the user that has a completed business listing with all of the information optimized for their location.

There is nothing difficult about creating a Google My Business page. The trick is to make sure you don’t just have one for the sake of having one — you need to put in the time and effort to make it perfectly optimized.

This includes detailed business information, optimized images, contact details, etc. It would shock you if you knew how many local listings I see that have outdated or just incorrect information. There is no excuse for laziness and if you don’t have a 100% optimized business profile there is nobody to blame but yourself.


2. Keywords in the Google My Business Listing

Now, after you have all of the important details filled out in your Google My Business profiles it is time to work in relevant keywords naturally so they don’t kill the readability of your profile (remember real potential customers are going to reading this) while also helping to get your listing some attention in the local SERPs and Maps.

There are a lot of keyword tools out there, but to be honest when it comes to local SEO the best keywords are the ones you know for a fact “make sense” — this is where common sense prevails over tools. None of the keyword tools have accurate local search data, no matter what they claim.

If someone wants to find a pizza place while visiting or passing through a new area are they going to search for “pizza in [city]” or “best pizza in [city]”? There will be searches for both, but when someone wants pizza they want the best. Nobody wants average pizza. So, optimizing for “best pizza in [city]” covers both — you would get organic traffic from both searches.

This is just an example of doing intelligent common sense based keyword research.


3. Check-Ins at the Business

This is probably the most overlooked local ranking signal, and when you think about it, it’s actually the most valid signal. When someone checks into your business it proves two things: First, your business is a legitimate physical location, and second, it’s popular — nobody checks in to a business for the sake of just doing it. It’s a huge trust signal.

The number one check in option is Facebook. Foursquare also offers it, but these days not too many people are using that platform. It doesn’t hurt to have a presence there, as it’s an additional NAP, which benefits you — and if you get some organic check ins, even better.

But, facebook is the one you want to focus on, and it doesn’t hurt to offer incentive to rack up local check ins. Something like an on-site discount for checking in will shoot your conversion rate through the roof. Everyone is on Facebook, and they will gladly check in if they benefit.

Not only does this put out a strong signal that impacts your local SEO, but every time someone checks in on Facebook their audience sees it — so it’s a great way to get new local eyes on your business.



4. Online Reviews

Just like check ins are a strong signal that your business is real as well as popular, reviews are a signal that your business is reputable and its customers are happy with the service you offer. Again, it’s important to remember that Google wants to display the best results to its users.

If a business has bad reviews why would they suggest you to someone looking for a product or service? Common sense says that there is a good chance that consumers will receive the same bad experience.

Reviews on all platforms are beneficial, but reviews on your Google My Business profile carry the most weight. They also display in the SERPs next to your listing in the Maps, and a listing with a lot of great reviews is always going to draw the most attention, leading to a higher click-through rate.

So, as you can see, reviews benefit your local SEO several ways. Again, give incentive — a discount, a product, etc. And automate it as much as humanly possible. Businesses on the ball have automated emails that go out at certain intervals and ask for the review while also directing the customer to the review page.


5. Keywords in Online Reviews

When asking for reviews, it’s important to stress the importance of having your customer leave a review that details their experience. A review that simply says, “Great place!” isn’t going to be nearly as impactful as a review that says, “This is my favorite pizza place is Los Angeles. If you are looking for the best pizza in Los Angeles you need to try this spot. I love the amazing pizza here and it’s also the best priced pizza in the Los Angeles area!”

The second review has more meat to it, but more importantly, it contains location specific (and descriptive) keywords. You cannot write the reviews for your customers, but you can suggest that they wrote in-depth or descriptive reviews.

A little mention that you randomly reward customers that leave detailed reviews will trigger them to put a little more effort into writing the review, and you are going to naturally get great keywords scattered throughout your reviews that will help you pull more traffic over time. 5-stars is important, but 5-star reviews with keywords are better.


6. Social Media Shares

With the entire world connected across social media these days, having a strong presence on the major platforms is important. Complete profiles with full contact information, header images, profile pictures, etc. — all of that is important.

Not only are potential customers likely to look up your business on social media first, but many people use Instagram and Facebook as a search engine, rather than Google. You have to be visible on those networks in the same sense you have to be visible on Google. It’s where the searches all originate.

Shares on social media content, as well as shares on your own website content both come into play. If you don’t think Google’s algorithm can easily identify a company’s social media relevance in a nano-second you need to catch up to speed.

When you post on social media, offer up prizes or discounts, awarded to a random follower that likes the post and tags a friend. This is the type of engagement that makes your business stand out. You can do the same for your own website blog content — think of clever ways to reward sharing.

You’re going to notice that many followers and past customers will gladly do what you ask just for the chance to win something. Make sure you make it known who wins — and make a big deal of it. This type of public acknowledgement makes the winner happy, but more importantly it makes everyone else want to win badly. Now, next time you ask you will see participation through the roof — people crave public acknowledgement, regardless of how large or significant.


7. NAP Citations and Links

In the beginning I mentioned that local SEO works in the same theory as “regular” SEO — so guess what? Links matter, just like they do in all search engine optimization. In addition to high authority niche links from blogs and websites, you also need to focus on building relevant NAP (name, address and phone number) listings.

These NAP listings help give your business a local footprint and it’s very important that the data is identical in your listings across the board. Any kid of discrepancy can put you at risk of being demoted down the line — even something as simple as listing a suite number as “#100” in some listings and “Suite 100” or “Ste 100” in others. Strive for 100% consistency, down to capitalization.

Most business directories will also give you a link as well, and some will be no-follow, but that doesn’t matter. The key is to gather as many NAP directory listings in your niche as possible. Not spammy ones — legitimate ones only.

Link building needs to be a constant part of your SEO regardless if you are running a national or local campaign. Links are the top trust signal and until the algorithm dictates otherwise, you should always be in build mode.

Avoid any type of mass local link packs. I still see agencies promoting “directory links” and that is a 2004-ish strategy. The “directories” are link farms and pure spam. The clean up effort involved in fixing that mistake is next to impossible. Quality over quantity, as always when it comes to building links.



8. The Geo Location the Search is Originating From

The location that the user is searching from also plays a role. For example, if the user is in Los Angeles and searches “pizza near me,” they are going to be shown results local to their geographical location.

Mobile phones all have geo tracking enabled — that is how Google Maps and all of the navigation apps work. Google knows precisely where a user is — down to the street and exact longitude and latitude coordinates.

This is why it’s so important to focus on local keywords, and not generic ones, regardless of their search volume. A generic term might receive hundreds of thousands of searches a month, but unless those people performing the search are within driving distance to your business they are worthless and just vanity metrics.

Sure, 10,000 visitors sounds great, but if they are on the other side of the country it does nothing to help your bottom line. Focus on local intent keywords and search phrases your customers will actually type into Google — or speak into their device when using voice search.


Final Thoughts

As you can see the ranking signals that Google’s local search algorithm takes into consideration aren’t ground breaking or secretive — they are all factors that make sense and logically would contribute to delivering the end user the best possible results for what they are looking for.

I’ll also mention that since local search occurs mainly on mobile devices that you need to really pay attention to mobile optimization. And I mean more than just having a responsive website. You need to make sure your website loads very fast, to please both Google and the user, and be easy to navigate on a small screen. If you gaven;t already, make sure you check out the blog I recently published about increasing your website’s speed.

If you have any questions about local SEO drop them in the comments below and I will do my best to provide answers. Stay safe out there amigos, and remember that this will eventually pass. Remain positive and use this time to do things to prepare and position your business for success in the future.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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