Let’s say you run a hotel chain with more than 7,000 locations around the world, like Marriott. Each one serves a different part of the country, not just a city. (There are still more than a dozen Marriott hotels in a small city like Tulsa.) When we talk about local SEO, we mean specific zip codes.
Don’t be fooled by the word “local,” either. Since 46% of all Google searches are for local things, the opportunity for SEO ROI is huge. So, we put together this local SEO guide to help you make sense of it all.
How Does Local SEO Work?
Local SEO, or search engine optimization, is a type of digital marketing that helps customers find brick-and-mortar locations through Google’s organic results.
Local SEO isn’t just for plumbers and electricians or other small businesses. Hotels, restaurants, retail stores, real estate agencies, and financial services companies with tens of thousands of employees also need people to walk through their doors.
Think about it: if someone in Dallas, Texas, types “financial advisor in Dallas” into Google, they’ll get a list of local options. Your local SEO work will help you get on the first page. Local SEO is affected by things like online reviews, links, citations, and local content.
E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust) is the most important part of traditional SEO. Locally, the most important things that affect rankings are:
How close your business is to the person doing the search?
Relevance is how well your products or services fit the needs of the searcher.
Prominence is how visible your business is on review sites and how many reviews it has.
Make a Plan for Local SEO
You’ll need to change your SEO strategy to take into account some local ranking factors if you want to do well in local search.
1. Do Keyword Research
Most of the time, keyword research for local SEO is easier and less complicated than keyword research for non-local SEO. Even though some places and cities are more competitive than others, the pool of competitors for local keywords is usually much smaller than the pool for keywords that aren’t limited by location.
Use this simple formula to come up with a list of seed keywords: [product or service] in [location]. For instance:
Austin has a furniture store.
Helping people with money in Chicago
The Boston Coffee Shop
Tulsa has a hotel.
When you put together all of your products and services and all of your locations, boom! You now have a list of seeds.
Most of the time, you don’t need to worry about exact-matching a keyword like “accountant near me.” Because Google can replace “near me” with the user’s location. Instead, your seed list should be focused on the actual places.
Google is quite clever. Even if someone is browsing in private or anonymous mode, the search engine knows where they are. In other words, if someone in Tulsa typed “hotel” into Google, multiple hotels in Tulsa would show up.
But why just let things happen? Optimize your listings so that Google has the local information it needs to show your location to searchers in the right area.
To do a competitive analysis, put the websites of your competitors into a tool like SEMRush, Spyfu, or Ahrefs to find out which keywords they rank for. You’ll see that your competitor ranks for more than just the core “[product or service] in [service area]” queries. Use these results to make a list of long-tail keywords that you can use to add more content to your site.
Using a tool like BrightLocal, you can compare your Google My Business results to those of your local competitors. This will give you a clear picture of how well your business is doing in areas like citations, reviews, etc. in your area.
Then, look at your local competitors’ backlink profiles. Take note of the local websites, media outlets, and blogs that talk about them. Add these changes to your list of goals for building links.
3. Register in Google My Business
As you might expect, Google My Business listings play a big role in local search. Google My Business helps search engines make sure that your business is real so that they don’t show junk search results to people searching locally. When you claim and optimize your profile on this platform, you’re more likely to show up in local search results, like Google Maps and the coveted local pack.
When people search for your brand on Google, the information you give Google My Business can also create a knowledge panel like this:
A lot of the information in this knowledge panel for local results comes from what you tell Google My Business about your products or services, your hours, a description of your business, and how to reach you. The reviews come from Google Reviews and other sites.
To get the most out of Google My Business, make a Google My Business page, verify it, and fill it out as completely as possible. Keep your information up to date. If your hours or location change, you can go back to your profile and change it. Encourage your customers to write online reviews of your business and respond to all of them.
Google My Business even lets you make welcome offers and publish posts for your local audience. This gives you more space in the SERPs and makes your listings stand out.
4. Be Visible by Location-Tracking Apps
With non-local SEO, we can usually assume that what ranks in Google will also rank in Bing and use Google as the gold standard. That’s not quite the case with local SEO, though, because each search engine’s place listings have a big impact on the local listings (Google My Business and Bing Places). So, claim your Bing Places profile and make it as good as it can be so you can get all the local search traffic on Bing.
Optimizing Google Maps is mostly about making sure GMB is as complete as possible.
Apple Maps is also important because it is the default way to find your way around on iPhones when you do a mobile search. At Apple Maps Connect, you can add or change information about your business.
5. Check & Improve Your Citations
One of the most important things for ranking on local search engine results pages is citation signals. Citations are mentions of your business online that include the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of your business. Local citations can be found on websites like Yelp, Angi, the Facebook page for your business, and local business directories.
If your business has more than one name, you should merge them. This will help both people who might buy from you and search engines. For local SEO, it is very important that your business profile is the same on all of your citations for two reasons:
It adds to the information Google already has about your site, which it gets from your GMB listing. This makes Google more likely to trust the information.
People search for businesses directly on these citation sites. And that can bring people in and lead to sales.
Before you can improve your local citations, you need to audit them. (See the section on tools below for ways to speed things up with automation.)
Enter the NAP you want to use into a tool like BrightLocal, and it will find all of your local citations and show you which ones are missing or incorrect information. They will also tell you what sites you aren’t on yet. Then, you can improve each profile by adding information where it’s needed.
6. Improve Location-Based On_Page
With the local keyword research you did, optimize the content on each page of your website. You’ll use many of the same best practices that you use for your other SEO work, like making sure your title tags and meta descriptions are optimized. But there are some local SEO tips that go even further, such as having a Google My Business page (GMB page). For more best practices, check out our advanced SEO checklist or our advanced on-page SEO guide.
Fix Up Your Home Page
Most likely, you won’t use local keywords to improve your home page. Instead, put your attention on the keywords that apply to all of your customers. Optimize your home page for the keywords you found that have the most opportunities and serve your market in the most general way.
Then, make sure those home page keywords are in your metadata, H1, and on-page content.
If your business, like a hotel, depends on showing off your individual locations right away on your home page (unlike Schwab, which has a home page focused on its services and products), you might want to add a tool to your home page that lets people search by location.
Localize Your Landing Page
Set up a landing page for each location. Each page should be optimized for its own set of local keywords, and the content should include NAP information.
Write geo-targeted content for each page of your website, pointing out what makes each place special. Bring in success stories from local customers or focus on reviews that are good. Add specific information about the location, such as how to get there and where to park. Make sure that each landing page for a local business is as unique and helpful as possible.
Add Schema Markup
Schema markup is a type of structured data that you can add to your website to help search engines make their search results more useful. There are different types of location markup you can use to show hours, location information, and more in the SERPs for your physical locations. Go to Google’s structured data markup helper, click the box that says “Local Businesses,” and then follow the on-screen instructions. Keep your NAP the same here as well.
Add Better Internal Links
Want to learn how to make your SEO better? Focus on making your site easy to crawl, and use internal links to make your site’s architecture SEO-friendly. Look for places on each page of your site where it makes sense to link to other pages.
Check the navigational parts of your site, like your menu, to make sure it’s easy to use and that the most important pages are included. Use your website’s footer to add links to more specific pages that don’t belong in the main menu. You can link to your most popular brick-and-mortar locations in the footer.
Best Ways to Add Local SEO
One of the most important ranking factors for local SEO is links from sites other than your own. Even though your local citation listings put you on the map, they aren’t enough as a backlink strategy on their own. Here are some ways for local websites to get links:
Build relationships with bloggers and publishers in your area and reach out to them with content that could be newsworthy.
Give a different point of view or an expert’s opinion on something that is happening in the news on a larger scale. Think outside the box about how to use all the information you have. For example, a national bank could look at mortgage trends in one city and compare them to the rest of the country. They could then do the same thing for several cities and publish the results in local newspapers.
Hold events that show off the local culture and give something back to the community. Or, support community events in your area.
Join local chambers of commerce, business associations, and other community groups, and look for chances to be listed on local resources.
Set up a scholarship fund and get it listed on.edu websites and other financial or educational resources. Make connections with each school in the area.
Write how-to articles and articles about thought leadership that is geared toward your local audience.
Make Plan for Local Content
You could make local blogs, or you could add geo-specific content to your main blog. Regularly blogging and adding other local content will help you rank higher for long-tail keywords and show that you are relevant in each location. Write about news and events in your area and in your field. Make resources for the people in your area. Build a visitors’ guide, a “Best of” guide, or a local calendar, and your content strategy will become an asset for building links. Aim to provide real value for each local audience.
Get Online Reviews
Online reviews are a big trust signal for Google and depending on your industry, they play a big role in how you rank on vertical search engines like Trustpilot, Yelp, Trivago, Glassdoor, Priceline, and others. You might not be able to choose which reviews show up in the SERPs. You can’t just “turn off” a bad review so searchers don’t see it. But on an SEO level, you can control the story and give a more complete picture so that your happy customers shout the loudest.
Like most businesses, you probably have a large number of happy customers and a much smaller number of unhappy ones. When you get the happy customers to talk about your business, you drown out any negative reviews that might come up and sometimes even push them off the first few pages of the SERPs.
Tell potential customers to write reviews about your business on Yelp, Google, and other sites. Put this call to action on receipts, signs at the register, and other places. Then, teach your local staff to feel comfortable asking for reviews, especially when they go above and beyond to help a customer. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask, but you have to ask.
Make Sure It Can Grow
When your business has many locations across the country (or the world), it can be hard to stay scalable. When you can, give regional employees the jobs of asking for reviews, managing them, and telling you about any business changes (e.g., store hours, etc.). Just make sure to give enough direction (the specific review sites, etc.) so that information stays the same.
One way to make sure that your plan can be scaled up is to? Tools for local SEO.
Tools for Local SEO
Because building citations and/or optimizing many different places is time-consuming, automation tools are a must. This is especially true if you have hundreds or thousands of places. Here are a few of the most popular local SEO tools.
BrightLocal is a better tool than many of its competitors because it was made for local marketing needs. With the platform’s multi-local features, businesses can quickly update local citations, keep an eye on reviews, and check out their competitors.
Local RankFlux from BrightLocal
Local RankFlux from BrightLocal is a free tool that tracks changes in Google’s local search algorithm. It’s a useful tool to use if you notice a sudden change in how many people visit your site or how they act on it.
Moz Local verifies your business on Google and Facebook and sends your NAP information to other sites that list citations. They focus mostly on Google and Facebook and offer review management in real-time for both sites.
Citations About Whitespark
Whitespark, like BrightLocal, makes it easy to add and update local citations on all of the major listing platforms. They also let you manage reviews quickly and in real-time on all platforms.
Yext helps local websites get ready for Google’s knowledge graph and lets you build optimized landing pages based on a location quickly.
With the help of GeoRanker’s SERP scraper, local businesses can quickly gather data to research keywords and competitors. They also keep an eye on local search rankings, mine data from voice searches, and check your local ads.