A Beginner’s Guide To Local SEO

As a small business owner, understanding the fundamentals of local SEO is crucial if you want to expand your local online presence and attract a larger customer base. In this comprehensive beginner’s guide to local SEO, we will provide an overview of the strategies and techniques you need to optimize your website and online profile for local search results.

From claiming and enhancing your Google Business Profile (GBP) to effectively utilizing local keywords and establishing citations, this guide aims to equip you with the knowledge you need to improve your business’s local search rankings. By improving your local SEO, you can expect to see increased visibility, more and better targeted traffic, a higher conversion rate, and ultimately increased revenue for your business!


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What is Local SEO?

Local SEO, or Local Search Engine Optimization, is the process of optimizing a website, online presence, and content to enhance visibility and achieve higher rankings in search engine results for location-specific searches. Common location-based queries, such as “electrician near me” or “electrician Columbia SC,” serve as indicators for Google to execute a local search. Users conducting searches with local intent are typically seeking businesses or services, and to deliver accurate and relevant search results, Google considers the searcher’s physical location (proximity). If proximity was the only ranking variable, a nearby business should rank higher than a more distant business, but Google actually takes several other factors into consideration. Local SEO is the process of optimizing these other factors in order to boost your business’s search engine result page (SERP) rankings.

Why is Local SEO important for small businesses?

Local SEO is essential for businesses with a physical presence, like a doctor’s office or a coffee shop, as well as service-area businesses, such as an electrician or pest control company. Nearly half of all searches performed have a local intent, meaning prospective customers are looking for something nearby. Without proper local SEO, your web pages may not appear in SERPs or may rank too low to be visible to potential customers. Local SEO also helps to build trust and credibility with customers, as your Google Business Profile can give them detailed information about your business location, products, services and hours of operation. By investing in local SEO strategy, you can stay ahead of the competition and capitalize on the ever increasing demand for local products and services.

How does Google determine where to show me in search?

Google takes into account many factors when determining local rankings, including your business’s proximity to the searcher, the relevance of your content, your customer reviews, and your overall prominence. Google assesses the frequency of user interactions with your business online, such as searches for specific keywords related to your business or clicks through to your website.

Getting more positive customer reviews can significantly influence your local rankings, as it demonstrates both to Google and to prospective customers that others have had exceptional experiences with your business. To further enhance your local SEO, explore our informative article on the importance of customer reviews.

Choosing the right keywords for Local SEO

Choosing high quality keywords and optimizing your content with them is one of the most important steps to take when trying to increase organic website traffic. Keywords are words or phrases that describe the main topics of a website, blog post, article, or any other content. Keywords can be a single word like “baking” or phrases like “easy baking recipes.” They help search engines determine what your content is about so they can display it to people who are searching for those terms or related terms.

Local keywords are those that include a geographic reference and target users in a specific area. These could be city names, neighborhoods, zip codes, or other location based terms. Local keywords help your business stand out in search results for people who are specifically looking for businesses in their area. For example, if you have a bakery in Columbia SC, optimizing your content with the keyword phrase “bakery in Columbia SC” will help boost its visibility when people from that area search for that term. Local keywords should be used strategically to boost traffic while reaching your target audience.

Beware of keyword stuffing

One of the most common problems when it comes to using keywords is that excessive use can come across as overly “spammy.” Keyword stuffing refers to the practice of using too many keywords or using them in a way that sounds unnatural. This tactic will push away your customers and can even lead to lower SERP rankings!

An easy way to avoid this is to focus on creating quality content first and foremost before adding in keywords for optimization. Content should always read naturally, so use the conversational tone you speak to your friends with when writing. Additionally, read your content outloud to make sure it makes sense.

How to find relevant keywords

Numerous keyword research tools are at your disposal for discovering local keywords relevant to your business, including Google Ads Keyword Planner or alternatives like AHREFS. Our team primarily relies on AHREFS for most of our keyword research needs. By inputting industry-related terms into these tools, you can filter the results based on various criteria, such as location and search volume.

Take into account common search phrases that people might use when seeking businesses similar to yours in your area. Lastly, don’t forget to analyze your competitors to identify the terms they’re targeting, and assess whether incorporating any of those terms would enhance your keyword strategy.

AHREF's rocket your SEO

Taking advantage of Google’s Map Pack

The “map pack” or “local pack” is a feature in Google search results that showcases a map with local business listings related to a user’s search query. It typically displays the top three local businesses, along with their contact information, ratings, and reviews.

Customers love the map pack because it offers a quick and easy way to find relevant local businesses without having to browse through multiple pages of search results. It displays essential information such as location, contact details, and operating hours ensuring users find what they’re looking for.

Because the map pack sits above the traditional organic search results, a business that ranks here is automatically on top of the search results!

Map pack enables users to quickly compare different businesses based on factors like distance, ratings and reviews which helps customers choose the most suitable option for their needs. More users than ever are relying on their smartphones to search for local businesses, and the map pack provides a mobile friendly interface that allows users to easily navigate and find relevant information on the go.

Getting your business to rank in the map pack

Getting your business to appear in the map pack generally requires a bit of effort and to begin with you must claim and optimize your Google Business Profile listing.

Your business listing should be complete and accurate, including your address, phone number, website, and category. Include high quality photos, operating hours and a detailed business description.

Note: It’s generally regarded as better to use photos taken on a cell phone instead of a fancy DSLR camera or pulled from Facebook, as smartphone photos include metadata including time, date, and location that the photos were taken.

Encourage customers to leave you reviews and make sure to respond to both positive and negative reviews alike. Reviews and ratings play an important role in your business’s online reputation and will impact its ranking on the map pack.

Some of the challenges that businesses can come across with the map pack involve accuracy and credibility. Incorrect or outdated information can lead to customers being misdirected, which in turn causes confusion or frustration for potential customers and leads to a bad customer experience.

We have found that Google Business Profile listings account for 25-40% of the incoming phone calls for our larger clients, demonstrating the importance of keeping your GBP listing up to date. If a potential customer reaches a disconnected phone number then odds are they will not be trying again and instead will take their business elsewhere!

Keep in mind that competition for map pack rankings can be fierce and appearing in the top three listings will not happen overnight. Consistently following these tips and regularly monitoring your local search performance will increase your chances of being featured in the map pack over time.

Google search for "Plumber near me" showing results and the google map pack

The continued importance of On-Page SEO

On-Page SEO is all about making sure that your webpages are optimized to rank well in traditional search engine results. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for search engines to understand what your page is about and show it to people who are searching for related topics.

Your business’s local results ranking is influenced by your website’s SERP ranking, so even with the rising significance of local SEO you cannot neglect traditional SEO practices.

How to optimize your pages for search engines:

There are countless guides that have been written on the subject of SEO improvements. Here is a quick rundown of strategies that we have found to be successful for our clients:

Write attention grabbing title tags and meta descriptions

When writing title tags, it’s good practice to include the keyword related to the service you provide as well as the name of the city or region that your business serves in order to make sure it’s clear to Google what area you are targeting. Keep your title tags to no more than 60 characters to avoid truncation in search results.

Effective meta descriptions should capture users’ attention and entice them to visit your website. Meta descriptions should be no more than 160 characters long.

Use proper heading structures

Header tags (H1, H2, etc.) help search engines understand the structure and hierarchy of your content. To get the most impact from your headers, they should incorporate relevant keywords and offer guidance to the reader.

Confirm that your website is properly optimized for mobile devices

Check that your content is easy to view and navigate from any device. Poorly formatted mobile pages will cause your bounce-rate to go up as customers get frustrated with the site. Google uses bounce rate as a ranking factor and if it detects a high bounce rate it will lower your SERP ranking.

Create a sitemap file to help search engines find and index web pages

Search engines read your sitemap file to crawl your site more efficiently. If a page is not crawlable or indexable, search engines will not be able to properly assess its content and relevance, which will result in the page not being ranked as highly. In order to avoid this, you must ensure that your sitemap is up to date and accurately reflects the structure of your website.

Make your website easy to navigate with well structured, simple URLs

Optimizing your URL structure for a local service business starts with including the primary keyword related to the service you provide as well as the name of the city your business serves.

You will want to organize your pages into logical categories which makes it easier for visitors to understand the hierarchy of your content, as well as for the search engine bots that are trying to crawl and index your pages. It is recommended to use hyphens ( – ) instead of underscores ( _ ) to separate words for a concise and readable URL.

Always use the secure HTTPS protocol

This protocol gives customers an extra layer of security when visiting your site. Since 2014, Google has treated HTTPS as a ranking factor and will punish websites with lower rankings if they do not use SSL encryption.

An SSL certificate ensures communications are private and secure by using a code key to encrypt the data being transferred. It can also authenticate the identity of the website before it sends any personal information or credit card details protecting your customers from potential hackers or phishers.

You will know your website is secure when you see a padlock in your address bar. Be sure to check with your hosting provider to see what SSL certificate they offer and whether it’s included in your plan.

Decrease page load times

In today’s fast paced world, having a website that loads quickly is essential. Search engine algorithms now take page load speed into account so it’s important to optimize your pages for quick loading times.

A slow loading website can lead to higher bounce rates (users leaving your site quickly) and less user engagement, negatively impacting your search engine rankings. Fast load speeds, on the other hand, result in better user experience which helps boost your rankings. People tend to remain longer on pages that load quickly, sending a signal to Google that your content is valuable.

Regularly check for broken links on your website and fix them immediately

Broken links are links which lead to a page or resource that no longer exists. They can be caused by changes in web address, incorrect coding or a web page being deleted. Broken links lead users astray and negatively impact your website’s SEO performance due to duplicate content issues and crawling errors.

Checking for broken links is relatively easy. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your website and check for any broken links or pages that may be causing issues. Another option is to manually check individual links on the pages of your website to ensure they are leading to valid destinations.

Utilize schema markup (structured data) on your website

Schema markup provides search engines with additional information about your business, such as location, contact details, and operating hours. This can help search engines better understand and display your business in relevant search results which in turn ensures that users can find information quickly and easily and improves their experience on your website.

Boosting Local SEO with content creation

Content creation is the process of producing and publishing content that is designed to inform, entertain or engage a specific audience. This can take many forms, including blog posts, videos, social media updates, infographics, and more.

The goal of content creation is typically to attract and retain a target audience by providing them with valuable information or entertainment that aligns with their interests or needs. This can help build brand awareness, establish thought leadership within an industry, drive traffic to a website or social media profile, and ultimately generate leads or sales for a business.

There are many different kinds of content and each type of content serves different purposes. By writing informative and insightful blog posts, you can demonstrate your expertise in your field and build trust with your audience. Videos can be a great way to showcase your products or services in action, which can help potential customers better understand what you offer.

Content creation with local SEO in mind typically involves targeting keywords and phrases that are relevant to your business and location, as well as creating content that speaks directly to the needs and interests of people in your community. Make sure you update existing content regularly in order to keep it fresh and relevant. If done correctly, creating content for local SEO will help to create a more positive brand image and boost your overall website visibility in the search engine results pages.

Using Local Link Building and Citations

Local link building is the process of acquiring backlinks from other websites that are based in the same geographic location as your business. These links are used to boost your local SEO rankings and increase visibility in SERPS for searches related to your keyword and geographic region.

Local link building involves reaching out to local publications, influencers, bloggers, and businesses to increase your website’s domain authority. Building relationships with these sites can also help you gain exposure within the local community and attract more customers.

Citations are references to your business on other websites that include your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP). Citations help prove to Google that your listing is valid and can increase your visibility in SERPs. Citations can have a positive impact on your website’s overall SEO performance by improving its domain authority and trustworthiness.

When creating citations, it’s important to make sure the information provided is accurate and consistent across the web so search engines can properly index your business.

Link building can be a difficult, time consuming, and even counterproductive process if it’s not done correctly. One of the biggest issues that can arise is creating low quality backlinks, as these can actually hurt your domain authority instead of improving it. If you’re not careful with your link building strategy, you may end up creating too many links in a short period of time, which may negatively impact your website’s SERP performance.

A great way to start building backlinks is by leveraging existing relationships with clients, vendors, and other websites. You can look for opportunities to create guest blog posts on sites related to your industry or niche. It’s important to make sure that the content you post is relevant and high quality, as well as properly optimized for search engines. Additionally, you may want to explore directory listings, press releases and social media outreach to build up your link profile.

Joining local business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce is another way to boost your link building strategy. By becoming a member, you can acquire backlinks from other websites associated with the organization. These organizations provide valuable resources and opportunities for networking that can lead to brand awareness and more inbound links.

Screenshot of AHREFS showing CTMs backlinks on other websites.

Mastering Local SEO

Mastering the fundamentals of local SEO is an indispensable skill for any small business owner seeking to boost their local online presence and increase revenue. By following the strategies and techniques outlined in this guide, you can effectively optimize your website and content to achieve higher search rankings for location-specific queries.

As you continue to implement and refine your local SEO efforts, you will see increased visibility, targeted traffic, and ultimately, an improved conversion rate for your business. Revisit this guide as needed and stay up-to-date with the latest local SEO trends and best practices to maintain a competitive edge in the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape!