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The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO

11 min read

Google knows when its users are searching for a local business. The users will enter local search terms that describe a type of business and a geographic area. Examples of local search terms are “plumbers near me” or “junk yard in Athens, GA”. When Google detects a local search term, it will display local search results.

Local search results include business listings in addition to traditional organic search results. Appearing in the business listings is more valuable than ranking in the organic listings.

Google has developed specialized algorithms for determining which local businesses have the best reputation. Local SEO is the process of ranking a local business in local search results.

Local SEO is a niche specialty field. Very few SEO professionals and even fewer web designers understand what a local business needs in terms of online marketing. If you own a small local business, working with generalized SEO advice can waste thousands of dollars and produce few results. You need to focus on local SEO strategies and ignore the rest of what you hear about online marketing.

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You Need A NAP

The most important part of local SEO is your NAP. This acronym stands for Name, Address, and Phone Number. Google wants to see these three things match perfectly every time your business is mentioned online. The more mentions you get and the longer a history your business has online, the higher you will rank in local search results.

Local SEO is based on publishing your NAP all over the internet. Each listing of your NAP is called a citation. The more citations a local business has, the higher it will rank in local search results. Citations primarily come from business directories, government listings, and social media accounts.

How To Get Citations

Google looks for government listings that prove your business is real. For example, the Secretary of State publishes a list of corporations registered in the state, and local governments publish a listing of the business licenses that they have issued. Google counts a consistent NAP recorded in public records as a very high ranking factor.

There are many high quality local business directories that you can list your business in. Google My Business, Bing, Yahoo Local, and Facebook Places are major directories. Many small businesses have had bad experiences with Yelp and other directories that offer paid services. It is better to stick to high quality free directories.

If you belong to the local Chamber of Commerce or any other business associations, make sure that they publish a member listing and have your NAP listed correctly. You can also request that your NAP is cited in any press mentions, and that your NAP is included in your author bio whenever you guest post.

You should keep a spreadsheet of all of your citations. Once a month, run a search for your business details and see if you find any new citations, or any citations that need to be corrected. Record the new citations, and do the necessary work to correct inconsistent citations.

Future Proof Your NAP

An important thing to know about the NAP is that Google will SEVERELY penalize your rankings if you change any of these three business details. You need to put deep thought into establishing a name, address, and phone number that will not change for the foreseeable future.

For businesses that operate from a brick and mortar location, you will automatically use your street address and business phone for your online business listings. If you are a service business that travels to your customers, then you have options to consider. You can either use your home address and personal phone, or you can establish a virtual office.

Do You Need A Virtual Office?

Many people want to use their home address so that they can claim a home office deduction. However, a virtual office is also a deductible business expense and you can still take the home office deduction. Some people have a virtual office, a co-working membership, a home office, coffee shop work days, and business lunches. These are all tax deductible, and your travel is, too!

There are several strong arguments for using a virtual office for your business address:

  • Privacy — Widely spreading your home address could make you and your family a target for criminals.
  • Zoning — Your home address will be zoned residential, and this will cause problems when you need to apply for business credit and licensing.
  • Liability — You need to establish an LLC, set up a business bank account, and get business insurance. In order to protect your corporate shield, you cannot mix your personal and business bank accounts or points of contact. Therefore, you should not use your home address.
  • Marketing — If you do not live in the middle of your desired geographic market, a virtual office gives you the chance to improve your local search results. For example, if you live in the suburbs and want customers from the inner city, you should establish a virtual office in the city. Google ranks you highest when the searchers are close to your location.
  • Permanence — As mentioned, Google severely penalizes changes of NAP details. You might have to move your personal address multiple times over the years, but a virtual office will remain as a stable permanent address for your business throughout all of your personal transitions.

In addition to a virtual office, some businesses choose to use a virtual phone number for their business. Many of the same arguments in favor of a virtual office can be made for the use of a virtual number.

If you choose one phone number that is just for your business, and that is the only phone number that you use online, then it is easy to track the calls coming from your online marketing efforts.

Some people choose to carry two phones, which makes it easy to fully deduct the cost of the business phone. Other people choose to forward the virtual number to their personal phone and just claim the virtual number as a business expense. There are also some virtual numbers that run as apps on your personal smartphone.

The Local Business Website

Local is mobile

The majority of local searches are conducted on mobile phones. If your website does not meet Google’s speed and usability requirements for mobile search results, then your business will never appear in the majority of local search results.

You must have a Google Page Speed Insights score of 80+, and Google Search Console must verify your website as user friendly. If your website does not meet these requirements, it will not rank in local mobile search results.

Local Search - Google

Google mobile search example. Image source.

You want to design for mobile first. Keep your site simple and push the visitors to quickly contact you via phone, email, or messenger.

Universal elements

Every page of your website contains the same header and footer. Your header and footer should contain your NAP, business hours, email address, and social media links. This gives a visitor everything that they need to contact you no matter where they are on your site.

All local business sites should include a “Contact Us” page that publishes the company’s NAP, offers an email form, publishes a map of the service area or brick and mortar location, and links to all social media accounts. This page should also contain a few paragraphs of content targeting local keywords.

If you are a service business, you should have a “Services” page. If you are a restaurant you should have a “Menu” page. If you sell products, you should have a “Products” page. This can just be a portfolio of product photos that provide a representative example of what you sell. It does not need to be kept up to date with current inventory.

If you choose to have an “About us” page, use local keywords and link to local organizations that you belong to. Make it about your community roots and involvement.

How to choose & use local keywords

In order to determine the local keywords you should use on your small business website, type the city and state where your business is located into Google. The search results page will contain a knowledge box in the upper right hand corner. All the way at the bottom of this knowledge box will be a section that is titled “People Also Searched For”. This will be a list of neighborhoods and nearby towns.

Click the link that says “view 10+ more”. Go through the list and write down the names of all the locations that you serve. These are your local keywords. Create a section of your website titled “Locations” and create one page for each local keyword. You can also use the local keywords as categories for your blog.

Setting up local schema

Local schema is advanced markup that search engines spiders read. This is a newer form of meta-data that most of your competitors won’t have on their site. A site that has schema data will generally out rank a site that does not, so setting up schema data on your site is an easy marketing win.

It is very important that you list your schema data properly, and to validate your schema data using validator.schema.org or a similar tool. Search Engine Journal has published a complete guide to using schema data for local SEO. The process should be done carefully and will take a few hours if you are a beginner.

However, the results are worth the efforts!

Do you want to learn more about SEO for online stores?

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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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