Once upon a time, there was a giant phone book found inside every home with a landline telephone. Although big and heavy, it was incredibly useful. There was almost no local business that didn’t feature its address and phone number inside this book. Without the white and yellow pages, many small businesses wouldn’t be able to reach customers located in the same city or broader area.
But things changed when computers and mobile phones came into our lives, becoming the devices we can’t live without. Today, mobile devices and search engines (Google, Bing, Apple Maps) are clever enough to peg customers’ location at any time – wherever they might be! That means people can now search for services and products readily available close to their current location, even while walking around a city.
But how can small and medium-sized businesses reach local customers looking for services and products “near” them online?
The answer is simple. In this modern and convenient “near me” digital world, Local SEO is the key for local businesses to unlock their full potential and attract more local customers.
Google and other search engines have replaced the telephone directory of the olden days for good. The most popular business listing of our time is the Google Local Pack listing.
But when it comes to getting your business in the Local Pack listing, questions are bound to arise.
So let’s tackle the 22 most common Local SEO questions for small, local businesses!
Table of Contents
- What Is Google local search?
- What is local SEO marketing?
- Why Local SEO is important for small businesses
- How does Google rank search results?
- Why does my Google ranking keep changing?
- What kinds of businesses need Local SEO?
- How do you know if you need Local SEO?
- How do you rank businesses with multiple locations?
- Can a business rank in a city beyond its location?
- How long does Local SEO take to work?
- Is it worth hiring a Local SEO expert?
- How much does Local SEO cost?
- What are the major changes in Local SEO for 2021?
- What are entities in SEO?
- What does NAP stand for in SEO?
- What is local listing in digital marketing?
- What are keywords?
- What’s the most effective SEO tactic for a local business?
- What other tactics can help a local business rank higher on Google?
- What should be avoided in Local SEO?
- Do I need to keep on with Local SEO?
- How do you get your business to the top of a Google search?
What is Google local search?
Local search is the foundation of local search engine optimization (SEO).
Google local search occurs when a user includes a particular location into their search query for a service or product. For example, “nail artist in Chelsea.” It also occurs when users look for something that Google thinks is a local search, such as “pizza delivery.”
You might also have heard of the “near me” searches. The search engine giant is clever enough to map each user’s location even if they don’t specify it in their search query.
For all these local searches, Google returns the most relevant local organic results in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The search results feature the nearest businesses to the users’ location that offer the services they’re looking for.
Even though it began with users trying to find nearby businesses online, local search is an integral part of Google’s ranking algorithm today. That means companies with websites well-optimized for local searches rank higher in the SERPs.
Apart from Google, the biggest search engine of all time, Internet users can also perform local searches on Bing, Baidu, Yandex and other search engines.
What is local SEO marketing?
Local SEO marketing and local search go hand in hand.
Users are searching for products and services in their local area and, most of the time, they’re ready to buy.
A whopping 88% of mobile phone searches about local businesses result in a call or a visit to the local shop within 24 hours.
Local businesses that want to connect with local searchers and turn them into customers can’t achieve their goals without local SEO marketing.
Local marketing is like a puzzle with many pieces. There are several best practice tactics and tips that local SEO practitioners combine to boost a business’s visibility in local searches.
It all starts with optimizing a business website for the local search queries it should rank and be visible for. But, fine-tuning a website to rank higher on Google local search results is not a one-off process. It needs time, regular monitoring and understanding of what a website needs to show up in local searches.
Local SEO marketing might also extend from claiming and optimizing an online business listing to monitoring and managing online reviews and beyond.
Why Local SEO is important for small businesses
Local SEO is the best marketing practice that can help local business owners generate more calls, more local customers and, eventually, more cash!
A business website optimized for local search terms will show up right in front of local searchers looking to buy the service or products this business has to offer.
There are still local businesses that invest in other types of advertising, such as radio ads and flyers. But these are just ‘spray and hope’ marketing techniques: You spread the word about your business in the local area and hope that someone who needs your services will actually read your flyer. All in all, that’s an expensive and inefficient form of advertising. Plus, it’s much more difficult to track the performance of your marketing efforts.
Now, think about the convenience and efficiency that local SEO marketing offers to small businesses like yours or your clients (if you’re working at a marketing agency). Your business information shows up online when a customer in the nearby area is typing in the search engine a keyword relevant to your services or products.
People are looking for what you’re selling and you appear right in front of their eyes instantly!
Mobile searches for “store open near me” (e.g., “florist open near me”) have grown by over 250% from 2017–2019.
The cost of performing local SEO is relatively small compared to other types of marketing, even when a local SEO consultant is called in for help.
How does Google rank search results?
First off, let’s make clear that Google ranks web pages – not websites!
The better optimized a web page is, the higher it will rank in Google SERPs. This simple rule is the basis of all SEO efforts. But it needs time, work and knowledge of the latest SEO best practices to optimize a business web page for Google search results.
Now, let’s dive into how the search engine determines the order in which each business will appear in the search index.
Google uses complex computer programs (known as algorithms) to ‘read’ the content and understand the structure and link profile of a web page. The search engine can then decide how relevant a website page is for a given search query based on these algorithms.
Two of the most popular algorithms are:
In 2020, the search engine giant published a research paper on a new algorithm called SMITH. This new code works better than BERT in understanding long queries and lengthy documents. In particular, SMITH can understand entire documents and mark up specific passages similar to how BERT understands certain words and brief sentences.
A combination of algorithms like BERT and SMITH is how Google measures website pages’ importance and decides how these pages will rank in the SERPs.
Important note: Google doesn’t reveal the exact criteria a web page should meet to rank high in search results. That’s why SEO experts run continuous tests to uncover what features can boost website rankings.
Why does my Google ranking keep changing?
Once you start to understand how Google determines the order it lists each web page in, it can become frustrating if your own web page listing moves up and down in the search results.
Even though that’s frustrating, it’s not uncommon. There are quite a few reasons why your position in the SERPs might often change.
One reason is that new websites and web pages go live every day. Another reason is that every minute Google finds unique, relevant and valuable content that answers users’ queries. This new content might be more relevant than yours, so Google decides it deserves to rank above you. As a result, every other web page gets moved down.
The third most common reason for ranking changes is that Google releases updates to its search algorithm almost every day. These changes may mean that your website is no longer optimally tuned and needs to get updated. Updating your website according to the latest Google changes increases its chances of ranking higher!
Another point to consider is that Google runs regular A/B tests for the websites it places in the top 10 search results. That means Google swaps the results around to measure what sort of engagement the higher-ranked site will generate compared to the previous one.
Note: One of the most important ranking signals is user engagement.
It also owns the most popular online browser, Chrome, which offers excellent insights into what makes a user ‘happy’. It knows what satisfied searchers do when they click on a website. Even if there’s no conversion tracking, Google can understand when a conversion is about to happen by checking on mouse navigation, scrolling and clicking.
Setting a clear goal when creating and optimizing your website pages can help you move visitors through your sales funnel.
Make sure your website is user-friendly and responsive and that the main call-to-action (CTA) stands out on each web page.
Pro tip: Multiple conversion points can confuse visitors, so keep your page simple.
The more satisfied your web pages’ visitors are, the more likely your business is to rank higher in Google SERPs!
What kinds of businesses need Local SEO?
Local SEO is one of the most efficient digital marketing practices in promoting almost any type of business.
The most crucial box a business should tick is that of serving a particular local area. This can be either a town, a bigger city or even a broader region within 3-5 miles from the company’s registered location. If there’s not much competition in the area, the target market’s distance from the business site can exceed 5 miles.
For small and medium-sized businesses with a local target market, Local SEO can be the magic weapon to reach more local customers and beat out local competitors.
To reap the benefits of Local SEO, it doesn’t matter if a local business has actual premises customers can visit, such as a plumbing supplies shop or if it’s a service-area business. For example, a plumber or electrician who doesn’t have an office but visits and serves customers at their place.
The top 10 industries that can boost their visibility and increase online conversions with Local SEO are:
- Restaurants and bars
- Home service providers (e.g., plumbers, electricians, restoration companies)
- Law services
- Real estate
- Medical practices (doctors, dentists, physiotherapists and other private care clinics)
- Pet services
- Beauty services (hairdressers, nail salons, spa)
- Fashion and clothing retailers
- Online businesses
How do you know if you need local SEO?
If you own a small or medium-sized local business and want to reach as many online prospects as possible, Local SEO is all you need!
The two main pillars of Local SEO is:
- Google my Business (GMB)
- A website optimized to rank well in local search results
Even if your business serves a small local area, these two Local SEO pillars will help you attract new customers who are searching online for the services or products you offer.
A Google my Business listing and an SEO-friendly website can also keep existing customers informed about your news, including new products and updates to your business hours.
Local SEO means that every time a user searches on Google for products or services like the ones you offer, your business appears right in front of them instantly! The better your website and GMB listing look, the more likely it is for Google users to call you or visit your shop.
Every month, search engine users visit 1.5 billion stores related to their Google searches.
And if you don’t use Local SEO marketing tactics, your competitors might use them. In this case, the only way to beat out local competitors is by investing in Local SEO and boosting your online visibility.
But even if none of your competitors use Local SEO, getting a jump on it before they do will give your business the edge. So, create your Google profile or claim it (if it already exists) and start building a complete and accurate GMB listing to become the local king in your niche!
How do you rank businesses with multiple locations?
Many businesses serve several locations, either within the same city or even in another county. Multi-location companies can have one business website that includes distinct landing pages for each location.
Important note: Use a separate local phone number for each location and include them in the relevant landing pages and directory listings.
It might take some time for the business website manager to build separate landing pages for each location the business serves. But these pages will significantly boost your visibility in the local search results at each location!
When it comes to the GMB listing, you can create and verify multiple locations within the same business account. It’s vital, though, to create a separate GMB listing for each location.
Note: Make sure that each of your distinct location listings links to the relevant location page on your website.
You should also optimize each location page for Local SEO. That means each location page should include content and keywords relevant to the area it serves.
Tip: Try to get unique reviews for each location and include them on the respective web page and GMB listing to boost your rankings!
Can a business rank in a city beyond its location?
Yes, it can! But before spending your time trying to rank in locations far away from where you’re based, think of how this can truly benefit your business.
The whole purpose of using Local SEO is to get more local traffic.
Showing up in the SERPs for search queries in areas where you might not have an address or phone number might make prospects reluctant to call you.
If you’re sure that traveling to other cities will bring you more money than costs, you can follow these tips to target prospects based beyond your business location:
- Hide your address from the public on your GMB listing.
- Pick any location you want to target as your service area on Google Maps and GMB, regardless of its proximity to you.
- Include as many reviews as possible and reply to them all. Try to also add reviews to your GMB listing from people located in the cities you want to target. Mention these cities in your replies to the relevant Google reviews.
The bad news? As your target area grows, so does the competition – especially if you want to target prospects in big nearby cities.
How long does Local SEO take to work?
Several factors can affect how long it takes for a Local SEO campaign to bear fruit, including:
- The type of business
- The competition
- The target city or wider area
- The number of online listings
- The business’s goals
The more effort is made at the start of a local SEO campaign, the sooner you’ll see improvements in the business’s visibility in local search results.
Generally speaking, it might take from six to 12 months for rankings to start going up.
Is it worth hiring a Local SEO expert?
Business owners are often too busy running their business or lack specialized knowledge of Local SEO marketing. This is where local SEO consultants come in.
Search engine optimization experts perform SEO tasks everyday and make a living off of keeping up to date with Google’s ever-changing algorithms.
They also have access to the best SEO tools available in the market. These tools help SEO experts explore new opportunities and fight against technical issues that might keep website rankings low and hinder a business’s visibility in the SERPs.
An internet marketing specialist also knows how a business can combine its offline and online marketing efforts to increase sales further. For example, reviews and referrals are usually offline activities. But when combined with online strategies, they become potent ways of pushing a business website higher up in the SERPs.
To sum it up, a local SEO consultant aims to help business owners achieve outstanding results online – whether that’s getting right in front of local online searchers or increasing their profit margins.
How much does Local SEO cost?
Here’s a list of the most critical factors affecting the overall cost of Local SEO services:
- The size of the website
- Local niche competitors
- Current website rankings in the SERPs
- Keyword competition
- Structure and content of the existing website
The cost also depends on the goals a business wants to achieve by performing Local SEO marketing. Some companies only want a GMB listing and Google Posts, while others want to invest in SEO-friendly websites and blog posts. The more time spent on SEO efforts, the higher the cost might get.
But still, Local SEO is much more affordable and efficient than other marketing strategies.
What are the major changes in Local SEO for 2021?
Source: Search Engine Roundtable
Google is constantly changing its algorithms to make the local search landscape more competitive than ever.
As of today, local visibility spreads out over three main areas:
- Google Local 3-Pack listing
- Organic listings below the Local 3-Pack
- The business website
An SEO-optimized website for local searches might boost a Google business listing’s visibility in the SERPs and vice versa.
Here’s a list of the significant changes and trends in local SEO for 2021:
- Core Web Vitals
This year, Google rolls out some new page experience signals that will impact local rankings. These signals include the time a web page needs to load, the time it takes to become interactive, as well as the amount of unexpected layout shift of any visual page content.
- Local search intent for GMB listings
The search engine shows results based not only on keywords but also on what the user is actually searching for. For example, when users search for the best pizza, Google knows that they look for the best pizza in their local area – not the best pizza in the world! Local businesses with well-optimized GMB listings will receive a significant boost in local rankings.
- Estimated cost near you
Google is testing a new feature that might become part of GMB listings. When a user searches for local services, the search engine returns an estimated price range for these particular services. This pricing information appears between the map and the Local 3-Pack list. (Source: Tom Waddington)
- Improved GMB layout
The search engine giant loves making improvements to its GMB listings’ layout. ‘Years in business’ is a new feature Google is testing out for its Local Pack. The more years you work in a specific niche, the more experienced you are. Similarly, the more years you’re serving a particular local area, the more trustworthy your business is. GMB descriptions already include such information, but now Google thinks that ‘years in business’ should also get a prominent position under the rating stars in the Local 3-Pack. (Source: Search Engine Land)
- Voice searches
Voice search is the marketing trend set to make much noise in 2021. PwC found that 65% of consumers ages 25-49 years old talk to their voice-enabled devices at least once a day. When people use Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri, they tend to phrase longer searches. Local business owners should adjust their website content to the way people naturally talk.
- Video content is on the rise
Video is easy-to-consume content and people love it. Local businesses and their products and services seem more real when featured in a video. Click-through rates on video search results have always been higher than plain text-based content. Recent research from HubSpot showed that video content is overtaking blogs and infographics in content strategy.
What are entities in SEO?
Google defines entities as “a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.”
Entities can be anything from physical objects to ideas, dates, colors, articles, words, letters, and more.
The search engine giant probably has a database where it stores information about entities. The more data it holds about an entity, the better it understands what the entity is and how it relates to the world around it.
This association between entities and their meaning helps Google train itself to understand language like humans do.
When optimizing a business for local search, we want to build out the business’s online entity.
Here’s the most important thing a local business should keep in mind when building its online entity:
- Make sure that all web pages, social media accounts and local listings that mention your business include accurate and consistent data.
For example, local retailer ‘Holdens Shoes Ltd’ appears as ‘Holden Shoes’ in some local directories. Google may think that these are two different businesses. This confusion will weaken the information authority Google holds on that business.
The same goes for opening hours. It’s common for local businesses to forget about updating their business hours when those change.
To sum it up, business information that can vary across web pages and local listings include:
- Business descriptions
Business information that needs to be consistent across the web is:
- Phone numbers
- Business hours
What does NAP stand for in SEO?
NAP is the most popular acronym used in local SEO and stands for “Name – Address – Phone Number.”
NAP is one of the most influential bits of information in Local SEO as it’s what users are most likely searching for. It’s vital not only to Google but to all search engines out there.
Example of a NAP
Any NAP information that local businesses generate across their website, social media channels and local business listings should always be:
Start with verifying or updating your NAP information on your Google my Business profile and listing. Then, generate this information across the below digital spaces:
- Social media profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.)
- Local directories (Bing, Yelp, Yell, YellowPages, etc.)
The more accurate and consistent your business NAP is across the web, the higher you climb on Google search results.
What is local listing in digital marketing?
Local listings are online directories that list businesses located in a particular region. They typically include the below details about a local business:
- Business name
- Phone numbers
- Opening hours
- A link to the business’s website
These listings are also called Citations as they cite business website domains.
Local listings are the backbone of Local SEO because they help local businesses become visible on the search results pages (SERPs). In return, local directories sell online advertising space to local businesses. Ads and premium listings might further boost a local business’s visibility or offer extra features, such as displaying more photos and videos.
Each new listing created by a local business increases its chances of getting more calls, attracting more customers and earning more cash!
And here’s one more reason to include your local business in more than one or two local online directories: They boost your business’s authority!
Local listings share and exchange information with each other. When your business information is consistent and accurate across all local listings, Google thinks of you as a trusted business and might rank you higher in the SERPs.
What Are Keywords?
Keywords (or search queries) are the words that searchers type into the search engines when looking for information, products, or services.
Keywords help search engines understand what a web page is all about.
When the content on a web page matches the search query, that page will appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
There can’t be Local SEO without keywords.
The better optimized a page’s content is for relevant search queries, the more likely it is that the page will appear higher in the SERPs.
Keyword Research Using SEMrush
Many local business owners are familiar with the term ‘keywords’. But few of them truly understand how important they are or where and how to place them.
When choosing your keywords think about the words and phrases your potential customers will use – not what you’d use!
There are tools, like KWFinder, Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer and Semrush Keyword Magic Tool, that you can use to check whether people are searching for a keyword you want to target. These keyword research tools offer additional data, such as the estimated number of times a keyword is searched for over the last month on average.
Find the main keywords relevant to your industry and business offering, and use them wisely across the web.
Here are some tips to follow when placing your keywords:
- Use your main keyword in the first 100-150 words of any text you create for your website, local listings or other web pages.
- Use them in your title tags, headings and meta descriptions.
- Use them as a tag on the images you upload online.
- Make sure your content flows naturally. Google and customers appreciate quality and valuable content, so avoid keyword stuffing.
When it comes to adding keywords into your Google my Business profile, make sure you include them:
- In our business description
- In the responses to customer reviews and questions
- In Google Posts
What’s the most effective SEO tactic for a local business?
All local SEO strategies should begin with Google My Business (GMB).
Google My Business is a free platform that helps local businesses increase their online visibility and attract more local customers.
Google My Business listings show up on the first page of Google search results and get most clicks from local searchers.
Example of a Google My Business 3-Pack listing
Once a business has claimed its Google My Business listing, it can use it as an online hub to boost all other online properties it owns. It’s essential to claim your GMB listing so that it’s not claimed and used by someone else to damage your business’s reputation and hurt your Local SEO efforts.
Google is constantly looking at ways to improve Google My Business and make it easy for searchers to find exactly what they’re looking for. Improvements also help businesses further boost their visibility and enhance their online presence to reach and lure local prospects.
What other tactics can help a local business rank higher on Google?
There are many SEO tactics and tricks that can boost a local business’s online presence. Here’s a list of them:
- Create profiles for all relevant business listings and social media platforms. This includes Google My Business, Facebook, Instagram, YellowPages, Yelp, Bing, Apple Maps, etc.
- Add an SSL to the business website. Most browsers add a warning icon on web pages without an SSL, which can scare visitors away. SSLs for non-eCommerce sites are usually free. Search for more information on Let’s Encrypt or Cloudflare.
- Run keyword research to find out what keywords to optimize your content for. Analyze what your competitors rank for and choose the ones that are relevant to your business.
- Add geotagged keywords to all images, headings and text included in the company’s website and blog section. Make sure you have a page for each primary keyword. For instance, if you’re a plumber, create several service pages for each service you offer, such as boiler repairs, burst pipes, leaking taps, power flushing, etc.
- Get backlinks. For Google, backlinks are a vote of confidence for your website.
- Make sure your website loads fast.
- Benefit from structured data. Big search engines use Local Business schema, a tool that turns content into code (structured data) that is easier for machines to understand and process. Add schema markups to all parts of your website to help search engines understand what your web pages are about and display them in their search results.
- Get reviews. Google reviews are the best ones to invest in. Facebook and Yell reviews can also work to your advantage. Plan a reputation management strategy that helps your business collect reviews on auto-pilot.
- Build your business entity. Create social media profiles across all major social and niche-relevant online networks.
An SEO expert can help you fine-tune your business’s presence in the digital world and boost your local rankings and visibility.
What should be avoided in Local SEO?
In this blog, we’ve talked a lot about the Local SEO tactics and tips that can help a local business increase its online presence and visibility. But there are a few things that can definitely hurt your Local SEO efforts.
Failing to claim a Google My Business listing is one of them.
Here are a few of the most common traps that businesses should keep in mind when performing Local SEO:
- Improper categorization. Pick the most relevant ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ GMB categories for your business.
- Incomplete Google My Business listing.
- Missing NAP on the website.
- Not having an SSL.
- Keyword stuffing.
- Websites with multiple locations, but just one landing page.
- Home page with insufficient content.
- Website pages that don’t include the main keyword.
- Links with incorrect website URL. For example, https://www.mysite.co.uk is different from https://mysite.co.uk or http://www.mysite.co.uk
- Incorrect contact information on the website.
- Inconsistent NAP information.
Do I need to keep on with Local SEO?
Optimizing a website to rank higher on local search results is not a one-off process.
For a Local SEO campaign to be successful, it needs time, regular monitoring and constant improvements.
Moreover, Google changes the ‘rules of the game’ quite often. It makes changes to its ranking algorithm and the features in its Local Pack every year. It also introduces new products and tools that local businesses can benefit from.
Thus, local businesses need to stay up-to-date with the latest Local SEO improvements and trends.
How do you get your business to the top of a Google search?
Most local business owners want to be at the top of the search engine results pages. But Google’s local search algorithm favors the websites that optimize their content and structure for top rankings – not the ones that just want to be at the top.
Here are a few tips that can help your business to get to the top of local search results:
- Monitor your local competitors’ activities.
Research what your competitors are doing and plan how you can do it better than them. A page ranks well on merit. If your web page isn’t considerably better than your local competitors, it is unlikely that your site ranks better.
- Focus on the content.
Creating quality and valuable content can be time-consuming and expensive. But, unlike PPC (Pay-per-click) advertising, SEO is a long-term marketing investment. Achieving higher organic rankings will give you ‘free’ traffic in return as long as you maintain high page rankings.
- Track user behavior and conversions.
Once your web page ranks as you’ve planned, make sure you’re tracking your visitors’ behavior and conversions. Remember to create a Google Analytics account, generate a tracking code and add it to your website. Your Google Analytics account also helps track your Google My Business performance with UTM parameters, reporting GMB visits as organic traffic.
- Use user engagement tracking tools.
Verify your website with Google Search Console and choose the correct version of the site to track. Add heat mapping software, like Hotjar, to track how your users engage with your content. Add a call-tracking phone number to track where the phone calls come from. Set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to gauge the number of calls or successful form submissions. This tracking data will help refine user experience on your website, which, in turn, helps convert visits into sales.
There are thousands of websites being created every day, while Google’s algorithm keeps changing.
Local SEO experts spend many hours every day trying to keep up with the latest Local SEO trends and changes.
Local SEO needs time and dedication, but it can really help a local business get to the top of Google, attract more customers and increase its profits.
If you want to find out more about Local SEO and understand how it can help your local business beat out its competitors and become the king in its niche in your local area, get in touch with our Local SEO experts.