Local SEO: The Advanced Guide for 2020

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • Local SEO helps the individual physical locations of businesses compete on a local level, even if you have hundreds or thousands of locations.
  • Like traditional SEO, keyword research and competitive analysis are essential to building a solid local SEO strategy.
  • Audit and optimize citations to ensure consistency across Google My Business, Bing Places, Google Maps, and Apple Maps.
  • Local SEO relies on getting reviews, forming local relationships, and creating local content in a scalable manner.

Let’s say you’re a multinational hotel chain like Marriott, which has over 7,000 locations worldwide. Each one serves a specific geographic location — not just a specific city. (Even in a small city like Tulsa there are still more than a dozen Marriott hotels.) When it comes to local SEO, we’re talking about specific zip codes.

Don’t let the word “local” fool you, either. Considering that 46% of all searches made in Google are local, the opportunity for SEO ROI is massive! So, to help you make sense of the chaos, we put together this local SEO guide!

WHAT IS LOCAL SEO?

Local search engine optimization is a digital marketing strategy that helps customers find brick-and-mortar locations through Google’s organic results.

Local SEO isn’t just for small businesses like plumbers or electricians. National and multinational businesses with tens of thousands of employees like hotels, restaurants, retail stores, real estate agencies, and financial services companies also need foot traffic.

Think about it: when someone in Dallas, Texas, does a Google search for “financial advisor in Dallas,” they’re going to be presented with many local options. Your local SEO activities will help you show up on page one.

The signals that influence local SEO include local content, links, citations, and online reviews.

For traditional SEO, E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust) rules the roost. Locally, the top factors that influence rankings locally are:

  • Proximity: how close your business is to the searcher
  • Relevance: how well your products or services meet the searcher’s needs
  • Prominence: your business’s presence on citation sites and the amount of reviews it has
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BUILD YOUR LOCAL SEO STRATEGY

In order to perform well in local search, you’ll need to adjust your SEO strategy to account for some local ranking factors.

1. Perform local SEO keyword research 

Keyword research for local SEO is typically simpler and more straightforward than non-local keyword research. While some locations and cities are more competitive than others, there’s generally a much smaller competitor pool for local keywords relative to the pool for keywords that aren’t bound by geography.

Brainstorm a list of seed keywords using a simple formula: [product or service] in [location]. For example:

  • Furniture store in Austin
  • Financial advisor in Chicago
  • Coffee shop in Boston
  • Hotel in Tulsa

Combine each of your products and services with all your locations, and boom! Now you have a seed list.

You generally don’t have to bother with exact-matching a keyword like “accountant near me,” though. That’s because Google can swap in the user’s location for “near me.” Instead, focus your seed list on the actual locations.

Google is pretty crafty. Even if someone is browsing in private or incognito mode, the search engine knows where they are. In other words, someone in Tulsa could type in “hotel,” and Google would show multiple listings of hotels in Tulsa.

But why leave things to chance? Optimize your listings so Google has the local signals it needs to show your location to searchers in the right area.

example of how local seo helps hotels rank better in the google serp

Feed your list into a tool like the Ahrefs Keywords Explorer to expand your options and select your keywords.

2. Run a competitive analysis

To do a competitive analysis, enter competitor websites into a tool like SEMRush, Spyfu, or Ahrefs to see what keywords your competitors rank for. You’ll notice that your competitor ranks for more than the core “[product or service] in [service area]” queries. Leverage these findings to build a list of long-tail keywords your site can target with additional content.

Compare your Google My Business results against local competitors using a tool like BrightLocal, so that you have an accurate view of your local performance in areas such as citations, reviews, etc.

Then take a look at the backlink profiles of your local competitors. Note the local resources, media outlets, and blogs where they’re mentioned. Add these opportunities to your list of targets for link building.

3. Optimize for Google My Business

As you might expect, Google My Business listings play a heavy role in local search. Google My Business helps search engines verify that your company is legitimate so they can avoid serving their local search audience junk search results. When you claim and optimize your profile on this platform, you’re more likely to show up in local search results, including Google Maps and the coveted local pack.

The information you feed Google My Business can also create a knowledge panel in the Google SERPs that appears when people search for your brand, like this:

A good portion of this knowledge panel for local results is built from the information you give Google My Business, including your products or services, hours, business description, and contact information. The reviews are pulled from third party sites and Google Reviews.

To optimize for Google My Business, create and verify a Google My Business page and fill it out as completely as possible. Keep information up to date, returning to the profile to adjust it if there’s a change in your hours or location. Encourage your customers to review your business online, and respond to all customer reviews.

You can even create welcome offers and publish posts for your local audience through Google My Business, capturing more real estate in the SERPs and differentiating your listings.

4. Optimize for Bing Places, Google Maps, and Apple Maps

With non-local SEO, we can generally 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, where the local listings are heavily influenced by each search engine’s individual place listings (Google My Business and Bing Places). So, claim and optimize your Bing Places profile to capture all your local search traffic in Bing.

Optimization for Google Maps is largely making sure you are as thorough as possible in GMB.

And since it’s the default navigation tool for mobile searches on iPhones, Apple Maps is also important. You can add or update your business information at Apple Maps Connect

iphone showing google maps and facebook

5. Audit and optimize your citations

Citation signals are one of the most important factors for ranking on local search engine results pages. Citations are online mentions of your company that include your business’s name, address, and phone number, or NAP. Yelp, Angie’s List, your company’s Facebook profile and local business directories are all examples of websites that include a local citation.

If you have more than one business name, be sure to consolidate them. This will help potential customers as well as search engines. A consistent business profile across all of your citations is critically important to local SEO for two reasons:

  1. It reinforces the information Google has on file for your site (through your GMB listing), increasing its trust in the information.
  2. People actually use those citation sites to search for businesses directly. And that can lead to foot traffic and sales.

To optimize your local citations, first you’ll need to audit them. (Check out the tools section below to speed things up with some automation).

Enter the NAP you want to use into a tool like BrightLocal and they’ll pull all your local citations for you, highlighting the ones that contain incomplete or inaccurate information. They’ll also reveal which sites you’re not listed on yet. Then, you can optimize each profile individually, adding information where it’s needed.

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6. Improve local on-page SEO

Armed with your local keyword research, optimize your website’s on-page content. You’ll apply many of the same best practices as you do with your other SEO efforts, such as optimizing title tags and meta descriptions. However, there are several local SEO tips that go further, like having a Google My Business (GMB page). Check out our advanced SEO checklist for even more on-page optimization advice!

Optimize your homepage

You most likely won’t optimize your home page for local keywords. Instead, focus on the keywords that apply to your entire customer base. Optimize your home page for the highest-opportunity keywords you found that serve your market at the broadest level.

Then, optimize your meta data, H1, and on-page content for those home page keywords.

If your business is highly dependent on showcasing your individual locations early on its home page such as a hotel (versus a financial services company like Schwab that has a home page focused on its services and products) then you might consider adding a tool to your home page that allows users to search by location.

Optimize your local landing pages

Set up a local landing page for each location. Optimize each page for its set of local keywords, and add NAP information to the content.

Write geo-targeted content for each web page, identifying the traits that make each location unique. Pull in success stories from local customers or highlight positive reviews. Add transit and parking instructions and other location-specific details. Make sure each local landing page is as unique and useful as possible.

This is a really important topic, so we wrote all about lead gen landing pages here.

Add schema markup

Schema markup is a form of structured data you add to your website that helps search engines display more informative search results. For your physical locations, there are several types of location markup you can use to display hours, location details, and more in the SERPs. Go to Google’s structured data markup helper, click the box that says Local Businesses, and follow the prompts. Keep your NAP consistent here, too.

Improve internal linking

Want to know how to improve your SEO? Focus on crawlability and create an SEO-friendly site architecture using internal links. On each page of your site, look for opportunities to naturally link to other pages in your content. Audit navigational elements like your menu to ensure the navigation is smooth and logical, and that priority pages are included. Make use of your website’s footer to add more detailed navigational links that wouldn’t make sense in the main menu. If you have multiple locations, your footer is a great place to link to your most popular locations.

7. Local SEO best practices for link building

Inbound links from third-party websites are one of the most important ranking factors for local SEO. While your local citation listings put you on the map (literally), they won’t suffice as a complete backlink strategy. Here are a few ways local websites can build links:

  • Build relationships with local bloggers and publishers and reach out with newsworthy content.
  • Provide a new angle or expert opinion on something happening in the news at a broader level. Get creative about how you use all the information you have at your disposal! For example, a national bank could compare mortgage trends of a certain city to the rest of the country — and then do the same for multiple cities to be published in local publications.
  • Throw events that capture local flavor and give back to the community. Or sponsor local community events.
  • Join local chambers of commerce, business associations, and other community groups, and scout out opportunities to be listed on local resources.
  • Set up a scholarship fund and get the scholarship listed on .edu websites and other financial or educational resources. Form connections with each local school.
  • Write thought leadership articles and how-to’s targeted to your local audience.

8. Develop a local content strategy

Create local blogs or, alternatively, include geo-specific content in your main blog. Blog regularly, and add other local content to increase your rankings for long-tail keywords and reinforce your relevance in each location. Write about local and industry news and events. Create resources for your local audience. Build a visitors’ guide or a local “Best Of” guide or a local calendar and transform your content strategy into a link-building asset. Aim to provide real value for each local audience.

people shopping in a local business that they found through local seo

9. Get reviews

Online reviews are an important trust signal for Google, and they factor heavily in your rankings on vertical search engines such as Trustpilot, Yelp, Trivago, Glassdoor, Priceline, and others, depending on your industry. You may not be able to control which reviews are displayed in the SERPs — you can’t just “turn off” a bad review so searchers can’t see it. But you can control the narrative and provide a more holistic view on an SEO level to ensure your happy customers are loudest.

Like most businesses, you probably have a huge swath of happy customers and a much smaller portion of unhappy ones. When you mobilize the voices of the happy customers, you dwarf the impact of any negative reviews that might pop up, sometimes kicking them off the first few pages of the SERPs entirely.

Give your potential customers a call to action to review your business on Yelp, Google, and other review sites. Add this CTA on receipts, signs at the register, and more. Then get your local staff comfortable with asking for reviews, especially when they go above and beyond to help out a customer. Most of the time, an ask is all it takes — but you do need to ask! 

10. Make it Scalable

When your business is national (or global) and has many locations, staying scalable can be difficult. Where you can, task regional employees with soliciting and managing reviews and reporting any business changes (e.g., store hours, etc.). Just make sure you provide enough direction (the specific review sites, etc.) to ensure information remains consistent.

One way to make sure your strategy is scalable? Local SEO tools.

LOCAL SEO TOOLS

Given the tedious nature of citation-building and/or optimizing many different locations (especially if you have hundreds or thousands of locations), automation tools are a must. Here’s a roundup of the most popular tools for local SEO.

BrightLocal

Built specifically for local marketing needs, BrightLocal is a more comprehensive tool than many of its competitors. With multi-local capabilities, the platform lets businesses quickly update local citations, monitor reviews, and assess their competitors.

BrightLocal’s Local RankFlux

BrightLocal’s Local RankFlux is a free tool that monitors fluctuations in Google’s local search algorithm. It’s a handy tool to check if you experience a sudden change in traffic or behavior on your site.

Moz Local

Moz Local gets your business verified on Google and Facebook and distributes your NAP information to other citation sites. They primarily focus on Google and Facebook and offer real-time review management for both platforms.

Whitespark Local Citations

Like BrightLocal, Whitespark automates the process of adding and updating local citations to all the major listing platforms. They also let you manage reviews across every platform quickly and in real time.

Yext

In addition to building local citations, Yext helps local websites optimize for Google knowledge graph and lets you quickly build optimized, location-based landing pages.

GeoRanker

GeoRanker’s SERP scraper lets local businesses quickly mine data for keyword and competitor research. They also track local search rankings, mine voice search data, and will audit your local ads.

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