Getting Found - A Guide To Local SEO
Local SEO is about connecting with your audience at that moment they are seeking what you offer.
Whether you want to drive more leads or footfall, a local SEO campaign will help you appear in front of the audience searching in your neighbourhood.
That might sound worryingly technical or a lot of work, but we’re here to show you that it doesn’t have to be. This guide will give you the tips and tactics to learn the basics and try it for yourself.
Trust us – creating a simple plan and setting some time aside each week to improve your local SEO can make a difference.
It takes dedication, but make local SEO your advantage over the competition, and you’ll be the best in town!
Table of Contents
- What is local SEO? And how does it work?
- Making on-page and content improvements
- Claiming Google My Business (& Bing Places) listings
- Establishing citations
- Building credibility with reviews
- Promoting your site
Want a handy reminder of the key points from this guide? Or to share key takeaways with your team? Download our free local cheat sheet!
Whether most of your business serves the local community or you’d like to target those visiting your part of the world, it is local search results that allows your audience to find your business when they need it.
Many site owners are aware of SEO, but few are aware of the difference between traditional SEO work and the variant of local SEO.
Traditional SEO works by making improvements to a website’s on and off-page elements, so that it shows up when users search for certain keyword phrases. Local SEO is similar, but for when users search within a geographic area, or with keyword phrases that reference that location.
Let’s make it clearer by using an example.
If you do a search for curry delivery right now, the search results will show options that are near you, even though you didn’t specify a location. Do the same thing later, when at home or perhaps at a bar and the results will be different.
That’s local SEO at work. You see localised results, with the search engines showing you the most useful options based on where you are.
Most of the time you’ll see what’s known as a map pack of three listings on a map of the area, plus ten organic listings, and potentially some paid ads.
Imagine you’re planning a weekend away. A search for hotels York presents you with more local results, this time based on your specific search terms.
In each case search engines like Google and Bing understand the context of our search, and adjust their results accordingly. And this happens for many types of business – not just restaurants, but hairdressers, lawyers, plumbers, car garages, gyms and more.
Local SEO helps us show up for as many of these local searches as possible. By optimising for the signals search engines use, some from traditional SEO, some specific to local, you increase the chances of appearing when your audience is looking for your offering in your locality.
With the rise of smartphones, local SEO has even more opportunities. Mobile users often look for nearby businesses on the go in a manner that simply wasn’t possible before.
How local SEO works
From a user’s perspective, local search results are just like any other. Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo or any search engine use their algorithm to determine the best answer to your search – in this case we are looking at localised results.
Search engine algorithms are incredibly complex, and take into consideration a wide-range of factors. Google have stated that they consider over 200 elements to determine the best results.
We know that when the search engines determine results that should be local in nature, they consider a particular set of these criteria. They also add in certain considerations just for these types of queries.
For example, Google determines local rankings primarily through:
- Relevance– How closely does a local listing match what someone is searching for (and what Google thinks they mean)?
- Distance – How far is the potential listing from the local term used in the search, or from the searcher’s location (some feel this is an increasingly important factor)?
- Prominence – How well known is the site?
Google then use a number of their 200-plus ranking factors to help make this calculation and give you your results. As you’d expect, a lot of SEO thought has gone into estimating how Google determines local relevance and prominence.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by such detail. However, don’t think that local SEO is too complicated, or even time-consuming for you. The rest of this guide is dedicated to local SEO tips you can try out for yourself.
One of the best tips for local SEO is to have the best website possible. Many of the principles of general SEO are very helpful when it comes to optimising for local results.
For more ideas on how to get your website started with SEO, check out our beginner’s guide that is packed with tips, tools and resources. It is also available to download as a free PDF.
Have a landing page for each of your locations
Each of your locations should have an individual home on your website, a page to optimise around. By having a separate page, all the elements can be tailored for that specific location.
Make sure your site is set up in a logical structure of area, city/town, then locality (such as Midlands / Birmingham / Edgbaston).
If possible, have your URLs reflect this structure, such as example.co.uk/region/city/town or example.uk/locations/bristol.
A good location page should contain a combination of practical information, such as maps and opening times, plus detail on why someone should visit. Make sure these pages are uniquely useful, as a number of pages with near identical content can be an issue if Google thinks you are creating them for SEO and not for users. Giving each location a tailored description can be tricky, so here are some ideas on what you could include:
- Address and contact details
- Opening hours
- A link to the Google My Business listing for the location
- An introduction to the product range or services available
- An embedded Google Map with your location pin in place
- Travel directions
- Photos & videos (with transcriptions)
- Social media accounts if the individual location has them
- Areas served by the location or covered by those that operate from there
- Reviews (more on these later), case studies, examples of work or testimonials from your customers
- Any community involvement, such as events held or sponsorships
For more ideas on how to optimise your website’s local landing pages, check out this excellent guide on Search Engine Land.
Town and country in your title tags
For each page you want to rank for a specific location, make sure you add your location, in the format of [town], [county] to the title tag. This might look like:
<title>Authentic Indian restaurant and takeaway in Thame, Oxfordshire</title>
Of course, many UK counties have long names, so using standard postal abbreviations can help if you are short on room (title tags should ideally have a maximum of 160 characters):
<title>Indian takeaway and delivery service – Banbury, Oxon</title>
If you have one location, you can add this to your homepage, contact page and key landing pages. If you have multiple locations, you need to do this for each location’s landing page.
Otherwise, follow best practices for your title tags – these are one of the most important parts of local SEO, so make the most of them! Ideally, we want to focus on the keywords we want to rank for, as well as our location, but also describe the page and be as appealing as possible. You can also use preview tools to test different ideas.
Once you’ve done this for your title tags, try and have the location in your main heading (known as the h1 tag) and URL (the address) of your landing pages, and use these and keywords in the alt tags for any images.
Include geographic terms in your meta description
Although the meta description tag is not used as a ranking signal, any words used by the searcher will be emboldened in the search results, making them stand out. So, including geographic terms can help draw the searcher’s eye to your listing in the results.
Indeed, thinking of your ‘snippet’ (your site’s listing within the search results) as an advert is a great mindset. This is a chance to make an impression, so create title and meta descriptions that show off what you have to offer.
Have your N.A.P correct and visible
NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone number, and it is an important concept in local SEO. Having it correct, and consistent, is vital.
If you have one location, getting this on your homepage and contact page is the minimum, but also having it appear on every page should be your aim. Just like a real user, Google wants to find your contact details easily. If you have multiple locations, then those individual landing pages will be the home to each relevant NAP.
It’s key that Google understands where you are based, and it uses the NAP information it can find on your site and external sites as a ranking factor. If you have a freephone number, mobile number or a call-tracking number set up for your site, consider if you can switch to a local number. Again, this can help demonstrate your location.
Use semantic markup to highlight your NAP
Without diving too deep into the world of coding… Semantic markup is code we can add to a website to help external machines and programs, such as search engines, understand what our content is about.
For local SEO, we can add this markup to confirm our location and contact details to Google.
You might want some help for this, but you can learn how to use Schema.org’s local business markup to highlight your address if you are comfortable editing your code. If you have more development budget, then you can also consider using JSON-LD. Don’t panic, if that doesn’t mean anything to you, there is even an option called Data Highlighter which lets you indicate your data using your mouse.
You might also want to use structured markup to highlight any reviews you have on your site.
Once your code is ready, test it using Google’s structured data testing tool, which will help you spot any bugs.
Create locally-focussed content
If we want to show search engines that we are highly relevant for a location, plus earn prominence through having others share our site, locally-focussed content can help.
What do we mean?
Using our site’s (often unappreciated) blog to share what is happening in our community and how we are getting involved, can solve the common-issues of ‘I don’t know what to write‘ and ‘My business is boring‘ that flatlines many efforts.
You don’t have to write exclusively about your business. Instead, write about what is happening around you, and make it a local news destination. Share what is happening in your locale. By tapping into the local area for inspiration, and making that part of your content strategy, you’ll have a continuous source of posts, and plenty of natural use of local terms.
This is a big topic, and worthy of its own guide. So we suggest you check out this excellent article from Greg Gifford to get you started!
Once your website is in tip-top shape, another fundamental of local SEO is claiming and optimising your listings on important online directories. And they don’t come more important than Google My Business which is Google’s directory of local businesses and is used to populate their various products, such as their search results and maps.
Despite this, many businesses still haven’t claimed their listing, so now is the time to get started.
Claiming & verifying a Google My Business listing
Claiming your listing is (thankfully) more simple than it used to be, and once complete can be tweaked as you see fit.
To get started, go to either the Google My Business site or use the phone app. Log in using your Google account (if you don’t have one you can sign up for one at this stage), and search for your business.
If you find your listing, select it. If you can’t find it, there’s an option to create a new listing. When creating a new listing simply fill out all the details as accurately as possible (make sure your NAP is consistent!), and then request a verification code. This is a pin number sent via the post. It typically takes 1 to 2 weeks to arrive. You log in and enter that code and, voila, you’re all set.
With existing listings, the process can be trickier. When you find the listing, if there is an option asking ‘Are you the business owner?‘, then the listing is unclaimed. Click on that link and you’ll be able to ask for a verification code, typically via either the post or a phone call. Be sure to make any edits you want to the listing before requesting the verification code (to prevent any mix-ups).
If the option to claim the listing isn’t there, there are a couple of other avenues to try:
- Log in with a different Google account:Thanks to the changes in how these listings are managed, sometimes businesses have had several Google accounts managing different versions. Make sure you log in with all the accounts you have to see if any are already the owner
- Request management rights:Google suggest the first thing to do is request access from the listing owner, but in most cases, we don’t know who that is. Instead the option of requesting through Google My Business is preferable. To do this, search for and select your business listing and click the ‘request admin rights‘ button. Answer some questions and Google will email the owner with your request. Often this reveals the email address used for the Google account. Other times you’ll have to wait for a response. Once you’ve waited a week, you can contact the Google My Business team to ask them to transfer ownership
If you have multiple business locations, then simply follow this process for each one.
You’ll have noticed that Google wants the business owner to claim the listing, and then give others, such as an agency, management rights which can then be terminated. This is an effort to keep control of these listings with the owners, and cut down on the transfers and lost details. If you have an agency do this work for you, make sure they claim the listing as a representative of you, the business owner.
A final tip – it is possible to speak to someone from Google on the phone if you get really stuck! The process is a little convoluted, but laid out by local SEO expert Greg Gifford here. You can also reach out to them via Twitter.
Optimising your Google My Business listing
Once you’ve verified your listing, log in to Google My Business (via your preference of the desktop website or the app on your phone or tablet) and you’re presented with a dashboard. Here you can edit your details, add new photos, respond to customer reviews and analyse data on how potential customers are finding your site.
Just make sure that you follow Google’s guidelines on how to fill out your listing – they go into a lot of detail in this help page. And be sure to clean up any duplicate listings (where your business appears more than once in a location).
- NAP: Make sure your name, address and phone number are perfect and match your website. In particular, only use the actual name of the business and don’t be tempted to add any descriptive terms (such as ground floor or high street) even if you have multiple locations.
- Pick the right category: One of the key factors in determining relevancy. When selecting your category, be as accurate as possible. Google want you to select the most accurate category for your business, such as Italian restaurant rather than just restaurant. You can pick more than one, but the first will be your primary category and Google will penalise any listings they see as dishonest in their categorisation or trying to be spammy, so don’t just select everything vaguely relevant.
- An excellent cover photo: Make sure you select one of your finest images to be the first impression a searcher has of your business. Once that is ready, be sure to add any other photos, such as of the front of your premises to help customers find you, some of your products and what they’ll find inside. You might want to consider having an indoor street view picture taken to give searchers a virtual tour.
- Write your description: Here is your chance to tell the prospective visitor how you can help them. Remember, keyword-stuffing and writing to ‘rank better’ will be counter-productive. Write for your customers, and make sure you cover your main keyword topics as part of that. Feel free to include links to important pages.
- Business hours: A simple improvement, but one that will help users is to make sure your opening hours are correct. You can also set special hours, such as for over Christmas, so Google always presents the right information.
- Website: Perhaps obvious, but make sure to add a link to your website. An important side note: Clicks from this link will appear in Google Analytics as direct traffic, not organic search, so you may wish to add some tracking code to this link so you can measure how often visitors come from this source.
- Reviews: We’ll cover reviews in more detail below, but for now start thinking about how you can encourage customers to leave reviews, and how you’ll keep on top of replying to them.
This will help make the most of your listing for SEO. Google also have some guidelines on how to improve your visibility. If you have any difficulties, a great place to start is to check out the Google My Business community
A huge part of local SEO is building your prominence, and the first way you should look to do this is by building citations.
What are local citations?
A citation is a mention of your business on another website, even if there is no link. For local SEO, we are interested in citations that detail your NAP.
In particular, we are interested in structured citations on authoritative websites. In other words, we want to see our NAP laid out in a structure that makes it possible for Google and Bing to understand this is a business listing (and the NAP data), and on websites that they trust to give this kind of information.
Citations are an important part of determining prominence AND relevancy. A few of these on established, trusted sites help establish certainty about who you are, where you are based and what you offer.
In most cases, you can create citations by visiting listing websites and creating your business profile. Some of the major ones will be paid for, others will be free, and some will have a freemium model where you can pay extra to be featured prominently. Generally, ranking higher within a business listing will not generate greater SEO value.
How do I find my current local citations?
The first job before we build any new citations is to find those we currently have. Incorrect, incomplete or simply inconsistent citations can confuse Google & Bing, so any that are incorrect need to be edited or removed.
We can find our citations in several different ways. The easiest ways are to search manually or to use a tool (or two).
Searching manually is less work that it might seem. The local SEO experts at Bowler Hat have an excellent step-by-step guide.
If you want to use a tool you have a couple of choices. Moz Local has a search tool that makes it easy to find what you have, and is free. There are also options from Whitespark and BrightLocal that are free to try, but you’ll need to pay for full data access (payment also unlocks other local SEO tools).
Where should I get local citations?
While every industry is different, and therefore has different sources of the greatest authority, there are a number of standard sources you should consider. There is no magic number of citations you need.
Hopefully, you’ll have the most important citation, Google My Business, so you’re already on your way!
This list is by no means exhaustive, but should act as a starting point. Remember, always be 100% consistent with your NAP, and if anything changes, you’ll need to edit every citation. We recommend keeping a tight record of all your citations using something like a spreadsheet.
- cityvisitor.co.uk ( Yahoo )
- mapsconnect.apple.com (Apple Maps)
Remember, there are many other citations sources available, and the ones most relevant to your industry are those you should prioritise. For more ideas, we recommend Whitespark’s tremendous guide to the most important citation sources by industry (the page defaults to the US, so select the UK tab and your industry from the dropdown list), Moz’s details of the UK local search ecosystem and this guide to citations by SEO Mark.
You can also use tools such as Yext or Whitespark to build citations (among other local tasks they help with).
Where would your site expect to be seen by the search engines? For example, a dentist would have different citations to a restaurant. Be sure to look for local directories as well. What are the important local listings that are used in your area?
And don’t forget social media profiles! These are brand citations that are more customisable, and have the added benefit of potentially generating traffic. Don’t create a profile where you have no audience or capacity to take part, try to create an active, community-driven profile, which could become a resource.
Great platforms to consider would be Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and even SnapChat.
Over 91% of consumers actively read online business reviews according to BrightLocal’s study in 2016. Your online reputation matters.
Adding to this, Google are placing more emphasis on the importance of reviews. They now use reviews from third-party sites in the more detailed information section (known as a knowledge box) within the search results. Getting review stars can make you stand out from the crowd, and many local SEO experts believe review signals (such as quantity and diversity) are a ranking factor in local results.
Of course, the best way to get better reviews is to provide a superb experience for your customers. Assuming you’re already working on that, here are some ways to get the most of your online reviews.
Reviews on your site
If you are lucky enough to have a mechanic for users to leave a review on your website, then this can be a powerful way to feed review data to Google. You can also work with tools such as Feefo and Trustpilot.
Marking up reviews on your website with Schema is a great way to send details of your reviews to the search engines. However, there are rules about this – you are not allowed to use Schema on reviews taken from third-party sites for example.
Google My Business reviews
If you get ten or more reviews in the past calendar year on your Google My Business listing, you may get the star rating on your listing in local results. This will show you both to be a credible supplier, and also make your listing stand out on the page.
Google have some advice on how to get reviews on your listing. One of the key takeaways is to reply to your reviews on Google My Business – this makes you look engaged with your clientele, as well as encouraging others to review your business as they know it will be read. When it comes to reviews on Google, they have strict guidelines on what is and is not allowed.
Getting more reviews
Having reviews on your own site, and marking them up appropriately with Schema, and encouraging and managing your reviews on Google My Business should be your first priority.
To get more reviews, you need a strategy, and to make leaving them as easy as possible:
- An excellent starting point is asking your existing customer base if they’d like to leave a review (sometimes an incentive can work wonders).
- Set up processes of encouraging new customers to leave a review either on your site or on the platform of your choice. This could be on a thank you page or in a confirmation email for example.
- If you worry that the process may be too difficult, give your customers a helping hand. Consider creating a page on your website that gives clear, step-by-step instructions on how to leave a review.
- You could have a prominent link to your reviews on your site, using a headline like ‘check out our online reviews’.
- Give people a reason to want to review your site – excellent customer service or value, delivering above and the beyond the competition or helping your customers achieve their goals.
- There are also guides on encouraging more reviews that you should read for inspiration.
- And remember, you will get some negative reviews! Just have a plan in place on how to handle them.
In general SEO, earning promotion for your site, in particular mentions of your brand and links on external sites, is one of THE most important factors. And local SEO is no different.
If two sites are equal in other factors, then the one that has the most impressive link profile will usually rank more strongly. Note that this doesn’t just mean quantity – the quality and relevancy of your links are just as important as sheer numbers, and often more so.
For a local SEO campaign, it is vital to have a plan to promote your site, even a few links can make a big difference.
What type of links do I need?
- Industry-specific links: To help show that you are a trusted resource on the topic, links from other sites within your industry are fantastic. This could be from trade associations, industry news sites, suppliers & customers or anyone else connected with your industry.
- Location-specific links: For showing your relevance to the local area, links from other sites based in that locality are key. Often this can mean targeting small, local websites that wouldn’t be a target for general link-building campaigns. Local organisations and businesses might not have the strongest websites in the world, but they can help establish your presence in the community.
- Authority links: And finally, we have links from large, authoritative websites. These are big trusted websites, and might seem out of reach. However, as a smaller business, you can do the kind of genuine PR work that can catch their attention.
Local SEO link building ideas
There are many, many different ways to earn links for a local website. Sources might include local press, chambers of commerce, local bloggers, charities and more. Here are some of our favourite ideas to get started with, and some in-depth articles for more tactics:
- The Ultimate List of Local Link Building Ideas by Nifty Marketing
- 10 Local Link Building Tips by Greg Gifford
- Citations: We covered these earlier, and many citations do give an option to include a link to your website. Look for local directories as well – these might not all be fantastic NAP listings, but should still be gettable local links
- Sponsor local meetups: Search for local meetups in your area, and look for a way to work with them. Perhaps you could offer them a venue or sponsor the bar? Search on Meetup or Eventbrite for events in your neighbourhood
- Set up your own local meetup or community event
- Sign up for press request services, such as Help a Reporter Out and ResponseSource to get quoted in local or industry publications
- Give a discount to local organisations: Offer a discount for your services in exchange for a mention on their website. You could also do this for specific demographics which have an online home such as the local university
- Enter, or sponsor local awards: Just about every area has local business awards. Find those close to you and see what you can enter (have a look to see if the previous year’s nominees were linked to from the award website), or see if there is a sponsorship opportunity
- Sponsor a local sports team
- Create a local resource: Build something for your site that serves the local community, such as a map, guide, gallery or even an eBook. Could you make the go-to guide to events in your neighbourhood?
- Join local associations or attend networking events: You never know who you might meet, but in particular look for ways to work online with new partners. If you join the local round table or business group, you might get listed on the site, as well as generate new business
- Social accounts: Just as with your citations, building a presence on social networks can help your local SEO through creating profile links
- See who links to your competitors
- Don’t be tempted by shortcuts: Any offers to buy 100 links for $99 sound too good to be true, and that is just what they are. Google will come down hard on your site if they see spammy links
Just like building a local business, building local links means getting out from behind your keyboard and into the local community. Offer something of value, be helpful and make the most of the local connections you have.