Local SEO is a game-changer for small businesses. Get this element of your digital marketing strategy right, and you might just put your pipeline on autopilot. But what is Local SEO, and how does it work?
Good questions. We have answers.
We designed this complete guide to local SEO to explain everything you need to know about ranking for local search queries and reaching your local customers.
It’s a fresh, up-to-date resource for 2023 that’s filled with local SEO tips, ranking factors, and strategies for optimizing your local search pages.
Whether you’re a local business owner, marketer, or aspiring entrepreneur—this guide is for you.
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Local search engine optimization (or local SEO) is the process of optimizing your website and Google business profile pages so that local shoppers can find your business.
You might sell dental services, climbing shoes, marketing services, or groceries—it doesn’t matter. Local customers can’t find your business unless you optimize it for local search results and local ranking.
And beyond meeting those queries, there’s the competition side of the local SEO spectrum.
You’re not the only one trying to get local potential customers to your store. Other dentists, spas, and restaurants want that traffic, too, and that’s where local SEO isn’t just about nailing the fundamentals—it’s about doing it better than everyone else.
Your local SEO success will depend on how well you optimize your content and build your pages. Organic results won’t come overnight—it’s a process. And that’s where many small businesses fall short.
I’ll repeat: you won’t see results from your local SEO tactics right from the get-go. It takes days, weeks, and sometimes months for you to see the fruits of your labors, but the fruit is oh-so-sweet if you’re willing to wait for it to ripen. And first—you need to plant the local SEO tree.
Local SEO vs. SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on optimizing your website and pages to rank for broader traffic, while local SEO narrows the optimization funnel to local traffic.
For example, if you sell bikes locally, you wouldn’t want your bike shop to be showing up to a national or global audience. And the opposite is true—if you sold bikes internationally, you wouldn’t want to just show up in small-town search results.
Local SEO is the process of optimizing your pages to show up for local search queries. These queries could be:
- Bike shop near me
- Bike shop in Richmond
- Mountain bikes near me
- Gravel bikes near me
- Bikes for sale
- Bike repair shop
- Repair shop near me
Google’s algorithms are getting smarter, and it doesn’t always need an exact location search or “near me” query to show local results.
For example, open the Google search engine and type “gas station.” Google knows you’re probably not looking for information on gas stations in general—nor are you looking for a specific gas station that might be halfway across the country.
Instead, it assumes you’d like to go fill up at a local gas station, so it shows some local page results, maps, and gas stations with local websites in close proximity to you. The closer, the better—Google knows you don’t want to drive half an hour for the best gas…you just want gas.
Local SEO Explained
Local SEO isn’t some misunderstood magical process. It’s not about luck, fortune, or necessarily even money. And it doesn’t take the special touch of an SEO guru.
Local SEO is an art and science—like other aspects of digital marketing. Once you understand the process and know the fundamentals, you begin to learn how the algorithms work and how to manipulate them (ethically and in the interest of your customers) to rank your website.
That’s easier said than done, especially when you have all the other aspects of your business to take care of. Below, we’ll walk you through how local SEO work and why it’s important.
How Does Local SEO Work?
Search engines decide how local results will be displayed. They essentially determine how local SEO works.
For example, Google is looking at several factors to determine if they should rank your site—and then decide if they should rank it above other local competing sites. Here are a few things they’re looking at:
- Keywords: Does your site mention Alberquerque, New Mexico? That means it’s probably servicing that local area and not Philadelphia.
- Updates: How often do you update your website and Google listings? Google doesn’t want to show outdated information—that’d make customers lose trust in Google.
- Reviews: Google might show your business in local search queries, but it’ll likely push your result to the bottom if you have poor reviews. It wants to offer customers the best option first, and poor customer experiences often correlate with a sub-par establishment.
- Relevance: Google looks closely at what you’re offering to match the exact customer’s local intent. For example, someone interested in bikes might want servicing, bike fitting, or new tires—using these words on your directories will help point understand where to point visitors.
Benefits of Local SEO
Local SEO is a non-negotiable strategy for small businesses. It takes upfront investment, but SEO begins to pay dividends once it’s an autopilot part of your marketing program.
Here are a few reasons local SEO is essential to your business:
Traffic: Drive traffic to your website or local listing to increase awareness and business.
Credibility: Make your business legitimate in customers’ eyes by having a business they can find with verifying information, reviews, and contact information.
Local Presence: Show up in local searches, even if someone isn’t necessarily looking for your business (yet).
Return on Investment (ROI): Begin driving traffic to your business without paying for pay-per-click (PPC) ads, social media marketing, or influencer marketing.
9 Local SEO Best Practices and Strategies
SEO experts know how to navigate local SEO tips and best practices like the back of their hands, but it can be a bit tricky when you’re brand-new to the space.
Many of the best practices for local SEO also apply to general SEO strategies. Still, below, we’ll focus on the must-know SEO tactics you need as a local business owner.
Do Local Keyword Research
Focus your keyword research on locally relevant terms. If you only offer products and services to a town or county, don’t waste your time and resources competing for national or state-specific terms.
Keep things niche and hyper-focused on your target local audience. For starters, target keywords relevant to your business and its location. A great free tool for doing local keyword research is AnswerThePublic. It’ll show you a wide range of search phrases your customers use relevant to your target keyword.
For example, let’s look at “Seattle restaurants.” AnswerThePublic then uses autocomplete data from search engines to provide you with common phrases and questions people use when searching for that key phrase. In this case, that might be:
What are the best Seattle restaurants?
What restaurants are Seattle known for?
Seattle restaurants with a view
Where to eat in Seattle?
Seattle restaurants with live music
Seattle restaurant birthday specials
Your business can then tailor its pages (and offerings) to accommodate those searches.
Use Local SEO Tools
Local SEO tools help you find the right keywords for your target audience. Small businesses on a budget might not be able to afford powerful (yet costly) tools like Ahrefs or Semrush, but plenty of low-cost alternatives can get you started.
Here are some of the best free local SEO tools:
Need help navigating the new Google Search Console? We’ve got you covered. Check out What You Need to Know About The New Google Search Console.
Build a Comprehensive Local SEO Strategy
Local SEO isn’t something you can necessarily dabble in now and then—you need an end-to-end strategy with the big picture in mind. Your local SEO strategy will include a few elements:
- Ongoing keyword research
- Content creation
- Analytics and monitoring
- Feedback and responses
- Changes and updates
Take stand-up paddleboarding, for example. As the sport (or leisure activity) emerged, consumers searched for “stand-up paddleboards” and its acronym “SUP” fairly similarly. However, you can see how that trend changed as time passed.
If you were a business selling stand-up paddleboards, you’d want to transition the language on your website, Google My Business profile and business directories to include SUPs. But, without ongoing analytics and monitoring, you wouldn’t have that key insight for your business.
Take Advantage of Google My Busines
Publish your business listing on Google My Business to start appearing for local searches. Google’s free platform lets you promote your business and increase visibility within local organic search results and Google Maps searches using location, proximity, relevancy, and online reviews.
When you claim your business profile, Google My Business will have you complete the verification process before you can fill out your GMB page. Once you have access to your GMB page, you can add relevant information (and local keywords), locations, business category, images, virtual tours, business hours, address and phone number, and contact information to improve your customers’ experience.
Need help getting your Google My Business page set up and optimized? Follow our Ultimate Google My Business Optimization Checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything.
Generate Inbound Links
Inbound links show credibility and legitimacy to your business—Google likes to see high-quality backlinks, and they’ll rank your business higher when you have more.
Look to gain links from local sites in your community. You might partner with complementary stores or get your business listed on your city’s resources page.
For example, a climbing gym in Longmont, Colorado, partners with a local brewery, shoe running store, and supplement store. They link to each other across their websites and even provide discounts for referred customers.
Perform On-Page Optimization
Optimize your website and Google My Business page to include your relevant keywords. If you have multiple stores, you might consider adding local pages for each of them to your website.
Do an audit to ensure all your pages have the elements they need to rank competitively. That means including your keywords in the following:
- Meta Title
- Meta Description
- Alt Text
Get Help With Local SEO Marketing
Local SEO marketing can be a handful, especially when you have so many other elements of your business to run. If you’re feeling worn thin, don’t hesitate to hire an SEO agency to help with your local marketing.
These businesses know local SEO—it’s their profession. You focus on your business (because it’s what you do best) and let the SEO professionals do their thing to get your business ranking.
Need help getting started? Book a chat with our team to learn how we can grow your business’s local presence.
Optimize for the Map Pack
The Google Map Pack (or Google Local Map Pack) showcases the top-ranking local businesses for your customer’s search query. It shows your business name, location, review rating, category, pricing, and a short meta description of your services.
These local listings usually appear in a Local 3 Pack (and sometimes more). There’s no sure-fire strategy to rank in the Map Pack—instead, you need to follow all the best practices listed here and regularly optimize your listings.
For starters, ask for reviews. Email your customers to review your business, and ask satisfied in-store shoppers to leave a review. You might incentivize them to do so with a discount, and you could even add a scannable QR code at checkout to streamline the process.
Regularly Update Your Business Information
Keep your business information up to date. This is just a good practice, in general, for improving the customer experience, but it can also boost your local rankings.
If customers visit your store after hours and are disappointed, they might leave a negative review of your business, which can hurt your ranking. You also want to set up accurate expectations. If you don’t sell vegetarian or vegan items on your menu, include that from the get-go so you don’t put off your visitors.
Work With Local SEO Experts At BCC Interactive
You now know what is local SEO and how local SEO works—but that’s not exactly the same as building and implementing a successful local SEO strategy.
Fortunately, that’s where we can help.
Local business marketing is our bread and butter—we know how to improve your local search presence and help potential customers find your business with an online search.
Our Local services include:
- Technical SEO audit
- Perform local keyword research
- Learn about your target audience and their digital behaviors
- Optimize local listings and search results
- Improve your local search visibility with Google My Business updates
- Do local link-building and acquisition
- Deliver a complete local search engine optimization strategy
Ready to see your local search performance take off? Partner with us, and we’ll work to make your local business a top-ranking competitor in your local area.