Whether you run your own brick and mortar business, in the process of doing an audit for a client or are thinking about starting your own local business soon, my local SEO checklist guide will put your startup on the right path.
This article will was created to act as a checklist for local businesses who are struggling to gain an online presence.
Local SEO and Normal SEO – What’s the difference?
There is a huge difference between local SEO and SEO.
As the name obviously gives away, local SEO focuses on ranking your business higher when people within your state or city search for keywords relating to your industry. Google has the location of everyone who uses their search engines, when we search for “Italian restaurants” it will list restaurants local to where we live rather than random Italian restaurants all over the world.
Don’t believe me? Well try it out for yourself.
On top of that, implementing the correct local SEO tactics can help you rank on the first page of Google for absolutely nothing with less effort than regular SEO. You may have come across hundreds of new digital agencies that offer local businesses SEO services, the industry is a goldmine currently and once you understand how it works you can start your very own digital agency.
Local SEO is easier to rank than traditional SEO
Let me prove it to you.
I typed “gyms” into Google and here is what they returned:
All these are local gyms in my area with very little online presence yet have managed to rank on the first page of Google. Some don’t even have active blogs or social media accounts. How they achieved this we will get to later. Sadly none of them have enough reviews to have stars located under their business like this:
This is because they have very little clue about local SEO. If even one of the gyms in the first image had an overall of 4.7+ star review or more, their conversions would sky rocket. Business owners have no clue about local SEO and the competition is very weak, within a few weeks you can rank your business for several keywords locally if you read this guide.
Local SEO focuses on using the best practices to rank well in local searches. Since local businesses focus on local clientele, Google has adjusted their search engine to make things easier their users.
Gather your data correctly
One of the fundamentals of local SEO is to make sure your data is accurate across all online platforms. Be this your website, Google Plus account or Yelp page. For example, if your telephone number on either site is different or your location has the wrong zip code it will greatly affect your local SEO rankings.
You should write down the following information into a spreadsheet and refer to it every time you setup any sort of account for your business or client:
- Business name
- Address 1
- Address 2
- Zip code
- Website URL
- Local phone number
- Fax number
- Email address
Google states that you must represent your business online as you do offline. Meaning whatever business details you use offline you must also them online. Don’t change your online name to stuff in keywords or to spam, it should be your ‘real world name’.
Your location should be a street location with a number, do not use PO boxes or mailboxes – this is not allowed by Google and will effect your local SEO rankings negatively. This needs to be accurate because when your business is placed on Google Maps customers won’t get directed somewhere else.
Stick to local telephone numbers that will immediately connect potential customers to your business. This number will be shown on Google searches when people type your industries key phrases into Google. Using an 800, mobile or a number that has no local relevance will negatively effect your local SEO efforts.
List only one website URL, link the website where you want users to be redirected to – this is usually your homepage. If you want to redirect them a landing page make sure the URL reads like www.Buildpath.co/Chicago.
Here is Google’s guidelines to helping you fill in your account information. Be honest, don’t spam keywords and don’t fill it in using incorrect data. We are looking for consistency and local triggers such as phone numbers and addresses.
Create a Google Plus Business account
After writing down all your business information the next step is to create a free Google Plus account. This can be done by visiting Google Plus Pages. Setting up a page is easy to do and you’re pretty much walked through the whole process.
You will first be asked to enter in your contact details:
Go off the spreadsheet you created earlier and ensure you make no mistakes.
Google will then ask you to “Introduce your page” which is a section for you to write about your business. This needs to written with thought, not something you quickly write in two minutes for the sake of it. The first 50 characters of your introduction will be seen on Google, so you need to start it off with something killer that entices people to click.
An introduction should be at the very least 300 words but the more the better. Aim for around 500-600 without waffling.
Pro-tip: don’t copy and paste your about us section from your website, this will negatively effect your efforts. But be sure to include a few backlinks to your site using appropriate anchor text but don’t over do it.
Pro-tip #2: if you’re creating a new page for a client make sure they don’t have other Google Plus accounts or listings. This can negatively affect their local SEO rankings.
If they have moved location than you simply close the last account and create a new one. If there are duplicate listing then you must delete one. To find out if they have duplicate listing search for them here.
Here’s an example of a change of address, if you don’t list your old account as permanently closed customers will keep going there.
Cover Photo And Tag Lines
You also need to add a picture and tag line, upload an appropriate cover photo and your business motto can be your tag line. You will then be asked to fill in some other stuff that doesn’t really need me explaining too much. Keep filling in everything until your profile is 100% complete. You will know when you have filled everything because Google has a toolbar on your page showing how complete your account is:
Select Your Category
Google gives businesses the option to select which category they would like to be listed in. There are two ways to list your business, the first one is to simply find the category your business fits and be done with it. The other way is to do a quick Google analysis to see which categories get the most searches.
For example, car wash and car valet are more or less the same service. Here are the results for these two terms in the UK:
As you can see car wash gets almost double the views as car valet services. Yet when I type the both keywords into Google, several businesses have tagged themselves in the car valet category instead of car wash:
Here is what returns for car wash:
This is how little local businesses know about SEO. By simply changing their category tag on their Google Plus account could generate them hundreds of new clients each month without the competition.
Google Local carousel is a new black search bar that gets shown at the top of searches for specific industries. Upload a high quality picture that best represents your services. Make it attractive, colorful and even pay for a professional to take a few snaps if you don’t have anything yourself.
If your local business is a restaurant or bar, the more appealing your food or bar looks the more likely it will get clicks. The picture in this case is essentially a call-to-action.
That’s pretty much it for now with your Google Plus account. Everything is optimized and once your account gets a few local reviews (you need 5 minimum), your account will be placed firmly on the first page of Google.
Website And Landing Pages
After Google’s Pigeon update the need for a fully optimized website for local businesses has never been as valuable. Organic links now have a greater impact and if you apply all the tips I am about to mention you can rank your site above your competitors pretty quickly without spending a cent.
Get Your Name, Address And Phone Number (NAP) Correct
Having the correct NAP is critical to ranking well locally with SEO. There’s a good chance you’re using WordPress to host your site, if so place your NAP address in the footer section and it will reappear on every single page of your site.
If your NAP is a screenshot picture, you need to remove it and write it again in plain text so Google can crawl it. NAP pictures may look prettier but they don’t do much to enhance local SEO.
Formation Of Site Links
Most local businesses have no idea about site optimization and have their website all over the shop. If your local business operates in a particular area or areas, your page or pages should have the name of the city, streets or even local things nearby in the content. The best local landing pages are the ones that mention their physical location.
For example, if you’re a plumber who works in Manhattan and Queens, on each landing page you should mention the state, city and area.
Chances are you or your client is not open 24/7 so you will need to list your opening times. Once again I suggest doing this in the footer of your site so it will be viewed on every page. List your opening hours for every single day.
Multiple Location Content
As a freelance writer I get thrown jobs now and again where I basically need to re-write the same piece of content several times for the same service that clients provide in a number of locations. This is so they can rank locally for content.
Problems can arise for businesses who decide to write the content themselves without doing research.
They usually get slapped as a thin content site and receive no traffic. This is because the content is simply re-written to a poor standard with the only goal of ranking locally on Google. A big no-no in Google’s eyes. Your content needs to be unqiue and provide value.
Businesses who have employees in different locations may want to get them to write each article. This will ensure each piece you receive is totally unique and has its own local voice. Other options include hiring an expert content writer or doing it yourself and using a few online tools to make sure the content is 100% organic.
Content should be at least 500 words and focus around being unique and of value. Be sure to add in the location (town, city, state) of where you operate for each piece of content.
Index Your Pages
Website with zero backlinks are not indexed. I knew one business who created a website years ago and never bothered to promote it any way, shape or form. They didn’t know about Google Webmaster Tools, social media or link building.
As a result they never got indexed by Google and nobody ever found their site, this went on for years. To see if your pages are indexed simply copy and paste your URL into Google in quotation marks. Here’s a search for my latest targeted leads article:
It says it does not exist even though it does and can be found here. This is because the article was only posted a few days ago and Google has yet to re-index this site. There are multiple links pointing back to that article so it will only take a few days for Google to pick it up.
Some businesses have no links pointing towards them meaning they never get picked up.
Local SEO Tags
Title tags, headings and meta descriptions all play an important role in ranking your business locally. Creating titles is the trickiest, you need to create something that is engaging yet has your business name and address in it as well (ideally).
Your meta data is the small piece of text shown under your title on Google.
Here’s a good example:
The meta data is compelling, contains keywords (steakhouse) and has the state and city located.
Benjamin Steakhouse have probably hired some shoddy SEO agency to take over their online presence and it clearly shows. It seems like they have literally copy and pasted several keywords directly from Google AdWords and placed it within their meta description.
This is bad practice, gets fewer clicks and will be penalized by Google.
Moz’s local search ranking factors states H1 and H2 tags are the 10th most important thing for ranking well locally (1st is your business name and address in the title page). At the very minimum you should have at least one H1 tag in your content with your business’s name and city.
Pro-tip: Some WordPress themes automatically format the title of your page into H1, if that’s the case with your site then aim to include it in H2 or H3 etc. To find out whether your title is considered to be a H1, on Firefox you can right click on a webpage and click “View Page Source”. Then to a control+F the word “H1” and see if the title is listed as H1.
Finally you need to apply the tagging process with your picture ALT tags. Instead of placing your keywords as I suggested in my SEO guide you would want to enter in your business name and city.
Embedded Google Map
You will have already added your business to Google Maps after creating your Google Plus account. Simply search for your business on Google Maps and embed the code on your site in HTML. Ideally in the footer or contact us page.
hReviews is something new I found recently. I came across them a few months ago and I was shocked that businesses weren’t using them. They allow your customers to review your site and the overall score is shown when people search on Google.
This is very different to Google reviews.
hReviews are formatted in a specific code that Google can read and display on searches. Here’s an example of hReviews in action:
Even if you can’t afford a highly skilled copywriter to create your content, if your business has 5 stars below its name, people are always going to click on it. To create your own hReviews visit Micro Data Generator. For more information on hReviews check out MatthewWoodward’s site.
Increase Your Website Load Times
How fast your website loads will determine how you rank against others locally. Sites that take longer will be allocated less crawl time resulting in fewer pages becoming indexed.
URLvalet has some cool metrics such as how long it takes for your website to load on different Internet connections:
The times shown above are slightly too high and need to be further optimized. If your times are hitting the 7+ second market for connections of 1.5MB you have problems.
Some local businesses don’t have the budget to fully optimize their site to run at insane speeds which is fair enough. But at the very least you want your site to be faster than your local competitors. After all these are the people you’re competing to rank against.
WhichLoadsFaster allows you to place two websites head to head and it provides details on which site is faster in what areas. If you find your website slacking in certain areas against your competitors, then make the changes to boost your local SEO rankings.
Is Your Content Mobile Friendly?
On April 21st 2015, Google has stated that websites which are not mobile optimized or responsive are going to see a big drop in traffic. This applies for local businesses also.
With over 60% of people now accessing the Internet via their mobiles, get your local website optimized or be prepared for a big drop in traffic.
Please Don’t Over Optimize
A common mistake performed by business owners and newbie digital agencies is to over optimize their site. Benjamin Steakhouse is a perfect example of over optimizing which is also known as keyword stuffing. You may have come across content in the past that used these methods, for example “Welcome to my umbrella website, we sell new windproof umbrellas and we have special windproof umbrellas”.
Here’s what Google has to say on these types of practices.
I focused quite heavily on kitting on your Google Plus account correctly, and for good reason. Google is the world’s biggest search engine and used by pretty much everyone. It’s Google’s world and businesses must play by Google’s rules to rank better online.
Local businesses don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on targeting keywords if they can correctly kit out their website and Google Plus account.
Local SEO is a lot easier than traditional SEO because local businesses have no idea what to do making competition almost none-existent. It will not be hard for you to rank your new startup locally as 95% of businesses in your area will not know about the methods listed in this article.