The must-have local SEO checklist

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How to start dominating local search results

As a local business operating in a specific geographic area, you need to turn up in local search results. By getting your company in front of customers who are nearby and actively searching for the thing you do, you increase your chance of making sales. But if you’re scratching your head wondering how you can start showing up in local search, you’re in the right place.  

In this article, you get five steps for local SEO success. They’re so simple you can complete most of them today so your business has more chances of turning up in that tasty ‘Map Pack’ area, sooner.

Using my SEO local checklist, I’ll take you through the key points to boost your business for local search. But first, here’s a quick definition of what local SEO is, how it works, and the myths around it. 

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your website for people in the area searching for a business like yours. Local search phrases often look like this:

Keyword + Location. 

When Google identifies a business that matches the person’s search request, it returns that company as a result. 

Skip ahead to the checklist.

The location could be a state, city, zip, or even the phrase near me.
Sometimes you don’t even need to put a location in. Google just knows. (Scary!) Take this search for ‘brewery’ as an example. Google understands I’m looking for a brewery near me.

Local search results when using using a desktop.
Local search results when using using a desktop.
Local search results when using mobile search.
Local search results when using mobile search.

How local SEO works

Proximity is the most important factor for local SEO. Proximity is determined by the location of the person searching and how close they are to businesses that meet their needs. But proximity isn’t the only factor in local search. Relevance and prominence also play a role. 

What are ‘relevance and prominence’?

Relevance is determined by the copy used on your website and a complete Google My Business (GMB) profile listing. Keywords used on your site and in your GMB listing help Google identify your business as ‘relevant’ for certain searches. 

The next factor, prominence, is defined by Google as:

Information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles, and directories. Google reviews count and review scores factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.

My search for a local brewery using both desktop and mobile shows proximity, relevance, and prominence in action. It also busts the myth that proximity is the only ranking factor. If it were, the search results on both devices would look the same because my location hasn’t changed. What we actually see are different lists of breweries on mobile versus desktop. Why is this? 

The main reason is the information search uses to decide your location, what’s nearby, and therefore what to return as a local listing result. Desktop search results use zip code data. Mobile devices use a more specific, pinpoint location, assuming you’re logged into a Google account. Beyond this, we can assume that mobile optimization, keyword density, and site authority (all of the SEO best practices Google mentions) are in play. 

Your business can outrank competitors that are closer 

Google puts a lot of effort into finding sites that give people quality, relevant, helpful information. If your site and GMB is packed with sensible, optimized content, your listing may rank higher than your competitor who is closer but has lower-quality content. That local search ranks this way is especially important for businesses without a physical address. 

Every type of business can target local SEO

It’s a myth that a business must have a physical location to rank in Google Maps. While local search is most commonly used by businesses with physical locations, it can also work for businesses without a physical address. And it’s worth doing. Optimizing for local search is a great way to cash in on easy-to-win organic traffic. All you need to do is make sure you satisfy Google’s local search criteria.

Important note: You can track your local SEO efforts with special tagging. Read more here.

The five-point local SEO checklist

Now you know a little more about what local SEO is, how it works, and its usefulness for businesses with physical and non-physical addresses, let’s dive into how to do it. To start improving your rankings in organic local search there are five key points you must follow. 

Point 1: Embed a Google Map on your site’s contact page

I recently asked my fellow SEOs for their thoughts on the importance of embedding a Google Map on your site. I liked what  Paul Andre, Host & Producer of the SEO Video Show, had to say on the matter.

Embedding the map [is a] signal [to] Google [that the site fulfills]  the ‘trust’ portion of E-A-T.” E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Google looks at these factors when determining the quality of a page. Andre goes on to say,An embedded [ map ] also counts as a backlink to the map and is embedded through an iFrame. [This] powers up the Google Map [and] can help you rank higher in Google’s “Map Pack” results.

How to embed a Google map on your site

From your desktop browser:

  1. Go to Google Maps.
  2. Search for your business.
  3. Click the Share button.
  4. Click Embed a map.
  5. Click COPY HTML.
  6. Past that HTML in your contact page.

Point 2: Optimize your GMB listing

The more accurate and complete your GMB listing, the bigger advantage you have. There are seven GMB optimization must-dos:

  1. Enter your business address
  2. Add photos
  3. Write a business description
  4. Add tracking codes to monitor traffic
  5. Promote products
  6. Ask for reviews
  7. Post regularly

Read more about these optimization tips here.

Google sees keywords in reviews, posts and on your website.
Google sees keywords in reviews, posts and on your website.

Point 3: Encourage reviews

Even though this is listed as part of the seven key ways to optimize your GMB listing, I’m calling it out again. Reviews are important. Not just for winning over prospective customers but to win over Google, too. Reviews are “read” by Google. The location of the people who leave the reviews is used as a relevance factor and show up in the map listings.

Get started with a handy free testimonial request template from my copywriter, Rose Crompton.

Point 4: Consistent NAP citations/directories

NAP stands for name, address, phone number. The more places that cite this information, the more visible your business is to Google. Obvious places to get this information seen is on directory listing sites.

Since Google considers many of these citation sites as quality, trustworthy websites, they provide useful sources of links for local businesses to either get started with, or put them on an even playing field with local competitors.

BrightLocal, Local Search Dashboard Tool

You have two options for managing your NAP citations. Manually finding every mention of your business out on the interwebs or with a tool.

The manual option is quite overwhelming. Some directories have easy to use business information update tools and some require phone calls.

The tool option is much simpler and generally requires a paid subscription either to a NAP citation specific website or inside of your existing SEO tool.

My favorite is using Bright Local. While it’s a great local search monitoring tool, the NAP citation manager is super easy to use and allows you to make notes on progress. It shows you where you’re listed, where you’re not and even if a citation has incorrect information.

Other tools include:

Point 5: Use location-based keywords

Create content that will interest a local audience. For example, a list of things to do in the local area or your favorite locally-run shops. If your business has multiple locations, create a specific page for each location. Other local content ideas include:

  • employee bio pages
  • guides to the best of something (like hikes or landmarks)
  • local upcoming events
  • giving back to your community
  • answering local questions (such as, ‘Do any celebrities live in Las Vegas?).

Hopefully, this has given you some great ideas and practical tips for ramping up your local SEO. If you’ve got more questions, feel free to reach me here. I’m happy to help.

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