This is the ultimate guide to local SEO in 2018.
If you DON’T want to hire a company for local SEO services, but you DO want to learn tips and strategies to dominate your local market in 2018 – this post is for you.
What is Local SEO?
Local Search Engine Optimization is the technique of increasing search engine visibility online for businesses that have a physical location.
Local SEO differs from traditional SEO in its focus. Emphasis is placed more on directories and Google My Business, than on content and backlinks.
Optimizing Your Website For Search Engines
As of March 26, 2018, Google has officially rolled out their mobile first indexing. This means that as far as Google is concerned your mobile site is your only site.
If you want to have a chance at competing online in 2018 and beyond, then you need to make sure that your website mobile friendly.
What is Keyword Research?
The goal of search engines is to deliver the best and most relevant results to searchers. Keyword research allows you to discover what your potential clients are searching for so that you can optimize your website and services for your clients.
Here is an example. After I did a Google search for “Structural Engineer in Nashville”:
The issue with this result is that “structural Engineer isn’t anywhere in the title. So, even if someone sees this result, they may not click on it because it doesn’t seem like what they are looking for.
This result has the ultimate Local SEO “no-no.” Never have your homepage description as “home.” It provides no information to the consumer about what your company does other than the name, which is a recipe for getting your website overlooked.
How to research keywords
There are a couple different ways to go about doing keyword research. You can go to Google’s Keyword Planner and enter your services or keywords to get some ideas about how many people are searching for those keywords.
We plugged in our three main keywords: Marketing Agency, SEO, and Web Design. These are my results:
What we found was surprising. In our area, the search term SEO has a much higher overall search volume than the search term marketing agency. Because of this, we shifted the focus of both our content and our services to provide the best possible version of our business to our clients.
Meta Title and Description
Now that we’ve got our keywords, it’s time to start putting them to work. There are two places that you need to be sure your keywords appear – your copy and your metadata.
For now, we’re going to focus on your metadata – namely your Meta Title and Meta Description.
Your meta title basically serves as the headline of your search results. The style guidelines for your Meta Title are to keep it between 50-70 characters and make sure to use your most relevant keywords. Check out the image below to see how we formatted the Title and Description for this piece of content.
For your meta description, you have a little more wiggle room. You get between 135-230 characters which allows you to do a little bit of keyword optimizing while also selling potential visitors on the quality of your content.
Quick Tip: Metadata inspiration
If you can’t seem to figure out what to write for your metadata, Google your keywords and look at the ads that show up. These ads are usually written by professionals that have done a lot of research on this topic, so you can take a lot of inspiration for what keywords to use and how you should format your metadata.
Let’s say you own a plumbing company and you want to change your title and description on your sink repair page. Let’s try Google:
This ad is great. It has prominent keyword placement in the title, emphasizes the companies experience to the consumer, clearly lays out their most relevant and searched services, and also includes some fantastic structured data (the phone number and links) which we’ll cover here in just a little bit.
What is internal linking?
Internal linking refers to the hyperlinks in your web pages that take you to another page on your website.
Now, this goes a bit further than just navigation and sidebars. Internal linking can be an excellent way to link together to related pages like when aspects of your services may overlap or suggest another piece of content to someone who may be interested in reading more on a particular topic. In either case, internal linking is a great way to keep people on your website and not clicking to go back to google.
Like internal links, images can help keep people on your website by breaking up walls of text and introducing pleasing aesthetic aspects to the design of your site. But, they can do even more than that. By using SEO best practices for your images file names and alt text you can get another quick boost to your site ranking.
You can optimize your image by making the filename of your images descriptive and clear. The LAST thing you want to name your file is something like DSC19823(3).jpg. Make sure to use your keywords if you can and [My-business-exterior].jpg.
Alt text refers to an attribute of the HTML <img /> tag. The alt text is important for two reasons.
It’s used by screen readers to give the visually impaired a description of the image. and Google’s site crawlers read it to know what the image is.
If an image on your website doesn’t have an alt attribute, then Google will ignore the picture. Make sure your alt text is accurate and if you can add a keyword without adding any confusion, by all means, do so.
What is Schema Markup/Structured Data
Schema markup is a type code that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users.
You may have seen structured snippets before without knowing it:
Luckily, the folks at Google have made this pretty easy. You can use the Structured Data Markup Helper to auto-generate the code needed to make your website Schema Markup compliant.
Once you create your HTML code, simple add it to the <head></head> section of your site.
Fix Errors On Your Site
Over the years it is effortless to lose track of broken links or redirects that no longer work on your site.
Instead of going through your entire site looking for errors- just use our simple website audit tool.
Having a healthy website doesn’t necessarily give you higher rankings. However, an unhealthy web page CAN negatively affect your rankings.
So make sure to take some time to fix errors that could live on your site.
When you’re working in SEO sometimes your best resources come from the source. We’re of course talking about Google. We’ve listed some of the great tools Google provides that you can use to really boost your traffic.
Google Search Console is a free web service by Google that allows you to check indexing status and optimize visibility of your website.
Basically, its a free tool that allows you to tell Google what pages you want to show up and also gives you data on what pages are showing up, what position they are averaging, and what people are searching to find you.
Create a search console account and upload your sitemap (hint: if you don’t know your sitemap try yoursite.com/sitemap.xml that usually works).
Now you’ve just told Google “hey put this in your search results.” It’s that easy. You can also re-index pages that you’ve changed to your site.
The final tip for your website is to remember to put a Google map somewhere on your site. Most people opt to put it on the contact page. This is great for local SEO, and Google likes it.
Google My Business
In the words of Google “Google My Business is a free and easy-to-use tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps.”
Why Is Google My Business Important?
When I Google “restaurants in Minneapolis” here are my results:
Before any ads or organic results, I am given this result from Google Maps. This is called the Map Pack or the Snack Pack.
Having your business listed on Google MyBusiness not only allows customers to give reviews, visit your site, and get directions- But is a handy tool to show up in the Google search results.
Before we get into ranking in the Map Pack, let’s talk about claiming your business.
Creating or Claiming Your Google My Business
You’ll be surprised to learn that 56% of small businesses don’t have an account. So by just following along and getting yours set up, we’ll be ahead of the curve in local SEO.
Optimizing Your Google My Business Listing
Now that you’re all set up with a shiny new My Business profile, it’s time for the fun part, let’s get it optimized, so it starts to show up higher in the ranks.
First off, we’ll use the additional categories to our advantage and be sure to add all that apply to our business. Check back category options because they are updated regularly, and new opportunities may become available to your business
Add your regular business hours. Also, make sure to use the Special Hours feature that you can prep in advance for holiday hours or abnormal business hours that might come up.
If you don’t run regular hours at your location, or if someone can’t come to visit at a specific set time you will need to leave the hour’s section blank.
According to Google My Business, businesses with photos get 40% more requests for directions, “photos are a conversion factor but not a ranking factor.”
40% is a massive difference, so we suggest adding photos of whatever you can (as long as it’s relevant to your business) Start with your logo, storefront, and products, then move on to your employees to show the personal side of your business.
Standing out from the local competition is often a lot easier than people think; you simply have to take advantage of the features that are available that others aren’t!
One of those features is Google Posts. You have four options to choose from: What’s new, events, offers, and products.
You’re able to have up to 10 posts live at once, and posts stay live for 7 days. By using Google Posts, you can communicate with your audience right on Google’s results page!
Ranking higher is a great step in the right direction but the importance of reviews cannot be understated. Companies with reviews automatically stand out because of the gold stars under their name.
There are some rules that you must know before going about getting new reviews.
- You cannot pay for review or bribe a customer to leave a review.
- If you are using a review platform or any review software to encourage customer feedback, you have to provide all users the option to leave online reviews. No moving the negative/unhappy experiences to a different landing page.
- You cannot review your own business.
- You cannot post a harmful review of a competitor.
But don’t worry! There are some perfectly fine ways to get reviews while still following the laws of Google.
You ARE allowed to request reviews via email.
Credit: Thrive Hive
Here are a few things to keep in mind after you start gaining more and more reviews on Google
- Respond to both positive and negative reviews. Google now notifies you when you get a review, so a timely response is easier than ever.
- Be consistent with your request for reviews.
- Remember that it’s okay to get a low ranking from time to time, nobody’s perfect! People expect to see some negative review, the point of requesting feedback is to showcase the great work that you have done for your customers.
Local directories are important for 2 reasons: They give your business more exposure online, and they give your business another source of backlinks.
The first step to local directories is to see where you currently are listed.
Visit the Moz Local Listing Checker to get free results.
There are 2 ways you can list your business to the main directories:
There are many online softwares that help you list your business and manage your listing. These are a couple of the preferred services:
- Moz Local: $99/yr
- Synup: $360/yr
- Yext: $499/yr
Bright Local has a great comparison that gives you pros and cons of all the local listing services out there (just be advised that they may be a little biased towards their own service)
Local listing services will put you on directories that you could easily add your business to yourself.
Check out this full list of directory sites.
To add your business to other local directories you can perform these searches:
- [target location] reviews
- [industry/niche] [target location] reviews
- [Target city] directory
- [State] directory
To add your business to other local directories you can perform these searches:
- [target location] reviews
- [industry/niche] [target location] reviews
- [Target city] directory
- [State] directory
Bing Places & Apple Maps
Google has a majority of the market share but for the 8% of searchers using Bing, it’s worth taking a few minutes to get listed.
Don’t forget to list on Apple Maps as well. Especially if you are a restaurant, a coffee shop, etc. You will want to list here so your customers can get directions on their iPhones.
Moz has reported that NAP consistency is the 4th and 5th most important factors in ranking a local business in the Map Pack and organic results.
Nap consistency is very simple- it stands for NAME ADDRESS PHONE
When you sign up for different directories, Google wants to know that your business has consistent information. This lets Google know you are a credible business.
Google also relies on social profiles to learn about your business. Make sure that your business has a Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.
Here is a list of the Top 10 Social Sites For Businesses
Google’s top 2 ranking factors for this year are Links and Content. This section will cover these topics in depth (with a local twist) to help you with general SEO strategy.
How do I start creating content for my site?
Because this course is dedicated to the small business owner with relatively little time and resources to commit to marketing, we recommend starting with a blog.
Blogs are like articles that give genuine value to the reader by either answering questions or teaching a skill to solve a problem.
Imagine your car needs a new set of brakes pads but you don’t want to pay a shop to do it. You can simply Google “how to replace brake pads” and look what shows up:
Later on, when someone in your local area wants to have their brakes changed they could look on Google for “car shop in [your city]” and magically, you show on the first page because of your domain authority.
What should I blog about?
When it comes to discovering blog topics, you will get a lot of techniques from a lot of people. There is no definitive way of creating content but I will give you the best way to approach it in my opinion.
The first thing you want to decide when blogging is the topic you would like to blog about. The quickest and easiest way to keywords is Answer The Public.
Answer The Public is a free insight tool that helps you develop content titles by showing search results related to the broad topic you are going to cover.
Using “brake pads” as a general topic again, I plugged that into answer the public and here is what I got:
And presto! Over 100+ content title ideas to research and write about.
Another great step is to simply use Google’s suggested search feature. Simply go to Google.com and type in your general topic:
This will give you a lot of insight into what people are actually searching for so you can provide the best resource.
Remember the Google Keyword tool from earlier? This is another great opportunity to see how competitive a keyword is, while also getting new ideas.
Finally, the best tool in my opinion for assessing competition is the Moz Bar.
The Moz Bar tells you how competitive keywords are, but tells you directly on the web page.
In this example, I search “how much do brake pads cost?” Here are my results:
The (PA) is the Page Authority score and the (DA) is the Domain Authority.
Now, watch what happens when I try typing “cost of new ceramic brake pads”
The results are very similar. BUT the top result has a PA score of only 11 and DA score of 13. Why did this rank higher? Because it is the only result that actually used the word “ceramic.”
As you can see, choosing a long tail keyword like ceramic brake pads vs brake pads would be easier to rank for.
The final word on content
One thing to consider when you are creating content is “Dwell Time” on your site. Dwell Time is the length of time a visitor is spending on a page.
For this reason, an average post should be about 2000-4000 words. It is much better to focus on the quality of the post than the quality.
A great strategy to create these posts without having to do a ton of work on the back end is something called the “skyscraper technique.”
The Skyscraper Technique was developed to help you make the most influential content on your topic- and the process is really simple.
Read the best content on your topic. Combine all that knowledge and create a massive guide that is better than everything out there.
If you want to be number one in the search result for a keyword, you have to definitively say “I have the best piece of content related to this keyword on the web.”
Check out this in-depth case study
In 2017, Moz published a study on Local Search Ranking Factors. Link signals ranked #2 in the local pack and finder ranking. Link signals ranked #1 in localized organic ranking.
Backlinks are links from other sites that point back to yours. This is essentially used by search engines to determine how important your website is.
Let’s look at an example:
Situation A: Your local newspaper ran a very in-depth story on a person in your town and published it on the homepage of their website.
Situation B: NBC news wrote a very brief article on the same story and published it quickly.
Which story gets more attention from search engines? NBC would because they have a more authoritative site and a higher Domain Authority.
How can your business obtain backlinks to your site?
- Comment on other blogs and sites like Quora and Reddit. Answer questions people may have and link them back to your content.
- Find and join relevant facebook groups and share your content there. Make sure to be genuinely helpful and don’t shamelessly promote your business.
- Send your blog posts out to email subscribers if you keep an email list. Make sure you don’t do this too often and send your best content. This is a great way to get subscribers.
- Find other blogs with similar content to your topic and send them a personalized email. They may link you in their blog (especially if you link them in theirs). Here is an example email from Backlinko.com
Hi [First Name],
I was looking for content on [Topic] today when I stumbled on your article: [Article Title].
Good stuff! I especially enjoyed [Something specific from their article].
Also, I just published a new guide on [Your Topic]: [URL].
As someone that writes about [Topic], I thought you’d enjoy it.
My guide may also make a nice addition to your page. Either way, keep up the awesome work with [Website]!
5. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is a great way to obtain links. Many bloggers love the opportunity to have
someone write for them (it makes their jobs easier).
To find local blogs, just Google things like:
[location] “write for us”
[location] “write for me”
[location] “guest blog”
[location] “guest post”
You can also do the same to find industry publications—just replace the location with a keyword (e.g.. “electrician” instead of “Minneapolis”).
Additional tips for content marketing
- Keep it sustainable. Come up with something you can do CONSISTENTLY and stick to it. You don’t want to start something you can’t commit too.
- Consider getting software to help you research, distribute, and monitor content (We use SEM Rush for this).
- Find creative ways to make your content local
- Have a call to action on your content pages
- Try other forms of content like video. Blogging is just a starting point.
Local SEO can seem like a large task to complete but if you simply do one step at a time, I can guarantee you will start to see results for your business.
If you have any questions or would like some additional help you can email me.
What has worked for you when doing local SEO? We would love to hear your thoughts.
If you would like additional resources on SEO, we recommend these blogs: