What is Local SEO? The Definitive Local SEO Guide

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Once upon a time, things were simple.

You’d type in a word, or if you were feeling adventurous, maybe two, into that strange-looking box on Google. If your memory can recall that far back, the box may have looked something like this:

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How quaint.

That was a little over 20 years ago.

Today, that page looks like this:

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That’s what you’d call turning simple on its head, and making it downright easy.

But what happens after typing in those few keywords today is a vastly different experience than what occurred over two decades ago.

We are no longer just in the age of search, but the era of local search. For your business – no, for your local business – mastering local search now, will ensure its success in the future.

So get ready, we’re about to get local.

What is Local SEO

First thing first, let’s define Local SEO.

Simply put, Local SEO is the optimization of your web presence to attract customers who search for local businesses.

Speaking more broadly, Local SEO goes beyond a basic internet search in a web browser. The prevalence of robust mapping apps like Google and Apple Maps has changed the way we seek out products and services.

For example, suppose you’re traveling in an unfamiliar city, say Dallas, and your stomach starts craving a good burger. You whip out your smartphone and do what?

If you’re like 82% of your fellow Americans, you conduct a “near me” search or one specific to your location like “burger restaurant near downtown Dallas.” Then this pops ups:

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Boom! Now we’re searching locally.

With Google, who has the U.S. search engine market nearly cornered with an 88% share, the top results are called the “Local” or “Snack Pack.” Below that are the organic listings.

How Does Local SEO Differ from Organic SEO

So what’s the big deal about Local SEO, you ask.

Regular or Organic SEO is centered around optimizing a website or landing page to make it search engine friendly. You target relevant keywords and tweak the content, performance, and design of your site to improve its placement within the organic search results.

Organic SEO makes a lot of sense for internet businesses wanting to drive traffic to a website or an online store.

Local SEO, however, plays up the geographical component of search. In other words, it’s all about location – the location of your brick and mortar shop and whether you’ve done enough to land on the radar of customers searching for it.

Yes, your website still matters, but now your online presence must cater to those individuals who are on the go, and wanting to spend money.

Let’s go back to our burger joint search in downtown Dallas, and assume you own one. Yours might be the best burger in town, but if you don’t optimize your business for Local SEO, based on the search, folks will head to Chop House, Burguesa, or Twisted Root.

By the time you’re able to build your business through traditional advertising or word of mouth, it might be too late.

Optimizing Your Web Presence for Mobile

But you won’t have to worry about that. You’re sailing on the ocean of optimization. But, before pushing full steam ahead, there are a few basics to cover.

Even though you’re reaching beyond Organic SEO, you must optimize your website for mobile visitors. Why? A few numbers:

  • 80% of internet users own a smartphone
  • 70% of mobile customers who find your business online will act within 1 hour
  • 16% of U.S. internet users will use a mobile phone exclusively to go online

That final stat is rapidly increasing, reaching nearly 20% within the next three years.

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Take heed that it’s not just about the numbers. Google favors mobile-first indexing, meaning it indexes your mobile site, and not its desktop counterpart. Check to make sure your site meets the mobile criteria with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple Maps

With the formalities out of the way, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of Local SEO by first claiming your Google My Business page.

Google, of course, is the beginning, middle, and end of all things search. We’ve already noted their near-monopoly on the platform people use most to search, but they also have the most popular mapping option.

They are not, however, the only game in town.

While we detail the Google My Business setup below, we will also run through Bing Places and Apple Maps. It may seem a bit pointless on the surface, but maximizing your exposure means being everywhere your customers might be.

Bing’s 6% market share still represents a lot of customers. As for Apple Maps, well, Apple isn’t the type to give up in an area they’ve invested time and money.

Also, keep in mind there are 105 million iPhone users in the U.S., and as of 2018, 23 million of them use Apple Maps.

To put it bluntly, your customers are everywhere. Make sure you are too.

Google My Business

Claiming your Google My Business listing is about as easy as Local SEO can get.

First, head to Google My Business and click Manage Now.

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You’re prompted to enter your business name at which point, you’ll either create a new listing or claim an existing one.

Next, you’ll complete your general business information, including address, phone number, business category, website, and whether you deliver goods.

A note on selecting a category as this is a critical step in ensuring that both potential customers and Google search bots know precisely what you do. Follow these guidelines to determine what best suits your business.

From here, you’ll select your exact location from a map. If the marker is correct, click next, but you can adjust it if necessary.

Once complete, you will need to verify your listing. Google provides the instructions to do so, including via postcard, phone, or email.

After your Google My Business listing is set up, you can optimize it further by doing the following:

  • Add your business hours
  • Upload photos, particularly those taken on-site to capture the metadata
  • Expand your categories, if your business encompasses more than one
  • If yours is a service-based business, add detail of what those are
  • Add videos
  • Include any additional contact numbers of information

Got it? Great. Now let’s move on to Bing.

Bing Places

Remember, don’t let Bing be an afterthought if you truly want to increase your Local SEO exposure.

Head to Bing Places for Business and select new user to claim your listing.

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What makes the Bing setup so great is that you can choose to claim your listing manually or import your Google My Business information. Credit to Bing for knowing where they rank and at least making it easy for business owners to hook up with their platform.

Double-check that your information is correct and consistent then you can move on to verifying your account.

Bing has a similar verification process to Google My Business, so simply follow the instructions, and you’re good to go.

Apple Maps

As with Google and Bing, claiming and optimizing your Apple Maps business information is a straightforward process.

Head to Apple Maps Connect, and click the sign-in button.

Once connected, Apple will prompt you for the following information:

  • Relationship to your business
  • Basic business details
  • Confirmation of your business phone number, location, and hours of operation
  • Inclusion of business website and any social media accounts

Once finished, you’ll have the opportunity to review the information and then submit. Your listing should then appear in Apple Maps within a week.

Before we move one, one final reminder when setting up these or any other online listings – be sure your information is consistent across all platforms. While the majority may find your business through Google, that next customer may discover you through an unexpected source, so it must be accurate.

Keyword Research

As a savvy owner, you understand the importance of keyword research for SEO and how it impacts your standing on the organic SERPs.

Now, what about Local SEO?

Just as with basic SEO, the first step is knowing the queries being used to point customers towards your business. Once you figure this out, you’ll better optimize your web pages.

For example, if our earlier “burger restaurant” is doing well with those keywords, you can start working on other deviations like “Dallas burger joints” or “best burger joints in Dallas.”

Just like having multiple business listings, the more search phrases you rank with, the broader your appeal. When zeroing in on Local SEO, simply localize your keywords to increase your volume or expand your geographical reach.

So what and how should you be researching?

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Tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner and SEMrush can provide you plenty of guidance. In addition, this Bulk Keyword Generator is incredibly helpful to play around with.

You should also peek at your competitor’s efforts and don’t be afraid to target keywords and phrases that are working for them.

How you ask?

Copy and paste one of their web URLs into the Google Keyword Planner and viola, you see the words that connect to the competition. You can use these as jumping-off points to further your keyword research.

Local SEO also makes use of a particular type of keyword – the long-tail keyword, which stands in direct contrast to the standard head keywords.

Although long-tail words are less competitive than head keywords, they play a huge role in Local SEO. They serve as a prime indicator the user is actively looking to engage with a local business. For example, which of the following show a user ready to chow down on some burgers and fries:

  • “burger restaurants”
  • “burger restaurants within five miles”

The possibility of the second person walking through the door of your business is far greater than the first. Even though long-tail keywords may not pop up as often in a search, when they do something actionable is about to occur.

Additional tips for keyword research include using modifiers to expand your ideas or target either a broader or more specific audience depending on the keywords. Our burger restaurant offers a perfect case since several different modifiers could work.

We’ve already used the modifier “best” but also consider something like “cheap burgers and beer” or “cheap burgers and fries.”

Want to target a specialty aspect of your business? Try something along the lines of:

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Don’t underestimate the power of Google autocomplete to find other popular (and in some cases over the top) search terms. Enter your shortlist of keywords into the Google search box and see what comes up as a suggested search.

Once you determine a viable list of keywords, you can get an idea if they are trending up or down by plugging them into Google Trends.

Your primary goal is identify a list of keywords people use to find your business and those similar to it. As you refine your list, you’ll be able to dial into those customers ready and willing to engage your business.

Local Citations

Perhaps one of the most important contributions to Local SEO is local or NAP (name, address, phone) citations.  Local citations are such a big deal that in a BrightLocal survey of local search experts, 90% of respondents deemed them fairly or very important.

But what are they?

It’s pretty simple. Citations are online mentions of your business that publicize your NAP – think online hotspots like Foursquare or Yelp. Google My Business, Bing Place, and Apple Maps also count as local citations.

Far from making anyone sleepy though, the more online citations a local business can garner, the higher its SEO ranking.

So how do you get them?

Well, you’ve already set yourself up with the three primary players, but there are numerous other avenues to follow.

We have a Local Business Citations Service – if you want to go the Done-For-You route.

If you want to go the DIY route…

Whitespark has a nifty little (okay, it’s rather extensive) citation cheat sheet and finder to help get you started.

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Aside from those resources, local citations can also be sought out on industry-relevant websites like trade associations or business directories.

In addition to building your collection of local citations, you also want to make certain they are accurate, no matter where there popup. To do this, you’ll need to audit the info to avoid citation inconsistency.

Moz has a tool to simplify the process. You can also conduct a manual audit yourself using a service and double-checking aggregator sites like FactualInfogroup, Acxiom, or InfoUSA.

On-Page SEO Optimization

Once you’ve perfected your keyword research and squared away your local citations, you can now make the most of on-page SEO optimization. Again, if you have past familiarity with Organic SEO, you’ll appreciate how this can work for your approach to Local SEO.

Website Basics

Of course, SEO best practices still apply, which means content and copy that is dynamic and crawlable by Google’s bots:

  • Title tags that are short, include a primary keyword, and identify what your business is about
  • URLs that are concise, to the point and include a primary keyword
  • Meta descriptions that are captivating for both humans and search engines, including critical keywords and high relevance for your business and each page
  • H1 tags that relay the context of a page and include a primary keyword (also, don’t neglect H2 and H3 tags)

When targeting local rankings, there are several extra steps to employ to generate better rankings – website structure and website optimization.

Website Structure

Critical to both Local and Organic SEO success, the structure of your web pages make a huge difference, mainly if your business serves several areas. You can set up individual landing pages to rank for the locations you serve.

For example, if your business is in San Francisco, you would set local landing pages to capture the surrounding cities and suburbs:

  • www.yourlocalbusinesssite.com/Oakland
  • www.yourlocalbusinesssite.com/SanJose
  • www.yourlocalbusinesssite.com/PaloAlto

Optimize these pages to include relevant data like business hours, keywords, and Local NAP.

This approach is particularly helpful if your business serves a large urban area. You possess a physical presence in a single location but still want to pull customers from adjacent locales.

Website Optimization

For your main page, there are a few other techniques for optimizing your website for Local SEO:

    • Create valuable content relevant to your local audience, utilizing keywords within your blogs, videos, infographics, ebooks or anything else you choose to generate
    • Optimize for your central location as Google often adds a location modifier based on localized searches
    • Schema markup helps clue Google into the appropriate context of your website with extra data and relevant information about your business. It may sound technical, but it’s not, especially if you use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper or SchemaApp.
    • Embed a Google Map showing customers where to find you
    • Add NAP information
    • Include reviews and testimonials from valued clients


What all of this achieves is providing your business the best opportunity to rank highly when local searches come calling.

Reviews and Credibility

One of the cornerstones of Local SEO is credibility, which uses the foundation of online reviews and testimonials to raise your business profile. According to BrightLocal, 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses. Data from Moz indicates reviews accounting for 15% of the overall local pack ranking factors.

Take a look at our earlier snack pack example of the three burger places in downtown Dallas.

Chop House Burger and Twisted Root occupy the top two spots with review counts of 1,131 and 2,100, respectively. It helps that those reviews reflect establishments well received by the public, but the sheer number of reviews also help to buoy their rank position.

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Burguesa also ranks well, thanks to solid reviews and good optimization even as their volume is lower.

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Reviews should be a pillar of your Local SEO strategy. The best ways to promote and encourage feedback (aside from absolutely wowing your customers with service) include:

  • Simplifying the review process through banners, direct links on your website or via thank you emails post-transaction
  • Promote incentives such as entry into a monthly prize drawing for those leaving a review, good or bad (don’t try and buy positive reviews as its bad form, and can cast your business in a negative light)
  • If all else fails, ask them to leave their feedback, good or bad (you’ll be surprised at how effective this is)
  • Don’t forget to thank your reviews or engage where appropriate as it will build good vibes and increase your credibility

Of course, with reviews, you sometimes must take the good with the bad. That’s perfectly okay. As long your business offers excellent products or services and continues to garner rave reviews, the bad ones have little effect on your positive standing.

Backlinking for Local SEO

Backlinks, or inbound links, are those that link from one site to another.

For example, let’s say a Seattle realtor writes a blog post celebrating the city’s top music venues, linking back to the site of each venue. Each establishment now has a backlink courtesy of the realtor.

The value of the links themselves can vary, but remain vital. According to Moz, Link Signals rank as the number one and two factors for local organic ranking and local pack ranking, respectively.

While the real estate backlink is good, if Rolling Stone posted something similar about those venues, those link values increase thanks to the higher profile and credibility of the source publication.

Links from sites such as .edu, .gov, or .org represent the highest level of backlink valuation.

Local backlinks are especially helpful as they can build awareness for your business, increase traffic, and broaden your consumer base. But admittedly, they are not always easy to come by.

Here is a list of strategies to help increase your backlinks:

  • Get active in community outreach or sponsorships including schools, churches, non-profits, or charities
  • Network with local influencers, both those within your industry or those that can bring in a new audience
  • Involve yourself with community awards or industry trade groups where you’ll accumulate mentions or nominations for awards
  • Write a guest blog post for either a local publication or an industry-specific website
  • Become a local source of knowledge, where your helpful contact turns into a valued local resource
  • Speak at events or donate time and resources towards community initiatives

Link building is undoubtedly hard work, but it pays huge dividends if successful. Our Blogger Outreach Service is our solution to genuine, relevant, in content backlinks that will help with local SEO.

While the value of the links increases your Local SEO, the larger effort boosts your standing as a supporter of the local community – itself a massive bonus for your business.

Final Thoughts

Okay, we get it. That’s a lot to unpack, but Local SEO is critical to the success of your business, and it’s an endeavor that is very much worth your time.

To get it right, take it a step at a time.

First, focus on optimization of your current web presence then move on to grabbing that  Google My Business account and flesh it out as much as you can.

Then move on to the Bing platform, Apple Maps, keywords, and so forth.

Once you’ve reached a comfortable level with the basics, you can tackle the cleaning up of local citations then get hands-on with reviews and building up your credibility.

The point is that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the internet. Most importantly, neither was your business.

  • Continue to improve your content
  • Optimize your websites
  • Update your Google My Business and other listings
  • Build links and citations
  • Research keywords
  • Generate reviews

Maintain your focus on perfecting your Local SEO strategy until it’s second nature and a core component of your marketing plan.

Remember how messy and unrefined the original Google homepage was at the beginning of this guide? We bet your business felt much the same way when you first started.

But Google evolved, made it simpler, faster, and easier to use. Taking the time to master Local SEO will do the same for your business.

You’ll have a broader presence, be easier to find, and better prepared to engage with both current and future customers.

Ultimately, by optimizing your business for Local SEO, you’re also optimizing for the future. In 20 years, you’ll look back in awe at how far you’ve come.

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