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The internet and search engines have been crucial to the success of many businesses over the years. Because the mobile web has made the world even smaller, your local business is now up against national giants such as Amazon, who are just waiting to take your business away with the click of a mouse.
This in-depth guide shows you detailed ways to get more visibility and win more business in the competitive local search results. Best of all, with a bit of time and some gusto, you can do all of these things yourself.
You can still get the edge over these mega-retailers and national service providers though.
Let’s read on…
Local SEO is your David to their Goliath
It’s not just product or e-commerce businesses that are affected. Local service based businesses are feeling the pinch too. Large national services want to be the gatekeepers and providers of all your home services as too..
These behemoth businesses can be hundreds of miles away and afford to sell at a cut-rate margin just to win your customer’s business from you. For this reason, a strong Local SEO strategy is more important to your business success than ever before.
If you run a brick and mortar business, even if you have multiple locations, you’ll be well aware that it takes more than just having a “We’re Open” sign on your door to attract footfall to your establishment.
If you run a satellite business that covers a service area, you’ll know there’s a lot of competition out there all vying for the same opportunities on and offline too.
Running a local business can be tough if you don’t have the search engines on your side.
With a strong location focused SEO strategy, backed up with the fact that 93% of shoppers prefer local businesses means you’re in with a strong chance of staying in the race and succeeding.
As with any business, you’ve still got to be seen to be chosen.
If you want to stay in the spotlight for your local audiences, it’s time to make your local search visibility a priority.
What is local SEO?
So you might just be thinking, this is all great, but what on earth is local SEO and how can it benefit me?
Local SEO is in essence, search engine optimisation but focused on enhancing your business’s online presence to appear more prominently for searches in your local or regional area.
Location-based search is particularly personified with the “near me” or “nearby” search phrases such as…
“Florist’s near me” or “Hairdresser’s nearby”.
Other types of local search include… “your service + location” example…
“hairdressers in Birmingham”
These types of searches highlight that the user wants to know about services in a specific place, rather than just anywhere.
If a user is in a location they aren’t familiar with they might ask for “closest + service”, indicating they want Google to help orientate them with the local surroundings and what’s on offer.
These types of searches have a very high intent considering 1 in 3 searches on a smartphone occur right before a consumer visits a store.
Why does this matter?
Well, to put it bluntly, over 75% of users won’t go past page 2 of a search results page.
This really helps to highlight the importance of local search visibility and how a good local search campaign can make your business stand out in a crowded market.
Yep, it’s true.
Localised search is on the rise and it certainly isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
With over 80% of the UK population now owning a smartphone and the fact these devices have network connectivity, GPS and a host of other localised beacons, users are performing local searches every day without even realising it.
What are the benefits of local SEO?
Local search optimisation focuses on one of the key advantages you have over competitors that are further away or don’t have a physical business address in your local area… your vicinity to the searcher.
Due to the fact that Google searches are tailored to many different variables other than just the keywords you’re using, it becomes possible to show up much more prominently for location-based queries compared to your competition who could be in the town, county or further afield.
Signals such as where you are located, the distance your business is from the person searching as well as reviews and social activity associated with the location they are enquiring about, all play a big part in improving your chances of showing up for searches in your neighbourhood or locale.
You have the advantage.
Because your national competitors aren’t based in your area, you only have to focus on, say, a 25-mile radius, whereas large companies like Amazon could actually be hundreds of miles away and need to cover 100’s of thousands of square miles.
This is why they spend so much money on pay per click marketing to show up in your location based results pages.
It’s a fact…
You stand a better chance of being unique, offering a genuine local service and being far more relevant and convenient for people within your local area than the big brands ever will.
In essence, with a solid local SEO strategy, you have many more opportunities in your favour, including, locality, relevance, authority and convenience too.
Google also has an algorithm that works in your favour too, it has a silly name (like all of their algorithm’s) The local algorithm is called Google “Pigeon” and it was launched in 2014 to focus on localised results.
The Pigeon algorithm’s main goal is to provide accurate and relevant local search results that still utilise other areas of Google’s core search functionality. Enhancements to maps, local listings, reviews and the general organic results all benefit from the pigeon algorithm for localised searches.
Local Search and a good marketing strategy ultimately level the playing field for businesses within the same vicinity. Google generally favours these local businesses over big brands in these instances, because they are more relevant (Google
Google wants to return the best results for their users first and if you’re not putting the effort in to show why you are the best at what you do, then they default to showing big authoritative brands in order to be safe.
I’m not saying local SEO is easy, but you do have a distinct advantage if you focus on a locale rather than national visibility.
There are many variables that can affect how visible your business is in local search results, so having some technical know-how and a good plan in place is the best way to succeed online.
Why is local SEO important?
The majority of consumers prefer to shop locally and want relevant local results. You’d be doing them a disservice if you aren’t actively grabbing opportunities for more visibility in your local area and serving these people with what they want.
The numbers speak for themselves:
- The Google local 3 pack appears in 93% of searches with a local intent (Hubspot)
- 88% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (Junto)
- 46% of all searches on Google are Local (HangTenSEO)
- 72% of Consumers Who Did a Local Search Visited a Store within 5 Miles (WordStream)
These are just a very small selection of stats relating to local search, but I’m sure as you can see, local search is important and a proper marketing strategy will make the difference between a potential customer choosing you or your competitor down the road.
What can you do to improve your Local Search Presence?
Your website design will play a key part in your local SEO success too, but as with any other form of SEO it is not the only factor. Your website will be the coach, the leader, the main driving force, but it needs a strong and reliable team around it to win the game.
Website expectations (On-Site)
- Engaging, relevant and useful content
- Accurate Contact info
- Returns, refunds and terms
- Great user experience
- Good web accessibility standards
- Reliable & fast hosting
- Mobile Responsive design
- Super fast load times
- Secure connection (SSL certificate)
- Consistent on-page structure, content & design
- Schema markup
External website expectations (Off-site)
- Consistent and accurate citations
- Trustworthy & fresh reviews
- Local news & publication mentions
- Google My Business listing o
- Authoritative backlinks from relevant sources
- Online mentions of the business locally
- Relevant news about your business in local press
- Traffic from social media and referrals
What are the best practices for my Local SEO strategy?
If you’ve read this far, you probably want to get to the nitty-gritty, the deep down techie and outright nerdy parts? Awesome, I knew you weren’t the type to shy away from a challenge.
In this section, I’ll break down some of the core elements of local SEO and what you can do to optimise these areas for your benefit.
Local business citations:
It is definitely a wise decision to seek out all your local and relevant business directories and ensure your business details are added. Make sure you put the effort into completing these listings thoroughly though, the power is in the details.
What is a citation?
A citation can be a listing of your business details on a relevant local or national directory, such as Yelp. Scoot or FreeIndex. Usually, there are several relevant or niche specific directories in any town, city or larger urban area.
For example, in my hometown, there is “Get Reading Business Directory” & “Reading Company” to name 2. Wherever you are based, there will usually be a few that are specific to your local area and there are many that cover much larger areas, but more on those in a minute.
By making sure you have an engaging bio, description, logo, opening times, contact info, relevant images, payment methods, services, prices and other relevant info you tend to stand out better in the directory to people searching as well as provide better, more consistent info for search engines too.
If you aim to complete all of the details and ensure they are consistent, you are on the right track.
Citation building is the systematic and planned work of creating business listings on targeted directories that will benefit your business and your potential customers.
The quality of local directories and business listing sites can vary tremendously, some are very valuable to have a prominent and complete listing on, some will potentially hurt your local SEO strategy in a big way.
So what’s the deal?
Your local SEO campaign should include a full citation audit to establish where you are listed and how consistent the info is. The audit should also find the opportunities for better visibility or where you aren’t present at all.
Following this audit, either yourself or your local seo consultant will get to work, adding, verifying, claiming and completing each targeted listing for your business.
A good SEO consultant will work with you to create a list of your top competitors and what citations and relevant directories they have and how these citations compare to yours.
It’s important to know.
Your online competitors might be different to your offline competitors so don’t worry if this competitor analysis doesn’t match with what you’re seeing on the high street.
Enticing footfall to your store, proper signage, inviting/interesting shop fronts etc are all offline elements that you need to get right as well, but this article is focused on ensuring your potential customers find you online first and are convinced it’s worthwhile making the trip to your establishment.
Citation building and auditing can be very time consuming and not much fun for most business owners. But, making sure it is done correctly can have a very positive impact on your business in local search.
In any case.
Your local SEO consultant may have resources to do this and will be used to meticulously checking each listing. They should also have premium local SEO tools that help them track each listing for inconsistencies and opportunities too.
I do not recommend you look at automated systems such as Yext, because these have been known to cause more problems than they fix, especially if you move locations. The only way to really do it right is to do it manually and check them all with human eyes and dedicated tools too.
Great places to start building local citations
Thanks to BowlerHat for the list.
This is a good place to start but it’s definitely worth checking out any local directories and citations that are relevant to your business too.
NAP consistency (Name, Address, Phone Number)
Citations do play a big part in helping search engines and people find the right information about your business. These citations need to be consistent though and having the Name, Address, Phone Number formatted consistently, definitely helps.
When I say consistent, I don’t just mean the same name and phone number, I mean the EXACT same formatting on each directory.
This is true NAP consistency.
Bad NAP consistency example
Google My Business:
Minor inconsistencies can be more problematic than you realise.
Frustratingly, most directories don’t have a universal data entry system so even if you put the correct info in the right order, sometimes they choose to show the info slightly differently, by using abbreviations or referencing their own spelling of the road name or phone number formatting.
As you can see…
They’ll either wrongfully list it, average out the data or completely ignore it when making their decision. For citations to work in your favour you need to aim for trust across each source. Consistency is how you build this trust.
See below for a good example of citations that will genuinely benefit your local search campaign.
Good NAP consistency examples
Google My Business:
As you can see each of these citations matches exactly and there isn’t a single formatting issue or discrepancy either. This level of consistency gives Google, Bing and Yahoo the consistency they need to remove any doubt.
It also creates a consistent, professional and reliable user experience across the web too.
How can Schema Markup benefit your website?
Schema markup can help your website standout better in the search results with star reviews, pricing, dates, times, contact details, recipes, info tables and so much more.
What is Schema Markup?
Schema markup is a type of code that can be added to your website to help search engines pull in rich information from your pages and showcase this info directly in the search results.
This type of semantic vocabulary can be very beneficial for the searcher to help them gather more qualifying information before clicking on a result.
Example of Review Schema Markup:
As you can see from the example, this schema markup has lots of extra information about its average rating (both visual and numeric) as well as a reference to the price ranges of the service too. As you can see this extra markup can be highly beneficial to the end user in clicking through to your website for the full details.
A higher than average click-through rate to your site from search results can also send some nice positive, secondary signals to Google that your site is serving the best result. Naturally, your website may get rewarded with higher positioning as a result of this.
Schema local business types
There are so many ways that Google and other search engines can show information dependent on your search query, location, device or previous searches that Schema Markup can appear in many different ways that are all beneficial to you as a website owner.
It can help Google bring in your official social profiles in your knowledge graph, it can help users see an overall rating of your business services from search and therefore choose you over the competition.
It could help people easily find your address to visit your store without having to click about first. It can help people find information about different departments such as customer service, deliveries or store locations.
Schema markup can help users find information about your opening hours, upcoming events and so much more.
The benefits of using schema markup for your website are clear:
- You stand out in the search results and provide more relevance
- You improve your chances of being clicked
- You improve your customer’s experience by being more helpful
- You give search engines more information to use to your benefit
- You stay ahead of the curve and look better than your competition
- Roadmap for longterm, sustainable growth.
- Behind the scenes of your competitor's strategies.
- How to generate more leads and sales like clockwork.
- Detailed ROI report and traffic projection.
- No pressure selling, no-obligation.
How do I create schema markup for my website?
Firstly, you’ll need to create valid Schema Markup for your website based on your business, services, products and information. The schema markup generator tool can help you create valid markup that can be inserted into your site.
It only covers some of the core options for local business, person, website, products, events and organisation, but your site will no doubt be applicable for several of these.
Simply select the schema you want to use and then enter your details clearly and accurately. The tool will generate valid schema that needs to be copied and pasted exactly.
You’ll need to insert this schema markup into the header of your website on the relevant pages. Be sure to create unique or specific markup for each individual service/product page and be sure your information is accurate or you’ll confuse users and search engines.
Example of where to add different schema markup on your site:
- Local Business Schema – Add to the Homepage & Contact page
- Website Schema – Add to the Homepage
- Product Schema – Create unique info for each e-commerce product page
- Service Schema – Add unique service info to your individual service pages
- Person Schema – Add this to individual staff profile pages
- Events Schema – Add this to your individual events listing pages
- Article Schema – Add this to blog posts, news items and guides
How do I add Schema markup to my site and validate it?
You will need to insert the code into the <head> section of your website on each page you wish to use it on and ensure you have copied the code exactly. To test the code is valid and works properly, use this Structured Data Testing Tool on each page and it will show you if any errors persist.
You may need help from your developer to implement Schema Markup correctly as it can be a bit more on the technical side of things. Because adding schema to your website involves making changes to your header, I’d very strongly advise you to create a backup of your site or use a staging server to test changes first.
If you’re using WordPress, there are many great plugins that can help you add schema to your site, but I have found that hard-coding the markup into the site has been the most reliable and robust way of implementing the code properly.
The lovely guys over at WPMUDEV have written a handy guide to adding schema to your WordPress site here and it’s well worth a read. I prefer to use the custom fields implementation combined with the Header Footer Injections plugin because it creates a really nice and clean way of managing all of your snippets in one place.
The importance of ‘Google My Business’ (GMB) for local SEO
Google My Business is a free service from Google that helps you manage your business’s online presence across the entire Google’s ecosphere.
It allows you to gain legitimate reviews from happy customers, advertise your services, make it easy for users to find contact information, directions, images and updates about your business all directly from search.
Google My Business can provide a unified and branded presence across maps, mobile, search, Youtube and more. Optimising your listing is essential to your local search visibility and it should be a key part of any local SEO campaign.
Google are constantly improving this aspect of their offering because the local pack shows up in the number 1 spot 93% of the time and Google my business listings have by far the highest trust rating from searchers at 58% too.
Google have also recently introduced Google Posts that allow you to add updates, offers and events to your local business listing that show up directly in relevant search results.
These Google posts give you a fantastic opportunity to grab extra engagement from people searching for your services and showcasing what’s going on with your business right now.
As you can see consumers rely on Google My Business. Google naturally wants to maintain their status quo as the most useful search engine, so
For more info about the benefits of Google My Business visit their page here
Verify Your Listing
Pictures Of Your Team
Your Website Link
Relevant Service Categories
Detailed Service Descriptions
Include Opening Hours
Email & Phone Number
Reply To All Reviews
Post Content & Promotions
Pin Point Location
Ensuring that your Citations we talked about earlier, exactly match your Google My Business info provides highly consistent information that Google can match to your other local business signals and give you the best opportunity to rank well in local search results.
Things to avoid doing that harm your GMB listing
- Don’t use text-heavy images or spammy looking pictures
- Don’t use PO Box numbers or spoof locations
- Avoid using call redirect numbers or premium rate numbers
- Only add multiple locations if you actually have and can verify them
- Don’t respond negatively to bad reviews. Keep it professional
- Don’t use keywords in the title unless they part of your business name
If you avoid these pitfalls and dodgy tactics your Google My Business listing can be an excellent asset that really adds value to your business, generates more revenue and builds trust with your target demographics too.
Do Google My Business Reviews help with local search visibility?
In short, yes, but the longer answer is that reviews on Google My Business are highly beneficial if managed properly and can help to boost other signals that do improve your local SEO.
Straight from the horse’s mouth – Google Business Support says…
“High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location”Google
The benefits of Google reviews on GMB
Any of these activities can help improve your local SEO because they would be considered as positive relevance triggers and Google naturally wants to show the most relevant result to a query, in this instance, your website.
By building, trust, reassurance and a positive view of your business via your GMB listing, you can help to encourage searchers to choose your business over the competition. This, in turn, is rewarded positively with better visibility, more reviews, more interactions, lower bounce rates and increased authority on your specific topics, services and niche.
We all know the power of good reviews. Positive GMB reviews work in exactly the same way. Considering more than 81% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do a friends recommendation, it’s clear how beneficial they are to businesses the world over.
You can see how the power of a prominent Google My Business listing, combined with recent, relevant, 4 and
The conclusion to the benefits of GMB reviews and local SEO
By including Google My business reviews as part of your Local SEO strategy, your business can benefit from increased visibility in Google for your key terms, services and related topics.
The word of mouth effect can also help build trust, improve your sales and encourage potential customers to choose you over the competition, what’s not to like about that?
The importance of Bing Places for local SEO
Now I get a lot of people laugh at me when I even mention the word Bing, but let’s take a step back for a minute here and think about it. Is your client base in the older age categories such as Generation X or the Baby Boomers?
Now I know some tech-savvy older folks who can do the SnapChats and the facebooks and Googles quite well so this doesn’t apply to all of them. However, there is a majority of them who think that Bing is Google or that all search engines are the same.
Microsoft naturally wants to promote its own search engine and therefore, heavily integrates it with Windows 10. There are a large proportion of generation X & baby boomers who don’t know how to change their default browser (and search engine) on Windows too.
This results in a larger majority of the older generations using Bing by default.
If your target audience is in these categories then it would be very ill-advised to ignore Bing as a relevant search engine for your business. Likewise, if your target audience is much more ethically minded than most, you wouldn’t want to discount new search engines such as Ecosia who plant trees every time you search, but I digress.
SEO isn’t as much about rankings as it is about website traffic. If your most relevant traffic is driving down the Bing route then don’t bypass, instead focus on it. With Bing now owning nearly 30% of the search market share, it’s well worth considering in your strategy.
Bing Places optimisation
Bing places is fairly intuitive and once you’ve setup your Google My Business listing you’ll find Bing Places to be fairly similar. The main things to focus on are ensuring your information is complete and that your listing is verified (they can send you a postcard with a PIN or they’ll call you for verification).
It’s definitely worth having your listing on Bing Places as it will help to boost your citation profile considerably and also provide accurate information on those few occasions when someone uses Bing instead of Google (they could be on a Windows phone, Edge Browser or using Cortana for example)
Domain names and their impact on local SEO
In short, if you’ve already been using a domain for your business then you should pretty much always keep it the same. If you’re starting a new business or website then the longer answer is to keep your domain name natural, relevant and branded if you can. Try to avoid exact match domains unless you know what you’re doing.
What is an exact match domain?
An exact match domain (EMD) is a domain name that is made up entirely of keywords that could be used on their own to trigger a search:
This domain name is made of 3 exact keywords Plumbing + Heating + Windsor
Now you may be thinking, well this is relevant to anyone looking for plumbing and heating services in Windsor right? Generally, you’d be right, the issues start coming to the fold when you start to promote your business online.
The heavy use of exact keywords in your backlink profile can cause significant issues and potentially get you penalised by Google for over optimisation, which is never fun.
The reason for the increased risk is because Google’s Penguin Algorithm has been known to flag backlink profiles that look unnatural or are showing signs of manipulation (Building backlinks to your website isn’t illegal in anyway, it’s just against Google’s terms of Service, so they like to scare you).
A Google penalty can be significantly damaging to your business, especially if you rely on Google search traffic for a majority of your sales and leads.
Using an exact match domain is okay, but you just need to be aware of the extra risks involved with such a domain and why you might run into issues down the line, especially if you deploy a cheap SEO consultant who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
What is a partial match domain?
A partial match domain is essentially a domain name that is made up of branded terms and keywords too, such as the domain of this website you’re reading right now.
This domain name is made up of 2 indirectly related and 1 related term (PMD)
Be + Fair + Marketing (marketing being the partial match term)
You’ll see these types of domains quite often and generally, these are safer than exact match domains but still have their pitfalls if you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing.
Generally, your risk of an over optimisation penalty is lower because your backlink profile will include other terms besides the exact match keywords found in the EMD varieties.
I personally prefer these types of domains because you can still help to guide the user as to what your business is about, search engines go a bit easier on you and you also still have branding opportunities too, which leads me to the next type of domain, “Branded”.
What is a branded domain?
A branded domain is essentially a domain name that doesn’t include any keywords at all, some of the most popular branded domain names are famous brands such as “Twitter” or “Gucci”. These are words that are made up and are completely unique
This is an example of a word that doesn’t exist in the real world, although many brands arguably have created words that are synonymous with our culture and psyche so much that they are “real” words now.
The core difference is that this domain doesn’t have any actual search intent keywords in it such as “plumbing” or “marketing” unlike the other 2.
These types of domains are by far the safest for online promotion because you’ll never risk tripping up any Penguin algorithm’s if your backlink profile is made up of branded links.
You will however look even more out of place if you get many incoming links to your site using terms such as “red evening shoes” or “black sports bags” because these will potentially look even more out of place than with the other 2 types of domains.
A domain names summary
My advice when choosing a domain name for a new website or business is to go with what naturally feels right, don’t just use keywords in order to game search engines and don’t be so obscure that it won’t be memorable either.
If you’ve been using a domain name successfully for several years then I’d avoid changing it unless you’re undergoing a business rebrand. Changing a domain name has a lot of SEO implications that need to be considered, so before you embark on flipping the switch, make sure you have all the technical ducks in a row first or risk undoing years of hard work in a few simple clicks.
Local landing pages and how to setup your website for success
What is a local landing page? In essence, it is a page on your website that is
Your local landing pages can be used to provide relevant and useful information for people who are looking for the services you offer within the area you operate in.
These types of pages aren’t particularly great for e-commerce type stores unless you have a physical location as well.
Your local landing page should include:
- Full Business Name (or business operating name).
- Full Business Address.
- Full Business Phone Number.
- Full business Email address.
- Opening times – Including special times.
- Map of location (including directions).
- Information about the area such as landmarks nearby.
- Services offered, including quality information about them.
- Prices or ways to get a quote for services.
- Quality Images of the location (preferably with GEO embeds).
- Images of the staff or team.
- Easy ways to get in touch (such as contact form).
- Any promotions or offers available at the location.
Check out this free local landing page graphic I’ve created to highlight how an effective local services page can be designed to showcase all of the above information and more.
The key is to make your local landing pages as useful as you can. Sure there are technical elements that you need to get right, but first and foremost it’s always best to focus on making the page as useful as possible to your end user.
Think about the questions they always ask, think about what info they may want to access easily, consider their user journey and how best you can serve them and you’ll go a long way to delivering a memorable user experience that might just get you the enquiry instead of your competitor.
How to find a good local SEO company and why you need one?
So if you’ve read this far in the series then you’re probably quite invested in making local SEO work for you.
By now you’re probably starting to weigh up where to start or how on earth you’re going to find the time to do all of this on a regular basis.
Yup, this type of work does require ongoing effort, monitoring and adjustments but, so long as you’ve got a great foundation, you’ll make life easier for yourself in the long run.
Especially when it comes to updates or further refinements down the line.
Looking for help?
If, on the other hand you want to get someone on-board who has done this many times over with great results, then you may want to talk to an experience SEO consultant or agency.
Good SEO service providers aren’t cheap, but their results, reviews and knowledge should speak for itself.
Local SEO is an investment and there isn’t a silver bullet (or one simple trick), often times if people are guaranteeing results in a specific timeline, then alarm bells should be ringing.
Are they selling snake oil?
If you’ve read this far, you’ll have plenty of great topics to discuss with any would be SEO provider. By asking them some of these questions, you’ll be able to get a strong gauge on whether they are going to help or harm your business.
We all want to hear guarantee’s but, only Google owns Google.
No Google partners, salespeople, agencies or consultants hold the keys to the algorithms, so don’t be manipulated by false promises.
As I’m sure you can see from reading this article, there is a lot to consider and a lot that can go wrong.
The best approach is to be meticulous, calculated, quality focused and putting the needs of your customers first.
See you in the local search results.