Local SEO Guide: 19 simple steps to dominate local search

Are you a local business owner eager to attract more local customers?

If so, then the solution is Local SEO.

You are probably already familiar with the importance of search engine optimization or SEO, but you may not be as familiar with the concept of local SEO. With a few easy steps you can quickly set up a website that is at the top of local search pages.

Local search engine optimization may appear challenging to newcomers, but once you understand some basic concepts, you should be well on your way to reaching a new market of customers.

Local SEO

If you still aren’t convinced, consider the following:

  • Trusted research groups report that almost 72% of consumers utilize online reviews in their shopping decisions
  • Users who searched and found localized results were considerably more likely to become customers. Why? It’s simple—if you are looking for a local business, it is probably so that you can immediately take advantage of its services.
  • 90% of smartphone users reportedly use their phones prior to shopping, and 84% use them while they’re shopping.
  • Local SEO has the highest return on investment (ROI), compared to other marketing strategies, because it reaches the largest market of likely consumers.

You are probably pretty enthusiastic about broadening the reach of your business now, but there is still more good news: Local business SEO is cost effective and easily implemented.

If you want to put your business at the top of local search results in 2014, you only need to follow the 19 steps I’ve listed below. Using this easy to use guide, you should begin to see tremendous ROI and immediate business growth.

To make things as easy as possible for you, I have organized the steps under three categories: Site Design, Content Marketing, and Authority Building.

  1. Local Keyword Research
  2. How to attract customers? Write for your real customers
  3. Country Code Top-level Domain (ccTLD)
  4. Your Site’s Overall Design
  5. Does your website have responsive design for mobile users?
  6. Your Site’s URL Structure
  7. SEO Optimised Page Titles
  8. SEO Optimised H1 Tags
  9. Google Maps on your website
  10. Schema markup for local business
  11. Google Places for business
  12. Take Advantage of Google+ Local Pages
  13. Don’t Ignore Bing Places
  14. Optimize Social Media Profiles
  15. Local Citation Building
  16. Get Listings in Directories
  17. Get Reviews
  18. The Power of the Press Release
  19. Focus on High-Quality Link Building

Plan Your Online Marketing Strategy

When you build an offline business you’ll definitely have a plan and the same goes for the online portal of your local business.

Business planning helps you to understand what your customer needs as well as achieve ROI (Return Of Investment) goals quickly and effectively.

1. Local Keyword Research

As with any SEO efforts, the keywords you use are extremely important. You need to perform due diligence regarding keywords and identify the most important ones for your organization.

For example, if you’re a Melbourne criminal lawyer, “lawyers Melbourne” may have a higher search volume that “criminal lawyers Melbourne,” but if you opt for the second keyword, you’re likely to more effectively target the clients you’re after.

Local keyword research

So let’s find the proper keyword for your local business.

Open Google keyword Planner. It is necessary to sign up for a Google Adword to use this keyword planner though you don’t have to start  PPC campaigns (Paid Advertisement).

Keyword Planner

Click highlighted area.

Then you’ll be transferred to a screen similar to this.

Perfect local queries

Enter a related seed word or competitors website URL. Make sure to find a broad word.

Select the country you are targeting. Let me reiterate that it should be country though you could select your city.

You may wonder why? Let’s take an example.

 

Target country

Here I perform a keyword research for used car search volume in Toowoomba.

The total number of hits is 120. Pretty low, isn’t it?

But look at the screen shot below.

Local searchesHow did I get a different result? OK, Here we go.

You’ve already selected your seed word and country that are targeted.

Then enter the city in the include/exclude section. You are set to go.

Local customers

Here is why I ask you not to select your city in the location field instead country.

Do you think only Toowoomba residents are searching for Used Cars in Toowoomba?

Obviously not.

People from the other end of the country who are planning to move to Toowoomba are using these search parameters. So if you limit your market too narrowly, of course, you are going to ignore a large portion of search users and fail to optimize your monetization.

Final result

2. How to attract customers? Write for your real customers

Many business owners struggle getting new clients to visit their websites. But they forget one main thing when they write for their website. Who is their ideal customer?

Since the creation of the modern internet in the 1980s, a lot of changes have occurred. But the basic purpose hasn’t been changed.Sharing information across communities, industries and cultures is the internet’s primary function.

Conveying your message to your ideal customer using this highly effective digital platform is easily accomplished if you can make your message accessible and memorable. This is most easily done when you identify the key issues that your customer is concerned about.

Keywords are the bridge between you and your customer. They identify the topic they want answers about. Keywords serve as the backbone on which to build your content.

The most popular keywords allow you to build these effective lines of communication with the broadest audience, which in turn will produce the greatest financial rewards.

Site Design And The Best On-page SEO Practice

You have a good understanding of your customers now. So let’s start to get your on page optimisation right.

3. Country Code Top-level Domain (ccTLD)

Google has raised the importance of local search, so ccTLD is given priority in search results. In other words, results from your country show up higher on the search pages.

Be careful to use the right country code; a simple mistake can position you at the bottom of the search rankings. For example, as Matt Cutts details in the following video, using .li can designate your website of Lichtenstein origin even if you meant Long Island.

To understand how this works, let’s look at the Mercedes-Benz website.

Mercedes-Benz has used ccTLDs specific to the country they are trying to reach.

In the following you can see the Mercedes search results in German: (Disclaimer – I removed Google advertisements in these screenshots)

Google German search result

Now look at the Google results for Mercedes in Australia:

Google Australia search result

These are the results from South Africa

Google SA search result

I can do this for any country, but you get the idea.

You may be wondering about secondary level domain. Google doesn’t consider this as important, as you can see in this screenshot:

Google Sri Lanka search result

You can see that Google doesn’t believe that the results found for com.lk or Sri Lanka are as important as the primary international results.

For your site

If you are going to start a new website for your business, try to use a ccTLD similar to what’s used by Google.

For example, if Google uses google.com.au, you should use yourbusiness.com.au rather than yourbusiness.au

If you already have an existing website that doesn’t use a ccTLD, don’t worry, you can still tag your site’s geo location by doing the following:

Visit the Google webmaster tool and click the gear icon in the right top corner. (If you still haven’t verified you domain in the webmaster tool please do it now.) Click “Site Settings” and change the targeted users to the appropriate country.

Select targeted country

If you used a country coded TLD in setting up your site, unfortunately, it will be considerably more difficult to adjust your geo targeting, because Google automatically assigns the appropriate country designation.

My site is brisbaneseopro.com.au and already geo targeted to Australia, therefore it cannot be altered.

My site

4. Your Site’s Overall Design

As the topic of our guide is SEO, we should touch on your site’s design. Good site design isn’t just beneficial for SEO, but it’s also pivotal to your user’s experience.

Without good site design, you risk turning off potential customers before they ever click past the home page.

As an example, I recently received a link from one of my friends who was planning to buy a car. When I clicked the link, instead of seeing a listing for a car, I was directed to a search box, like this:

Page that I received

The reason for this redirect was because the site was using AJAX. It took several conversations between my friend and myself to locate the car he was referring to.

The page he wanted to send

While it was listed at the same URL, the specific car took some time to find. By then my friend had already visited another source for the purchase of a car.

If you were the owner of this used car business, how much profit would you have lost due to this single missed sale? As much as $3000.

Take away– Though Google has improved a lot since it introduced crawling of Java sites,it is still difficult to properly index AJAX sites, although a good developer can improve this.

So I would recommend making your website without JavaScript at least at the base level.

5. Does your website have responsive design for mobile users?

Have you ever clicked the back button when you visit a website on a mobile device because you had to scroll left and right?

It is estimated that five billion people will use mobile phones by 2017. To better engage with this fast growing segment of the market, your website needs to function optimally on mobile devices.

As you can see, Plus.net doubled their mobile device visitors and increased tenfold the number of sales by integrating mobile responsiveness into their website.

So building a mobile site or mobile responsive site will probably increase your sales. More importantly, Google provides advantages for mobile friendly website. So unless your competitors are also failing to adapt to the new business world, you’re probably already falling behind.

But what is mobile site verses mobile responsive site?

Have a look at General Motors website’s view on a smart phone.

Mobile view

And a GM desktop view.

Desktop view

Notice the URL. In this case gm.com have been redirected to a completely separate URL m.gm.com which is designed for mobile users. This is called a mobile site.

On the other hand, when you build a mobile responsive site you won’t create two domains. Instead the same design will automatically adjust according to the screen size of the device.

Google strongly recommends mobile responsive sites.

So do you really need a mobile site? Having a mobile friendly website is not a luxury for any serious business these days—it is a necessity.

But if you are still unsure, here is a little way to check for yourself. Go to the Google analytic dashboard of you website.

Select your site, then click, Audience—->Mobile—->Overview

Analytic

Then you’ll have nice overview explaining everything.

Mobile visitors overview

Now you have data to prove that if it is worth investing a responsive design and of course you know single client value.

Luckily, if your site is a WordPress site, now there are many supportive plugins such as WPtouch that can convert your website to a mobile site with a few easy clicks.

After you install the plugin, make sure to add your analytic code manually. Otherwise it won’t count mobile users.

You can do this by selecting “Core Setting” on the WPtouch menu and then enter the Google analytic code in the “Custom Code” section.

WPtouch analytic code

6. Your Site’s URL Structure

I know we have discussed URL structure numerous times, but its importance cannot be underestimated. It is a very important factor when it comes to any SEO practice, but I still run across poor URL structure across the web.

How many of you have seen URLs like this?

Wordpress default URL

Forget about the SEO. If you saw that webpage in Google search result page would you have any idea about what that page would be about?

And if you see that page URL alongside the following URL, which page would you visit?

Optimized URL structure

Of course, the second one is the most likely choice, because you get a sense about the page content. So if you are searching for a topic, you would probably click on the second result even if it was lower on the search result page.

Eventhough this is very easy to fix, you often encounter websites with the WordPress default URL structure.

How can you fix it? Are you wondering?

Let me show you.

After you login to your WordPress dashboard, select settings and permalinks.

Then select whatever you prefer, but not the default or numeric. I prefer custom structure.

Custom URL structure

After you do this, whenever you publish a page or post on your site, your page title will be your URL. If it is along title you’re better off making it shorter which you can do with the edit button. Try to include targeted keywords in the URL.

Edit the URL

7. SEO Optimised Page Titles

What is the “title” tag?

A title tag describes the content of the webpage to search engines/humans and is the second most important SEO factor after the page’s content itself.

Title can be seen in the search engine result page,

In the SERP

as well as in the browser tab,

On browser tab

and in other sites.

In other sites

When you’re considering site design, keep in mind that every page should have a unique title and must be less than 70 characters including spaces.(NOTE: Theoretically, Google doesn’t limit characters in title tags, but it does limit the number of pixels. As a general rule of thumb, you should limit the title tag to 70.)

When you are writing the title for your homepage always write the brand name first, then targeted keyword phrases with the city. If your business name contains the city name don’t try to include it again in the title.

I often see that when it comes to local digital marketing, webmasters try to include the phone number in the title. Using a phone number in the title can at times, be problematic.

If you have to use pipes, of course, they are not natural and not a good practice as you can see from the following example:

<Title>Brisbane SEO Pro| Brisbane SEO| SEO Brisbane</Title>

Final word: keep it simple. (Limited to 70 characters/ keyword beginning of the title/ naturally readable title that describes the page content)

NOTE: I wrote this post before the Google’s SERP redesign. So with the new design update, It’s better to keep it under 65 characters. Try to avoid using capital letters.

8. SEO Optimised H1 Tags

Also known as header tags, H1 tags are used as a way to differentiate the headings found on a webpage from the remainder of the content. The most important is the H1 tag, and the list continues on, with H6 being the least relevant of the headings tags.

As well as the “Title” tag, each page must have only one H1 tag.

This is what I found after analyzing the website of a web design and SEO company. Yes, they sell search engine optimization services also.

Must be one h1 tag per page

From  the above screenshot you can see that each webpage has two duplicate H1 tags.

So what’s the take away?

Open your website in any major browser. Right click on an inner webpage. Click view source code and search for /h1> (note that I search for closing tag). If you can see two or more H1 tags contact your web designer/ developer ask him to remove one of them.

If you know how to do it, you can probably perform this function yourself.

9. Google Maps on your website

It hasn’t been proved that embedding the Google map in your website helps to increase ranking but it definitely helps your customers to find your location. And Google might secretly love sites with embedded Google maps. Who knows?

So let’s do it. Click here to visit Google Map.

1) Enter your business address.

2) Click the chain icon

3) Copy the code and paste it in your website. That’s it.

Google map

10. Schema markup for local business

Structured data markup schema was developed by the three major search engines—Google, Microsoft and Yahoo—to help webmasters get maximum return for their efforts.

As a local business owner, you can take advantage of schema.org microdata vocabulary.

If your business was,

Your Business Name

321 ZYX Street

Your City

Your State

54321

Your Country

The simplest format of schema data for local business would be:

<div itemscopeitemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">
<Strong><span itemprop="name"> Your Business Name </span></strong>
<div itemprop="address" itemscopeitemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
<span itemprop="streetAddress">321 ZYX Street</span><br>
<span itemprop="addressLocality">Your city</span>
<span itemprop="addressRegion">Your State</span>
<span itemprop="postalCode">Your Postcode</span><br>
<span itemprop="addressCountry">Your Country</span><br>
</div>
Phone: <span itemprop="telephone">0001234567</span>
</div>

To create specific Schema data for certain types of businesses, please visit http://schema.org/LocalBusiness.

Brand and Authority Building

An important area of focus for your SEO efforts should be establishing yourself as an authority in your industry. This is a great way to improve your search engine rankings as well as create a sense of trust and loyalty from your targeted customers, thereby building your brand.

Your business should receive the prominence that it deserves.

11. Google Places for business

Have you ever heard something called Yellow pages?

…..Yes of course.

Google Places is the modern answer for the Yellow pages. You can list your business for free. Currently,Google places is available in 133 countries.

Let’s get started.

Log in to Google places for local. It is usually a good idea to use a separate Google account to create the listing; in case you decide to sell the business, you can transfer the account to new owner.

Search for your business.

Search for your business

If your business is already listed, claim it.

Otherwise click to create your business listing.

Claim or create your listing

Fill in your business details. Never try to include keywords or the city in your business name field unless it is a legal business name.

Note: Google now allows you to add a descriptor in its Google Places guidelines update on 21st February 2014. But I don’t recommend that you use it. My personnel view is that it could do more harm than good. At least for now don’t use anything other than a business name.

When you fill in the address, it should be a physical address not a post box. When you optimize your site for local search, it is very important that your NAP (Name/ Address/ Phone number) are consistent.

So remember the address you create in steps 9 and 10 above, make sure to use the same format with identical address and phone number.

Fill your business detail

And when you fill the category section find the best describe category for your business. You can use this tool to find related category. Later you can add up to 10 categories.

Select the correct category

Finally request the verification. It can be by phone or post.

Verify your listing

12. Take Advantage of Google+ Local Pages

If Google Places is the modern equivalent of the yellow pages, what is Google+ local for? I’d say Facebook business pages. Google+ Local certainly has more localized SEO value than Facebook.

Even though, it’s been over a year since Google introduced Google+ for local businesses, there is still considerable confusion.

But if you follow this guide, you can avoid making all these mistakes.

Once you create a Google Places listing, it is only a one click process to create the Google+ local business page.

Google Plus

You just want to click “START NOW” button from you local places dashboard. You don’t have to wait for the verification of the Google places listing. You can engage with your customers without verification, but it won’t appear in the search results until you verify.

13. Don’t Ignore Bing Places

Although Bing’s market share is 18.2%,I find that many SEO experts and business owners neglect Bing Places.

Right now Bing Places is available for 9 countries. If you live in a one of those countries, it is in your best interest to list your business on Bing Places.

Go to Bing Places for business.

Search for you business.

Search for your business name

Review the results and if your site is shown—as in the example below—claim it. If not, create a listing for your site.

create listing

Fill as much as information as possible in all five sections. DON’T forget to use the same NAP.

Fill business detail

You will be sent the verification code by mail. You’ll get verification code faster compared to Google. Here in Australia, I always received it within 3-5 days.

14. Optimize Social Media Profiles

You are a business man/woman. Don’t forget that or you could waste all your time on social media sites. The goal for this section is to help you use social sites to increase the number of business opportunities.

You’ve already created your Google+ Local profile which establishes you on the Google+ social media site, but you should also establish yourself on the other major social networks.

• Facebook—is the largest network with 1.2 billion users, so it is essential to be on Facebook

• Twitter—trails behind Facebook and Google+ with 212 million users, but Twitter users are among the most active, so you should engage regularly through Tweets

• LinkedIn—is the social network of choice for the business community

• Pinterest—is one of the fastest growing social media sites and one that attracts millions of visitors a day due to their alluring images

When you create socials profiles for business, try to add as much relevant information as possible. Maintain a consistent NAP.

Here is a well optimized Facebook business page.

Well optimized FB business page.

15. Local Citation Building

Citations are defined as references of your business’ name, address and phone number (NAP) on other webpages, but it doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a link to your website.

The more citations of your business, the more likely you are to rank well in a search engine. (Note- There are many ranking factors)

You can use paid tools such as witespark’s local citation finder to research where your competitor has placed their local citations and then place citations for your business website on those directories.

You can do this without any tools, of course…if you have too much time on your hands.

Let’s assume you are a coffee shop owner in Brisbane. Here is how to search for other competitor businesse citations.

Citation building

Make sure to use the right Google website. In this case it is google.com.au

Target your country

Copy your competitors address with the phone number and search it in Google.

Google competitors NAP

Go through the search results and copy all the domains onto an Excel sheet. Do this for all other competitors. Remove the duplicate websites.

So now you have a long list of websites for which you can build citations for your own business website.

It is very important to keep the identical NAP when you create citations.

At this point you should be out in front of your competitors, but you don’t want to be limited to only your competitors’ citation locations. Here are few other platforms for placing your citations:

Press release

Guest post and article by lines

Forum signatures

Local online news papers

16. Get Listings in Directories

There is no secret that directory submission doesn’t work like it did in 2009. This has become one of the most commonly abused SEO strategies.

But it is still effective when you do it right.

Now don’t start by submitting to every directory under the sun.

Just handpick a few human review directories such as Yahoo, DMOZ or The Best Of the webs.

Yes, I know, they are paid directories, but it’s worth the money.

All you want to do is find the best matching category and submit your site.

Family Friendly Sites is a another effective low cost directory. Every time I use it, it boosts my ranking up a few spots.

17. Get Reviews

Reviews and recommendations are important in two big ways: the first is the impact they have on SEO, and the second is the impact they have on potential customers’ purchasing decisions.

Did you know 67% of consumers read online review of local business and 70% of them trust the businesses which have 6 to 10 reviews?More importantly, 90% says online reviews impact their buying decision.

In light of those statistics, I don’t need to over-emphasize the importance of getting online reviews. But when you start you have to keep two things in mind.

  1. DON’T GIVE incentives for reviews
  2. Here and there, a bad review is good WHEN you respond to it. For example, Apple does get negative reviews. So…

Not so good

Though many factors influence local search rankings one thing is clear. You need roughly 5 customer reviews to have golden stars under your business.

Get more reviews

Though Google local plus reviews play a big role in local search engine optimisation it is not the only place you should encourage your customers to leave reviews and recommendations. There are other review platforms such as yellow pages, Yelp, TrueLocal, chamberofcommerce.com etc. Always diversify…

So how to get reviews?

In my experience, there are three critical methods for obtaining positive reviews:

1. Product—a great product or service is, of course, absolutely necessary to have positive feedback. If your business sells an array of products, choose your most popular to obtain reviews for. Fifty or more reviews can boost sales by 4.6% .

2. Ask—most customers are more than willing to provide a glowing review if asked. You can request these in person or through email.

Here is an example from Amazon.com:

Request a review

3. Persuade—if you are reluctant to request a review directly, why don’t you ask indirectly from your clients. Easiest way to request indirectly is you can provide grateful emails to customers, which showcase other reviews and encourage them to also provide feedback.

Need more ideas? I always advise my clients to read Phil Rozek’s guide to getting reviews.

18. The Power of the Press Release

Press releases can be a great way to improve your organic SEO efforts, particularly if you really are releasing a story that’s informative or valuable.

I know folks who have read Google’s web spam team leader Matt Cutt’s comment about press releases and are not convinced when I say it can be effective.

Matt Cutts on press release

But forget SEO and think about it this way. What’s the purpose of a press release?

Press releases are short announcements that alert the media and public to newsworthy events. More importantly they can be viral marketing messages if they get syndicated, so be sure to include a blurb about your business and at least one backlink.

You’re raising the likelihood of being picked up by local sites and news outlets, which can also increase the number of backlinks and citations.

In addition to that, Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land publicly proved that press releases are still working.

However, I ask myself before I even think about a press release for my clients: Is there anything truly newsworthy? Only if the answer is YES, would I recommend a press release through a paid PR service to distribute it.

There are numerous resources for distribution of your press release, including the ever-popular PRWeb. If you’re looking for a less expensive yet effective distribution service, try http://marketersmedia.com.

Do you have anything newsworthy? So write a press release.

19. Focus on High-Quality Link Building

Building links plays a major role in any SEO campaign and even pro internet marketers hesitate when it comes to link building. (WARNING- If use it to create authentic links you are going to build your business, if you create unnatural links you are going to damage your business)

But if you are diligent and authentic there are many opportunities out there to create links.

Let’s suppose that you run a photograph business.

How about getting a link from a site that has domain authority 89? Anyone who knows about SEO would be amazed to hear that.

Link analyze

All you need to do is submit a wedding photography story like Studio Impression did. Easy Huh…

Link building

Any industry can perform just as well as this one.

If you run a restaurant invite your local food blogger for a free dinner. Likewise, if you own a local car dealership, sponsor your city’s annual motor show.

Need more ideas?

Read Brian Dean’s 17 untapped back link sources and great list of link building resources collected by Venchito Tampon.

Now, It’s Your Turn

I’ve given you 19 of the most effective, yet simple tactics for improving your local SEO, and you can’t afford to ignore a single one.

2014 is the year for you to ramp up your efforts and make your local SEO presence stronger than your competitors’.

What do you think? Have I covered everything or do you have a killer local SEO tip I’ve forgotten? If so, leave me a note in the comments section and let’s dominate 2014.

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Comments

  1. Bharath says

    Great Information about local SEO… I’m just a beginner in SEO and I’ve a small doubt… You told me about schema.org for local business. After creating that schema.org where to update the snippets? In my website index page? Can you clear my doubt Akila?

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