The Complete Guide to Local SEO
The internet may also be known as the World Wide Web, but that doesn’t mean websites should target the entire planet as their audience. In fact, the greater the internet’s reach goes, the more localized the searching behavior of people gets. Overwhelmingly, searcher behavior data shows that internet users value relevance over reach.
Google and other search engines cater to this by making their algorithms biased towards geographically relevant search listings. For every country that Google operates in, it has a local version that favors homegrown websites in its organic results. Several years ago, the search giant also introduced “Map Packs” that feature the three most proximate locations relevant to a user’s query.
But how exactly do you get Google to favor you in its localized SERPs and Map Packs? SEOs have been experimenting with a myriad of tactics over the years and today, we have a pretty clear roadmap on what to do to gain an edge over the competition when targeting very specific locations.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a branch of search engine optimization which focuses on improving a website’s visibility on organic search results for location-specific keywords. The locations may be as small as a district or city. In other cases, people also consider country-specific SEO campaigns to be local SEO when they’re done outside large, well-developed markets such as the USA or the European Union.
The Difference between Regular SEO and Local SEO
While there are many processes that are similar between regular and local SEO, there are quite a few distinct elements. For one, the content needs to be tailor-fitted to the location being targeted. That means each SEO element on the page will also have to be optimized for local search. These include title tags, header text, meta descriptions, URL slugs, structured data markups, and so on.
Off-page SEO components will also have to be performed with the specific location in mind. For instance, a Google MyBusiness account will have to be set up and made consistent with structured data that’s marked up on your website. Local citations will also have to be placed on qualified sources. Backlinks will also yield greater benefits if they come from websites that are relevant to the target location. All of these are not considerations in regular SEO campaigns.
The Benefits of Local SEO
Local SEO offers several distinct benefits that regular SEO and other digital marketing channels just don’t offer, including:
- Attract More Targeted Traffic. Local SEO is focused only on potential customers in an area that you can actually serve. That means you won’t have to waste time, money, and effort going after people whom you can’t do business with.
- Enhanced Conversion Rates. Thanks to the laser-focused targeting, your conversion rates will most likely pick up. You may have a finite amount of traffic streaming to your website from search engines, but this traffic will be richer in qualified leads that are easier to convert into paying customers.
- Less Competitive. Targeting a city, province or state means you’ll only have to deal with competitors that reside in the same geographic area. Most local players are likely not backed by big money from multinationals, giving you a fair chance to dominate your space in the SERPs.
- Better Brand Recall. Not all SERPs where your search listing or Google Maps marker is featured will result in a click or a transaction for your website. However, it will certainly help increase brand awareness and recall on the part of your audience. Over time, this familiarity will result in more visits and eventually, easier conversions.
The Complete Local SEO Process
If you’re reading this article, you probably have some degree of familiarity on fundamental SEO processes. This set of steps includes every optimization that you can add to a regular SEO campaign to make it effective for local SEO:
1. Choose a Country-Specific Domain
If you’re targeting a country or a location in it that’s outside of the US, it’s best to go with a country-specific domain such as .ca for Canada or .au for Australia over the neutral .com or .net top-level domains (TLDs). Having this domain helps Google and other search engines understand that your website’s content is targeted to people within a specific nation.
This isn’t a must-do as you can still do local SEO with a neutral TLD. However, you’ll have to take some additional steps in helping search engines figure out which location they should favor you for. Human eyes also tend to gravitate more towards search results whose URLs feature country-specific TLDs over their more generic counterparts.
2. Geo-Targeting in Search Console
In case you have a neutral TLD, you can still help Google easily determine the country you’re targeting with a simple setting on the old version of Search Console. To do this, simply go to the Search traffic report and hit International Targeting in the menu.
In the Country tab, select the country that you want your website to be favored for.
In case your website has non-English content, you can consider adding Hreflang tags to indicate that the text is not gibberish but is actually written in another language.
These two elements are crucial for websites with neutral TLDs but can be skipped if your domain name is country-specific.
3. Content Localization
When developing content for landing pages, blog articles, product category pages, product SKU pages, and other assets in your website, write them with your local audience in mind. Not only will the content resonate better with the people it’s intended for, the material will also naturally mention entities relevant to the locality you’re optimizing for.
For example, if you’re doing local SEO for a dentist in Minnesota, you’ll want to write blog articles that help readers learn more about taking care of their teeth. Instead of writing a generic oral hygiene article with tips that will apply to anyone in the world, you can localize the content by talking about the brushing habits of people from that state, local foods that might be damaging to your teeth, local costs of dental procedures, and other information that are unique to your geographical target.
4. Localizing Title Tags
The title tag is the most important on-page ranking factor in regular SEO, and it’s the same with local SEO. This HTML element gives search engines an idea of what the webpage is about at a high level. Mentioning your target location along with other keywords in the title tag enhances the relevance of the webpage to the location it was meant for.
Adding location mentions to your title tags isn’t rocket science. Simply write the title tag as you normally would, but add location keywords in such a way that the thought behind the phrase is clear and the flow feels natural. For example:
Regular SEO Title Tag
Local SEO Title Tag
Cosmetic Dentist | YourSite.com
Cosmetic Dentist in Janesville, Minnesota | YourSite.com
Electrical Supplies | YourSite.com
Buy Electrical Supplies in Minnesota | YourSite.com
Italian Restaurant | YourSite.com
Italian Restaurant in Minnesota | YourSite.com
In each case, simple edits were made to make mention of the target location or demographic in a way that looks natural.
5. Localizing Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions may no longer directly impact your website’s rankings, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect them. Localizing your webpages’ meta descriptions is proven to improve their click-through rates (CTR) in the SERPs. While the text in the meta description doesn’t move the ranking needle, the CTR of the page certainly does.
Following the same principles as the title tags, meta descriptions have to be written in a way that provides the readers an accurate summary of what they’ll find in the page. The target location needs to be mentioned along with other keywords in the meta description in a way that sounds natural and unforced. Here are some examples:
Localized Meta Description
Cosmetic Dentist in Janesville, Minnesota | YourSite.com
Our Janesville, Minnesota clinic offers professional cosmetic dentistry procedures at reasonable rates. Visit us today and start wearing the smile you’ve always wanted.
Buy Electrical Supplies in Minnesota | YourSite.com
Explore the widest selection of electrical supplies in Minnesota and get free shipping on your first order. We offer price matching and easy return policies.
Again, the process shouldn’t be too complicated. All you need to do is to find an angle where the location’s name can be inserted without making it look like you’re forcing the issue.
6. Localizing H1 Text
Ideally, all webpages should have their main header text tagged in H1 HTML formatting. This denotes to search engines that the text is microcosm of the rest of the page’s content. In general, good H1 text needs to mention the prime keyword that the page represents while providing an informative and compelling message to human users. In local SEO, the same principles apply but the target location will need to be mentioned in addition to the main keyword.
For instance, a Law Firm in Glen Burnie will probably have several landing pages representing keywords pertaining to their services. As such, H1 text could read like:
- Law Firm in Glen Burnie, Maryland
- Lawyers in Glen Burnie, Maryland
- Legal Services in Glen Burnie, Maryland
Just like in news articles, simple, direct-to-the-point and keyword-infused phrases work best for H1 text.
7. Using the Hreflang Tag
Hreflang is a HTML meta element that was introduced by Google in 2011 to help websites indicate to Google what language is being used on a specific webpage. This allowed Google to better understand most of the world’s languages, and it also helped the search engine better understand the structures of multilingual websites.
In local SEO, it’s very important to use Hreflang tags if your entire website sections of it are written in languages other than English. This gives Google a strong indicator that your webpages should be favored in territories where the language you indicated is used or whenever queries containing words from that particular language are entered.
The simplest way to implement Hreflang tags is by inserting a line of code in the <head> section of your webpages which will look something like this:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com” hreflang=”en-us” />
The URL indicated as the alternate is a version of the page in a different language. The Hreflang markup basically tells Google that the pages’ content is the same – just written in different languages.
8. Implementing Local Business Schema Markups
Structured data is essentially specialized code that helps search engines makes sense of nouns or “entities” such as the names of people, places, organizations, and more. In the past, entities were often confused by search engine algorithms as random alphanumeric strings of text. With the introduction of structured data and Google’s Knowledge Graph, however, Google can now better recognize what entities represent.
Together with other major search engines such as Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu and Yandex, Google introduced Schema.org, which is a structured data markup convention recognized by all participants. This means that whatever Schema.org a webmaster implements on a website will be recognized by all search engines that signed off on Schema.
In local SEO, structured data is very useful for marking up your business name, address and phone number (NAP) to help Google recognize them for what they are. A marked-up address and local phone number strengthens the degree of relevance that Google perceives from your site to its target location, giving you a better chance to improve your rankings for the search terms you want to go after.
If you’re doing local SEO, adding local business Schema markups is a must. Fortunately, it’s not as technical as it sounds. To do this, just follow these steps:
a. Add your NAP information to a sitewide section of your site such as its header or footer.
b. Edit the HTML code of this information by adding the following:
<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<span itemprop=”name”>YOUR BUSINESS NAME</span><br />
<span itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”><br />
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>YOUR STREET ADDRESS</span><br />
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>YOUR CITY</span>, <span itemprop=”addressRegion”>YOUR REGION</span><br />
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>ZIP CODE</span><br />
<span itemprop=”telephone”>YOUR PHONE NUMBER</span><br />
c. Once implemented, you can use Google’s Structured Data testing tool to see if the search engine can locate the markups you made without issue.
d. After a few days, you can also check Google Search Console’s Structured Data report to see if the markups you made are registering correctly.
The NAP combination is among the most crucial elements of your SEO campaign. Whether it’s in your site or other websites, make it a point for your NAP to be consistent anywhere it appears.
9. Google MyBusiness Optimization
Google MyBusiness is a free service that allows business owners to create listings on Google about their enterprises. Each listing contains information such as the company’s name, address, phone number, operating hours, images, and reviews. In local SEO, your Google MyBusiness listing works in tandem with your website to help you gain greater visibility for search results pertaining to your target keywords in your area.
To create a Google MyBusiness listing, head over to this page and follow the steps. During the account creation process, keep these tips in mind:
- Make the NAP Consistent. The business name, address, and phone number on your Google MyBusiness account should be the exact same as those found in your website and local citation sources such as Yelp. A local phone number is best, but a 1-800 or mobile number will do if you don’t have one.
- Fill All Applicable Fields. It’s not just your NAP that matters. Operating hours, availability during weekends, activities during holidays and other details also matter.
- Upload images for each photo type requested.
- Post Regular Updates. Google MyBusiness has added the ability to post announcements on your account. Use this to let customers know about important developments such as promos, new products, new services, and more.
- Make Your Google Maps Marker Accurate. In theory, Google should be able to put an accurate marker on your Google Maps listing based on your address alone. In reality, things aren’t quite that easy. Give your Google Maps placement a careful look and check whether the marker is in the right spot. It’s pretty common for people to see that the marker could be off by a few hundred meters. If this is the case, you have the option to manually drag the marker for a more accurate placement on the map.
- Get Reviewed. Reviews on Google MyBusiness will help people and search engines get a bigger hint that you’re running a legitimate operation. For best results, avoid paying for or soliciting reviews from people who don’t really use your products or services. Get reviews from real customers with honest opinions on your offerings.
Keep your Google MyBusiness up to date and consistent with your website’s geographic information and you should be fine.
10. Get Local Citations
Local citations are appearances of your business’s NAP online whether it’s on a regular website, a business directory, a news item, or on a social media profile. They help users discover your business and its whereabouts while giving search engines valuable clues on your physical location.
Some citation sources are focused on specific locations. An example of that would be your local chamber of commerce’s website where it might list the business information of all its members. Some citation sources, on the other hand, are based on industry. There are directories for engineers, medical professionals, lawyers, and other areas of interest where you can plant your information.
When submitting your business information for local citations, it’s very important to keep the NAP info consistent with the details on your website as well as the one in your Google MyBusiness listing. This sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to stray from the path of consistency if changes happen in your NAP such as when you move to another office address or if you change your phone number. When that happens, you’ll have to go through the exercise of reviewing all your published local citations and updating the information.
Moz has a pretty big list of citation sources that you can use to get started. However, there are many other websites that can give you citations and it’s up to you to figure out which ones make the most sense for your business in terms of geography and industry.
If the idea of submitting your NAP to dozens, if not hundreds, of websites seems daunting to you, you can always hire a SEO agency to do it. You can also use services such as Moz Local to unburden yourself from the process.
11. Build Local Links
The quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your webpages has always been a big part of regular SEO. With local SEO, it’s no different. Links are counted as votes of confidence which boost Google’s perception of popularity, trust, and authority towards a website. The only distinction is the fact that getting local links works better for local SEO.
In the same way that you wouldn’t ask a person from Norway about the best Indonesian dishes, it doesn’t make much local SEO sense to get links from a Norwegian website when you’re optimizing a website for a Bali-based beach resort. Logically, a reference from a local person writing for a local website will hold more weight as far as Google is concerned.
When trying to qualify a website’s suitability for a local SEO campaign, use the following parameters:
- Must have a Trust Flow score of 10 or better
- Must have a Domain Authority or Citation flow of 25 or better
- Has contextually relevant content to your website’s own.
- Ideally, it should have a local TLD e.g. .uk, .ca, .au
- If it doesn’t have a local TLD, inspect the website carefully and see if the content was written for a local audience. Some local sites use neutral TLDs.
- The website must be “real” i.e. not showing signs that it’s part of a private blog network (PBN)
- If the target location is a city or a region, prioritize link acquisition from websites that are strongly associated with the place. Local news websites and local business directories are prime examples.
- The website must not show signs that it was penalized by Google. Penalized sites often have sharply declining organic traffic which can be seen using tools such as SEMRush. Penalized sites also tend to rank for very few keywords which you can check using tools like Moz, Ahrefs and Majestic.
It’s not a bad idea to get links from foreign websites. This happens naturally and it may actually help your site’s rankings especially when the two websites are written in the same language. There’s also value in actively pursuing links from foreign websites, especially if those websites have great quality, legitimate readerships and good levels of authority. Just make sure to prioritize local link building before venturing outside the country.
Local SEO is mostly about proving to Google that your website represents a relevant business that’s physically located in its target location. You can send powerful signals to the search engine about this by:
- Making sure your NAP is ubiquitous in your webpages, local citation sources and Google MyBusiness
- Writing content that mentions your target location and is written with the local audience in mind
- Acquiring off-page localization signals from local citations as well as backlinks from local websites
- Getting localized reviews from real customers
Ultimately, local SEO isn’t much different from regular SEO. There are just additional steps and guidelines you need to follow, but everything boils down to putting together a popular, high-quality website.