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The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO

20th March 2020 by Douglas Sinclair | Content & Search, Search

Guide to Local SEO

If you own a local business, then it goes without saying that you’ll want your community to be aware of your services and products – both online and offline. In today’s digital world, you need a search engine optimisation (SEO) plan dedicated to boosting your presence to local customers. In other words, a local SEO strategy.

A local SEO strategy will showcase your services and products to potential customers searching online nearby to your business. View it as the virtual bridge that your customers need to cross to come into contact with your business.

The issue for many businesses is that the market is likely highly competitive; however with the right approach, your business can break into Google’s map pack on search engine results pages (SERPs). The map pack (or 3-Pack) are the top three nearby businesses that Google deems to be the most reliable and relevant to your search query. These results are hyper-localised which can make it difficult to guarantee your place as the SERPs are based on a users’ location so two users in the same town may get different results. However there are many steps you can take to help improve your chances of appearing.

For example, if you were searching for pizza, it will pull in the top three places, reviewed well near you. 


So, what’s the secret?

Below you’ll find the key components crucial to a successful local SEO strategy that will help you climb those rankings in no time. Any SEO worth their salt leveraging a location-based strategy starts by creating a Google My Business listing. This is the muscle behind your local search presence.

Whenever a potential customer types a query into Google, the search engine will immediately compile a list of businesses located nearby that are relevant to your search. The local SEO’s goal is to get to the top of the local rankings in your niche. To do that, you’re going to have to optimise your listing.

Here’s what we cover to help you optimise:

Here’s how to optimise your Google My Business listing

Best practice tips


When creating a GMB account, you’ll have the opportunity to list your business under a primary category and multiple secondary categories. A list will be provided for you to choose from and the primary category will be the one that Google gives the most importance, so make sure that you pick the one which is most relevant to your business.

After that you can pick several secondary categories, however, try to limit it to only those that accurately describe your business. For example a pizza-only restaurant would only choose the ‘pizza restaurant’ category which would also help them rank for more generic terms such as restaurants or Italian food. However, this does not mean you should list your amenities, for example a jewellery store with a champagne bar in it would not list itself as a bar.

Include Keywords 

Targeting keywords relevant to your products and services is the linchpin to SEO success. Having a carefully curated keyword strategy will not only help attract search traffic to your business but also further your chances of converting those searches into sales.

Without a solid keyword strategy, your business will lack direction and will be aiming at the wrong targets. Similar to on-page SEO, it is important to include these target keywords within your business description and also in any posts you create.

Uploading Photos

Quality photos help to add personality to your business that can make your listing stand out in the crowd. Adding a touch of character will build more trust from browsers, think about it – people need more of a reason than a high ranking to invest in your business. Search Engine Journal claims that listings with photos have 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps and a 35% higher click-through rate than listings without pictures.

It is worth pointing out that we said quality photos, you can’t just upload any picture of your business. If you want to engage your customer audience and build trust, your photos should meet specific criteria. Here’s a few pointers:

  • Exterior photos: Ensure to upload a photo from each direction so that your customers will recognise your business.
  • Interior photos: Capture photos that envisage what it’s like to stand inside your business as a customer, for example, reception or entrance points
  • Product photos: If required, take good quality pictures that advertise what you have on offer, for example, a meal from the menu.
  • Photos at work: Take some shots of your staff in action to get a sense of the environment.

Google allows customers to share their personal photos of your business which some business owners can be concerned about. But, try to think of it as free marketing. Customer pictures help to build authenticity and it may even save you time building a library of pictures for your listing.

Just make sure to check up on the photos every now and then, as a business owner you can’t currently remove images but if you feel they aren’t suitable you can report them.

Verifying Your Listing

Now you’re happy with the way your listing looks, all of the key information has been filled in, it’s time to verify with Google.

Very simple, you will just need to follow the steps Google My Business asks you and you’ll receive a verification message for you to confirm and then you’re good to go!

Consistency in Name, Address and Phone Number (NAPs)

Once you have created your GMB account, the next thing that you’ll have to tick off the list is ensuring that your business name, address and phone number is consistent across all directories.

If there are any discrepancies, Google will take a dim view and mitigate your chances of breaking into the 3-pack. Ensuring consistency can be tedious and time-consuming, but some tools can help. Bright Local is a nifty piece of software that can help you, as well as some other local SEO issues.

If you have multiple locations, you should keep the name consistent across all. If you include location names within your business name it will not help improve it’s ranking within local search and may be considered spam.

The exceptions to this are if you have sub-brands or unique store names depending on location for example, “Supermarket Local” and “Supermarket Superstore.”  If you are located within a shopping centre then don’t include this as part of your business name for example instead of “Supermarket at Local Shopping Centre” the listing would still just be called: “Supermarket”

Sign Your Business Up to Directories 

Once you’ve created your Google My Business account for your business, and ensured it’s consistently referenced to across the web, it’s time to sign up to additional directories to help build a strong foundation for your local listing. Directory listings help signal to Google the validity of your listing.

They operate much in the same way as links in traditional SEO; you can have good and bad links. And so, to ensure that you build a solid local SEO foundation, make sure that your business is signed up to credible directories. Yelp , Bing and Yellow Pages are a few examples of directories that can help build a strong foundation.

The latest feature to be introduced within the SERPs  is the ‘Find results on’ snippet. Introduced in February 2020, this snippet lists local directory pages that are related to your search query. As it appears just below Search Ads but above the map 3-pack it’s an additional incentive to get your business listed within directories.


Encourage Customer Reviews

The more positive reviews your business gets, the more visible your GMB ranking becomes. Hopefully, your business is providing excellent customer service that encourages them to leave a positive review. But, we know this takes time, and customers may need to be reminded. Here are some creative ways to encourage customer feedback without coming across too pushy:

  • Place a Google My Business review link in your email marketing campaigns and ask customers in your email for their thoughts on your products and services.
  • Remind staff members to ask for reviews when serving customers, especially when customers seem satisfied.
  • If you have a good relationship with your customers, you can always reach out directly and ask for a review
  • Use social media to ask for reviews with clear instructions on how to do it.

Now, responding to customer reviews is arguably just as important as receiving them. Why? Because being highly responsive, especially towards criticism, effectively shows that you care about your customers. Responding also suggests that you’ve taken this feedback on board and are willing to rectify any mistakes made. Hopefully, this will also increase the likelihood of returning customers.


Google My Business Tips for Your Sector

Now you have your GMB profile set up it’s time to look at how you can optimise your listing for your particular business. While the tips above are applicable for all businesses, there are some unique ways you can optimise your listing depending on your business type.

We will cover:

  • Small Businesses
  • Retail
  • Professional Services

Small businesses

As a small business, you’re most likely looking to increase the number of local customers who find you through discovery searches. Think of your listing as the front page of your business and how you can make it as helpful and detailed as possible.

While you may hum and haw about what categories your business can be classed under, what displays on local search results is not always solely reliant on the business category you choose. As you can see in the example below, we’ve searched for “hidden bar” and with the help of customer reviews, a mention on a website and the business name these top listings have appeared.

When it comes to showcasing the kind of services you offer there are many options. For example, cafes and restaurants can include links to menus so customers can easily check out what they want beforehand, links to booking a table via their website or even links to their delivery services. It may also be worth including your menu as a photo. Just ensure it’s high enough quality.

What are Google posts?

Google Posts give you a way to highlight offers with links to your products, promote events, share great customer reviews and even a blog. Small businesses should use this extensively as they display within local search.

To create a post, you can go to your GMB listing, then “Posts” and then “Create Post”.

You are given 1,500 characters to play with, with each post you should also include a relevant high quality image and a CTA (such as “Call Now” or “Learn More”).

You can measure the success of your post by seeing how many views it has and how many times a customer clicked your CTA. To take it one step further,  if you also set up unique UTM tracking codes using Google’s Campaign URL builder, Google Analytics can help you track the actions the user took once they landed on your website.

Schema Markup

For the more technically minded, it is worth looking into the implementation of Schema Markup on your website. Schema is used to help search engines understand more about the data you have on your website by tagging the data.

The most appropriate Schema for a small business to use would be the  Local Business Schema Markup.

A full guide to how to use Schema for Local SEO can be found here.


Retail Businesses

When you run a retail business, it can be tempting to promote deals and special promotions to increase a drive in traffic. For your GMB listing, you should avoid including any promotional copy in your company name or description as doing so is against Google’s guidelines. Instead you should the products section with your listing or a created a dedicated Google Post.

For more tips on GMB naming consistency, see here.

You’ve likely spent a lot of time making your store look appealing but unfortunately, often Google Maps default image of your storefront will not be your preferred picture. Take pictures of the storefront and the inside of your store (when it’s empty) to encourage people to visit or experiment with 360° photos and tours of your store.

You may want to hire a professional photographer for these photos to ensure they are high quality and present your store in the best light. Make sure to then categorise these images using the Cover, Logo, Interior, Exterior.

Make sure to categorise your images

Google’s choice for the exterior of your store may not always reflect how you want your store to appear.

For more best practice tips on photos for your GMB listing, read here.


Professional services 

If you’re an accountant, lawyer or consultant, you may be wondering what you can do to stand out from the crowd within your local area. Studies show nearly half of all business listings have incorrect information in them so even with some simple steps to improve your GMB profile you can make a big difference.

If you are a service based business that doesn’t work from one central location, you may think that setting up a highly optimised virtual office location bang in the centre of town will improve your local visibility but this is against Google’s guidelines unless permanently staffed during business hours.

Instead, you should have a GMB listing for the physical location of your office and then use the Service Area option to show the region, city or postcode you can deliver to. Simply click edit Service Area on your profile and start typing in the name of the region, city or postcode you serve.

You can also list your services (and, optionally, your prices) and offer appointments, including a URL to a booking page or contact page on your listing so customers can book straight from the Google Maps page. If you offer free consultations, consider creating a Google Post about it and include a link to your information page.

You may also want to think about common questions that customers ask about your services and use the Questions and Answers section to provide public answers to them. As GMB lets anyone ask or answer a question, make sure you check these regularly and aim to be the first to answer any queries or report to Google any questions or answers that are inappropriate.


Measuring local SEO success

Local SEO can be used to improve performance across multiple areas of your business; the main metrics to follow are:

  • Search visibility
  • Organic traffic to your website
  • Footfall in your physical location / enquiries about your services

Visibility in search

The best way to measure visibility in search is by looking at your Discovery Searches within GMB Insights. It tells you the number of times your business appeared within searches around the products or services you offer. We’d recommend downloading insights weekly or monthly to track whether your business is becoming more visible as you continue to optimise your listing.

Within GMB Insights, you can also see the keywords customers use to find your business. You should compare these search terms with your keyword research to see if there are any keywords you’re not currently appearing for. The next step would be to create additional content around these search terms that tie into your products or services.

You can use tools like AWR Cloud or Sistrix to track how your rankings change for these keywords within your local area.

Increasing traffic to your website

GMB Insights can show you the number of visits your website has through organic search. However, looking at GMB website actions alone will rarely give you an accurate picture of how much traffic GMB is bringing in.

We’d suggest setting up unique UTM tracking codes using Google’s Campaign URL builder for:

  • GMB Listings
  • GMB Posts
  • GMB Events
  • GMB Offers

Once you’ve set up the tracking codes, you can use Google Analytics to measure and monitor the traffic you’re getting. Once you have collected data, you can have a clearer understanding of your performance and make any necessary changes to your local SEO strategy.

Footfall in your physical location and service enquiries

You can use GMB Insights direction and phone call actions to give you an idea of the number of people who visited your business or made enquiries via your local search listing. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that customers can also contact or visit you without using these call-to-actions.

As a result, you may want to ask customers how they found out about your business when they visit or make a purchase so you can attribute it to your local SEO efforts.


Got a question?

And now you have it – the key fundamentals for how you can use Google My Business to improve your local SEO. Getting the foundations in place is simple, but getting to the top of the local rankings isn’t as easy and understanding the ways in which you can attain a strong Local SEO rating can be tricky.

SEO takes time and experience, and every business industry poses its own set of unique problems. But, that’s where we can help.

If you have any questions surrounding local SEO, creating a lasting strategy and how we could help, don’t hesitate to contact a member of our team today.


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