21 Aug SEO checklist part 11: Local SEO
LOCAL SEO CHECKLIST
If you own a brick and mortar business with a physical address, you need to know about local SEO.
What is local SEO?
Google serves up geo-targeted results based on your desktop’s IP address or your mobile phone’s GPS location. Local SEO is the process of optimizing a business for specific categories of products and services in a specific geographic location.
When done correctly, it can boost impressions, website visitors, direct phone calls and even greater foot traffic.
Google’s search engine is continually improving its ability to interpret the meaning and context behind specific searches. As the amount of mobile traffic and searches grows, it has become vital for Google to be able to serve up the most relevant results possible for each and every moment we search.
So whether you’re looking for a pediatric optometrist in the carpool line at your son’s elementary school, searching for coupons in the produce aisle of your grocery store, or settling a heated debate with friends at the bar, Google knows that it better serve up the most relevant results or risk losing you (and your data) to Bing.
What is the “local 3-pack” in Google?
The “local 3-pack” is a section of the search results in Google that includes local business information relevant to the searcher’s query. It is generated when Google decides a query has “local intent.”
The example above shows three different sections of the search results page, all of which rely on different signals and Google systems for rankings.
The middle section is the local listings section, also known as the “local pack.” This section is not part of Google’s normal organic results and has its own factors that influence which businesses are featured.
It’s easy to see from this example how important it is for a business to appear in the “local pack.” It gives businesses major search real estate and can be extra eye-catching, especially when you are on the go.
Reasons why you want to show up in local structured data:
- Includes a useful Google map with location markers
- Helpful user reviews
- Hours the business is open
- One-click directions (great for mobile!)
The rest of this local SEO checklist is dedicated to helping you learn how to increase your chances of appearing in Google’s local search results for your customers’ searches.
Local SEO checklist
- Structured data markup (schema.org)
- Google My Business
- Local listings and citations
- Local links
- Local reviews
- Local SEO on-page factors
1. Structured data markup (schema.org)
“Structured data markup is a standard way to annotate your content so machines can understand it. When your web pages include structured data markup, Google (and other search engines) can use that data to index your content better, present it more prominently in search results, and surface it in new experiences like voice answers, maps, and Google Now,” according to the Google Developers site.
Schema.org is a type of structured data, or microdata, that Google and other search engines use to add more context and detail to the snippets of search results. It tells search engines what your data means, not just what it is. It also gives website owners and site administers a great opportunity to showcase their best content, dynamically customized for each query right in the search results.
Different types of schema.org markup have unique HTML property requirements. But for local SEO, we are interested in the “Organization” schema.org item type.
Adding specific markup tags like “openingHours,” “brand” and “address” help Google understand your business better. The better it understands you, the more context it has about your services and products. And the more context it has, the more likely it is that you’ll appear in local results for the “right” searches.
It looks difficult at first. But, even if you don’t have access to a programmer, there are ways to implement schema without manually coding <itemprop> tags to your website.
How to add schema.org to WordPress
Method A: Google’s help tools
- Visit Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper and select “Local Businesses”
- Enter the page you want to markup
- Find and highlight the “locally relevant” information and use Google’s dropdown to select the property type
- When you’re done, click “CREATE HTML”
- Copy the code and test it in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool
- Log into WordPress and paste the source code into the page
Method B: WordPress schema.org plugins
There are a couple of plugins that make it easy to add markup with a simple form on each page or post. Each provides a variety of item type options for marking up your data.
- Schema Creator by Raven
- All in One schema.org Rich Snippets
- Yoast Local SEO (a paid plugin that you can add onto their free version)
2. Google My Business
Google has consolidated lots of their older business listing services (Google Places for Business, Google+ dashboard, etc.) into an easier to manage product called Google My Business.
It’s free. It’s fairly easy to use. And it’s essential for local SEO.
Before you go off and create a new listing, make sure your business doesn’t already have an existing one. Follow the steps below to squeeze the most of your Google My Business listing.
How to optimize Google My Business for local SEO
- Visit google.com/business and sign in.
- Click “Get your page” and pick the appropriate business type.
- Search for your business by your phone number. (I recommend searching by phone number, business name and address to cover all the bases.)
- Claim your business, or if you can’t find your business, click “Add your business.”
- The next step requires you to verify by phone or mail that you have authority to manage the business on Google.
- Verify your business and fill out every single piece of information you can (address, hours, pricing, description, phone number, fax number, email address, pictures, etc.).
- Make sure this information is consistent across the platforms, which is critical to local SEO.
3. Local listings and citations
Aside from Google My Business, Google also looks to and trusts information from a select number of reputable online local directories. There are thousands of online directories, but most of the information comes from one of six main location data aggregators: Infogroup, Neustar Localeze, Acxiom, Factual, Foursquare and Yext.
Make sure that these directories have consistent information regarding your business name, address, phone number, fax number, email address and services or product offerings.
Let me warn you – without using a premium service, this process can be extremely time consuming. This is especially true if your business has changed locations or names over time.
Why is consistency important for local SEO?
Google is less likely to list your business in the local search results if it finds discrepancies in listing data.
Just think about it. There nine dentists in the area. Three of them have at least 85 percent listing accuracy, while the others are all below 60 percent. Which dentist offices do you think Google is going to select to show in the “local 3-pack”?
Premium local SEO services
Here are three paid services that help automate local listings:
I use these premium services’ free tools to help identify which directories have inaccurate or inconsistent information. Then, without paying, I can copy and paste this data into Excel and have an intern manually correct most of the information on each directory – for free. Sorry intern!
4. Local link building
Search engines look to hyperlocal websites for cues about other local websites, organizations or businesses. For example, a newspaper in Charlotte, NC has boatloads of trust with Google for news-related searches with “Charlotte, NC” intent.
ABZ Creative Partners was able to get our #NoPantsJune charity event covered by a local publication called CharlotteFive.
Try to get links from web domains that already have local authority to help your local SEO.
Examples of local link building:
- Local newspapers
- Local blogs
- Local Chamber of Commerce
- Local vendor websites
- Local client websites
- Hyperlocal directories
- com groups
- Social media groups and business pages
For more link building ideas, see SEO checklist part 10: Link building.
5. Local reviews
Google+ reviews, and to a lesser extent other review platforms like Yelp, are important factors for local SEO. Be careful to not overdo it when soliciting reviews from customers and clients.
Google has algorithms that identify when a business is gaming the system by writing their own reviews. Too many positive reviews from clients in a short amount of time can also get your business flagged.
If you’re a B2B business, my suggestion is to email select clients one at a time over the course of several months to slowly build up positive reviews.
If you’re a multi-location B2C business, you need to work on adding more positive reviews than negative ones to help increase your SERP CTR.
Providing incentives to regular customers can help, but providing excellent value to your customers is the most surefire way to boost positive reviews. I know, how annoying, right?
6. Local SEO on-page factors
Below are just a few simple ways to tell Google that your business provides products or services in a specific location.
- Full address in footer (in HTML, not an image)
- Full address and contact information on contact page
- Add city name, when appropriate, in title tags and meta descriptions
- Add city name, when appropriate, in H1, H2, and H3 tags
- Add city name, when appropriate, in ALT image tags
- Write locally-themed content on your top landing pages to influence Google’s semantic search factors (for example, “CLT” is a common abbreviation for Charlotte, NC)
The key here is to not push the boundaries too far. My rule is to SEO-ify the content in a way that brings value to the reader. If I can do that and check off all the major SEO factors, I’ve done my best to future-proof my website’s SEO against any major algorithm changes.
At the end of the day, SEO is about delivering a better search experience to users. Always strive to do that and you’ll be safe forever.
For a comprehensive list of on-page SEO factors, check out the SEO checklist part 9: On-page optimization.
The future of local SEO
SEO is changing. Here are some things to help you get ahead of the game.
Google’s local 7-pack is now a 3-pack
In August 2015, the local results portion of Google’s search results reduced the number of spots from seven to three.
I’m sure several Google employees with PhDs lounging in their augmented reality pods ran statistical analysis showing a positive increase in user engagement and local listing accuracy when the number of local results was reduced to three.
I’m sure this will change. This is just evidence of Google’s on-going dedication to updating its user experience in an attempt to deliver the best results possible.
A business should never get too comfortable with their current position. And an organization dedicated to cutting-edge digital marketing should never be happy with the status quo.
Hyperlocal SEO using low energy Bluetooth “beacon” technology
In the next five years, nearly every major retailer, stadium, public park and grocery store in America will be using hyperlocal beacon technology to target localized information, accurate to the inch, to everyone with a smart device.
Unlike GPS, these beacons will interact with smartphones and wearable technology to give us custom resources like product information, coupons and reminders when we walk by a certain store, product, aisle, room or floor.
Apple already has the ability to do this with its iBeacon technology. Adoption has been slow but steady, because it’s not an open source technology and stores have been slow to catch up.
Google released an open source format called Eddystone for Bluetooth low energy (LE) beacons for developers to work with. Being an open source development, this format will rapidly expedite hyperlocal beacon technology. It also gives us a hint as to who will be the future gatekeeper of such rich data.
But how does this affect search?
Imagine being in your kitchen, searching “pasta,” and getting four pasta recipe choices. Each recipe contains a list of ingredients with discount coupons that you can use at your nearest grocery store.
Once you get to the grocery store Google Interactive (I made that up) takes over and shows you exactly where the items are inside the store. At the checkout, you just swipe the recipe on screen and the discounts are applied.
In ten years, you’ll do the same search and a drone will deliver the ingredients right to your house.
The best organizations anticipate the future of search and position themselves ahead of the pack.