30.07.18 Update - We've just released an online video version of this Local SEO training, including additional hints and tips not covered in this post. You can view this training on SkillShare and by using this link you'll also get 2 months free to access all other online courses.
As simple as it is to write, this can be a real challenge. Broadly, search engine optimisation involves working on a number of aspects of your website and online presence.
If you are a small business providing products and services within a geographic area, it is often a good idea to start by looking at ranking higher in Google Maps and local organic search. You will be going after the keywords that include your town or city, and the individuals that are searching on devices that are geographically close to you. For example, instead of trying to rank for “web design”, it will be less challenging and require fewer resources to try and rank for “web design leeds”. Please note that this is designed to be a started guide for those that have not approached local SEO before. We will be publishing a follow up advanced guide shortly.
Local search ranking factors
Before we start with an actionable guide, it’s useful to understand the factors that will impact how well you rank in Google Maps and in organic search. Or, if you like, skip straight to the action plan.
Google My Business Signals
Your local search campaigns will center around an optimised MyBusiness profile. This is what appears on the right when you Google your brand (on desktop). We’ll be looking at your contact information, category and images. Skip straight to how to optimise.
The links to your website
Another important ranking factor is the links back to your website. The more links from websites that are local to you and within the same niche, the stronger your chances for ranking more effectively for your keywords. Skip straight to how to optimise.
Signals from your website content
This area is called “On-Page SEO” and is related to the content of your site. The presence of your contact information, keywords in your content and titles and image alt text all have an influence. Skip straight to how to optimise.
Signals from your citation/directory listings
You can boost your local search and map ranking significantly by adding your business to a number of online directories. This includes your Facebook and twitter profiles, and platforms like Yelp. Skip straight to how to optimise.
Signals from your online reviews
Google assesses your reviews from across the internet when positioning you within it’s search results. As well as being important for potential customers, these reviews have a strong ranking influence too. Skip straight to how to optimise.
How visitors behave when on your website
The behaviour of your website visitors also counts. In particular, the amount of people that click on your website from search engines, your website’s bounce rate and check ins all impact your ranking. Skip straight to how to optimise.
How Google personalises results
Unfortunately there’s not alot you can do about this one. Google will personalise the websites it presents to searchers in line with their internet history and previous searches. For example if you visit BT’s website and then a few days later search “fibre optic broadband”, it’s more than likely that BT’s website would show higher in search results that it otherwise may have.
Signals from your social media
A small factor of your local search rankings but one that shouldn’t be ignored. Engagement across your social media platforms (for instance the size of your following, how many people click on your shared content etc) will all have an impact on your search rankings. Skip straight to how to optimise.
Now that you’ve got an idea about all of the factors that impact your search rankings, it’s time to work through this guide and optimise!
There are three things that you can do to prepare for your local SEO campaign. Not spending a bit of time planning within this stage will make the rest of this guide more difficult and less effective.
- The first stage of planning is deciding on what your NAP will be. Your NAP is a blueprint for your contact information across the internet and simply stands for Name, Address and Phone number. Get this straight from the beginning as it is really important you stick to this format when adding your information across the internet, without deviating AT ALL. Simply changing “Road” to “Rd” in your address may creating inconsistency and this will negatively impact your SEO.
- The second stage of planning is keyword research. This is where you need to identify which keywords you will try to rank for, taking into account which ones your competitors rank for and how many people search using these terms every month. There will be no point optimising for a keyword phrase if it is only driving 10 visitors per month.
Start by logging into your Search Console (if you have it installed, if not read more – if you don’t have Search Console data to play with, start with the next step). Under Search Traffic > Search Appearance you’ll see a list of keywords you are already ranking for. It’s easier to optimise for a keyword that you are already positioned for. Note down the ones that you are already seeing impressions for.
Next, you’ll want to go to the Google Keywords Planner, or if you prefer, The Hoth’s version. These tools will allow you to find new keywords using the ones you’ve got already. If I were to use these tools, I’d be typing in things like “web design leeds”, “freelance web design” and “SEO leeds” and noting down relevent keywords that are generating a decent volume of traffic, adding these to the list of those I am already ranking for.
Finally, you’ll want to create an account with SEMrush. At this stage, you should use this tool to research what keywords your strongest competition are ranking for and adding them to the list. You can find your competition simply by doing a Google search for “your niche + location”.
As always, there are so many articles online that will go far more in depth regarding keyword research and planning and we know that this is a passing glance of what you can do. If you’re interested please do go and do a bit of your own research. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time or motivation, as completing the above steps will be enough to get you on to a good start.
Optimising your Google MyBusiness Profile
If you do not have a Google MyBusiness profile set up yet, this is the very first thing you need to do. While you’re at it, you should create a Bing Places profile too. If you already have these profiles, make sure that you can login and access them.
Once you have your profiles activated, you will need to verify your business location. This involves Google and Bing sending you out a card in the post with a code that you will enter in your profile. Once complete you’ll have a blue tick next to your name signifying that you are verified.
Now to the optimisation:
- Ensure that your business name, contact number, email and address are exactly as per your NAP information that you decided on in the planning stage. If your address is “One Main Street”, don’t deviate to “One Main St”.
- Ensure that the business category you have selected resembles your industry as closely as possible.
- Upload as many images to your Google profile as possible, including your logo. Examples of your previous work, your premises and any events are all great ideas. Before doing this, rename your files to an SEO friendly title that includes your keyword (e.g. LPD-logo-web-design-leeds.png). You can also go one further and geotag your images, including your geographical location in each file’s metadata. This sounds complicated but is really easy using this website.
- A relatively new feature that you may have noticed is the ability for you to present short posts to your search visitors. There are tonnes of case studies available that demonstrate that a topical post published at the right time can have a dramatic increase in your rankings. Keep your post to 80-100 words (including your keywords) and include a quality image and call to action button.
On Page optimisation
Optimising the content on your website is another important aspect of your local SEO. If you’re tech savvy this doesn’t cost anything but does take time. If you are not tech savvy, we will be happy to help! Let’s get started.
- First of all, check that your website is mobile responsive, has a quick load time and if possible, an SSL certificate installed. Google gives a slight preferential treatment to websites that have all of these boxes ticked. If your website is not mobile friendly, takes a while to load and doesn’t have an SSL certificate installed, you may wish to contact a developer.
- Your NAP information needs to appear on every page of your website. The most logical place to add this is into your footer or sidebar. Make sure to add it exactly in line with the blueprint you created earlier.
- You will also want to include an embedded Google Map on your site somewhere. Some themes will allow you to add this simply using a module but if this isn’t an option, you can learn how to do this here.
- If you are using WordPress, you can optimise your Meta Titles and Descriptions of all pages easily using the Yoast Plugin. Your Meta titles and descriptions are critically important as this is the information that is shown to Google and is displayed in search results. Your Meta Title and Description should include your keyword as near to the beginning as possible and is natural to read. Equally, you will want your Title and Description to be written like an advert so it entices people to click on your link. Make sure you stay within the character limit as you don’t want your copy to be incomplete in search results. If you are trying to rank for a number of keywords then it is advised you optimise each page of your website for a different keyword.
- Once you’ve optimised your meta data, the next step is to optimise the on-page content on your website pages. This basically means you need to include your keyword in your H1 title, in a subheading, and within the written content a number of times. The best way to do this correctly and not over optimise is to install Yoast (above) and follow it’s recommendations on each page of your website. Getting your SEO Yoast rating to green is a great indication that you’ve done a good job.
- As well as adding your keywords into your written copy, you can also optimise your website images. This is good practice as it also makes your site more accessible. To add your keywords using WordPress, navigate to the Media tab > Library. Clicking on your images will load the screen below, where you can add your keywords to the Alt Text box. As you did for the Google images above, it’s also a good idea to ensure that your file names are SEO friendly before uploading (e.g. “LPD-logo-web-development.jpg”).
- A great way to organically increase your local rankings is to blog regularly. Google loves content that is updated regularly as it signals a website is alive (more information here). Another benefit is that you can optimise your blog posts to rank for specific keywords using the techniques described in this guide. Blog about your niche and things going on in your local area for best results!
- It’s best SEO practice to have good internal linking throughout your website. This means that each page connects to others, not counting your main navigation menu. It’s quite easy to add these links throughout your site using the WordPress page builder or theme builder. This will aid search engines to crawl your website easily and spread around your local SEO efforts throughout your website.
Citations and Directory listings
Definitely the easiest but most time consuming elements of local SEO is to add your business to as many online directories – these are also called citations. Consistency is key here, which is why we created a NAP blueprint at the beginning to ensure that there is no variation on your contact information.
- Add your business to as many citation and directory sites as possible, keeping your NAP information exactly the same. To get started, you can download our list of 155 citation sites by clicking the button below (you can ignore any that are not UK-based and only pay for paid listings if you can afford to – there are plenty that are free).
- If you can, upload your logo, add videos and include a decent business description. As much information that you can add to these listings the better (time allowing of course!).
- Brightlocal is a fantastic service that analyses your citation links and informs you of duplicates or inconsistent citations. Even better, it offers a free 30 day trial which should be plenty of time to optimise your listings.
- Remember to ensure that your Bing Places, Twitter and Facebook profiles reflect your NAP information too – these count as citations!
Online reviews from across the internet have a considerable influence on your local SEO. The quality of the reviews as well as the regularity, quantity and diversity of these testimonials can have a real boost on your rankings. So these reviews represent a bonus for your local SEO as well as a very good way of building trust with customers!
If you don’t already use Google, Facebook or Yelp to collect customer/client testimonials then you are missing a trick. Start by asking your existing or past customers to leave you a review on one of the three platforms and make a habit of politely asking for reviews from every new client.
You’ll want to receive reviews on a regular basis, and if possible, evenly across the three services.We wrote a whole post about getting online reviews that should make this process easier (including a service that will provide you a direct link to pass to customers that will take them straight to your Google review page). Read more here.
The more popular your website is and the longer people spend time on it are great signals that tell Google your content is worth ranking. If you do not have Google Analytics and Search Console set up for your website this should be a priority (more about this here). The key metrics worth paying attention to are:
- Click through rate (can be found in Search Console): If you can see in Search Console that you are already ranking for certain keywords (within Search Traffic > Search Analytics) but very few people are clicking on your link, you need to look at your Meta Title and Description. As well as being optimised for your chosen keywords, your description should be written like an advert and entice a visitor to click through and view your website.
- Bounce rate (can be found in Analytics): Bounce rate is the percentage of users that spend less than 30 seconds on your website without interacting with it. If your bounce rate is high (above 50%) you will want to think about what a visitor sees straight away when they land. If your website is visually unappealing, or your copy and content does not match with what you have written within your Meta Title/Description, these are things you need to resolve. Microanimations and interactive elements on your site can greatly help lower your bounce rate.
- Mobile clicks to call and directions: The more people that click to call or view directions to your business the better. Optimising your Meta Descriptions and Google Profile (discussed above) can really help boost these enquiries.
- Number of website visitors: Again, the more visitors to your site the better. Everything within this guide will help boost these numbers and you can always do more to spread the word about your website.
If you have followed and implemented all of the actions in this guide you will see a noticeable improvement in your local SEO. Well done! There is always more to do though. See our client resource page for more things that you can be doing to increase your online presence by clicking here.
Finally, there are even more things that you can do to improve your local SEO. We’ll be posting our follow on article, An Advanced Local SEO Rankings Guide, shortly!
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.