The Basics of Local SEO

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Of all the different aspects of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the most important for small businesses is “Local SEO.” The name says it all: this is search engine optimization for a very specific physical reason. But why does this matter more than general SEO?

If you’re a small business trying to compete locally, there is no reason to appear in search results for someone hundreds of miles away. You don’t want your Atlanta-based business to come up in a New Yorker’s search results, but you do want to make sure you come up in every Atlantan’s results when they search for something relevant to your business.

Search algorithms seem to change every day, and if you read up on the subject, you’ll probably encounter a new “magic trick” just as often. However, just like general SEO, the trick to “Local” is that there are no tricks. You have to focus on providing real value for the customers you want to obtain in the area in which you’re doing business.

This post will teach you:

  1. The basics of SEO that must be in place before focusing on “Local”
  2. How to optimize your online content specifically for local searches
  3. Actionable steps you can take to boost your local rankings

Start with the SEO Basics

For in-depth info about how to get your site ready for SEO, check out our Intro to SEO post. As a quick refresher, those steps include:

  1. Making sure Google/Yahoo/Bing, etc. know how to find your site, and that you’re following their guidelines for appearing in the search results they provide.
  2. Making sure your robots.txt file allows search engines to crawl your site. If you “disallow” crawlers, you’ll never appear in searches.
  3. Having a fast, easy-to-navigate site that provides value to your target customer. Read up on how to create valuable content with the guide we wrote; the more people you can keep reading your site, the better you will rank.

How Local SEO Differs from Basic SEO

This might sound obvious, but it’s worth remembering: the difference between local SEO and basic SEO is that local is all about location. With that in mind, you need to make your location accurate and prominent.

To do that, put your brick-and-mortar address on your website. Search engine algorithms are good at parsing basic information, like the meaning of the word “contact.” Your contact page should contain your full mailing address. Search engines will follow this data to figure out where you are, making you more likely to appear in the search results of someone searching near you.

How Keywords Differ in Local SEO

In our initial post about the basics of SEO, I recommended a light touch when it comes to keywords. The old-school theory was that Google and other search engines would direct people to your site based on prominence of specific search terms alone. That’s obviously no longer fully true; otherwise, search results would be won by the person who can type “best french fries ever” the most. Keywords still do matter, but only to the extent that they actually help people find relevant content. With local SEO, “relevant” means where you are.

Once you’ve figured out which keywords your customers search for when they need your services (and are creating content on your site that includes those keywords), the next step is to add location data to them.

Let’s go back to my favorite example: french fries. In our earlier post, I mentioned that including “Atlanta” in your keyword choices for the best french fries makes it easier to achieve a high ranking in search results. Adding your location gives your content a much greater chance of appearing in the search results of the people around you–i.e., those who will actually be your customers. People who are hungry in Atlanta will then actually click your content, which, in the eyes of search engines, deems your content more trustworthy (and therefore more likely to keep ranking high).

As an added bonus, if you’ve gotten your business onto Google Maps, applying local terms to your keywords increases the likelihood of people knowing how to find you right away–as your business’s site and map location will more likely appear next to each other in search results.

How to Optimize Backlinks for Local SEO

Another crucial detail of basic SEO that changes when you start to think locally is backlinking. Backlinking is when other sites link to your content. Search engines value backlinks because they prove that your content is valuable to others. The prominence of the site that links to you, and the words they use as anchor text, are both extremely important to how search engines handle backlinks.

When working on local SEO, try to get backlinked by local publications. To continue my Atlanta/New York dichotomy: try to get links in Creative Loafing, not the Gothamist.

How do you get backlinks in prominent-enough publications to matter? Well, you can pay for them. One personal example is how my fiancee and I found our wedding photographer.

Bri McDaniels (now Richards) is an Atlanta-based wedding photographer. A Practical Wedding is a website for people like my fiancee and I: a couple not interested in propping up a billion dollar industry just so we can say “I do.” A Practical Wedding keeps the lights on by allowing sponsors to pay for write-ups, and the write-up Bri purchased is titled “Bri McDaniel Photography in Atlanta.” I give that an A+ for Local SEO, because:

  1. It tells me everything I need to know and nothing extraneous.
  2. It contains a term people actually search for (“Photography in Atlanta”)
  3. It’s on a very prominent site that focuses on exactly what Bri is focused on: weddings.
  4. And the bonus that turned an A into an A+: the URL that leads to the story is “http://apracticalwedding.com/2014/04/bri-mcdaniel-photography-atlanta-wedding-photographer/”. Notice “Atlanta wedding photographer” at the end–yet another multi-word term that people are actually searching for.

There are plenty of places on the web that you can pay for this kind of solid local SEO work. There are also plenty of free(ish) ways to do it.

Review Sites and Local SEO

One big thing I hit on in the Google Maps post was reviews. Here’s why: these days, reviews are almost necessarily tied to a location–again, exactly what you need for good local SEO.

Reviews are a sticky topic. It’s not fair (and it usually backfires) to make fake ones. People with negative experiences are way more likely to leave a review than people with positive ones.

So here is one part of local SEO that takes place inside your business instead of on your website: provide good service. I know that your business is great, and that you care about your customers. But we both know something is going to happen that is less than perfect. When that day comes, go above and beyond to make it right. Whatever it costs you to make a bad experience better will pay itself back in business saved.

With that said, email your best customers to ask for review on sites like Google Maps, Yelp, Urban Spoon/Zamato, etc. The more places like this that you have reviews, the better your rankings in local SEO will be.

Provide Value for your Locality

The first and final thing to say about local SEO is the point I drive every time I talk about success on the Internet: provide value.

What that means for local SEO is participation in local events. From social media to ice cream socials, participate in as many local conversations as you can. One of the best things you can do for your business (and, hey, your soul) is to volunteer.

If you want to know how to get backlinks in respected local publications, volunteering is a good way to do it. Most of the time when you volunteer as a business, you get the opportunity to provide a bio or blurb. You can use that to put the exact anchor text that you need in a link on a major publication.

Not to mention, the more you give back to your community, the better your business will do.

Here’s the Key Takeaways

Local SEO starts much the same way basic SEO does. You need to direct search engines to your site and have accessible, valuable content there to keep people engaged. Your address needs to be on your contact page.

You need to make sure that your keywords emphasize your locality. You already know that longer, more specific strings of keywords provide better results. You only make that better by including local info.

Focus on getting backlinked by prominent local organizations. Sometimes you can pay for such service, but other times you need to do a good job and get good reviews.

Make sure you are keeping tabs of reviews on sites like Yelp and Google Maps. These reviews all point back to your business, and you need to make sure they stay positive.

Volunteer! This good for your business both physically and digitally, as volunteer opportunities usually give you some chance for publicity. As a bonus, giving back to your community rules, regardless of the reward.

And as always, have fun!

Ask Us Anything

If you have questions or comments about anything you read from us, let us know! We'll get you an answer promptly. (No sales pitch involved, we want to help.)

Written by Stephen Krauska. Last Updated 6 years ago.
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