The internet is filled with cries from disgruntled marketers that “SEO is dead!”
And if you scroll through enough online business and marketing websites, you will undoubtedly come across an overabundance of articles sharing this sentiment.
I’ll be honest:
SEO is a royal pain in the backside.
It can be an overwhelming, tedious, and massively frustrating part of marketing your business.
But just because SEO can suck, it does not mean that it is dead and it certainly does not diminish its importance, especially for local businesses.
If you own, or market for, a locally owned company, then SEO is the single most important factor in achieving your online marketing goals.
The bad news is that the internet is a minefield of misinformation and subpar content when it comes to local SEO. The good news is local SEO is a much easier feat than search engine optimization at a global level.
To help you solve this problem, I have put together this massive local SEO checklist with everything you need to know to make your brick and mortar shop searchable.
In the following 3,700 or so words, I will detail everything you need to know.
From the importance of local SEO to on-page optimization to simple and effective SEO hacks to boost your ranking, it’s all here.
So, let’s get started.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is an online marketing practice to make local businesses discoverable in search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and even Yelp. It combines the power of on-page optimization, content, and link building to rank your business’s website on the front page of Google.
Accomplishing this goal will allow you to accurately target customers in your area who are looking for solutions that you can provide.
By following the steps that I will lay out in this guide, you will be able to quickly attract dozens of new customers and develop a more recognizable brand quicker than ever before.
It is not a simple or easy task if you’re new to SEO, but you’ll get the hang of it.
And it will all be worth it because once your website shows up on the first page of Google, your revenue, brand recognition, and customer base will never be the same.
Why Local SEO is so Important
I want you to imagine for a second that you run a local burger joint in Charlotte, NC.
How are you going to attract clients to your local business?
Obviously, you can use traditional marketing tactics like flyering, banners, and paid advertisements in local magazines.
And while these methods might be sufficient to build up a base of local clientele, they are not going to be enough to create the explosive growth you probably desire.
For example, let’s say that there is a businessman from Raleigh traveling to Charlotte to attend a meeting.
After driving several hours from home and attending a long and rather dull meeting with his supervisors, he wants a burger.
He doesn’t just want any burger, he wants the best darn burger in Queen City.
So what does he do?
He hops on his phone, Google’s “Best Burger Restaurants in Charlotte” and then decides where to get his fix of beefy goodness based upon the search results.
Having visited Charlotte before, I know that there are several other burger spots around town that absolutely blow this list away.
But despite their product’s superiority, they don’t show up on Google.
Because the owners have not invested the necessary time and money to build a strong local SEO foundation.
Now for our example, this means that if you run a burger restaurant in Charlotte that you have lost a potential customer and missed out on future revenue-generating opportunities.
For those of you who prefer cold hard facts to anecdotal examples, consider this statistic.
This means that 82% of the population is relying primarily on Google to determine where to eat, where to do their shopping, and who to hire when they need specific services.
Furthermore, consider this.
This means that of the 82% who are conducting research on their phone, 76% of them have the intent to buy and 28% of them convert!
This means that unless you have fully optimized your website for local SEO, you are not relevant to a huge percent of the market and are missing out on immeasurable amounts of revenue.
To put it bluntly, you are on a one way street towards imminent business failure.
Local SEO Checklist: The Core Components To Get Ranked
Local SEO is comprised of several different key factors ranging from the basics of creating a consistent NAP to link building to on-page optimization.
While link building is outside of the scope of this article, if you want to find out more about how to develop a powerful link building strategy to boost your website’s ranking, check out this mammoth article I wrote to help you do just that.
For the purposes of today’s article, we are going to focus on 7 critical components of local SEO that you can take control of starting today.
1) An Optimized “Google My Business” Page
One of the first steps to get your website to the first page of Google for local keywords is to claim your Google My Business page by following the steps laid out in this article.
Here’s an example of what your page will look like
Once your business is claimed, there are a few key points that you need to remember to optimize your Google My Business page to ensure maximum SEO impact.
First and foremost, you need to write a long, properly formatted description of your website that is peppered with the requisite links.
Your Google My Business page will often be the first thing that potential customers see making it essential that your description is unique, memorable, and compelling.
With your description written you now need to choose the correct category for your business.
Rushing this step is one of the most critical errors I see small businesses making.
The key to success with this step is to find the balance between selecting all relevant categories without appearing spammy by having irrelevant or semi-relevant categories selected.
Next, simply follow these steps and your Google My Business page will be cocked, locked, and ready to rock.
- Add as many relevant pictures as possible.
- Add a NAP (name, address and phone number) consistent with the NAP on your website (more on that in a second).
- Add your hours of operations.
- Include (real) customer reviews.
- Upload professionally taken, high-resolution cover and profile images.
Here is an example of what the finished product should look like.
Now, you have your Google My Business page claimed, setup, fully optimized, and ready to take the local SEO world by storm.
2) A Consistent NAP
Having a consistent NAP (name, address, and phone number) across all of your different channels is local SEO 101.
It is also one of the most important local SEO factors that many marketers overlook.
Ensuring that your NAP is not only consistent, but identical on your Google My Business, web pages, and social media accounts can be the difference between being an internet “ghost” and ranking #1 for your local search terms.
Check out the picture below to see what I am talking about.
I know that the above changes might seem minuscule and irrelevant, but they can have a big impact on your local ranking.
Even changes as simple as the ones showcased above make the user experience exponentially more difficult and will likely result in crippling penalties from Google.
In fact, if you look at the following graph, you will notice that on page signals, which include NAPs, makes up about 19% of your overall ranking.
This makes it critical to your local SEO success that you invest the time in reviewing your NAPs across all platforms to ensure that they are uniform.
Once you have taken this simple step, your odds for ranking on the first page increase drastically.
Customer reviews are not only required to succeed at local SEO, but they are also required to succeed at the bigger game of business.
They have a direct influence on your search ranking and also provide a referral source and social proof that will help convince customers to choose your company over your competition.
In fact, if we revisit the chart from the last section, you will notice something interesting.
But how do you actually get customer reviews in the first place?
While the exact tactics you might use vary from business to business, the basic steps are actually quite simple.
The first step is to simply reach out to your existing customer base via email or social media and incentivize them to leave a review with a coupon or store discount.
For example, if you own a local clothing retailer, you could email your list offering $10 off of a purchase of $30 or more in exchange for an honest review of your company.
Another tactic is to generate reviews by running incentivized check-ins.
For example, the following company offered a 20% discount to customers checking in through Yelp.
Not only will accumulating reviews increase your search engine ranking, but it will also deepen your customer’s engagement and increase the odds of lifelong loyalty.
While this particular step may not directly influence your search engine ranking, it will massively improve your customer’s experience and streamline the process of finding and buying from your store.
All that you need to do is to provide a detailed description of where to find your store, where to park, and how to find the front door on your website.
While this might be unnecessary if your company is located in a prominent shopping center in the suburbs, this step is absolutely vital for stores in big cities and densely populated areas.
5) Create Killer Local Content
A big mistake that I see made among many local marketers is that they neglect creating and promoting killer, locally relevant content.
Just because you are not running a website that is based on creating and selling information does not mean that content marketing is not pivotal to your SEO success.
In recent years, changes in the modern market and in Google’s search algorithms have made content marketing almost synonymous with SEO.
The relationship between content marketing and SEO can basically be described as follows.
Meaning that if you want to succeed at local SEO, you need to be creating a slew of fresh content that provides loads of value to your audience and customer base… yesterday.
Nothing makes Google happier than crawling your site and finding it filled to the brim with new high-quality content that users love.
It shows them that you care about creating content that is relevant and useful for your niche and not just creating crap content to fill your website.
If you have not done so already, develop a local content plan to get your work out there and provide value to your customers.
Whether you are a restaurateur writing content on cooking and local cuisine, a landscaper creating lawn maintenance videos, or a local artist producing high-quality articles about the the local art scene, you need to be creating and you need to be doing it now.
6) Social Media
Many people believe that SEO is all about on-page factors and link building, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Your search engine ranking can effectively be interpreted as the aggregate performance of every platform where your company has built up a presence.
And none of these platforms are more important for your success than social media.
According to a survey compiled by moz.com social media appears to be responsible for 5% of your overall search engine performance.
And while the experts continue to debate whether or not this statement is an accurate portrayal of Google’s algorithms, the fact remains that social media is one of the best ways to generate buzz for your brand, share your message, and rapidly expand your customer base.
If you are not on social media, then you are missing out on thousands of dollars in potential revenue and countless customers.
Remember when working with social, that you need to engage with your audience. And I’m not talking about coupon code posts (lame).
Red Mango, a healthy smoothie joint is doing it right. They have over 750,000 Facebook fans and post all sorts of posts.
They keep the conversation light and informative.
They provide helpful content to their target audience of health nuts.
And they even show social responsibility.
Social media isn’t about making a ton of sales. It’s about engaging with your audience, entertaining them, and helping out.
When was the last time you logged onto Facebook with credit card in hand?
That’s what I thought?
7) Mobile Optimization
Nowhere are more marketers dropping the proverbial ball than in the area of mobile optimization.
In fact, over 40% of small companies do not have a website that is fully optimized for mobile viewing!
And most of them justify this mistake because they think that online marketing just “isn’t that important” to their overall success.
But what they don’t realize is that lacking a fully optimized website is tantamount to digging your company’s grave.
Why do I say this?
Well just look at the chart below.
And consider a few of the following statistics (you can check out impactbnd.com for the full list)
- Over 36% of mobile subscribers use iPhones or iPads to read email and 34% of subscribers only use mobile devices to read emails.
- 48% of consumers start mobile research with a search engine.
- Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead.
- Average smartphone conversion rates are up 64% compared to the average desktop conversion rates.
- 57% of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site.
And if you need any further convincing, just look at the below example of one website that is optimized for mobile viewing and one that is not. Tell me who you would rather do business with.
If you want to achieve real success with local SEO, then it is absolutely crucial that you invest in a beautiful, responsive website design that will look and perform great on desktop and mobile.
Advanced Local SEO Tricks to Boost Your Ranking Even Faster
1) Add Schema Review Markups
While “Schema” might sound like some sort of contagious virus, it is actually an incredibly useful line of code that enables Google to better understand your website.
One of the best schema markups to use is the review markup.
If you have ever done a little bit of local research of your own, then you have undoubtedly noticed that many companies appear on Google with a ranking below their website name.
If you have a high rating, this will increase the amount of attention that your website draws on SERPs and therefore the number of clickthroughs and potential customers.
All you need to do is add the Review Markup to your source code to tell Google about the public perception and review of your brand and your review ranking will show up in a few days.
But be warned.
If you abuse this markup and provide false review data, not only are you acting unethically, but you are also exposing your site to a massive risk of penalization from all prominent search engines.
2) Audit Your Citations
As we have already discussed, the NAP of your business is one of the single most important factors for local SEO success.
And while you may have already taken all of the required steps to ensure that your NAPs are consistent across your websites pages and social platforms, other companies are not as fastidious.
This is especially true if your company has recently changed locations, names, or phone numbers.
For example, the simple act of adding “Inc.” to the end of your company name, moving your office two doors over, or switching phone providers can completely wreck all of your SEO efforts in a flash.
This makes it essential that you go through and manually track down any and all incorrect citations that you can find and reach out to the website owners to have them changed.
For a complete guide on how to audit your citations, check out this article from moz.com.
3) Optimize Images for Local SEO
A simple but highly effective hack to instantly boost your local SEO efforts is to fully optimize your images.
This entails a couple of steps.
First and foremost, you want to make sure that you are including your keywords and location in the filename, alt text, and titles of every image on your site.
However, you need to be careful that you do not fall into the trap of keyword stuffing as this will do nothing more than damage your website and reduce your overall ranking.
This is a terrible practice whether you are trying to optimize your content or images.
Once you have finished optimizing the file names, alt text, and titles, you need to compress the images to ensure that your website will load as quickly as possible.
This will help optimize your user experience which, by default, will optimize your search engine ranking.
4) Complete a Competitive Analysis
The final trick to boost your ranking even faster is to complete a competitive analysis within your industry.
Find the leaders within your niche and examine what they are doing that has allowed them to get to the top of the search engines.
Examine the keywords that they are targeting, the design of their website, their email marketing, and social media campaigns.
Be as objective and unbiased as possible and dig deep to really uncover what they are doing that has lead to their success.
Fatal Local SEO Mistakes You Are Probably Making (and the solutions)
So now that you know what steps you need to take to ensure local SEO success, let’s address a few of the mistakes that you might be making that are absolutely sabotaging your ranking.
1) Inconsistent NAP
I know that some of you are probably scratching your head and thinking “Geez, when is this guy going to shut up about NAPs!”
And if that’s the case, then good!
I know I might sound a little bit redundant by mentioning this point so many times, but you have to realize that nothing will crush your local SEO performance more quickly and more decisively than inconsistent NAPs.
If your NAPs are not exactly the same across all of your web pages, social platforms, and review platforms, then stop reading this article right now, change them, and then come back.
Yes, it’s that important.
2) You Are Publishing Low Quality or “Thin” Content
Another big mistake that many local businesses make is that they churn out low quality or “thin” content for their websites.
I know that many of you who are busy at work probably assume that it is better to have low-quality content than no content at all, however, this is not the case.
In fact, since Google’s Panda update, websites are frequently penalized for farming content, a fancy term for creating loads of useless content for ranking purposes.
When you put yourself in the shoes of Google’s bots, this makes a lot of sense.
The purpose of Google is to provide users with the most relevant information on the web.
And typically, web pages with fewer than 300 words do not contain a sufficient amount of content to truly provide any value to readers.
So the simple solution? Focus on the quality of your content and not the quantity if you want to see your website on the front page of Google.
I recommend that you start writing articles that are at least 2,000 words long.
Even though your ultimate goal is probably not to rank your articles on the first page of Google, high performing content can only help your ranking.
3) Lack of Mobile Optimization
I know that I have already talked extensively on the importance of mobile optimization, and this is with good reason.
The number of mobile users is growing at a rapid rate each year and it is not slowing down.
Because of this trend, Google has started placing an increased importance on the mobile user’s experience.
If your website is not optimized to provide a streamlined mobile experience, then you are going to struggle to rank in Google.
There is no way around it.
Not sure if your website is mobile friendly? Try Google’s mobile friendly tool.
So if you are hesitant about investing into a responsive website, all I can say is to bite the bullet and get it done.
You can thank me later.
4) Duplicate Listings
If there is one thing that Google hates more than anything else, it is duplicate listings.
It degrades the user experience and wastes Google’s resources, making it a death sentence for your website’s search engine performance.
Luckily this is a fairly simple problem to fix.
All you need to do is use a tool like Moz Local, find out if your Google My Business profile has any duplicate pages, and then contact Google immediately and ask to have them removed.
If you want your local business to succeed in today’s tech era, then SEO should be at the forefront of your mind.
You need to make it a priority to stay up to date with the best practices and top hacks to ensure that you can continue growing your business and remaining relevant in search engines.
If you have created a new website, or are revamping your online marketing efforts with your current website, then the above guide will serve as an excellent map to help you “steal” a home run and land your website on the first page of Google.
You now have all of the information you need to go out and dominate the world of local SEO, but don’t stop here.
Keep learning, growing, and trying new things, and your business will grow to heights you had never imagined.
Do you have any questions about local SEO that I didn’t cover in this article? Drop me a line below and I’ll do my best to help you out!