How Should I Get Started With Local SEO (for My Small Business)?

Local SEO is an entire marketing discipline altogether, and it can get overwhelming for the typical small business owner. Here are a few choice action items to help you get started with Local SEO.

Local business owners taking a customer’s order at a neighborhood coffee shop. | A featured image from "How Should I Get Started With Local SEO?" |
You can easily get a leg up on your competition by getting started on a bit of Local SEO.

If you’re a local business owner, you’re all too familiar with the challenge of constantly getting new customers. Every day is a chance to win over some new business, whether it’s from folks walking into your store, sending out inquiries via phone, or emailing you via your website.

With everybody pretty much tied to their smartphones right now, we’re willing to bet that a big chunk of your business is coming in because they found you from social media or online search. In fact, 88% of customers who do a local search on their phones visit or call a store within a day. 

The internet is where many of your customers go first to try and find nearby neighborhood businesses such as yours. That means you need to be found online in search results to get more customers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is one way to do just that. 

Local SEO is a specialized form of search engine optimization that helps your business grow by gaining visibility and customers from local search. Local SEO involves more specific strategies that help local businesses rank higher in search results when people are searching for businesses that are close to their physical location.

Why is local SEO such a big deal?

  • 46% of all searches on Google are seeking local information. And 97% searched online to find local businesses. 
  • The better your site ranks on search engines, the more visible your business is. And this translates to more website traffic, calls, and visits to your business.

There’s a whole lot of tips and techniques involved when we talk about local SEO. But as a business owner, there are a few things you can get started on right away to give you a bit of a boost in online search visibility.

Here are a few things you should be doing now to get started with your local SEO:

1. Ensure Your Website Is Optimized For Mobile

According to Bright Local’s study, 61% of mobile users are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile site. This means if you’re a local business, the logical first step is to make sure your website is optimized for mobile.

To do this, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Just enter in your domain or URL and shortly after, Google will tell you whether your page is mobile-friendly, or if it’s not.

Take note: you don’t need a big, pretty website with all the bells and whistles. For starters, it just has to:

  • Look alright when anyone visits you on a mobile phone (meaning it’s responsive or mobile-friendly)
  • Load fast enough on a mobile device. (Because nobody likes a slow-loading site.)
  • Be a secure website (with an HTTPS), especially if you’re processing customer orders directly on your site.

Again, you don’t have to have an active blog (although you can work towards that and build one over time). At the very least you should have:

  • Have your contact information so folks can easily call, email, visit, or otherwise connect with you from their smartphones.
  • Enough information on the products and services you offer
  • Information about your business hours, directions to your shop or even a map for easy reference, and links to your social media pages
  • Some information about you and your business.

2. Claim and Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

A small business owner hard at work on a laptop trying to score more listings and citations. | A featured image from "How Should I Get Started With Local SEO?" |
One of the easiest wins when it comes to Local SEO is claiming and optimizing your Google My Business page.

Claiming (and optimizing) a Google My Business profile is one of the best ways for you to potentially rank high on Google. 

Google My Business, or GMB as it’s often referred to, is a free listing that Google offers qualified local businesses. It’s a free local tool that allows you to promote your business profile and website on Google Search and Maps. Your GMB listing contains your company’s name, address, phone number, website URL, business hours, and much more. 

Before you set up your GMB listing, please read Google’s guidelines for representing your business on Google. Google updates these rules frequently, and it’s your responsibility to read these guidelines on a regular basis to make sure your eligibility is still compliant. 

Claiming your GMB listing is actually quite easy to do.

  • Sign in to your Google account
  • Enter in your NAP– which is your business name, address, and phone number. 
  • Pin the marker on the map. Google’s pretty good with this, but you’ll want to examine the map and make sure it’s in the exact position where your store is located. Just drag and drop it and click next when you’re done.
  • Enter your phone number and website.

Go ahead and fill up the rest of your GMB listing. The more complete it is, the better. Once you’re done, you can finish off the process and verify the website, which can be done by phone or mail. You just need to follow the instructions from Google and your GMB listing should be active in no time.

A tutorial from Luc Durand of Ranking Academy to walk you through how to set up a Google My Business listing step by step the right way.

3. Do a Bit of Keyword Research

Now that we have the foundation set up for local SEO, let’s move on to do some keyword research.

If helpful, market-relevant content helps you rank in search engines, then knowing exactly what sort of content you should be coming up with as a brand is determined by keyword research. Keyword research helps you figure out what exactly people are typing into their search boxes to find local businesses like yours.

You will want a list of these keywords which you will be using throughout your website, your blog posts, your GMB profile, and your social media pages. These keywords will help you boost your organic search results.

First, we need to brainstorm your SiLs, which stands for “service in locations”. Let’s say you have a bike repair shop in Eagle Rock, California. This means you’ll want to rank for search queries such as:

“Bike repair shops in Eagle Rock”

“Where to repair my bicycle in Eagle Rock”

“Best bike repairman in Eagle Rock”

And so on.

A party planner, on the other hand, might want to rank for

“party planner in Eagle Rock”, “party planner in Glendale”, or other variations covering neighboring towns and cities.

Second: consider using keyword research tools. Certainly, there are premium suites such as SEMrush or AHREFs. But there are also a lot of other excellent free options such as Ubersuggest and Answer The Public. And there’s a plethora of other keyword research services online such as, LSI graph, Wordtracker, Keywords Everywhere, among many others.

Lastly: have a look at your competition. Skim through their website, their social media accounts, and their blog posts. You should be able to have a sense of which keywords they’re trying to rank for– assuming they have an SEO strategy, to begin with.

A small business owner of a neighborhood bike repair shop. | A featured image from "How Should I Get Started With Local SEO?" |
Research your keywords early by brainstorming up a list, using keyword tools, and scoping out the competition.

4. Ask For Reviews

Fact: according to Whitespark’s 2020 local ranking factors study, online reviews have a 16% impact on how your business ranks in Google local search results.

Reviews are great not just for your online visibility, but also for building trust. Your potential customers can see straight away that you are a legitimate business, and folks are engaging with your products or services.

So how do you get more reviews from your customers? All you have to do is ask. According to a BrightLocal survey, 72% of US consumers have written a review for a local business when the business just asks them to leave a review. 

Remember, when asking for customer reviews, do:

  • Ask for a review when your customers are at the happiest with your product or service.
  • Direct them where they can leave a review. Some review sites have more weight and credibility than others. According to BrightLocal, Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Yellow Pages are among the top review sites.
  • Have a card ready that politely thanks the customer for their business and then ask them to give you feedback on their experience. 
  • Give customers two to three options where they can leave a review for you.

Just as importantly, when it comes to customer reviews, 

  • Do not send out a mass mailing to all of your customers asking for reviews. If you get too many reviews in a short period of time, that can cause a red flag to the review sites, especially Google.
  • Do not have customers fill out reviews on your business premises (if they’re using your store wifi). Google and other review sites can track IP addresses and those reviews can get blocked, filtered, or removed completely if the review sites see multiple reviews coming from the same IP address. 
  • Do not bribe or offer anything in exchange for a review (like being entered into a contest to win something or a discount off of a service), as that violates most review sites terms of service. 
  • Do not ask friends or family to leave reviews for your business.
  • Do not contact customers if you do not have permission to text message, email, or call them. Always follow state and national laws when it comes to these types of things. 
In this tutorial, Wes McDowell from The Deep End will show you who to ask, how to ask, and when to ask for more Google reviews.

5. Build Local Citations

Citations are online mentions of your business. And building local citations is super important. According to a 2017 study done by Moz, citation signals were one of the top local ranking factors, which was true for both Google’s “Snack Pack” results and regular organic search results.

You build local citations for your business by getting listed in these different online directories. Google loves these directory sites. As you can see, the top search results are almost always online directories.

To get your business listed on the online directories, you can either claim these listings manually yourself, go to each site, find where you can claim your listing, and then enter your business information, or you can hire a digital marketing agency to help you with this. A digital marketing agency can also help you with ongoing updates like Google My Business posts, checking for changes that might be mistakenly made to your listing, optimizing for new features, and more. 

There are also online services that can assist with citation claiming and management as well. When you start claiming your listings on citation sites, make sure your name, address, and phone number, also known as NAP, is the same on all the directory sites.

Finally, in addition to citation sites, get your company listed on the top three local data aggregators. These aggregator companies gather business information and distribute that data out to a network of local search engines, directories, mapping software, GPS services, mobile apps, and other local search services and citation sites:

Getting your local business listed on the top online business directories and on the three local data aggregators often means a lot of manual work or hiring a service, but it is a wise investment to ensure your business information rises in the search rankings.

Brightlocal and Whitespark are two online services worth looking into to build more citations for your business.

6. Create Quality Content

While you can probably get by with a website that functions more like an online brochure, you can certainly get a leg up on the competition by creating helpful, quality content and putting it up on your website.

For your own website, you can start creating great content starting with:

  • The most commonly asked questions by your customers when it comes to your products and services
  • Pieces that demonstrate your expertise and experience within your space
  • Concerns your customers might have after they’ve made a purchase with you
  • Material that can help them with their research and decision-making

Don’t forget to include pieces that specifically talk about your business as a part of your community or as it relates to providing your products and services in your neighborhood. Google can pick up the relevant keywords and information whenever anyone makes a search for businesses like yours within your area.

When you write online content, you want to write like you are having a conversation with your readers about the topics they’re interested in and answer questions they’re searching for. That’s where searcher intent comes in. Searcher intent, also known as user intent, is the main goal a user has when they do a search online. Google has gotten much better at trying to identify what a searcher is trying to find and then showing search results that match a user’s intent.

Remember: Google’s algorithm is now sophisticated enough that it can tell if a user is searching for purposes of research or is about.

An office of a neighborhood professional | A featured image from "How Should I Get Started With Local SEO?" |
Remember quality content certainly includes high-quality blog posts, but don’t forget photo galleries, video clips. guides. industry reports, ebooks, podcasts, webinars, apps, and so much more.

7. Do Some On-Page SEO

If you’re familiar with SEO, then you’ll find that a lot of the typical on-page SEO best practices apply to Local SEO as well. For example, it can be advantageous to: 

  • include your keyword in your H1 tag, 
  • add your target keyword in the title tag, 
  • set the URL slug to your keyword, 
  • and use short URLs.

But there are a few other things you should specifically do for local SEO. The first thing you’ll want to do is optimize your homepage. In general, most single location businesses should optimize their homepage around their primary location.

So here are a few on-page optimization tips for your homepage:

  • Prominently how your NAP information, which again is name, address, and phone number on the homepage. Note: it’s absolutely critical that your name, address, and phone number match exactly or as close as possible to what you’ve submitted to Google My Business.
  • Name your images properly. Especially those that showcase your location, such as shots of your office or action shots while at a client’s location. Employ proper alt tags and descriptions.
  • Add testimonials or reviews of your business here
  • Use Schema markup.
On-page optimization for Local SEO has a few other special considerations, as explained by Bret of Mindsaw.

8. Use Schema Markup

Speaking of schema, you may have noticed that Google can show some pretty cool search results, depending on what you’re searching for. Some of those results are displayed thanks to schema

Schema markup is code that you add to your website to improve the way search engines read and represent your page in the search engine results. For instance, there’s review schema, there’s recipe schema, and all kinds of other schema markups you can use to make your search results pop on search engines. 

Adding schema to your site helps you give the search engines– not just Google, but for Bing, Yahoo!, and others as well– the information they need to understand the content of each of your pages. That way, the search engines can display the best search results. 

There are tools you can use to generate this code, so you don’t need to know how to code to create schema.  If you need help putting schema on a page, ask your developer to add the code for you. If you have a WordPress site, the SEO Yoast premium plugin has a schema feature in it and you can also use a tool like Schema App to go ahead and create schema markup for you. And there are also schema Chrome extensions you can use to create schema code as well.

Matt Langan shows you how to start structuring your local business’ contact info using the Schema Creator.

9. Do a Bit of Quality Link-Building

According to Moz’s 2017 survey, link signals were the most important ranking factor for local organic results.

The topic of link-building covers a lot of stuff, but when we talk about Local SEO, here are two action items you can work on for your site.

The first is to create and promote a useful resource. In this case, a local resource related to your niche would be ideal. So a couple of ideas would be to create local “best of” guides or content that would appeal to your target audience.

So for example, if you were a party planner, you could create content on the best restaurants in your neighborhood where you can have a small party, or a list of recommended local stylists, florists, photographers, or party supplies shops.

The second tactic would be to guest blog. Even though guest posts normally come with a link back to your site, Look at this as an opportunity to build yourself up as an industry expert. 

This is particularly important for people in the services industry. People want to hire professionals they can trust and know will do a good job. And oftentimes, they’re willing to pay a premium to have the peace of mind that the job’s gonna get done right the first time.

A local party planner putting together a mock-up for a photo/video shoot. | A featured image from "How Should I Get Started With Local SEO?" |
One of the best ways to bring in those valuable links to your website: position yourself as an expert and as an authority in your space. Publish useful guides. Get some media coverage. Share your expertise on other blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels.

10. Claim Bing Places

A lot of what we do for Local SEO focuses on Google and its search engine. But remember that a lot of these techniques also apply to the other search engines as well.

This means you should also go ahead and claim your business listing on Bing Places. Having a claimed listing on Bing ensures that your business shows up in local search results. Claiming a listing also lets you update your listings with the most accurate information and protect your listings from attempts at unauthorized changes.

Visit the Bing Places for Business website and click New user to get started or claim your business. If you already have an account, select Existing user and log in. For new users, you have a choice of clicking Import from Google My Business now or Claim or add your business manually.

At the end of the day, Bing is the second most popular place for people to search for local businesses. Many Apple products such as the iPad and iPhone default to Bing’s search engine. So, it is important to set it up if you want the most out of your online presence.

11. Claim Your Yelp Listing

Just as you’ve claimed and optimized your Google My Business page and your Bing Places page, you should now do the same for your Yelp page.

Claiming your Yelp page allows you to edit the details on your listing and gives you access to a suite of free tools and metrics for your business. You can update your hours, add details about your business, upload photos, respond to reviews, and more.

Potential customers can find your company with the click of a button, and can easily call or email you with inquiries. 

Chris Palmer covers local SEO tips for Yelp Business including Yelp ranking factors to help you rank higher for your local business marketing account on Yelp.

12. Take Care of Ongoing Activities

Even though you’ve set up your Google My Business, your Bing Places page, your listing on Yelp, and built a bunch of citations, these are all things that you want to have well-documented.

In business, things change. That might be you moving to a new location, changing your phone number, or even changing your business name, in which case, you would need to update all of your citations.

Here’s what you need to do with your GMB, Bing Places, and Yelp listing each month:

  • Respond to customer reviews
  • Review suggested edits to your business
  • Update these pages with new posts, photos, and other information

First: consistently respond to customers and client reviews. This includes both positive and negative comments. Now, many business owners might not like the thought of reviews because they don’t want to get bad reviews. Whether you get a good review or a negative review, it’s important that you respond to each and every review promptly and calmly. 

Next: be on the lookout for inaccurate edits to your Google My Business, Bing Places, and Yelp listings. Anyone can click on “suggest an edit” on your listings and sometimes Google, Bing, or Yelp will accept these suggestions without notice to you or the business owner. In fact, scammers have even swapped phone numbers with legit businesses for a quick payday. So it’s your job to ensure that your listings are up to date and correct at all times. 

Lastly: use these pages of yours to keep your customers informed and engaged. This provides an opportunity to attract more attention to your listing, connect with your audience, and ultimately boost conversions. It doesn’t take a lot of time and there’s a ton of potential to garner attention from Google searchers.

A small business owner about to open her restaurant for the day. | A featured image from "How Should I Get Started With Local SEO?" |
Get started with local SEO today to get free traffic from organic search and Google Maps listings using Google My Business and search engine optimization.

A Final Word

As a business owner, you need to be where your customers are at, and that’s online. 

The internet is where many of your customers go first to try and find local businesses like yours. That means you need to be found online in search results to get more customers. Local SEO is one way to achieve just that. 

Optimizing your website for Google local search is different than for a global company. While there is some overlap between traditional SEO techniques like on-page optimization and keyword research, there are additional tactics that apply specifically to local business marketing.

We’ve already covered a lot here, so go right ahead and put these techniques into action. You do have enough on your plate with these action items, but if you’d like to learn more about Local SEO, you can go right ahead and check out these guides:

Renzie Baluyut

Digital marketing, content development, and brand strategy consultant Renzie Baluyut has had over 25 years of experience in sales & marketing, events, and business development. A former FM radio executive, at various points of his career, Renzie was also in the outsourcing business, concert production and promotion, and web development. A wellness and work-from-home advocate, Renzie is currently based out in the Philippine countryside. When not studying the complexities of data science or Wordpress development, Renzie does his best to catch up on reading or spending time with his growing little boy.

Recent Posts