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Local SEO Guide: 10 Ranking Factors That Will Put You at the Top of Local Search

I get asked so many questions about the topic, I thought it would behoove me to write an exhaustive guide that I can email to people who are looking for local SEO tips.

First let’s look at the local SEO definition. When Google determines that you are searching for a local service or product, the traditional ranking algorithm goes out the window. Traditionally, domain authority is a good predictor of how Google will rank search results. Higher authority results in higher rankings. For example, if I search for “auto repair tips,” Google is going to try to offer results that are relevant (keyword matching) and trustworthy (decent authority).

However, when I search for “auto repair”, now Google assumes that I am looking for a service, not for knowledge. This causes the whole ranking algorithm to turn on its head.

Follow this SEO for local business checklist to make sure that your website covers every ranking factor and beat the competition in your town.

But first, a word on the local pack, which adds another wrinkle to local search.

What is the Google Local Pack?

The local pack, also known as the snack pack or local three-pack, is that set of three results that come up in local search. Partially the Google snack pack results are based on proximity – where your computer tells Google you are located. Google wants to prioritize the best results that are also the easiest for you to get to. Geography alone is not enough, as I noted about our dearly departed Radio Shack.

The rest of the Google local three-pack ranking is based on a mix of on-page optimization, coding and reviews. We’ll touch on these later in the piece. See an example of the local pack here:

Local SEO Ranking Factor #1: Your Home Page Should Tell Me Who You Are, Where You Are and What You Do

Google is a robot, and that robot needs to be told certain things very clearly. Every homepage should have an H1 headline and meta content that very clearly describes who you are and what you do. Here is a good example:

good local optimization

Local SEO Ranking Factor #2: Use Locally-Relevant Keywords

Some people say “soda,” some say “pop.” Use the words your local audience uses. Use Google Keyword Planner to find the terms that people in your area use.

keyword planner

Unless you are spending money on paid ads, Google won’t give you exact numbers of people searching for these terms, but you can at least compile a list of words that are actually being used by searchers. Even with the loose numbers that keyword planner provides, you can compare the relative popularity of keywords.

Remember to be specific and relevant. If you run a senior living facility, people searching for “retirement home” are much more likely to be interested in your service than people searching for “retirement.”

local keywords

Once you’ve compiled a list, use these relevant keywords in your site copy, meta content, headers and URLs.

Local SEO Ranking Factor #3: Create a page for every product and service that you offer

Just say no to the “products and services” page. Each page on your website should have one clearly defined topic. When you lump all of your products or services onto one page, it becomes difficult for a search engine to cite you as an expert in any one area, thus diminishing rankings potential.

Look at this example. This agency needs a page for content strategy (ideally titled Content Strategy Agency), a page for User Experience (titled User Experience Agency), and so on. Google will never direct a searcher to the mishmash page they are using now, but would be more likely to direct someone searching for “content strategy agency” to a fully dedicated page that matches that query.

Local Search Engine Optimization Ranking Factor #4: Use Local Business Structured Data Markups

If you don’t have local business structured data (commonly referred to as “schema”), you aren’t getting into that local pack.

Structured data is an addition to the code of a page that gives search engines more information to work with. In the case of local schema, you are providing search engines with your businesses names, address, phone number, email, services, hours of operation and any other information that will help display your business properly.

Do you have schema on your site now? Run your homepage through Google’ structured data testing tool to find out. You should see something in the right-hand column like this:

structured data testing tool

Local SEO Ranking Factor #5: NAP as much as possible

What is NAP?

NAP stands for name, address and phone number. This information is an important element of local SEO and should be included on every page of your website. This could be in a shared element like the header or footer.

If you have multiple locations, create a page for each location that contains that location’s respective NAP.

Include your complete address down to the zip code. If you are in a big city, you may want to specify the neighborhood you are in as well (examples might be Echo Park, Greenwich Village, Lakeview or Midtown) and a Google map, as the Chicago self defense school pictured below has done.

Local Optimization NAP

Local SEO Ranking Factor #6: Claim Your Google My Business Page

Without a proper Google My Business page, it is going to be tough to break into the local pack. Any business with brick and mortar locations must claim their Google My Business profile. In addition to providing free advertising space in organic search listings, Google My Business signals make up 25% of the three-pack ranking formula.

What is a Google My Business page?

Your Google My Business page is what Google searches see when the select your location on a map or from the local pack. It is a place where customers can write reviews of your business. For other customers, this will be their first introduction to your business, so make it a good one.

Google My Business Page

You need to either add a Google My Business page or claim the existing one. Once you have claimed the page, you can make sure that the NAP, website information, business categories and hours are correct.

You can also add photos of your building, products, logo and staff. Also, you can select up to three categories for your business. Google offers almost 2,400 different business categories, so take advantage of this to accurately describe the niches your business fits into.

If you have multiple locations, you must claim or create a Google My Business page FOR EVERY LOCATION. If you do not, your individual locations will not get into the local pack.

Local SEO Ranking Factor #7: Create an Optimized Page for Every Location

If you have a business with multiple physical location (whether this is McDonald’s with 14,000 US locations or a local sandwich shop with three locations), you must create an optimized page within your website for each location. Otherwise, these locations will not show up in the local pack.

Each location’s page must include the location’s NAP and local business schema. Additionally, you must create a unique Google My Business page for every location.

Optimized local business page

Local SEO Ranking Factor #8: Check all directories for consistency

There are a series of local directories and data aggregators that search engines are referencing to determine local search rankings.  To ensure Google has your address right, check your listing information in all the directories to ensure NAP consistency. Consistency among these aggregators makes up close to 11% of the local three-pack ranking formula.

You can get a free local assessment of your site using MOZ Local. As you can see in the image below, MOZ Local will give you a free assessment of your site, showing completeness and consistency across all relevant directories.

This local SEO infographic provides a good list of directories that you should seek out, including Bing and Yahoo (those search engines we often forget about).

MOZ Local assessment

You can attempt to locate and update your information in all of these directories on your own, but it would be almost impossible. Each aggregator or directory collects different business data and uses different terminology. Some require a financial arrangement to even allow updates. Additionally, every time any data about your business changed (like holiday hours, for example), you would have to have a way to monitor and update each of these hundreds or directories and aggregators.

The best way to ensure proper alignment among aggregators is by using a local listings management tool. If you are on a budget, MOZ Local is a less expensive tool, but it takes some time to align listings.

Yext is a slightly more expensive option, but reaches more directories that most tools, provides instant updates to all aggregators and offers a full analytics dashboard. Yext really is the best option, so it’s recommended that you at least look into it.

Local SEO Rule #9: Make reviews a priority

Google wants to provide the best possible answer to your query. That means they don’t want you to feel like they led you to a bad business. That’s why Google makes reviews a factor in local rankings.

Do a search for almost any local business and you’ll see Yelp on page one. Even if you can’t rank on page one for a local search, Yelp probably does. Make sure that Yelp has the correct NAP information for your business, and pay attention to reviews – thank people for kind reviews and try to respond in a helpful manner to any negative feedback.

Google My Business reviews are also very important. They are a factor in the local pack, which always features Google reviews. This is another reason that it is important to claim your Google My Business pages for each location.

Google is also logging and displaying Facebook reviews, so make sure you have a brand page set up there as well.

As much as possible, gently ask or remind customers to review your business. After each service visit, my preferred auto mechanic gives me a card for a free oil change and asks that I take a few minutes to write a review of his business. If your customers like your business, then they want you to succeed; let them know that good reviews are the best way to help.

Google reviews


Local Business Can Beat Big Business with Local Search Engine Optimization

When local SEO is involved, the odds shift away from huge websites and toward well-optimized local websites. When you have these elements in place, your business will be well-positioned to beat large and small competitors and bring searchers to your site:

  • A homepage that tells me who you are, where you are and what you do
  • Local optimization in on-page text and meta content
  • Optimized for locally-relevant keywords
  • Create a page for every product and service that you offer
  • Add local business structured data (schema) to your site
  • Add NAP (name, address, phone number) to every page
  • Claim your Google My Business page or pages (if you have multiple locations)
  • Create an optimized page for every physical business location
  • Ensure consistency in your business listing across all relevant directories
  • Solicit Google and Yelp reviews as much as possible
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