Local SEO Explained: 2020 Guide for Businesses

As a local business owner, being at the top of search engines is a great way to make sure your business is growing—but it can be a struggle for most businesses to get to the top of search results easily and quickly.

In this local SEO guide, we’ll cover the local business search engine optimization techniques you need to know and strategies to get started with local online marketing. You’ll learn the essentials to increasing your website traffic, getting to the top of Google Maps, and running a successful local business. Let’s get started making local SEO strategy work for you!

What Is Local SEO?

Local SEO is the practice of increasing the search engine visibility and traffic of businesses that serve customers in their local area, such as brick and mortar businesses, local service businesses, retail stores, and other similar businesses.

If you have a business that has a physical location where customers can come visit you or you serve customers at their homes or places of business in a specific area, focusing on local SEO can help you gain more customers through search engines and maps.

As of 2018, many as 46% of all Google searches are local searches and 97% of searchers are looking for a local business to work with. In other words, local search is a powerful tool for your business to gain new business from customers who are already looking for what your business can help them solve!

Why Is Local SEO Important to Small Businesses?

Small businesses are an anchor of the US economy and keep $68 of every $100 spent at their business in the local economy. But success for small businesses usually involves local SEO.

Why? Local SEO helps small businesses get more customers and stay open. Without a constant flow of new customers, most small businesses can’t stay open. Local SEO is a vital part of a small business success strategy.

Don’t believe us? Here are some local search stats that might change your mind:

  • 46% of all Google searches are local
  • 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results
  • 76% of people who conduct a local mobile search visit a business within 24 hours
  • Position 1 of local search rankings get 24.46% of all clicks
  • Position 2 of local search rankings get 13.38% of all clicks
  • Position 3 of local search rankings get 10.12% of all clicks
  • Local listings after the 6th ranking position each get less than 2% of the clicks
  • 28% of local mobile searches result in a same-day in-store purchase
  • 30% of all mobile searches are related to location
  • 89% of people search for a local business on their phone at least once a week

Local business SEO is an important part of your overall strategy if you want to make your local marketing work for you!

How Does Local SEO Work?

Local SEO works by improving the factors that influence how search engines rank your business for searches related to your business, products and services. Search engines rely on factors like local listings, links to your website, content on your site, and other information about your business to find the best fit for someone’s search.

Search engines like Google judge the relevancy, trustworthiness, and ability of your business to be able to solve a searcher’s problem based on ranking factors. Search engines then determine if your business should show up in search results above your competitors based on these factors.

The job of a local SEO professional is to help your business optimize for these factors that influence how search engines view your business to increase your business’ website rankings, appearance in Map search results, and help your business show up for relevant searches performed by potential customers.

What Is Local Search or Geo-Modified Search?

Local search engine optimization focuses on what is called local search, which is focused on a specific area by either searcher intent or by geo-modified search terms. Google localizes results in search based on what you’re searching for and where you are when you’re searching.

For example, if you’re searching "dentist", Google knows you’re looking for a dentist in your local area and to show you search results based on your location, even if you don’t add any information about where you’re searching. Google bases local search off of previous user behavior on past searches. In other words, because most people who search "dentist" end up engaging with and spending the most time on local search results, Google will show you local search results too.

localized search results for local seo

You can also search geo-modified terms, like "car loan rates near me" or for a specific location like "car loan rates Little Rock" that indicates to Google that you’re searching specifically in your area and don’t want to be shown nationalized searches. Without the geo-modification, Google will show you searches that are relevant regardless of your location based on what previous searchers have interacted with the most before.

geomodified local search results for local seo

If you own a local business, you want to make sure that you optimize your web presence and website to show up for both local searches and geo-modified searches in your area so you can show up in front of potential customers.

What Is the Difference Between SEO and Local SEO?

Local SEO shouldn’t be confused with regular SEO, also known as nationalized SEO, which focuses primarily on helping websites turn up in search results. Regular SEO is geared towards the traditional 10 blue links, or website links, that are shown for non-localized searches.

Local search SEO tends to focus primarily on ranking highly in the Local Map Pack and Google Maps to help people find your business location as well as in local search results in the regular 10 blue links below the Map Pack.

Local Map Pack Search Results Anatomy

The ranking factors for local SEO are weighted differently than regular SEO which changes the strategies and tactics you can use to rank in search results as a local business. There’s also a big emphasis on mobile devices, as most local searches are performed on smartphones and other devices on the go.

Be careful not to apply regular SEO techniques to try to get to the top of Google Maps—it won’t work as well as local SEO tactics!

What Is the Map Pack or Local Pack?

In local search results, you’ll often see a local search optimization featured called the Local Pack or Map Pack that displays a map of your area with local businesses marked on the map with their business information below.

86% of people use Google Maps to find a business location and 28% of local mobile searches result in a sale within 24 hours, according to the above stats. Getting to the top of Maps should be a big priority for your local SEO marketing team!

Here’s an example of a local Map Pack or Local Pack search result:

Local Map Pack Results

Local search marketing focuses on optimizing your Google My Business listing as well as other factors that influence your business’ Map Pack position.

What Factors are Most Important for Local SEO?

In 2018, Moz surveyed SEO professionals about the most important factors for local search rankings for local Map results and localized search results. While it’s been a number of years since that report was updated, most of the information still holds true today.

According the the study, the top 4 signals for Maps are:

  • Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.)
  • Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.)
  • Review Signals (Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.)
  • On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.)

And according to the study, the top 4 signals for localized search are:

  • Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.)
  • On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.)
  • Behavioral Signals (Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.)
  • Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.)

Today, the ranking factors have changed slightly, with some slight changes to how Google My Business is factored into rankings and proximity is used for Maps.

However, above all, if you want to optimize your business’ online presence for local SEO, you need to focus on the three top local ranking factors: your Google My Business profile, on-page website optimization, and links back to your website from quality sites.

How Do I Get My Business to Rank Locally?

Local SEO optimization requires you to focus on factors that influence your local SEO engine rankings, which isn’t exactly the same as regular SEO. Taking into consideration the top three ranking factors mentioned above, you’ll want to follow steps that put your emphasis on these factors the most, followed by other factors that impact local SEO less but are still necessary.

The process we follow to help our clients rank locally for keywords in their area involves the following steps:

  1. Claim and verify your Google My Business listing
  2. Optimize your GMB listing with a complete profile, including the right category, description, photos and more
  3. Regularly post on your Google My Business page
  4. Optimize your website for local keywords
  5. Optimize your website for mobile devices
  6. Include local schema on your website
  7. Get links back to your website from other local sites and regional authorities
  8. Get brand mentions from other local sites, media, and regional authorities
  9. Increase the number of positive reviews of your business on Google, Facebook, and other platforms
  10. Claim other relevant local citations and update your business information
  11. Use social media and keep your profiles active
  12. Create articles or pages that focus on local keywords and get links back to your website content from relevant sites

We use this step by step process to cover the most important ranking factors first so our clients can get to the top of local search as quickly as possible. All of these can factor into your local search optimisation to help your business rank higher in Maps and local search results so take time to routinely address these factors.

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business is Google’s local business listing service that allows you to claim and verify your business on Google’s platform. Not only does your Google My Business listing factor heavily into Map pack results, it can also give your business a better online brand that you can control.

If you search for your business by name, you'll notice a Google My Business listing on the search results page. You can control most of this information by claiming and completing your Google My Business listing.

Google My Business listings are free but require you to claim and verify your ownership of the business. They’re easy to set up so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t claim yours!

Here’s how you can claim and verify your Google My Business listing:

  1. Go to business.google.com and type in your business name.
  2. Choose your Business Category that best fits your business and is optimized for Google local SEO based on how many people are searching for different categories in your area.
  3. Next, select if people can visit your business at location or not. Keep in mind that Google has strict rules on what kinds of businesses can answer yes to this question!
  4. Next, enter your business address. Make sure this is the address where people can visit your business.
  5. If your business has a listing, you’ll see on the next page suggested results that you can claim. If you select that it matches, you’ll go through the process of verifying that you are the owner or authorized agent of the business. If it doesn’t, you’ll go through the process of creating a listing and verification.
  6. You’ll then also be able to add service areas outside of your physical location that you serve. If you have a business that visits customers at their homes, such as a HVAC business, you’ll want to add your service areas to the list.
  7. Finally, add your contact information and finish claiming your listing.

After setting up your listing, you’ll be asked to verify your business with Google by one of three methods:

  • Mail with a postcard and a unique PIN that you’ll enter in your Google Business Dashboard
  • Phone verification with a PIN an automated machine will tell you when it calls the main number you entered when creating your listing
  • Email to an email address associated with the website your entered when creating your listing
  • Instant verification with Google Search Console
  • Bulk verification, with more than 10 locations

Once you’ve verified your listing, it will be eligible to appear live across in Search, Maps, and other Google properties!

How Do I Optimize My Google My Business Listing?

After you’ve claimed and verified your Google My Business listing, you’ll need to optimize your GMB page. We have a complete step by step guide on how to optimize your Google My Business listing but to give you an overview, these are the steps you’ll want to follow:

  1. Make sure your information is accurate
  2. Claim a short name for your locations
  3. Write a description that uses keywords and attracts your ideal customers
  4. Add the right category and subcategories for your business
  5. Add photos
  6. Increase, monitor, and respond to reviews
  7. Post routinely with content related to your business
  8. Optimize Google Q&As for your most common keywords and questions
  9. Add social media profiles
  10. Use features for your specific niche, like adding a menu, adding a list of services, or other relevant information

If you want to dominate the top of search results, be sure to use our other tutorials and guides on how to optimize your local search rankings and your GMB listing.

What Are Local Citations? Do Directory Listings Still Matter?

SEO citations, also called NAP citations, are directory listings on third-party websites that include your business’ Name, Address and Phone number (NAP). When local SEO professionals talk about local citations, this doesn’t include Google My Business—it’s just all of the other third party sites that have directory listings.

Local citations were once an integral part of increasing your local search rankings but today, they account for as little as 10% of local ranking factors for Maps and 8% for localized search results. Instead, your Google My Business followed by on-page optimization and links are more influential on your local search and Map rankings.

While you should make sure that your business is listed on the top directories, making sure you’re in every directory on the web isn’t necessary. And it’s often a waste of SEO resources to do so! Instead, you should check to make sure that you’ve claimed and corrected information on the top directories.

After claiming and correcting listings on the top directories, you’ll want to focus on directories for your local area, such as your Chamber listings, local websites, and other relevant niche directories.

Finally, you’ll want to use niche specific directories that are for your industry. There are likely a handful of additional directories that serve just businesses of your kind so you’ll want to get relevant listings in those to show Google your business’ niche.

What Are Local Keywords?

Local keywords are keywords focused on finding something on search in a specific geographic area. These can be on localized search that typically indicate localized searcher intent, like "dentist", or geo-modified keywords that add location specific keywords, like "dentist near me" or "dentist in Dallas".

Some keywords are locally focused by searcher intent because searchers habitually look for and interact with search results based on their locations. Google and other search engines show localized results for these keywords even if there isn’t a location included in the search because of past user behavior.

Searches with "near me" have been rising sharply in the last few years, with a 500% increase between 2015 and 2017. More and more people are using local keywords to find what they’re looking for in that moment in their nearby area.

As a local business, gearing your local SEO strategy towards local keywords can help your business rank higher in search results for relevant searches and help you gain more customers. Don’t forget that 28% of local mobile searches result in a same-day in-store purchase so these kinds of keywords are directly tied towards increased revenue!

How Do I Research and Optimize for Local Keywords?

Finding keywords in your local area is a bit more difficult than finding keywords for national SEO campaigns because most SEO tools are geared towards traditional SEO instead of local SEO.

You can find local keywords by using these techniques:

  • Find the most popular industry keywords for your niche (e.g. "bakery", "cakes", etc.)
  • Use Google autocomplete to find additional keywords
  • Use Google Ads Keyword Planner Tool to search for keyword ideas in your area
  • Use competitor keyword research tools to find what your competitors rank for now
  • Combine these keywords with your location(s) to create compound local keywords (e.g. "cakes Dallas", "Dallas cakes,"" "cakes in Dallas", etc.)
  • Add modifiers to your main keywords (e.g. "best bakery near me", "best Dallas bakery", etc.)

Once you have a list of keywords, you can use additional SEO tools to discover how many people are searching for your keywords.

Be sure to control for geographic location as much as possible when you’re analyzing your keywords! Regional variations in language can cause certain keywords to be more searched in some areas more than others so you don’t want to mistakenly use the wrong terms for your region because of high search volume in other areas you don’t serve.

Once you’ve gathered your target keywords and prioritize them based on search volume and difficulty, you’ll want to optimize your website and local listings for these keywords.

  • Use keywords in appropriate places on your website, including technical SEO elements like your titles and meta descriptions
  • Use keywords in your Google My Business profile
  • Use keywords in your citation descriptions, making sure to vary your descriptions and keywords across directories
  • Create content related to your keywords and post articles on your website
  • Use keywords in Google My Business posts
  • Use keywords in your social media posts

There’s endless ways you can use keywords in your marketing campaigns to increase your local SEO but be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want to keyword stuff but use them naturally where it makes sense to do so.

What Is Local SEO Schema Markup?

Another tool you can use to improve your local search engine marketing is to use localized schema markup that helps search engines like Google better understand your business, business category, services or products, and other information about your business.

You can use local business schema markup to share all kinds of information with search engines about your business, from your business name and contact information to even what kinds of payment you accept, if you have a drive thru, and more.

You can also use additional information for your business type, products and services to help search engines understand what you offer even more clearly.

How can you add schema to your website? You’ll want to use markup in the code of your website so asking for help from your website developer or SEO company is the best step to take if you’re unfamiliar with coding. We help our customers implement schema markup and structure data easily by taking care of the details for them.

What Is Included In Local SEO Services?

Want to get local SEO help from a professional? Hiring a local SEO agency can help you get the most from your local SEO without having to spend countless hours on optimizing your website and online presence every month.

Local SEO is constantly changing so having a professional in tune with changes in the local SEO industry can make it a lot easier to implement a local SEO campaign for your business.

We offer affordable local SEO services for our clients to help them reap the benefits of gaining visibility in search engines, increasing foot traffic, and gaining more customers. The best local SEO services focus on the following:

  • Website localization and optimization with local keyword optimization, schema markup, and coding changes to help search engines better understand your business and offerings
  • Google My Business Management, including profile claiming, verification, optimization and review cultivation and management techniques
  • Local citation building in quality, relevant directories, including top directories, industry-specific niche directories, and local area directories
  • Review management for gaining and responding to reviews across platforms, including Facebook, Yelp, and other main review sites
  • Backlink building for non-citation links from industry specific websites, local media outlets and organizations, and other quality, relevant links

As well, your local SEO company should help you to fully capture the online value of any local events, sponsorships, scholarships and other opportunities that can help you increase your brand visibility and awareness in your local community.

Finding a Local SEO Agency to Help

The process of increasing your local SEO rankings and gaining more customers through search engines can be a daunting process if you’re not a professional. Getting to be the top local business in your industry is no easy task and requires constant attention to your customer service processes as well as your online presence.

Working with a team of local SEO pros can help you focus on getting your customer service right while not having to worry about your online reputation and optimizing your presence for local rankings.

We offer free initial consultations to learn about what local SEO strategies are best for your business and to provide pricing for our affordable local SEO services. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and get started growing your business.

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              Kim Herrington
Kim Herrington

Kim Herrington is Creative Director of Orsanna where she leads the production and strategy for clients' marketing and advertising. She founded Orsanna over seven years ago to bring quality marketing services to business owners.

Category: Local SEO
Published: Jul 22, 2020 Last Updated: Jul 28, 2020

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