Local Search Engine Optimization

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Google introduced the Pigeon Update in July 2014 (thanks Grant Simmons), forever changing Local Search and Search Optimization.

Ironically, as more businesses become aware of the need for search engine optimization, SEO has become more complicated.

Prior to Google’s Hummingbird update, local optimization consisted of a set of easily defined steps that, for the most part, existed outside of the more challenging traditional organic optimization practices.

While those steps are still part of the local optimization process, Hummingbird integrated many of the more traditional signals into local search as well.

local seo

Step One: Set up or Claim Your Google My Business Listing

If you do nothing else, you should go to Google My Business and claim and complete your business listing for EACH location:

  • Decide on your N-A-P (name, address, phone number). It is important that it is consistent across the web. The NAP that you use here should be the same as the one that appears on your website and other business listings.
    • It is recommended that you include a local number whenever possible
  • Choose your category(ies) carefully. Google recommends choosing theone that is best for your business, however some businesses do require more than one. If you are having a tough time finding the right category,this tool may help.
  • Fill out your profile as completely as possible. Include your product/service and location-based keywords in your profile.
  • Include photographs of you, employees, logo, building, etc. Use quality photographs. Need a photographer? Try a Google Trusted Photographer.
  • Include accurate and up-to-date business hours

Step Two: Set up or Claim Your Business Listing on the Secondary Search Sites

  • Bing Places
  • Yahoo Small Business (now Aabaco Small Business): They don’t make this one easy, but there is a work around that will still allow you to add your business for free.
  • Yelp for Business Owners
  • Apple Maps
  • Facebook is working to become a bigger player in local search. They are becoming a popular platform for consumer reviews and your Facebook business page may appear in the search results.
  • LinkedIn: if you ever deal with other businesses (who doesn’t?), you should be on LinkedIn.
  • Other social media or media sites as fitting your audience and interests (i.e. Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube).

It is a good idea for most businesses to set up with these search sites, but recognize that your industry may have others that are important as well (i.e. Real Estate – Realtor.com).

Step Three: Establish Citations for Your Business

Citations are additional sites around the web where you can list your business (i.e. business, industry, location-based directories and associations, etc).

  1. Major Aggregators: within the national citations, there a few super citations or aggregators. They not only are recognized by and provide information to the search engines, but also push out business information to smaller citation sites. These aggregators include:
    1. Localeze
    2. Infogroup
    3. Acxiom
    4. Factual

You can set these up for yourself or use a service like Moz Local or Yext to complete them.

  1. There are countless other free citations you can set up. Avoid sites that look to be of questionable quality or content. I’d also refrain from paying for citations (with the notable exceptions of those listed below).
  2. There are only 3 types of citations that are worth paying for:
    • Your local chamber of commerce, or other prominent local business directories/groups
    • Better Business Bureau
    • Regional or National industry-related associations. For example, Financial Advisors should join the Financial Planning Association (FPA).
  3. Eliminate duplicate citations and citation errors. Duplicates listings, or differing addresses and phone numbers confuse the Search Engines and damage your chances of ranking well. Moz can help you identify some listing errors.

Step Four: Collect Reviews and Testimonials

Collect as many positive reviews as possible. Address, but don’t obsess over the occasional poor review. Unless you have a dominant industry specific site that depends on reviews, I would make Google My Business and Yelp reviews a priority.

Step Five: Add Content Markup to Your Webpage

Content Markup refers to the on-page use of keywords to let the search engines know what your page is about.

Your Google Category should become a keyword for one of your pages, usually the homepage as it generally has the highest domain authority, and is the page that most citations (and links) will point toward. This page should contain a minimum of 300 words of text relating to the keyword. More text is better for the search engines, but ultimately, keep in mind that the text must be of value to your visitors.

Whichever page you choose, the ‘category + city’ should usually be part of the keyword phrase. i.e. Financial Planner, Las Vegas

Your ‘keyword + city’ should appear

  • In your Title Tag: On the homepage, add your business name. (i.e Financial Planner Las Vegas| ABC Financial)
  • In your page title (h1-tag)
  • Within your content where appropriate. It is recognized as being more significant near the beginning of the article, or when it is bolded orItalicized within your content.
  • As part of the Alt. Text on your images

Step Six: Add Your Location to Your Website

  1. Include your N-A-P (for each location) in your Header, Sidebar, or Footer so that it appears on every webpage.
  2. Create a separate webpage for each location. This page should be part of the navigation (i.e. in a dropdown under a Navigation title of ‘Locations’).

Step Seven: External Linking

Although there are questions about the effectiveness of this practice, the idea behind it is that you demonstrate your relevancy and reliability by linking out to high authority industry or community websites.

i.e. Link to your profile on the BBB, or to your Chamber of Commerce profile

Step Eight: Test Your Site’s Loading Speed

According to Kissmetrics, 47% of people expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less and 40% will actually abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. As such, Google has put an emphasis on speed and provides a tool for you to test your website’s loading time.

Step Nine: Is Your Site Mobile-Friendly?

2015 saw the arrival of mobilegeddon and the expectation that your website will be mobile-friendly. You can test your website’s mobile performance here.


Step Ten: Create High-Quality, Unique Content on a Regular Basis

It is important to recognize that search engine optimization is not a one-time project, but rather must be part of your overall on-going marketing efforts.

While content creation is not highly technical, it does take an advanced level of commitment and is an area where many small businesses fail to follow through.

Create content about your industry, common client questions, and events that are going on in your community.

Whether you produce articles, video, images, or a podcast, your content helps demonstrate both your relevancy and authority to the search engines, and expertise your potential clients.

Step Eleven: Optimize for Voice Search

Voice search continues to grow in popularity and usage. This means longer, natural language search queries.

How do you optimize for voice search? Create content that answers those natural language queries, and use those queries as the keywords. Voice search will usually be mobile, so make sure your site is mobile-friendly and that the content for these searches is clear and to the point.

Step Twelve: Acquire Backlinks to Your Content

Backlinks—links from another site to your site—are still among the most powerful SEO signals, and also one of the most challenging to employ.

Again, one of the pillars of developing a strong backlink profile is the development of good content.

While building backlinks can become very time consuming, there are simple steps you can take to assist in the acquisition of backlinks without having to become a professional link builder.

  • Link to other quality industry or area websites/blogs from your website and content. Let them know that you’ve linked out to them.
  • Create shareable content – lists of “best places to stay in Sun Valley”, “things to do at Christmas in Las Vegas”, etc.
  • Don’t publish and pray. Share your great content—through social media and email, with other industry and area bloggers/websites.
  • Guest post on relevant, quality blogs.

Step Thirteen: Add Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to Your Website


phone search

By late February 2016, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages will be available to everyone. AMPs are designed to make mobile pages faster, and with Google’s emphasis on speed and user experience, will certainly influence future search rankings.

Google’s stated goal is for “all published content, from news stories to videos and from blogs to photographs and GIFs, to work using Accelerated Mobile Pages.” following the instructions and code provided by Google, or, if you’re a WordPress user, there’s already a plugin (I haven’t tried it yet).