Local SEO: a client’s guide

Want to know how local SEO works?

Ok. This is an ultimate guide on Local SEO for clients. It shows want you want to know. And got all your questions covered.
Ok, let’s have some fun!

So, what is local search?

Local Search concerns two things: 

  1. Localized organic search and 
  2. Pack / carousel listings. 

Localized organic search yields a normal Search Engine’s Results Page (SERP) with links customized to 1) your location, 2) targeted location of your query (for example, designer in Melbourne).

Localized organic search results


Depending on the search intent, search term and user device, up to 60% of search results may be ‘localized’ (6 of 10).

Pack listings is a special group of links within the normal SERP that feature map results for your query in the expanded form, for example, Name, website, Google+ page and Google reviews (where available) – see below. Pack rank ranges from A (the best) to G or even more.



Obviously, 100% of pack results are map based and therefore ‘localized’. So, pack / carousel listings are the epitome of local search.

Carousel listings is also a special group of links located at the top of normal Google 10 blue links page and often marked in black. Carousel listings also feature map results for your query in expanded form. Yet, here by contrast to pack listings they would show picture and address. Notably, Google has been changing the scope of carousel entries too often. Yet, almost invariably you can see carousel links searching for hotels.

Carousel ranking

Why optimization for local search is important?

OK. So, Google has been generating personalized search results for users based on their searches local intent?  How does Google know that my search has a LOCAL INTENT? 

The information is taken from the search query, for example, ‘architect Melbourne’, user’s device (mobile vs. desktop), the IP, and user personal data specified on Google account / Apple ID, etc. 

So, naturally mobile search users are especially affected by local search algorithm - 67% of mobile search results are affected by the location of the person searching. 

mobile search results

That’s why as Google will collect more data about a person AND would understand his/her intent better, the localized search results will be given to h/she even more often.


What does Local Search optimization involve?

Local Search Optimization involves 5 basic issues:
  1. Google My business 
  2. Local platforms (citations)
  3. On-page update
  4. Good customer service = Good Reviews
  5. Social Media
No fuss.

Why you need a SEO agency to do local optimization?

Local Mobile Search
Here’s a quintessential thing: either to do Local SEO in house or hire an agency. This depends on your time and quality considerations. Below is guide that will walk you through the basics of local SEO, and you could quite easily put an intern in charge of reading it and following instructions.

Of course, if they mess things up, neither you nor they may realize it until it’s far too late. An agency will almost certainly be able to do the same things much, much faster, and while an agency may cost more upfront it might end up being worth it for the speed and accuracy.

Landing page optimization for Local Search
Local Citations Ecosystem
Local Reviews
Social Media Reviews
 Google My Business Landing page optimization  Local Citations  Local Reviews  Social Media

I. Google My business

Ok. The first and foremost building brick of Local SEO is Google My business. 
According to the MOZ 2014 survey of Local Search Ranking Factors Google My business page signals (Categories, Keyword in Business Title, Proximity, etc.) are the MOST important factor for ranking your website in Pack/Carousel Results.

Google My business page signals weight

1. Pick a Google My business page

The page must be claimed & verified. 

If you already have a profile at Google My business – login. In the back end of the dashboard it should show the businesses associated with this account. Pick the one you’d use. After that you have to verify a local business on Google. .

If you don’t have Google My business page – create it. 


2. Ensure NAP consistency

Your business information has to be consistent across the web. 

NAP, i.e. Name of business, Address and Phone number has to be consistent and accurate. You should represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. It very important that your company name sounds the same across the web.

Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. 

Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable. Make sure that your page is created at your actual, real-world location. 

Google has a whole page dedicated to their address guidelines. 


3. Use local numbers

This number should include a local area code. Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or "refer" users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business, including pages created on social media sites. 


4. Use a proper business category

Importance: proper category association has the highest weight of all user specified profile data (together with Proximity).

Categories help your customers find accurate, specific results for services they’re interested in. In order to keep your business information accurate and live, make sure that you: 

  •  Use as few categories as possible to describe your overall core business from the provided list.
  • Choose categories that are as specific as possible, but representative of your main business.

Ensure your primary category your main category. Use all categories that fit in these guidelines. 



5. Use e-mail address on your domain name

This is simple. Make sure there is a public email address here where customers can contact you. This email should be on your domain.


6. The My Business listing should link a proper landing page

If you are a small business owner, you would want to specify your domain name. Yet, if you have several branches, each location shall link a corresponding landing page. 

For example, a Melbourne branch may have the following landing page URL: www.yoursite.com/branches/melbourne


7. Use relevant, unique business description

This is where you can introduce yourself to your customers and teach them about your business. Make sure that your description is unique and has > 250 words (500 words preferably).


8. Business hours should be filled out and accurate.

Business hours should be filled out and accurate. These can be added from the Google My Business back end.


9. Use Best quality photos

Follow these steps to add photos to your business information. 

Photos can appear in local search results across Google, such as Google Maps and Search. Photos that you add will appear alongside those added by other users.


10. The profile must be complete

Make sure your profile is 100% complete.



II. Website and landing page optimization



1. Correct crawlable NAP on landing page

Your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone) on your site has to mirror that on you’re my business profile. And importantly, it has to be crawlable by Google. 

To check if your page with NAP is crawlable use Google Webmaster’s option Fetch as Google


2. Site structure is correct 

OK. Perfect crawlability of your site’s page is a pre-requisite of Google Ranking and the building block of SEO. It is important that at least 70% of your site’s URLs in crawled as per Google Webmaster Tools data. 

URL structure is the way you shape your site’s URLs. It has to be consistent, i.e. reflect the hierarchy of pages (category, subcategory, entry), and preferably have the targeted search term in the path. For example, if you are an architect studio with a branch in Melbourne, the URL may look like: www.yourbusinessname-architects.com/melbourne 

For more details take a look at a guide of domain name and URL structure here. 


3. Business hours are included on-page and crawlable 

This is another issue of ensuring consistency between Google My business and your site page. And it’s often over looked. So, you would want to put it where your NAP belongs. 


4. Have your address & phone number echoed on your site’s footer 

Apart from featuring your business info on Contact page, you would want to have your NAP and business hours echoed on your site’s footer. This way it will have a greater exposure and will be indexed properly. 


5. Use your NAP in heading tags (h1, h2) 

Historically, Google has been giving a greater importance to content in heading tags. So, you would want to mark up your NAP in <h1>, <h2> or <h3>.


6. Landing page title relevant 

Landing page title should reflect your occupation (business category) and location. For example, if you are an architect you may want to update titles to the template: 

‘Subject in ?loc1 (?loc2) – Predicate’. 

It will make the following title: ‘Extension in Melbourne (Hawthorn) – Your-business-name’.


7. Landing page uses unique Meta Description 

You have to use a unique Meta description () for every page. And the Meta Description of the landing page (home page, for example) should feature business name, location & phone number.


8. Landing page’s content is quality, unique and sufficient (> 250 words) 

Now the Quality and Quantity talk. 

The quality content means a content that’s 

  1. unique, 
  2. geared towards the intent of a user, 
  3. properly marked up video and images, 
  4. providing rich user experience, i.e. featuring links to external sources, featuring embedded resources (applications), etc. 

Optimizing for user intent means make sure your page content includes occupation (subject) as well as adjectives and items geared toward the interest of your target audience. For example, for ‘home design’ search query, it’s also good to optimize for the following – see below.


Also, make sure that the word count on prospective landing pages is adequate (>250 words).


9. Include a Google map on a landing page 

Including Google map’s code on a landing page is a very good practice suggesting that you care for your users’ experience. Literally every listing within a local pack has a Google map w/ a business location on its landing page.


10. Page load speed 

Page load speed is a sign of your site’s tech validity, which is one of conventional SEO factors. Yet, it gets more important with local SEO as a larger portion of local traffic comes from mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc). So check your current site’s load time – should be 2-5 sec. 


11. Mobile friendly / responsive design 

Sites that are not mobile friendly, i.e. does not support adequate functioning & look of page on mobile devices, has NO chances of ranking for local search. So, you may want to check your page from your smartphone and see how it looks. If it’s not OK, then consider moving your content on a new mobile friendly platform. 


12. Check the WHOIS Information and ensure the NAP matches the main location 

The location part is somewhat tricky. It’s a good practice to have your website hosted where you work, i.e. the city and the country you target. Yet, it’s not always possible, especially for a multi-branch websites. So, this recommendation mainly concerns single-location businesses.    


13. Have your Google Analytics & GWT installed 

It’s not critical at all. I mean it does not influence your local search ranking position. Yet, you still want to analyze your visitors and conversion. You may use GA or Heap analytics. Google Webmaster Tool is important for checking your site’s tech issues & occasional Google Alerts. So you better have it.    


Ok, guys. Here’s the techno talk time. It’s important but don’t overthink it.


14. Local business (NAP) schema 

This is something you want to do to mark up your NAP using schema.org () vocabulary. Ok, why do you need that? Microdata mark up like schema.org is a building block of Semantic Search (). So, if you considering establishing yourself as a Semantic Entity like Starbucks on Union Square in New York, you’d better have it. 


 OK. And the prettiest thing is this – easy Local Business Schema Generator


15. Use customer reviews on page marked up in Schema 

All right. You probably heard that featuring your customer reviews on your page gives it an extra credibility. Now, you would want to mark up those reviews for Google to feature them right on the local results page. 

 As per 2014 Search Engine Land survey, 88% Have Read Reviews to Determine the Quality of a Local Business. So, highlighting your Reviews is good for customer conversion. And it’s good for your local ranking as well. 

Now, the sweatiest thing is this ReviewsSchema Generator to create a code representing a customer reviews in schema.org vocabulary.


16. Have a KML file on your domain name with all of your locations 

Easy now. If you want to hack a Google map or Google Earth – welcome here. KML is a file format used to display geographic data in an Earth browser such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Maps for mobile. 

And the swell thing is this GEO Site Map generator to create a geo sitemap.


III. Citations


A citation is simply the listing of your NAP (business name, address, and phone number) on the web. For example, if I have a Yelp profile it will include my business name, address, and phone number along with other pertinent business information.

Collectively called External Location Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, Citation Volume, etc) the ‘Citation factor’ is second most influent factor in determining your sites position with Local pack / Carousel. It’s been reported to have 19.7% weight in total success of business ranking vs. 19.8% of My Business Signals, the most influent factor. 

So, what matters most here is: 

1.     Consistency of Structured Citations

2.    Quality/Authority of Structured Citations

3.     HTML NAP Matching My Business Page NAP   


Where citations come from?

Citations may have been created by you, your company, or out of thin air from a phone book listing or something else. There are companies out there that sell this business listing information to other directories and feed them information. These are called data aggregators. It's essential that your listings are correct with data aggregators. This will ensure that the listings are as correct as possible from the top down.

Local Search Ecosystem


What should you do?

Ensure that you are listed, that there are no duplicates, and that the information is 100% correct on the top 50 citation sources and all of the data aggregators. 

Citation sources Casey Meraz

What to start from?

Make sure your business is listed correctly without duplicates on the main data aggregators including Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom, and Factual in the US,etc.

The template you would want to use is here.


Citation discovery tools

Use White Spark to discover where to list your business for better local search rankings

Use a service like Yext to make sure that the information from your Google Places page is spread across all of the other major local platforms, in the same format. Each of these will become a citation, which is hugely valuable.

Use a tool like KnowEm to snag all of your social profiles (while not strictly local-centric, many profiles will show your name, address and phone number, which will instantly give you a whole pile of local citations.)

Google of course is free, but using White Spark, Yext and KnowEm will set you back $500 to $1,000 per location depending on the packages you select (KnowEm is a one-time fee, but White Spark and Yext is ongoing.)

Remember, more does not mean better - be careful and ethical in your approach when getting citations.

What’s more ?

  1. Identify new high quality citation sources.  
  2. Make sure your NAP is correct on Apple Maps

IV. Reviews


There are two types of reviews: Native (Google +) reviews and 3rd party review sites. Essentially, native reviews have more impact on your local search ranking. Yet, within every business niche there are power 3rd party review sites that should be addressed also. 

The industry professionals reported that Reviews signals (Review quantity, Review velocity, Review diversity, etc.) accounted for 7.2% of success in Localized Search Results and 12.3% - in Pack / Carousel results. So, their overall impact on local search ranking should not be over estimated. Still, apparently customer reviews affect buyer decisions. 

As per 2014 Search Engine Land survey, 88% Have Read Reviews to Determine the Quality of a Local Business.


how online reviews affect local business

With reviews, there are several major factors we need to be addressing in every review: 

·         Positive sentiment

·         Uniqueness

·         Power users


1. Native (Google) reviews 

I recommend that a local business has at least 5 native (Google) reviews. The key to obtaining reviews is to obtain them naturally over time. They need to be honest reviews from actual clients posted from their own devices. Read how to get Google Reviews here. 



2. 3rd party influential review sites 

Record the major third party review sites for the niche. Browse best Local citations by Business category here  (mostly US-based citation sources).  

TOP local citation sources by Country 

Best local citations box

So, you goals is to ensure they have at least 5-10 reviews with at least a 4 star rating. 



V. Social media


Ok. Social accounts. Essentially, these are citations from local Search Ecosystem point of view. 

So, what you are going to do with your Facebook, Foursquare / Swarm accounts? 

1.  Ensure the NAP is correct. 

2. Are the best possible photos used for the cover photo and profile image? 

3. Is the page completely filled out and linked to their website? 

4. Are they active and posting regularly? 

5. Do they have any business check ins? 

6. Do they have reviews and do they meet the criteria mentioned in the review section? 

7. Make sure that you are Consistent in posting to your social accounts (at least once a week). 


Now the video SEO (YouTube) thing

make sure the videos uploaded are high quality, have NAP in title, description, and are geo-tagged.