The Complete Guide to Local Search: What is Local SEO, and How to Do It

If you have a geographically-bound customer base, you’ve probably heard of local SEO. If you haven’t, we’re glad you’re here to learn. 

Local SEO can be a huge differentiator for small businesses looking to build a larger customer base in a specific geographic area. Your coffee shops, flower shops, independent bookstores, and restaurants are all examples of businesses with an online presence and analog audience: the perfect candidates to increase leads from a local SEO strategy. 

This is our complete guide to local search and a comprehensive local SEO checklist: 

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is a sub-type of search engine optimization (SEO) that focuses on increasing visibility in a specific geographic location. Generally, it works best for companies offering a product or service to the local community that are looking to attract more customers. 

A local SEO strategy pursues increased organic visibility in local search engine results, and aims to make all relevant business information easily accessible for potential customers to find. 

What exactly are local search engine results?

When we talk about improving visibility in local search, we’re often talking about visibility and rankings in the “local pack.” You may have noticed this map-based feature that ties businesses listings on Google (Google Business Profile) and a map marking exactly where those businesses exist. 

Local search results appear, most often, when someone searches using geographic keywords such as states, cities, and oftentimes, neighborhoods. 

Businesses with local audiences like restaurants, bars, or any brick-and-mortar shop will have a potential customer base that more often than not will use local keywords. You’ll notice that the search query used to create the local pack above was “chinese food old town chicago.” There’s a clear geographic intent- “old town chicago,” and a certain type of business: chinese food. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to know that the searcher here is looking for a specific, local business, so generates the local pack. No one searching for a query like this will want San Francisco’s chinese food, or even a recipe blog from Sichuan Province. They’re clearly looking for a specific thing in a specific place: the bread and butter of local SEO.

One of the ways businesses can optimize for local pack visibility is by creating effective local content.

Local content often has different aims than classic B2B site content as it’s trying to capture the interests and needs of a unique geographic audience. Because of that, it aims for specific, locally bound keywords, and caters to specific audience queries and interests.

Local SEO content comes with a friendly, neighborly touch. It’s like being stopped at the gas station and being asked for directions, it’s texting your friend to let them know about a certain food item they should try. Local SEO content is “boots on the ground” content, it’s there to let the search engine know that people in these nearby areas will appreciate this type of helpful context. 
Charley Vail, one of DTC’s local SEO Experts
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Local SEO Ranking Factors

The next logical question may be: DTC, what impacts a website’s rankings in local search engine results? The answer is simple-ish:

Local SEO is a type of regular SEO, so many of the same ranking factors are involved. Some of them include:

  • Backlinks
  • Keyword Optimization (we’ll return to this)
  • Core web vitals
  • Indexable content

For specifically local SEO, other key factors include:

  • Local keywords (instead of “florist,” “chicago florist”)
  • Google Business profile information, completion, and accuracy
  • Reviews
  • Local landing pages
  • Local backlinks

You can’t have good local SEO without also having good SEO and optimizing your website, but local SEO simply introduces more potential ranking factors into the equation. 

Keep reading for our full Local SEO Checklist with more insights as to how to optimize each of these rankings factors. 

3 Top Benefits of Local SEO

Local SEO is a powerful tool for businesses looking to attract customers from a specific area. Three of the biggest benefits a local SEO strategy offers include:

  1. A finite, captive audience will now be more likely to see your business over others
    • There are only so many people in a given location, and local SEO will help users choose your business over less-optimized competitors. If the difference lies between a Google map entry with no information versus an entry with everything a user might need to make a decision, they’ll definitely choose the optimized Google Business Profile. 
  1. Local reviews will boost your authority
    • A well optimized and local-SEO minded business will solicit reviews and feedback from customers, which will then in turn attract more customers. Local reviews will boost your authority and regards in the eyes of a potential new customer, 
  2. Local SEO will improve your overall SEO strategy
    • Local SEO is just a type of SEO overall, and one that can boost your SEO efforts. Optimizing your Google business profile requires you to fill out all the information that should be on your site; local keywords play part of overall keyword research; a good website is a must for anyone local looking for more information
Why is Local SEO Important? 

Local SEO is important because it allows you to compete for certain real estate within a search result (SERP) that you may not be vying for at this moment. It allows you to connect with a certain type of searcher, your neighborly face that wants to build an ongoing connection by having a convenient local shopping experience.
Charley Vail, Local SEO Expert
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Local SEO Checklist

When it comes to optimizing your site for local search, there can be a lot of moving parts. Not only are there general elements of SEO to keep in mind, but there are also local-specific considerations, as noted above. To help you out, we’ve created a local SEO checklist. 

Here are things to consider and do as you gear up for local search:

Performance

Any site is only as good as the user’s ability to access it quickly and without error. Ensure that your site is performing well by measuring your site’s speed and the load time for pages. Also, check that pages load properly without 404 or 500 errors. Any pictures on your site should load without issue or shifting around the page- these are the basics or ‘core web vitals’ that are necessary for any SEO.

Local Landing Pages

Does your business have multiple locations? Make sure each location has its own landing page to ensure that you attract local customers relevant to each location. Landing pages are pages devoted to a specific topic, service, or location. 

For example, if a Chicago-based coffee shop chain has locations in a variety of neighborhoods, each landing page would represent a location and be chock full of references to that specific neighborhood. 
Read more on hyperlocal SEO and landing pages here.

Local Keywords

Keywords are the bread and butter of SEO, ensuring that a user searching for a given term will find it on your page as helpful content. 

How do you do keyword research for local SEO? More or less the same way as regular keyword research- with keyword research tools. 

Local keywords are the localized version of typical keywords- for example, instead of optimizing for “SEO and digital marketing agency,” optimize instead for “Chicago SEO and digital marketing agency,” adding a local element to the phrase that grounds it in your location.

Additionally, optimizing for phrases like “near me” and adding in other local landmarks nearby can boost your local keywords. For example, if you’re describing where your business is located on your site, include nearby neighborhoods or landmarks to emphasize even more to both the user and crawlbot that your business is located in a specific area that you know well. 

Google Business Profile

The Google Business Profile (GBP) is, in effect, the key to putting you on the map. Google Maps, that is: the GBP is what populates Google Maps with businesses when you search. 

Here’s what DTC’s Google Business Profile looks like in the local pack: 

This Chicago-based author simply searched for ‘digital marketing agency’ and DTC came up. Not only can you see it is highly reviewed, contact information and our website are a mere click away. This makes DTC’s GBP as enticing as can be. 

As you can imagine, it’s vital to have the GBP completely filled out with the most current and correct information. This includes: 

  • Hours
    • Listing out the hours of your business, particularly if your business involves retail or customer service like a bar, is imperative. The difference between happy customers and frustrated customers can be listing the hours your kitchen is open, or whether your business closes doors at 6pm or 8pm. Be sure to include all hours variations (weekends, etc) and update proactively should you have holiday closures.
  • Address
    • This might be a no-brainer, but you cannot hope to master local SEO if your address is inaccessible on the GBP. Not only that, but your customers won’t be able to find your physical location, which is a problem.
  • Contact information (especially phone number)
    • Contact information is vital to a GBP. Specifically the phone number, so a customer can call and inquire about any further information they might need. For restaurants, this could be the necessary step to get a take-out order, and for retail stores or other types of businesses, customer calls could become sales. 
  • Any integrations with menu, delivery, or reservation apps
    • Particularly for service industry establishments like restaurants, bars, or clubs, integrations with assorted menu, delivery, or reservation apps make it easier and therefore more appealing for a potential customer to choose your business. Particularly in these days of fear of phone calls, a one-stop-shop to access menu/reservations can be attractive towards a younger crowd. 
  • Description of your business
    • An enticing description of your business can make a huge difference to your potential customers. In much the same way that we gravitate towards a website that communicates all the information we might need clearly, so a description is also very helpful. 
  • Service options
    • Service options are a great way to showcase exactly what your business does; for example, DTC offers online appointments as that is what we offer to all our clients. Other places, like a doctor’s practice, might offer many more.
  • Accessibility information
    • Particularly for places that a guest would visit, like a theater, restaurant, or bar, understanding accessibility is very important. Listing this out will help all of your potential customers feel more welcome. 
  • Payment information
    • Payment information is useful for any business, whether it’s a retail store, coffee shop, bar, or even music venue. Without understanding payment requirements- cashless or cash only? – as well as potential PayPal connections, etc- customers might feel unprepared or less likely to engage.

Each of these should be as up-to-date as possible to ensure that customers receive the experience they expect from your business. 

There are also user-added components to the Google Business Profile, including uploaded photos and reviews, which we’ll address next.

Reviews

As you might imagine, reviews make a huge difference for your business. This is why you often see businesses encouraging reviews on Yelp, Google, and elsewhere: the more positive reviews, the stronger a signal in search to prioritize a given business. 

Reviews not only demonstrate your company is trustworthy and worth a customer’s time and money, but they’re also an opportunity to showcase a conversation in public and create a more robust relationship with your audience. They also provide credibility, authority, and expertise from the mouths of the people you’re most invested in: your customers. 

Try to solicit reviews from happy customers. That will help to add more authority to your website and therefore make your business look even better for both users and in Google’s eyes. Another important action is to monitor for bad reviews and address them on-page so it shows you’re not just ignoring unhappy customers. 

Blog Content

Blog content can be an absolute game changer for local SEO. Not only does it offer an opportunity to showcase your experience and expertise in a subject, but by focusing on blogging about locally-based content, you can capture long tail keywords around your location as well as create content designed to rank for local search queries. If you don’t have time to fully flesh out blogs, turn to AI tools to help you out with outlines and more– just be careful and review everything. 

Read more about blogging for local SEO here.

Local Listings

Remember the phone book? While it might not be as ubiquitous as it used to be, there are tons of local listings and directories on the web. Whether it’s your local chamber of commerce listing out all businesses in the area or more focused lists of “Chicago-area independent bookstores,” try to submit yourself for inclusion on these listings. This is a great way to generate more backlinks for your profile that also drive legitimate traffic to your site. 

Live in Chicago? Here’s our ultimate guide to local SEO- Chicago-style. 

Local Ads

Local search ads are a great tool to increase foot traffic to your business. When a user searches “coffee shops near me” on their phone’s map app or Google, oftentimes local search ads are among the first businesses to pop up. They will ensure you have more visibility when– and especially where – it matters. 

These function on a cost-per-click (CPC) model. 

Backlinks

Backlinks, particularly from institutions nearby or other local institutions, will boost your site’s overall sense of authority in SEO. This is no different for local SEO– and it’s even better if you can get local links. 

Tracking and Measurement of Local SEO

As you might imagine, it can be difficult to measure success in local SEO efforts as many conversions happen in person or on the phone. That said, some key performance indicators (KPIs) to consider include:

Conversions from local search can look like email signups or even customers referencing finding your business online in the course of a transaction. You can also solicit surveys from customers asking about where they found you or ask for Google reviews. 

Conclusion

Local SEO has its own needs and requirements for ranking success, but its benefits are huge. Local SEO, for small businesses, can truly be a difference maker, and its capacity to drive more foot traffic and sales to your business makes for a powerful tool. 

Want to learn more and take your business to the next level? Reach out today and let us help your customers find you. 

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