Approx. 8 minute read.
This beginner’s guide to Local SEO will help you understand and apply the fundamentals of optimising your business for local search engine presence. I will be going through the key factors that come into play when Google is assessing your local authority as well as share practical tips that you can start actioning straight away.
This guide focuses on the things that you can do without having specialist technical skills and is by no means the be-all-end-all of local SEO.
I hope this blog will allow you to learn SEO basics and apply those in favour of your local business, however if you’re looking for experts who can take care of the technicalities and help bring it all together, Yellow Moose offer SEO services in the Milton Keynes and Buckingham Area.
Table of Contents
- How does the Google Search Engine work?
- What do local searches have in common?
- Key ranking factors for Local Optimisation
- Google My Business
- Citation Signals: Directory Listings
- The importance of Reviews as a ranking signal
- Link building strategy for small businesses
- On page optimisation
- Final Word
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation also known as SEO is the practice of increasing your visibility in search engines, particularly Google (as it accounts for circa 90% of all searches in the UK and globally – Data from Statcounter) to drive quality organic traffic to your website.
1. How does the Google Search Engine work?
For a website to appear in Google results, it first needs to be crawled by Google’s ‘spiders’. These bots analyse your site’s content and structure, then report back to Google who decide which pages are worthy of adding to their index. They will then apply their algorithm to rank you for the keywords relevant for your website.
Most people won’t realise this, but when viewing the Google search results page (also known as SERP), you’re not actually viewing live search results but rather Google’s index of the web.
In practice, this means that any changes made to your website will not instantly appear in the search results. New or updated pages will need to undergo the crawling and indexing process again. The same applies to external sources – for example if somebody has just included a link to your website inside one of their web pages, it will take a while for that to be registered by Google.
How often a website gets crawled by Google depends largely on its popularity. The likes of Facebook are being crawled more than once a day, while smaller and less significant sites can expect wait times between 1 and 2 weeks.
2. What do local searches have in common?The Local 3 Pack:
Searches for keywords which include a local modifier – eg. ‘Dentist Buckingham’ or ‘Dentists near me’ will always include the local 3 pack, which displays a map and three most relevant results based on your location and keyword.
Additionally, local packs are permanently attached to certain keywords where location is a key factor. It is not necessary to include a location modifier phrase for those keywords, they will simply display results based on where you’re searching from. Here’s a few examples of such keywords: ‘plumbing services’, ‘off licence’, ‘mechanic’, ‘dental practice’, ‘supermarket’, ‘funeral directors’, ‘accountant’ et cetera.
How do you get onto a local pack in Google?
First step register for a Google My Business (GMB) which will also add you to the local Google Maps results displayed in the ‘Maps’ tab.
Once you’re listed in GMB, you have the potential to feature in the Local 3 Pack. Climbing rankings can be challenging, especially if you’ve just started as established businesses would have earned Google’s trust already. Follow the simple and actionable steps contained in this article to get a head start on your competitors.
3. Key ranking factors for Local SEO Optimisation
Here are the key things Google is looks at when deciding where to position your business in localised searches.
Google My Business
The ranking signals connected to your Google My Business listing are becoming increasingly influential nowadays and are currently the number 1 factor in determining your local positioning.
Make sure that your GMB listing is up to the highest standard and you’re taking advantage of all the available features:
- Choose your categories wisely (you can have one top level category and multiple hidden categories for which you will also rank)
- Add your business description
- Fill out every available field
- Add relevant images (I’d recommend at least 2.)
- Use a local telephone number
I don’t see too many local businesses leveraging the ‘Posts’ function within your Google My Business listing. It’s a great way to feature relevant content to your prospects and customers alike and it’s another one of those that can sway the rankings to your advantage.
Tip: Try to naturally feature the keywords you’re aiming to rank fo within your Posts. Avoid stuffing your articles with too many keywords though, as this will have an adverse effect – more on over optimising in the on-page section.
Citation Signals: Directory Listings
A citation is any online mention of your business, which features your business name, phone number, physical address and your website (if you have one).
The easiest and quickest source of quality citations will be directory listings. You should really go all out here and register for as many reputable online listings as you can. Make sure you’re consistent with your business details and again, get your listing profiles up to a high standard – fill out all the available fields (that includes your business description) and don’t forget to add imagery.
Here’s a list of FREE directory listings you definitely should be listed on:
(Some if not most of these offer premium options and might harass you with sales calls, however having your business listed with the websites listed below is 100% worth the effort and short term inconvenience.)
Google My Business
Bing Places for Business (you can use your existing GMB profile to create a Bing Places listing)
Apple Maps Connect
Facebook Business Page (not a directory listing per se but it is crucial to display your info there)
Scoot (Includes: Touch Local, The Independent Directory, Scoot and The Mirror Directory)
Central Index (includes The Mirror Directory)
The Sun Directory
The importance of Reviews as a ranking signal
Reviews are becoming an increasingly influential factor in the decision making process for your prospects and Google rankings alike. The number of reviews, your rating, the contents of individual reviews as well as the velocity (how often you’re getting reviewed) are all key to solidifying your Google authority and improving your local ranking.
- Respond to your reviews in a courteous manner, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.
- Make it easy to write reviews – for example you can send a mail shot asking your customers for reviews with links included for their convenience.
- Ask for reviews on a range of platforms such as Google Places (your Google My Business listing), Facebook and Trustpilot.
- Take the feedback on board to improve your company policies and practices in order to delight your customers.
- Don’t post fake reviews of any kind – whether you’re doing it yourself or asking your friends and family, Google will know, trust me.
- Don’t incentivise customers to write reviews – it’s against the rules and can land you in Google Jail
- Don’t ask for specific reviews – allow your customers to express themselves freely
- Don’t post customers reviews from your own account even if they’re legitimate (they will have to go through the submission process themselves)
- Don’t post multiple reviews from the same computer/ network – this is a red flag for Google.
I strongly advise against engaging in the these practices. You will get found out and potentially penalised by Google.
Link building strategy for small businesses
Building your website’s Domain and Page Authority through relevant backlinks is one of the best ways to increase your search rankings. Backlinks from local, industry relevant websites will work wonders for your search standing, increase traffic to your site
What is a backlink?
A backlink is a link to your website from an external source. Links can both improve or tank your rankings, depending on the authority of the source domain. For best results try to obtain links from websites in some way relevant to yours, who have already established themselves as authority figures in the eyes of Google.
Tip: The quickest way to determine a link’s value is to check out the source domain’s authority using this free domain authority checker tool by MOZ.
Where to get backlinks?
- Feature in directory listings (not all will count as a backlink as a lot of them use the ‘nofollow’ command)
- Engage in sponsorships
- Write guest blog posts which link back to your site
- Set up Google Alerts and monitor your mentions online
- Attend local trade events (those often list exhibiting businesses on their website, usually featuring a link)
On page optimisation
This section will require that your business has a website. If you’re convinced that you can do without having one, I’d recommend you check out this blog post from MOZ “Why Local Businesses will need websites more than ever in 2019”.
For starters, ensure that your website is mobile friendly and the content responds to the device that it’s being viewed on. Here’s a quick tool by Google to check your website’s mobile friendliness. I can’t stress this enough as local searches these days are predominantly conducted using mobile devices.
To solidify your local presence, make sure your NAPs (Business name, Address and Phone number) are featuring on your website – to keep things simple, include it in the footer of every page. Think of ways that allow you to improve the user experience while emphasising that you’re a local business. You could for example embed a Google Map and populate your Contact page with useful directions and parking information.
Additionally, Including local modifier phrases such as town/ city or county names in your page titles, H1s, meta descriptions and body text is recommended. Avoid using duplicate content anywhere on your website though – each page needs unique content and metadata to flourish.
Tip: Don’t over optimise your website to the point where it becomes unnatural or hinders user experience. As a rule of thumb aim to provide valuable content and ensure your visitors’ can find what they’re looking for easily.
4. Final word
To sum it all up, I recommend that Google My Business is at the forefront of your priorities when starting out on your local SEO journey. Research shows that year on year the ranking signals originating from your GMB listing are becoming increasingly significant. Combining that with content-rich directory listing profiles that link back to your locally-optimised website should give you a great foundation to build upon.
With that being said, SEO is a discipline that requires a lot of patience and constant attention to get right. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not seeing immediate results, especially if you’re a startup business or have just relocated to a new area.
This Beginner’s Guide to Local SEO should point you in the right direction and help you get started on the basics of optimising your business for local presence, however if you’re still struggling to gain a solid foothold in the local area, please feel free to contact us for a free consultation or website audit.