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29th January 2013 |  Written by Alex Duthie

Beginners Guide to Local SEO

Local SEO is playing a more and more pivotal role in the world of digital marketing. With Google continually pushing for individualised search results, making sure your business can be seen by those searching locally has never been more important.

Local search results have come a long way in a short time. In early 2008, Google began showing results tailored to location, bringing them together at the top of a results page:

Google Local 2008 Search Engine Land(1)

 

In 2009 the location pack was moved further down the page:

Google Local 2009 Search Engine Land(2)

Today there are no longer set rules for where locations appear. Many results pages have local sites sandwiched between non-local results:

Google Local today

Some differ with the number of results shown:

Google local today 2

Location information can even be an addendum on seemingly non-local looking listings:

google local today 3

Whilst there are Google searches that appear without a local flavour to them, this number is decreasing. Personalised search will increase, be that through further incorporation of Google+, the continued rise of mobile or through Google’s own belief that people desire results near to where they have searched.

With this push towards more localised results for searchers, it is becoming increasingly more important to ensure that local business sites are optimised for local searches, through on-site and off-site means.

Whilst regular non-local SEO will be needed to aid a site’s rankings, if your business is focused on the surrounding areas, then creating a strong presence using local SEO will be essential.

 

On-site Local SEO

Making sure that your business’s site sends out all of the right local signals should be your primary focus. No matter how much off-site work is performed, if your site is not set up correctly for your location, or for Google to crawl it effectively, rankings will be impaired.

On top of a general on-site SEO audit e.g. making sure the site’s linking structure is sound, content is unique etc. a local flavour needs to be added throughout the site in order for Google to rank you for your area.

 

Title tags, H1’s and on-site content

Adding locations to title tags, H1’s and throughout on-page content is the first level of creating this relevancy. Whilst Google needs to know where you are, you don’t want it to annoy your visitors.

Filling in title tags throughout the whole site like those below is a big no no.

Bad Title tag

Whilst the local intent has been added, it has been over-used. Repetitive mentions of a location will only hinder your ranking potential.

As an aside, it also uses all the site’s keywords, on every page. Creating a different focus for each page will help reduce confusion for Google when it is deciding what page should rank for certain terms. This kind of keyword stuffing may have worked a few years ago, but today it will punish your site by looking spammy to both Google and potential customers.

Instead, try fitting locations naturally into the flow of the text. This helps add relevance and also looks pretty good too. Ollie & Darsh do this to great effect on their home page. Here’s a section of it:

 

Ollie and Darsh

 

It gets the location involved without hindering the rest of the text. This should also be done on deeper pages to really emphasise a business’s location.

 

Address

Another way to really hammer a location home is to include a physical address and phone number on each page, either in the header or footer of the site. This will ensure that each page on the site has a known relation to the business’s address.

If your business has multiple locations, either do as suggested above, or if you have more than 3 locations, creating an ‘about’ page for each would be the best way to go. These pages can then be linked to throughout the site to ensure the local relevance is picked up on.

By adding addresses and phone numbers throughout the site, it is not just relevancy to Google which is being improved, but also the usability of the site for potential customers. Some may prefer to call or visit an address if it is local to them, and ensuring that contact information is easily seen will aid this.

 

Geo Sitemap

Geo sitemaps are also key to creating local relevancy. Whilst it may seem like a daunting task, Geo sitemap generator makes it as simple as typing in the address and adding the created file to a site’s root directory.

Geositemap

 

Off-site SEO

Once your 404’s are 301’d and duplicates are canonicalised (think of this as a dot your I’s and cross on your t’s but for on-site SEO). It’s time to begin creating further local relevancy for your business by getting out there and doing some off-site work.

 

Laying the foundations with links

Making sure that your site has some high quality backlinks should be the first step in off-site work. Creating a good foundation with links will ensure that the site gets noticed by Google and begins to gain local relevancy.

Your competitors are a great place to start when looking for links. Using SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer, you can view backlink profiles then find the high quality sites and beg/borrow/steal for those links.

Other than looking through competitors, diving into the local community is the best way to gain links. Local Government sites are a great start, with the majority housing a business directory that you can gain a link on. Local news sites, organisations and informational sites also tend to link out to local businesses, to enhance their site’s use to the community.

Whilst links are important for the foundations of local SEO, citations are king of the realm. Ensuring your business has these mentions on relevant sites will help push the site up the local rankings.

 

Citations

To ensure that Google picks up each citation and attributes it to your business, you’ll want to include your business’s name, address and phone number. Whilst you will be able to get links from some citation sites, the extortionate price to get these added negates their worth. Simply having the aforementioned information will be enough for Google to make the connection.

 

Local fingerprint(3)

  • Uniform information - To squeeze the most relevance out of citations, you need to make sure that all the information is uniform throughout listings. Having differing versions of business names, addresses or phone numbers (due to phone tracking) will reduce the likelihood of Google making a connection between that citation and your site.
  • Old information – Checking for citations from businesses that previously owned the premises is a great angle to gain extra mentions. Also make sure that if your business has changed any information (phone number, name etc.), that you edit citations to match.
  • Forgotten information – Citations can also be made without your knowledge, or can simply be forgotten/lost. Using the information below, you can find these and edit if needed.
  • Finding information – To keep track of citations, search using new/old business names and/or new/old addresses. This should find any part mention that can be used to create a citation.

Types of Citation

There are three main areas of citations that your business should focus to get mentions on:

  • General citations – Google has certain go-to websites for local business citations. Whilst this post  is from 2011, many of the sources are still highly relevant.
  • Local citations – As previously mentioned, there are local news sites, organisations and informational sites that you may be able to get links from. With those that ask for payment, instead try and get a free citation. Only pay for a link if you believe your referral traffic from the site will be worth it.
  • Industry citations – Much like the local citations, there will be sites dedicated to keeping up-to-date information on businesses in your industry. Getting mentions on theses site will let Google know that you are part of this industry and add relevancy to your site.

Keeping on top of what citations competitors have will also give you further avenues to explore. Performing address searches on your competitors will lead to finding these highly relevant citations.

Ninja tip: you can find out which sites are important in Google’s eyes for your industry’s citations/reviews by simply clicking on the arrow to open up the Google+ Local page on local listings. Google highlights where it is getting its reviews from and in turn you should make sure your business is listed on these sites.

Ninja Tip

To gain the most from this, find the business at the top of your industry not just your local area.

 

Google Places for Business

Ensuring that your Google Places for Business account is optimised for Local is also essential; to do this, a combination of both off-site and on-site Local SEO is needed.

As a brief overview:

Business information such as name and address needs to fit to citations and on-site.

Keywords should be included in business description and made to look natural.

The business’s web address should be added to the listing.

Make sure your business’s Google Local and Google Plus accounts are amalgamated. Rather than going any further into this, David Mihm has written a great guide which you should check out.

Image credits: (1) & (2) - Search Engine Land (3) - David Mimh from Search Love 2012

I hope that this guide is at least a useful start for your venture into Local SEO. If you have any questions or thoughts don’t hesitate to tweet me @a_duthie or let me know in the comments below.

Your Comments

  1. Didn’t Google drop support for Geo Sitemaps a while back?

  2. Hi David, thanks for the comment.

    Google did say that they had dropped the support for Geo Sitemaps early last year, and even created a error message once sitemaps had been added in webmaster tools.

    However, when adding the sitemaps now, error messages no longer appear. Whilst Google hasn’t come out saying that they are using them as a ranking factor in local search again, I’d wager that the removal of the error message means that they are looking at them again.

  3. Hi Alex,

    Some great tips, especially using the ‘more reviews’ section to find strong citation sources.

    Nod of the cap.

  4. Great info on Local SEO!

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