Local SEO in 5 Easy Steps

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Local SEO

Local SEO is probably one of the toughest on-line marketing strategies to implement. This is partly because of Google’s strict local algorithm, which takes into account several factors. Long gone are the days where you could build a large amount of links and expect your local business to rank on the first page. Link building is one of multiple factors that Google takes into consideration when placing you on the coveted first page of a local search result (7 Pack). The purpose of this article is to provide readers with quick action steps on how to place your local business at the top of the local SERPS (search engine results page).

Step 1

Check and see if your target keywords trigger the local algorithm (see image below). Generally speaking, key phrase combinations like city + keyword triggers a local search result (7 pack). There are still many services which do not trigger the 7 pack. If your local business is such a service, then this would make ranking a lot easier as it would rely more on the traditional SEO strategy of relevant link building versus a more localized SEO strategy (directories and citations).


Step 2

One of the critical steps in local search is determining where your business is geographically located. And it goes without saying, it’s always easier to rank in your local city. This is because the local Google algorithm will always give preference to businesses located within a geographical boundary (city). On-line marketers call this the “centroid” bias. This basically translates into Google giving preference to businesses located closest to the downtown area of a city. So if you are trying to rank for “Dallas hair salons” then those salons located closest to the downtown area will be given preference, all other things being equal. So if your business is located outside a metropolitan area, then ranking for that city may be a daunting task (even impossible for competitive niches).

Step 3

Next, determine how competitive your niche is. Take the first business that is ranking #1 in the 7 pack. Now copy the name, address and phone of this result and place quotation marks around it. For example, “XYZ business 1225 Saint Regis Drive Houston, Texas 972-781-5656.” See image below for an example. Make sure you copy the NAP exactly as it’s displayed in the 7 pack. Now put this in a Google search with quotation marks and see how many results show up. This will give you an approximate idea as to how many directories and citations you will need to outrank the top listing in the 7 pack. Repeat this process for the lowest ranked business in the 7-pack. Write down the number of results that Google shows. Now repeat the same process for your own business NAP. Your results would have to beat the lowest ranked business in the 7-pack to be included. Obviously, the quality of your backlink profile, customer reviews and various additional factors will come into play. This method is simply to gauge how much effort will be required to be included in the 7-pack.


Step 4

Now that you are armed with all the necessary information, its time to get to work. First step is to get listed in relevant local directories. This not only means Google Places and Yelp, but also directories local to your city and specific niche. So if you’re a plumber, getting listed in the local plumbers association for your city would be a great start. The goal is to get listed in as many local directories as possible. The local Chamber of Commerce is also a great place to get listed. Even if you cannot place links, just getting a plain listing is good enough. The 2 important factors here are relevancy and of course, being local to your target city. Make sure these two factors are covered when doing directory inclusions as well.

Step 5

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you accurately implement NAP (name, address and phone number) of your business in all the local directories. And more importantly, make sure that all the citations have your NAP listed in exactly the same way across all the directories (including your own website). Any inaccuracies will result in a loss of valuable SEO juice. The Google algorithm may be complex, but it’s still just an algorithm. A slight variation in the NAP may signal to Google that it’s a different business. Ensure that all your NAP’s are identical for effective optimization. This is a critical part of local SEO, which a lot of businesses seem to overlook.

And there you have it. An effective local SEO strategy in 5 easy steps. Just following this simple action plan should put you on the road to higher local rankings and traffic in a short period of time.

Good luck and may the SEO force be with you!

Zain Shah
Zain has been in the internet marketing space for several years helping small and mid-size businesses increase their online visibility. When he’s not analyzing traffic... Read Full Bio
Zain Shah
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  • Shawn Lippert

    Some good advice! I also use Local Schema Markup to geographically target each page as well geo-tag pictures to. schema.org can help you with this. I just built a new website for a client in a very competitive local market and I will be employing these local restaurant doing a case study.
    I like to link out to a few other relevant websites that are in correlation in the local business are, whether they link back or not it is still good for reputation. One last thing is I add Google Author Markup to give Authority which has been helping tremendously with click-through rates. Of course there are many other local techniques and strategies you can implement and I appreciate reading and learning from great articles like this one. For me it’s all about the numbers, I analyze the analytics and optimize for local search from those numbers.

    • Shawn Lippert

      Sorry for misspelling above as my auto-complete on my mobile device has a mind of it’s own. I meant to say “I will be applying these local strategies and doing a case study”.

  • Antony

    My experience has been consistency is king.
    Local, niche specific citations are really important to ensuring google sees what you want it to see.
    Shawn makes a good point about the schema data, His experience matches with mine – Author and Schema data mater!
    Thank you for creating a simple outline of the overall process.

  • Ravi kumar

    Great Article on local listing and doing local SEO.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Mikel Jorgensen

    I think it’s easy to overlook one very important, reoccurring part here…

    The business description and tag line that have to be written for each directory.

    Showing up in all these places is great – and each directory may add to your higher rank in Google local maps results – but don’t forget that someone has to do some actual marketing and copywriting here.

    I think that’s the biggest roadblock.

    And –

    Should the description of your business be exactly the same on each directory?

    … It can’t because of character count limits.

    So now we’re into a whole new micro niche of local SEO … Directory Based Copywriting

    Do you write in the 1st person voice or the 3rd person?


    • Robert Lane

      Mike I totally agree and have had similar arguments for the past few months. I’ve implemented different spreadsheets for this type of citation building and it seems to be working well. But, it remains to be seen whether or not the directory/citation “copy writing” is working, or if it is a moot point at the moment. Have you seen any valuable data or results yet?

  • charl hoffman

    simple but effective 🙂

  • Zain Shah

    Shawn, I agree. Schema markup is playing an important role in the SEO field in general. I still think its a bit of a challenge for a small business owner to implement on their own without having to hire someone with basic HTML knowledge.

    Antony. I could not agree more. Consistency is very essential in Local SEO. This is especially important when referring to the NAP.

    Ravi, thanks!

    Mikel, I believe consistency is also important here. Obviously, the descriptions will vary a little, but not by much. I believe the emphasis is on the NAP having to be the same throughout the web.

    Charl, Simple was the goal of the article 🙂

    • Hussain Raza

      Dear Zain Bhai,

      thank you so much for this article i did it by my self as you write in this article it’s 100/100 perfect tips, your query is very help full because after read to your article i hit to my target with in two months now my local business is in the top ranked business on the Google first page even in 7 pack. i think now the local SEO competition is start.

      let me know your further opinion after to get placement in Google 7 pack. how to maintain the placement ? someone must be kicked out to 7 pack right……. so? what can i do before to aftershocks from kicked out business person ?

  • Alexander Miklin

    Great organic SEO article!

    I also support your view on consistent search practices, for it is critical to show consistent relevancy with Google.

    Great article!


  • Annalisa Hilliard


    Thanks for sharing this. I really appreciated the tip for checking to see how competitive a geo-targeted search term is. As well as, the reminder to make sure your NAP is consistently identical across the board. Would love to follow you on Twitter, are you on there?

    • Alex Miklin

      I agree with Annalisa, Fantastic Article and what’s your twitter name?!

  • Julie

    This article was awesome! A lot of it was just reaffirming things I already knew, but I do like your strategy of checking the competitiveness of other businesses in the 7-pack. It seems like a simple, but affective way of doing things.

  • Jason Khoo

    Thanks for this article! I’m workin with a local boba shop in Fullerton and I’ve been struggling to get their location on the top 7. This post has helped guide my efforts tho and now I know what I am up against.

    Thanks again for the article!

  • tim b

    Mikel, the way I have been taught about the descriptions on these directories is that they need to be different. The keywords should always be the same (as that will have some impact on organic results, but the paragraph or so should always change. Google and others actually have things built in to recognize if it is the same piece written over and over and count against you for that as there are ‘black hat’ companies out there that just copy and paste the same article in to thousands of directories over and over.

    I think the strongest point of those pieces should be 7 or less keywords you want this company known for. After that, be creative.

  • Ty Whalin

    The article is for sure helpful, especially if you are looking to increase your SEO Local presence. Although the strategy above for finding out what the competitors are doing is great, there are some companies out there that can make it easier to find out what your competitors are up to. A few years ago I come across an article on SEOMoz and saw a company names WhiteSpark. Great place to learning more about your competitors.

    But for the freebie way of doing thing’s, the method above is the way to go.

    Although the service is a not a free service for the most part, it is well worth the money spent. As for NAP, I am about to find out what happens to local listings when you go through and update the address to a new one. Have been doing it slowly over time to try and keep it natural looking, but not real data at this point to confirm any negative effects.

    Although about a year ago I went through local business listing’s and the local search engine placements and changed a telephone number for my business. There were some unusual ups and downs to my placements. It was done fairly quickly and believe it was done to fast. So actually, there is already some data on it, just was not a full business address change.

  • Allen MacCannell

    What are Zain Shah’s Twitter and Google+ and LinkedIn and company Facebook handles?

    I’m trying to give credit where due in reposting this must-read article across social media.

    I’ll just assume he’s not on Pinterest so I’ll pin this without giving credit. =(

    @SEJournal – I don’t think it’s fair that you don’t automatically include the author’s relevant social media platform handle when someone clicks the share button for an article. This is a big problem across the industry. Those of us who know what we’re doing online, want to make sure that our retweeting of content gives credit where it’s due, if for no other reason than the selfish one where we may want that tech author to write about our company or products someday (we want to create good will). It’s good practice. But some of you publishers make us have to research who the author is across at least 6 platforms. I’m used to it and it takes only about a minute, but it didn’t work in this case.

  • Jake


    Great simple formula to gain good insight on the competition! I often find with businesses listed in the 7-pack that when Step 3 is applied “NAP in quotes in search”, there are no matches found. The broad phrase results are then listed right below it. Do you find this info just as useful as an indicator of competition level?

    Thanks again!

  • Zain Shah

    Alexander: Thanks for the kind words!

    Annalisa: Embarrassingly, I’m not Twitter…but I’ll let you know once I have signed up!

    Julie: Much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Jason: Cheers!

    Ty: Thanks for the local citation finder. That too is a great way to find out the competition level. The article just helps readers understand “why” they are more competitive.

    Allen: I have just setup my Google + page. Thanks for the interest!

    Jake: Try taking out the telephone number. Sometimes business telephone numbers change and the citations are not updated across the board. That in itself should be an article!

    • Ty Whalin

      You are very welcome, glad to have had helped.

  • Pooria Daryabeygi

    Interesting strategy, thank you for sharing. Another useful tool is social media. The Google algorithm also looks at keywords in your social media posts, campaigns, etc. The more viral your posts, the higher your company will bubble to the top of search results.

  • Kushendra pratap singh

    this article shows the very deep integration about local search algorithm , we will implement this in our websites or business to get good…

  • Sukh Singh

    HI Zain,

    Great post, I think a lot of local business owners, with minimum web savvy, will be able to use these steps to get their businesses in the local game and competing!

    I just had a question about clients who want to rank for multiple regions….providing they are able to deliver to these regions, such as say a plumber, and they are close together, do you think usability-wise, as well as seo-wise its worth targeting multiple regions?

    My personal thought is that google will eventually make it almost impossible (even with virtual addresses) to rank for a few regions as their goal of course is to provide the best, local listing for the user.

  • Robin

    Great advice, thanks for sharing this technique.

  • Jhon Perker

    Normally, if you are in big business you may want your website to have a natural or even worldwide recognition, for making your brand go global besides giving it more recognition. If you are small or only a local business with small money then you may also want only to have your site optimized for local search only. If you are doing paid advertisements to promote your website, but those who are not in your locality and who click on your ads would be losses on your side. For Local Search engine Optimization of your site you have to be well versed at the local keywords that are more frequently used and not those general keywords used often.

  • Craig Cacchioli

    Great article. I would be interested hear how to deal with Local SEO if you wanted to appear in the 7-pack for nearby towns. I guess it would be impossible unless you had premises in that town and separate directory listings for that store. I suppose Local is exactly that and nothing more, and traditional SEO must prevail for neighbouring towns.

  • Soni

    Thanks for shairng this. Really these tips are very helpful to promote buiness in local cities and countries.. I appreciate your work.

  • amplify

    Thank you for this article. One question–if I complete business listings on behalf of someone else (from my own computer, from my own Google + account, etc.) will I create any problems? In other words, is it best to use the business owner’s Google + account when updating their business listing? Would it be better to do it from their own computer?

    Thank you.