To provide insight into what’s working for local SEOs today, I reached out to my network of search industry experts and asked them a simple question: What is your number one secret for local SEO success? Here are their responses.
1. Build a Strong Citation Profile
Perhaps unsurprisingly, having a strong citation profile still comes up as one of the most talked about points on a local SEO’s checklist, as highlighted by Mark Scully of Learn Inbound:
“One of the most important aspects of Local SEO continues to be citations. You haven’t a hope of outperforming your local competition if you’re not investing a large proportion of your time into getting yourself listed on quality industry and city specific citation sources.
“So, how do you do it? Simple! Take time to search for the common keywords used for your industry and your location, identify the organic results returned for business listing sites, and then reach out to them to get your business listed.
“As with any outreach, it’s about the value-add for the site you’re speaking to, so you should flag what makes your business a standout resource for their audience.
“Attracting citations will be easier if you have a brand that people can warm to. As SEOs, we’re often guilty of just looking at metrics but forget about the most basic areas of branding. Be sure to spend time focusing on the copy contained on the core pages of your site. Make your business sound irresistible by highlighting the value-add of your services, your core values, and what separates you from everyone else as in the long-term, it will be much easier to attract citations.”
2. Keep Your Citations up to Date
As an extension to Mark’s advice, Craig Campbell recommends keeping citations up to date:
“It is also important to keep all the data on your listings consistent, using the same structure and information, and avoiding abbreviations as this will just lead to confusion with Google.
“Further to this, take the time to work on a strategy to earn links from other relevant local websites to build up local relevancy, something which will go a long way to helping you achieve some good local rankings while building up your citation and trust flow, two metrics which we all know Google gives a strong weighting to.”
3. Put a Plan in Place to Encourage Reviews
On a different note, Sam Charles of Float Digital highlights the importance of encouraging and responding to reviews:
“Reviews are a huge part of the internet now, and undoubtedly pivotal for businesses. Ninety-two percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews (BrightLocal, 2015), and 90 percent of people say online reviews influence their purchase decisions (Dimensional Research, 2013). If increasing conversions wasn’t enough, reviews work wonders for your local visibility, too.
“To increase your visibility in search engines locally, encourage users to leave reviews, and dedicate time to engaging with them. Remember to thank users for their feedback and motivate them to use your brand again in the future.
“Always be proactive in responding to user reviews, even if you’ve received damaging reviews. Addressing complaints is important for your brand image, and publicly demonstrates that you’ll go above and beyond to achieve customer satisfaction, too.
“Email your customers, set up review landing pages and put up signs in your store, but whatever you do, don’t be tempted to post false reviews. Posting false reviews isn’t only dishonest but it’s against Google’s quality guidelines, and doing so can have a negative impact on your local search visibility when you’re caught. It isn’t worth the risk, and you’ll almost definitely get found out.”
4. Make It Easy for Customers to Give Reviews
As an extension to Sam’s great advice, Marc Swann, Search Director at Glass Digital, advises local SEOs to:
“Make the process of securing reviews as simple as possible for your customers. Create a URL under your domain that redirects straight to the review form, and include the link in a short and friendly email request.
“You should also put resource into securing offsite reviews. As well as generating valuable citations or links, there’s potential for exposure to enhance your Google My Business listing via ‘Critic reviews’ or ‘On these lists’ sections. These can appear in your local SERP listing, giving you the competitive edge and generating click-throughs that boost your ranking.”
It’s all too easy, when running a local SEO campaign, to forget that back in 2014, Google claimed Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s). As such, many of the tactics used by SEOs shouldn’t be ignored, with those understanding this bigger picture being able to use it as a competitive advantage, earning links from top-tier publications, creating authority content, and leaving competitors falling behind on the SERPs.
5. Produce Epic Content
On the topic of authority content for local SEO, Freddie Chatt of EcomHacker offers his number one secret for success as:
“Don’t neglect the need to produce epic content to improve your local SEO. Even a single great piece of content can make a vast difference to your local rankings with the correct internal linking through to your main pages.
“Creating better (this could mean more in-depth, better designed or additional insights, as just a few examples) content, albeit less of it, will undoubtedly have a much better long term gain than a higher volume of poor quality pieces of content on a regular basis.”
6. Identify Easy Link Opportunities
Understanding the importance and the correct approach to link building in a local SEO campaign is something which was brilliantly highlighted by Greg Gifford in his recent BrightonSEO session. He made a number of top tips and suggestions on the topic of finding link opportunities, as well as why Possum made it essential to focus on ways to earn both industry-relevant links and local links.
According to Greg, local SEOs should always start their local link building campaigns by identifying easy link opportunities through existing relationships, local sponsorships, local volunteer opportunities, local offline groups and, of course, by taking the time to analyze the link profile of similar businesses located in other cities.
A site needs unique local links to win in the SERPs but must also have a strong foundation of those easy-to-acquire local links. Another commonly overlooked success factor: make sure not to point all links to your homepage.
7. Understand Your Audience
Simon Penson, founder of Zazzle Media, encourages local search marketers to understand their audiences and their journey:
“Local search plays an increasingly important role in the age of mobile. While a lot of SEOs focus their advice upon the claiming of ‘local pack’ real estate, my approach is to focus minds on the growing long-tail opportunity.
“My first tip for any marketer doing anything would be to get a clear and precise understanding of their audience and the ‘journey’ to products or services. The job of a marketer is to help them through that, as a subject expert, as much as possible.
“How does that translate into a local search strategy? Think about what informational content would help audiences become smarter consumers and ensure that is a core part of a content strategy. For instance, think about all the pain points and ‘I want to know’ moments an audience has and make sure all of these questions are answered for them, at a local level.”
8. Conduct a Gap Analysis
In many cases, local SEOs fail to understand the advanced approaches which can help take their own and their clients’ campaigns to the next level. This is something which Łukasz Żelezny, Head of Organic Acquisition at uSwitch, acknowledges in his tips:
“Aside from the classic and obviously important tactics we all know and implement in our day-by-day SEO approach, there are various things from a non-local SEO perspective that can be applied to local campaigns. My number one tactic which I’ve been using for years is gap analysis – you are looking for the gaps between you and your existing competitors.
- Step 1: Export keyword lists that belongs to a selected LOCAL competitor.
- Step 2: Duplicate the list if you used more than one software tool to create the export.
- Step 3: Repeat the process to get export from another LOCAL competitor.
- Step 4: Duplicate the list if you used more than one software tool to create the export.
- Step 5: Export your own keywords.
- Step 6: VLOOKUP to see where YOU ARE NOT ranking and your competitors simultaneously are.
“Now you know where your gaps are and you can start:
- Optimizing existing content
- Expanding content on existing URLs
- Creating new content
“You can go deeper with the gap analysis, narrowing the list to (for example):
- Only keywords ranking in top 10 positions
- Keywords with specific ranges of search volume
- A specific range of URLs
“Some of you may be familiar with the Domain vs. Domain tool from SEMrush. This is the perfect way to get started, especially if you don’t feel strong with Excel. After a while, however, you may find Excel way more efficient. Especially if you have access to more than one platform providing keyword data.”
9. Be Aware That Local Means Local
Rewind five or six years and, sadly, businesses could find ways to rank themselves on the local pack for areas outside their own geographical region. It wasn’t unusual to take on a client and find that they’d created listings in just about every city they could think of and find any old address in. This should never have worked. But it did.
This is something which SEO trainer, author, and speaker Mark Preston reminds marketers of:
“When it comes to local SEO, you need to be aware that local means local. If you want to get ranked in Manchester, you need to ensure your physical postal address is located in Manchester. Many people fail to see this and expect their site to rank within a 50 mile radius or even further afield without a physical presence in that area. It is never going to happen.”
On a slightly different note, albeit one which ties in perfectly with the above, Preston conducted a study back in 2016 which looks at the connection between local SEO and exact match domains, looking at rare anomalies to the usual case of difficulty ranking outside a core geographical area.
There’s no doubt that local SEO has its own tactics, which are essential to earn visibility on both the traditional SERPs and the local pack. Earning both local and industry relevant links are more important than ever before.
However, the lines are blurring with SEO as a whole. In fact, we’re starting to see some of the industry’s top minds offering advice which isn’t really too dissimilar to what would be applied across a site wanting to rank nationally or even internationally.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!