The Definitive Guide to Local SEO

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If your business has a physical location, you’ve undoubtedly been told that you need local SEO. But for many business owners, local SEO remains shrouded in mystery; what does “Local SEO” even mean? What do you need to do? Why do you need it?

I caught up with Sam McRoberts, CEO of Vudu Marketing, for an interview to answer these questions and more. My goal was to create the ultimate resource for local SEO, including an action plan you can immediately execute whether you’re a small business owner or an agency SEO with a local SEO client. Admittedly, I learned a lot from this interview, and I hope you do too!

1. What types of businesses need Local SEO?

Any business that gets some or all of its customers or clients locally should consider local SEO. That could be a local restaurant, retail outlet, doctor, dentist or lawyer, but it could just as easily be a local ad agency. If you have a physical address in a city and expect people to go there, you should be doing local SEO for that location.

2. How is Local SEO different from National SEO?

While all of the elements that apply to national SEO also impact local SEO (on-page factors, links, social, indexing, etc.), local comes with a few unique elements.

The first and probably most important is that for local SEO you need to create and claim a local profile on Google (and other platforms as desired.) Your local listing is what will show (usually) for localized search results.

The second most important thing is called a citation. A citation is any place online that uses your company NAP (name, address, phone number) all on the same page, in the same format as your local listing. This same format bit is pretty important. While Google is pretty smart, it’s best to make sure that your local citation efforts match your local listing as closely as possible. Don’t abbreviate in one and not the other (St. vs Street, (800) vs 1-800, etc.)

Third, reviews. Lots and lots of reviews (preferably really good ones.) Quantity and quality of reviews left for your business on your Google Places page is one of the most important local ranking factors.

3. How does on-site optimization differ for Local SEO vs. National SEO?

All of the same elements apply, but there are four things you should strongly consider mixing in. One, make sure your name, address and phone number are used on every page of your site, in the same format as your Google local listing (in the footer is an ideal location.) Two, use your City and State names in your Title tags, Meta descriptions, and the content on your site (as it fits, don’t just force it in there.)  Three, make use of Schema local markup to better help search engines identify and show your location. Four, include a KML file on your site (Keyhole Markup Language). While some of this may seem redundant, it never hurts to send as many legitimate signals as you can 🙂

4. What are the most important signals that boost local SEO rankings?

The three biggest factors in local listings appear to be the number of citations, the number of reviews (primarily on your Google Places listing, though other places do count), and how positive the reviews are overall. From what I’ve seen, positive reviews will trump citations, so persuading your customers and clients to leave great reviews on your Google local page is the single most important thing you can do. Of course, there are some things that have a big impact and that may not be directly in your control, such as how close your business is to the city center.

5. What does the location of a business to the city center have to do with anything?

Google uses something commonly called “centroid bias”, which means that if someone searches for, say, Seattle Dentist, there will be a bias towards the dentist locations that are closest to the center of the city. While it is possible for a business in a neighboring city to rank for a metro keyword (i.e. a business in Cambridge trying to rank for a Boston keyword), if you’re on the outskirts of a city, or in a city neighboring a major metropolitan area, you’re going to be at a disadvantage.

6. Can you outline a brief action plan you’d recommend for new company looking to compete for local search results?

First, claim your local listing on Google Places, and make sure to complete your listing until it’s at 100%. This will require adding images, videos, and more. When creating this listing, DO NOT use any keywords or location names in your business title or business description that aren’t a part of your official business name or absolutely critical to accurately describing your business.

Second, use a service like Yext to make sure that the information from your Google Places page is spread across all of the other major local platforms, in the same format. Each of these will become a citation, which is hugely valuable.

Third, use a tool like KnowEm to snag all of your social profiles (while not strictly local-centric, many profiles will show your name, address and phone number, which will instantly give you a whole pile of local citations.) Google of course is free, but using Yext and KnowEm will set you back $500 to $1,000 per location depending on the packages you select (KnowEm is a one-time fee, but Yext is ongoing.)

Next, make sure you have your on-site SEO in order (see #3), and that at least some of the links you build contain your target City/State combo (you can also use some Zip codes in your anchors as well, to spice things up.) If you aren’t doing link building yet, that’s OK, we’ll cover it.

Last but not least, do everything you can to get your happy customers to leave positive reviews for you on Google Places. You aren’t supposed to directly solicit positive reviews, but there are plenty of ways to encourage great reviews.

7.  Can you recommend some ways a local business can get citations?

You can use a tool like the WhiteSpark local citation finder to locate the best citation sources for your city. Guest blog posts are also a fantastic way to get citations, as you can often work them into your author bio.

8. Can you recommend some ways a local business can get reviews?

Let your customers or clients know that they can rate their experience with you on your Google Places profile. Have logos up in your windows or in your office showing the places where people can leave reviews. Include your profile links in your email communications (particularly in follow-up emails after a purchase or visit), direct mail, and anywhere else you can think of to get it in front of customers. Of course, if you want positive reviews, you need to provide a product and/or service that warrants them.

And while this should go without saying, DON”T BUY REVIEWS. While Google doesn’t always catch fake reviews, they are working constantly to get better at it. Yelp on the other hand errs on the site of extreme caution, and often banishes overly positive reviews.

9. Do you recommend small, local companies do local SEO in-house or hire an agency?

What are the pros and cons of each? This depends entirely on your budget. There are plenty of guides out there that will walk you through local SEO, and you could quite easily put an intern in charge of reading those posts and following instructions (getting citations isn’t terribly complex.) Of course, if they mess things up, neither you nor they may realize it until it’s far too late. An agency will almost certainly be able to do the same things much, much faster, and while an agency may cost more upfront it might end up being worth it for the speed and accuracy.

10. Are there any specific services, websites, or tools that you recommend to help companies with local SEO?

The WhiteSpark local citation finder should be your first investment. It’s pretty cheap, about $16/mo, and is the best tool available for finding citation sources. This should keep you busy for quite a while. You should also use something like MySEOTool to track your rankings with localization (your rankings as seen by someone in your City/State.) You’ll also want to set-up Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, so that you can effectively track what keywords are driving search impressions and traffic to your site.

11. What price range should a typical small business expect to pay for local SEO, (in house or agency)?

Local SEO via an agency could range from $100/mo for the most basic work all the way up to tens of thousands of dollars per month for a competitive space with hundreds or thousands of locations. Pricing will be based on the competitiveness of your space and the number of locations you have. In-house, you could be paying $2.50/hr for someone in the Philippines to build citations, all the way up to $100,000+ for a top notch in-house SEO. When it comes to SEO, local or otherwise, you typically get what you pay for, and cheap = risky.

12. Is Local SEO an ongoing endeavor, or is it more of a set-and-forget expense?

There’s an upfront set-up cost, but there is absolutely an ongoing component. You should be getting new citations, reviews, social mentions and links each and every month.

Sam McRoberts is the CEO of VUDU Marketing, a Seattle SEO company specializing in SEO audits and strategy creation. He has been involved with online marketing since 1999 and has worked with hundreds of clients, from small local businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.
Jayson DeMers
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  • Jim Zamichieli

    A great article for local businesses to read. This article shows the ins and outs of the business showcasing all the questions a company would have in taking the leap into online marketing.

    • Jayson DeMers

      Thanks for the kind words, Jim!

  • Amir @ Blue Mile Media

    Great article. I deal with only local businesses for now and there’s a lot of different/wrong information out there. Your article is great and straightforward.

    I’ve never heard of WhiteSpark but I’ll be checking that out.

    The main 2 things that I personally focus on the most when doing local SEO work is 1. citations that are the same across the board on all websites and 2. reviews. Reviews are out of my hand personally, but it’s really important to teach the client about getting them since most don’t even check up on these things.


    • Jayson DeMers

      Agreed, reviews are something that must be pushed in order to get the client to focus on them.

  • Geoffrey Gordon


    Great post on local SEO, you certainly covered this topic quite well. I wanted to add to additional points to your already great article.

    1)Local Directories
    There are normally about 5 or 6 great local directories you can add your website and services to. They can be found by simple googling directory + Your location. I normally check to see if they have a decent ranking, because it tells me if they get enough traffic.

    2)Offline Seo
    This one is often overlooked…. businesses spend so much time getting their brand right online, but have forgotten to make sure their branding offline is correct. No website or social profiles on their email, letterhead, invoices, businesscard, brochures, car, etc…. It seems obvious really, but its commonly overlooked.

    Food for thought. ūüôā

    • Jayson DeMers

      Thanks for the tips, Geoffrey! I’ve added googling “directory” + location to my list of Local SEO tactics =)

  • Mike

    Bing lately have started showing Local Listings on its result pages, Following the foot steps of Google :P.
    Local SEO is emerging fast & its really important that one understands it well.

    Here are 3 important tips for Local SEO.
    1. Boosting your Citation – submit your website to various Business Directories (Google It )
    2. Tracking Your Local Ranking & Citation – its Free ūüôā
    3. Adding Reviews – These reviews, good or bad, make your business more creditable

    • Jayson DeMers

      Agreed, thanks Mike!

  • Matt Coffy

    Google Places really should be on high priority for small businesses to be tapped into particularly for local SEO. Google’s strong push and efforts to “replace” Facebook also should be another deciding factor. Thanks for your post, Jayson.

    • Jayson DeMers

      Thanks for the comment, Matt!

  • Nick Stamoulis

    It’s also important to get involved in your community. For instance, a restaurant could help host fundraisers for local non-profits, and maybe get a link on that non-profit’s site as a partner. The event could get picked up by the local newspaper, which means getting a link from a quality news source. Remember, everything you do, both online and off, can be leveraged for local SEO.

    • Jayson DeMers

      Very true, thanks for pointing that out, Nick!

    • Amal

      yeah. agree with you 100%. Offline activities also can help you for local SEO. Try to partner with some Events etc. I’d tried this and it works.

      Btwn I am late here, i know. Still i’ve learned something from this blog. ūüôā

  • Jonathon

    Like Nick mentioned above, get involved in the community. When others are talking about you online, through Twitter and Facebook and the community knows who you are, local SEO is that much easier. Being involved in community events is a great way to generate dialogue on Twitter for example, which will help with your Local SEO efforts.

    • Jayson DeMers

      Agreed, Jonathon. Offline activity often translates to more inbound links and/or citations.

  • Norm

    I hate leaving “great article” comments for fear of looking like comment spam, but this one is worthy. Great article! I shared it with my team.

    • Jayson DeMers

      Thanks, Norm!

  • Brad

    What about SEO for local website that dont offer services. These would be like city blogs, directories, lead gen sites, etc.

    These type of sites you cant list on Google Places or get citations. What is everyones recommendations?

    Just manual link building on other local sites, guest posts, blogging, and social stuff? Anything I am missing here?

  • Amit Yarashi

    Thanks for such a wonderful local SEO guide Jayson, Tweet, Shared and +1d.

  • Glenn Ferrell

    Great recommendations Jayson !

    I’ve built a number of websites for home-based businesses and one of the questions I (we) always struggle with is should a home-based business — without a storefront — claim its local listing on Google Places.

    Clearly there are pros and cons — any comments ?

    • Patrick Toerner

      Hi Glenn, you can now remove your address from the listing page. This feature was designed exactly for home based businesses and for services where there is no central location, like cleaners.

      Best of luck!

  • Patrick Toerner

    Nice post Jayson!

    Thanks for introducing me to kml documents. I was not aware of this file at all!

    Also, I’d like to point out my favorite part of your article: “What types of businesses need Local SEO?” and you basically answer, “Any/every local business.” Small businesses really need to be more aware of their online presence and how a little local SEO can go a long way.

  • Susannah Noel

    Thanks a lot for this article. I’m working with a client who needs to boost her rankings for several area towns and this has given me tons of useful tips. I’m particularly grateful for the mention of costs, because she’s a sole proprietor and her budget is a big concern. I’m going to suggest we start by getting her citations squared away and give her a road map for how to get reviews!

  • Tejash


    I am planning to launch a niche topic website. I have done keyword research via google keyword tool. But i was surprised and confused when i differentiated keyword results in two categories. One is braod match and second is exact match.

    Results are really different and in huge no. On which category should i rely ? broad or exact ?

    please suggest

  • Aycha

    i found this article to be most valuable, taking the veil out of local SEO and giving small local business the power back without having to rely on many that claim to be the SEO experts. Thank you Jayson.

  • Kenneth von Rauch

    Thanks for the awesome post, Jayson. I’ve had a few aha moments while reading your post. The most edifying thing is that you need to use your NAP throughout your whole site (as you suggesting putting it in the footer).

    I’m currently doing local SEO for a DJ and I’m sure that I’ll be able to use the knowledge I got here.

    By the way, is this post available as PDF or something?

  • Asia

    Thanks Jason,

    I read you article from the beginning up to the end, and made a summary in a wordpad for future reference.
    I highly need this relevant info since my boss assigned me to research about local SEO. Thanks I came across your site.

  • Charles Goz

    Where I live (somewhere in Texas), people just don’t seem to care about Local SEO and their websites! I have approached several companies and because they are not familiar with it, they think that they don’t need it.
    Yes, local SEO is important, but obviously NOT important to a lot of website owners. The phrase comes to mind, “you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink it!”

  • Mauro

    Very interesting article with lots of very good suggestions, but I live in Italy and I don’t think the local seo tools you give are useful for me. How can I improve my local seo? Is there anything to do to find best local seo tools and website?
    Thank you very much for your help.


  • Keyword Removed

    Thank you for this great article, very useful for small businesses, I have a Lebanese restaurant in London near Victoria station, the competition is very tough here and one can not survive without an excellent google ranking

  • Mon

    Awesome article, Jayson! I’ve been coming back to this a couple of times as I somehow got my head spinning on whether or not to offer local SEO to home based business since most won’t want to reveal their home address on the web and have customers popping in their residence.

    So, if I understand it correctly, regardless of whether or not the business has physical address, they can still rank with local SEO efforts?



  • Marzena

    Great article! You should definitely care for some offline activities aswell. Anyway, good tool (such as ) can always help you with better targeting.

  • Dan

    Reviews are so helpful but one of those tricky things that customers have trouble actually following through with.
    We’ve had customers bring in hand written notes saying how happy they were, bring in cookies they made from home, etc. But ask that same person to go home and leave a review on your google+ local account and they almost never follow through with it.

  • Adam Roseland

    Great post. Having come from a full service ad agency, I would suggest that if you are looking for professional assistance with this, that you focus on a digital ad agency. Some full service ad agencies are further behind on the times than the clients are!

  • Sam

    Hi, I’ve read your article and I think it’s very interesting and useful. I have two questions for you.
    First about links and directory: after the changes in the Google’s algorithm do you think that it’s still useful to use local directory to increase your “local popularity”? I’m afraid my site could be suffer a penalization for that.
    Second one it’s about my job: I work for an AD Agency, my boss wants to see our website well ranked for [key] + [city]. No one is actually using this tactic. Could a good local seo work help us to get a better rank? Thanks

  • Shinerscarwash

    Wow an eye opener article… i really looking for this tactics

  • Martin

    Great article however many of the content may not be applicable anymore as google continuously changing algorithm.