Local Search Engine Optimization

SEO Part 4: Local SEO

Written by Jake Hundley
Published on October 15, 2018

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Local SEO Brief Overview

If you’ve been following this series, then we’ve already established a brief overview of what SEO is and took an in-depth look at what both on-site SEO and off-site SEO are. But there’s an often forgotten aspect of SEO professionals and business owners tend to forget about, and that’s local SEO.

It’s not really that it’s forgotten about. It’s that it isn’t taken into much consideration when optimizing a website, especially websites for locally based businesses like landscapers and brick-and-mortar shops like implement dealers, considering it really isn’t it’s own form of SEO. It’s a combination of on-site and off-site to achieve a specific goal, which is optimizing your search listing to appear in the top of local businesses related to your industry, in this case, landscapers.

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Local SEO falls into place between the two “real” types of SEO: On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO.

Since it’s a combination of both types of SEO, marketers often neglect to optimize for this, thinking that since they are working on both on-site and off-site, local SEO will happen naturally. That isn’t the case.

So What Is Local SEO?

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your website to be found in the top search engine results when a user is looking for a local business, contractor, place, etc.

Local SEO speaks more to ‘searcher intent’. Someone could search, “Best landscaping services” and not really be intending to purchase landscaping services. Rather, they could be someone doing research on businesses around the country that offer the best landscaping services, like a blog writer. With this keyword phrase, we don’t really know what the searcher intends to do or where the searcher is going to be coming from.

However, if we were to optimize for the keyword phrase, “Best landscaping services in Kansas City”, now we’re getting somewhere. It’s true that same idea could be applied to the location specific query as the former, but more often than not, this searcher has an intent to make an inquiry to a local landscaper in the area.

Local SEO is optimizing both on-site and off-site to appear in the top search results for location-specific requests AND relative locations of the searchers.

Why Local SEO Matters

If my business address is in Kansas City and a customer in Kansas City searches for a landscaper with the city details, shouldn’t I show up anyways?

Most likely, yes. But if you’re not optimized for local SEO, you may not show up until many, many results under the top 3 in the local 3-pack. If you’re not familiar with what that is, take a look below. Only the top three results show unless you click “More Places”.

Local SEO 3-Pack

The reason why local SEO matters is simply because search engines want to provide a positive experience for users, which means they don’t necessarily want to show the ‘closest’ result just because it’s the closest. That company may not care about their web presence or have negative or a lack of positive reviews.

If Google doesn’t think your site has authority even though you may be the closest to a searcher, they won’t show you in the top local results.

The Local 3-Pack is Competitive!

Since local SEO is a combination of on-site and off-site SEO, it’s not only possible, but common practice to optimize for an area that may not be exactly where you’re located.

For instance, if my landscaping business was located in Lenexa, Kansas, my service area may extend to Kansas City, Missouri. If that’s the case, based on the population and opportunity from Kansas City, I would want my business to show up in the local 3-pack when someone in Kansas City, MO searches for “Landscaper Near Me”.

Now imagine you’re the landscaper ACTUALLY located in Kansas City, Missouri, and all of a sudden my business, in Lenexa, Kansas, is showing on top of yours. How could this be?! You’re closer to the searcher than I am.

Well, that’s simply because my site and local listings are more optimized and relevant to the searcher’s query for that area than yours.

So what do you do? You compete.

Now you have to start competing for your own territory with Google. But let’s not forget, I’m not the only one optimizing for the highly populated area. You’ve probably got 4 or 5 other landscapers at a minimum vying for the same keywords and local optimization!

So it’s time to get optimizing for local SEO!

What Local SEO Consists Of

Now that we understand just what local SEO is, we need to know what it consists of so you can accurately diagnose your own site’s local optimization.

1. Website and Content Localization

Although it seems like this could be the most obvious, it’s actually one of the most commonly neglected aspects of local SEO. Too many people are told to create content surrounding their target keywords like,

  • “lawn mowing services”
  • “yearly fertilization services”
  • “landscaping company”

…and so on.

This advice isn’t wrong, in fact, it’s basic page optimization principles. If you’ve done your keyword research, you might be dead-on in terms of what to target for traffic. But keep in mind, with local SEO, we’re trying to attract more RELEVANT traffic, traffic IN your service area. That means your on-site keyword optimization strategy should now include specific areas like these examples:

  • “lawn mowing services in kansas city
  • “yearly fertilization services in overland park
  • “landscaping company located in lenexa

When Google is ranking the local 3-pack, they’re going to take into consideration not only the customer’s physical location but the keywords to match that location as well, including the alt-text on the images.

Local SEO Alt Text

So be sure to update alt-text, on-page content, and even meta descriptions to include these keywords.

Now, I know what you’re thinking,

“Search engines haven’t used meta descriptions as ranking factors since 2014.”

Even though they don’t use them as ranking signals, keywords in the searcher’s query are still bold in meta descriptions, making a query most resembling the keywords you optimized for stand out in front of the searcher, prompting better clicks-through-rates.

Optimize Meta Descriptions for Landscaping and Lawn Care

2. Localized Citation Building

Something I already covered in “SEO Part 3: Off-Page SEO“, citation building on local directories is a huge factor. There are a lot of directories out there that house business citations from all over the country or all over the world, a lot of which you’ve probably already heard of (Houzz, Google, Yellow Pages, etc), including your Facebook business page.

That’s not mentioning the over 10,000 other directory citation websites out there. Truth-be-told, you can actually submit your business information into a program on a subscription basis like BrightLocal, MozLocal, or SEMrush and have them submit your business data to the four main data aggregates out there (Axiom, Infogroup, Factual, and Neustar) which push your listing out to all directories that accept aggregated citation data from each of those groups. It’s essentially like adding your business listing to hundreds of sites immediately.

The more signals from the web that Google and Bing can pick up that tell them your business is located in your city, the better. But don’t assume every site accepts aggregated data from the aggregates above. An easy way for you to manage your local citations is through MozLocal or BrightLocal. Most programs allow you to view your local citation health and show you discrepancies between each citation, but only a paid plan will have them fix them for you.

If you opt into fixing and adding all the citations yourself, you’re in for a painstaking process that a lot of SEOs dread. In the Moz example below, you can see that it shows us there are 4 inconsistencies in the directory listings with Teblet Lawn Care.

Moz Local SEO Directory Citations

But that isn’t all you can do. You can not only check inconsistencies with your local listings, but check which other ones there are that you aren’t listed on, ones you have duplicate listings for, and ones you may not have complete info in.

Don’t stop there though. These programs and software services are designed to list all of the major directory players. It’s just as important to do some research and register your business with as many small, local groups and institutions such as your local Chamber of Commerce. Of course it’s typically a yearly fee, but it’s a great local citation, an excellent way to network with other businesses in your community, AND best of all, most Chamber of Commerce’s don’t put “nofollow” tags on their backlinks (that’s usually a given with paid membership to anything though)!

Chamber of Commerce Local SEO Directory Citation

3. Google My Business and Bing Places

Two of the biggest citations you can receive are from the biggest (US) search engines themselves, Google and Bing. Most SEOs and business owners are going to claim their Google My Business listing, which you can do here if you don’t have it claimed. But a lot of businesses and marketers forget about Bing. Bing is just as important to claim your listing on and both of the processes are about the same in terms of verifying your business’ address.

You’ll sign up, fill out basic business information, then be mailed a postcard. 1-2 weeks later, when the postcard shows up, you’ll take the PIN on that postcard and use it to verify your listing on the search engines.

The easiest way to tell if your listing isn’t claimed, besides just logging into your Google My Business, is by going to Google and typing in your business name + your city. If you see your business card there, but it says “Own this business?”, then your listing isn’t claimed. Like in the example below:

Local SEO Google My Business Listing Unclaimed

You can do the same thing with Bing, but unfortunately, even if you have your Bing listing claimed, it’s still going to say, “Is this your business?” at the bottom.

Notice how I had to pretty much scroll to the bottom of the “More Places” list to find a landscaper near me that didn’t have their business listing claimed? If you can’t tell, I’m in Kansas City at the time of writing this, but this company, who is also located in Kansas City, was beaten out by businesses near the top in Merriam, Roeland Park, and Olathe. Of course, there are a lot of factors at play here, but the two biggest and most obvious ones are that Vogel hasn’t even verified with Google that they are located in Kansas City. Google is essentially guessing based on what they’ve heard over the internet, and second, their reviews are below a 4.0.

Since your reviews are a ranking factor, it’s important to keep your rating above a 4.0, especially in Google.

4. Review and Reputation Management

While we’re on the topic, a major local ranking factor is the quality and quantity of your reviews, especially on the search engines you’re trying to rank on. However, it isn’t simply the more reviews the better, what really matters is the quality of reviews you have. Obviously, as I mentioned above, Google cares that people think positively about your business. They don’t want their users to have a bad experience, because they don’t want to be the search engine that promotes a bunch of crappy businesses.

But you don’t want to just get positive online reviews simply for the ranking factor. It’s a pretty well-known fact that the majority of customers trust the opinion of online views; 88% according to a study by BrightLocal.

5. Backlinks from Local Sources

In a way similar to directory citations, backlinks from local sources help hone in the local authority your site holds within the community. Backlinks from well known, national or global sites are great for off-site SEO, but that’s not to say that they are necessarily benefiting your “local SEO” in the way that local backlinks would.

It’s one thing to tell Google you are in a certain area with keywords, citations, and metadata, but it’s another for other businesses that are located in the same area to essentially vouch for you with a link from their site to yours.

Some local sites are fairly simple to get a link from, even from an outside marketing entity like ourselves. But the bulk of these links are most likely only going to come with community involvement. Local sponsorships, community donations, or neighborhood activities. That means you’re going to need to get out there and start interacting with your community under your business name.

Sponsor youth sports, enter local parades (this will obviously get you some physical exposure with your community as well), donate services once a month to a local church or two.

If you play your cards right, you can get the local news to cover your community involvement. Although it may just be a small, paragraph or two, piece, it’s still a brand mention and a backlink opportunity for you to capitalize on. News sources are GOLD to get your website linked to.

Well, That’s the Gist…

I know after reading 4 articles and about 13,000 words about the different types of SEO, what it is, and how each one works together to help your site rank towards the top of Google, it seems as we’ve covered just about everything there is to know… but we didn’t. We only scraped the surface. The good thing is, we got a bird’s eye view of what exactly should be going into your SEO efforts, whether it’s done in house by your team, or hired out to a marketing agency like ourselves.

With that being said, the learning doesn’t stop there. Even after all these years in SEO and digital marketing, I still get sucked down into the rabbit hole and learn new things about SEO every day. If anyone tells you there isn’t much more to learn at any point, they’re lying; because every day huge research firms pour millions of dollars into testing and combing through data just to understand the secrets to the big search engines’ secret sauce that is their algorithm.


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