Imagine cutting the ribbon during the grand opening of your new store. You’ve been planning this day for months, if not years, and you’re excited to greet hordes of eager customers. Unfortunately, no one shows up. What went wrong? Your customers can’t find you if they don’t know you exist. Whether you really are launching a new business or you’re working on attracting more customers for your established company, local SEO should be the linchpin of your marketing campaign. Local SEO best practices and techniques continually evolve as the marketing and search engine landscapes change. Use this comprehensive guide to local SEO as you plan your overall strategy.

What is local SEO?

In order to understand local SEO, you must first understand SEO in general. Search engine optimization is a set of techniques that marketers use to increase the discoverability and visibility of a website. Hypothetically, let’s say Jane types “pizza” into Google. Google will present Jane with about 1,680,000,000 websites to check out.

Clearly, Jane doesn’t want to sort through 1,680,000,000 websites to find exactly what she’s looking for, and Google knows this. Google prioritizes all of those results and presents Jane with what it thinks are the most relevant, trustworthy, and authoritative results at the top of the page. Jane is most likely to click on a link or two from the top handful of results, rather than scroll through pages upon pages of pizza-related websites.

With search engine optimization, marketers can position brands to climb the rankings toward the top of the search engine results. The higher a website is ranked, the more traffic it receives, and the more customers it gets.

Local SEO is SEO, but it’s optimized for local traffic. Rather than seeking to attract a national or even international audience, local SEO targets potential customers who live within a specific geographic area. For example, when Jane types “pizza” into Google, she’s probably looking for a pizza place near her so she can place an order. She’ll be more likely to find businesses that have optimized for local search.

Why is local SEO important for your business?

Local SEO is critically important for any business that maintains a physical footprint in a community, such as a restaurant, store, child care center, or hospital. A business that has an e-commerce component can also benefit from local SEO as long as it can accommodate foot traffic to their physical location. National brands can also benefit from local SEO to a limited extent. For instance, a national restaurant chain may seek to optimize individual location pages.

Whether your local business is large or small, it pays to optimize it for local traffic for the following reasons.

• Local SEO increases your visibility to local customers who are shopping around for local businesses to patronize.
• Optimizing for local traffic enables your small to medium business to compete with large brands.
• Plenty of consumers look for local businesses on their smartphones. Imagine that hypothetical Jane is at her kid’s soccer practice and she’s looking for a pizza place to go to afterward. She’ll use her phone to find it. Since smartphones have GPS, local businesses that optimize for local traffic will be more discoverable to people like Jane.
• Local SEO is a cost-effective use of your advertising dollars, since you’re targeting your efforts toward a smaller audience that is more likely to patronize your business, rather than to a larger, more irrelevant audience.

Your Step-by-Step Local SEO Guide

Now that you have a better idea of why local SEO is so important for small to medium businesses, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dig into the best practices in local SEO for 2023. If this lengthy list of best practices seems a bit overwhelming, don’t fret! Tackle it one item at a time or consider outsourcing your marketing campaign to a team of experts.

Create and optimize your Google Business Profile.

If this sounds familiar, you may have used Google My Business (GMB). Google Business Profile (GBP) is the new incarnation of GMB. GBP is essentially the same as GMB but with some minor changes and expanded functionality. Like GMB before it, GBP is widely considered to be the lifeblood of local SEO. This is because anyone searching for anything these days will almost certainly do it online and will almost certainly use Google to find it.

Remember hypothetical Jane, who was looking for pizza? When Jane types “pizza” into Google, she’ll not only get a list of results, but she’ll see the top business profiles for pizza places near her geographic location. She’ll see the address, hours of operation, star rating, and other pertinent details about each of those top locations.

Your business profile could appear to countless people like Jane who are looking for local businesses to serve their needs. But first, you need to create or claim it and optimize it. Be absolutely certain that you enter all of your information correctly; double and triple-check it for errors.

When choosing your business category, look for categories that are most relevant to your business and that receive high search traffic (use a keyword search tool to compare your options). You’ll also want to optimize your GBP with attractive pictures (e.g. pictures of delicious pizzas and happy staff members) and regular blog posts.

Spend some time on citation management.

A local citation is a listing of your business in a digital directory (citations can also be found on various websites, apps, and social media). Citations help Google rank your business accurately for local search—but it only works in your favor if the citations are correct. You’ll need to spend some time looking for citations of your business in various directories and verifying that the details are correct. Specifically, make sure your NAP data are accurate (name, address, and phone number).

You could go through a bunch of directories manually (there are hundreds) or you could use an automated citation management service. Another option is to verify your NAP data manually on the primary data aggregators, such as Foursquare, Data Axle, and Neustar Localeze.

Optimize your website for local SEO.

Your company website is the skeleton of your local SEO strategy. Make it as easy as possible for local traffic to find your website by using geographic locations as part of your keyword strategy. You shouldn’t stuff geographic keywords into as much content as possible, of course, as both Google and human users won’t like this. However, you should use them strategically to make your content more discoverable to local searchers.

For example, let’s say you’re an oral surgeon who specializes in treating TMJ disorder and you’re located in Clifton Park, NY. You’ll want the location “Clifton Park” to appear throughout your website. However, let’s say you notice that many of your patients aren’t actually from Clifton Park; they’re from nearby Saratoga Springs. You could also optimize for that location.

Of course, you can’t use phrases like, “I’m a TMJ specialist in Saratoga Springs” since it isn’t true. However, you could say, “I’m TMJ specialist serving patients in Clifton Park, Saratoga Springs, and the surrounding areas.” You could also say something like, “Our TMJ clinic is conveniently located close to Saratoga Springs in the heart of downtown Clifton Park.” This will help more patients from TMJ-stricken Saratoga find your office.

Attract inbound links from relevant and authoritative websites.

Inbound links, or backlinks, are links from external websites to your own website. Backlinks are helpful for both national and local SEO. However, there is such a thing as a bad backlink. Google doesn’t rank all sources of backlinks equally. A backlink is considered to be a vote of confidence in a website, but in order for a backlink to confer greater authority to the website, it has to come from an external site with a good reputation.

So, for example, you can create backlinks yourself, such as by adding links to your website on your social media profiles. However, Google won’t give you brownie points for it because it knows that you’ve given yourself a de facto vote of confidence. It also won’t think highly of a small-time blog with little traffic inserting a backlink to your website.

However, there are ways of enticing high-quality inbound links, though they’ll require some work. One method is to become a trusted source for media outlets (we’ll discuss this further in the next section). You can use Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to connect to journalists and media outlets, offering your services as a source. If you’re quoted in an article, you may receive a backlink to your website.

Another way to obtain high-quality backlinks and generate positive local buzz for your company simultaneously is to create a relevant scholarship. It’s very difficult for companies to obtain the much-coveted .edu backlink, but creating a scholarship is one way to do it.

Offering a small scholarship to students in the local community (and creating a page on your website about it) will encourage nearby educational institutions to link to your site. It can also generate backlinks from local bloggers, news outlets, and local organizations.

Boost your physical presence in your local community.

One of the most effective local SEO strategies for bolstering your digital reputation and increasing your authoritative, relevant inbound links takes place in the real world, not the digital space. Work on becoming more active and involved with your local community. You’ll generate organic media attention, boost brand awareness, and populate search engine results pages (SERPs) with positive buzz about your company. There are a few different approaches you can try.

First, look for a local nonprofit, preferably one with a mission that is relevant to your business. For instance, if you run a graphic design business, look for a nonprofit that hosts art workshops for schoolchildren. If you can’t find a local nonprofit with a relevant mission, you can pick one that is likely to have broad appeal among your demographic (e.g. animal rescue or homelessness, etc.).

Reach out to your selected nonprofit to see if there is interest in partnering on a campaign. This will generate positive buzz for your brand. You might also hold a volunteer day in your organization, in which your employees spend a workday volunteering for the nonprofit (or the nonprofit of their choice).

Another approach that works hand-in-hand with nonprofit partnerships (or by itself) is to reach out to local newspapers and TV channels. You could do this informally, such as by sending the editor or producer a quick email letting them know of your local business and offering to serve as a source for any related stories they might run. Or, you could do it a bit more formally, such as by sending out a press release that advises of an upcoming event (such as a nonprofit partnership campaign).

Use schema markups for local SEO.

The grand prize of SEO for local businesses is to win a Google SERP feature, as this can significantly boost local web traffic. These are special SERP results like featured snippets, knowledge panels, local packs, and “people also ask” questions. Creating well-written, helpful, and optimized content on your website will help you do just that. So will the use of schema markups.

Schema markups are structured data, or the language that Google and other search engines use to understand and categorize your website content. Since search engines aren’t humans, they lack intuitive understanding. In other words, they need a little help understanding exactly what they’re looking at, and that’s where schema markups come into play.

A schema markup attaches specific code to your site that tells search engines exactly how the content should be categorized. For example, you can use schema markups for FAQs, events, products, offers, local businesses, restaurants, and reviews.

SEO and local SEO best practices are continually evolving as search engines get smarter and consumer trends change. Instead of trying to stay on top of all of the changes, work with the expert team at Pennington Creative for all of your marketing needs.

We’ll help you meet your customers where they’re at so you can focus on growing your company. Pennington also provides white-label services for marketing agencies and in-house marketing firms. Request a consultation today.