If you do online marketing for local businesses, you’re familiar with the unique challenges that come with local SEO versus non-geospecific SEO campaigns.

Here’s the point of this article in a single sentence: I explain how you can boost the local SEO for any client.

Local SEO is much more nuanced than traditional SEO. Frankly, I think it’s more challenging. There’s more detail, more work, more elements to consider, and greater likelihood of screwing it up.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you may end up hurting your clients rather than helping them.

Coupled with the fact that local search ranking factors in 2016 are changing almost daily, it’s essential that your strategies take these changes into account.

organic search factorsFrom the list above, we see a clear breakdown of the top 5 local ranking factors, both for organic ranking as well as the maps listings, aka “Local Stack”.

Looking through the list, you’ll notice that many of the Local Ranking Factors are the same as Non-Local Ranking Factors, e.g. on-page SEO factors like page speed and mobile friendliness. Despite the overlap, implementing local-specific SEO tactics is a different beast.

This guide lays out every step of the process, from start to finish, in complete detail. I’ll cover the best local SEO tactics for 2016, starting with some of the basics that every small business should nail down, and then moving into some more advanced stuff later on.


What’s In This Guide

Table of Contents

Introduction
Part 1: Google My Business
Part 2: On-Page SEO
Part 3: Schema
Part 4: Local Citations
Part 5: Reviews


Introduction

As we make our way into Q2 of 2016, the local SEO industry is changing rapidly. It’s cliche to say so, but just wanted to remind you.

The correct SEO techniques for an industry like, say, real estate marketing are in a state of flux. In 2015, Google alone made over 500 changes to how they rank and index a business website on their search engine.

Major local search updates like Mobilegeddon, Pigeon and Hummingbird shook up the SERPs. Now, Google’s RankBrain algorithm does much of the heavy lifting, regularly tweaking the algorithm. It’s likely that SEO tactics you used a year or two ago are obsolete if not outright blacklisted.

Yet, in difficulty lies opportunity. New tools, tactics and ranking factors have strengthened the local SEO’s toolset. Used wisely, they will boost your clients’ rankings as well. It’s critical to use the right software for tracking metrics, researching keywords, and submitting to local directories. That’s where the power of Upcity comes into play.

A quick disclaimer before I dive into the awesomeness…

With so many tactics, tools and strategies, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and lose sight of the bigger picture. At the end of the day, focus on what matters:  return on investment (ROI). You could follow every conceivable local SEO tip verbatim, but clients care about results, revenue, numbers, and all those up-and-to-the-right trends.

To paraphrase Tony Robbins: “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

Now, let’s get to work.


 

Part 1: Google My Business

Google My Business (GMB) is the core of every local SEO strategy. It contains all the information about your business and presents it clearly to search engine users.

If you optimize your Business listing properly, it will be easy for potential customers to find you on the web. Optimize poorly and you’ll do more harm than good.

Let’s look at the critical steps to getting started with Google My Business.

1. Find Your Business and Any Duplicates

First, locate your client’s true business page.

It’s common for copycats to pop up over the years, work done by the client or other previous SEO agencies.

Search for your client’s listing and choose the page that most accurately reflects the business and start there.

How to get rid of duplicates:

  1. Click on the duplicate listing and you will see:
    1. Request Admin rights. If you see this, click the Request button to request admin rights.
    2. A Google+ page needs to be created. If you see this, check the ToS box and click Continue, then Continue and verify later.
  2. In the second prompt, you will be taken to the Google+ page, where you can delete the listing as shown below:

unverified google my business listing

If you don’t hear back from the page owner, reach out to Google My Business support via Twitter or Phone.

2. Verify Your Business

First, claim your business listing (if you haven’t already). On the listing itself, you will see a link that says: “Is this your business?” Click that to verify.

Note: Google usually verifies your phone with a call, and your address with a postcard. The address verification can take weeks, but it’s there to protect your business from copycats.

3. Connect Your Domain Email Address

In the listing info, add your authentic domain.com email address. For example, if you are the owner of Parmessanos.com, connect your listing with tony@parmessanos.com.

This adds legitimacy, showing both Google and your customers that you are the true owner of the website and the listing.

4. Get Your NAP Right

If you take one nugget of wisdom from this guide, let it be this: consistency is king. This is especially true for your NAP: Name, Address, and Phone.

NAME

When filling out the business name, use the name that your customers use when referring to your business.

For example, Disney’s legal name is The Walt Disney Company, but everyone knows them as Disney. Their Business page is set up right: https://plus.google.com/+Disney

ADDRESS

As with your business name, your mailing address should be accurate and consistent across the web. If your address is: 12345 Hollywood Blvd SW, then include the SW.

To validate your address, check USPS’ website.

Note: Google does not permit P.O. boxes to be used for My Business listings.

PHONE

Use the local number for your business. Make sure this number is consistent on all local listings. Don’t use a toll-free number, like 1-800 or 1-888.

7. Link Your Website

When adding your website URL to your My Business listing, it should be the home page of your main website — the site customers find when they look for your business.

For businesses with multiple locations, set up a My Business page for each listing. On each of those pages, enter the URL for the specific landing page for that one location.

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria in Chicago has their listing set up correctly. Notice how the landing page for their Evanston location points to http://www.loumalnatis.com/evanston (in the bottom right):

lou malnatis google my business listing

8. Choose Your Correct Business Categories, and Choose Wisely

After NAP consistency, business category selection is the most important local ranking factor.

google my business category selection

Choose any category that specifically describes your business. Chose as many as possible, but don’t be spammy. A few well-chosen categories will have more of an SEO boost than a long list of semi-related categories.

To figure out which categories are right for your business, check out Blumenthal’s Business Category Tool and the Moz Local Categories tool.

9. Use Amazing Photos

You’re allowed three main photos on your My Business page: profile, logo and cover. Make them count!

Upload photos that showcase your brand identity. If photos don’t align with your brand, searchers will be confused and less likely to click the listing.

For inspiration, check out the following businesses who do this well:

Patagonia:

patagonia google my business photo

Travel Blogger Jodi Ettenberg:

jodi ettenberg google my business photo

SpaceX:

spacex google my business photo


 

Part 2: On-Page SEO

With your Google My Business listing all set up, the next step is optimizing your website for local SEO greatness.

Many Local SEOs overlook on-page, at their client’s’ peril. On-page SEO is one of the top local ranking factors, and it doesn’t take much work to get right.

Here’s how:

14. Local SEO Site Structure

Before doing anything else, map out the URL structure of your website. Your site structure should align with your products, services and areas of business. Also keep in mind how people are searching.

For example, if your service keyword is your main target, then you could set it up as the main silo landing page, as such:

http://domain.com/service/location1
http://domain.com/service/location2
http://domain.com/service/location3

On the other hand, if more people search using location-specific keywords, then the following structure may work better:

http://domain.com/location/service1
http://domain.com/location/service2
http://domain.com/location/service3

There are many ways to structure a website for local SEO, and none of them is the “right” way. It will depend on your audience and keyword research. Whatever you choose, take your time with this step.

15. Get Your NAP Right… Again

Use the exact same NAP on your website as you did on your My Business listing. Even minor discrepancies have a negative SEO impact.

Don’t try to “fool” Google or users by using an image; clearly display the NAP data as text.

16. Optimize Titles

Page headlines — aka the title tags — are essential for local SEO success.

Not only does Google use the title tag a top ranking factor, but better headlines get more clicks, but CTR also affects organic rankings.

When it comes to Local SEO, the title tag should include the following elements:

  1. Keyword (I recommend exact match)
  2. City
  3. State (abbr. is fine)
  4. ZIP code (space allowing)

Add these elements in a way that looks natural. Don’t be this guy:

image04

Here’s how it’s done:

image07

As in the above examples, adding your phone number to the header can generate more leads. Start by using a call-tracking number to test its effectiveness.

17. Use Keyword-Rich Header Tags

Header tags (H1, H2 and H3) are important when it comes to ranking organically for local SEO keywords.

Ideally, include your city and state in both the H1 and H2 tags of each landing page. Again, this should be done without being spammy. You don’t need to follow some specific “header tag formula” — in fact, that would look unnatural to users as well as Google.

Instead, add in keywords and location data in a way that feels natural. As with site structure, headings and subheadings should align with the information architecture of your site.

18. Build Awesome Landing Pages

If you work with small, local businesses, then content is the one way you can help them dominate local markets (without spending a ton on SEO).

In fact, recent SEO studies have shown that user engagement metrics like time on site may be more important for local rankings than for non-geospecific keywords. If Google sees that customers are staying on the page for a long time, that’s a good sign that they trust your brand.

Design Build Pros is a local contractor business on top of their content game. Here’s the content layout for each of their remodeling service pages:

remodeling services page example

For multi-location business owners, add content that is specific to each location. Include location-specific facts and landmarks to personalize the page.

Looking again at Lou Malnati’s, notice how they have location-specific landing pages set up for each pizzeria:

lou malnatis locations page

For local landing page length, aim for 500-700 words.

19. Take Advantage of Customer Reviews

To spice up your landing pages with social proof, simply copy reviews from Google+, Yelp, Facebook or TripAdvisor and add them to the landing page (image or text both work fine).

It’s the perfect one-two punch; get positive ratings on local directories and add social proof to your site in the process.

Tip: set up a “Testimonials” page and showcase your best reviews on the page.

20. Set Up Images for Local SEO

Use keywords and locations in your image filenames, titles and alt text.

As with stand image optimization, do not keyword stuff. Repeating the keyword too many times in the filename and/or alt tag text hurts a page’s ranking for that keyword.

Instead, shoot for a sweet spot — mention the exact keyword once or twice, then include a few long tails.

Also, compress each and every image to make your pages load faster. If you have big, beautiful images, compress them using a tool like Kraken.io or Smush.it.

21. Make Mobile Work

Recent research shows that more than 55% of local searches happen on a smartphone. Let that sink in for a moment… (That doesn’t even take tablet searches into account.)

If your site isn’t optimized for local devices, your customers will go to your competitor — period. The recent Mobilegeddon update, along with comments by Google’s mobile search team, emphasized the emphasis of mobile readiness to SEO success.

Many small businesses worry about redesigning their entire site for mobile. This isn’t necessary; mobile design is cheap and easy. Almost every popular CMS being responsive by default.


Part 3: Schema Markup

“Schema” is a bit of code that goes on your website that helps search engines understand your site better.

The code contains all sorts of additional information about your business, like opening ours, customer reviews, menus, and much more.

For Local SEO, Schema is a quick-and-easy to way to get a leg up on your competitors.

Get these two Schema types setup and you’ll be in great shape:

22. Add Local Business Markup

Remember when you added NAP data to your site? Take it a step further and wrap the NAP data in Local Business schema.

This clears any confusion whatsoever about the proper NAP, so that Google knows the accurate Name, Address, and Phone Number of your business.

23. Add Review Markup

Ever notice how some websites display stars below the URL in the search results?

Here’s an example:

image02

With a 5-star rating, Roto-Rooter gets more eyeballs on their SERP and more clicks through to their Chicago location page.

They’ve implemented “Review Markup” in their source code, telling Google how customers view and trust the brand. You can do the same.

Simply add the Review markup to your source code, then wait a few days for the reviews to show up.

Warning: do not abuse Schema markup. Using fake review data is unethical and exposes your site to huge risk (rich snippet manual penalty).


Part 4: Building Local Citations

Google runs on a trust factor and user experience. The cleaner and more authoritative citation profile you have, the more likely Google will see you as a trusted business that they’ll display higher in the SERPS.

If your Google My Business listing is set up and your on-page SEO is handled, then it’s time to start building citations.

I recommend building your citations manually (rather than using a service like Yext). Though it may save time up front, it can create a huge hassle later on should you ever want to remove your citations.

The benefits of manual citation building (versus automatic):

  • No subscription fees
  • Control each listing with a unique login
  • Easily fix any NAP discrepancies
  • No listing removal

Manual citation building is the way to go, but you don’t have to do everything by hand. A service like Moz Local will get you set up in the big four aggregators and uncover NAP inconsistencies.

24. Audit Your Citations

Before building any citations, you need an idea of the work that’s already been done. Even if the business (or its previous Local SEO agency) didn’t build any citations, there’s a good chance its NAP data has been scraped and added to local aggregators.

Main things to look out for with an audit:

  • NAP errors an inconsistencies
  • Closed or duplicate listings

If everything checks out, it’s time to look for opportunities. Start by spying on your competitors using a tool like BrightLocal or Whitespark. Both tools show a list of the citations built by your competitors.

Write down a list of their citations; you’ll want to add them later.

25. Build Citations

After finishing the citation audit, you should have a prioritized list of citations to build.

To start, focus on these three types of citations:

  1. Big directories (eg, Yelp and Facebook)
  2. Big niche-specific directories
  3. Locally-relevant directories

For niche-specific citations, check out BrightLocal’s 1000+ Niche Citation Sites for 41 Business Categories. For location-specific citations, browse through this guide: Local Citation Sites for Top 100 USA Cities

After adding your business to the major directories and niche/location-specific sites, begin building those competitor citations you found from $24.


Part 5: Getting Reviews

Here’s the truth: you could have the perfect Business listing, website and citation profile, but no one will click your listing if you don’t have reviews.

Businesses ranking #1 in their local map pack have as many as 33% more reviews than businesses at the bottom of the maps pack.

Further, SEO research shows that shoppers click listings with more reviews, regardless of where they rank.

Yet, high quality, thoughtful reviews are hard to get. Even your happiest customers may forget to leave a review.

Here are two ways to get more customer reviews:

26. Email With Link to Your Review Page

Most businesses have an email list of happy customers, either from their online store or email newsletter.

These customers should be your #1 source of reviews. Here’s a simple hack to get reviews from your list:

  • Copy the URL of your My Business page
  • Remove /posts and add /?hl=en&review=1
  • Send a nice email to your clients asking if they’d like to leave feedback

Simple as that. When your clients click the link, they’ll immediately see the option to review your business, like so:

image00

It doesn’t get any easier.

Take this one step further — call each client before sending the email and watch as positive reviews start pouring in.

Remember, Google reviews not only build social proof, but they also improve click-through rates to your website and organic rankings for your main keywords.

27. Send Customer Handouts

Even with email hacks like the one above, customers may sign off and leave before leaving a review. Even the simplest review sites seem complex to someone who isn’t a regular internet user.

Solve this problem by giving them clear instructions for writing a review, in the form of a one-page PDF handout.

Benefits of giving customer handouts:

  • Use clear pictures to describe exactly how to leave a review so there’s no confusion.
  • Saves you hours of time on the phone with customers.
  • One simple page is easy to understand and easy to email (or mail directly).
  • PDFs are easy to read on mobile devices.
  • Handouts are tailored to your business and to the type of listing you’re asking for (Google, Facebook, etc.)

To speed up this process, use Whitespark’s free Review Handout Generator. To use the generator, just enter your information and the tool does the rest, sending you a custom PDF that you can give to customers.

When it comes to getting customer reviews, the Gmail link hacks and Customer Handouts are the “80/20 tactics” for local search.

Implement both and watch your client’s local listing dominate their local market.


Final Thoughts

There are many more not covered here, including link building and other advanced local search strategies that serve both local and traditional SEO.

However, these are the essential steps for local SEO domination.

Once implemented, your client will be set on a solid foundation from which you can build the remainder of your local campaign for even greater strides forward.

Looking for more Local SEO assistance for your business? Find great Local SEO partners in our Top Local Agency Marketplace!