I talk a lot about SEO, but I often avoid talking about local SEO. Some people have pointed this out to me recently. Yes, it’s an important SEO strategy, especially for professionals. And I should talk about it more.
But if you’ve been following me for some time, you know that I strongly advocate specialization and narrowing down to a niche by either focusing on an industry (vertical specialization), a service/solution (horizontal specialization), or both.
When you do that, local SEO becomes less and less important.
But it’s still important, nonetheless.
Ranking in the search engines, in general, is standard SEO. Local SEO is similar, but it aims to optimize your visibility locally, so that prospective clients within a geographic area can find you and learn more about you.
If you sell locally, your clients may search for terms like: “dentist near me,” “chiropractor New York,” “Atlanta corporate attorney,” “diet clinic in Vancouver area,” “emergency dentist Pittsburg,” “tax accountant Canada,” etc.
Those are the types of searches local SEO aims to optimize for.
Location-based qualifiers are becoming less used, too. Reason is, if a person uses their GPS-enabled device or mobile phone, the results will be personalized to the surrounding area closest to the device.
Plus, Google and Bing personalize your results, whether you use GPS or not. If yur browser knows where you are, or if you often search for and click on results that are local to your IP address, search engines will often customize your results.
Also, searches can be related to a problem or solution, and not just to a business or type of service. For example: “weightloss coaching,” “broken tooth repair,” “affordable legal services,” “tax reduction advice for 2020,” “how to sell my home fast,” etc.
So what constitutes local SEO?
It focuses on four key areas:
- Search engines
- Map services
- Business listings
- Review sites
Before I explain them, there are three key search intent types you must be aware of. It’s important to know these as they will guide the rest of your efforts:
- “I want to know” searches (informational)
- “I want to go” searches (navigational)
- “I want to do” searches (transactional)
A variation of the third (some SEO experts call it a fourth) is when the “doing” involves a purchase (i.e., “I want to buy” or commercial investigation searches).
Determining search intent is important, particularly with local SEO, because the quality and relevancy of your content hinge greatly on how well it matches the searcher’s query. And many queries may be local in nature.
So let's look at each area.
1. Search Engines
“I want to know” queries are searches for content. For example, “what are home prices in my area,” “does a dental implant hurt,” “how to find more leads.”
Results for these types of searches will be delivered mostly via the main search engines. Therefore, standard SEO practices apply. You create content and optimize your content that helps to answer your audience's questions.
You want to include schema markup (i.e., code that helps Google understand what the content is about) that indicates you are a local business. And you might want to create location-specific content or landing pages.
There’s no need to create a page for every location you serve. I’ve seen some professionals with pages for every county, suburb, and street name under the sun. That's overkill and unnecessary.
Plus, it makes you look like a spammer in Google's eyes.
Just stick to the most relevant locations, cities, or regions. You can even focus on larger areas that encompass a number of cities, such as GTA for the “greater Toronto area” or the “Tristate area” of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
2. Map Services
Optimizing for these services are critical for navigational or “I want to go” searches. But they also include anything related to the location, such as office hours, phone numbers, service-specific questions, etc.
To appear on maps, all you need is to claim and optimize your business listings on them. Many will have a “claim this business” link near your listing. If it's not there, them you will need to create your listing from scratch.
There are three important ones:
- Google My Business (or GMB),
- Bing Places, and
- Apple Maps.
GMB is the most important one. But keep in mind that a third of all mobile devices are iPhones. And the use of voice assistants is growing, such as Google Assistant (Google), Siri (Apple), Alexa (Bing), etc.
So being on all three is an effective approach.
3. Business Listings
While map services pull from their own indices as their primary source of results, many of them use secondary ones to add additional or augmented results.
For example, they use Yelp, Trip Advisor, Yext, Yellow Pages, Facebook Business, and other services like them. Therefore, claiming your listing on these business directories are as important as most map services.
Personally, I don’t care much for these for reasons I already expressed. But they are important from an SEO signal standpoint. In other words, these listings provide citations, which mention your business or website, and increase signals to your site.
The most important tip I can give you here is to ensure your NAP profile is consistent across all listings. NAP means “name, address, and phone number.” If any of those three are different, the signals or “SEO juice” is spread out and diminished.
If “Michel Fortin Consulting” is your business name, don’t use “Michael” or “Consultant” or “Michel Fortin Consulting, Ltd.” Make sure you use that exact spelling everywhere. Same goes for your address and phone number, too.
4. Review Sites
Finally, review sites are vital because they help the “I want to do or buy” search queries. When people are looking to do or buy something, they often use reviews to help their investigation and support their decisions.
Now, GMB and Facebook are the top review sites as they appear in search engines, often as ratings located near a search result. And many of the business listings offer reviews, too (such as TripAdvisor and Yelp).
But there are other sites you might want to consider.
Reviews, good or bad, provide relevant information that searchers want in making their decisions. Reputation management deserves another article of its own, but for now know that there are many review sites online, and you should consider optimizing them, too.
For example, there's BBB (Better Business Bureau), RateMD, TrustPilot, Manta, Angie’s List, Consumer Reports, Glassdoor, Amazon (if you sell information products, courses, or books on them), and so on.
I’ll end it here with this:
Just as with standard SEO, your local SEO efforts can also become complicated and a lot more granular than I've alluded to here.
Don’t worry too much about it, other than making sure:
- You claim your three key map listings (Google, Bing, and Apple).
- You claim your listings in business directories that count (i.e., directories your clients use or will likely find you under).
- You claim your local citations, and ensure your NAP profile is correct and consistent throughout all of them.
- And you claim your listings on review sites, particularly those within or related to your industry (such as RateMD for doctors).
Hopefully this is helpful to you.