How to Do Local SEO: The 4 Building Blocks of Success 

 February 2, 2022

Local search is a distinct branch of search marketing that’s both the same and different from traditional organic (meaning free, not ads) search engine optimization.

So a local search strategy includes the same work as regular search, but also some unique things.

“How much work is it?” is one of the first things clients ask me. What they want is a roadmap.

This post aims to show you the landscape you’ll drive through. It’s the second in a series for beginners on how to do local SEO. The first post covered the business case for local SEO.

This one covers the four main building blocks of a comprehensive local search strategy for a neighborhood or service area business. I’ll dive deeper into each of them in the rest of the series.

How to Do Local SEO: The Basics

These elements are the foundation of a local SEO strategy, but they’re not necessarily the four most important ranking factors. They’re more like activity buckets — the four main areas of activity where you’ll focus your efforts.

Yes, a successful local SEO plan requires attention and effort.

I know you don’t want to hear that. You want it to be one-and-done so you can get back to running your business. I feel you. According to surveys, three-quarters of small business owners don’t want to deal with marketing.

But search is fickle, much like Google itself, and search engine optimization keeps getting more complex and competitive. Algorithms get updated, ranking factors adjust, features come and go, competitors improve their local SEO. Getting ahead doesn’t mean staying ahead.

A complete local SEO plan builds a foundation that makes your business more likely to land the top spots and harder to shake down.

The point of this post is to lay out the scope of the work, tell you what you’re getting into. You can do some or all of it yourself, or pay an agency or SEO specialist to do it. Your actual experience may differ; I’m offering a general idea of what to expect.

How to Do Local SEO: 4 Key Elements

The four basic work areas of local SEO are:

  1. Google Business Profile
  2. Local Content
  3. Reviews (Reputation Management)
  4. Citations (Directory Listings)

One thing I’m not covering in this post is the whole technical side of local SEO, which is as important as anything. Mobile optimization, one part of it, is important for all SEO but more so for local because most local searches are conducted on devices, not desktops. I give some tips on mobile SEO here and I’ll return to it in the post on local content.

The posts in this series cover each area separately:

The First Thing You Need: A NAP

The first thing you need before all the rest are your business’s name, address, and phone number — usually referred to as NAP.

Of course you have them. What you need now is for them to appear absolutely consistently everywhere a search engine looks for your business. That’s including, and especially, your Google Business Profile, website, and directory listings — three of our four foundations.

Your business name should be the actual exact name you use in business — what’s on your signage — not with location or other modifiers. Lots of people add these things, but strictly speaking this is a violation of Google’s terms of service, and its December algorithm update (nicknamed Vicinity) was intended to weed these listings out of the rankings. It partially succeeded, but doubtless it will get better.

Also, your NAP must appear consistently everywhere across the internet. For instance, don’t spell out Avenue in your address in some places and abbreviate it Ave. in others. Or Suite 101 one place and Ste. #101 elsewhere.

Google’s local search algorithm wants to be reassured that it’s found the right business in response to a search query, and that the listings in fact refer to the same business.

The consistency of your NAP reassures it. So even though citations are in and of themselves a minor ranking factor (see below), they’re critical in verifying the authenticity of your business.

The 4 Key Elements of Local SEO

Google Business Profile: Your Second Website

Your Google Business Profile is the single most important part of local search. It’s often referred to as your second website.

According to the latest annual study by the local SEO experts at Whitespark, your GBP counts for more than one-third (36%) of your rankability in local pack search results. But optimizing your GBP is critical for conversions as well as rankings.

Google Business Profile is like your online shop window: It’s what people see from the street, how they look into your store without going inside — which would be your website, but they can do that from your GBP too.

Google Map Pack - How To Do Local Seo | Randy Lyman, Local Seo Specialist
Searching for “pizza near me” — The search engine results page (SERP) attempts to satisfy my local hunger with a map pack (aka local pack), ads above it, and organic search results below.

Indeed, photos of your business are an important part of optimizing for conversions. GBP provides many ways for visitors to interact with your business: clicking to your website, or clicking to call, text, or book an appointment — directly from the search result. You can manage and respond to reviews from it too.

Optimizing your GBP is likely how you’ll be spending most of your local SEO time. Many parts of it you can set once and not need to touch again. But photos, posts, and updating hours need ongoing attention. In some industries, GBP spam (fake competitors) can be a real problem that takes time and effort to fight.

In short, Google Business Profile is not a static profile but a vital and interactive tool for marketing and managing your business. Keeping information on it current is critical for Google — and local searchers — to understand your business.

If you haven’t claimed your profile, do that first. You’ll set up an account then need to verify your physical business location by means of a postcard (most reliable but takes a couple weeks), video, or other means.

Local Content: Building Links to the Community

Useful, timely, relevant content that answers searchers’ questions is one of the most important ranking factors in all SEO-dom. This content — be it blog, video, etc. — is what earns links back to your website, another of the most important factors.

According to Whitespark again, your website (on-page SEO) accounts for 16 percent of your map/local pack ranking, 13 percent for links back to your content. In organic search outside the local pack, those numbers double or more: on-page SEO jumps to 34 percent and links to 31 percent.

For local SEO, however, it’s important to create locally-focused content in addition to your regular content. The difference is whether the searcher is looking for information about widgets or wanting to buy “widgets near me.” Local content provides those extra signals that tell searchers and search bots that your content is relevant.

Here’s where local SEO is different. When it suspects a search for something nearby, Google deploys a local search algorithm that’s completely separate from the general search algorithm. It values things a bit differently. The main algorithm looks for three primary attributes in ranking a website: its expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness — the so-called E-A-T factors.

By contrast, local search values:

  • Proximity (Distance)
  • Relevance
  • Prominence

The big difference is proximity: General search doesn’t care where you are, but in local search it’s the most important thing. In local search, backlinks from nearby sources are valued more than traditional high authority backlinks. (Your NAP on at least the home, contact, and about pages of your website is another important proximity signal.)

Useful, locally-oriented content signals all of these things to searchers and search engines alike, and enables your site to earn those local backlinks. Doing the math from above, these elements comprise nearly two-thirds of your organic local search ranking.

Of course, maintaining a blog takes work, and this is always the biggest hurdle for business owners I talk to.

What’s needed is a way to do it within your resources of time, energy, money, whatever. That’s a lot of what this blog is about.

Reviews: Your Reputation on the Line

By the numbers, online reviews make up only a small part of search rankings: 17 percent for the local pack and 5 percent for organic search.

But no one doubts the huge impact reviews have on shopping behavior:

  • More consumers are reading online reviews than ever before. In 2021, 77% ‘always’ or ‘regularly’ read them when browsing for local businesses (up from 60% in 2020).
  • 98% of people at least ‘occasionally’ read online reviews for local businesses.
  • The percentage of people ‘never’ reading reviews when browsing local businesses has fallen from 13% in 2020 to just 2% in 2021.
  • 89% of consumers are ‘highly’ or ‘fairly’ likely to use a business that responds to all of its online reviews.
  • 57% say they would be ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ likely to use a business that doesn’t respond to reviews at all.

The last two points are interesting. Consumers value the fact that a business owner responds at all — it’s nearly as important as a high star rating (58%). And they’re surprisingly willing to overlook a few negative reviews if you respond to them well. In fact, the ideal rating appears to be around 4.2 — it shows you’re real, not perfect.

The outsized importance of reviews poses challenges along with opportunity. According to the same survey, 62 percent believe they’ve seen a fake review for a local business in the past year. Merely 7 percent said they’re ‘not at all’ suspicious of reviews on Facebook.

Fake and hostile reviews can cause real harm to a business, and are notoriously difficult to fight. Google, Yelp, and other popular review sites have policies and practices against such reviews; still, getting a response from them, let alone action, can be slow and frustrating.

Managing reviews can take a little or a lot of time. But managing them is critical to a strong local search strategy.

Citations: Proving You’re Authentic

By the numbers again, citations play a small part in local search rankings.

But listings in online local business directories like Yellow Pages or Foursquare send important signals that verify the authenticity of your business: that it’s what and where it claims to be. The more such signals, the more the search bots are reassured, and studies show the top winners in local search tend to have around 70-80 citations.

Building up your citations can take time to do one by one, but there are citation services that can handle a large number for you at once. This may be something you do only once and then monitor lightly as part of your ongoing local SEO efforts.

Get Started with Local SEO

Search engine optimization is always an ongoing activity; local SEO is no exception.

Ongoing effort can show good and enduring results, but the best SEO strategy in the world is of no value if you can’t actually do it. My goal with this blog (and this introductory series) is to explain how SMB owners can manage it within their resources.

Like I said above, you and most other SMB owners would rather be running your businesses than doing SEO. You can do both.

Read the whole series introducing local SEO to small business owners:

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