Local SEO: The Definitive Guide (2020)
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Local SEO: The Definitive Guide (2020)

This is the ultimate guide to local SEO in 2020.

In this new guide I’ll show you:

  • How to rank in the 3-pack
  • How to build NAP citations
  • How to optimize your GMB profile
  • Lots more

Let’s get started.

Local SEO: The Definitive Guide

Chapter 1:Local SEO Basics

Local SEO Basics

In this chapter we’ll cover the basics of local SEO.

First, you’ll see interesting data that proves that SEO is a must for any local business.

Then, I’ll show you how The Map Pack works… and the best way to track your Map Pack rankings.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is the practice of optimizing a website in order to increase traffic, leads and brand awareness from local search. Common tasks associated with local SEO include finding local keywords, optimizing a business’s Google My Business profile, and building “NAP” citations.

Why is Local SEO Important?

I’m not going to throw a bunch of random stats at you.

But I do want to briefly show you a few fascinating statistics to highlight just how huge SEO is for local businesses.

46% of all searches in Google have “local intent” (Search Engine Roundtable).

46% of all searches in Google have "local intent"

“Near me” searches have grown 150% faster than traditional, local-based searches (Google).

"Near me" searches have grown 150% faster than traditional, local-based searches

29% of all Google SERPs contain a local pack in the results (RankRanger).

29% of all Google SERPs contain a local pack in the results

74% of consumers that search for something local on their phone visit a store that day (Google).

So it’s clear that local searches make up a huge chunk of the SEO world. And if you can get your local business in front of these searches, there’s a good chance they’ll be walking through your door a few minutes later.

How Does Local SEO Work?

At a high-level Local SEO works like “normal” Google search.

When someone does a search, Google scans through its index to provide the best results for that person’s query.

What makes Local SEO unique is that Google uses a different set of ranking factors to rank the local search results.

In fact, local SEO has a set of unique ranking signals, including:

  • The location that the person is searching from
  • NAP citations
  • Presence of Google My Business listing
  • Keywords used in Google My Business profile
  • Sentiment of online reviews
  • Keywords used in online reviews
  • Number of “check-ins” at that location
  • Shares on social media
  • Google Maps star rating for that business

Chapter 2:The Map Pack

The Map Pack

Chapter 2 is all about The Map Pack.

In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • How Google’s local Map Pack works
  • How to track your Map Pack rankings
  • Helpful local SEO tools
  • How to rank in Google organic for local keywords

So if you want to get a crash course on The Map Pack, you’ll really enjoy this chapter.

Intro to The Map Pack

The Map Pack (also known as “The Local Pack”) is a set of 3 local business results… with a map of their locations pulled from Google Maps.

The map pack

For example, when you search for “Barber Boston”, Google has a Map Pack at the very top of the results.

Google Search for "barber boston" with map pack

With the “normal” search results underneath it:

Google Search for "barber boston" – Normal results

I’ll show you how Google ranks businesses in The Map Pack later in this guide. But for now, just keep in mind that The Map Pack has its own algorithm with its own set of rules.

Sure, some ranking factors (like backlinks) can help you rank in local and traditional organic results.

But others (like NAPs) are pretty much only important for ranking in The Map Pack.

One thing I should point out:

Google doesn’t only show local results for keywords that contain a specific city or state. If Google thinks that your search needs a set of local results, they’ll show it to you… even if the keyword isn’t obviously local.

For example, when I recently searched for “gardener” in NYC, Google gave me a Map Pack.

Google Search for "gardener" while located in NYC

This is important to keep in mind as you do keyword research for your local business. Yes, you want to optimize for “store + city” keywords.

In many cases, the generic “store” keyword without a location gets more search volume than the “store + city” version.

With that out of the way, let’s see how to track your local SEO rankings.

How To Track Map Pack Rankings

One of the first steps in any local SEO campaign is to benchmark where you’re at.

Specifically, you want to see where you rank in The Map Pack. And track your Map Pack rankings over time.

Pretty much every rank tracker on the planet has Map Pack tracking.

Local rank trackers

The issue is that, with local SEO, where you’re searching from is HUGE. In fact, the Map Pack results can be completely different from one mile to the next.

For example, let’s say someone searches for “coffee shop” on 72nd st and 2nd avenue in NYC.

"coffee shop" NYC search – Location A

Those results are going to be super tailored to where that person’s standing.

In fact, that same search performed a few blocks away can bring up a completely different site of Map Pack results (or the same results in a different order).

"coffee shop" NYC search – Location B

if you only track your local rankings from a single location (like “New York”), you’re only seeing a small sample of where you actually rank in the real world.

Which is why you want to get super granular with your local rankings. That way, you can see where you rank across your entire city or local area.

I recommend a tool called Local Falcon for this kind of detailed Map tracking.

Local Falcon homepage

But there are others, like Local Viking, that do pretty much the same thing.

Anyway…

The first step is to choose your business name (Note: this feed comes directly from Google Maps. So to use this tool, you’ll need a Google My Business profile already set up).

Local Falcon entering business name

Then, choose a keyword you want to check your rankings for.

Local Falcon entering keyword

Finally, choose how specific or broad you want your rank tracking to be.

For example, here’s a 5-mile (8km) rank tracking radius.

Local Falcon – Setting up search radius

It’s set up with a 7 x 7 grid, which gives you a great idea of where your business ranks across this entire area.

(This grid can go right up to 15 x 15, if you really want to see the edges of where you might rank).

Then, it’s time to check the rankings.

After the tool does its thing, you end up with a visual interface that shows your rankings for each geographical position:

Local Falcon search results

As you can see, you get a nice interactive map that shows where you rank in lots of different spots throughout the city.

As you can see, rankings are best on the outskirts of the city… and get progressively worse as you go downtown.

Local Falcon search results highlighted grid

This isn’t necessarily a problem. It could be that a competitor has a location that’s more centrally located than your hotel. So for someone doing a mobile search from that location, Google considers the competitor a better fit.

That said, you should use the tool to find spots where you “should” rank well… but don’t.

For example, you can see that this local paving business ranks #1 in the far north of the city… except for one spot.

Local Falcon search results – Highlighted top row

So in that case, you’d want to click on the result to see who is outranking you:

Local Falcon rankings for certain spot

In this case, a competitor is ranking #1.

But if you’re not satisfied with the #2 spot, check out the competitor’s address in their listing. That way, you can cross-check where they are physically located on this map.

Competitor location on Google Maps

And when you put the competitor’s location on the rankings map, you can see why you’re having trouble cracking the #1 spot.

Competitor location on Local Falcon search results

The simple explanation is that this search location is MUCH closer to the competitor. So it makes perfect sense that Google would want to make this competitor the #1 result.

Local Organic Rankings

If you’re a local business, The Map Pack is the place to be.

That said:

You don’t want to completely ignore the traditional local results.

Yes, the local organic results usually show up BELOW the local pack.

Google search for "pizza boston"

But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s “Map Pack or nothing”. Because most local searches have an insanely strong commercial intent, it’s totally worth ranking in the local SERPs too.

And, unlike Map Pack results, the local results are basically the same for any Google SERP.

So to optimize your site for local organic rankings, you want to use your keyword in your title tag, in your URL… and all the traditional on-page SEO stuff.

Basically, everything covered in this video:

Plus: backlinks 🙂

Actually, the only unique thing about local organic rankings is how you track them. Remember: “store + city” only make up a fraction of all local searches.

So in addition to “Boston barber”, you also want to track your rankings for keywords like “Barber” and “Barber near me”.

For example, if you wanted to track rankings for “barber near me” for people searching in Boston, you just need to specify the location in your rank tracking tool of choice:

Ahrefs adding keyword with specific city location

And if you want to get a better idea of where you rank around town, you can track your rankings for that same keyword across lots of different spots.

Ahrefs adding keyword with multiple locations

Chapter 3:Local SEO Keyword Research

Local SEO Keyword Research

In this chapter I’m going to show you how to find keywords for local SEO.

Fortunately, local SEO keyword research is basically a “one and done” process.

Unlike a blog, you usually don’t need to keep finding new keywords all the time.

That’s not to say keywords aren’t important for local searches. They definitely are. But in most cases, all you need to get started is a short list of keywords that people use to find your local biz.

Yelp Suggest

This works the same as Google Suggest.

Type in a keyword that someone in your area might use to find your business…

Yelp search for HVAC near Boston

…and check out the suggested results.

Yelp results for HVAC near Boston

What’s cool about Yelp is that they sometimes show you keywords that don’t contain the term you typed in.

For example, if you search for “Japanese”, they also suggest “Asian Fusion Food”.

Yelp results with Asian fusion suggestion

Very cool.

Google Suggest

Google Suggest can also work well for local searches.

The only thing to keep in mind here is that the local search has to be something that potential local customers are gonna search for.

For example, if you type in “HVAC”, you get this list of suggestions:

Google suggestions for "HVAC" search

Outside of “near me”, these keywords aren’t a great fit for local SEO.

But when you add a local term, like “HVAC B”, you start to see keywords that you can use.

Google suggestions for local "HVAC B" search

Local Voice Searches

According to Google, 20% of all Google searches done on mobile are now voice searches.

20% of all Google searches done on mobile are now voice searches

20%!

The main difference between voice and keywords searches is that voice searches tend to be longer and use natural language.

For example, take a local keyword like “gluten free pizza brooklyn”.

Gluten free pizza Brooklyn

Well, that same search done via someone’s voice will probably be more like: “gluten free pizza in brooklyn that’s open right now”.

Gluten free pizza in Brooklyn that's open right now

As far as I know, there aren’t any tools to help you find voice search keywords. But it’s something to keep in mind as you go through this process.

GKP “Start With a Website”

The Google Keyword Planner gives you search volume data for specific geographic areas.

Keyword Planner – Local results for "boston web design"

So if you already have a bunch of keywords and want to pick the best of the bunch, this feature is helpful.

But if you’re on the hunt for NEW keywords, I recommend using their “Start With a Website” feature.

Just pop in the homepage URL of one of your competitors:

Keyword Planner – Start with a website search

And Google will suggest a bunch of keywords based on the terms that show up on that page.

Keyword Planner results for "boston barber exchange" website

Chapter 4:Local SEO Ranking Factors

Local SEO Ranking Factors

Now it’s time to dive into how local SEO in Google actually works.

Specifically, I’m going to briefly cover the most important Google local search ranking factors…

…and a few tips on how you can optimize for them.

Let’s get started.

Google My Business Profile > Your Website

Last year Moz ran its annual "Local Search Ranking Factors Study".

And they found that the #1 ranking factor for ranking in the map pack was your Google My Business Profile.

Local pack finder ranking factors – Google My Business

Your local business website is still important. The content on your page and the links pointing to your site play a role in your Map Pack rankings.

But for your business to rank #1 in The Map Pack, your GMB profile needs to be on point.

(Which is why I dedicated an entire chapter of this guide, Chapter 5, to optimizing your GMB profile).

NAPs are HUGE

NAP (Name, Address and Phone number) citations are another key local SEO ranking signal.

NAP citations are places where your name, address and phone number are all listed out.

Brian's bagel shop – NAP citation

Why is this important?

Well, Google uses NAPs to confirm that all of your business info is correct. And the more often they see NAP citations for your business, the more confident they are that your address is where you say it is and that your phone number is correct.

NAP citations influence Google rankings

This is why you want to get consistent NAP citations on as many reputable websites as you can.

Online Reviews

Moz’s local ranking factors study also found that “Review Signals” played an important role.

Local pack finder ranking factors review signals

Specifically, they state that negative reviews on your GMB profile can hurt you. And that Google probably also uses reviews on 3rd party sites (like Yelp) too.

So yeah, getting positive reviews can help you (assuming that you don’t incentivize folks to leave reviews or ask in bulk). And negative reviews can hurt you.

According to one panelist that participated in the study: “ Reviews (along with an owner’s response) show that consumers trust a business, and trust is a foundational factor in ranking.”.

Which means that replying to reviews, even negative ones, can help your local SEO efforts.

"Normal" SEO Still Applies

With all that said:

Google’s traditional ranking factors still 100% apply to local.

In fact, Google confirmed that your rankings in the organic SERPs impact your local rankings:

"Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization."

Which means: the higher you rank in the organic results, the higher you’ll rank in The Map Pack.

Which is why creating content, optimizing your pages and building backlinks is still SUPER important for local SEO rankings. Especially for competitive industries (legal, dentistry, etc).

Chapter 5:Google My Business

Google My Business

Now it’s time to optimize your Google My Business profile.

Like I mentioned in the last chapter, claiming your business listing in Google is super important for ranking in the local results.

So if you want to get the most out of your GMB, this chapter is for you.

Keep Everything 1000% Consistent

When it comes to GMB, consistency is HUGE.

Not only should everything you enter into the GMB match your website, but it should also match your NAP citations around the web.

GMB and your website should match NAP citations from around the web

When Google sees that your business info is consistent in your GMB, on your website and 3rd party sites like Yelp, they say: “OK, this business is legit. And their local info all matches up.”

Google says the business is legit

But when your local business has one address listed in their GMB and another on the website, that’s a huge red flag to Google:

Addresses that do not match will be flagged by Google

So if your business changes its name, physical location or phone number, it’s important that the new data gets updated ASAP. And that includes citations on local business directories.

I also recommend double checking that your business’s address is written out the exact same way on your GMB profile and everywhere else it shows up.

Make sure your address is written out the exact same way

Google doesn’t like it when one address says “Avenue” and another version uses “Ave.”.

This kind of thing won’t stop the mailman from delivering your Amazon package. But it’s a confusing signal for Google.

Fill In Every Data Point You Can

Google gives you a score for how complete your profile is.

Google My Business – Completion score

But in my experience, this score is REALLY generous. You can get a really high score just for covering the basics.

So I’d use their score as a baseline. But if you want to rank for competitive keywords, you probably need to go above and beyond.

The main thing I see people miss out on is category selection.

Google will force you to choose a top level category that describes your business.

Google My Business – Primary category

And the category you go with has to match a category they already have (you can’t make up your own category).

Google My Business – Primary category selection

That said: lots of people forget to add in secondary categories. These secondary categories directly impact the keywords and searches your business can rank for.

Google My Business – Additional categories

While you’re in there, I also recommend filling in the “Services” and “Products” tabs:

Google My Business – Add services and products

This info tells Google what it is that your business is actually selling. So it’s super important to fill this stuff in.

Keep Crucial Business Data Updated

Double check that your opening hours, holidays and other basic business info are all accurate and up-to-date.

This kind of thing may not directly impact rankings.

But when someone drives to your restaurant, only to see a “Closed” sign, you can expect a bad review from a hangry person.

So you want it to be second nature that when opening hours change, that change is also made inside Google My Business.

Get More Reviews (and Reply to Any That Come In)

As I mentioned back in Chapter 4, reviews are one of Google’s top local ranking signals.

Needless to say, you want as many positive reviews as you can get.

That said:

Whether a review is positive, negative, or in-between, I HIGHLY recommend replying to every single review.

This shows potential customers (and Google) that you care.

Just look at the difference that this reply makes: