Local SEO: The Definitive Guide (2021)
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Local SEO: The Definitive Guide (2021)

This is the ultimate guide to local SEO in 2021.

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"

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

76% 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.