10 Step Local SEO Checklist I use to rank local websites #1 consistently – interior design, law firm, dentist, etc.
Hey guys! You probably know me from this nifty post I made a while back on growing a
SaaS to 6.6 mil monthly organic traffic.
I got a bunch of people asking if the tips I posted were also relevant for local businesses. The answer is "mostly no." You need less focus on content, more on landing pages, local citations, and more.
I wrote this nifty checklist for local SEO a while back, so thought I'd post it here too to paint a more comprehensive picture of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for different types of businesses. It's relevant for local businesses like law firms, accounting firms, dentists, interior design firms, and so on, and it's the exact process I followed to rank an interior design firm #1 for "interior designer" in 3 cities.
Tl;dr, if you're trying to rank globally (Software as a Service (SaaS), E-com, etc.), check out the post above. If you want to rank locally (law firm, accounting, etc.), read on! If you really dig this post, check out
r/seogrowth, a no-bs SEO community I'm building.
Step #1. Setup your Google My Business Profile
Start executing your local SEO strategy by creating a Google My Business (GMB) account.
A well-made GMB profile can have a significant impact on your local SEO. It helps Google understand where you operate your business, and at the same time, it can rank well on Google on its own.
• Enter your business name. If your business is already listed on Google, you can claim it. Otherwise, you can create a new business listing.
• List your primary and secondary categories. This will help you get discovered when someone is searching in that category – for example, if you run a coffee shop, Google will know to recommend it when someone searches for 'coffee near me'. Also, Google will let you add category-specific features to your listing, such as a button for booking a table if you're a restaurant.
• Add your business address. If you run a business where customers can walk in, such as a store or a cafe, you'd want your address to be visible. However, if your office isn't somewhere customers go directly (e.g. you're an accountant, housekeeper, etc.) you can hide your street address. Google will only display the area you serve in instead.
• Add your business phone number. Make sure to add your phone number so customers can easily reach out to you. If the customer wants to ask you something and the number on Google Maps doesn't work, they're going to assume you're out of business, and BAM – you lost a customer.
• Optional: Add your website. If you have a website for your local business, you can add it to your GMB profile. Google makes it easy for searchers to find it by adding a "Website" button to your listing.
Pro Tip: Verifying your business location in GMB can improve your local ranking on Google Search and Google Maps.
Step #2. Optimize Your GMB Profile
Add any additional information about your local business to your GMB profile. This will help Google fully understand what your business is about and will inform potential customers about your services.
In addition, it'll also make your page more likely to rank & stand out.
• Add your business hours. Make sure to include your exact working hours, both regular and holiday hours. If you end up changing your working hours, make sure to change them on Google My Biz (GMB) too to avoid disappointing / losing customers.
• List your business attributes. Additionally, add any attributes that apply to your business. Do you offer delivery? Can customers pay by card? Attributes like this will help your customers figure out what they can expect from your business before visiting.
• Add products and services. This is especially useful for service-based businesses, allowing you to inform your customers about the services you offer without needing to have a website.
• Upload high-quality photos. Good pictures will familiarize potential customers with your business before they visit. It is especially important to have pictures if you operate a business in the service industry, such as hotels, bars, and coffee shops. You should include:
• A picture of your venue from outside so it's easy to find it from the street.
• Multiple pictures from inside so people can get a feel of what the interior looks like (this one's mainly relevant for cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs).
• Pictures of your products. If you're a bakery or a restaurant, your food is what sells your business, after all!
• Team photos. Including pictures of your employees at work showcases the personal side of your business. This is especially relevant for professional services (e.g. advertising agency, accounting firm).
• Write a description "From the business". Make sure to include local keywords related to your business to help customers discover it in searches. E.g. if you're a car rental company, you can include keywords like "car rental in new york" "cheapest car rental in new york," etc.
• Keep track of questions and answers. Your customers can leave questions about your business for you to answer, or alternatively, you can add questions you think are relevant for your customers and answer them in their stead. Keep in mind, though, that your customers can answer these questions too. So, keep track of the said questions and make sure all answers given are 100% accurate.
• Keep your GMB profile up-to-date. Setting up a GMB profile is not a one-time task. If something in your business changes, such as your name, phone, or service offerings, make sure your Google listing reflects it. Even the smallest details that don't get updated, such as closing 30 minutes earlier, can have a negative impact on your business, reviews, reputation, and rankings. And because anyone can suggest edits to your business listing (and Google might accept them), regularly check your profile to ensure there's no inaccurate information.
Step #3. Publish posts on your GMB Profile
Google My Business can act as a social media profile for your business, too. You can post updates, promotions, offers, events, news, and short informative articles. These posts can positively impact your ranking on Google Search, and the most recent posts will show up when someone opens your profile on Google Maps. Here are some ideas:
• Updates. Temporarily closed for reconstruction? Made a change in your business hours? Inform your customers by posting an update to your GMB profile.
• What's new? Show off new products at your local business, such as new menu items at a restaurant, or new book titles if you're a bookstore. You can even post about new services you're offering to keep customers up to date.
• Exclusive offers. You can attract new customers by running promotions such as a 15% discount, two-for-one sale, or free shipping. Add a catchy title and the valid period for the offer. Google will even add a "View Offer" button to these types of posts.
• Events. When you're hosting a local event, you can gather an audience right from your GMB profile. If you have a popular band performing at your bar next weekend, or you're hosting a big concert, you can add pictures and videos to hype up visitors.
Step #4. Encourage Customer Reviews
Yep – customer reviews DO influence rankings. The better your reviews, the more likely to rank higher on Google.
This doesn't mean that you should try to hack the process though – don't ask for reviews in return for discounts or coupons, and don't set up a review station at your location. Google can (and will) penalize you for this!
Instead, you can try doing the following:
• Offer an amazing customer experience. This goes without saying, but having excellent customer service is the best way to get reviews.
• Kindly remind your customers to leave reviews. When interacting with customers at your location, ask them if they enjoyed your service, and if so, let them know that you'd really appreciate a Google review.
• Create a short URL for reviews. Make it easy for your customers to leave reviews by creating a review link. You can even turn it into a QR code that you can place around your location. E.g. If you're a restaurant, you can leave a flyer on all the tables with a QR code.
• Ping customers to leave a review (via email or SMS). Send your customers text messages or emails after they visit your business or show them in-app notifications if your business happens to have a mobile app. E.g. if you're a gym with an app, you can set it up so that gym-goers are prompted to leave a review after they leave the establishment.
• Respond to reviews. Customers appreciate it when the business owner responds to their review. A simple thank you note can go a long way to show everyone that you care about your customers. And yes, you should reply to both positive AND negative reviews.
Step #5. Build Citations in Local Directories
Citations are any mentions of your NAP (name, email, and phone information) found in business directories, websites, and social media (such as Yellow Pages, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram). They further help Google validate the address you've listed in your GMB profile.
Citations can have a strong impact on your Google rankings. And because they often include a link to your website, citations can also act as backlinks (more on backlinks below). Here's what you need to do to build citations the right way:
• Perform a citation audit to see if there are any duplicate, outdated, or incorrect citations. Moz has a useful tool called Moz Local, which you can use to perform an audit. You can also check out big aggregator sites where most smaller local directories get their citations from. Some of them are Thomson Local and Naustar Localese. Once you have a list of sites where you already have a citation, you can start building more.
• Build citations manually. You can find lists of directories where you can manually submit your business information.
• Check up on your citations. Make sure there are no outdated, incorrect or duplicate citations on any of the websites you get featured on.
• Keep your citations updated if you end up making any important changes to your business.
Pro Tip: Keep your NAP information consistent across the internet. Always use the same exact structure and spelling when citing your business information. This will make it less confusing both for Google and your potential customers.
Step #6. Use Social Media
While social media doesn't directly influence your search ranking, it boosts your online presence. You should create profiles on numerous social media sites and actively maintain them. These profiles can also act as (very) credible NAP citations since popular social media sites have high domain authority.
As a local business, you should at least have a social profile on the following sites:
Step #7. Research Local Keywords
Now, let's talk about local SEO for your website. The first step here is to do your local SEO keyword research.
The keyword research here, though, is a bit different than with global SEO, as you mainly want to rank on service keywords VS other types. To make this a bit clearer, let's assume you're an accounting firm based in New York City (NYC).
You'd want to rank for keywords like: [service type] + [location], like "accounting firm NYC" as opposed to educational keywords like "how to do accounting."
Here's how you can do keyword research for local SEO:
• Create a Google Sheet to keep track of your research.
• Discover keywords. Start with common keywords you'd want to rank for. For example, if you're a law firm in London, you'd want to rank for keywords like "law firm london," "immigration law london," "litigation law firm london." Then, run these keywords through UberSuggest and and find new similar keywords to add to your sheet.
• Spy on your competition. Use SEMrush to find out which keywords your local competitors are ranking for and add new ones to your list.
• Ignore global keywords. It might be tempting to try and rank for global keywords like "best law firm" or "litigation law." Don't even try – global keywords are significantly more difficult to rank for. And to be fair, they're also useless for a local business – 99.99% of people looking for "litigation law" are NOT looking for a law firm in London.
Step #8. On-page SEO Optimization
Once you're done collecting your keywords, it's time to optimize your website according to SEO best practices:
• Title tag – include the main keyword of the page in the HTML title tags.
• Meta description – create a short yet informative description for every page that also includes the main keyword.
• Single H1 heading – the H1 should only used once per page, and it should be the main headline of the given page.
• H2 headings – mention the main keyword and variations of it in H2 headings.
• Images – include the main keyword in some of the alt text in your images (where relevant).
• Use short URL slugs on pages – for example, if you're a photographer, you can use URL slugs like "/wedding-photography/", instead of "/book-the-best-wedding-photographer-in-town/".
• Interlink with your other pages. Most of your web pages should link to each other where relevant. This helps search engines discover all your pages when they are crawling them. If there's no links to some of your pages – Google can't see them. Additionally, interlinking helps with ranking – pages with higher value rank higher. And one page gets value added when other pages link to it.
• For example, in your navigation bar on your website it's good practice to have a "Services" dropdown where you link all your different services. And if you have different locations, you can link to them in a "Locations" dropdown. Finally, add your services and locations in your footer, and most of your pages will be interlinked.
• Use schema markup. Schema is structured data markup code that you can add to different elements of your website – that tells search engines what those elements are. You can tag your name, address, phone, working hours, ratings and reviews. It will be easier for Google to find your information and feature it in rich snippets. Google has an excellent Structured Data Markup Helper tool, which will simplify the process.
Step #9. Create Landing Pages
In order to rank on Google, your website should have the following pages:
• Location landing pages. On your website, you should have separate landing pages for each location you operate in. Let's say you're an interior design firm operating in Jacksonhole, Salt Lake City, and Boise, you'd create a new page for each location: /interior-design-jacksonhole/, /interior-design-salt-lake-city/, and so on.
• Services landing pages. Besides locations, create landing pages for different types of services you offer. This is where the keyword research in step #7 comes in – you want to create a service page for each keyword you discovered. So to get back to the "law firm in London" example, you could make pages for: /litigation-law-london/, /migration-law-london/, and so on.
• Additionally, every service page should have a contact capture. This can be a simple "Contact Us" button, or a small contact form. If potential clients that land on your website can't easily contact you, they will drop off your page.
• About page. Here, you're introducing your company to someone who might be seeing it for the first time. Include information describing your business – such as your mission, areas you specialize in, and your top achievements – which will give you credibility. And of course, showcase your employees. That said, a well-written "About Us" page is more important for a professional service company (e.g. law firm) than a typical local business (e.g. bar).
• Contact page. It's important to have a page where potential customers can find out how to reach you. Make sure you list your phone number, email address, or add contact form where anyone can send you a message. Also, link to your contact page from your location and service pages, so everyone who lands on them can easily reach you.
Step #10. Build (Local) Backlinks
Getting other websites to link to yours signals to Google that your website is a credible source, and hence, Google ranks your pages better. Here's some tips on how to build backlinks for local SEO:
• Look for other local businesses with blogs and collaborate with guest posts or ask them for links. E.g. If you're a tour business in New York City (NYC), you can find 1) travel bloggers in NYC, or 2) activity reviewer blogs and talk to them about potential collaboration.
• Reverse-engineer your competition. Use SEMrush to find websites that link to your competitors. Reach out to them and ask for them to link to you too.
• Guest post on popular publications and link to your website. E.g. local news website, firms in similar (but non-competing) niches, etc.
• Get featured on Podcasts. Find people who interview people in your niche and become a podcast guest.
Step #11. Make Sure Your Page is Fast & Mobile Friendly
How well-made your website is has a very significant impact on your SEO.
On one hand, Google does mobile-first indexing. So, if your website doesn't run on Mobile, your rankings will seriously be harmed. Use Google's own tool to check whether your website is mobile friendly.
At the same time, speed is also a factor. If your website takes 30 seconds to load, most people will just bounce off and go to your competition instead.
So – here are some tips on how to fix both issues:
• Compress your images. Smaller size pictures will load faster, especially on mobile. If your site is built in WordPress, you can use the plugin Smush to compress your images. You can even enable "lazy loading" for your images, which means they will load only when the user scrolls down the page.
• Remove unused code. If there's unnecessary code on your website, it will take longer for browsers to load it. Remove any unused CSS and JS files.
• Compress your HTML, CSS, and JS files using Gzip so they can load faster.
• Optimize CSS delivery. Instead of using inline CSS code (directly in your HTML code), combine it in an external stylesheet. You can then reuse CSS code from your external file, instead of including it in your HTML code every time you want to use it.
Step #12 (Bonus) – Use Local Ads to Drive Traffic ASAP
Want to start driving traffic before SEO kicks in? Use local ads. From my personal experience, 90% of local businesses can make good profits from running local ads. Here's how you can do this:
• Google Search Ads – Simply run ads to the keywords you want to rank for. This is also a good way to check how profitable a certain keyword can be without spending 5-6 months trying to rank for it. E.g. if you're an accounting firm in London, you can run ads for the respective keyword "accounting firm London".
• Google Maps – Running ads on Google Maps is especially useful for location based businesses. Your listing will show up above the rest, regardless of how many reviews you have. This one is extra-useful for walk-in businesses. E.g. someone Googles "bars NYC" and simply picks whatever pops up on top.
Local SEO FAQ
#1. What is the difference between SEO and local SEO?
The main difference between organic SEO and local SEO strategies is their goal. SEO aims to rank your website on keywords on a national or international level, while local SEO focuses on ranking your business in the local area that you're operating.
With local SEO, you'd target keywords like "accounting firm Palo Alto," "tax accountant Palo Alto", etc.
With global SEO, on the other hand, you target less location-specific keywords like "what's an income statement," "accounting system," etc.
Global SEO involves creating a ton of blog content and being more hands-on with your SEO. Local SEO, on the other hand, is more about building service pages and doing citation buiding.
#2. Should you include your location in your business name?
No, it's not necessary to include your location in your business name for SEO purposes.
If your local business is already named "New York Plumbing", that's completely fine. But if it's called "Joe's Plumbing", you shouldn't list your name as "Joe's Plumbing in New York" in business profiles, just to rank for local keywords.
Instead, there are many other places to mention your location across your website or your GMB listing.
#3. How many local citations do you need for better local SEO?
While there isn't an exact number of citations you must have to rank higher, you should aim to build at least about 80-100 citations. Another tip is to build citations in local directories relevant to your category.
#4. How can you do local SEO without a physical address?
For service businesses that don't have a physical location that customers visit, you should display your area of service. If you're a photographer working only in Manhattan, you can use it as your address. Or, if you do photography in the entire city, you can list New York City as your area of service.
In addition, in your Google My Business listing, Google allows you to hide your full address (which is likely your home address), and only show your area of service to the public.
#5. How long does it take to do local SEO?
Generally, it can take from a few months, up to a year to see results from your local SEO strategy depending on the level of competition.
If no one in your location focuses on local SEO, you can start ranking in months if you know what you're doing.
On the other hand, if you want to rank for something super complicated like "health insurance NYC," it will take a very long time and a very hefty budget.
102 Best SEO Tips to Help You Drive Traffic
40 Tips Done for Getting 6,6M Monthly Organic Traffic for a SaaS Website