Earn Higher Local Search Rankings With This 16-Point SEO Checklist

Earn higher rankings and drive more customers to your local business by following these 16 local SEO tips that more than 80 SEO experts recommend.

Jessica Greene Jessica Greene on August 19, 2019 (last modified on July 19, 2020) • 21 minute read

Local businesses that haven’t taken the time to optimize for SEO are missing out on a lot of potential revenue.

Earning high rankings in Google’s search results and Google Maps gets your business in front of nearby customers who are looking for exactly what your business provides.

So if you own or manage a local service business or store, taking time to make sure your websites and online directory listings are optimized is an effective step toward getting more customers in the door.

But how do you optimize a local business to rank higher in search? And how is that different from general SEO best practices?

To find out, we asked 83 local SEO experts to provide their best tips for optimizing local businesses for organic search.

The result: a 16-point local SEO checklist that anyone can follow to earn higher rankings in both general organic search results and directory listings like Google Maps.

What Is Local SEO?

Local SEO refers to the process of getting a local business—one that serves a specific geographic area—to rank higher and become more visible in organic search results.

Unlike a software business—for example—that might serve people all over the world, local businesses only serve people in a specific neighborhood (e.g. restaurants), city (e.g. attorneys), or state (e.g. plumbers).

While there is a lot of overlap between general SEO and local SEO—website optimization and backlinks are important for both disciplines—local SEO tends to put more focus on tactics that only apply to local businesses, such as creating directory citations and Google My Business listing optimization.

Why Is Local SEO Important?

This list of local SEO statistics from HubSpot offers a lot of data that highlights why local SEO is important. Some of our favorites:

  • “46% of all Google searches are for local information.”
  • “72% of consumers that did a local search visited a store within five miles.”
  • “78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase.”
  • “92% of searchers will pick businesses on the first page of local search results.”

So if your local business isn’t optimized for search, it’s highly likely that you’re missing out on significant amounts of foot traffic, awareness, and revenue that search engines like Google could be sending your way.

Local SEO helps you boost your business’s visibility in search, helping you get your business in front of potential customers that are looking for exactly what your business offers.

Local SEO Checklist: 16 Ways to Earn Higher Rankings

Earn higher rankings and drive more customers to your local business by following these 16 local SEO tips that more than 80 SEO experts recommend:

  1. Find the Main Keywords You Want to Rank For
  2. Optimize Your Homepage for Your Main Keywords
  3. Create Content About Your Services, Products, City, Etc.
  4. Optimize Your Content to Rank for Long-Tail Keywords and Voice Search
  5. Optimize Your SEO Titles, Meta Descriptions, and URLs
  6. Use a Local TLD
  7. Create Unique Pages for Each of Your Locations
  8. Optimize Your Site for Mobile
  9. Use Local Business Structured Data
  10. Get Backlinks From Other Local Businesses
  11. Make Sure Your Business Appears in Local Directories
  12. Keep Your Data Consistent Across Directories
  13. Claim and Optimize Your Google My Business Profile
  14. Make Collecting Customer Reviews a Priority
  15. Publish Google Posts
  16. Finally, Analyze Your Competitors Local SEO Strategies

1. Find the Main Keywords You Want to Rank For

“One of the most important things you can do for local SEO is finding the right keywords for your business,” says Angela Ash of Flow SEO. “Once you’ve found the right keywords, you can start optimizing your site to rank for those keywords.”

So how should you do keyword research for local SEO? We polled our respondents to find out which methods they use most often for local SEO keyword research, and monitoring competitors was the most popular response, earning 38.6% of the votes:

how to do keyword research for local SEO

“It never hurts to pay a visit to the page-one results on Google and see what keywords your competition is using for their article titles and metadata,” Ash says. “This is a great way to see what’s already working locally and then use it to your advantage.”

Another 21.1% of our respondents said they use customer feedback to find target keywords. “Know your audience,” says Eddie Johnson of Anabolic Bodies. “Figure out the language they use, and incorporate it into your site so that search engines will pick up those keywords.”

Others recommended using Google’s autocomplete feature or a keyword research tool. “We love SEMrush and Moz,” says Gustavo Carvalho of Copahost. “They allow you to find long-tail keywords that are searched for by users in specific locations.”

google autocomplete results
Autocomplete keywords display under the search bar as you begin typing a query into Google.

“Most of these searches include the name of the place and what they are looking for, like ‘restaurants in Brooklyn.’ Using the name of the neighborhood—or your city name—in your target keywords is a great way to gain traffic,” Carvalho says.

And Paul Teitelman recommends “doing a TF-IDF analysis to complement basic keyword research. TF-IDF data will show you the other words that you should probably include in your content—but not necessarily optimize for.”

“For example, the data may reveal that all 10 of the highest-ranking pages talk about child support. You should likely make that a part of your piece as well, or the Google algorithm may see your content as incomplete or lesser quality than what already ranks.”

“TF-IDF data doesn’t replace your keyword data. It works side-by-side with it to ensure you’re creating more complete content that has a higher probability of ranking,” Teitelman says.

Editor’s note: Another great way to find target keywords is to see what keywords you’re already showing up for in search. Grab this free Google Search Console dashboard to see what keywords your site is already ranking for, as well as your top-performing pages by clicks from organic search results.

google search console dashboard

2. Optimize Your Homepage for Your Main Keywords

“To improve your local SEO strategy, you want to optimize your website for local keywords,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers

“Include the name of your city a few times on your homepage: in the main page title, at least one secondary heading, a few times in the copy, in the alt text of your images, and in your meta description.” 

“You can even talk about the people from your town/city. Let’s say that you want to rank for a local business in New York. You can easily put New York on your homepage several times if you’re talking about New Yorkers,” Aufray says.

Jorge Sheffy of Loclweb agrees: “The first step every local business should take to improve local SEO is to make sure the page title of your homepage has the main keyword for the service and the location (city/state) where they’re located.” 

“For low-competition local search terms, this will immediately put your business on the first page of many relevant search results,” Sheffy says.

Related: The 31 Irrefutable Laws for Creating an SEO-Friendly Website That Ranks in Search

3. Create Content About Your Services, Products, City, Etc.

Fisher Unitech’s Angelle Erickson says that a great way to earn higher rankings and generate more traffic is to “write content about your services in specific locations.”

But many respondents said that writing content about your products or services is just the tip of the iceberg. You should also write about your location: city, town, or neighborhood.

“One thing people neglect with local SEO is writing local content,” says Sean Dudayev of Frootful Marketing. “Creating pages around your location and services can actually help you rank higher in both the local and standard search results. This allows you to occupy real estate in both places.”

“Publishing niche guides to local businesses, attractions, events, or points of interest is a great way to boost your brand exposure, local relevancy, and local link opportunities,” says Joe Goldstein of Contractor Calls.

Digital Rev Marketing’s Kevin Peguero provides an example: “A client of mine wrote an article about all the dog rescues, dog parks, and dog shelters in her local city and county. She now has become a resource, and that page brings in 3,000 unique visitors per month.”

In addition to resource guides, Venkatesh C.R. of Dot Com Infoway also recommends “promoting local industry gatherings, news, employees, and other educational content on your blog.”

And thumbprint’s Morgan Lathaen recommends creating YouTube videos: “Treat videos as the new content king. YouTube is the second largest search engine and is only growing. Plus, videos occupy a lot of space in SERPs.” 

“Make short brand videos and product demos, create educational videos on how-to topics, and run live broadcasts like webinars or interviews,” Lathaen says.

4. Optimize Your Content to Rank for Long-Tail Keywords and Voice Search

“Make sure your site is optimized for long-tail queries that address specific needs,” says Luke Saint of Mortgage Insider. “For example, if you are a bakery, you might want to optimize for something like ‘Freshly baked bread in [location].’”

Insightland’s Irena Zobniow agrees: “Optimize the content on your website for key question phrases like ‘what is the best meal,’ ‘where is the best bakery,’ or ‘how to find the best [type of food].”

Not only will this help your site rank for long-tail keywords, but it will also help you rank for voice search queries.

“With the rise of virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri, people are searching online the same way they talk,” says Ronald D’souza of Decrum. “Investing in Q&A-style articles lets you capitalize on the voice search trend.”

And as Niles Koenigsberg of FiG Advertising + Marketing says, “People who are searching via voice are more likely to make a decision quickly than text searchers.”

Did you know? When people search using voice, Google Assistant reads the content of featured snippets out loud. For the best results when optimizing for voice search, make sure you’re optimizing your content for featured snippets.

5. Optimize Your SEO Titles, Meta Descriptions, and URLs

All general Google search results show an SEO title, URL, and meta description:

anatomy of a search result

For this reason, Revium’s Kyle Douglas recommends “crafting very clear page titles, meta descriptions, and URLs. Most local searchers look for [service] + [location] (e.g. plumber Melbourne), so make it clear to anyone scrolling through search results that that’s what you do.”

“Make sure to include the city, state, and maybe even the suburb you’re trying to rank for,” says Nick Farmen of Spire Digital.

Tomasz Alemany of Top Whole Life actually recommends optimizing for neighborhoods and suburbs rather than cities: “A simple way to improve SEO is to hyper-focus on specific zones. Forget cities, go even smaller.”

“For example, if I have a service that I want to rank in Miami, Florida, I wouldn’t try to rank for Miami. I would try to rank for a specific neighborhood like Miami Gardens or North Miami Beach.

What you will find is that the competition in those areas is much much smaller,” Alemany says.

And Daniel Cheung recommends optimizing your site’s URLs and structure, too: “For example, signals to a page visitor that (a) you provide the service that they are seeking, and (b) your service is in the geographical area that is convenient for them.”

Related: A 21-Point Checklist for Optimizing Every Blog Post for Search Engines

6. Use a Local TLD

“If possible, try to get a local top-level domain (TLD),” says Jennifer Chen of Team Building NYC. “For example, if you are expanding to the United Kingdom, then it may be worth it to get a ‘.uk’ domain. If you’re expanding to China, then it may be worth it to get a ‘.cn’ domain.”

“If your original site is U.S. based, then Google has tagged it (and you may have tagged it) as most relevant to a U.S. audience. A new domain can help you start fresh in a new market.” 

“This strategy can work on a city level as well. For example, we use the ‘.nyc’ TLD.”

7. Create Unique Pages for Each of Your Locations

local business with multiple location pages

If your business operates in multiple locations, many respondents recommend creating separate pages for each of your locations.

“Create a unique location page for each of the cities where you offer services,” says Pavel Khaykin of Pavel Buys Houses. “But make sure each page is unique and not duplicated.”

Other respondents offered several suggestions for how to make separate location pages unique:

  • “Include practice- or business-specific anecdotes and statistics on your pages.” (Tammy Smith, Page 1 Solutions)
  • “Include local contact details, local associations, and other locally relevant content.” (Quentin Aisbett, OnQ Marketing)
  • “Make sure each page details all of your services, benefits, and differentiators—and that it displays local relevancy. You can show that local relevancy through images, reviews, testimonials, and videos. It doesn’t always have to be a block of text.” (Kyle Menchaca, WorkWave)
  • “Geotag your images. By adding information about the location where an image was taken, you give strong local SEO signals to Google and help them better understand where your business is based.” (Sam Williamson, CBDiablo UK)
  • “Embed a Google Map on each location’s page.” (Travis McGinnis, Leighton Interactive)

“These pages are critical to ranking for organic listings beneath the local pack,” says Eric Hoppe of Crowd Content. “Just make sure that you spend sufficient time creating pages with useful and locally relevant information.”

8. Optimize Your Site for Mobile

“One very important and effective tip for improving local SEO strategy is to optimize your website for mobile,’ says Veronica De Borba of OnPoint Internet Marketing

“This is a must-apply tip since 52.2% of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones, and this number will continue to increase year after year.”

“Make sure you optimize your website for mobile devices. Doing this will increase your chances of getting seen and getting leads.”

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Mobile Website Optimization

9. Use Local Business Structured Data

local business schema generator
A tool like this Local Business Schema Generator makes it easy to add structured data to your local business’s website and webpages.

“Use Local Business structured data on contact and/or location pages to provide context to search engines about where your business is located and how to contact you,” says Leighton Interactive’s Travis McGinnis.

Liam Abbott of Top Shelf Media agrees: “Structured data can help many local businesses stand out more in local search. Searchers use rich snippets to help them extract more information for the websites they want to visit. This is crucial to help improve your click-through rates.” 

“The search results can become saturated, and any opportunity to gain more screen real estate cannot be taken for granted,” Abbott says.

“Structured data is incredibly important because search engines are trying to return a complete picture to help searchers make the best—and an immediate—decision about what local business to visit,” says Bryan Osima of Uvietech Software Solutions. “Structured data supports the decision-making abilities of searchers.”

“Links from other local businesses will really help you rank for local keywords, especially in competitive areas,” says Dan Reeves of Dandy Marketing.

Reeves and many of our other respondents offered several suggestions for how to earn backlinks from other local businesses:

  • “Write local guest posts. For example, if you are a physiotherapist, see if there are any local sports clubs, tennis clubs, golf clubs, etc. that have blogs that would be open to you writing for them. You could write about, for example, the best stretches for tennis players or how to beat tennis elbow.” (Dan Reeves, Dandy Marketing)
  • “Interviewing local politicians is a great way to create linkable assets. What could local papers, businesses, and bloggers be more interested in than what their elected official has planned for the town?” (Dan Reeves, Dandy Marketing)
  • “Build relationships with other local businesses in your targeted local area. Reach out to schools if your product or services can assist them, and look for charity opportunities that reside in that local area.” (Matt Bassos, Vuly Play)
  • “Holding giveaways, hosting fundraisers, or sponsoring local events will boost your SEO because they generate local buzz. When you host or sponsor these kinds of events, you’ll get loads of backlinks from media outlets and other local businesses.” (Joe Gast, Truck Driver Institute)
  • “Join your local chamber of commerce. Not only will this boost your credibility in the community, but they often list your website on their directory and include an authoritative backlink.” (Joe Gast, Truck Driver Institute)

“You really want to get your community talking about you,” says Sam Wheeler of Inseev Interactive. “Build partnerships and create great content (with links) for your neighbors.”

11. Make Sure Your Business Appears in Local Directories

“Knowing which directories your customers use to seek the products/services you offer will help you maximize your business’s reach,” says Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness

“According to Simplio Web Studio, ‘80% of customers use directories while researching a product or company,’ so it only makes sense to provide those audiences with information about your business,” Parikh says.

So how do you find local directories to build up your business’ citations? Sitback Solutions’ Carl Brown recommends starting with this list of online local business directories from HubSpot.

And Ben Walker of Transcription Outsourcing, LLC recommends “paying for and using a local SEO citation tool. We use BrightLocal and have used Manta and Moz Local in the past.”

12. Keep Your Data Consistent Across Directories

“Google wants assurance that you’re a legitimate business,” says Andrew Schutt of Schutt Media. “To get that assurance, it wants to see that your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) is consistent across the web.”

“Make sure that wherever your business name and address are listed, they’re listed identically,” says Katie Goodwill of Digital Radar

“For example, if you spell out the word ‘Avenue’ on your Google My Business profile but write ‘Ave.’ on your website, that can potentially hurt your local SEO. Or if you include ‘LLC’ on your Yellow Pages listing but not on Yelp, that can impact your rankings as well.”

“The more consistent your information is across every local citation, the better off you are,” Goodwill says.

“Also, be sure to delete or update old or duplicate listings,” says Matt Zajechowski of Digital Third Coast. “Using a tool like RoboForm will help you fill in the same information across all citation sources, ensuring that you have uniform business listings.”

And Meg Coffey of Social Media Perth recommends “keeping a Google Sheet or Excel spreadsheet to keep track of these mentions. That way, if you change your address or phone number down the line, you can update them all quickly.”

“Google polls these other listing sites to verify the information that it has about your business,” says Kenny Lange of Web Canopy Studio and use. “If every site says the same thing, then Google can feel confident that displaying your business will meet its goal of displaying contextually relevant information.”

13. Claim and Optimize Your Google My Business Profile

When we asked our respondents to weigh in on which of 10 local SEO factors was the most important, an optimized Google My Business listing came out on top:

the most important local seo factors

According to our respondents, an optimized Google My Business listing is more important than having a mobile-friendly website, optimized content, and links from other local businesses.

“Google My Business is necessary for local SEO in nearly all industries,” says Joe Sloan of Challenger School. “I have seen Google My Business account for more than 10% of total traffic to a website.”

“A recent study claims that nearly 50% of all searches are non-click, meaning information is received either by featured snippets or Google My Business listings,” says Alexa Kurtz of WebTek. “By having a completed and up-to-date listing, you can expect to get more online contacts and foot traffic.”

“With an optimized Google My Business listing, you can show up in the top three local businesses listed in Google’s search results,” says Casey Hill of Bonjoro.

local seo 3-pack

So how do you optimize your Google My Business listing? Our respondents offered these tips:

  • “Any information that you can fill out, you should. Add as many details as possible, and then start adding in images and getting reviews from customers. This goes a long way with local, especially if you can get a lot of reviews.” (Daniel Ashton, BrainSpin)
  • “Don’t keyword stuff your company description; it has no influence on keyword rankings. Instead, use it to attract people to your business. Make sure to include all your main unique selling propositions and what sets you apart.” (Alistair Dodds, Ever Increasing Circles)
  • “Connect your site URL, optimize your images, include your products/services and business attributes, and have a compelling description of your business.” (Djordje Milicevic, StableWP)

Find even more tips on how to optimize your Google My Business profile in our recent post that includes insights from 50+ local SEO experts: Optimize Your Business for Local Searches with These 8 Google My Business SEO Tips.

Editor’s note: Need a simpler way to monitor your Google My Business metrics? Grab this free Google My Business Insights dashboard to keep a close eye on how your listing is helping generate traffic, leads, and sales for your business.

google my business insights dashboard

14. Make Collecting Customer Reviews a Priority

“Online reviews have been shown to significantly correlate with search engine rankings,” says Danny Peavey of One Week Website. “Positive reviews help enhance your rankings.”

Tony Mastri of MARION Marketing Agency agrees: “Reviews are one of—if not the—biggest contributors to strong local SEO results. Unfortunately, many businesses and agencies have gotten into the habit of cherry-picking their happy customers for only 5-star reviews.”

“However, recent data from a large-scale study conducted by Womply shows that businesses with more reviews than average generate 54% more revenue, and businesses with average ratings between 3.5 and 4.5 (out of 5) generate more revenue than those with ratings outside of that range.”

“The key insight here: don’t sacrifice a higher quantity of reviews for a perfect average rating. Stop cherry-picking, and make collecting customer reviews a priority in your business process, regardless of whether or not they had a 5-star experience,” Mastri says.

So how can you get more reviews?

Fiona Kay of Nigel Wright Group says, “We use customer feedback emails that we send out on a monthly basis to generate a consistent stream of Google reviews across our numerous different Google My Business pages.” 

“Our emails ask our customers to complete a short survey about how they’ve found our customer service, and at the end of the survey, we ask if they would be happy to submit a Google review. We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of Google reviews submitted since we introduced this initiative,” Kay says.

google my business reviews

Paul Farmer of Woodtex also recommends this approach but says, “If you find low engagement, try offering a discount or small gift (like a stress ball, pen, etc.) for an honest review.”

“Make it obvious to customers that you have online profiles and would appreciate their ratings and feedback,” says Erica Stacey of Scout Digital Training. “This could be included on printed marketing collateral, decals, signage, or suggested by staff following positive direct feedback from a customer.”

“Making an effort to consistently grow your online reviews is great for local SEO, and it also provides valuable feedback that you can use to continually improve your business to attract even more great feedback,” Stacey says.

15. Publish Google Posts

google posts

“I’m a big fan of Google Posts via Google My Business,” says John McCarthy of Echo-Factory. “A Google Post permits you to distribute up to 1,500 characters of content through your Google My Business account. Posts can be traditional content, events, special offers, and even products.” 

“Our experience is that this is a great way to publish fresh content, and it is completely free,” McCarthy says.

Atelier’s Rachael Jessney agrees: “Google Posts are something we are using more than ever, and we’re finding that they make a real difference to our clients’ local marketing activities.”

16. Finally, Analyze Your Competitors Local SEO Strategies

“Performing competitive analysis on all of the competitors that are currently ranking above you for your target keywords should be a top priority in your local SEO strategy,” says Jeremy Lawlor of Active Business Growth.

“By thoroughly analyzing your competitors’ SEO strategies, you will be able to improve upon their SEO strengths and capitalize on their SEO weaknesses in order to rank above them for local keywords,” Lawlor says.

Cierra Flythe of BoardActive agrees: “The key is consistency. Schedule time weekly to scour what keywords are trending in your industry and analyze competitor’s sites for immediate measurements on what keywords are already working and not working for them.” 

“Don’t settle on an SEO strategy just because it works,” Flythe says. “Online marketing is constantly changing.”

About the author
Jessica Greene
Jessica Greene writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.
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