Small Business Local SEO: A Comprehensive Guide | Linkflow
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Small Business Local SEO: A Comprehensive Guide

January 09, 2024

More often than not, search engines are the starting point in your customers’ quest to find nearby products and services.

78% of people say they use the internet to find info about nearby businesses more than once a week, according to Brightlocal’s 2023 Local Consumer Review Survey. And more than 1 in 5 do so every day.

Local businesses don’t need to dominate search engine results pages with tons of high-traffic keywords. But they do need a local SEO strategy.

What is local SEO, exactly?

Local search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing a website to rank for keywords related to a specific location.

It involves:

  • Optimizing your Google My Business listing
  • Targeting a specific geographic area with your SEO efforts
  • Optimizing your website and content for local keywords
  • Getting listed in relevant online directories and review sites
  • Building local citations and backlinks

I wrote an entire guide to local business SEO. For a more in-depth look at the fundamentals (local or not), I recommend checking that out, too.

Why is local SEO so important?

Believe it or not, local SEO extends far beyond your small mom-and-pop shop down the street.

Massive retailers like Walmart and Nordstrom, for example, need local SEO because:

  • Their brick-and-mortar stores are still local businesses.
  • They offer pick-up-in-store options for local customers.

Ecommerce giants like Amazon even care about local SEO. For them, a product someone might find at a local shop could easily be shipped (by them) in a few days’ time.

So, even a non-physical store with nothing more than a fulfillment center uses local SEO as an opportunity to offer a comparable product or service to local competitors.

That’s precisely why you, the small business owner, need to care.

You still have massive competition in the local space. And some of it is coming from the world’s largest corporations.

What makes local SEO different for small businesses?

Although the basics of local SEO are somewhat similar no matter your company’s size, there are a few differences for independent local business owners.

Smaller scale and fewer resources

Perhaps it goes without saying, but small businesses have less time and fewer resources than big corporations. You also don’t need as many, though.

Enterprise companies have to deal with multiple locations, extensive content production, and possibly dozens of people working on SEO.

You? You can focus on a few specific strategies and a single location.

Smaller target market and a diversified SEO strategy

As a local business owner, you’re more a part of a community than a massive corporation. You have a smaller target market with more personal relationships.

One one hand, this means you can differentiate by investing in more diversified strategies to reach people in your local area. On the other, it means you have to (or else you’ll lose the brand awareness game by a long shot).

To perform well on search engines, you’ll rely on…

  • local directories
  • community engagement
  • managing online reviews
  • localized content
  • collaborations and partnerships with other local businesses

…because that’s what sets you apart from (or at least up against) larger search competitors.

A more targeted content strategy

Since you’re less concerned about ranking for broader, high-traffic keywords, you can focus on creating more targeted content your local audience can actually use.

  • Local events
  • Relevant news
  • Specific challenges for your regional customer base
  • Guides to activities or landmarks in the area

Again, the level of personalization is your differentiator here. You’ll perform better in local search rankings when you’re able to provide the information only a local would know.

Greater importance on user experience

Have you ever used a massive website, like a car rental agency or massive retailer, and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe how terrible this is?”

Local businesses like these built their sites forever ago. And they’ve got tons of legacy code, for which uprooting would take years.

You can’t afford to make this mistake. As a smaller local business, you have the flexibility to keep your website user-friendly and simple.

That doesn’t mean it has to be basic — just that your focus should be on delivering a seamless and enjoyable user experience, rather than trying to cram in every feature and function possible.

8 steps to optimize your small business for local SEO

Now, for the fun part. How can you put all of this into practice and start generating more organic traffic for your local business?

While SEO is characteristically nuanced and complicated, you can start taking these 8 steps today to climb local search rankings.

1. Look for technical errors that might affect indexability.

The only way you’ll show up on local searches is if Google can find and read your website. That’s what indexing is: Google taking a snapshot of your website for inclusion in search results.

This is your baseline SEO activity.

You can check each page of your website for indexability using the free version of Screaming Frog SEO Spider. This tool will scan your website for common technical errors. And, with the free version, you can crawl up to 500 pages (which is almost certainly enough).

When you run the report, you’ll see tons of information, including the…

  • status codes for each page (2xx, 3xx, 4xx, or 5xx)
  • total number of internal and external links
  • URLs with duplicate content
  • missing meta descriptions or titles

It’ll also tell you whether each page is indexable.

And, in the overview report, it’ll tell you how may indexable vs. non-indexable URLs you have.

If Google hasn’t indexed your site yet, your first step is to figure out why.

The most common reasons a page won’t get indexed include:

  • The page is set to “noindex.”
  • You have crawl errors.
  • Your robots.txt file is blocking Google from indexing your website.

Or, you haven’t told Google to crawl your site. If that’s the case, you can submit a sitemap through the Google Search Console.

2. Optimize your Google My Business profile.

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that helps you manage how your local business appears in search results and on Google Maps, map pack, and organic results.

To claim, verify, and optimize your GMB listing…

  • Go to the Google My Business homepage.
  • Enter your business name or address in the search bar. If it appears in the search results, click “Claim this business.” If it doesn’t, you’ll need to add it manually by selecting “Add your business to Google.
  • Sign in to your Google account and follow the prompts.
  • Verify your business. You can do this through postcard, phone, email, or instant verification.

Once you’re verified, optimize your Google Business profile by:

  • Adding photos
  • Responding to reviews
  • Providing accurate information (name, address, phone number)
  • Selecting appropriate categories
  • Adding your website and hours of operation

3. Get listed on online directories and review sites.

Google uses other online directories and review sites to help it understand more about your business and its location.

Online directories are really important for small local businesses because they help build your website’s credibility.

  • Yelp
  • Tripadvisor
  • Bing Places for Business
  • Yahoo! Local
  • Yellow Pages
  • Other local directories relevant to your industry or location

These are the best places to get local citations. Plus, they’re huge, authoritative sites. So others will use them to find your business, read reviews, and discover your website. And Google’s crawlers use them to help confirm your business’ legitimacy.

For the most part, you’ll want to include your name, address, and phone number (NAP) in the exact same format you did on your Google Business profile.

Depending on the platform, you’ll also want to add additional info that would help customers use the interface.

For instance, a restaurant like the one above would include menu items, ordering functionalities, and details about the type of restaurant they are (for additional filtering).

In addition to helping you show up in local search results, this will get you more website authority (and foot traffic). Plus, it’ll help you stand out against other local listings.

4. Make your site mobile-friendly.

57.8% of web traffic is mobile. This varies from industry to industry, but for local searches, it’s actually a bit higher — in the local space, it accounts for 60% of all searches.

In my years working with local businesses, the most common pitfalls I see when it comes to mobile optimization include:

  • Slow page load times
  • Poor navigation and site structure
  • Content not being optimized for smaller screens (i.e., too much text, buttons or links too small)

Whether it’s ordering, booking an appointment/reservation, or just getting your phone number, make it as easy as possible for people to take action on your site when they pull it up on their phones.

You can quickly check if your site performs well on mobile devices by navigating to it in your phone’s browser. That might reveal glaring issues like a bad UX or clunky navigation.

But, if you want to test it comprehensively, you can run a Core Web Vitals audit to see exactly where your site is falling short and how to fix it.

5. Maintain accuracy across all your business listings.

Not every one of your listings will be voluntary.

Sometimes, you’ll appear in directories and review sites without having personally created an account there. That’s part of growing your business organically.

Whether it’s one you’ve created or not, you need them all to be accurate. Something as simple as a new phone number or incorrect hours of operation can lead to poor SEO and cause you to turn away potential customers.

The Semrush Listing Management tool is fantastic for this. It keeps track of everywhere your company info shows up and allows you to update it all in one place.

You can also track and respond to reviews.

And, it can show you how your company stacks up against your competition when it comes to local listings.

6. Use relevant local schema.

Although it isn’t technically a ranking factor, schema markup does play an important role in CTR.

Schema is a type of structured data you can add to your site’s code that helps Google understand the content on your web pages.

It also helps users click directly to a category, learn more about what you offer, and find what they’re looking for more quickly.

The same principles apply with local schema markup as they would with any other type of business. Include any clickable asset that makes it easier to find what they’re looking for.

  • Store locator
  • “Reserve a table”
  • Upcoming events
  • “Free in-store pickup”

If you have an ecommerce store in addition to your local small business, you should also consider optimizing your product schema.

That way, your products show up in the Google Shopping tab and underneath the map on Google’s search results page.

7. Stay on top of local reviews.

Now…local reviews are a ranking factor. And 98% of consumers read them at least occasionally.

As a small business owner, you have two goals here:

  • Monitor and respond to reviews as they come in organically.
  • Intentionally solicit reviews from happy customers.

It’s as simple as creating QR codes out of Google review links and adding them to printed items like receipts. For customers who give you their email, you can also send a follow-up email requesting that they leave you a Google review.

Once you’ve got your ducks in a row, you can move past the basic local SEO tips and get to the more advanced strategies.

Of those, local link building is by far the most important (because backlinks are the most important).

There are several ways to get local backlinks. Here are a few of my favorite:

  • Write guest posts for local publications, where you can share your expertise on topics relevant to your business and local community.
  • Create comprehensive local guides and resources, like a food and drink hotspot guide or a calendar of local events (these naturally attract backlinks).
  • Build relationships with local bloggers and influencers in your niche.
  • Form partnerships with other local businesses that complement your services.
  • Sponsor local events and charities to get links from their .org and .edu websites.
  • Organize local events to earn coverage by local publications and bloggers.
  • Develop exceptional content, then reach out to people you mentioned in it and ask if they’d be willing to share the article with their audience.

Most importantly, hire an agency!

I’ll keep it real with you, here.

Running a small business and losing sleep over how to compete in Google’s local SERPs? It’s rough.

I recommend hiring an agency that specializes in local SEO. In fact, that’s what almost everyone in the same boat as you does.

Think of it like this: you know your business like the back of your hand. They know SEO like the back of their hand.

Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.