5 Best Local SEO Strategies + Challenges & Myths
By Daniel Horning, SEO Analyst
Table of Contents
- Common Local SEO Challenges
- Myths of the Map Pack
- Local SEO is Easy
- Paying for Ads Increases Organic SEO Rankings
- Geo Tagging Images Helps
- Keys to a Winning Local Search Marketing Strategy
- A Claimed and Fully Optimized GMB and Local Citations
- (Glowing) Customer Reviews
- Local Link Building
- (Local) Content Is (the Local) King
- Technical SEO
What is Local SEO?
Local search engine optimization (SEO) is a branch of SEO focused on ranking well for local searches or searches with localized results. Local SEO is similar to traditional SEO across a few fronts – content, link building, technical site tuning – but it takes things a step farther by also layering in localized ranking signals like citations, customer reviews, and GMB optimization (note: most people still call it Google My Business or GMB, but the name has since changed to “Google Business Profile” or GBP. We’ll stick with GMB to keep us all on the same page).
Why does Local SEO Matter to My Business?
Search engines* are localizing search results for an ever-increasing number of generic searches, making it more important than ever that brands dominate their local search market.
*We’ll focus on Google as it’s the engine with the largest market share, but the others search providers are following suit.
Understanding Local SEO
Local SEO is a specialized set of SEO strategies that help businesses and brands rank well in the Google Maps algorithm. But it doesn’t stop there. A comprehensive local search strategy includes work to also rank in traditional SERPs (search engine results pages) and even CHERPS (Chat Engine Results Pages aka AI/SGE).
Local Search Definitions
A few key terms to keep in mind:
- GBP – Google Business Profile: formerly known as a Google My Business or GMB. The GBP is a brand’s command center for representing themselves in Google Maps and search results.
- NAP (W) – A business’ correct and exact Name, Address, Phone number (and occasionally Website)
- Citations – Business listings in various marketplaces and directories of the internet. A brand’s NAP (W) must be consistent everywhere to establish identity and trust.
- Map Pack / 3-Pack / Snack Pack – The featured maps results within search results, usually at the top.
If your brand serves or sells to consumers in a local market, your competitors are probably already stealing your potential customers by outranking you in Google’s coveted top 3 local search results in the “map pack” or “3 pack” – that pesky map that’s appearing above more search results.
Common Local SEO Challenges
Google’s local algorithm measures several very specific factors when deciding how to rank a brand. Proving to Google that your brand deserves a spot in the 3-pack comes with certain challenges.
- Complete GMB Optimization: A Google My Business profile has at least a dozen fields and settings that can be filled in with extra content and tuned to rank for specific products/searches.
- Localizing keyword research: Standard keyword research for SEO leans on large nationwide search volumes. However, local keyword research is very nuanced and deals in smaller estimated search volumes, but usually yields more traffic than estimated. It’s important to group keywords into search topics and dig into any differences in local terminology/search volume.
- If content is king, customer reviews are queen. Gathering enough positive reviews is a challenge on its own. But keeping the pace up to out-earn local competitors per month is its own mini-marketing project.
- Link building becomes exponentially harder when you shrink the pool of potential link partners and publishers to be hyper local. Local news sites and writers are easier to reach but usually significantly more scrupulous.
Myths of the Map Pack
Local SEO is Easy
A common local SEO myth is that a brand just needs a local listing, some local citations and a simple website. But the ancient SEO wisdom is as true in Local SEO as it is everywhere else: content is king. Establishing a consistent publishing rhythm of local advice or resources is key to earning the algorithm’s trust.
Paying for Ads Increases Organic SEO Rankings
It’d be nice if it were that easy: sign up for a Google Ads account, run some local ads or even some LSA’s, and watch your organic rankings climb and SEO traffic pour in. However, we’ve seen first hand the truth on both sides of this coin: brands with gigantic budgets for paid ads fall out of ranking favor, while other brands with no live ads, but the right local authority signals, rank #1.
Paying for Ads Increases Organic SEO Rankings
This is a widely spread myth that Google rewards local GMB accounts that alter the geo-tagging within a photo’s exif data (the hidden data encoded in all photos – camera type, date taken, location, etc.). These kinds of shortcuts are just tactics that (a) waste your time and (b) are spammy enough that they could eventually raise the eyebrows of the algorithm and get your brand demoted in local search results.
5 Keys to a Winning Local Search Marketing Strategy
The brands that win in local search provide the best local, authoritative experience to both users and Google. Your company will outrank your competitors if you invest in these 5 specific aspects, proving your authority and deep roots in a specific location.
A Claimed and Fully Optimized GMB and Local Citations
No surprises here – always start with the fundamentals. The foundation of a solid local SEO strategy is a set of fully fleshed out and painstakingly accurate business profiles, starting with the Google My Business profile.
This is not a one-and-done step. Claiming and verifying your GMB isn’t enough. There are dozens of fields, services, service areas, etc. to fill out. Users (and sometimes unruly competition) can and will suggest inaccurate changes to your business details. Routinely monitoring your GMB is critical to keeping all information correct and rankings high.
Your GMB is also an important place to post updates about your business, announcements, news, etc. Google My Business content updates aren’t a direct ranking factor, but they do drive up people’s interaction rate with your local listing and serve up a dramatically improved first impression of your business. An active and recently posted-to business profile is like a clean, well decorated storefront, inviting people to walk through your front door to shop with you instead of your competition.
Local citations are also critical to find and set up and/or claim on an ongoing basis. At a bare minimum your NAP (name of business, address and phone number) need to be identical across the hundreds of local directories and business listing sites available. Beyond the minimum, when competition heats up, local citations can also be a place to amp up local authority via custom business bios/descriptions and media, photos, videos, etc.
(Glowing) Customer Reviews
A survey of 14,000+ consumers in 2019 found that 45% of shoppers say they use Google to research a purchase they plan to make in-store. Google is drastically increasing the number of searches receiving localized SERPs as they get better at detecting a user’s locality and intent to shop nearby. “Near me” type searches have risen 34% since 2019. Which means there’s at least a 50/50 chance your next potential customer will be comparing review scores and counts on a Google map before calling or walking into your business.
Winning the review war means building a review collection into your regular weekly processes and customer culture. Remind customers throughout their experience with your brand of your goal being to deliver 5-star service. Ask every customer to publish their review after a purchase, and then follow up with those that don’t.
Review request methods will vary by industry and method, and can be sent via automated text or email software. Personal injury attorneys aren’t going to text past clients a cute kitten gif reminder to leave a review, and local pet boarding boutiques probably won’t send a formal email stream to their furry clients’ parents. The most successful review request campaigns we’ve sent, regardless of platform or method, are fine-tuned to a brand’s clientele.
Local Link Building
Link building is hard, but local link building is an art form. Local publishers and site owners are usually even more scrupulous when picking who they link to. It’s important to build relationships with other local business owners and website owners within, or neighboring to, your niche, to then potentially earn links from. Links aren’t as crucial to local SEO as they are to traditional SEO, but they still play a major part in providing to Google why your brand should rank #1 in the Maps pack.
You can also connect with local influencers to do product or service trading for their endorsement. Share company news and local community involvement with the local press outlets to get featured in local news or community websites.
(Local) Content Is (the Local) King
One of the clearest differentiators between top-ranking and not-ranking local websites is a brand’s commitment to content. There’s no substitute for well planned, strategic, well-written, helpful content – for visitors and for Google.
The best content starts with insightful market research. Beyond local keyword research, it’s important to understand your shoppers/clients – their lingo, their pain points. It’s important to really dig into specific geographic market questions and consumer needs: what people are asking for in a wedding planner in sunny Bradenton, FL are not going to be the same questions people have in Olympia, Washington.
Local keyword and market research should turn into a strong content strategy across three fronts:
- Geographic, service specific landing pages. Start small, and centered on your address. Only build out landing pages for services you offer in very neighboring markets. It can be tempting if you’re looking to grow your tutoring business just outside of Vegas in Summerlin, NV to start with a “Las Vegas Tutoring” landing page, but horse before the cart please. Own the local rankings for your specific neighborhood before moving on to conquer neighboring markets. Start with a 10 mile radius and work your way out. If you offer five services and there are five neighboring, smaller cities within 10 miles of you, that’s 25 landing pages you’ll need to create first, before tackling the big city 20 miles away. That’s a lot of landing pages to write, design and publish – get to work!
- Resource center/blog content. This should cover an organized grouping of topics and questions and be published in a steady cadence according to your team’s capacity. Every local business is different – some can publish content daily, while others should commit to a minimum of posting a strong resource article or blog post monthly.
- Bite-sized topics/posts. Ideally, smaller updates and business news should be published at least weekly to your GMB. Later on in your efforts, you can even use some of this content on other local citations/directories to further spread your authority and influence.
A staple in all types of SEO, fixing and tuning your website to be technically sound can give you a leg up on your competition. Technical SEO audits and implementation are each a world all their own so we won’t dive too deep into the maze. But it’s important to note: Google continues to give more ranking weight to site load and engagement metrics like Core Web Vitals, server response time, etc. As you have time and/or talented developer resources, invest in implementing proper local schema, tracking, analytics and reporting.
SEO is changing – from SGE to increased localized results. Consumer shopping behavior online is ever evolving and Google’s algorithm and search results are changing in response. It’s never been more important to focus on Local SEO if your business serves specific markets. Google is rewarding the brands that seem like the best local choice.
The secret recipe to high local rankings, traffic and revenue growth? Simple (although not easy): lock in your local authority and dominance by claiming and updating your local listings, build an impressive evergreen stream of reviews, earn local links, and publish the most helpful content in your niche on a technically sound site.
If that sounds like a lot of work… you’re right, it is! But it’s work we love doing and we’d like to be your partner in your local marketing adventure. Get on a free call with us to audit where you’re at and where you could go.