Local SEO Tips – Where Should You Begin?

Local SEO can be quite a mystery for some, and a joy for others. As you can guess, I subscribe to the latter belief. This post will cover some simple Local SEO tips that I’ve learned throughout my experiences with the trade.

How to Tell When You Need to do Local SEO

Generally, if your site needs to be visible for any location based searches that are even remotely competitive, such as “Minneapolis Auto Repair”, you’ll probably need to do local SEO.

If your business listing appears deep in the search results, you’ll need to do local SEO.

If you have customers complaining about how hard it is to find you, then you really need to do local SEO.

For this post, I’m going to use a local auto repair shop called Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive as an example. As a nearby resident, I was oblivious to this company’s existence as they were literally nowhere to be found online. I only found out about them when I went out dinner with my girlfriend at a local Mexican place.

As a car guy, I have strong love for local, independent auto repair shops. I see these folks doing a great job of offline marketing – they have catchy bumper stickers that offer lifetime discounts,  flyers in just about every local business, and generally rely on word-of-mouth marketing to bring in new customers. They have a stellar reputation in the neighborhood, for those that know about them.

Here’s a quote from Turbo Tim himself:

“I love helping people get their cars fixed at a reasonable price. I try to educate owners about their cars so they can make good decisions that are beneficial to them and their vehicles. My goal is for customers driving out of my shop to feel good about their experience and enjoy driving their cars!”

Doesn’t that sound like the kind of mechanic that you’d like to have a relationship with? Their massive amount of quality reviews attest to the level of their work. However, on their front page they proudly claim that they are “out of this world busy”, so they don’t seem to be hurting for business. Regardless, what business owner doesn’t want to see their company grow?

Their online marketing, on the other hand, could use quite a boost. Their website is not optimized in the slightest, they have no inbound links from external sources, and their Google Places page shows an incorrect address on the other side of town.

This is an example of a company that needs to do Local SEO.

They have a good deal of assets on the site, which will do them well. They have over 60 positive reviews on various yellow pages sites. They have a blog, on-site forums, a wonderful about page, and even a writeup about the shop cat, Bobbie. And we all know how much the internet loves cats.

So, where should Turbo Tim start? First, let’s take a look at how Google ranks local results.

How does Google Rank Local Search Results?

It’s well-known that Google is a smart company. Part of being smart is coming up with smart processes, and another part is figuring out how to scale those processes efficiently. Here’s a general outline of the process:

  • Google has a large network of trusted data providers, which include Localeze, Infogroup, and many more. These data providers feed data into the Google Places index which offers Google ‘trusted’ data about local businesses. The primary information that is being fed here is the business name, business address, and business phone number (referred to as your NAP).
  • Googlebot then crawls the web, as per usual, and takes note of mentions of your business name, address, and phone number (known as ‘citations’) and matches these citations against their Places Index. This method attempts to determine the ‘popularity’ of your business (similar to the way that links work), and offers a supplementary source of data regarding how accurate the Google Places index information is.
  • Since the most recent Local algorithm update (codename Venice), Google is increasingly depending on traditional ranking elements, such as the quality of your link profile to rank local results.

To sum it up, Google is looking for three things:

  1. Accuracy and consistency of your NAP in various data providers;
  2. Accuracy, consistency, and volume of citations; and
  3. A quality link profile.

As Google primarily relies on these third-party sources for data, it’s incredibly important to make sure that the information that these third-party sources have about your business is correct and consistent. Google is smart, but it still relies on an algorithm to determine how accurate your business location is. And, as we all know, an algorithm has a margin of error – which is a place you don’t want to be in.

For example, If Yellowpages says you’re at 123 Fake Street, and Superpages says you’re at 321 Fake Avenue, Google won’t be confident that they have accurate data about your location, thus harming your ability to rank.

The key here is to make sure that all these sites that feed into the Google Places index have the same information.

Now that we know the main ranking factors that Google uses to rank local results, what’s the best way to execute a Local SEO strategy?

1) Determine NAP Consistency with Free Local SEO Tools

There are a plethora of free tools available for finding how consistent your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) are listed in various data sources, which are generally referred to as Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites. These listings of your NAP are called citations, and are generally know as the ‘links’ of Local SEO.

To learn more about NAP consistency and citations, head on over to David Mihm’s GetListed.org.

GetListed.org has a great free tool for displaying how your business is listed in various search engines and IYP sites. According to this tool, Turbo Tim’s has a listing score of just 36%.

local seo info

More importantly, the listings that are being shown are for an incorrect phone number and address, way across town on University Ave. SE.

local seo tips

I’m sure I don’t need to explain the merits of having your business information listed correctly, but I’d call this a critical issue in Local SEO terms.

I did find a correct, claimed Google Places listing for Turbo Tim’s, but the fact of the matter is that these incorrect duplicates are severely limiting this listing’s performance.

If I were Turbo Tim, I’d be sending me an email right about now.

Now that we can see that these listings need quite a bit of work, where do we begin?

2) Correcting NAP Inconsistencies

There are generally two ways to go about this:

  1. Use a paid tool to submit and manage business listings, such as Yext ($149 – $499/yr)
  2. Do it yourself (recommended, and super fun)

I personally don’t have any experience using Yext, as I generally enjoy the challenge of Local SEO. In order for your initiatives to be successful, you’ll need to go with the top tier package at $499 per year. From what I understand, the cost of Yext is billed on a per-location basis – so, if your business has four locations, you’ll be looking at nearly $2,000 per year.

If Yext is what you’re interested in, learn more by reading a review of it by Nyagoslav Zhekov. Update – check out the comments below for a recommendation from Nyagoslav.

If you’re a small business with a single location, correcting NAP inconsistencies is a relatively simple process that your receptionist could do on their free time. I’d recommend this path.

Before you begin to correct NAP inconsistencies, I’d suggest that you assemble a spreadsheet that contains all of your company information. As NAP consistency is incredibly important, you don’t want anyone taking shortcuts, or correcting listings with inconsistent information.

Additionally, you’ll want to be keeping close watch on listings that you’ve updated. Many times, you’ll need to follow up with customer support staff, and you’ll want to stay on top of this. I recommend that you use a spreadsheet that tracks every listing you’ve touched – as well as the login credentials associated with that account.

Here’s a spreadsheet containing pertinent information that I’ve built for you to use. You’ll need to log in to Google, and click File –> Make A Copy in order to use it. You can save it as a .csv and use Excel if you so please. See the second tab for a template to help keep track of your listings.

Now that you’ve settled on a consistent NAP, it’s time to start claiming and correcting any mention of your business on the web. I’d start with Google Places first, as for most businesses, this will be your primary traffic driver.

To begin, follow these simple steps:

  1. Head on over to www.google.com/placesforbusiness. If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to create one. Note: It’s best to use a general email address at your company’s domain (i.e. listings@example.com). Google trusts these accounts, as only authorized users have access to them. A general address allows other people to use the account.
  2. Log in, and you’ll be taken to a page that allows you to search for your business, using a phone number. Tip: if your business has recently moved or changed numbers, be sure to search for the old number in order to find any incorrect listings.
  3. If your business already exists in the Google Places index, it should appear here. If not, you’ll need to create a new listing. Again, be sure to look for old listings, as you’ll want to claim and delete them.
  4. Fill out or update your business information, using the consistent information that you assembled in your Business Information Spreadsheet. Click Submit.
  5. You will then need to verify your listing. There are two methods of doing this – via postcard, or via telephone. This is a way for Google to verify that the information that you have provided is correct. Note: if you are creating an entirely new listing, you’ll be required to verify via postcard.
    1. If you’re verifying via telephone, Google will automatically call your business, and provide you with a PIN. You then need to enter this PIN on your Google Places dashboard.
    2. If you’re verifying via postcard, Google will mail you a letter, containing your PIN. This generally takes 1-2 weeks to arrive, but I’ve seen them arrive in less than five days on occasion. You then need to enter this PIN on your Google Places dashboard.
  6. After your listing has been verified, it will generally take 24-48 hours to appear in Google Places.

After you’ve gotten Google Places out of the way, I’d suggest that you move on to LocalEze, as they feed a massive amount of other data sources that in turn, ultimately feed Google. Getting a head start on LocalEze allows you to essentially correct a ton of listings, all at once. The only downside is that your changes can take quite a while to appear in their distribution network.

To get started with LocalEze, go here. The process of finding, claiming, and updating your listing is fairly intuitive – you should be a pro by now. Again, be sure to search for old listings and close them.

After you’ve gotten LocalEze out of the way, I’d recommend that you work your way down the list provided by the GetListed.org tool. After you’ve had the experience of claiming and updating listings on Google Places and LocalEze, the others should be a breeze.

After you’ve made it through the list provided by GetListed.org, sit back and crack a beer. You’ve earned it.

After you’ve had your beer, it’s time to find additional incorrect listings of your business. Turn to Google search, and search for your business name, address, or phone number. You’ll probably dig up quite a bit of incorrect listings – simply claim and correct these.

Just a quick note on duplicate listings – you’ll want to get these taken care of. Most duplicates are inconsistent, as most of these data providers have systems to remove or merge identical duplicates. When Google finds inconsistent duplicate listings, they see more conflicting information about your business. It’s in your best interest to have them deleted, closed out, or merged with your correct listing.

3) On-Page Factors

Now, any effective Local SEO campaign consists of a blend of on-page and off-page factors. So far, I’ve focused on solely off-page factors, but now, it’s time to turn to some things that you need to address on the site itself.

Name, Address and Phone Number

Here’s your chance to really tie things all together – be sure to implement your consistent NAP structure on your website. If your business has multiple locations, and unique pages for each location, be sure to implement your NAP on each respective page. Google will reward you strongly for this.

Turbo Tim, you’ll want to implement your consistent NAP on your Contact Us page. Or better yet, throw it in the header or footer on every page.

Keywords

I’m assuming you’ve done your keyword research, and hopefully you’ve implemented them on your site. If not, now’s a good time to do some good ol’ fashioned on-page SEO. It’s a good idea to utilize some of the categories that you listed on your Google Places page.

Use these keywords in your page title, meta description, h1′s, h2′s, page copy, image alt tags, and URL structure.

Consider Using Schema

Schema is a newer HTML markup language that Google, Bing, and Yahoo (as well as other search engines) can understand. Basically, Schema is a method of telling the search engines what code on your site actually means.

For example, humans know that 123 Fake St, Springfield, USA is an address – but search engines technically don’t. By marking up your NAP with Schema, you are able to tell the search engines that 123 Fake St is the address, Springfield is the city, and USA is the country.

I’d highly recommend marking up your NAP. Thankfully, schema-creator.org exists, and offers a very simple method of marking up your NAP. Simply choose the “Organization” schema, fill out the fields, and implement the code on your site. You probably have your NAP listed on your contact page, but if you have it in the header, footer, or anywhere else – mark it up.

Additional Tips

I’ll be continually adding additional tips for carrying out effective Local SEO campaigns in further posts on this blog, so stay tuned.

One thing that I’d recommend is to get active on Google Mapmaker, which is essentially a crowdsourced mapping platform that ties in to the Google Places index. Start by reviewing edits around your neighborhood, as you’ll want the build the credibility of your account as a quality editor.

When you have a credible Mapmaker account, you’ll be able to reverse algorithmic edits, as well as incorrect edits on your Places page made by users. Unfortunately, this is one of the only ways to keep your Places page in your control – and it will save you hours of frustration in the future. Ask me how I know.

Wrapping it up

After you’ve corrected your listings, you should start to see ranking improvements. Please note that this process moves awfully slowly, and it could take up to eight weeks for corrected listings to work their way back to the Google Places index.

Sit back, and crack another beer. All that’s left is a bit of monitoring and maintenance on your listings. Google Places can be pretty problematic, and you’ll want to keep a close eye on the performance and accuracy of your listing. Having a credible mapmaker account works wonders in this regard.

Hopefully this post provided you with some actionable tips regarding Local SEO. I apologize for the length, but I wanted to provide you with useful, actionable tips in order to save you time. I wish a post such as this existed when I started!

Please, feel free to ask additional questions in the comments, and I’ll answer as best I can.

You can also ask me a question on Twitter, or Google+.

7 thoughts on “Local SEO Tips – Where Should You Begin?”

  1. Great post Scott! You mentioned Yext.com has a tool to correct/manage your listings. They also give you a Local Search Scorecard similar to the one on GetListed.org. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but maybe others haven’t.

    Additionally, I’d say it’s a MUST to have unique pages for multiple locations. If you have multiple locations, but don’t have a unique page for each, create them with the NAP information for the different locations.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mitchell – it’s my first!

      You’re completely correct regarding Yext. They have a great local search scorecard that goes a bit more in depth than when GetListed.org provides, and I use that one frequently. I figured that would be a topic for a future post :)

      Also, spot on with unique pages for unique locations. It’s an absolute must for businesses that operate in various areas, and have different offerings. Beyond the local SEO benefits, you get the ability to cater and target keywords with greater precision.

      Thanks again for the comment, and I’m glad you found it useful!

  2. Hey Scott,

    That’s a truly great and very thorough article + the example you give is really good. Actually, I’d never use Yext’s paid service. It costs way too much for the small number of sites they deliver, so unless you are a very large national company with hundreds of locations, I don’t suggest using it. Additionally, once you stop paying them, the listings disappear.

    Once again, awesome job!

    P.S. Thanks for the mention :)

  3. Local SEO shouldn’t stop with claiming profiles and business listings. They should be updated all the time. It pays to post events and other details that include your contacts.

    By the way, this is one of the most comprehensive write ups I’ve come across. I’m going to send it to some of my SEO friends.

  4. Great article Scott. I did not know about using Schema to mark up NAP. I am a web designer located in Bowmanville, Ontario who is trying to learn as much as I can about local SEO. Your article has made me fan, I look forward to your future posts and hope you write more about local SEO.

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