With 46% of searches now having “local intent”, knowing how to improve local SEO has never been more important. Improving your site’s local ranking is vital in order to stay ahead of your competitors and sweep up those ‘near me’ conversions.
Overcoming search engines’ proximity bias is possible with good local signals, namely: NAPOLP consistency, reviews, mobile friendliness and relevant links, as well as user-based metrics & engagement signals.
We've broken down the four easy-to-implement methods of improving your local SEO foundations here:
1. Make your NAPOLP consistent 2. Create a Google My Business profile 3. Ask your customers for reviews 4. Optimise your landing pages
NAPOLP is an acronym used to list the most important elements of a business’ online citation. Sometimes referred to as NAP or even SWANPLOP, NAPOLP covers:
Consistency of this information is essential across your website, directories – both generic and industry specific - and social media in order to present strong, authoritative local signals of where you are based and your local relevance to both users and search engines.
2. Google My Business
The importance of a Google My Business (GMB) profile cannot be understated with regards to its impact on your local SEO. A claimed, verified, complete GMB listing is a must-have in your local SEO arsenal and with Google constantly adding features here, the importance of GMB profiles on local ranking is only going to increase.
GMB is a versatile tool: it allows you to essentially advertise your USP to customers by allowing you to list “attributes” such as: wheelchair accessibility, payment methods available, free WiFi, outdoor seating, LGBTQ friendly, transgender safe space, and so on. The listing also takes up prime SERP real estate, enticing the click as well as improving brand visibility, AND it is an attested way of notifying Google where your business is based.
Optimising your GMB profile is simple. Firstly, refer to point 1 and ensure that your NAPOLP on your GMB profile is consistent with your website and other channels. N.B. Google is very strict on how businesses can represent themselves on Google:
Enter your business name exactly as it appears in the real world across signage, stationery, and other branding. If you change your business name after requesting a verification letter, you must verify your business again. See: GMB Guidelines.
So if you are a Bristol law firm trading under Marley & Scrooge, you couldn’t and shouldn’t have your GMB name as Marley & Scrooge Bristol Lawyers, for example. Don’t keyword stuff as this will not improve your local SEO.
Next, make sure your category is correct by choosing the most accurate option: law firm, marketing agency, hair salon, and so on.
Profiles with photos and videos are more likely to gain clicks through to their websites than those without. Think carefully about which images to use here. For example, hotels should show photos of the rooms and the features available, restaurants and cafes should use appetising shots of their food. Both interior and exterior imagery is recommended: the former to help customers find you in the real world, and the latter to give users an idea of your culture, clientele and overall experience.
Reviews, especially native Google reviews, are another known method of improving local SEO. The overall quantity of reviews is just as important as the overall quality rating (the average number of stars against your business) and reviews with text hold more significance than just a star rating review.
It is important to note too that customers expect brands to engage with them – they’ve reached out to you and await a reply. Acknowledging and replying to your reviews is a must, even the bad ones! A couple of negative reviews sat unanswered and stagnant on your GMB profile is going to turn people away, whereas a resolved issue helps dispel any doubt and helps customers continue their journey to your site.
Review velocity, quantity and quality are all demonstrative of the trust customers have in your brand, affecting your ranking as well as CTR. So, start encouraging your customers and clients to leave you reviews. Setting up post sale/service workflow emails with direct links to your business’ GMB profile is an easy (automated!) way to implement this strategy and improve your local SEO.
4. Optimise your landing pages
From site and URL structure to click-friendly meta descriptions and titles and localised on-page copy, it is not surprising that an optimised landing page is another important factor for your local SEO efforts.
Writing individualised copy for each location with references to local landmarks, parking options, and any location specific events that you’re associated with are a few ways to develop a good volume of optimised content.
But do not stuff full of keywords!
You also need to ensure that your landing page is mobile friendly! This is especially important for bricks-and-mortar stores, such as restaurants, where a “near me” search suggests a high level of buyer intent – if someone is looking for a place to eat lunch now, you want to catch them with a speedy site.
Google also uses your business’ ‘prominence’ as a method of gauging relevance, from the real world as well as the online one. Backlinks are one such example of this. Industry and local referring domains signpost to search engines your business’ prominence and relevance to the area. Speak to your PR team and see what can be done to garner some local press. If you are the PR Team, you’ll have to think about what is realistic within your resources.
Be sure to put schema around your addresses and local events as they appear on your landing pages too.
So you’ve done the four steps above, and you are confident that your site has a strong local SEO foundation, but your competitors are still winning. How do you push performance and further increase your local visibility?
The answer is to look outwards at your competition. We suggest that you take a metric by metric look at the competitors currently appearing in the 3 pack for a key search query of your choice. You can then see where they’ve got one over on you (or not).
Audit your current local SEO efforts using the free “Local SEO Google Sheet Template” download below. If, as time goes on, there are new metrics you think are important - you can just add a new column.
You can then prioritise actions based on impact and efficiency: you don’t have many reviews on your GMB profile but your landing page is super slow to load? Fix the site first! Bear in mind Google’s “increased emphasis on behavioural factors” (Darren Shaw, Search Love 2018), and other user-based metrics. If your time to first byte (TTFB) is 3 seconds but your NAPOLP is consistently signposted across directories and social channels, users will still be bouncing back to the SERP after running out of patience.