Any business that rely on local customers should be concerned where they appear in the local search results. These are typically searches on a keywords accompanied by a place-name. A report from Search Engine Watch found that 59% of consumers regularly use Google to find local businesses. The local search results offer local businesses a real opportunity, where you can take on the big national companies and win in the search engine positions game.

There are two places where you can appear in the local search results, in the organic search results and in the local search box 3-pack. In the figure below you can see the search results for ‘plumber Norwich’.

Example Google Search Engine Results

Even on a large monitor the organic search results are below the fold, the viewer has to scroll down the page to see them. However, the local search results are displayed much more prominently, in their own box and with a handy map showing the locations of the businesses. The local search box shows the top 3 results for the area, to see more local business the user would have to click on the map. Obviously you’ll want to rank in the top 3 if possible, the rest of this guide if focused on getting you there.

1: Cover the SEO basics

Before you start optimising your website for local search you’ll have to take care of the SEO basics. I won’t go into detail here as this topic is well covered elsewhere, but I’ll offer this list as a short summary of what needs to be done.

  • Make sure your websites mobile friendly. More searches are made on mobile devices than desktop or laptops. If your websites not mobile friendly google won’t feature it in the mobile results. The easiest way to make your site mobile friendly is to use a responsive web design or theme.
  • Google now take the user experience into account when filtering search results, if you want to appear at the top a reasonable page speed is essential, and fast loading site will gain an advantage.
  • Keyword Research is essential, if you want to appear in the search results you need to know what people are searching for.

2: Preparing Your Website for Local SEO Success

There are a few simple tricks to let google know that your website is a local business and where you are.

    • Register your website with the Google’s search console. It’s free to use, you just need an account with google.
    • Add your name, address, and phone number ( NAP) to every page. Most people place their NAP data in the footer, but if you want people to phone you adding your number to the header will boost calls.
    • Add markup to your website. You can find out if your website already has schema in the search console, look under ‘Search Appearance/Structured Data’.

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3: On Page Optimisation

Once you’ve tackled the sitewide SEO you can start looking at individual pages.
Google loves original content, if you copy content from other websites google will ignore it.

      • Choose one keyword to optimise each page for. It’s important to note that google is moving beyond fixed keywords, and is now looking at groups of related phrases. Mix it up and use natural language throughout the post, don’t try to force keywords into places they don’t belong.
      • For local businesses you’ll also want to consider adding a location keyword to the page.
        Use the target keyword in the page title and URL, and include it in at least one sub heading.
      • Make sure you mention your keyword, or variations of the keyword, in the text a few times. Don’t force it though, it’s important that the language sounds natural.
      • You can boost your content with an appropriate Image to illustrate the topic, and use your keyword in the image alt tag. Google can’t read images to it uses the alt tag to understand what the image is about.
      • Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct, google will notice if it’s not and mistakes send a terrible message to your potential customers.
      • Finally fill out the page metadata tags. The title tag should include your keyword and target location, and should be less than 70 characters. Longer titles get cut off in the search results.
      • The meta description won’t affect your position in the search results directly, but it’s the first thing most people will see from your website so it’s important to get it right. Keep it under 160 characters and use the keyword and location you’re optimising for.

4: Google My Business, the Gates to the Local Search Results

Now that your on-site content is optimised it’s time to start looking at off site optimisation. Start with registering your business with Google’s My Business service. This is key to getting your business in the local 3 pack and on google maps. To add your business sign in with your google account and make sure the ‘locations’ tab is selected. Click on the plus sign in the bottom right corner and select ‘add a location’ from the pop-up options. Follow the steps to add your business and verify it. Add as much detail as you can, including a good description of your business and some photos of your work and workplace.

5: Local Citations

Local citations are referring to directory listings for your business. Google takes notices of some of the larger directories and uses their data to help filter the search results. You can add you business manually to the different directories, but make sure you use consistent NAP data for all listings. A great tool for tracking the important citations is Moz Local. You can use their free tool to track and analyze your listings in the most important directories, or pay a small fee and they’ll do all the hard word for you.

6: Social Media

Social media activity is a signal used by google when its algorithms are deciding where your business belongs in the listings. If you want to rank well an active social media presence though not essential, will certainly help.

7: Reviews

Customer reviews of your products or services send strong trust signals to Google. Start collecting reviews on your Google+ local page as soon as you can, once you have a few consider other popular sites as well. Facebook reviews and Yelp reviews are also trusted by Google, through Yelp doesn’t like you asking customers to leave reviews.