Word-of-mouth and local advertisements may be a great way to attract customers from your area. But online search can be equally impactful, if not more. In fact, Social Media Today reports that 97% of search engine users have searched online to find a local business. And 46% of all Google searches were seeking local information.

So if a business doesn’t rank in local search results, it could be missing out on valuable traffic and customers. In other words, local SEO could be the key to staying relevant and growing your business.

If you’re fairly new to local SEO, you might have a lot of questions and you probably won’t know where to start optimizing. This guide shows you some essential local SEO solutions and helps you understand the landscape better. So let’s jump right in.

What is local SEO and why do I need it?

To understand the local SEO definition, let’s first try to understand what local search means. Local search is when someone searches for businesses, products, services or any additional information relevant to one specific location. They could be searching for “concerts near me” to find an upcoming concert in their city or “best painting service in [location]” to find a painting service nearby.

an example of Google's local search results for best painting service in baton rouge

In other words, local search is more specific to a certain location compared to general Google searches. And Local SEO refers to the process of trying to optimize your online visibility to show up in those local search results.

Local SEO is crucial because it helps you:

  • Boost your online visibility
  • Bring in more foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar location
  • Attract more targeted traffic, which improves your chances of conversion
  • Enhance your credibility and build trust

Organic search results vs. local snack pack

One of the ways that local SEO enhances your online visibility is through the local snack pack results. Google sorts out local search results into three sections – sponsored, snack pack and organic. While the sponsored results appear prominently at the top of search results pages with the “Ad” or “Sponsored” label, they cost money.

Google's local SERP for painting service in seattle, and a red box highlighting the sponsored results

The snack pack results follow, appearing in a box that highlights the top three business listings related to that particular search. This shows up more prominently than organic local search results, which means there’s a better chance of visibility if you get featured in the snack pack.

And the best part is, not every local search page features sponsored results. So your business could sit prominently at the top of the search results page, as you can see below.

An example of Google's local snack pack results for shoe stores in las vegas. These are the listings that appear under the map.

The organic results are further down, below the local snack pack results. So even if you rank on the first page of local search results, you might not show up as prominently as the businesses that manage to get featured in snack pack results.

An example of a Google SERP highlighting organic local results

The goal of your local SEO strategy should be to rank on the first page of organic local searches as well as in your local snack pack. This ensures optimum visibility and improves your chances of attracting targeted traffic.

6 ways to boost your local SEO strategy

Now let’s move on to the most important part – how to boost your local SEO strategy and improve your local search ranking. There are plenty of aspects to this, so let’s focus on the most critical ones:

1. Claim and optimize your GMB listing

GMB or Google My Business is essentially the most critical part of your local SEO strategy. This tool from Google allows you to create free business listings. And according to Moz, it’s one of the top factors that Google will consider when ranking businesses in organic local search and snack pack results.

To start, go to the Google My Business website to claim or create your listing.

Graphic from Google's page to claim your GMB listing

You need to provide the following details for your GMB listing:

  • Your full and correct business name
  • Your physical store/office address
  • Your exact location on a map
  • Your business category
  • Your phone number and website (if applicable)

Once your listing goes live, you’ll need to verify it usually through a phone call or via postcard. Here’s how to optimize Google My Business after verification:

  • Upload photos of your business. This could be photos of the inside your store/office or even around the premises.
  • Provide your business hours.
  • Provide additional categories that may be relevant to your business.
  • Provide additional phone numbers if available.

You can further optimize your GMB profile by sharing business updates and fresh content regularly. And Sprout Social makes that easier with a new feature to post directly to your GMB profile. Make the most of the Sprout GMB feature to update your customers with what’s new and share details about upcoming events. This helps you connect with your customers on a deeper level in addition to boosting your visibility in local searches.

2. Keep mobile in mind

With smartphones now being a part of our daily lives, it’s only natural that a lot of people will be using their phones to search for local information and businesses. Uberall commissioned a study, which found that 82% of respondents had used their mobile devices to conduct a “near me” search. This proves just how much people are using their phones for local search.

So it’s crucial that you cater to these searchers by optimizing your website for mobile screens. Create a mobile-friendly website so mobile visitors have no trouble navigating it or finding the information they need.

Don’t forget to add click-to-call buttons on your site and on your GMB listing. This could make a huge difference because 60% of mobile users have contacted a business directly from search results.

3. Collect plenty of customer reviews

According to the Moz study cited earlier, review signals also play a critical role in your local search and snack pack ranking. So having plenty of authentic reviews, particularly positive ones, could work wonders to boost your visibility in local search in addition to enhancing your reputation. That means you need to work towards collecting more authentic customer reviews for your business.

Maintain your focus on sites where Google would expect businesses to have reviews. So in addition to your website and your GMB listing, it’ll also collect reviews from consumer directories and social media. That means you should focus on collecting reviews for Facebook, Yelp, Thumbtack, Foursquare, Angie’s List, etc. depending on which ones are relevant to your business.

4. Focus on local link building

According to Moz, link signals such as linking domain authority and quantity are among the top factors that influence your ranking in local searches and snack pack results. So just like with regular SEO, local SEO also requires link building to boost your link profile. However, the linking domains should be more relevant to your target location.

That means you should target authority websites in your target region. This could be anything from licensing bureaus and trade associations to the Chamber of Commerce or even .edu sites.

Partnerships, scholarships, guest posting, etc. could be excellent ways to gain valuable backlinks from local sites. For example, you can see the Connecticut College website linking back to several local establishments from its “Attractions” page.

attractions page on the Connecticut College website that links out to local establishments

5. Ensure NAP/citation consistency

Moz also found that Google considers citation signals such as citation volume and NAP (name, address, phone number) consistency in local search results. This means your information should be on major citation websites; besides GMB, think Bing Maps, Yelp and Facebook. Focus on directories that have higher domain authority than on smaller listing directories.

More importantly, make sure your business NAP is consistent across all platforms and websites. Look out for any misspellings, address and phone number discrepancies, duplicate listings and resolve them to improve your local SEO.

6. Make the most of social listening

Social listening may have primarily served as a source for marketing insights, but it has many benefits beyond that. It could even help fuel your local SEO strategy if you know which insights to look out for and how to make the most of them.

Use social listening to find out what people in your target location are saying – whether it’s about your business or in general. You could even use it to collect information about audience interests, priorities and so on. Then make the most of these insights to find out how you can make changes to your strategy or even to your products and services.

For instance, you might have noticed people complaining about the lack of outdoor seating at your café. Maybe it’s time to introduce it to appeal to an even bigger audience. You can then optimize your GMB SEO by sharing updates about your new seating arrangement, for instance.

Or maybe you’ve noticed people wishing your hair salon also provided manicure services. You could expand your service offering and share this update on your GMB profile.

Additionally, your social listening efforts could also help you understand what types of local content your target audience might be looking for. You could then build a robust local content strategy to fit those needs. Plus, you might even be able to uncover long-tail keywords to use in your content optimization strategy.

Ready to get local?

These are the essentials on how to take your local SEO efforts to the next level. Keep in mind that your local SEO efforts can span across various locations. And you can even apply these ideas in your SEO for multiple locations if you’re targeting more than one area. So make the most of them to enhance your online visibility in local searches and grow your business.

For more valuable insights that could help you fuel business growth, don’t forget to download your copy of the Sprout Social 2020 Index.