Ranking Higher on SERPs – A Step-by-Step Guide to Local SEO for SMBs
by Al Gomez
This is a guest post by Harsha Annadurai.
As a business owner, one of your primary goals is to get as many customers as possible. To do this in today’s modern, digital world, your business needs to be easily found in search results. Most businesses these days pay attention to their SEO to ensure that they rank highly in search results. But isn’t it essential for businesses to focus on searches with a local intent to get the most out of their SEO? Now, how do they do that? Enter, local SEO.
But wait, what is local SEO?
Let’s take an example. “Jim’s Plumbing” is a plumbing service in Sunnyvale, CA.
Being a plumber, Jim wants to rank for the term “plumber”, but the catch is that Jim has to compete with plumbers all over the world to rank for the term “plumber” on search engines. Instead, he’d be much more likely to rank higher for the term “plumber sunnyvale”. It also makes more sense, at a more holistic level. After all, Jim’s not driving all the way to LA to fix someone’s kitchen sink. He’s only looking to promote his business in and around Sunnyvale, where he can find potential customers that he can actually service.
Local SEO, as a result, is SEO done to rank businesses higher in local search results. Local SEO focuses on giving search results that are relevant to a user based on their current location.
Local SEO is online marketing done for local businesses to attract customers in their vicinity, exactly at the time when they are looking for the relevant business, service or product.
What is a local search result?
Well, every time you make a search that Google or other search engines deem locally relevant (i.e. it makes sense to show you a service, store, business in your current locale), Google presents you with a local search box and relevant search results from local vendors.
When I search for “best pizza” google automatically throws up this local result box which called “local search pack”. But this is not the boundary of a local search result. The next few results on your search too will be locally viable results. This originally started out with the increase in “near me” searches on Google. Seeing such meteoric rise in near me searches, Google ultimately implemented proximity filters into all our searches, so even if you don’t search for “pizza near me” you will get search results like those of “near me” searches. This actually works great for both parties, the user who can search and find a relevant service easily as well as a business who can now target more relevant local users for are searching for their service.
Local Search Ranking Factors
Before we get into the actual to-do part, here’s a little background on the different factors that contribute to better local search ranking that will help you understand how this actually works. The following are the primary Local Search Ranking Factors –
1. Google My Business
Google lets you list your business for free on their platform Google My Business(GMB). A GMB listing is what shows up as a Google Maps result as well. The quality and accuracy of your Google My Business Listing is one of the most important ranking factors for local searches. Just having a listing is not enough, an optimized google my business profile leads to a lot more business opportunity.
Eg. Here’s a GMB listing for McDonald’s, this result that shows up on the right side of your search result is referred to as a knowledge box, consisting of information from your listing and data gathered by Google.
2. Business Citations
An online business citation or business listing is a summary of all your basic business information in a business directory, and this is important in ranking your business higher on SERPs. As such, the primary reasons to create online business listings is to increase online presence. It also boosts your online visibility and drives more customers to your business.
Eg. Here’s a business listing on Yellowpages.com, a popular business directory.
3. Website Optimization & SEO
Since your website is often your online base of operations, good SEO practices play a huge role in your local search ranking factor. Backlinks are also another factor that weighs into your website’s rank and authority, and through that, into your local search ranking as well.
4. Reviews & Social Proof
Reviews provide social proof to your potential customers and have slowly risen to a point where quality reviews can make or break a customer’s decision to enter your store/use your service. Maintaining a good reputation on the internet is a scaled up version of people in your local town saying good things about you to their neighbor, and recommending you over others for a particular product or a service. People want to listen to what other customers are saying about your business before making a purchase, so as to make an informed decision.
5. Proximity to search
This is something that you don’t have control over but you have to understand. The closer a person is to your business while searching, the more likely it is that your business will show up in the search results. In fact, proximity and prominence are heavily weighed into the new Google Search Algorithm. And going forward, we predict that we will see searches get more and more local.
Local-izing your SEO
Estimates suggest that over half the searches made on Google have a local search intent. What that means is that every other search is made by a person who is looking for a tangible product or service locally. This underlines the importance of having a local SEO strategy in place, here’s how you go about it.
1. Google My Business Optimization
Your GMB profile shows up in local search results. To get more and relevant clicks on your business, you have to soup up your GMB Listing. But first, ensure that you have claimed your Google Listing.
Once you have control over your listing, all your profile details must be filled out accurately, one-by-one:
Ensure that you do not have unnecessary marketing taglines, special characters or your business type (LLC, Inc, Corporation, etc.)
Google does not accept P.O boxes and in most cases, your business will be verified by a postcard sent to your business address. It is also essential that your address correctly identifies you on Google Maps so that potential customers can navigate to you easily.
Primary & Secondary Phone Numbers
Make your primary number the one that directs to your sales/support team. Provide secondary numbers if available. Try not to enter toll-free numbers here, as entering a local number ranks you better on search engines.
Picking the correct category shouldn’t be treated as stock advice. It is very important you select the correct category, if you are unsure what category you fall into – look at your competitors’ listings. Your business will fall into the same category.
This one’s self-explanatory. If you do not have a website, you should get one. Alternatively, you could list your facebook page or any other web 2.0 property.
Daily Working Hours
Ensure you have your correct working hours listed here, so that:
- You never disappoint your customers.
- They don’t leave you negative reviews, hindering your local SEO efforts.
You can also add holidays, special working hours on weekends or other days.
Photos add character to your listing, publish high-quality photos of your business, product and/or service.
Its recommended you keep your description short and to the point, add any relevant keywords to your business. It’s suggested that you stick to under 600 characters for your business description, though Google permits up to 4500 characters.
Google My Business Guidelines
You also need to ensure that your business follows all of the “guidelines for representing your business on google”, you can use the free Google Guidelines Checker to check if your business is following all the guidelines.
You can hire a Trusted Photographer from Google to take interior photos of your business. These photos will show up on search and maps. This makes your profile more complete. It also builds customer familiarity with your place of business.
2. Website Optimization & SEO
Local SEO is not separate from SEO. It’s rather adding some more local optimizations to SEO, meaning you have to do all your SEO work and then some more!
Here are some of the things that you need to take care of:
Title tags and meta description are extremely important to your SEO efforts as it literally defines the title of the page content which search engines pick up.
Your website needs to have URLs that are readable and understandable to the users interacting with your website. It should be simple to understand without any complicated parameters. For example, “complicated.com/store/prodid=284&cmp=5182758274” is a dirty URL. In order to make sure that your URL is clean and simple, add the keywords that led the person to your page. For example:, “notcomplicated.com/store/leather-bags/tan-leather-satchel”.
Here’s are a few tips to help you along the way!
- If you have to use parameters, limit them to less than two.
- Use hyphens to separate the words in your URL stub to make them as comprehensive as you can.
- The limit for the maximum number of characters in a URL stub is 2048.
- If you’re designing your website from scratch, make sure that you use a clean URL.
Duplicate content is a big no-no for search engines, such that you can get penalized by search engines for it. Make sure that you have content that is absolutely original. In case you have to use duplicate content, make sure that you use a robots.txt to hide such content from search engines.
So, when you’re creating content, keep these tips in mind:
- Do not make your content keyword heavy. Use it two to three times per 1000 words. You can even use variations of your target keyword for SEO purposes.
- Your H1 and H2 tags should contain your desired keyword for the best ranking results.
- Use tools like Copyscape to run a duplicate content audit.
- Keep in mind that quality content is far more resourceful than the quantity of the words in your website content.
Images on your site optimized with SEO can help contribute to your ranking higher on the SERPs. This is quite simple. Make sure that the images you add to your site are named clearly with the keyword that you wish to rank for. (The image must be relevant to the keyword, of course.) For example, image names like “DSC_4100.JPG” will not be as effective as “best-coffee-brooklyn-new-york.jpg”.
Image size plays a significant part in improving your SEO as it all comes down to how good your site’s user experience is in terms of criteria like readability and page loading speed. If your image is too large, it will take too long to render which will increase the loading time. As per best practices, crop your images your images according to what is relevant to your content.
You don’t always need the highest quality images on your site. When you’re saving an image, a 9MB JPG image can be resized to a 900KB one, saving it as lower quality. In addition to this, use the .JPG format for your photos, .gif formats for your logos and .png format for your screenshots.
The most important part of optimizing your images with SEO is to give your images alt text. Alt text is displayed on your screen in place of your image when it won’t render or load. Some devices, like mobile phones, do not render images to increase pagespeed. In such cases, your site will display the alt text to keep the user informed about what they’re missing.
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