If your business has a physical location, like a shop or an office, local SEO (a subset of Search Engine Optimization) ensures that people can find you in real life. Unlike social media marketing, paid search, or display ads, local SEO is not a pay-to-play arena, which puts you on level ground with all of your competitors. So how does it work? Here’s how Google determines local ranking on search pages. Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help find the best match for your search. For example, Google algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results. Proximity to Searcher A long-standing and ever-important factor in local search, "Proximity to Searcher", is now one of the most influential factors in your local SEO results. While we here at ThoughtLab do believe that there is some logic in having proximity serve as a ranking factor it seems very overweight to us and does not lend itself to showing the best results. In the future, we are hoping to see Google ease up on this ranking factor for many categories. For example, when you are looking for a gas station you want to see the closest gas station first. When you are looking for an accountant, an elevator mechanic, or a financial planner you don't care which one is closest to you—you want to see the best! Unfortunately, for now, this is the most important ranking factor. While there are not many things you can do to optimize this factor, there are a few best practices you should follow and some things you should avoid. Do use the correct address of your business. Do use an address that is close to the city center.* Don’t use a P.O. Box or address of a co-working space. These types of addresses can cause your business to be filtered out of local search results entirely. *If you have multiple addresses to choose from. Searches from out of state for business types in a particular city will use proximity to the center of the city, rather than proximity to the searcher as a ranking factor. Google My Business Over time, Google My Business profiles—also known as Google Business profiles—have become the figurative definition of local search and for good reason. The data within your Google My Business (GMB) profile is used for everything from average reviews to driving directions and even to estimate how busy a business is. The data in your GMB profile is also used to populate Google Maps and your business’ knowledge panel. Your GMB profile provides a valuable service to search engines. It gathers all relevant data into one spot and, most importantly, ensures its accuracy. Without a GMB profile, it is nearly impossible for any search engine to trust the data it has found about your business, and therefore, they are hesitant to show it. Your initial goal with your GMB profile will be to claim your listing and provide a base level of trustable, accurate information. Secondly, you will optimize that content to give it the best possible chance of being shown. If you haven't done so already, start by creating or claiming your business listing as soon as possible. Once you have control over your GMB listing follow these steps to make sure it is optimized. Note: You will add all of your locations to the same GMB profile if you have more than one. The Google My Business Basics Verify your listing via a phone call or mailed postcard. Assign your business to the proper category. Add your phone number, address and photos. Add a description.* *Over the years, Google has added, removed, and re-added this feature to GMB profiles. If this feature is available when you are auditing your GMB, make sure to use it! Request a few reviews from previous happy clients. Keep your information up to date. Keep a steady stream of reviews coming in. Respond to all reviews and use your keywords in those responses. Update GMB posts when you update your other social channels. Add additional photos periodically. Update holiday hours when necessary. Do This Use photos They are a small ranking factor, but really help with engagement and other behavioral factors. Don’t Do This Don't put unnatural keywords in your business title This will likely give you a boost in the short term, but may lead to a penalty further down the road. In SEO, it is much better to always think long-term. An example of unnatural keywords would be: Austin BBQ Restaurant Best Austin BBQ Restaurants in Austin. A natural keyword placement would be: Molly’s BBQ Restaurant Austin. Your Link Profile As much as Google tries to get away from using links as a ranking factor, they still rely on them heavily to determine a business' authority and relevance in the organic and local SERPs (search engine results pages). While the quantity of links is still important, the overall quality, diversity, and relevancy of your inbound links are far more crucial than the sheer number. What is a Backlink? A backlink is any link that exists on a website other than your own and links to your site. For example, the local news station runs a story about your business and includes a link in the story to your homepage. That is a backlink. When embarking on a link-building campaign remember that not all links are created equal! Focus on getting links from sites that are relevant to your business. These would include: Local news sources Local Directories Blogs or publications within your industry Vendors and business partners Do This Write a guest post on an industry site. Ask your customers, vendors, and affiliates to link to you from their websites. Share news with local media. Build Local Citations In the context of local SEO, citations refer to the online references or mentions of a business' name, address, and phone number (NAP) on various websites, directories, and online platforms. Citations, in our world, are a necessary evil. Submitting a business' information to a multitude of aggregators and directories can be an infuriating task, full of awful UX and unclear instructions that will make you want to pull your hair out. Yet citation-building is still one task that pays unquestionable dividends. We suggest loading up your phone with a few good podcasts, clearing your schedule, and dedicating a day to citation building. Follow these tips below to get your citation building off to a good start. Gather Your Information In order to make this process as painless as possible, create a document that holds all the information you will possibly need about your business. Include as much of the following as possible: Business name, address, and phone number Standard and holiday hours Short and long descriptions of the business Any taglines you use Website URL Year established Links to all social media channels Email address A list of services or products offered Logo files Maintaining NAP Consistency When submitting your business information to the various citation websites make sure that your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP) are exactly the same every time. Google looks to these citations as a sign of confidence that the information it is presenting is accurate. Having three versions of your phone number floating around will make Google and other search engines less confident that the information it has is accurate and therefore less likely to show it. Common Causes For Inconsistent NAP: St vs Street or Dr vs Drive in your address LLC or Inc added to your business name some of the time and omitted other times Phone number formatting (Ex: (801) 355-2696 vs 801-355-2696) An example of inconsistent NAP can be seen below. Both examples are technically correct and would work for receiving mail or getting driving directions. However, having information this different would certainly give Google reason to doubt the accuracy of the information it has found. It is crucial to maintain consistency. Toasters Deli 30 East 300 South Salt Lake City, Utah Toasters Deli 30 East Broadway Salt Lake City, Utah Focus on Aggregators First In the world of citations, there are some websites that are more valuable than others. The most valuable of these websites are the "aggregators.” These websites truly punch above their weight. By taking your information and then distributing it to a variety of other citations, you are able to get multiple citations for the effort of one. If you do nothing else, claim your listing on these aggregators. ExpressUpdate.com LocalEze.com Acxiom Claim Quality Citations Now that you've claimed or created your business profile on the main aggregators, it is time to start going after the "standard" quality citation sources and industry-specific websites. We find it best to create a spreadsheet with all the listings we plan to claim and update that sheet with the day it was submitted and any additional notes we may have. This way, when we go back in a week or two to check on our listings, we can remember which ones we submitted and which ones are awaiting verification. To generate this list, we recommend using a resource such as Moz's Citations By Business Category page. On-Page SEO The term “on-page SEO” refers to any changes you make to your website to help it appear better in search results. For local SEO, the most important on-page factor is to include local keywords on your page. If you have only one location, you can include the keyword on your homepage. What is a Keyword? A keyword is a word or phrase that a potential customer is typing into Google when looking for a business like yours. For example: Pizza restaurant Hardware store near me Dentist in Las Vegas If you have multiple locations, you’ll want to create a location page for each city you are in. Include the localized version of the keyword (pizza restaurant Miami) in the title tag and H1 tag of the page. Learn more about keyword research here. In conclusion, local search optimization is the key to unlocking your business' full potential. By implementing the strategies and tips outlined in this guide, you can improve your online presence and attract more customers to your doorstep. Remember that optimizing for local search is an ongoing process, and you should always be looking for ways to improve.