what is local seo

What is Local SEO: A Guide for Small Businesses

Whether someone needs a landscaper, locksmith or lawyer, they’ll often use Google to find a local business.

“But what about Facebook? Or Instagram?” I hear you say. Yes, of course social media is important for local businesses, but if you’re not optimising your visibility in Google, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to get new leads.

There are over 90,000 Google searches happening every second, and almost half of these are looking for local businesses.

So if you want to attract new customers and grow your small business, you’ll need to make sure local customers can find you at the top of Google search results.

This is where local SEO comes in. It’s all about helping your potential customers discover your business and take action – whether that’s getting directions, calling or visiting your business or requesting a quote.

In this guide I’ll break down exactly what local SEO is, how it works, and how to optimise your online presence to achieve a much-coveted spot on page one of Google.

Ready to dive in? Let’s do it!

What is local SEO?

Local SEO (local search engine optimisation) is the process of improving your business’ visibility in Google when one of two things happen:

  1. Someone in your local area searches for your services
  2. Someone searches for your services and includes your location in the keyword

For example, if I’m based in Sydney and I search for “landscape service”, “landscaper near me” or “sydney landscaping”, Google will show me landscaping companies in my local area.

The aim of local SEO is to optimise your business information and content, so that Google displays your business at the top of page 1 when someone is searching for your local services.

What are local SEO results?

When someone performs a local search, Google displays local businesses either in the organic search results, or the Google maps feature (called the Local Pack) just below the paid search listings.

Where your business appears will depend on the keyword being used, the type of content on your website, and how well your website and local business listings are optimised.

Search results will also differ based on what Google knows about the searcher, including their previous search history, location (if they have location settings on) and device. This is why even for keywords that don’t contain a location keyword, local results will appear.

Organic Listings

  • Results will differ depending on the keyword, searcher’s location, search history and device
  • Local businesses are displayed even when the keyword doesn’t include a location
  • Web pages optimised with local keywords will be displayed

Local Pack

  • Appears for location and ‘near me’ searches as well as generic searches
  • Includes contact details and directions
  • Shows your Google Review rating
  • Local business listings are managed through Google My Business

Who is local SEO for?

Local SEO strategies should be implemented by any small business that has a local presence. This could be a business with a brick and mortar location, like a store or office that customers can visit. Examples include florists, cafés, hotels, physiotherapists and lawyers.

Local SEO is also important for small businesses that provide a service to customers in a specific area, such as a plumber, personal trainer, flower delivery service, interior designer or dog walker.

Why is local SEO important?

Local SEO helps potential customers find your business, providing them with important information quickly and easily. But it also allows them to take action – whether that’s reading reviews, getting directions, visiting or calling your business, or viewing your website to find out about your services.

Local searches are more likely to drive action than non-local searches. In fact, 88% of searches for local businesses on mobile either call or visit the business within 24 hours.

So it’s important that your website and local business listings are optimised if you want to increase your online visibility and generate more leads for your small business.

Want to know more? Read my article 7 Reasons Why SEO is Important for Your Business.

How does local SEO work?

The Google algorithm uses 200 different ranking signals to understand and rank web pages. But when it comes to local SEO, there are three factors that determine which businesses are displayed in search results.

Relevance: How well your local business profile matches the keywords people are searching for. Your local business profile is made up of all the info Google has collected about your business. It includes details from your Google My Business listing, your social media profiles, the content on your website, and any other mentions of your business across the web, including directory sites such as Yellow Pages or Yelp.

Distance: How far your business is from the target location. Based on your local business profile, Google will determine whether your business is close to the location used in the search. Or, if a location keyword isn’t used in the search, Google will try to understand where the searcher is located based on info such as their Google account details and location settings.

Prominence: How well known your business is. Google determines your online prominence by looking at a number of factors, including your Google review rating, the number of Google reviews you have, your position in non-local search results, and the number of websites that mention or link back to your website (and the quality of these websites). The more prominent your business is, the more likely you are to rank on page 1 of local search results.

What are the local SEO ranking factors?

So I’ve touched on how Google uses relevance, distance and prominence to display the best results for a local search, but it’s important to understand what exactly Google looks for if you want to get your business to page 1.

There are a number of local SEO ranking factors that will help you optimise your business for local search. Let’s get into it.

Your Google Business Profile

Your Google Business Profile is a free tool that allows you to manage and optimise how your business information appears in Google search and Google maps. It’s where you submit your local business information to Google, including your business address, phone number, trading hours, business description, photos and more.

Optimising your Google Business profile helps Google understand where your business is located, and the types of services you provide. It’s also one of the top ranking factors for appearing in search results against local and ‘near me’ keywords, and you won’t be able to rank in the Local Pack without one.

If you only do one thing in your business to improve your local SEO, it should be to optimise your Google My Business listing. Head to Google Business and click Start Now to set up your listing. Just make sure you’re signed into the Google account you want associated with your business listing.

Your online reviews

We know that Google reviews are an important local ranking factor because they’re used by Google to determine your business’ prominence. The number of Google Reviews you have, as well as the sentiment of these reviews (whether the majority are positive or negative) will determine where your business appears in local search results.

Essentially, the more positive Google reviews you have, the better your business will rank for local searches. It’s also been shown that online reviews across 3rd party websites like Tripadvisor, Yelp and Facebook can have an impact on your local SEO rankings.

But online reviews also provide a number of other benefits for your small business – they help build trust and are the biggest driver of clicks in Google’s local search results.

Your local SEO citations

Any time your business’s contact information appears on another website, this is called a citation.

Local SEO citations help boost your visibility in local search as they increase your prominence – the more often your company’s info appears online, the more prominent your business appears to Google. Local citations also help build trust with potential customers who can see that your information is widely available across the web.

Your Google My Business listing is the most important citation, but there are many other websites where your business information should be listed. These include review sites, local directories, social media platforms, and industry specific directories.

If you’re not sure which directories are relevant for your industry or niche, just Google your services – for example “landscape designers” and see which sites appear in search results.

Some listing sites allow you to add more information than others, but the three details you need to include in each local citation is your Name, Address and Phone Number. This is what’s referred to as NAP, and it’s really important that your NAP is accurate and consistent across all directory sites, and for each of your local business locations (if you have multiple locations).

If your details are inconsistent and don’t match from site to site, this can impact your local SEO rankings and signal to Google that your listings are outdated or incorrect.

Your on-page SEO optimisation

In some ways, local SEO works much the same as traditional SEO. By this, I mean that your local SEO rankings are also influenced by the quality and relevance of your website content.

If you want to appear for searches in your local area, you need to let Google know which area you service.

As well as looking at your Google My Business listing, Google will review the content on your website to assess how relevant your business is for particular location keywords, or the location of the searcher when they search for your services.

There are a few ways to optimise your website content for local searches:

  • Add your location (region, city, suburb) to the page title of each of your pages eg. Sydney Landscapers | Full Service Landscape Design & Build
  • Add an Areas Serviced page to your website, and list out the regions, cities or suburbs that you service. How granular you go will depend on your local service area.
  • If your business has multiple locations, add a unique page for each branch, store or office. Each page should include that location’s address and contact details as well as unique content about the team, location, facilities, or unique services. Make sure to include specific keywords for each location.
  • Create local content. Depending on your niche, this could be anything from local area guides or things to do, to local case studies showcasing previous client work.

The number and quality of your local backlinks

Just like traditional SEO, backlinks are an important ranking factor for local SEO.

A backlink is when another website mentions your business or content and provides a link back to your website from theirs. It’s kind of like a shout out from that website about your business.

Backlinks help improve your SEO visibility by building the trust and relevance of your website with Google. The more high-quality websites that mention your business or share your website content, the higher relevance and authority you have in Google’s eyes (and the higher your website will rank).

Local links work in the same way, but are done specifically to build relevance and prominence of your business in relation to it’s location. Directory listings can be a form of local link building, but there are a number of other ways you can build local links to your website.

Consider the organisations and websites in your local area and how you might be able to get them to link back to your website. Some websites will happily include your business in their directory if you ask, but for others you may need to provide a value exchange by offering:

  • A guest blog – you write a blog post that sits on their website and they credit you as the author
  • A comment for a news article or opinion piece
  • A (genuine) donation or sponsorship
  • A reciprocal link – you provide a link back to their website

Just remember that you want to build these links in a natural way by building relationships and providing value for your local community – not just to boost your rankings.

hi there

I'm Rhiannon Carnohan

Self-Professed Google Geek & Passionate Small Business Supporter. Rhi is your go-to SEO cheerleader, empowering the do-ers and creatives with the SEO know-how to level up their services so they can finally feel like they’re making a damn difference in the world.
Web designer's SEO checklist

The Web Designer's SEO Checklist

Want to make sure you’re integrating SEO best practices into your web design process? This step-by-step checklist will ensure your websites not only look stunning but also rank at the top of search engine results. 

how to create rank worthy blog posts

How to Create #1 Google Ranking-Worthy Blog Posts in 10 Easy Steps

Discover the essential steps and insider tips to craft compelling and SEO-optimised content that not only captivates your audience but also gets your blogs going further with Google.