Local SEO best practices – things to do & not to do

The growth and ubiquity of the smartphone means that local SEO is more important than ever, and some of the techniques for improving rankings are very simple, and free. 

Local SEO ranking factors

There are hundreds of signals that impact local SEO rankings, but the factors that have the biggest impact can be split it into the following:

  • Place page factors.
  • On-page factors.
  • NAP listings and citations – Link signals.
  • Reviews.

The Moz 2013 Local Search Ranking Factors survey is a great resource for learning about local SEO. Moz compiled the responses of a host of leading industry names and created a report on the findings. The image below provides a breakdown of the findings on how much weight each of the different signals possesses:

Local SEO: Dos

Optimise local pages for target local keywords

The page’s title tag should include the brand name, the keyword being targeted and the location. You should also think about this with the meta description of the page. This should be possible to achieve without making either page or meta description come across as unnatural, as the objective remains to optimise for both users and search engines. If you only have one address, you could also include it within your footer as an additional reference. Here’s a example from Feng Sushi (click for larger image):

The areas bordered in red shows where the on-page content has used target keyphrases, such as ‘sushi delivery Kensington’. Crucially, the page has achieved this without compromising the user experience or appearing unnatural.

Have Google Place / Google+ local pages for each local business location

This is a now a no-brainer. It allows businesses to create a (free) listing that will appear next to relevant search results. Google places these results in a prominent position on desktop search results, even more so on mobile.

As you can see from the screenshots, Latium and Black and Blue have secured themselves very prominent positions on desktop and mobile

Ensure that citations, NAP listings and on-page address references are consistent

NAP (name, address, phone number) citations are a key ranking factor in local SEO and Google looks at them in a similar way to how they look at links in conventional SEO. NAP citations from relevant and authoritative websites provide more value, just like with links.
Google also recognises partial citations, so references of business name + address or address + phone number. Here’s an example of a citation, as used by Feng Sushi in the previous screenshot:
Feng Sushi
13 Stoney Street London
020 7407 8744
A good place to start with NAP citations is the key third-party websites, such as Yell and Thomson Local. These websites are seen as trusted review sites by Google, who will also look at the reviews on these pages and include them within places pages.

Use Place Schema To Markup Your Address

Schema.org provides a collection of html tags that sites can use to mark up pages so they are recognised by the search engines. Place schemas allow you to ensure that address and place data is used in a search-friendly format. Here’s a quick guide from Search Engine Watch.

Encourage Your Customers To Leave Reviews On Google And Third-Party Websites

More reviews help you to improve your rank, and to achieve higher click throughs from local search results. Why not provide a gentle prompt for customers to leave a review with a subtle sign in your shop, on menus, on business cards, receipts etc?

Use Your Customer Email Database To Generate Reviews From Loyal Customers

You have an email database, so why not use it?

Build Google+ Into Your Local Search Strategy To Optimise For Personalised Search

With Google+, it isn’t just a case of adding the listing and leaving it. You can add images, details on piaces, links to your website, and so on, which all help to give your listing greater appeal to searchers. With personalised search, interaction with your Google+ listings can have an impact on your local search visibility, so the more appealing your pages and product, the better.

Local SEO Don’ts

  • Make your information copy unnatural or spammy (on your Google Places / Google+ Local pages) – This looks awful, will deter many potential customers, and may land you in trouble with the search engines.
  • Try to build Google Places pages that aren’t related to your physical address – This defeats the object.
  • Pay for fake reviews – As above, this may be tempting, but fake reviews will look fake, and people will soon smell a rat.
  • Write fake reviews yourself – If you have one or two negative reviews, or the reviews are coming in at a slow rate, it may be a temptation to add one or two yourself. Again, as with fake reviews, these can be spotted, and the loss of credibility would be harder to recover from than the odd bad review.

Don’t Forget Your Online Reputation

You can ask for reviews, add listings on Google +, Yelp and elsewhere, but what you really want is lots of good reviews. This can only be achieved by providing an excellent customer experience, and making every effort to ensure that you have a good reputation is essential. In today’s socially/digitally connected world, many things can affect your online reputation and have an impact on search results.
Take the Lysses House Hotel in Hampshire for example. A dispute over refunding a bereaved veteran’s payment for a party resulted in an extreme social media backlash which has demolished the review scores of the hotel. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, long after the news is forgotten, this is likely to impact clickthrough rates and therefore bookings via local search.