What Is Local SEO and How Can I Improve My Local Rankings?

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that you can gain higher local search rankings. Over a third of all searches in 2014 will be local and when you include non geo-targeted keywords that trigger local results, the number nears 50%!

As Google continues to gain a better understanding of users search intent they are going to show local results for more non location specific search terms as well, making local search the leading type. This means searching a phrase like “best bakeries” could return local businesses mixed in with the organic results. The bottom line, if you have a business that can service local customers or has a physical address, you need to be optimizing for local search.

In case you are new to local search, a geo-targeted term is one that includes a location such as “bakeries in St. Louis”.  Including a location triggers the local results pack or the carousel results in most occasions. The term “bakeries in St. Louis” triggered the carousel, here is what that looks like.

Google Carousel Local Results

What is the Google Carousel?

As you can see above, that Google Carousels is a photo rich, horizontally scrolled search result that appears above the number one organic result. The carousel offers nine local results without scrolling as opposed the traditional local results pack with features seven listings. The carousel pulls images and data from user reviews, public uploads, and your photo uploads to your G + Local page.

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How to Optimize for Carousel Results

Optimizing for the carousel is a pretty simple process and it is certainly worth spending the time required to do so. Here are the steps you should take to make sure your carousel ready.

  • Claim Your G+ Page and Fill it Out Completely
  • Add High Quality Photos to Your G+
  • Get Customer Reviews on Your G+ Page
  • Build Local Citations

Additionally, getting reviews on sites like Yelp can help your overall rating in the carousel and though it will not improve your ranking, a noticeable increase in click-through-rates has been documented. There are still several search terms that do not trigger the carousel. These terms will return the standard organic results page or the local search pack. In this case I searched the term “St Louis plumbers” and here is what that looks like.

local search-stellar seo

What is the Local Search Pack

The local search pack is the traditional type of local results that includes a listing of seven local businesses related to the term. These listings are returned after the top three organic results and any ads that appear on the top of the page. The rankings of sites in the local pack are based on over 150 known variables.

How to Optimize for Local Search

When you are trying to optimize for local search, citations are the equivalent of traditional link building for organic search.Ensuring that your website is properly optimized, building domain authority, and claiming local listings are all important steps for you to take. Here is a checklist and some tools I like to use to make sure I have taken the most important steps towards ranking locally.

  • Does my name, address, and phone number appear on each page of my website?
  • Does each page of my site have unique content that mentions a product or service in detail?
  • Is my site listed in the top local directories? Moz made a great free tool that will let you check and fix your listings in top directories, it is called GetListed.
  • Do I have all the local citations that my competitors do? You can find this out using tools like Scrapebox or using Google. Simply find the complete addresses of your competitors and use the advanced operator “allintext:” plus the address. This will return the pages mentioning your competitors address, providing you with a gold mine of potential citation sites. Simply repeat this for the top 5-10 competing sites.
  • Do I have reviews of sites like Yelp? If not, you need to encourage people to leave reviews for your business.
  • Does my site have quality inbound links? People often forget that the overall authority of your site is a factor in ranking locally. You need to earn links from other quality sites to boost your authority. Guest posting one of the easiest ways to do this.

Even though the tips mentioned above are pretty simple, many people do not take advantage of local SEO. Taking the time to complete just one step each day can lead to more leads and traffic for your business so do not pass up the wealth of traffic available through local search.

 Common Local SEO Mistakes to Avoid!

Just as easily as taking the right steps can help your site, the wrong steps will lower your rankings and in extreme cases can even get your site penalized. Although you may be eager to get started on your local campaign, here are some common mistakes for you to consider beforehand.

Using a Toll Free 800 Number

Name, address, and phone number (NAP) is one of the leading factors in how you rank locally. If you are using an 800 number, you are missing out on the value and trust of using a number with a local area code. If you aren’t already, use a local number on your website and local citation sites.

Listing a Virtual Address

Google is pretty smart and they know about virtual offices and P.O. boxes. The real problem with virtual addresses is that they can be shared by numerous companies, leading to multiple listings from one address. They are also less trusted as you could take them out in any city, not just your actual location. If you have an office, storage shed, or any other physical address in the location you are targeting, you should use it.

Not Completing Your G+ Profile

Although they deny it, Google loves themselves. Your Google + page is a great opportunity to create an indexed social profile for your business. You should create your profile and provide all the information they ask for. Make sure that you also take care in choosing the best categories for your business. Pictures are also valuable to add as they may be used in the SERPs.

Using the Wrong Keywords

Ever read on of those offers promising to rank your site or your money back? Chances are they intend to rank you for your brand name if all else fails. Ranking for your brand is not a bad thing but it is certainly not going to bring in new traffic in droves. The very point of ranking for a term is to place your business in front of people searching for what you offer that don’t already know about you. The bottom line, make sure the keywords you are choosing are terms people are using!

Neglecting Site Speed

Google loves to provide searchers with the very best results. Your site should load quickly and provide a good user experience. Local SEO or not, 2014 is the year to make sure your site is fast and friendly.

Stuffing Location Unnaturally Into Content

Back in the early days of SEO, keyword stuffing would allow your site to rank higher in the SERPs. It didn’t take long for Google to figure out this method of gaming and eliminate it’s effectiveness. For some reason, people think that stuffing the location and keyword (“St Louis Bakery”) will somehow boost your rankings. This is not true and keyword stuffing can actually lower your rankings so resist the temptation.

Forgetting to Be Social

SearchMetrics did a comprehensive study of the impact of SEO ranking factors and found social shares to be one of the leading influences on rankings. Google +1s and Facebook shares are the top two factors in their study. This means you should make sure to include social sharing buttons on your site to make it easily shared.

Now you are ready to take charge of your local SEO campaign and start reaching more local clients everyday! Remember to take your time, make sure your NAP data is consistent, and focus on quality links.

If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them below.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 19

  • Attila Kovács (TheSolopreneurM) says:

    Hi Travis,

    Great advises.

    How about using business address marked up with microdata on the site?

    How do you see, having a business listed in Google Places effects it’s search ranking?



  • Adding a markup to the address can help Google better understand the text on your site so it is always a good move.

    Having a listing in Google Places (now G+ locals) can be beneficial to your results in the Carousel by providing images for use. It can also be used as a hub for client reviews and can gain page rank as well, giving you a solid local citation to your website.

    I would not have a local business without adding a G+ local page.

    Hope that answers your questions Attila. Thanks for the feedback.

  • howard says:

    I don’t think google is all that smart in detecting virtual office. I have a competitor, “1stop CD duplication” that has virtual offices all over the US and Canada and google still lists it at the top of most locales. In Miami one of their addresses was in the middle of a road intersection and google still couldn’t sort that out.

  • Attila Kovács (TheSolopreneurM) says:

    Thank you!

  • In some cases you may be able to get away with a virtual address as your competitor has, but in many cases it will come back to haunt you.

    Thanks for the feedback Howard!

  • Angie says:

    Great post; but how do you know which keywords you should be using? I am pretty new to all this SEO stuff so any advice would be appreciated.

  • Travis says:

    Selecting keywords is a very important step and many people do not spend enough time finding the right keywords. Brian Dean recently created a guide that covers in detail how to find keywords. I believe it will get you started and answers all your questions. You can find that guide at http://backlinko.com/the-definitive-guide-to-keyword-research

    If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask.

  • Phil says:

    I didn’t realize that using an 800 number would have an impact on how I rank locally, how can I incorporate 800 numbers in for tracking without harming my rankings?

  • David S Freid says:

    You may want to provide the number in a pic. This will allow you to also include a local number in your image attributes. If need be you can lease a local tracking number from one like KALL8.COM and even forward it to your 800 number if that would make sense.

  • Travis says:

    Phil, as David mentioned, adding your 800 number in an image is a good way to get people to call that number. You should make sure that you have your local number in plain text somewhere on each page as well though.

    David, thanks for jumping in and helping out!

  • Chatmeter says:

    Very helpful tips! Having positive reviews about your business can definitely help boost your rankings, but you also have to make sure you’re monitoring these reviews. Sometimes they may be negative and you have to respond to them (http://www.chatmeter.com/so-you-got-a-negative-review-dont-panic-chatmeter-has-the-answer/)

  • Travis says:

    Yes, that is very true. You can use free tools likes Google Alerts to notify you of new mentions of your brand name. You should stay on top of reviews and work with the client to resolve any issues promptly.

    Thanks for chiming in Chatmeter.

  • Scott Witte says:

    Travis, This article has been a huge help in understand local search, especially how important it is becoming. You obviously have great experience with this so what can you offer about the influence/importance of Google Business Photos? For those who don’t know, this is a paid service from Google resulting in photos and virtual tours that appear in the knowledge graph, G+ pages, maps etc.

  • Travis says:


    Great question. I think that Google Business Photos are a great way to may your listing stand out. They are added to your local listing and Google maps. It is a one time fee and in my opinion, it is well worth it.

    In general, people love visual content and being able to tour your business remotely is likely to build their confidence in the quality and authenticity of your brand.

  • Scott Witte says:


    Thanks. Any insight to whether they help local ranking vs “just” improve results from your listing?

    For instance, do a local search for “restaurants in Milwaukee” and you will find that three of the top four results have GBP while none of the others do. Strong correlation. Try Chicago and none of the top 6 use GBP but three of the following 14 do, including #20. No correlation to ranking. Of course similar can be said of star rating, number of reviews, etc.

    So the question remains, is there any way to know if they have any affect on ranking?

  • Travis says:


    As you mentioned in your comment, I am finding a strong mixture of results that use GBP and that do not use GBP.

    I think that is may play a small role in helping your listing, but only if all other ranking factors are the same. Assuming that every single factor was identical for two listings, I would say that the GBP listing would show up higher as it offers rich media, a favorite of Google.

    There are likely some other factors that would have equal weight to GBP in the local algorithm, but I cannot definitively say what they are.

    Moz has a very detailed post on GBP that may answer your question in greater detail, you can find that here: http://moz.com/ugc/google-business-photos-may-correlate-with-higher-local-search-ranking-although-not-a-magic-bullet

    My thought is that if you have a business that can take advantage of GBP, you should because it certainly will not hurt.

  • Scott Witte says:


    Much thanks for your learned insight. 8-)

  • Travis says:

    No problem Scott. I hope you got the answers you were after and if you have any more questions, feel free to ask!

  • abdul kader says:

    Thanks for such an article which is praiseworthy.

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