Local searches are big business. According to comScore, 88 percent of smartphone users and 84% of tablet owners conduct local searches on a regular basis. That works out to about 70% of all Internet users performing local searches regularly.

And there’s more to this than volume. Local searches are also more than twice as likely to result in a purchase. That’s according to Google’s own May 2014 study, Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior.

Consumers purchase at higher rate

Local searches have a high rate of conversion. If you’re a local business, I’m quite sure you knew that already. You want as much of this local, targeted, valuable traffic as you can get. The trouble is getting it.

Understanding SEO can be murky at best, and local SEO can be even murkier still. The good news is, you don’t have to be an SEO genius to get the traffic you need. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, or do months of research. We’ve done the heavy lifting for you. This post outlines the most important things you need to do to get your site ranked for local searches.

This is not an exhaustive list of everything you could do for your local SEO, but it is designed to deliver the best ROI for your time. And if you’re a small business owner, I know you’re short on time. So let’s dive in.

1. Make your site mobile friendly

It’s critical for your site to be optimized for mobile devices. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, all your other local SEO work is just driving people to a site they’ll hate and leave. It would be like pouring water into a bucket with a great big hole in it.

In the words of Google, from their 2013 Our Mobile Planet Smartphone Research report:

Appearing on smartphones is critical for local businesses. 94% of smartphone users look for local information on their phone and 84% take action as a result, such as making a purchase or contacting the business.

That was just 2013. As you may know already, 2014 was the year mobile traffic outpaced desktop traffic on the Internet. And 2015 isn’t showing any signs of a slowdown.

Think about it. Last year the bulk of Internet traffic came from mobile devices, not desktops. Mobile searches are now happening more often than desktop searches. And mobile users are also far more likely to search for local businesses.

So if it’s that important, how do you make your site mobile-friendly? Start with Google’s own tool for a free assessment of how mobile friendly your site is. Just enter your site’s URL and see what it says. You’ll get a checklist of what to improve, and a guide telling you how to improve it.

Mobile Friendly Test

For detailed information on everything there is to know about how Google views mobile sites, see their Mobile Guide. There’s a section on how to make your mobile site SEO friendly. If you’ve set up a Google Webmaster account, you’ll have access to the extremely handy Mobile usability report in your account.

2. Do basic local SEO optimization on your site

To make sure your site shows up for local searches, first you need to make sure it’s optimized for search engines. Here’s your punch list:

  • Add your complete address, phone number and business hours to the footer of your website.
  • Add an alt tag to your site’s logo. Include your company’s name, city, state, address, and business type in the alt tag.
  • Add at least 300 words of content to your home page. This is really important so people understand what your business does, who you serve, and what your approach is. If you’ve got a lot of images, that’s fine, but consider adding some captions to them. After headlines, image captions are the second most-often read pieces of copy.
  • Don’t spam or stuff copy with keywords. Spamming would be to add zip codes or locations to your site that you don’t serve. Keyword stuffing would be to repeat your business name and primary keywords three times in every alt tag on your website.
  • Write a descriptive, keyword-centric, unique title tag for every page on your site. Here’s a guide to creating better title tags and headings.
  • Use H1/H2/H3 headings throughout your site, and include your city name in them. If it makes sense, include the name of the neighborhood you’re in (New York City’s Upper East Side, or Philadelphia’s Willow Grove, for example). Your website should be set up using proper CSS markup so these tags are both attractive and consistent.

To give you an idea of what kind of information people want to see from a local business, here’s a chart from Local Search Association & Burke Inc.’s Local Media Tracking Study, June 2014. It shows which information consumers want to find out from a local listing:

local listing
Source: SearchEngineLand

As you can see, location, phone number, and hours of operation are key, so if any of this information changes, you should always make sure your website is updated as soon as possible.

3. Set up your Google My Business listing

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll have seen Google’s business listings go through a series of iterations. Google My Business is the latest. A listing is still free, and if you could have only one listing on the entire Internet, this would be the place to have it.

Fill out your company information as completely as possible in your profile. Choose as many business categories as your business qualifies for. Upload images of your business, add business hours – everything. For your phone number, use your local phone number, not an 800 number or call center number. Always use your physical address, not a P.O. box.

Search Engine Land has a detailed walk-through of exactly how to set up your Google My Business listing. This video from Online Marketing Giant also has some useful tips.

4. Set up your Yahoo Local Basic listing

There are three kinds of listings local businesses can get on Yahoo: Local Enhanced Listings ($9.95/mo), Yahoo! Localworks ($29.99/mo) and Yahoo! Local Basic Listings. Only the basic is free. You’ll have to scroll down to the bottom of the Yahoo listings landing page to see the basic option.

5. Set up a Bing Places for Business listing

Bing doesn’t have the audience that Google does, but it still powers nearly a third of all searches, which means it’s worth your time to set up a listing there. Just head over to Bing Places for Business and follow the instructions. It’s free.

6. Set up Apple Maps Connect

Despite its struggles, the Apple Maps app is still widely used. Apple is trying to improve the app by letting business owners add their own listings. The listing is free. You’ll need an Apple ID to sign up.

7. Start building a steady, slow trickle of customer reviews

Reviews are an important part of doing business. And as you can see from the Local Media Tracking Study, 38 percent of searchers are looking for them. Get reviews from:

There’s a whole art to getting reviews. It’s one of the biggest topics of local SEO. The two most important things to know about reviews are:

  • Don’t pay for reviews
  • Don’t let someone else buy reviews for you

Getting reviews will help you, especially with Google. Having 25 or more positive reviews from Google users has been shown to boost SEO rankings. Yelp, however, discourages businesses from asking for reviews.

Despite the conflicting rules, most SEO experts recommend asking for reviews. You can prompt people to leave a review by placing a cute sign near checkout. You can offer small incentives, like one free coffee refill. You can add a poster and a QR code to the back of bathroom stalls. Search Engine Land published an article all about getting reviews. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point.

Try not to focus too exclusively on just getting reviews. What you’re really after is happy customers. Stay focused on making sure your customers are satisfied, and the reviews will show up, especially if you leave subtle reminders about how much a nice review can help your business.

8. Check your business listing on the major directories and sites

These websites feed search engines and other sources of local data:

Having a listing on them can help a lot. The flow of information for local SEO listings can be truly mind-boggling, as this chart from Moz Local shows:

The Local Search Ecosystem

These listings bring up a very important acronym you’ll hear a lot in Local Search: NAP. It stands for name, address, and phone number. It’s critical that your NAP information be consistent across different platforms and databases. Even something as minor as a misplaced apostrophe can cause problems. Sometimes WAP is used instead. In that case, it refers to website, address, and phone number.

9. Add local directory listings

If you can afford it, a listing from your local Chamber of Commerce is one of the best listings you’ll get. But it’s not the last word. Which local directories are right for your business will change based on where in the county you are, and what kind of business you are. That said, this list of the Top 50 Local Directories from Digital Sherpa is good, recent, and definitely comprehensive. Focus your time on the biggest sites.

As with all your other listings, be 100% sure your business information is consistent. For example, if you’ve been spelling out “Avenue” for your other business listings, don’t switch over to using “Ave.” for these listings.

10. Build your social following

There are whole books on this of course. And while “build your social following” sounds like something you could hire a full-time person to do, you don’t need to go that far. Just do what you can on social. You don’t need to update your Facebook page every single day – once a week is okay. You don’t need to tweet every day. Try using a tool like Buffer to save some time.

Complete this list, and you’ll be well along the way to getting more local traffic. The odds are good you’ll also have done considerably more local SEO work than your competition.

Of course, there’s always more to know about SEO, and it’s always changing fast. Local SEO best practices change especially quickly. If I’ve left anything out here, or if one of your local SEO tactics has worked especially well, please tell us about it in the comments.

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