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

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.

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.

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.

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