Local SEO Checklist — 10 Key Tips on How to Rank Locally

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Local SEO checklist (graphic)

In this local SEO checklist, I’m going to walk you through 10 simple steps that you can take to ensure maximum visibility for your business in your area.



Why local SEO matters

Let’s say you run a bike shop.

Now, there are loads of bike shops out there, and typing this phrase into Google will provide an extremely large number of search results.

Amongst these, you’ll typically find large chains occupying the top spots. Where I’m based, 3 household-name bike retailers occupy positions in the top 5 search results for this phrase.

Despite this, my local independent bike shop outranks them all and is the first result I see when I search for a bike shop.

Why?

Because search engines pay huge attention to the geographical location of the searcher — and my local bike shop owner was smart enough to recognize this and take some simple steps to ensure maximum visibility for his store in my area.

So how can you take advantage of local SEO?

Let’s find out, starting with a look at something very important to local SEO: Google My Business.


1. Register your business with Google My Business

Creating a Google My Business profile takes just a few minutes, and is one of the very easiest things you can do to ensure visibility in local search results.

When you set up your profile, you supply your business address to Google. Google then sends a card to your business address containing a PIN which you use to verify the address.

Once that’s done, within a couple of days you should see your business included on the map that Google displays when users in your area enter a search for your type of service.

Google local search results for restaurants
Because these restaurant owners have made an effort to register their premises with Google My Business, and create really strong profiles on the service, their businesses come up before any other search results for the phrase ‘restaurants in Dublin.’ Accordingly, they enjoy a massive advantage over their competitors.

Depending on how many other similar businesses in your area have registered with Google My Business, you may even find yourself occupying the top spot!

If you run a business which has offices in several locations, you should register those in Google My Business too (if you have several locations, you can bulk upload them).

Tip: Give Google all the local information it needs

When setting up your Google My Business profile, it’s really important that you provide all the information that Google asks you for, including business category, services, products and opening hours.

This is because the more information that you can supply to Google, the more likely it is to surface your business in local search results.

As you enter your business information, Google gives you a score for how complete your listing is — try your best to get this up to 100%.

The below video gives you some additional tips on how to improve your local ranking with Google My Business.


2. Ensure you’re using the right keywords for your products and services

It’s really important to make sure that the descriptions of your products and services on your website reflect what people are actually searching for in your area.

There’s no point, for example, in referring constantly to ‘automobiles’ throughout your website, when people are actually searching for ‘cars.’

To avoid making these sorts of errors, you’ll need to use a keyword research tool like Semrush or Ahrefs. These let you find out what the most popular search phrases for businesses like yours are — and how difficult it will be to rank for them locally too.

Performing keyword research in Semrush.
Performing keyword research in Semrush.

Using a keyword research tool, for example, you might find out that there are a lot more searches for “New York Plumber” than “Plumber New York”.

You might also find that ‘New York Plumber’ is considerably more difficult to rank for than ‘Plumber in Queens NY.’

You can basically use this sort of data to identify your ‘sweet spot’ keyword — a phrase that describes your services but also stands a reasonably good chance of performing well for you in search results. Once you have this phrase, you can optimize your content around it.

Tip: check out our Semrush review, our Semrush pricing guide, our Ahrefs vs Semrush comparison or our Moz vs Semrush comparison for more information about keyword research tools.

What is a keyword difficulty score?

Search engines generally treat links to a web page as ‘votes’ for it (so long as the links in question are genuine, and on high-quality websites). More of these ‘votes’ generally lead to higher search rankings.

Accordingly, keyword research tools look at how many links point to the websites that are already performing well in search — and calculate difficulty score based on that.

So, for example, ‘New York Times’ would be a keyword with a really high difficulty score, because The New York Times website has millions of websites already linking to it.


3. Ensure your location is referenced in key parts of your site

You should make sure that your home page and any other important pages containing information about your product and service reference your location in four key places: 

Additionally, it’s worth adding the location in the URL where relevant.

For example, if you ran a chain of curry houses, with locations in three parts of London, I’d suggest creating three separate pages with three separate URLs, for example:

www.mycurrysite.com/brixton-curry
www.mycurrysite.com/walthamstow-curry
www.mycurrysite.com/hampstead-curry

It’s important to note that each page should have very distinct copy on it; Google doesn’t like duplicate content and can penalize it in search results.

One thing to bear in mind with this is that you might need to think about how wide to cast the net when referencing your location.

For some businesses (perhaps those offering goods and services in a very specific area) it will make sense to take a ‘hyper-local’ approach — i.e., to use the town or suburb they are based in as a focus keyword.

For others, where there is perhaps less competition for the services they provide, or a desire to sell to customers in a slightly wider geographical area, it might make more sense to reference the name of a county or state in key parts of their site.

Again, keyword research can be your friend here — see above!

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4. Submit your site to high-quality local directories

Submitting your sites to quality local directories can significantly boost your position in search results.

First, Google indexes the directory entries — and if the directory is reputable, it may return the directory entry in a high position in search.

This means that even if you are struggling to get a high ranking for a particular URL on your site, you may still get visibility for your business via search results from other sites.

Submitting your site to quality directories can help from a local SEO point of view.
Submitting your site to quality local directories can help from a local SEO point of view.

Second, you may get a backlink out of it, which can enhance general performance in search results.

Third, you will make your business more visible to anyone using those directories.

It is very important, however, to only submit your site to high-quality directories — not all directories are reputable and submitting them to the wrong ones can have a negative effect on rankings.

Important: be extremely consistent with contact details

It’s really important to be very consistent when submitting your business’ contact details to any online directories — always enter them in the exact same way.

This is because engines look for consistent ‘NAP’ citations — ‘NAP’ standing for name, address and phone number — and if they regularly encounter conflicting contact information this can raise a ‘red flag’ about the authenticity of your business, with negative consequences for its visibility in search results.


5. Seek out online reviews — particularly Google ones

Google has this to say about reviews on Google My Business:

High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.

Source: Google My Business Help

In my view, this is a fairly large hint that Google treats Google My Business reviews as a ranking signal.

So, it’s important to encourage any customers who are happy with your product or service to leave a review.

Google reviews - a key thing to tick off on a local SEO checklist
Getting Google reviews – a key thing to tick off on a local SEO checklist

You can use ‘Google Place IDs’ to give your satisfied customers a direct link to a page where they can leave a review – Google provides some useful information on how to do this on their Google My Business Help site.

Not only can these reviews help to give you a positive ranking signal, but the little stars beside your business name that appear after a customer writes a review will also help your business stick out from the crowd on Google’s map results.


6. Use Schema’s geographic markup

Schema.org is a collaboration between Bing, Google, Yandex, and Yahoo! that lets you provide the information their search engines need to better understand your content — and provide the most relevant search results.

Adding Schema code to your site also enables these search engines to display ‘extra’ information about it in search results — for example star ratings, pricing information or reviewer information.

Example of Schema markup being used to display star ratings and pricing information via 'rich snippets.'
Example of Schema markup being used to display star ratings and pricing information.

Schema has a particular type of code — ‘geographic markup’ — that lets search engines (and users) know more about your business location, and adding it can have positive implications for your business when it comes to local search results. So make sure you do!

But before you go crazy with Schema markup, it’s worth taking a read of Google’s guidelines on how to use it — this will help make sure that you don’t end up doing anything spammy.

For more detailed information on geographic markup and local SEO, I’d suggest taking a look at Search Engine Journal’s article on how to use Schema markup for local SEO, as well as Schema.org’s Local Business section.


Backlinks — links from other sites to yours — are absolutely vital to the general visibility of your site in search results.

This is because Google treats them as ‘votes’ for your website, and rewards websites with larger numbers of links pointing to them with higher positions in search results (so long as the links in question are from relevant, high-quality sites).

As you might expect, backlinks are hugely important to local SEO too.

To boost performance in local search results, you should occasionally encourage anyone kind enough to give you a backlink to include the location of your business in the backlink. This emphasizes the location of your business to search engines.

To go back to our bike shop example, this would simply mean trying to build links to ‘bike shop in Brixton’ instead of ‘bike shop.’

I say ‘occasionally’ because you don’t want to overdo this — too much inclusion of location keywords can come across as spammy, raise red flags to search engine algorithms and result in a penalization.

Finally, it’s a good idea to source local backlinks if possible too (i.e., from businesses that operate near you). This can send a signal to search engines that your site is relevant to a particular geographic area.


8. Create high-quality content that references your local area

Sites that feature in-depth, informative articles on topics that people are genuinely interested in tend to perform well in search results.

This is for two main reasons: first, they tend to be keyword-rich, making it generally more likely that your content matches a variety of search queries.

High-quality content is key to generating organic traffic — and this applies to local SEO too.
High-quality content is key to generating organic traffic — and this applies to local SEO too.

Second, if they’re particularly good resources, other site owners will create ‘backlinks’ to them, something which, as discussed above, generates higher placements in search results.

The same rules apply to local SEO, and if you can write quality blog posts about your business niche that involve the geographical area you operate in, you may find yourself doing rather nicely in local search results.

Using our bike shop example (yet again!), a way to get some traction in local search results for bike-related services might be to blog about good cycling routes in the area.

This increases the chances of cyclists in your area arriving at your blog post and learning not just about a great new cycle route but about the fact that your business services bicycles too.


9. Try to get local online coverage

It’s definitely worth approaching local news sites asking for some coverage of your business (or content).

Given the local angle, many of these news sites will be more than happy to provide you with a backlink – and this backlink might pass on a significant amount of ‘link juice.’

News sites, even local ones, tend to have a lot of authority, because a lot of other sites link to them — so a backlink from one of these can really boost your position in search results.

Local press coverage
It can be a lot easier to get coverage for your business in a local newspaper than a national one — but doing so can nonetheless give you some very valuable backlinks.

It’s also likely that Google’s algorithms will take note of the context in which these links appear – i.e., on sites which are about your local area – and associate your site with that location.


10. Ensure your website performs well on mobile devices

A man using a mobile phone to get local search results.
Getting local SEO right is particularly important when it comes to meeting the needs of mobile phone users.

The majority of searches are now carried out on mobile devices; and according to Hubspot, 61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site.

Google prioritises sites that perform well on mobile phones too.

So, if your website is not performing well on a smartphone, you stand to lose out when it comes to local SEO.

Accordingly, you should make sure that your website is responsive (i.e., adapts automatically to display correctly on a smartphone) and loads very quickly on a mobile device.

You can use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool to check how your site currently performs on a mobile device.

It’s also worth running your site through Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool, which will tell you how fast your mobile site is loading and whether or not it meets Google’s new Core Web Vitals standards.

(Core Web Vitals are a new set of targets relating to the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of a website — sites that meet them can benefit from higher search rankings).

Google’s mobile friendly testing tool
Google’s mobile friendly testing tool lets you check how your site is currently performing on mobile devices.

Local SEO — summing up

I hope you’ve found our guide to local SEO helpful! I’m going to leave you with a quick checklist of the tasks you need to complete to maximise visibility of your site in search.

Local SEO checklist / cheatsheet

  • Register your business with Google My Business
  • Perform keyword research to ensure you’re using the right words to describe your products and services
  • Ensure your location is referenced in key parts of your site
  • Submit your site to high-quality local directories
  • Seek out online reviews — particularly Google ones
  • Use Schema’s geographic markup to help search engines determine your business’ location
  • Build backlinks that include location in anchor text
  • Create high-quality content which references your local area
  • Try to get local online coverage
  • Ensure your website performs well on mobile

Local SEO FAQs

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is a search engine optimization strategy that helps your business become more visible in local search results on Google and other search engines. Common tasks involved with local SEO include registering your site with Google My Business, identifying the best local keywords for your site and submitting your business’ name, address and phone number (‘NAP’) to high-quality local directories.

How can I improve my local SEO?

The quickest way to improve your local SEO is to ensure you’ve registered your website with Google My Business. Other key steps you can take include local keyword research (to ensure that you’re using the phrases that your local customers are searching for); referencing your location in key parts of your site; and using Schema’s geographic markup to help search engines determine your business’ location.

What are the benefits of local SEO?

The benefits of local SEO include increased visibility for your business in your local area, more relevant traffic and ultimately increased sales.

Can you do local SEO yourself?

Yes! Most local SEO work is pretty straightforward — you don’t need any special skills to perform key tasks like registering your business with Google My Business, adding more references to location on your website, seeking out reviews or submitting your website to local directories. You may get faster results from working with an SEO professional when it comes to keyword research and backlink building — but these tasks can definitely be carried out yourself too.

Who needs local SEO?

Any business that primarily sells products or services to members of their local community (as opposed to nationally or internationally) needs local SEO.


More SEO tips from Style Factory

The above tips should definitely help make a difference to the performance of your site in local search results, but they’re only scratching the surface of SEO! 

If you’re interested in finding out more about the whole topic of search engine optimization, and want to make really significant improvements to your site’s performance in Google, then do join our community below. You’ll get access to all our latest free SEO resources, along with other extremely useful tips for growing your online business.

Download our free SEO toolkit

For a limited time we’re offering our readers some excellent free SEO tools and resources. Sign up now to immediately receive:

  • our downloadable cheatsheet containing the 20 key steps to ranking highly in search results
  • extended free trials and discounts for leading SEO tools
  • our downloadable cheatsheet on how to grow organic traffic to a blog
  • 2 in-depth guides to SEO
  • ongoing free tips and advice on SEO and growing your business
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View privacy notice.

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