Local SEO Checklist (2021) — 10 Key Tips on How to Rank Locally

Local SEO

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


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 a large number of results.

Amongst these results, you’ll typically find large chains occupying the top spots – in the UK, where I’m based, stores like Evans, Halfords and Rutland Cycling (all 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?

Well, in the below local SEO checklist, I’ll take you through the key things you do to make your site rank highly in your area. It doesn’t matter what website builder you’re using (WordPress, Shopify, Squarespace etc.) — these tips will help you gain more visibility where you need it most.

Let’s start with a look at Google My Business.


1. Register your business with Google My Business

Creating a Google My Business profile takes five minutes, and is one of the 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 in Dublin
Because these Dublin 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).

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

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 important to make sure the descriptions of your products and services on your website reflect what people are actually searching for.

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 a ‘sweet spot’ — a phrase that describe 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.

(You might like to 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 leads 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 page containing information about your product and service reference your location in five 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

(Each page should have distinct copy on it however; Google doesn’t like duplicate content and can penalise it in search results).

One thing to bear in mind with this however 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 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 your directory entry in the top 5 results. This means that even if you are struggling to get a high ranking for your site, you may still get visibility for your business in search results.

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 consistent with addresses

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

This is because if search engine algorithms regularly encounter conflicting address information (‘local citations’) 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 BIG 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!

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.


7. Build backlinks that include location in anchor text

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

As you might expect, they’re hugely important to local SEO too.

To boost performance in local search results, you should 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.’

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


8. Create high-quality content which 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 a two main reasons: first, they tend to be keyword-rich, making it generally more likely that your content matches a variety of search queries.

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 which 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 — and a link 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

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.

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 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

More SEO tips

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.

Access all our SEO resources

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