Local SEO and SEM Best Practices for Businesses

Search engines like Google are one of the first resources people turn to when searching for information about local businesses, so it’s essential to have a presence in the search engine results pages (SERPs). With the increase in micro-moments, or people turning to their phones to learn about goods and services in their time of need, marketers increasingly need to optimize for local searches. We’ll be covering search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) best practices for local businesses.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is a branch of SEO that focuses on optimizing a website to be found in local search results, called the Google Local Pack.

What is Local SEM?

Local SEM is a branch of SEM that focuses on creating ads that are triggered by local keywords for searchers in a specified geographic location.

For those of you who are new to the term “Google Local Pack” let us show you what we mean. Below is an example we found when we searched “pizza near me.” At the top, we have two ads, followed by organic, local results.

How Does Local Search Work?

When users search for a local business, the search engine identifies their location and aims to give them the most relevant, popular search results based on the keywords they used. Google recognizes that if you’re searching for a doctor, you’re most likely looking for someone nearby and serves you paid and organic results based on your location.

How Do SEO and SEM Work Together?

High-quality SEO and SEM complement each other and when executed correctly should lead to better results for both. How exactly do they impact each other? The premise of successful local SEM and SEO strategies both begin with content. To successfully drive users to your website through SEM your ad content should be strong and engaging. Your landing page copy should have very similar messaging to the ads, so users don't feel like they got lost. In other words, your landing page copy should be optimized for your keywords, which are most likely similar to the organic keywords for which you would like to rank. By improving this experience for SEM, you’re also optimizing for SEO and vice-versa.

In addition, when the landing page copy is relevant to the ad copy users feel like they’re having a cohesive experience, which results in users spending more time on your website, taking more actions and ultimately converting at a higher rate. Not only does this do great things for your SEM campaigns like improve your quality scores and lower your cost-per-click, but these behavior metrics are SEO ranking signals as well. While SEM may drive traffic to the site, how users act while on the site will impact your organic rankings. As you can see, there is a strong synergy between local SEO and SEM.

Why are Local SEO and SEM Important?

With 4 in 5 consumers using search engines to find local information, it’s imperative to not only have a presence in the SERPs but to be near the top of the SERPs for keywords related to your business. Are you still not convinced? Well, 50 percent of consumers who conducted a local search query on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34 percent of consumers who searched on a tablet or computer did the same. Searchers come to search engines when they’re confirming a business exists, to find its address and to learn more information.

Local SEO Best Practices

To improve your rankings in the Google Local Pack, you can implement local SEO best practices which include keyword research and optimization using local terms, content creation aimed at your local audience, link building, technical and on-page SEO. Below are some of the essential local SEO best practices to follow.

Clean Up Your Website

Improving your visibility in the search engines begins with following the best practices outlined by Google. Search engines want your website to be as easy as possible for users and search engines to navigate, so best practices revolve around improving user experience and coding. Best practices include removing duplicate content on your website, properly implementing HTML tags and minimizing both on-page and technical SEO errors such as missing metadata or broken links. We recommending running crawls to identify and fix SEO errors using tools like Screaming Frog. Google and other search engines are more likely to give you ranking boosts if you are up-to-date on best practices.

Claim Your Google My Business

Google My Business is a free online tool which businesses can use to manage their online presence across Google. Google My Business allows you to verify your business information to make it easier for visitors to find you and learn about what your business offers. Businesses can even create a FAQ that’s added to their profile, directly respond to users that left a review and add photos, business hours, phone number, website links and more.

Utilize Google Posts

Businesses can also create Google Posts which are like direct messages to searchers about your current sales or promotion. See below for an example of a Google Post. They can be used to promote a sale, upcoming event and more. One thing to keep in mind is Google Posts last for a total length of seven days after published.

The Importance of Reviews for Local SEO

Reviews are critical for local SEO because they are a local ranking factor. We recommend that your business responds to all reviews, good or bad, to instill confidence in customers. Remember that a delightful response to a negative experience may change a customer's opinion from bad to good! Do you struggle with gaining more reviews? Try creating an internal program incentivizing your teams to ask for more reviews or utilize a tool such as SocialClimb to get more reviews.

Optimize and Create Local Content

Not to be forgotten, existing content on your blog and interior pages should be optimized for search engines. It is essential to follow best practices for on-page SEO elements and to include local keywords throughout h1 tags, h2 tags, body copy, meta titles and meta description. It also can be worthwhile to do a competitive SEO analysis to see what keywords you’re using compared to competitors. This will give you ideas of additional keywords to optimize for.

In addition to optimizing existing content, businesses should aim to frequently create relevant content that searchers would find useful. When creating content for website pages of blog posts, you should conduct keyword research first. Keyword research will give you insight into keyword volumes, the terminology searchers are using when looking for your business and explain how difficult it is to rank for specific keywords. There are numerous SEO tools out there, but Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword tool by Google that you can utilize to do keyword research based on different geographic locations.

Ideas for creating content are writing FAQ pages, creating in-depth blog posts and sharing industry news. When businesses give away their expertise for free users see your business as credible and are more likely to reach out when they require your product or service.

Add Local Business Schema

Schema markup is code that you can add to certain aspects of your website to help search engines understand your content better. It enables search engines to more easily discover important business information such as name, phone number, hours and more. For more information, visit our schema best practices blog and the Google Developers guide.

Organization Schema

This type of basic schema tells Google the vital details about your business such as business hours, location, phone number, staff information and more.

Service Line Schema

Service line schema identifies the services that your business performs, including pricing information and additional details. Calling out your services can help you rank better locally.

Event Schema

Event schema can help your business show up in rich snippets in the SERPs for events you’re hosting. It identifies information about your event and tells search engines the details such as the date, time and location.

Sample Event Schema Snippet in Des Moines

These are just a few of the basic types of schema, but there are many. Adding schema markup can make your website stand out in the SERPs. The schema.org website mentions more markup types and provides additional information to get started.

Submit NAP to Local Directories

Businesses can submit their business information to local directories, Yelp, the Yellow Pages, and more to get backlinks to their website. While links from high-quality sites can provide a ranking boost because they show credibility, submitting your information to irrelevant and spammy directories will only hurt your local SEO rankings. Use discretion as you decide where to share your local listings. When submitting your business information to local listings and directories, it’s crucial that your business information, such as name, address, phone number (NAP), remains consistent across all listings. Inconsistencies will confuse potential customers and search engines. When possible, we also recommend using local phone numbers because it is another opportunity to indicate that you are truly local.

Utilize SEO Tools

There are numerous SEO tools available, both paid and free, that offer different functions, abilities and reports. Free tools like Google Keyword Planner can help inform your keyword research, Google My Business helps searchers find out your business info in search results, and Google Search Console shows you how Google sees your website. Paid tools include SEMrush, Moz, Ahrefs and more. These tools can help you stay on top of your local SEO, so you don't find yourself scrambling to perform overhauls.

Local SEM Best Practices

Local SEM best practices include many of the standard best practices for SEM, but there are some other tactics that can be implemented to target local audiences while spending your budget efficiently.

Conduct Thorough Keyword Research

Like SEO, keyword research is vital to understand the language searchers are using related to your business. Conducting keyword research, with a tool like Google Keyword Planner, gives you an idea of the competition level (low, medium or high), the estimated cost-per-click (CPC), and more. Keyword research should also drive your strategy for search engine marketing (SEM) and you should use keyword research to update your landing pages to match the searcher’s intent.

Optimize Google Ads Location Settings

When creating a Google Ads campaign, be sure your campaigns are set to only show ads to those in the locations you are targeting. The default setting for Google Ads when it comes to location is “physical locations and locations of interest.” So technically, someone in another country can see your ad for a local restaurant if they have previously looked at any news related to the United States. If a person is searching for anything related to the US, then Google flags them as “interested”. Be sure to turn that off and have your ads triggered only for those in your physical location so you're not wasting budget.

Structure Your Campaigns and Ad Groups by Location

Google aims to have its search results both accessible and relevant for searchers based on their intent, and a large part of that depends on location. Your business can break up your campaigns by location to make sure they’re hyper-relevant to users. We also recommend splitting campaigns up by service lines, so you are delivering relevant, local content once users hit your landing pages.

Use Ad Extensions to Your Advantage

Ad extensions can be beneficial because they display extra information with your Google Ad. Extensions such as sitelink extensions and callout extensions can be used to share local business details. In addition, location extensions allow users to see where your business is physically located.

Set Up Google My Business Radius Targeting

Once a business claims their Google My Business, they can set up radius targeting to run Google Ads around the business’s location. This brings local advertising to a new level. If you own a Pizza Hut, for example, you can claim your location through GMB and have your ads only target users within a certain mile radius of your restaurant, with the minimum being around one mile. Location bid adjustments allow you to shift where the majority of your budget is being spent. This hyperlocal focus will enable advertisers to hone in on the areas which they are most interested in targeting.

Contact Local SEO and SEM Experts

Local SEO and SEM are both crucial components of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Our digital marketing experts can handle the complexities of local search for your business. Contact us today to find out how we can improve your visibility in search engines.

Categories:

Digital Marketing, SEM, SEO

Meet Our Digital Marketing Specialist, Brenton!
Brenton Marcum

Brenton is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Blue Compass. He is passionate about utilizing his digital marketing knowledge to enhance clients' online presence. Outside of work, you can find him cheering on Iowa State Cyclones sports, playing in sports leagues or at a local craft brewery.

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