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Local SEO Checklist – The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO

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Local SEO Checklist – The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO

November 9, 2023

When it comes to Local SEO, there are a few things that every business should do. In this guide, you’ll find a complete list of local SEO strategies that will help drive customers to your business for free.

Firstly, let’s define Local SEO.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is the practice of increasing your organic search traffic and literally putting you on the map. You can rank for three different areas: organic search, the map pack, and mobile search. We have included definitions and screenshots of each of these areas below.

Organic search results are the links listed on Google that are not ads and not map results. These results get the majority of link clicks.

Map Pack Results are the links in the map section of search results. You’ll see this on both desktop and mobile when you search for a term like “Best Chiropractor in Johannesburg.”

Mobile search results are when you search a term like “Dentist near me” or “Indian Restaurant,” and you get a list of the physically closest businesses relating to your search term. By following our Local SEO guide, you will be able to help search engines properly rank your business for mobile search.

Now that we understand “local SEO”, we can get into the strategies.

Google My Business

screenshot of google my business landing page
Google My Business

When it comes to Local SEO, Google My Business is king. If the biggest search engine in the world doesn’t know that your business exists, how do you expect customers to find you?

If you don’t have a Google My Business account, stop reading this and sign up for one. Signing up will require you to verify your physical address with Google. They either send postcards with a secret code (that you then use to verify its you) or you simply take a quick video showing you are who you say you are in the location you say you are. The video option is a lot quicker than the postcard verification but can be tricky with all their requirements.

You can read about Google's verification process & methods here.

Setting up your Google My Business Profile

Setting up a profile is easy, but there are a lot of opportunities your competitors will likely miss. Let’s take a closer look at what those things are.

The Basics:

At the very least, as a bare minimum, you’ll need to add your business name, address, phone number, hours of operation, Website URL, and your main business category.

A lot of businesses stop filling out their profiles here, which allows you to outshine the competition.

Subcategories:

Google my business, add business category settings page

You’re going to start by adding subcategories underneath your main category. For example, if you’re a Nail Salon, your subcategories would be things like “manicures”, “pedicures”, “gel polish”, “foot massage”, etc.

Once you create all these subcategories, you will go back in and add short, 300-character descriptions for each service you offer. Google does not automatically prompt this, so you’ll have to go back into each subcategory to add your descriptions. Again, without the automatic prompt, most businesses miss this step.

Appointment Link:

Google essentially gives potential customers a shortcut to skip passed your home page and book an appointment directly. If you have a “booking” page or use a 3rd party service to handle your bookings, you can add that link here.

If you do not take appointments, you can ignore this section.

From The Business:

This section allows you to highlight some unique aspects of your business, such as: accessibility, amenities, health and safety information, payment types accepted, and service options. By clicking this section, you’ll get a prompt of potential highlights that may apply to your business. These potential highlights could be things like “Wheelchair accessible”, “Gender Neutral Washrooms”, “masks required”, “Women-owned business”, etc.

Fully filling out this section of your profile will show Google that you pay attention to detail and are serious about your business.

Business Description:

Adding a keyword-rich business description is essential to increasing your rankings. Your description can be up to 750 characters and should include your business name, location, type of business (ex. Nail Salon), and an outline of what your company does. (Ex. BUSINESS NAME a Nail Salon in Hamilton, Ontario. We offer various beauty services such as manicures, pedicures and waxing.)

Photos:

google business profile photos

When launching your profile, you should include photos of your business, signage, interior, waiting room, etc.

You should be adding new photos to your profile regularly. These can be happy customers, samples of your work, artwork, etc. We recommend adding a new photo weekly.

Google My Business Posts:

google my business posts

You now can “post” on Google via your Google My Business profile. You should be posting updates at least once per week. These can be as simple as “Happy Monday! If you’re in need of digital marketing services, we have slots open for this week! Contact us to schedule your appointment today and give your business the online boost it deserves!. Check out our Digital Marketing Services page for my information on that...

Not only can you post an update, but you can also include a photo. The photo should be something relating to your business. Not sure where to find free high-quality photos? Check ofor free photos.

These are missed opportunities that 99% of local businesses do not take advantage of.

Links & Authority

Backlinks & domain trust play a big part in how your business ranks on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Having a trustworthy website will help increase your rankings over time.

Domain trust is the measurement of your website’s trust.  This “trust” or "authority" is based on how many links you have from other websites- and how trustworthy those websites are. Look at it this way, if a very popular celebrity endorses you, that will have a lot more sway with the public than if a random passerby on the street gives you their endorsement.

But wait, you said that it’s the amount of links as well, not just how trustworthy those links are!

You’re right! You won’t exclusively get “popular” websites to link back to yours, so what do you do? A strong backlink strategy is made up of mostly “passersby” type websites talking about your business and linking to you. This could be a local blog, another local business that you’ve partnered with, or even a feature in the local newspaper (on their website, of course!)

How do you get backlinks for your local business?

The best way to do this is organically. Partner with other local businesses and ask them to publish a blog post announcing your collaboration and to include a link back to your website.

You can also become a local thought leader by reaching out to local blogs, publications, magazines, and news outlets and offering to write unique content for their websites.

The last way to build domain authority is to get your business listed in local directories, which brings us to our next section. Can you guess what it is? Local Listings!

Warning Part II: Do not do “link exchanges” with other websites. This is called “reciprocal linking.” A reciprocal link refers to any set of links between two websites that point to each other. This will effectively cancel out your backlink strategy. However, this cannot be avoided in all situations, so some reciprocal linking won’t hurt if it’s kept to a minimum.

Local Business Listings

Local listings send signals to search engines that your business is legitimate. Most real businesses will be registered with a variety of local directories. So what is a local listing or local directory?

What is a local business listing?

These are directories that help organise and categorise the active businesses in your area. Examples of a local listing are Yellow Pages, 411, or a listing in your local BIA. Local listings will always include your business name, address, and phone number. They may also include your website URL, logo, photos of your business, hours of operation, and a description of what your business does.

Other local listings include: Google My Business, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Facebook, and Instagram, and Instagram Maps.

Local Listing vs. Directories vs. Citations

A local listing, directory, and citation are the exact same thing. These terms are used interchangeably when talking about SEO.

How do local listings help me rank?

By confirming that your business name, address, and phone number are accurate across a variety of local listings, you’ll be sending signals to search engines that your business is active, your information is accurate, and most importantly, that you’re a real business.

Reviews

local seo reviews

Reviews may be the most important factor when it comes to local SEO. How often do you Google a restaurant and decide whether to go there or not based on their reviews?

Potential customers will likely look at your reviews to determine if you will get their business.

Search engines look at both the number of reviews and your average review rating(among other factors) to determine your search results ranking.

Local reviews best practices

The more reviews, the better.

Unless you’re a brand new business, it looks terrible if your customers have absolutely nothing to say about your service or product.

You should be following up with every customer, regardless of your industry, and asking them to leave a review on Google. Remember that you CANNOT incentivise customers/clients to leave you a 5-star review. You can ask in person, email, text, call, or follow up with customers somehow and ask them to leave a review (good or bad).

How many reviews does a business need?

Again, the more, the better. If you have more reviews than your competition, this will be a good indicator to search engines, like Google, that your business is the best of the best. And that will win you search rankings (and customers!)

Onsite SEO

Now that you have your Google My Business Profile set up, citations built, and you have a firm grasp of the importance of reviews, we will explore the final piece; Onsite SEO.

What is onsite SEO?

Onsite SEO is the practice of optimising your website for local search. In short, these are techniques you can use on your website to increase your local search visibility.

Onsite SEO can feel overwhelming, so we’ve laid out each optimisation in detail below.

If you do NOT have a website yet, you can build one using a website builder like Wix or Squarespace. Don’t worry, you do not need to have any coding experience or website design skills to build a website. This isn’t 1990!

Let’s get into it!

Onsite Local SEO Techniques:

The complete list of ranking factors when it comes to local SEO.

Page Load Speed

The faster your website loads, the more likely a visitor will convert into a customer. If the site takes too long to load, the visitor may leave and head over to your competitor.

The most common issue with page speed is the file size of your images. Compress your images as much as possible without losing quality, or use next-gen image formats (webp & avif).

You can use Google’s Page Speed Checker to determine how fast your website is.

Robots.txt

Robots.txt tells search engines whether or not they should index a page. The good news is that most website builders do this automatically.

You can check your robox.txt file by replacing “example” with your domain here: https://example.com/robots.txt

XML Sitemap

Think of the sitemap as your website’s directory, and it’s primarily used for search engines to index websites. Most website builders do this for you automatically.

You can check your sitemap by replacing “example” with your domain here: https://example.com/sitemap.xml

To submit your sitemap to Google, sign up for a free Google Search Console account.

Errors

Both users and search engines hate when a page disappears or no longer exists. If you delete a page from your site, redirect it to an appropriate page.

Internal Links

Internal links help users navigate your website. An example of an internal link is Honey Whale SEO Experts. When you click on that link, it will bring you to another page on our site relating to that topic.

Search engines use internal links to help them identify what a page is about. If you have a page about Local SEO , you may want to link to that page from your page about SEO Services.

Broken Links

Broken links happen when you delete a page from your site but are internal linking to it from another page. This may also occur if you’re linking out to another website and they change or remove a URL.

SSL Certificate

An SSL certificate encrypts your site and protects user information. If you’ve ever been to a website that says “Website is not secure,” they do not have an SSL certificate.

The good news for you is that most website builders do this for you, so you likely don’t have anything to do here.

How do you check if you have an SSL certificate? Look at your URL in the browser; if there is a lock to its left, you have an SSL certificate.

Duplicate Content

Every page on your website should be unique. If you have two very similar pages, you may want to consider merging both pages and redirecting the removed URL to the existing page.

Duplicate content relates to your page title, page description, and content that appears on the page.

Heading Tags

What is a heading tag? The biggest text on your page, typically the title of the page, would be your H1 tag. This is what the page is about.

H2 tags reinforce the topic of the H1 tag. If your H1 tag is “Dental Services in Hamilton” then your H2 tags could be things like “Teeth Whitening”, “Braces”, “Dental Implants”, etc.

H3 tags support your H2 tags. They are subtopics within your subtopics.

Every page should have 1 H1 Tag, several H2 and H3 tags, and potentially H4 & H5 tags.

ALT Tags

Make sure that all the images on your site have ALT tags. Most website builders have an option ALT Tags when you upload an image.

ALT Tags are how you describe an image to search engines. If you had an image of red roses in a black vase, your ALT text would be “Red roses in a black Vase.”

ALT tags are also crucial for visitors using screen readers.

Word Count

Google dislikes pages with “light” content. Every page on your website should have at least 500 words on the page.

An SEO strategy is to make sure you have a higher word count on your page than your competition. Done right, this could help you outrank them!

You can use this tool to check the word count on any webpage.

Responsive design

Again, most website builders will make your website responsive automatically, but if they don’t, users may become frustrated and leave because they can’t easily browse your website on their devices.

Mobile Friendly

When it comes to local SEO, a mobile-friendly website might be the difference between a sale and a lost customer.

When users are using their mobile phones to search for a business nearby, they should be able to easily contact you, browse your services, and find the information they’re looking for.

Address, Phone Number, Email Address

In the footer of your website, you should include your physical address, your phone number, and your email address.

The typical visitor knows that this information usually lives in the footer of a website. It also gives search engines the fuel to increase the rank for your local business.

Embed your Google My Business Map

Show visitors where your business is located by embedding Google Maps on your website. We typically include these on the home page, contact page, and in the footer if it makes sense to do so.

Simple Navigation

In short, visitors should be able to find the information they’re looking for quickly and easily. Your navigation menu should be clearly visible and include links to the most relevant pages on your website.

Hours of Operation

Your hours of operation should be easy to find. If possible, we recommend including them “above the fold.” Above the fold means the viewable area of a website without scrolling down.

Blog

This is your secret weapon. Having a blog on your website allows you to post about topics relating to your business, which increases the number of keywords you can rank for and ultimately drives more traffic to your site and customers to your business.

Blog posts should follow the word count rules mentioned above and be no fewer than 500 words each.

Schema Markup

Schema Markup is the language of search engines. Don’t worry; you don’t need to learn binary to communicate with search engines.

We use Local Business Schema Markup to tell search engines more about a business. This includes information like the type of business, business description, logo, phone number, address, hours of operation, average cost, etc.

Most local businesses do NOT do this step. Adding schema markup to your home page will increase your chances of better rankings.

Schema Markup is more technical but can easily be generated using a Schema Markup Generator.

Google Analytics Tracking

Google Analytics allows you to track visitors on your website, and not in a creepy way. As a business owner, you need to know which products or services are the most popular on your site. Google Analytics allows you to see where users came from, which pages they visited, how long they spent on those pages, and if they purchased from you online.

The Ultimate Local SEO Checklist

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