This is a very important year from an SEO perspective. Even though the power and importance of local SEO is minimized in some circles, the truth is that SEO is far from being dead. In fact, it is more alive than ever before. The statistics prove it.
Whether you are new to local SEO, or you have a lot of experience in this area but you haven’t enjoyed the expected results in 2016, then the information offered in this guide will surely set you off on the right path and guide you toward success.
This ultimate guide to local SEO link building will help you discover the following:
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a marketing activity that helps your site rank high in search engine results.
Local SEO enables you to target local customers and win them over. Local SEO is all about providing search results that are relevant to a prospect that is searching for a product or service in your location. With local SEO, you can target people who are searching for your products or services in your city, or you can target locals who conduct regular searches.
To better understand this concept, let’s say that you have a pizza restaurant in Austin, Texas. For instance, if a client from Houston, TX, searches for pizza places in Austin, he will search on Google for: “pizza places in Austin.” If you have a strong local SEO presence, that potential business client will find you on the first page of Google and will pay you a visit when he lands in town.
Another business prospect comes from Japan to spend an amazing weekend in Austin. It’s Saturday night and he is starving. If he searches for “pizza places” or “pizza restaurants," he will get a list of local pizza restaurants that rank well for these words. Again, if your local SEO presence is well-established, you will be noticed by this client. One thing I want to mention here is that clients who are in the Austin area do not need to add the name of the city at the end of the search, because it is automatically added by Google.
Local SEO targets both desktop and mobile customers. Because of the results it provides, local SEO has become an essential component of any local business and brand that wants to thrive on the market.
According to a report published by Fresh Egg in 2013 more than 75 percent of people use their smartphones to check for local information. It's not tough to imagine that number has increased since then. Another study from Google indicates that 95 percent of mobile users will either call or visit a local business after conducting a local search.
In other words, local SEO is paramount for your success in your niche. When done properly, local SEO can double or even triple your revenue. In this guide I will show you how to capitalize on the power of local SEO for your business and skyrocket your profits in the process.
Let’s dive deeper into local SEO and study some recent local SEO changes that have taken place in 2016.
According to a comprehensive and complete study conducted by the marketers from Local SEO Guide together with a group of scientists from the University of California, the local SEO atmosphere has radically changed in 2016.
Here are some of the most important changes in local SEO that you need to be aware this year:
1. Links and citations are more important than ever: this study concludes that “links and citations are the key differentiated factors for local rankings." Metrics like trust flow or citation flow are constantly in the top 10 metrics of local business success.
A study from Moz shows that Google over 90 percent of their crawlers’ capacity to measure inbound and outbound links, together with other related elements such as link building velocity, anchor text, quality of links, thematic relevance, referring sub-nets and referring domains. This can only mean one thing: links are more important than ever, especially for local businesses.
2. GMB signals have grown exponentially: GMB (Google My Business) signals are now some of the top ranking factors in local searches. These include signals like photos, reviews, phone numbers, email addresses and owner verified profiles.
3. Website signals: even though some believe that traditional website signals are not as important as they used to be, Google contradicts them by stressing the importance of using the keyword in the title, H1 tag, and in the first and last phrase. Keyword density should be between 2-3 percent. Moreover, you should use as many latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords as possible in order to avoid keyword stuffing and ensure Google finds your content relevant.
4. Dedicated location pages: A common but costly mistake is creating a GMB listing for each location of your business but linking them back to your homepage. Instead, each location should have a unique page and that page should be linked to from the corresponding GMB listing.
5. Rank Brain is active: one of the most prolific changes in local SEO this year, except maybe the growing importance of citations and authoritative links, is the launch of Google’s new algorithm, Rank Brain. This powerful machine uses the latest Google technology to process the search results and differentiate between genuine and low-quality websites.
Rank Brain is the first AI (Artificial Intelligence) system, having the capacity to teach itself new methods of crawling and organizing webpages. Also known as the “Judgment Day”, Rank Brain is the terminator of low-quality webpages that do not have original content and do not have in place a proper link-building strategy.
The good news is that Rank Brain will help you in your local SEO link building endeavor, offering you a higher rating for dominating the local link sources and for building & boosting citations.
Here are 20 of the most important local ranking factors you need to be aware of when optimizing your site locally:
1. Title Tag: title tags that start with the keyword have been found to perform better than those that contain the keyword toward the end. Change your title tag and make it more relevant for local searches by placing your main keyword at the beginning of the tag.
2. H1 Tag: your main keyword should appear in the H1 tag. If you have several categories of products or services, create a distinct page for each category and use the main keyword of that category in the respective H1 tag
3. H2, H3..H6 Tags: Take advantage of these to properly structure your page and tell Google what your main and supporting topics are. In the local space many of your competitors will not do this so it is a quick win.
4. Keyword Density: No, I am not telling you to overuse keywords, the takeaway from this is do not repeat the same word over and over again. If you need a number, shoot for 1 percent or less exact keyword density.
5. LSI Keywords in Title, Tags and Content: the presence of LSI keywords in title, tags and content act as a content quality signal and make Google rank your site higher in local search results.
6. No Duplicate Content: if you have duplicate content on your site, Google will eventually penalize you. While you can technically rank pages with duplicate content in local SERPs, that is bound to change any day so get ahead now and make your content unique.
7. Page Loading Speed: a very important local ranking factor in 2016 is page loading speed. Google uses Chrome’s user data to track your server speed, non-HTML speed signals and content delivery network (CDN) usage in order to determine if your page loading speed is low enough.
8. Image Optimization: optimize your images if you want to rank high in search results. Some of the aspects to consider here are image title, alt tag, caption and description. Since you are trying to rank locally, be sure to include geographically relevant text into those areas.
9. Outbound Links Quality: the quality of your outbound links is extremely important. As a matter of fact, many digital marketers believe that linking out to authoritative sites in the industry improves search rankings. While I don’t think it has that strong of an impact, it still never hurts to link out to quality, relevant resources.
10. Outbound Links Theme: several studies conducted by the people at Moz show that Google and other search engines are actually studying the content on the pages you link to in order to determine if it is relevant for your clients. For instance, if you have a pizza restaurant and you link to several sites about car parts, Google might think that your website is about car parts and not pizza. This is another issue that may become more influential after Rank Brain.
11. Spelling & Grammar: grammar or spelling mistakes do not just drive your traffic away, but are also considered a local SEO quality signal.
12. Multimedia: videos, images and any other multimedia element could act as local SEO signals. Even if they do not directly impact your rankings, they should increase engagement metrics and make your content more likely to be shared.
13. Number and Quality of Inbound Links: inbound links have maintained their importance over the years. Today, they are more important than ever, especially as they need to be relevant. As a matter of fact, many are saying that topically relevant links are more beneficial than authority links on unrelated sites.
14. Affiliate Links: If for some reason your local site is going to post affiliate links, do so in moderation of your site can be viewed unfavorably compared to your competitors.
15. HTML Errors: too many HTML errors is a sure sign of a poor quality site, and Google will not rank your site high in search results. This is where W3C validation comes into play.
16. Citing Sources & References: If you are citing another site in your content, linking to those sources has been correlated to with pages performing better in the SERPs.
17. SSL Certificate: Google use HTTPS as a ranking signal. While the impact for some is not going to be significant, if you are one of the few local companies using it in your area, you have another leg up on the competition.
18. Mobile Optimization: Google is all about mobile optimization. A responsive website with mobile friendly tags is ranked higher in local searches. Test your site using: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
19. Co-Citations: your brand can be mentioned without getting a link. Co-citations are important from Google’s point of view as they show that you are a real brand that people are talking about.
20. Local Citations: these represent a strong local ranking factor. Name, address and phone citations are imperative for your local SEO success.
In order to be achieve success in local SEO and break new ground in your niche, you need to have confidence in your capacity to outsmart your competition. You also need to better understand your brand, your competition and your market. After that, it is time to get your hands dirty, starting with citations.
Local search engine optimization allows you to address the needs of local customers or remote customers who are searching for products and services locally.
Out of the wide range of local ranking factors and signals you can focus on in order to boost your company's presence in your local market, citations are probably the easiest to tackle. When done right, building and boosting citations can give you a huge advantage over your competitors and can help you become an authority in your niche.
Think of these citations as references to your company. Citations usually appear locally on the Web as NAP: name, address and phone number. Citations to your business can either be structured, such as those available on Yelp, Yellowpages or Foursquare, or unstructured, such as those found on blogs, newspaper websites, social media platforms or government websites.
At this point you are probably wondering why you should choose citations and co-citations over all other local SEO ranking factors available in 2016. Here are a few of the big reasons why building and boosting citations is a win-win situation:
To help you improve your local SEO presence and leverage the true power of citations, I have put together a few citation building strategies for you. This guide is meant to be simple and can be followed by anyone, regardless of previous SEO experience.
First of all, you need to start on the right foot. Simply open up an excel spreadsheet and compile all of your business information in one document. The list should include:
If you do not have your company listed on Google+ Business Pages, do not wait any more and go get one now.
Here’s how to do it:
A Google My Business listing is required if you want to show up in the local (map) results.
If you already have a business listing, review it and ensure that all the information is accurate. If your business has multiple locations or there are inconsistent citations across the Web, it is time to start finding duplicates.
Remember, with multiple incorrect listings your site is not going to rank as well as it could and you might also lose precious clients who are tired of calling the wrong number. Listings and citations directly affect your company’s performance and the way people perceive your brand.
Here are some steps to follow in order to remove duplicate citations and ensure your business appears online using only proper contact information.
- Remove duplicates: if you have more than one listing for a single location, that is considered a duplicate listing. Duplicates will more than often include misleading, incorrect information that is definitely not beneficial for your company.
The easiest method to find duplicate listings is to conduct a Google search for your site, and then add your business name. Do the same but add instead your company’s phone number, the old phone number, the old address or the old business name. Once you find incorrect information about your company, log into your account and delete it. If you don’t have access to the account anymore (maybe it was created in the past by someone else who worked for you), try to get your account back or send a message to the owner of the platform where your duplicate is and kindly tell them to erase the listing or replace it with your current one.
- Save time by using Multi Links (Firefox) and Linkclump (Chrome): check out these tools and use them to conduct a complete audit of your local citations. If you struggle finding time for these mundane tasks, you can either hire a professional or invest in a citation builder, cleaner and audit tool. Two good sources for this are Brightlocal and Whitespark.
Here is a great place to find citations sources: https://www.brightlocal.com/2015/03/31/local-citation-sites-for-top-100-usa-cities/
Use the list above to find places where you can build citations. Build specific industry-related citations by:
Here are some do’s you have to “do” in order to ensure that the building and boosting citation process is as smooth as possible:
Local citations represent a key factor for your local SEO rankings. Growing your company locally involves making sure you have as few duplicate listings as possible, you are improving your local citations constantly and you are improving your customer’s perception of your business. You need to be perceived as an authority in your industry in order to succeed locally.
Now that you know how to build and boost citations, it is time to go to the next step and discover how to find and dominate all local link sources.
Debunking the main SEO myths has been one of my passions, and for good reason – there are plenty of SEO myths out there that have nothing to do with reality. One of these myths tries to “persuade” local business owners that inbound links are all the same. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you want to dominate the local market, you need to know how to choose the right inbound links for your business. Even though on-site SEO and outbound links play a key role here, they are not more important than local link sources. Authoritative local links could prove to be invaluable from a SEO perspective.
In order to understand what a good link is, let’s look at what a good link should do for your business.
Each source of local links has four main functions or dimensions: relevant traffic, authority building, relationships building, and hyperlocal relevance.
If you are a local business and you have the opportunity to get a link from another local business that shares the same audience as you, take it. This can send interested people directly to your website. Let’s say you are a water remediation company, a great local link partner for you may be a plumber. If you are not sure where to start, just make a list of what types of people refer customers to you and reach out to them.
Newspapers, small local publications, and your evening news are often very authoritative sites. Make a list of the local publications in your area and look to see what other businesses they are linking out to. This can be a great source of authority and can send qualified traffic to your site.
In business it is very common to have other closely related businesses who will refer customers to you and vice versa. While a link may be where you start the conversation, why not go a step further and ask who their ideal client is and how you can help them, in turn they will be more likely to refer to you. Essentially take the BNI principles and apply them to outreach.
For those of you reading this and doing business within a large city, this is a golden opportunity. Let’s say that your customer base comes from just a few blocks around your business. Getting links from other people in your neighborhood can be extremely helpful. You see these types of links all the time often as “nearby attractions." Reach out to your neighbors and link to each other.
In order to dominate the local search environment, you need to find the right link source for you. Here are some guiding principles you need to follow when prospecting for local links:
Now that you have a set of guidelines to follow, let’s move a little bit further and discover how you can actually dominate your local market. Here are 10 powerful link building tactics to give you an unfair advantage over your competition:
1. Leverage existing partnerships: first of all, you need to utilize the community of professionals that you are already a part of. Links from your partners are very hard to replicate, are quite authoritative and most importantly are natural.
Make a list with all of your business partners and do not hesitate to contact them ASAP, asking them to place a link to your domain on their site. Some of the existing partnerships you already have but you’ve probably forgotten about might include:
2. Capitalize on the power of photography: you can actually build links with awesome photography. Just go online and do a quick search for “Minneapolis pictures." You will notice several strong domains with beautiful pictures. Of course, each of these domains has their own share of links, being able to dominate the local link sources.
To follow in their footsteps, start by taking high quality pictures of your neighborhood and city using a drone. Submit these photos to photo websites and travel platforms such as Trip Advisor. Add an alt tag to each image plus a link to your site and boom, you’ve got yourself a free link to your site.
You can go a little bit further. Find a few powerful local events, contact the organizers and ask for the permission to take a bunch of pictures. Then ask them if it’s possible to list your photos on their site, with a link to your website. If the photos are high-quality, they will likely go for it.
Also, submit images on social platforms and on sites like Pinterest to grow your reach and boost the value of your links.
3. Feature others in your community: another great method to dominate the local search results is to remember that people love to be flattered. The same goes true for organizations and local businesses. Use this to your advantage and create content that shows people and organizations in your community doing something awesome. They won’t hesitate to pay you back. Here is an example of what you can do: https://www.whitespark.ca/images/uploads/blogposts/locallinkbuilding/Top_100_Companies-5.jpg.
You can throw a report about how local companies are changing the society. You can also write an article from a controversial point of view to spike interest and make people want to express their opinions. The key here is not just to create a link, but to boost your reach and establish yourself as an authority in your niche. I once wrote a similar post and managed to attract some authoritative .edu links, as some of the top commenters were working at regional universities.
4. Start making something awesome for the community: because we’re talking local, building links involves being community-driven and having a local mindset. Create an infographic, develop a unique piece of content, create a video or even design a mobile app that caters strictly to your community.
Create a strong local campaign around your app, video, infographic or any other piece digital content and become legendary for people around you. Try to find out what makes you unique in the local community and what stirs people’s emotions, and then use that aspect to your advantage.
5. Start networking: in order to dominate local search and establish yourself as an authority in your niche, you need to start capitalizing on the power of networking. Attend a local networking event and connect with other business owners and individuals with the same mindset like yours.
Here is what you should be looking for:
6. Use neighborhood sites: Another great method to dominate the local searches is to build links with local neighborhood sites. There is no shortage of local business associations.
Become part of the local community and get access to write articles and post images on these local sites. The sheer number of inbound links you can get is invaluable.
7. Build links with daily deals sites: another powerful method to build a strong local presence through the power of links and boost your site’s ranking is to leverage the benefits offered by daily deals sites. Since Groupon has revamped the way customers shop online, there have been tons of daily deals sites popping up all around the Web.
Try to find those daily deal sites run by local institutions or persons in order to maximize the value of each inbound link. It’s best if you find a daily deal site that belongs to a local newspaper or university. Offer some great deals for local clients and get listed on these daily deal sites for maximum impact. After the campaign is over, do not forget to write a press release and brag about how good this daily deal campaign was for your company.
8. Use press releases to build inbound links: while press releases are not as beneficial for organic SEO, they are still powerful in local search engine result pages (SERPs). Creating a press release that mentions your name, address, and phone number can land you a ton of citations while diversifying your link profile. Well-written press releases may even get picked up by your local news sources, landing you some incredible hyperlocal links.
9. Sponsorship: if you do sponsorship right, you could get tons of valuable local links and you will be able to dominate the best sources of links. Sponsoring something related to your business can land you a ton of niche relevant, authoritative links all while giving back to your community.
There are many potential sponsorship opportunities in each location. To give you some ideas, here are three types of sponsorship events you could become a part of:
10. Launch your own event: ultimately, to dominate the local SEO link building scene, you could go big by launching your own event or by creating your own fundraiser. Even though creating a local event might seem like a daunting task, don’t worry. You don’t necessarily need to go big on your first attempt.
As an example, a local dentist in Houston created an event about offering free fillings and extractions for one week. Multiple newspapers picked up his campaign, while two major news stations promoted his event for free. Authoritative links were given in the process, and the doctor enjoyed up to 40 percent more clients in the years to come.
Before this campaign he ranked on the fourth page of Google for “dentist Houston,” “dental care Houston” and other local terms. Now he ranks on the first two pages for several keywords, without doing any SEO campaign. All he did was launching his own event.
As you can see, there are so many methods and strategies you can use in order to find and dominate local link sources that success is practically guaranteed. Just be creative, think outside the box and create something locals won’t forget.
However, be aware of the local SEO mistakes you can make along the way. Read on to discover how to avoid making these unforgivable mistakes.
While in the sections I have showed you how to grow your company in local SEO results and dominate the link-building industry, in this chapter I will reveal some of the most common local SEO mistakes you desperately need to avoid in order to be successful locally.
With that said, you should not be discouraged. No mistake is too severe to be fixed. My goal with this chapter is to help you audit your local SEO strategy and replace the common mistakes with actionable steps that improve your position in local searches and position yourself as an authority in your niche.
So let’s begin…
Probably the biggest mistake you can make with local SEO is to focus on anything else except Google+. While you don’t necessarily need a strong Google+ profile and Google My Business profile to rank higher in search results when it comes to standard search engine optimization, local SEO is a little bit different.
When talking local, a Google+ and Google My Business profile is a must if you want to be successful. Just type in “nearby dentists” and the first thing you will notice is a map of your area and a few listings of the most prominent dental offices around you. The trick here is that this information listed below the map comes directly from the Google My Business pages of local dentists.
In other words, if you do not have a Google My Business page associated to your Google+ profile, you simply won’t appear on that map.
One last thing: do not forget to verify your business listing in order to ensure you are the owner of that page.
SEO experts agree that every local business needs to have an XML sitemap. This sitemap gives vital information to Google and Bing crawlers and make it easier for search engines to list your pages. The lack of a sitemap can definitely reduce how effectively Google can crawl your site.
According to a study conducted a few years ago, over 55 percent of your site’s visitors spend less than 15 seconds on an average on your site. If your site loads in 10 seconds, that leaves them only five more seconds to browse your content. In fact, if your site loads in more than 10 seconds, the bounce rate will exceed 80 percent on mobile and 70 percent on desktop.
Web users, and especially mobile users who are the busiest category of people, hate it when your pages take too long to load. The good news is that there are several free tools to analyze your page speed. I strongly recommend using GTmetrix and PageSpeed Insights from Google.
It is quite common today to have two URLs that lead to the same page. For instance, www.cars.com/home.html and www.cars.com both lead to the same page. If you have multiple URLS you should look to 301 redirect them or to integrate canonical tags when appropriate.
Alt tags and header tags (H1, H2…H6) are extremely important from a SEO perspective. While header tags are used by Google to categorize your content, alt tags are used by search engines to decipher images. Use your main keywords in both header and alt tags (image tags) in order to boost your local SEO presence.
We have talked about this mistake in the second chapter of this guide. In a nutshell, you need to remember that Google hates local duplicate listings and citations. Try to remove duplicate listings as soon as possible in order to prevent them from hurting your ranking and to offer a positive experience to your prospects.
Another costly mistake you can make that could hurt your local SEO rankings is missing relevant categories on the My Business page. Think of these categories like main sections in Yellow Pages. The more relevant these categories are, the better is for your local SEO presence.
Because Google does not make it easy for you to select the right categories for your business, here is a complete list of categories to choose from: https://blumenthals.com/google-lbc-categories/search.php?q=&val=hl-gl%3Den-US%28PfB%29%26ottype%3D1. Select wisely and you will be rewarded.
Duplicate listings go hand in hand with inconsistent NAP (name, address, phone) information. In addition to having the same contact information listed on both your website and Google My Business page, you need to erase all duplicate listings and to ensure all of your citations contain the same information.
Google is pretty smart, no doubt about that. Google’s bots are actually capable of comparing the contact information on your site with the NAP found everywhere else online.
Another costly local SEO mistake is having no customer reviews. While reviews are very important for users, they are crucial from Google’s perspective when ranking sites locally. If you have no reviews on your Google My Business page, you need to start asking for reviews now!
Getting positive reviews might be quite a slow process, especially as people are not inclined to offer a review when they were satisfied with a service. However, ask for reviews from business partners and clients via email, phone or in-person, and in time you will have built a real competitive advantage in your local market.
Keywords are essential for both SEO and PPC campaigns. Locally, the importance of keywords grows even more. When you choose the wrong keywords, you are missing out on traffic and conversions, not to mention you may never rank in some cases.
Another common mistake local business owners do is forgetting about or neglecting performing a complete and unbiased competitive analysis. Study what the top 5 competitors in your niche are doing and discover what actually works in local SEO. This includes keywords and types of backlinks used. There are plenty of powerful tools online that enable you to perform a complete local competitive analysis. Wordstream and Semrush are two of them.
Since Google changed their algorithm in order to incorporate more local SEO signals, the content on the website has become more important than ever. Since Google is driven by a “relevancy” mindset, you need to be relevant in everything you do locally, including content.
Is your content relevant to your site visitors? Do you provide real information or just fluff? Remember that Google’s RankBrain algorithm (terminator) is active and browsing the internet for pages to “terminate”. If you want to escape its piercing gaze, you need to optimize your website content and make it relevant for your readers.
Social media activity is strongly connected to local SEO. Even though Google does not admit it yet, local businesses that go viral on social media rank better in search results than businesses with no social media presence.
You’ve probably noticed by now that Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Reddit, YouTube, Twitter and all other social media platforms appear on the first pages of Google when conducting local searches. As a matter of fact, sometimes a single thread on Facebook could become more valuable and show higher in search results than a page on your website.
Do not ignore your social media presence if you want to be successful with local SEO. Share your blog posts on all social platforms, post constant updates and engage with your fans, subscribers, friends and followers on a daily basis in order to capitalize on the growing power of social media.
One of biggest local SEO mistakes that you need to avoid at all costs is not optimizing your website for mobile users. Local SEO goes hand in hand with mobile, as most people are conducting local searches on their mobile devices while on the go. I personally prefer using my mobile to conduct local searches, even when I’m at home and I’m not in front of my computer. Here are 10 stats to prove my point: https://www.brightlocal.com/2015/12/08/10-stats-that-prove-the-power-of-mobile-marketing/.
As more and more people are choosing mobile over desktop when browsing for local products or services, it is imperative to optimize your website for mobile users or create a mobile version of your site and redirect all of your mobile traffic to that site.
As I stated above, relevancy is the 2016 mindset used by Google. This impacts both your content and the links you have on your site. Your inbound and outbound links should be relevant for users and search engines if you want to dominate the local SEO market.
Conduct a link audit and determine if you are connected to websites that have nothing to do with your category. For instance, if you offer medical services, you should not link out to sites that offer smartphone accessories or list repair & maintenance tips. Keep the links as relevant as possible and you will definitely reap the benefits of dominating the local link scene.
Now that you’ve read this ultimate guide to local SEO link building you are well-equipped to go and dominate local search listings. Start by taking into account the recent changes in local SEO and read all the common local SEO mistakes in order to know what to do and what to avoid.
Build and boost your citations locally and gain precious traffic to your site, along with recognition from Google. Then find out and start dominating the local links sources by following all the 10 tips listed above.
Lastly: If you have found this guide useful, please take a moment to share it with someone who is struggling to gain a local foothold!