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A Complete Guide to Local SEO

 Do you want to rank your local business in Google, Bing, Apple Maps, and other local search engines? You’re in the right place.

46% of all Google searches are local.

Yet 56% of local retailers haven’t even claimed their Google My Business listing

For those of you that are unaware, claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing is the cornerstone of local SEO. If 56% of businesses haven’t even claimed their GMB listing, well, I doubt they’ve done much else…

But while claiming your Google My Business listing is a good starting point, there’s MUCH more to local SEO than that

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO refers to the process of ‘optimizing’ your online presence to attract more business from relevant local searches. These searches take place on Google and other search engines.

That last point is an important one—this isn’t just about Google.

People search for local businesses using various search engines… Google, Bing, Yelp, Apple Maps, etc.

Bing’s “Local results” for “coffee shop in Sheffield” — one of the many places people search for local businesses online.

However, Google has an estimated ~87% market share (in the US, at least). Which means that most people are using Google to search for local businesses.

For that reason, this guide will be roughly 80% focussed on optimizing your local presence on Google.

So let’s talk about Google…

Google’s Local ‘Snack Pack’ VS. Organic Results

Writing blog posts is hard… I need a coffee.

Here are the search results for “coffee shop near me”…

 coffee shop near me

Notice that there are two distinct sets of search results:

The “snack pack” results”

The “regular” organic results

I’m sure most of you are familiar with regular ol’ Google search results.

But what the heck are “snack pack” results?

Google Snack Pack is a boxed area that appears on the first results page when a local online search is made through Google’s search engine. The Snack Pack box displays the top 3 local business listings most relevant to the search enquiry. (Source)

According to one study, 33% of clicks go to the local “snack pack” results, with 40% going to the regular organic results.

Key takeaway: it pays to rank in both, which is where local SEO comes in.

Before We Get Started…

First things first…

You need to get the basics right.

That means making sure that your website is optimized for mobile visitors, as 61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to check this.

You also need to make sure that your website doesn’t look like total garbage.

It doesn’t matter where you rank, nobody is going to make contact when you have a website this ugly.

Lastly, I recommend making a note of your businesses current and past name(s), address(es), phone number(s), and website(s) in this spreadsheet.

Chapter 1. Keyword Research

Let’s say that you run a local coffee shop—it’s called Déjà Brew.

You would clearly want to pop up for searches like:

“coffee shop near me”;

“Déjà Brew”;

“what time does Déjà Brew close?;

“how long will it take to walk to Déjà Brew?”;

“Déjà Brew phone number”;

“what time does Déjà Brew close?

(Yes, I included “what time does Déjà Brew close?” twice as a little joke. I’m easily amused…)


But these aren’t traditional queries, because Google displays this information in card-like results in the SERPs.

 Here’s an example for a pub near me:

Google pulls such information from Google My Business listings.

(More on that in the next section.)

 But what about the more “traditional” keywords? How do you find out what they are and what you should be optimizing your site for?

 Here are a few tactics:

 1.1. Brainstorm Your SiLs (“Service in Locations”)

Local keyword research isn’t rocket science.

 For ost businesses, the primary keywords to target will be quite obvious.

 Let’s say that you’re a plumber in Sheffield—how do you think people will search for your services?

 They’ll probably go to Google and type something like:

 “plumber in sheffield”;

“emergency plumber in sheffield”;

“clogged drain cleaning in sheffield”

Did you spot the format? It’s service in location (SiL).

 Doing this is easy. Just make a list of all the services you offer and the locations you serve… then merge them together to create a bunch of potential keywords.

If you’re an Ahrefs user, you can then copy-paste these into Keywords Explorer to see the search volumes (and other metrics) for each keyword.

 Look for Keyword Ideas on Craigslist

Craigslist’s can be a goldmine when it comes to finding local keyword ideas. Just go to their services section, select your location and enter a keyword.

 Let’s search for “plumber” in New York.

Right away, a bunch of keywords stand out—

 “reliable plumbing services”;

“affordable plumbing services”;

“drain cleaning”;

“experienced plumber”

Google Autocomplete

Next up—use Google Autocomplete to generate more search suggestions.

 This is easy. Just enter your primary keyword into Google and take note of the suggested searches.

 Let’s do it for “coffee shop sheffield.”

 cofee shop sheffield search suggestions

 There’s some interesting suggestions here—I didn’t think of ”city centre” and “train station” during my initial brainstorm of locations.

 Make a note of any that seem relevant.

 Youcan then rinse and repeat this process for other locations or keyword variations you have.

 If you’re an Ahrefs user, you can bypass this whole process by using the Search Suggestions report in Keywords Explorer. It contains scraped Google Autocomplete suggestions for the terms you enter.

See What Keywords Your Competitors Rank For

Google is very good at understanding search intent, which is probably why the average #1 ranking page will also rank in the top10 for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords (according to our study).

 For example, when I look at the Organic Keywords report in Site Explorer for a local Sheffield plumbers website, I can see that they rank in the top 10 for a bunch of related terms.

 Looking at the these keywords for your competitors will uncover other relevant long-tail and related searches.

 But this is just one competitor. So here’s another trick…

 Use Ahrefs Content Gap tool to see extract common keywords for multiple competitors at once.

 Just paste in a bunch of competitors, leave the “at least one of the targets should rank in the top 10” box checked, and hit “Show keywords.” You should see something like this:

Chapter 2. Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple Maps Listings

Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing is arguably the most important part of local SEO, although Bing Places and Apple Maps listings are important too.

 Setting these up isn’t too difficult—you just follow the instructions offered by Google/Bing/Apple.

 But with GMB in particular, there are a few things that tend to trip business owners up.

 That’s why I’ve included a full walkthrough below.

 2.1. Google My Business

Google My Business is a free and easy-to-use tool for businesses and organisations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. (Source)

 According to Moz, GMB is one of the top local ranking factors for both “snack pack” and organic results.

Step 1. Enter Your Business Name

Google will first ask for your business name.

 You have two choices here:

 Create a new business

Claim and existing business

Start typing, and Google will search for your business in their system

Step 2. Enter Your Address

Next, Google will ask for your address.

 If you’re claiming a business that Google already has in their system, this will be prefilled. Otherwise, you will need to enter your address.

Step 2. Enter Your Address

Next, Google will ask for your address.

 If you’re claiming a business that Google already has in their system, this will be prefilled. Otherwise, you will need to enter your address.

 location gmb

 If you have a brick-and-mortar business with a storefront, this is easy—just enter your shop address.

 But you may be confused about what to enter here, if:

  1. You work from home.

  2. You have one or more business partners, and both work from home (multiple addresses)

  3. Your business is mobile (e.g., food truck).

  4. You have one or more offices.

  5. You have a virtual office, but no real physical location.

  6. You serve customers at a physical location AND remotely (e.g., a takeaway).

If you have a real physical office, use that address.

If you (and one or more business partners) work from home, list the home address of the person closest to the primary area your business serves.

If you have only a virtual office, DO NOT use this address—not unless this office is “staffed during business hours.” Doing so is against GMB guidelines. Use your home address instead.

Remember, consistency is key here, so I suggest copy-pasting the information from the spreadsheet you created earlier to ensure that this is both correct and consistent with the information on your website (and any other business listings you may have).


Claiming an existing listing? Double check the information Google has against the info in your spreadsheet. Update if necessary.


You will also see a checkbox labelled “I deliver goods and services to my customers.”

Ticking this will indicate that you are a “Service-area business” in Google’s eyes.


Basically, you should tick this box if you do, in fact, deliver goods and services to your customers… even if you also serve customers at a physical location (e.g., a restaurant with a takeaway).


If you do, you’ll see another checkbox pop up—”Hide my address (it’s not a shop).”

Enter Your Exact Location

The next screen will show a map with a location pin.


You can drag and move this around to pinpoint your exact business location.


gmb location


9 times out of 10, you can trust Google on this.


But if it looks like the pin is inaccurately placed, do feel free to move it.


Step 4. Choose a Category

Google only lets you choose one category when setting up your Google My Business profile.


They have a ton of advice about how to choose the correct category here.


Here’s an excerpt that will be enough for most people:


Select categories that complete the statement: “This business IS a” rather than “this business HAS a .” The goal is to describe your business holistically rather than a list of all the services that it offers, products that it sells or amenities that it features. (Source)


Think about what your business IS, then start typing that into the category field.


Google will start suggesting categories as you type.


category gmb


Hit the one that seems most appropriate and hit “Next.”

Step 5. Verify Your Listing

Before your GMB listing goes live, you will need to verify your listing.


This is usually done via phone or postcard—just follow the instructions from Google to verify.

 Step 6. Optimize Your Listing Further

Congratulations—you’re verified!

 But don’t stop there. You should optimize your GMB listing further by:

 Adding more categories;

Uploading some photos (ideally ones taken on your premises or at least nearby, as these will have location metadata attached);

Listing your opening hours;

Listing any individual services you offer;

Adding any additional phone numbers;

Adding relevant attributes/amenities;

Chapter 3. Local Citations (NAP)

Citations are online mentions of your business, which usually display your business name, address, and phone number—collectively known as NAP (Name, Address, Phone).

 SIDENOTE. Many SEOs refer to citations that don’t display full NAP information as partial citations. Some also talk about UNAP/NAPU (Name, Address, Phone Number, URL) and NAPW (Name, Address, Phone Number, Website). 

There are two main types of citations: structured and unstructured.

 Here’s an example of a structured citation:

Basically, structured citations are those where NAP information is presented in a visually-structured manner. They usually reside on business directories, social profiles, etc.

Why Are NAP Citations Important?

Here are two reasons why accurate and consistent NAP citations are important:


According to Moz, citation signals are one of the top local ranking factors. This is true for both Google’s “snack pack” results and regular organic search results. Most likely, this is because consistent NAP information across the web serves to further verify the data Google has on file (GMB) for a particular business. Inconsistent NAP information, on the other hand, serves only to confuse, mislead and misdirect both Google and potential customers. This leads to a poor user-experience—not something Google is a fan of.

Google isn’t the only place people search for businesses. They also search via Facebook, directories, etc. Having an accurate NAP listed on those sites will allow potential customers to find your business, which translates into more customers and revenue.

So when it comes to local SEO, your job is two-fold:

Make sure existing citations are correct and consistent.

Build more relevant citations.

Let’s explore how to do that.

3.1. Perform a Citation Audit

Most businesses will have some existing citations.

But more often than not, at least some of these will be incorrect and/or incomplete.

Some will have the correct business name and address, but the wrong phone number. Others will have the correct business name and phone number, but an old address. And some may have partial information—e.g., business name, address, but no phone number at all.

For example, Europcar Sheffield displays their phone number as +44 (0371) 3845930 on their website.

europcar sheffield phone number

But their Yelp listing shows 0871 384 5930.

yelp listing europcar

This is a perfect example of inconsistent NAP information across the web—and something that should be corrected.

SIDENOTE. I should point out that both of these numbers actually work, but for NAP citation purposes, it’s better to choose one number and stick to it. This will ensure consistency across all structured NAP citations, at least.

Here are a few ways to find inconsistent, incomplete, and duplicate NAP citations:

Moz Local (Check My Listing)

Go here and search for your business.

Moz will check the main local seo services in your country and uncover any incomplete, inconsistent, and duplicate listings.

Here are a couple inconsistent listings (here, and here) it uncovers for Europcar Sheffield:

europcar inconsistent listings moz local

It’s looks like the phone number is the culprit here. They each display the 0871 version rather than the 0371 number listed on their official site.

To fix these, click through, claim the listing (if you haven’t done so already), then update.

Check the Big Aggregators/Suppliers

Most smaller directories obtain your businesses NAP information from data aggregators/suppliers.

Here are the big ones:

Infogroup/InfoUSA—update/check your data with their Express Update service

Factual—use their data preview tool to check and update your current listing

Acxiom—use to update/claim your listing

Thomson Local—use their free listing service to add your business

Neustar Localeze—search their directory for your business, then request to manage the listing if you haven’t done so already. Not listed? Add your business here.

3.2. Build More Citations

Now that you’ve found and fixed existing citations, it’s time to build even more.

I recommend starting with some core structured citations.

Using Whitespark’s Citation Finder Tool

Whitespark’s local citation finder tool finds opportunities based on your location and keyphrase.

Just enter your location and some keywords related to your business (e.g., plumber). The tool will do the heavy lifting for you.

whitespark citation finder

For this search, it found 110 potential citation opportunities.

It’s then just a case of creating listings on any relevant sites. You can easily outsource this task to a VA too.

SIDENOTE. Whitespark is a freemium tool. The bulk of the results will be blurred out unless you’re a paying member. But it’s still possible to find some decent opportunities, even with a free account. 

Using the Anchors Report in Ahrefs Site Explorer

Site Explorer > enter a competitor’s domain > Anchors

Generic anchors like these often come from directories

Chapter 4. On-Page SEO

Many “traditional” on-page SEO practices apply here, like:

Keyword in H1

Keyword in title tag

Keyword in URL

Short and sweet URLs

Enticing meta description

But there are a few other things to keep when trying to rank locally, like displaying NAP information and adding relevant schema markup.

There are also differences in approach depending on the number of locations you serve.

So let’s cover both bases…

4.1. Set Up Your Website Structure to Rank Local Landing Pages

If you serve multiple areas/cities and want to rank in each of those locations, you need to set up local landing pages.

Here’s the structure I would recommend:‑1/‑2/‑3/

Want to see a business doing this extremely well? Check out Europcar.

They rank well for hundreds of location-based terms, such as “car hire [location]” and “car rental [location].”

Take note of the pages that are ranking. (ranks for “car hire London”) (ranks for “car hire Edinburgh”) (ranks for “car hire Inverness”) (ranks for “car hire Belfast”)

They are all location-specific landing pages.

So this is clearly the way to go if you want to rank in multiple locations.

4.2. Optimize Your Homepage

Most businesses should optimize their homepage around their primary location.

For example, a Sheffield-based wedding photographer should optimize their omepage for terms like “sheffield wedding photographer” etc.

I know what you may be thinking…

“[…] but I do weddings all over the UK/Europe/The World! I don’t want to restrict myself to [location]”

Fair point. So you should leave out the location references and just optimize for “wedding photographer”, right? After all, that has 45x more monthly searches.

Despite not adding a location modifier to your search, Google still shows localized results. This is because they’re able to infer your location from things like GPS (on mobile), your IP, etc. They know where you are, so they effectively just add the local modifier for you in the background.

So, you may as well optimize your homepage for your location.

Here are a few pointers:

Show NAP information (add this in the footer, unless you have local landing pages for other physical locations)

Embed a Google Map showing your location (optional — but helps customers see/find where you are)

Display testimonials/reviews/etc.

Add relevant schema marku

4.3. Optimize Your Local Landing Pages

Your local landing pages should be optimized around individual locations.

Let’s say that you’re a Sheffield-based wedding photographer serving two other locations: Leeds, and Manchester. You might have the following local landing pages:

Here are a few additional inclusions specific for local landing pages:

Opening hours;

Local NAP (if you have a real local presence);

Related keywords, sprinkled throughout

4.4. Add Schema Markup

Schema really isn’t that complicated.

 It’s just some additional code that gives Google additional information about your business/website, and helps them to better understand the data being displayed on your website.

You don’t have to be a technical wizard to implement it either. Google’s Structured Markup Helper does most of the work for you.

Just tick the “local businesses” checkbox, paste in one of your pages, then hit “start tagging.”

structured markup tool google

Your page will load in a visual editor. Adding markup is as simple as right-clicking any appropriate on-page elements and choosing relevant markup items from a list.

Let’s start with NAP information. So Business Name…

You can also add markup for opening hours and a bunch of other stuff. If you want to add cell/mobile numbers, just use the telephone markup twice—this is perfectly ok to do.

Just remember that all of this data should match up as closely as possible with your Google My Business data.

When you’re done, hit “create HTML” and select the JSON-LD format.

You will see a code snippet 

You can then test the code using Google’s Structured Data Testing tool.

Just paste it in and it will highlight any errors.

Chapter 5. Link Building (for Local Sites)

According to Moz’s 2017 survey, “link signals” are the most important ranking factor for local organic results.

For the local “snack pack,” they’re the second most important factor.

Create and Promote a Useful Local Resource

Nothing will help you to win over potential customers more genuinely helping them.

Let’s assume you’re a plumber in Sheffield, UK.

Your target market is Sheffield folk. What kind of resource would be genuinely useful to those people AND likely to attract links?

Here are a couple of ideas:

A Guide to Plant Care (for Sheffield Folk)—Up here in t’North of England, our water is soft. But did you know that soft water isn’t great for plants? I didn’t, but now I’m wondering if this is the reason my basil plant always dies. It isn’t totally plumbing-related, but I’m sure a guide to plant care for Sheffielders would be both eye-opening and useful.

 How to Unblock a Drain with Henderson’s Relish and Baking Soda—OK, this is a bit of a silly one. I found this video via Content Explorer, which talks about unblocking a drain using vinegar and baking soda. With Henderson’s Relish being produced in Sheffield—and tasting just like vinegar, according to my taste buds—I’m wondering if this might have the same effect. If so, this could (maybe) make a great piece of linkbait.

I’m not saying those ideas are great (they are just off the top of my head), but hopefully you get the idea.

If you’re not feeling so creative, here are a couple more ideas that tend to do well:

Local “best of” guides—Create a list of the best restaurants, bars, breweries, attractions, things to do, etc. in the area.

Local calendars—Create a local calendar, featuring the most notable events across numerous categories occuring in the next few months.

Once created, it’s just a case of promoting it.

Facebook groups like this are a great place to start.

5.2. Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is still a great way to build high-quality links.

 Just don’t do it solely for the links. Do it for the exposure it can generate for your business.

In 2018, it’s more about quality than quantity—you should be writing for blogs that have the potential to send targeted referral traffic to your website.

For local businesses, this will usually be either:

Local blogs and publications;

Industry-specific blogs

Finding local blogs is as simple as Googling things like:

[location] intitle:”write for us”;

[location] intitle:”write for me”;

[location] ”write for us”;

[location] ”guest post”

Here’s what it might look like for a business based in Miami:

miami guest posts

You can also do the same to find industry publications—just replace the location with a keyword (e.g.. “plumbing” instead of “miami”).

Similar searches can also be done in Ahrefs Content Explorer.

guest post content explorer

Looking for plumbing-related guest post opportunities in Ahrefs Content Explorer.

Recommended reading: An In-Depth Look at Today’s Guest Blogging (Case Studies, Data & Tips)

5.3. Improve Popular Content (a.k.a. “Skyscraper Technique”)

Her’s a page I found via Content Explorer about preventing freezing pipes.


pliumbing referring domains

Found via Ahrefs Content Explorer when searching for “title:plumbing”

It’s 482 words long and has 116 referring domains.


Use the referring domains filter in Content Explorer to filter for pages with lots of backlinks.

referring domains filter content explorer

Having looked closer at the backlinks in Site Explorer, there are some good links too.

Here’s a DR90 link from—the official blog of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation:

mass gov links

It would be super-easy to create a better guide to frozen pipe prevention and steal links from this page.


Falling From A “Skyscraper”: Why Famous SEO Strategies Won’t Work For You

What to do when the Skyscraper Technique Fails? [Case Study]

5.4. Steal More of Your Competitors Links With Link Intersect

Link Intersect is useful for more than just building citations.

You can also use it to find common links among your competitors.

Link Intersect > enter competing domains > see common links

It’s best to do with the top-ranking sites for your target terms (e.g., Sheffield plumber), as this should uncover needle-moving links.

 Nine times out of 10, this will uncover a lot of directory links.

link intersect directory links

This isn’t a bad thing—it’s a good way to discover more NAP citation and nofollow link opportunities.

But it will also uncover forum links, guest posts, and other unique types of links.

Case in point, this DR78, dofollow link from an NHS discount site:

nhs discount link

Links like these are easily-replicable.


7 Actionable Ways to Loot Your Competitors’ Backlinks

Find Your Competitor’s Recurring Backlink Sources with this Simple (yet little known) Hack

Competitor Analysis Tools (And a Sample Website Analysis With Only 2 Tools)

5.5. Even MORE Link Building Tactics!

It would be impossible to cover every link building technique in this article.

So here are some of the best link-building resources from our blog and others:


The Noob Friendly Guide to the best digital marketing agency

A Simple (But Complete) Guide to Broken Link Building

3 White Hat Link Building Techniques That Go Far Beyond Links

What’s the Cost of Buying Links in 2018? [Study]

How to Get High-Quality Backlinks with the TRUST Formula [Case Study]

11 Ways for Local Businesses to Get Links

5 Local Link-Building Tactics to Try in 2018

Chapter 6. Reviews (and Other Ongoing Activities)

Having a “set it, and forget it” mentality is the worst thing you can do when it comes to SEO.

Local SEO is no different.

As such, there are a few ongoing activities you should keep in mind.

6.1. Keep Active on Google My Business

Here are the three most important ongoing tasks with GMB:

Respond to customer/client reviews;

Look out for incorrect edits;

Use Google Posts to keep your customers informed

No.1 is pretty self-explanatory—just keep track of and respond to reviews (positive and negative) in a timely fashion via Google My Business.

 SIDENOTE. You should do the same for any other review sites that are crucial for your business (e.g., TripAdvisor, for restaurants).

But you also need to keep a look out for incorrect edits to your listing.

Basically, anyone can suggest an edit to any Google listing with the “Suggest an edit” button.

Google seemingly implements a lot of suggested changes without notifying the business owner or validating the information. So it’s worth giving this a quick check once every couple of weeks to make sure everything is still accurate.

Now let’s talk about Google Posts…

Google Posts is a micro-blogging platform within Google My Business. All updates are visible in the Knowledge Panel and on your listing.

Knowledge Graph showing Google Posts from Just Mind Counseling in the SERPs

Not only does this increase your SERP real estate, but it provides an opportunity to attract more attention and boost conversions.

Some studies (here, and here) even show a correlation between “snack pack” rankings and Google Posts activity.

You can create a Google Post from within Google My Business.

There are a few options to choose from, including:

Upload an image;

Write text (up to 300 words)

You can also choose the call-to-action button (“Learn more,” “Sign Up,” “Get Offer”, etc.) to include on your post.

I recommend all local businesses play around with this feature and stay active with Google Posts. It doesn’t take much time or effort to do, so ROI will likely be high.

Google Posts – What They Are and How To Use Them

Create a post on Google — Google My Business Help

12 things to know to succeed with Google Posts

6.2. Publish New Content Regularly

Blogging regularly does two things:

Tells Google (and visitors) that your site is actively maintained;

Attracts links

But don’t blog just for the sake of it—go for quality over quantity.

Just publishing a new post every month or two will be enough for most small businesses.

I’m not going to go any deeper on this point as we already have a ton of resources related to blogging on the Ahrefs blog. I’ve included some further reading links below.



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