Local SEO is growing in importance, and too many companies are neglecting it in favor of a national strategy. Local SEO doesn’t take much more effort than a national campaign, and it rewards participants with a greater visibility in an environment with less competition. Ranking on page five for a national term isn’t worth nearly as much as holding a number one position for that same term on a local level, even if the potential audience is somewhat smaller.
After Google’s recent Pigeon update, the scope and environment for local SEO has changed dramatically. There are now dozens of new ranking factors, stemming from third party sites and user reviews, which can affect your overall ranking for a local search term. The good news is that you don’t have to spend as much effort stuffing keywords into your content, but in exchange, you have to rely more on the actions of your customers and audience to fuel your authority.
If you want to get a read for the health of your local SEO campaign and find direction for any changes you’ll need to make, it’s a good idea to perform a high-level audit.
Before you start looking at the individual factors that are affecting your authority and rank, you’ll want to get a relative measurement of how your campaign is performing. For this, you’ll want to look at some of the same metrics you’d use in a national campaign, with extra attention to your user demographics.
Log into Google Analytics and check out the Acquisition tab, whose Overview will show you a breakdown of how many site visitors you had, and where those visitors came from. Pay special attention to the Organic Traffic number—this is the number of people who came to your site from searching for a term. Social Traffic is also important, especially if you have an active social media presence as a part of your overall campaign.
Your Organic Traffic figure should grow from month to month fairly consistently. If you notice the numbers growing stagnant, it could be an indication of something wrong with the campaign.
While still in Analytics, head over to the Audience section, and take a look at the Overview. Depending on the operating range of your company and which local markets you’re targeting, you can look at the county and territory of your users or the city under the “Demographics” tab on the left. Analytics will break down your user visits as a total number of visitors, and as a percentage of your total traffic. A high percentage of local visitors is generally an indication of a high-quality local optimization campaign.
Once you know where you stand with organic visits and demographics, you can look at the individual components of your campaign and analyze how they are influencing the broader numbers.
One of the most important elements of a post-Pigeon local optimization campaign is your business’s presence on as many third party and local directory sites as possible. The go-to example is Yelp, an aggregator of local business information and customer reviews, but there are several other sites with a niche focus, such as UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor.
Claim your company’s account on as many of these platforms as possible. You’ll want to do this for two reasons: first, you’ll be able to verify your information’s consistency across the web, especially your name, address, phone number, and business hours. Second, you’ll have more opportunities to cultivate reviews, but we’ll get more into that in the next section.
Claiming your profile and verifying your information on these sites is usually a one-time process, but you’ll want to check back every so often to make sure your information is still up-to-date. You’ll also want to do a quick check to see if there are any new, relevant directories that have emerged and claim your account early.
Checking your business information is only the first half of the local directory audit. The second part is more intensive, and arguably more important for your customer relationships. These sites all share one core feature: the ability for customers to post public reviews. The more high-quality reviews you have the better—it looks good to the other customers and even sends an authoritative ranking signal to Google.
Take a look at the number of new reviews you’ve gotten, and how positive those reviews are. If you’re getting a high number of negative reviews, read them carefully and try to figure out what you can change to encourage more positive reviews. If you aren’t getting many reviews at all, you need to do more to encourage your in-person customers to leave feedback. (Remember, it’s a violation of policy to directly ask for reviews. Instead, simply direct your customers to the review site itself and leave the decision to review up to them).
You’ll also have the opportunity to reply to reviews. This is a good chance to reinforce positive experiences, and make up for any negative ones.
Like with any SEO campaign, you’ll want to take a look at your link profile, especially if you notice your organic traffic numbers dropping. You’ll need a lot of links to gain authority, but you also want to make sure those links come from quality sources. Use a tool like Moz’sOpen Site Explorer to search for instances of your links on external sites. If any of them look suspicious or unfamiliar, take a closer look. If you don’t remember building the link, or if you suspect the link may be harming your domain authority in any way, reach out to the webmaster and ask for the link to be taken down.
Finally, you’ll want to take an objective look at your content strategy. Like with a national strategy, you’ll want to ensure your content answers customer questions, covers topics related to your industry, is detailed, and is well written. But local optimization campaigns need to go a step further, with content that frequently mentions your city or region, and occasional pieces that are relevant to the local community.
For example, you could write about a local event or local news story and feature it on your blog, or you could submit a press release about your company’s attendance at a local celebration. The goal here is to produce enough content to objectively tie your company to the city or region in question. Don’t go overboard—keyword stuffing is a danger here—but if you aren’t producing enough locally optimized content, it could interfere with your demographic makeup and local visibility.
After performing a local SEO audit, you should have a good idea of where you stand, and what areas you’ll need to improve upon as you move forward. Take some time to outline a plan moving forward, including objective goals related to traffic changes and new initiatives. Set milestones for accomplishing each of these goals, and follow up when appropriate to re-audit your campaign and see whether you hit the mark. Just don’t expect immediate results—auditing your campaign once a month is enough for most businesses.