Local SEO is very promising for local businesses. It offers all the benefits of a national SEO program—increased visibility, more traffic, and so on—but at a fraction of the competition and with more relevant traffic. Ranking factors for local SEO are in many ways similar to those for national ranking, such as the quality and diversity of your onsite content and the quality of your external links, but there are a handful of distinguishing factors that are locally exclusive.
The ones most important to your local rank are called “local citations,” and simply put, they’re instances of your business profile on various directories and listings around the web. Google aggregates this information and uses its prominence and accuracy to determine your business’s local authority. The problem is, finding and building all these citations can be a tedious, complicated endeavor.
Fortunately, there’s a more straightforward way to go about it:
Before you do anything, you should know exactly where you stand with local citations. Even if you’ve never taken any efforts to improve your local standings, there’s a good chance your business is listed with at least a handful of major directories. Run a quick search for your business name alongside a geographic indicator (usually your city name). Other than pages of your site, you might see your business profile on Yelp, Yahoo Local, or other third party aggregators. Take note of this information. Is your information accurate? How many places do you see your business? This will let you know how much work you have in store for yourself. If you find your information isn’t accurate or that you aren’t listed anywhere, you’ll have a hole to dig yourself out of.
Your first step is to make sure your NAP information (name, address, and phone number) is accurate and present on your main site. This is the first place Google’s going to look for your local information, so if it isn’t accurate or consistent here, it will reflect poorly on you and you’ll have a hard time ranking on a local level. Everything needs to be consistent here, including the formatting of your name and whether you spell out or abbreviate your address nomenclature. Make sure it’s easily visible on your homepage, on your contact page, and the footer of your site no matter which page you’re on. Jot it down to ensure you keep it consistent throughout the remainder of the process.
Now, check out your social media profiles, and try to claim as many as you can on as many platforms as you can. The more visibility you can get out of these free profiles, the better—even if you don’t plan on updating them all regularly. Include your accurate NAP information in the profile section, and use them as groundwork to get rolling on your guest posting strategy (which will also come in handy for links). If you can, include at least your business name and location in your author profile on offsite opportunities.
Once you’ve established some level of an offsite presence, you can start signing up for the major aggregators—the third party local directories that Google relies on most for accurate information. Most of these sites offer free signups for business owners (as long as you can prove you own the business), and information submissions and edits are a snap to do. Yelp is the most prominent example here, but Superpages, City Search, Angie’s List, Yahoo Local, and Trip Advisor are good examples of other organizations. Depending on the nature of your business, you might also look for industry-specific listings, the way Urban Spoon functions for restaurants.
Once you’ve hit all the major citation providers you can find, do some digging and get yourself listed in some local directories and newspapers. Find your city’s online headquarters (which may be a community page, news page, or similar) and find ways to get yourself listed. Because they’re focused on only one geographic area, you’ll earn more local authority this way. Searching for “business listings” followed by your city name should give you a good list to start.
Finally, search for your competitors alongside a geographic indicator. Find out where they’re being listed, and if there are any directories or offsite citations they have that you don’t, make a submission. You may not want to copy your competitor’s strategy directly, but performing this step can help you find opportunities for citations that you otherwise would have missed.
The process of submitting citations to local directories, even in this step-by-step format, is tedious and time consuming. You could easily spend dozens of hours executing the work. There are several service providers who can do all this work for you, sometimes to hundreds of directories at once, but this costs several hundred dollars at a minimum. You’ll have to decide which is more important to you: time or money.
With all your local citations in place (or as many as you’re willing to build), you’ll have a great foundation on which to build your local SEO empire. Stay committed to SEO best practices like writing quality content and getting featured on offsite blogs, and be sure to cultivate as many good reviews as you can from your customers. Continue doing great business and keep your citations in order, and you should have no problem earning a spot in the top three.