Competition is fierce, especially for new local businesses. New businesses are always popping up.

A huge challenge for many companies is figuring out how to rank high in Google’s search results. When someone needs a plumber or a landscaper, that person will often search in Google and call the first few listings in the search results.

To build your business, it’s vital to make your way to the top of the rankings. In this guide, we will walk you through our proven, step-by-step process to catapult you to the top of the list. But first, let’s look at the main reasons why local SEO is so essential.

Beginners Guide to Local SEO- Steps to Improve Your Google Rankings

3 Reasons All Local Businesses Should Invest in Local SEO

1. Google is the New Yellow Pages: Until recently, the tried and true strategy for local businesses was to place an ad in the Yellow Pages and wait for the phone to ring. Today, though, a stunning 97% of people search for local businesses online, and Google is by far the most popular option.

2. Free Traffic: Although search advertising can be a very effective channel, it’s hard to beat free. If you boost your organic Google rankings, you can take advantage of an ongoing stream of free traffic that you can convert into customers.

3. Level Playing Field: Local SEO is one area where small local businesses are on an equal playing field with larger, national businesses. And if you implement Local SEO best practices, it’s not uncommon to gain first-page rankings in as little as 30 days.

Here are the 5 steps to get you started…

Step 1: Select Your Keywords

First, just make a quick list of simple keywords that explain your services. For example, an accountant might choose “accountant”, “CPA”, and “tax advisor.” Keep going until you have a reasonably comprehensive list, and then sign up for a free Google Ads account.

You don’t need to create or fund an ad campaign, but a Google Ads account gives you access to the free Google Keyword Planner. This helpful tool lets you input your selected keywords to see how much traffic they generate, as well as suggestions for related keywords that you may not have considered.

After running all of your prospective keywords through the Google Keyword Planner, you are ready to finalize your list. All keywords can be loosely classified into 2 basic categories:

Buying Intent Keywords

People searching for buying intent keywords are looking for your product or service now. For example, someone who searches for “tax help Orlando” likely needs to have specific tax questions answered as soon as possible.

Your initial focus should be on buying intent keywords since those are the searches that are more likely to generate leads and customers for your business. Incorporate those keywords into the content on your homepage, and create service pages for them. Your homepage should be focused on your #1 most important “buying intent” keyword. And then each of your service pages should be optimized for keywords related to those specific services.

Research Intent Keywords

Research intent keywords show that a prospect is “just looking” or potentially looking to handle the work himself.  The person might want your services eventually, but not today. For example, “What does a CPA do” likely indicates that the prospect is just beginning to wonder how an accountant can offer help. Or, a person researching “how to plant a dogwood tree” may not want to hire a landscaper right now.

Research intent keywords should not be of a top priority early on since they do not drive quick conversions. Hang onto them, though, as they are excellent for FAQs and blogs. These informational posts introduce you to prospects who might remember you when they are ready to make a purchase.

Step 2: Optimize For Your Keywords

Now that your keywords are finalized, you can move on to optimization. You need to separately optimize for them in 2 places—your Google Business Profile and your website. Here’s what to do:

A) Google Business Profile

Think of your Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business profile) as a mini website that will show up in the “Map” section of Google local listings. It offers a brief snapshot of your business.

The important thing to recognize is that Google prefers to show Google Business Profiles for lots of local searches. Google realizes that when people are searching for a dentist or a yoga studio, they want to see local results — and Google shows the “Map” results above the regular website results.

In order to rank on the first page, your Google Business Profile must be fully completed and entirely accurate.

Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  • Verification: First, claim your page and submit it through the Google verification process. Google will send you a postcard in the mail with a verification code.
  • NAP: Make sure that your business NAP (name, address, and phone number) are up to date, and are identical across your Google profile, your website, and other online listings. You can check the accuracy and consistency of your NAP with MozLocal. Let Google know that you have a local business by choosing a local phone number rather than an 800 number.
  • Categories: Google categories must be focused on services rather than results. For example, a fence company might choose Fence Contractor and Fence Supply Store, along with any supplementary services such as Handyman. Aim for 3 to 5 categories in total. Here’s a searchable list of Google Business Profile categories from Pleper.
  • Description: Your description is a brief overview of your business that closes with a call to action, and should be between 100 and 200 words long. A fence company might use something like this: {Name of Company} offers professional {fence building and repair or similar} in {Your City}. {Provide some information about your company and/or why customers choose you.} Call {Phone Number} today for a free estimate!
  • Hours: Make sure that your hours of operation are correct and are identical across the Internet.
  • Images: Images help to humanize you to potential customers, and can increase customer engagement. Depending on the nature of your business, you might add a few photos of your office and your staff, your team at work, or even your satisfied customers (with permission).

B) Website Optimization

Start with your homepage and service pages, which are considered your core pages, and optimize them for your selected buying intent keywords. Later, you will optimize your blogs and FAQs, or content pages, for your research intent keywords. Here’s how:

i) Homepage

The most important element on your homepage is a 50 to 65-character title tag, which is roughly equivalent to a book’s chapter title. An orthodontist, which is a specialized type of dentist, may use a homepage title tag like this one:

Orthodontist in {Your City} | {Name of Your Practice}

Next is the meta description, which should be 100 to 150 characters long, describe your core services, and end with a call to action. For an orthodontist, it might look like this:

{Name of Practice} offers quality {orthodontic services keywords} in {Your City}. Call {Phone Number} today to schedule your free evaluation!

Next, make sure you’ve got a well-written H1, the visible headline on your page. It should be concise and easy to read and should include your main Google category. Here’s an example homepage H1 template for an orthodontist:

{Name of Practice}: {Orthodontist} in {City, State}

Finally, consider your page copy. It should be at least 500 to 1000 words in length, tightly written and edited, and peppered with your primary keyword in a natural fashion. Give some background information on your company, briefly describe your main services, and end with a strong call to action.

Also, make sure you have a prominent call to action “above the fold” on your homepage, so it’s obvious how to contact your company, without scrolling down the page.

ii) Service Pages

Each of your core services should have its own separate service page. Optimize each for a buying intent keyword, following the same steps that you used for your homepage.

For example, if you’re an attorney with multiple practice areas, you’d want to have a separate page for each practice area (such as estate planning, criminal defense, and personal injury). And each of those pages should be optimized for the service keyword as well as the geographic keyword.

For example, the title tags for the pages could be structured like this:

Estate Planning Attorney in {City, State} | {Name of Practice}

Criminal Defense Attorney in {City, State} | {Name of Practice}

Personal Injury Attorney in {City, State} | {Name of Practice}

iii) Locations & “Service Area” Pages

If you have multiple locations, we recommend building out a page for each location.

And if you travel to your customers/clients, we recommend building out a Service Area section of your website, with 5-10 pages optimized for your 5-10 top priority towns within your service area.

Each page’s title tag could then have the service keyword and the geographic keyword pertaining to your primary service and the town.

iv) NAP on Every Page

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of having accurate and consistent Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP) information for your business online. One important step to take is to get your NAP listed on every page of your website, and an easy way to do that is to add your business Name, Address, and Phone number in the footer of every page on your site.

Step 3: Develop Citations and Links

Now that the skeleton of your local SEO campaign is in place, you are ready for citations and links. Both enhance your online reach and improve your Google rankings.

A) Citations

A citation is just a listing of your business NAP (name, address, and phone number) in an online directory. Popular options include general national directories such as Yelp, general local directories such as your town’s Chamber of Commerce site, and directories that are targeted to your industry.

Be careful to ensure that your NAP is identical across all of your listings. You can check the accuracy of your NAP using MozLocal.

B) Links

It’s important to build a foundation of links in order to put your business in the running with your local competitors.

Directories are a good starting point for building backlinks as well as citations.

Also, consider the “real world” offline relationships you have with colleagues, partners, and suppliers, and see if you have opportunities to get links from their websites or swap links.

In addition, research your competitors to see where they’re getting links. Tools like Moz Link Explorer and can show you where your nearby competitors find their links.

Step 4: Request Reviews

Online reviews are crucial for 2 reasons. First, they let Google know that you have a legitimate business. Second, they can help convince prospects to give your company a try. All reviews are valuable, but Google reviews are obviously the most important for improving your Google rankings.

The best way to get reviews on your Google profile is to send your customers a direct link to where they can post a review. We recommend sending your customers an email with that direct link. The only problem is that Google doesn’t make it super easy for you — you have to create this direct link yourself.

Here’s how to do it. Search for your company name, and you should see a Google Business Profile preview in the top-right of the search results. you’ll see the “Write a Review” button next to your company name, below your profile preview. Click on that link, and then copy the full URL in your browser. That’s the link you’ll want to share with your customers. It’ll be a long link, so just hyperlink it in your email, and say “Click here to leave us a review.”

People are generally eager to help, and doing this regularly can ensure a steady flow of recent reviews.

Step 5: Track Your Results

It’s important to track your results with Local SEO, so you know what’s working and what’s not, and how to improve over time.

Here are the 3 most important metrics to track:

A) Rankings

The search results that Google displays are customized based on location and your previous browsing activity. The best way to get consistent ranking metrics is to use a tool (rather than checking manually). Some of our favorite tools for tracking Local SEO rankings are AgencyAnalytics, Rank Ranger, and BrightLocal.

B) Traffic

To track your traffic (visitors to your website), use Google Analytics.

We recommend keeping an eye on organic search traffic trends on a long-term and short-term basis. For example, you should review the long-term SEO traffic trends over the past year, and also compare the most recent month (such as April 2023) to the previous month (March 2023), as well as to the same month from the previous year (e.g. April 2022).

That way, you’ll have a sense of whether your traffic is growing over time, and you’ll also know how each month stacks up to previous months. And if you have a seasonal business, then it’s important to measure against the same month in the previous year versus the previous month.

C) Leads

Finally, it’s critical to track the leads you’re generating from your website. For example, you’ll want to set up Google Analytics Goals to track webform completions when people submit a contact form on your website or sign up for a coupon or for your email newsletter.

Using Goal tracking in Google Analytics, you can track how many leads you’re generating from SEO, as well as which pages on your website and generating the most conversions.

Need Help with SEO?

At Main Street ROI, we offer one-time SEO projects to audit and tune-up your website, as well as monthly SEO management services including ongoing auditing, technical fixes, content development, link building, consulting and reporting. Wondering how much local SEO costs? We’ve got that answer, too.

Whether you just want to improve your local SEO or build an entire SEO campaign, we can help. Click here to request a quote for SEO services.

We work with all types of small businesses, from moving companies and personal trainers to appliance repair companies and hair salons.