If you started a blog and you wanted to grow it to thousands of visitors each month across the globe through SEO – you would have to invest a significant amount of time or money into it.
And even then, you might still have crickets. Why?
Because you’d be competing with everyone on the planet who publishes on the internet in your space.
But let’s say you started a chiropractor clinic in your town. Even as a brand new business, you can probably start competing and getting business through Google within a couple months. How?
You’re only competing with other chiropractors in your town or city.
Local SEO offers much lower hanging fruit when it comes to growing a business online. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you can do it yourself with no experience. But it does mean the minimum investment to start getting results is much lower than other forms of SEO and marketing.
So how can you grow your small business locally through SEO? Let’s dive in:
What is Local SEO?
Local Search Engine Optimization is the attempt to rank highly on sites like Google for a local audience. So if you work with people in the same vicinity where your business is located, most of your search engine optimization efforts will be Local SEO efforts. In order to fully explain local SEO, we first have to discuss search intent.
What is Search Intent?
When you open Google to ask a question or find something, Google is making an attempt to serve you the exact results you’re looking for. Search intent refers to the reason why you’re performing a specific search. For instance, when you search for “dentist,” are you looking for general information on dentists? Are you looking for median salary for dentists? Or are you looking for a new local dentist?
Each of these stem from different intent. And because Google does a pretty good job of serving us appropriate results, they’re aware of this.
So give it a try. Search Google for “dentist” and see what you get. Here’s what you’d get from Dallas:
The first thing Google assumes is that you’re looking for a local dentist. Which is probably true for 90% of “dentist” searches. That’s why they show a local map pack with local businesses.
What is the Local Pack?
As you can see, three lucky businesses get the honor of landing in what we call the “Local Pack” or the “Map Pack.” Some also refer to this as the 3 pack. This map will almost always display three search results. The factors that go into how these results are ranked are very similar to the factors that determine the 10 organic results beneath. However, the local map pack places a bit more weight on location and proximity.
You may even notice that the map looks a little different for a “near me” search v.s. an “in my city” search. To Google, “near me” indicates you’re interested in the closest business you can find, opposed to someone in your zip code.
If you’re a local business or organization the local pack is something you want in on. It’s extremely valuable internet real estate.
The Power of Ranking in the Local 3 Pack
So how valuable is ranking in the local pack? Super valuable.
The estimates are all over board. Some think more than 50% of clicks go to the local pack, leaving the other 50% for the ads + 10 results beneath to fight over. Other more conservative estimates say it’s more like 47%.
The majority of clicks from locally intended searches go to the results in the local pack, making this the most valuable real estate on a local search results page.
A solid SEO strategy for local businesses is to aim to rank in both the local pack and the top 3 of the organic results for your primary keyword. But the local pack should probably be top priority. We’ll discuss ranking in the
So how do you get into the local pack?
4 Key Steps to Ranking in the Local 3 Pack
There are so many signals that go into the local search algorithm – meaning Google looks at many different factors when they rank the results on a local Search Engine Results Page (SERP). We’re going to take you through the most important 5 factors.
A Quick Word on Local Keywords
Keywords are going to be a foundational element of any SEO campaign. You don’t just want your site to show up on Google, you want it to show up for specific searches that are made often and most likely to lead to new business.
But when it comes to local SEO and the local pack, keyword research isn’t rocket science (nor is it really all that necessary).
You want to rank for your service (e.g. dentist) in your location. So if you’re a dentist in Dallas, here are your highest priority keywords (no research necessary):
- Dentist in Dallas
- Dentist near me
- Dentist Dallas TX
Sure, there may be some slight variations, like “dentist office” or “dental professional.” But for the most part – the same three results are going to show in the local pack regardless the variation.
And on top of that, there’s really not much you can do to influence the keywords you rank for in the local pack. There’s some you can do, but most keyword research will be reserved for your on-page optimizations (which we don’t dive into much here).
1. Google Business Profile Optimization
When it comes to local marketing, your Google Business Profile is absolutely vital. Think of it as a second website homepage. Because it’s so close to home for Google, most believe it carries more weight than any other citation or mention of your business on the web. According to Moz, it is the most important ranking factor for local pack results.
Here are a few things you can do to optimize your Google My Business Listing:
Create your GBP listing
Type in your company’s name and location into Google and see if your Google My Business listing appears in the right hand sidebar. If so, good start. If not, you need to create one! Here’s a quick how-to guide from Google.
Claim your listing
If your business does appear when you search your brand name, you need to claim your listing. 9/10 this is a very simple process. But if you work from your home or in a building with multiple suites, it can get a little tricky.
Add your business category, hours, and photos
This is the minimum amount of information you should include on your listing. When it comes to photos, we’d recommend your logo, a photo of the exterior of your location, and a photo of the interior. Bonus points for photos of the team at work.
Add a description and some posts
Two recent additions to what Google My Business offers are a business description and posts. The description is a great place to pitch yourself and your services while using relevant keywords. Posts are an easy way to let customers know about updates, deals, or upcoming events.
2. Earn Google Reviews
Second to having a Google Business Profile, earning reviews on it is probably the second strongest local SEO ranking factor.
Occasionally you may see a few businesses with minimal reviews show in the local pack, but for the most part – all three will boast a large number of reviews.
A few tips on getting reviews:
Ask for Them
Unless you are a restaurant or someone is really mad at you, it’s unlikely you’re going to rack up reviews without asking for them – especially if you’re in the B2B space. Create some sort of system where you ask following the completion of the sales process – whether that’s an email, an in-person ask, or even a text message. Consider using QR codes as well.
Respond to Them
You may have heard that it’s important to respond to negative reviews, but you should also respond to positive reviews! Try not to make every response sound the same, and don’t be afraid to personalize if you know the reviewee.
Google is pretty clear that you shouldn’t offer incentives or bribes for reviews. They should be organic. Would Google have any way to know if you incentivized a review? Probably not, but if they ever find out a way to do so, rest assured you would feel their wrath.
3. Local Citations and NAPs
NAPs is an acronym that stands for name, address, phone. Instances of these tell search engines who you are, where you’re located, and how someone can get in touch with you.
It’s important to have your NAP showing accurately on your site (usually in the footer and contact page), but you should also aim to have your NAP and mentions of your brand show up on directory and listing sites relevant to your industry.
At one point in time, many in local SEO felt like you should have as many citations as possible, because there is often a direct correlation between top rankings and number of citations. Here’s a graph showing that correlation in the organic results:
But firstly, we’re only talking about ranking in the local pack in this post. Second, it’s more likely that the top ranking businesses just had really big digital footprints, meaning there may be more correlation than causation here.
At some point, you start to see diminishing returns (if any benefit at all). So we advise clients to make sure they’ve got their top tier citations covered, and maybe around 20-30 second tier citations.
We like to break down citations into two tiers:
Top Tier Citations
These are more foundational citations – as in, if you don’t have them, adding them can give you a significant boost in local ranking. Think the obvious directories like YellowPages, Yelp, and even Facebook. You need to make sure you have a listing on each of these sites first.
You should also consider the top directory sites in your industry as first tier. So if you’re a restaurant, OpenTable and TripAdvisor would be big ones.
Second Tier Citations
These are more competitive citations. In other words, adding a listing to the below sites may not move you from an average ranking of 20 to top 3, but having a few more than your competitors could mean the difference between a 4th and a 3rd ranking. Here’s a list of some common local directories:
- Chamber of Commerce
- Merchant Circle
I know what you might be thinking: “None of these will help me get business, no one actually uses these.” While it’s true way more people rely on Google to find this type of information, having listings on these sites will help build your ranking potential on Google.
In addition to these generic, local directories, it’s important to have listings on industry-specific niche directories as well. BrightLocal provides an awesome resource showing you the most important citations for your industry.
4. Local Links
Links remain one of the most critical ranking factors – in local and non-local searches. We’ve listed it last because it is something that can take a little time, unlike the above factors, which are lower hanging fruit.
Having said that, there are some ways you can build backlinks without a ton of effort, and in a way that benefits your business regardless of the time it takes:
Ask partners for links
If you have partners or vendors who mention you on their sites, don’t hesitate to ask them for a link. If you are in association with other reputable and credible organizations in your area this is a great way to let Google know you are credible as well.
Submit press releases
Any time you have a new hire, host an event, or just have a company update that’s newsworthy, submit it to local press. And if your story gets picked up, don’t be afraid to ask for a link to your website if they don’t give you one.
This is another easy (though maybe expensive) way to pick up links. It’s also a great way to build brand awareness.
Perform local surveys
A local survey that others in your industry would find valuable is a fantastic way to build links and buzz. For instance, as a dentist, a study asking 100 people how often they floss could be the kind of content that others in your industry would find valuable and consider linking to or sharing.
Create other local content
Similar to the above, anything that you can provide that would be valuable to others in your town or industry is going to be the kind of thing that picks up links. As a realtor, a great piece of content might be “The New Resident’s Complete Guide to Living in Greenville.” As a home builder, maybe something like “The Best Places to Build in Greenville Right Now.”
Local SEO / Local 3 Pack FAQ
What is the Local 3 Pack?
The local pack, map pack, snack pack, and 3 pack all refer to the window often just below the Google ads that features 3 (or sometimes 5) local business profiles. It’s almost always accompanied by a map that features markers for each location.
Can I Stuff Keywords Into My Google Business Profile Title?
Yes, you can. It’s pretty obvious that Google values and rewards having your primary keyword in your GBP title. But it’s against their rules. You should only be displaying your actual business name. So why don’t they do more about it?
Good question. Probably because it’s difficult to regulate. But if brought to their attention, they will sometimes act.
So if you’re struggling to rank as a dentist in Dallas because your competitors all have business titles like “Dentist in Dallas – Crowns, Teeth Cleaning, and More” when their business name is actually “Happy Smiles,” your best bet is to report all competitors doing so. First, you should just suggest a name change. If this doesn’t work, you can submit a complaint of sorts to Google.
We call this “spam fighting,” and here’s the best guide to doing it well.
What if I Work Out of My House?
The best practice for this is to mark yourself as a “Service Area Business,” meaning you only serve customers at their location (or at coffee shops). This could hurt your chances of ranking to a degree, but plenty of businesses do really well regardless.
If you actually meet customers at your home and don’t mind your address being public, then just go about business as usual and use your address.
What if I Work in a Coworking Space?
This is tricky at times. Google says,
“Businesses can’t list an office at a co-working space unless that office maintains clear signage, receives customers at the location during business hours, and is staffed during business hours by your business staff.”
So if you actually work there, are present during working hours, and have signage – then you’re good. Otherwise, you may run into issues.
What if I Have Multiple Locations?
No problem! Google Business Profile makes it really easy to manage multiple locations. You’ll set each location up and verify them individually.
What if I’m in a Super Competitive Industry?
If you’re a new business competing with well-established companies who have hundreds of reviews and 10+ years in business, it might be difficult to get into the local pack quickly. You may want to consider local services ads or Google Ads while you ramp up SEO.