What is local SEO?

A quick course in boosting your business through local search

SEO. Organic search. Algorithms. Queries. Sound like Greek to you? Don’t worry – SEO (short for “search engine optimization”) isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think. And this short little acronym can mean a seriously big boost for your business. All it takes is a little time and knowledge, and you’ll be driving more customers to your website.

Read on for tips on harnessing the power of SEO for your business.

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1. First things first – what is SEO?

If you don’t know SEO from CEO, this is a good place to start. If you know the basics of what SEO is, skip on down to the next section.

SEO is an inbound marketing strategy that drives organic search traffic from search engines like Google and Bing. This means that your business interacts with potential customers while they’re actively seeking your services (like when you search for “Nike running shoes” and Google shows you ads for exactly that).

This differs from outbound marketing strategies, which tend to “interrupt” their audience (think TV commercials).

Although they’re both inbound marketing strategies, organic search differs from paid search (or PPC) in that organic listings are not paid for and the order of the rankings is determined by search engine algorithms. Here’s a visual distinction:

2. Why does SEO matter?

SEO matters because, generally, higher rankings will get you more traffic, which leads to more conversions. The exact click-through rate – or, the percentage of people who click on a result from the search engine results page (SERP) – of each ranking position differs based upon user intent, but everyone agrees that the higher the click-through rate, the higher the volume of traffic.

If you’re wondering, “Great, now how do I rank higher?”, here is everything you need to know in order to get started with local SEO.

3. How is local SEO different than regular SEO?

Local SEO is a facet of SEO that focuses on optimizing organic results that serve local results. Whether or not a query receives local results in the SERP depends upon the search engine’s interpretation of the user intent. Mobile queries, location-based queries (e.g. [Los Angeles tacos]), or service-oriented queries (e.g. [suit tailor]) will return local results. Even a query as broad as [tacos] will trigger local results, as search engines assume the user is quite likely hungry and seeking food:

The local results above the organic search results are known as a “local pack” and pertain strictly to businesses with a physical address within close proximity of the searcher or, in the case of [Los Angeles tacos], the location specified in the query.

Local pack results are evaluated and ranked in a way that is similar to traditional organic results, but there are some important steps that need to be taken by business owners in order to optimize their site’s performance in local results. Here’s how to do exactly that.

4. Claim your business in Google and Bing

An important first step for performing well in local search results is to claim your business listing in Google My Business and Bing Places. While search engines can potentially use information around the web (e.g. from a business’s website, local business directories, Yellow Pages, etc.) to generate local results for a business, only claiming the business will allow the owner to optimize the listing for the search experience. This will help generate more leads and potentially lead to higher rankings too!

5. Conduct keyword research

Keyword research is one of the most important ways you can make sure your site is “speaking the same language” as your visitors. If you operate a local restaurant, do you think more people are searching for “tacos” or “meat with a tortilla folded around it”?

The good news is you don’t have to guess! Google has a keyword planner tool that provides search volume for queries, as well as a suggestions feature to provide insight into different keyword variations. This is extremely useful when deciding whether “tacos” or “meat with a tortilla folded around it” is searched for more frequently, as a search engine’s index treats the queries separately. Using these keywords naturally throughout your site builds relevancy and helps search engines understand what your site is about.

Another important aspect of keyword research is targeting a service area. Following a format of [target keyword describing product/service] + [location] is a good rule of thumb for writing your homepage’s title tag and body copy (more on these below). For example, “Kyle’s Taqueria – Taco’s and More | Boston, MA”

6. Fine-tune your on-page signals

Since users and search engines will be reading the pages on your site, it’s important to naturally use the keywords you’d like to rank for. After all, how else will anyone know what services and products your business offers? The two main areas in which to include your desired keywords are the title tag and body copy.

Title Tag

The title tag of a page is the main text that describes an online document and remains one of the strongest SEO signals that a webmaster has complete control over. Moreover, it is the first interaction your site is having with a searcher and possibly the only thing they’ll read before deciding whether or not your site will answer their query effectively.

To make the most of your title tag, follow these simple guidelines:

  • If it all possible, make sure your target keywords are in the title tag. This satisfies search engines and humans.
  • But do remember to write for a human, not just a search engine. Though it’s important to have valuable keywords in your title tag, if it looks odd to a user (e.g., “Boston Cheeseburgers, Best Cheeseburgers, Cheeseburgers”) then you’ll be missing out on a bunch of traffic that thought “Mike’s Grill – Cheeseburgers, Shakes & More” sounded more like a real person.
  • Don’t make it too long. Search engines only display about 70 characters in a title tag. I say “about” because it’s technically measured in pixels. You can count pixels, right? No? Well, in that case, you’re best off using a snippet simulator like this one. It lets you see exactly how your website will look in a search result.

Here’s an example for Taco Spot, which appears within the local pack for [Los Angeles Tacos]. While it’s great that they use “Tacos” in their title tag, they should consider including Los Angeles as well.

Body Copy

Using the target keywords naturally alongside any potential synonyms (e.g. burgers, sandwiches) helps build relevancy for the targeted term. Taco Spot does a great job of this.

7. Local SEO: Send the right signals

Local SEO is a very different ballgame than performing SEO for a single website and requires attention to additional signals. Here are a few pointers for what to do after registering your business with Google and Bing.

NAP time

Unfortunately, it’s not the kindergarten sort of nap. NAP stands for name, address, and phone number and it’s some of the most important information search engines need to understand about your business. Publishing this prominently on your homepage is an important step for search engines to confidently display this information within the search engine results page (SERP).

Increase NAP citations

Once NAP has been established, search engines will look to local directories to see if they confirm the accuracy of the NAP. If errors are found (e.g. different addresses or names) then the search engines will lose confidence in which information to display to users. A classic example of this would be a business moving locations and leaving up old information about itself across business directories.

Editing all of those directories can be time consuming, especially when you’re trying to run a business! Check out Vistaprint’s Local Listings service, which makes it very easy to submit your NAP data to directory data aggregators. It will also highlight where incorrect NAP data exists and correct it for you, all in one click!

Check your categories

Choosing the correct categories can make the difference between an okay SEO strategy and a great one. Here are two easy steps to make sure you’re setting up your site for success.

  1. Before picking a category, try it out in a Google search. Does it return local results? If not, you probably don’t want to include that as one of your categories on your Google My Business and Bing Places profile.
  2. Check out your top local competitors and see which categories they’re using. If you’re competing for the same customers in “real life,” you should be competing for the same online traffic. However, don’t assume that what your competitors chose to do for their site is necessarily right for your site; it’s just a starting point.

For another source of category inspiration, there’s a tool at blumenthals.com that pairs Google categories with synonyms for helpful suggestions.

Get reviews

Once a solid foundation of NAP and categorization is in place, positive reviews from customers will not only build confidence from prospective new customers, it will also boost your local search rankings. The easiest way to get started collecting reviews is simply to ask. This can be as easy as an automatic email sent to customers. Whichever makes more sense for your business is just fine.


By taking the above steps one at a time, your site will be poised for local SEO success. Plus, the beauty of organic search is that, once set up correctly, you can enter into tweak and maintenance mode. All of the work done to set up a site correctly is sustainable and will continue driving quality traffic to your site. May the search be with you!

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