Local SEO: What Is It & How to Do It

Carlos Silva

Jun 08, 202311 min read
local seo
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

What Is Local SEO? 

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your online presence to increase local traffic, visibility, and brand awareness. 

Common local SEO tasks include:

  • Optimizing your Google Business Profile
  • Finding local keywords
  • Creating locally relevant content

Among others.

And any business that has a physical location or serves a geographic area can benefit from local SEO. 

This is an example of a local search result on Google:

an example of a local search result on Google

Local SEO can help your business appear in Google results for searches like these.

This article explains why local SEO is important, how it works, and how to do local SEO. 

Tip: create a free Semrush account so you can follow along. 

Why Is Local SEO Important? 

The best way to get your site in front of people in your area is to use local SEO marketing.

Over 75% of consumers in the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom use Google when looking for business information. 

Making it the most dominant search engine for local search in those (and many other) countries. By far. 

And Google Maps searches for “shopping near me” have grown globally by more than 100% year over year. 

Mobile searches for “store open near me” also grew by over 250% in a recent two-year period. And “where to buy” + “near me” keywords by more than 200%. 

That’s hundreds of millions of searches every day. 

How Local SEO Works 

On top of Google’s usual ranking factors, its local search algorithms use three main factors to help find the best match:

  • Relevance (how closely related a Google Business Profile result is to the words a searcher uses in their query)
  • Distance (how far Google believes a user is from a business when they search)
  • Prominence (how important Google thinks a business is to its potential customers)

Then, Google displays two types of search results for local searches.

The “local pack” results (Google Maps and Business Profiles) and organic results. 

Organic results are the “normal” blue link search results we’re all used to seeing on Google. 

local pack (or map pack) is a Google feature that shows the top local business listings and a map. 

Like this:

local pack in Google search for "food near me"

For example, when you search for “nutritionist miami,” Google displays a local pack at the very top.

Google search for “nutritionist miami”

And the “regular” organic results underneath. 

Organic results in Google for “nutritionist miami”

But Google doesn’t just display local results for queries that contain a city, state, or “near me” keyword. 

If Google believes the intent of your search is local, it’ll display local results.

Even if your search isn’t explicitly local. 

For example, if you were in Los Angeles and searched for “barber shops,” Google would still display a local pack for Los Angeles barber shops. 

Like this:

Google search in Los Angeles for “barber shops”

How to Do Local SEO 

Now it’s time to create a strategy so you can increase your local rankings and boost traffic. The following steps will help you get started. 

Tip: Remember—you can create a free Semrush account to follow along. 

Do Local Keyword Research

Keyword research for local SEO is the process of finding keywords people use when searching for local products and services. 

Ranking for these keywords drives highly targeted local traffic to your site and sends more customers your way. 

To get started, you need a short list of keywords people can use to find your local business. 

Here are a few different ways to start.

Research Your Competitors

Seeing what your competitors are doing is an easy way to start gathering ideas. 

One of the best ways to do that is to use Semrush’s Organic Research tool.

Enter a competing site and click “Search.” 

Like so:

Semrush’s Organic Research tool

Then, go to the “Positions” tab. 

“Positions” tab

Click on “Advanced filters,” and exclude branded keywords (phrases that contain your competitor’s business name). 

using “Advanced filters” in Organic Research tool

And click the “KD%” column to sort the table by keyword difficulty. 

Like so:

“KD%” column

Now you have a list of keywords you might want to target.

a list of keywords results

If your competitors are targeting these keywords, then they’re likely highly relevant to your business, too. 

Check Local Keyword Volume Metrics 

You’ll also want to get a sense of how difficult it is for your content to rank locally for keywords you choose to target. 

Use the local volume metrics feature in the Keyword Overview tool to identify valuable keywords you’ll want to target in your content. 

Enter your desired keyword into the search bar at the top of the page and hit “Search.”

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Once the tool delivers the keyword results, click on the drop-down bar labeled “Select location.” 

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Type in your locale. This could be a state, county, province, city, or municipality. Go as narrow on the location as you wish. 

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You’ll get local data, as well as the comparative national data. So you can see how easy or difficult it is to rank for your keyword in your exact location. 

Note: Some of these widgets show local data (volume, difficulty, SERP analysis, etc.), while others remain national-level (keyword variations, questions, related keywords).

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If you’re a business operating at the local level, this is an essential feature to leverage as you’re building your targeted keyword list. Use the data to get an edge over competitors by optimizing your content for your specific area.

Use Google Autocomplete

Google autocomplete is a feature within Google Search that makes it faster to complete searches when you start to type. 

Its purpose is to save users time by predicting what they’re going to search for.

And it can help you discover valuable long-tail keywords for local SEO.

That’s because Google’s autocomplete predictions depend partly on your location. 

For example, if you’re in Arcadia, California, and you type “best paella in” into the search bar, you’ll see something like this:

Google Autocomplete suggestions for “best paella in” in Arcadia, California

All these locations are near Arcadia or in California. 

So, to find valuable local keywords, start typing in keywords related to your business. 

For example, if you run a cleaning services business, type in “cleaning services” to get a list of local keyword suggestions.

Like this:

Google Autocomplete suggestions for “cleaning services”

And when you start adding local modifiers like “cleaning services los angeles,” you start to see lots of other useful keywords.

Like this:

Google Autocomplete suggestions for “cleaning services los angeles”

Keep trying new combinations of different local keywords. You should have a list of keywords for your local business SEO in no time. 

Leverage Google Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner helps you research keywords for paid search campaigns.

But it’s also great for discovering new keywords related to your business. 

Start by going to the “Discover new keywords” section.

“Discover new keywords” section in Google’s Keyword Planner

Click on the “Start with a website” tab. Then, enter the domain of one of your competitors. 

“Start with a website” tab in Keyword Planner

Click “Get results,” and Google will suggest a ton of keywords based on the terms that appear on that page.

Keyword Planner results

Repeat the process with three of your top competitors and add all the relevant keywords to your list. 

Another great Keyword Planner feature: It gives monthly search data for specific locations.

Like so:

monthly search data feature in Google Keyword Planner

This feature is really helpful when you have lots of keywords and want to choose which to target first.

Further reading: Local Keyword Research for SEO

Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) is a free business listing with information about your business. 

It allows you to provide details like your location, services, products, and photos.

Then, Google will list it in local search results.

For example, this is what it can look like for someone on a mobile device:

illustration of general local search results on mobile

Optimizing your Business Profile is one of the most important local SEO tasks, according to Google.

Which means you need a Google Business Profile if you want to stand any chance of ranking well for local searches. 

Here are a few Business Profile tips:

  • Set detailed business hours (including holidays)
  • Select various attributes to describe your business (like outdoor seating, Wi-Fi, etc.)
  • Upload photos and videos regularly (promotes engagement and boosts rankings)

Further reading: Google Business Profile Guide

Get Local (NAP) Citations

NAP citations are places that mention your name, address, and phone number (NAP) online.

They usually appear on business directories and social media profiles. 

NAP citations are important because Google may use them to verify that your business information is accurate. And that what you say about your business online is true.

Like this:

NAP citations example on Trip.com

The idea is that, the more Google sees consistent NAP citations for your business, the more confident it is that your business is legitimate and trustworthy. 

So, you want to get consistent citations on as many trusted websites as you can. 

An easy way to check your local listings and distribute them to the most authoritative directories is to use Semrush’s Listing Management tool. 

To get started, enter your company name. And choose the company with the correct address from the list that appears.

Semrush’s Listing Management tool

You’ll see a report of your current online presence. 

Including the total number of listings, listings to fix, and average star rating. 

Like this:

report of your current online presence in Listing Management tool

The tool also has a list of your directory listings with specific errors (e.g., wrong phone number, wrong address, etc.). 

Simply scroll down to find it.

a list of your directory listings with specific errors in Listing Management

You can then download all of this information using the “Export” button in the top right corner of the list. 

"Export" button highlighted in Listing Management tool

If you have a paid subscription, you can automatically distribute your business information to dozens of directories. 

First, make sure your listing is up to date.

If you need to change anything, click the “Edit info” button.

“Edit info” button highlighted

Then, add additional information like photos, videos, your Google Business Profile cover photo, social media handles, and more.

"add additional information" section

Following that, you’ll see a dashboard with seven tabs:

  • Your listings (a table view of all your listings and their current status)
  • Insights of GBP (a dashboard that consolidates data from your GBP analytics account)
  • Duplicates (see all possible, processed, or removed duplicate listings)
  • User Suggestions (where you can approve or reject customer-suggested changes)
  • Heatmap (track keywords on a hyper-local level with rankings around your local area)
  • Review Management (monitor and respond to reviews and ratings from different sources for all your locations)
  • Local Rankings (see how well your business ranks for any city location)

It looks like this:

a dashboard with seven tabs described

Make sure all your information is updated and as detailed as possible.

Then, let the tool carry the heavy load of automatically keeping your NAP citations consistent everywhere.

Here are a few NAP citation tips:

  • Keep all of your citations 100% consistent (same exact name, address, phone number)
  • Submit your information to popular directories in your local area and industry
  • Submit to big players (like Apple Maps, Yelp, Bing Places, Facebook, etc.)

Encourage Online Reviews

Reviews and testimonials build customer trust.

They provide social proof, validate your expertise, and give potential buyers confidence in your business. 

Consumers regularly read reviews and consider them essential. 

Plus, Google recommends replying to reviews to show you value your customers’ business and feedback.

example of replying to a Google review

To find reviews to reply to, use a tool like Listing Management.

To start, click on the “Review Management” tab. 

"Review Management" tab

You’ll be able to read and reply to reviews right from the tool.

To do so, enter your comment in the space. Then hit the “Reply” button. 

replying to reviews right from Listing Management tool

You can also sort by newest, oldest, highest rating, or lowest rating by toggling the drop-down at the top of the “Reviews” table.

Like this:

sort reviews by "newest", "oldest", "highest rating" or l"owest rating"

Here are a few more online reviews tips

  • Verify your Business Profile (to respond to a review, you must have a verified business)
  • Remind customers to leave reviews (you can create and share a link in Google Business Profile)
  • Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews (it’s against Google’s terms)

Refine Your On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing your website pages to help them rank higher on organic search results. 

And it’s indispensable for local search engine marketing. 

If you rank well organically, you likely have strong chances of ranking in the local pack. 

To run a quick audit and gauge your on-page SEO health, use Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker

Enter your domain, hit “Get ideas,” and the tool will automatically start running an audit. 

“Get ideas” in Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker

After a few minutes, it’ll display a dashboard with different on-page factors for you to optimize. 

a dashboard with different on-page factors to optimize

If you scroll down, you’ll see your pages are conveniently sorted by “priority.”

These are pages that have the greatest possibility of ranking on Google’s first page. 

"Top pages to optimize" section, sorted by "priority"

Optimize these pages first to get the most impactful results. 

Click on the “# ideas” button beside each of the top pages to optimize to get more specific optimization ideas.

"Optimization Ideas" section

Here are a few on-page SEO tips:

  • Include your locally targeted keywords in page titles and meta descriptions
  • Add specific location pages to your website to emphasize your local services
  • Internally link to and from pages where relevant

Further reading: 

Backlinks are links on other sites that link back to yours.

They’re one of the strongest ranking signals in Google’s search algorithm. 

Our study of over 600,000 keywords and ranking positions confirmed the correlation between referring domains (sites with one or more links to yours) and ranking positions. 

In general, the more relevant referring domains you have, the more likely you are to rank higher for relevant keywords. 

"Total Number of Referring Domains" graph

And the good news is that traditional link building strategies also work for local link building.

For example, reclaiming lost links, broken link building, and finding unlinked brand mentions all work for local SEO, too.

Here are a few local link building tips:

  • Reach out to other local (non-competitor) businesses for links
  • Contact local newspapers and websites to share stories
  • Support and sponsor local events (event websites may link to you)

Further reading: The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building 

Monitor Local Listings 

Getting your business on directories is important. But so is monitoring them. Especially as your number of listings grows. 

Our Listing Management tool can help with that, too. 

Start by searching for your business and selecting it from the list. 

search and select your business in Listing Management tool

You’ll see your overall “Online Presence” score, “Total Listings,” “Listings to Fix,” and “Average Star Rating.”

“Online Presence” score, “Total Listings,” “Listings to Fix,” and “Average Star Rating"

Scroll down to see the listings with inaccurate or inconsistent information.

page with listings with inaccurate or inconsistent information

Solve these issues as quickly as possible. And check back every month to fix any problems that might’ve popped up. 

Local SEO Tools 

Here are a few local search engine optimization tools that can keep your business consistently in front of your target audience.

Google Search Console

Search Console is a free Google local SEO tool that helps monitor, maintain, and fine-tune your site’s presence in search results. It’s a great tool to understand how Google sees your pages and ensure your site is crawlable.

New to Search Console? Check out our Google Search Console guide.

Semrush’s Listing Management

Listing Management is Semrush’s all-in-one local SEO tool that helps manage and distribute your business information. You can easily add your business NAP (name, address, phone), submit to dozens of directories, and keep track of all your customer reviews

Semrush’s Position Tracking

The Position Tracking tool’s most important feature for local SEO is monitoring keywords and rankings on a ZIP code level and in local packs. It also enables you to stay on top of changes in position and keep an eye on your competitors.

Further reading: The Best Local SEO Tools

Monitor Results and Keep Optimizing 

Your site’s local keyword rankings will regularly change. For any number of reasons. 

And when your rankings decline, traffic to your site can decrease. Which can potentially hurt your business. 

That’s why you need to monitor your progress as part of your local SEO strategy. 

A great way to do that is to use Position Tracking

It allows for local keyword tracking down to the ZIP code level. And with SERP features tracked. 

dashboard in Position Tracking tool

Track your keywords and keep optimizing until you get the results you want. 

Local SEO Statistics 

  • 97% of people search online to learn about a local company or organization
  • 35% of businesses say that local SEO is important for them
  • Local business listings contain incorrect information 50% of the time, according to business owners
  • On average, 28% of local searches end in a purchase within 24 hours
  • 76% of people end up visiting a business within 1 day of searching for something nearby
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Carlos Silva is a content marketer with over 8 years of experience in writing, content strategy, and SEO. At Semrush, he’s involved in research, editing, and writing for the English blog. He also owns Semrush’s Educational Newsletter (4M+ subscribers).
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