The Ultimate Local SEO Guide for Small to Medium Sized Businesses

• updated on
August 11, 2023
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Get Found Locally: Why Local SEO is Crucial for Driving Foot Traffic

Running a business these days often feels like you're a small fish in a huge ocean filled with competitors. It can be tough getting noticed in the vast digital marketplace. But there's a lighthouse that can guide customers straight to your shore - local search engine optimization (SEO).

The Primary Goal of Search Engines

Before diving into local SEO, it's important to understand the primary goal of search engines like Google and Bing. The main objective is to provide the most relevant and useful results to searchers. Ranking high in searches is ultimately about creating a website and content that satisfies what users are looking for.

Optimizing your website and online listings to rank higher in local searches can make a boatload of difference for businesses heavily dependent on local clients. Here's why you can't afford to ignore local SEO if you want to stay visible and viable in your area. If you're reading this and don't have a basic understanding of what SEO is and isn't, read this!

Hook More Local Fish with Better Visibility

Imagine you're hungry for sushi and search for "sushi restaurants nearby." Who ya gonna call first - the place on page 1 or the restaurant buried on page 3? Customers get reeled in by what they see first and foremost in local search results. If potential customers can't find your biz because you're sunk at the bottom, you’ll miss out on throwing your nets to capture their attention.

Local SEO helps your website and listings surface like a buoy when customers search for businesses in your neck of the woods. Claiming that prime real estate on page one keeps your brand top of mind and accessible for locals seeking your products and services. Don't let competitors snag up all the first-page visibility when you have just as much to offer local searchers looking for options in your area

Optimizing your GMB profile

Having an optimized Google My Business profile is incredibly important for local SEO because the Google Maps pack, which contains GMB listings, frequently shows up above organic search results. Here's why you should prioritize your GMB presence:

  • The maps pack draws a ton of visibility - over 50% of searches on mobile have some form of local intent, meaning people are looking for nearby businesses.
  • Ranking #1 in the maps pack for a search term is better than #1 organic. Local searchers are usually looking to take immediate action like visit, call, or get directions, so they often skip the organic results in favor of the prominent GMB listings up top.
  • Interacting with a GMB listing is frictionless - users can easily tap to call, navigate, or view more info. There are no additional clicks needed compared to jumping from organic results to a website.
  • GMB listings boost trust with features like photos, reviews, and location markers. Searchers feel more confident engaging with a local business shown in the maps pack.

Given how powerful and visible GMB profiles are, optimizing should be a top priority. Make sure to completely fleshed out key details, use relevant keywords, maintain accuracy, encourage reviews, and give searchers every reason to pick you over competitors also vying for the coveted maps pack real estate. An optimized GMB presence fuels local lead generation.

Selecting your business category

Selecting the right category is crucial for your businesses visibility. Here are some pro tips on choosing the right business categories: 

  • Carefully review all of Google's predefined categories to find ones that accurately describe your business offerings. You can select up to 3 categories.
  • Look at top ranking competitors in your city and see what categories they are using. Relevant categories for your competitors are likely good options for your business as well.
  • Search Google yourself using keywords for your products/services, along with your city name. See what categories are shown for the top local results and consider adding ones that appear repeatedly.
  • Avoid selecting very broad categories that encompass many unrelated businesses. Be as specific as possible with your categories.

Utilizing secondary categories for your Google My Business listing is also an important decision.


  • Use secondary categories to cover different services, specialties or offerings beyond your core business.
  • Review competitor secondary categories and consider relevant ones they are using that you aren't yet.
  • Add secondary categories one at a time and track changes in metrics to see if they help or hurt.


  • Choose broad, irrelevant secondary categories just to take up the slots. This can dilute your focus.
  • Use secondary categories that are better suited as your primary categories. Put the most important first.
  • Go overboard by adding too many secondary categories that don't align with your business.

I use the GMB Crush Google Chrome extension in my agency to make this process easier.

Adding Photos to GMB

Photos are a key element of your GMB presence, providing visual representation of your business to searchers. Follow these best practices:

  • Have a professional photographer capture high-resolution, well-lit interior and exterior photos of your business. Avoid blurry, poorly framed, or dated looking images.
  • Show your products, services, staff, and customers engaging with your business. Authentic images help build familiarity and trust.
  • Name image files using relevant keywords like your business name, location, and category. For example "johns-pizzeria-new-york-slices.jpg".

At minimum, have the following types of photos:

  • Exterior storefront/building photo
  • Interior workspace/customer area photo
  • Product/service photos (at least 3-5)
  • Staff photos
  • Photos of customers interacting with your business

Optimizing your Business Description

The description section is valuable SEO real estate, so make every word count. Follow these best practices:

  • Briefly cover your business history and when you were established to convey credibility. For example, "Serving our community since 1993, John's Pizzeria uses family recipes to offer authentic New York style pizza and Italian dishes."
  • Use conversational language and highlight what makes your business unique to connect with potential customers. For example, "Our cozy cafe uses locally-sourced ingredients to create fresh, organic meals served by our friendly staff."
  • Naturally incorporate relevant keywords and phrases that searchers may use to find businesses like yours. For example, “Our auto shop provides honest, transparent service for brake replacements, oil changes, engine diagnostics and all your maintenance needs."
  • Include your main products, services, offerings to optimize for searches seeking those specifics.
  • End your description with a clear call-to-action to engage visitors, like scheduling, booking, signing up, or ordering online.
  • Use all 750 characters - be concise yet thorough. Any remaining space is missed SEO opportunity.

Craft your GMB description to represent your brand authentically while seamlessly working in highly-searched terms and phrases. The right balance of keywords and compelling content can enhance your local visibility.

Adding Services to your profile

Services allow you to specify the details of what your business offers beyond just broad categories. Take advantage by:

  • Using service titles that include your most important keywords, such as "Brake Repair", "Teeth Cleaning", or "Social Media Marketing".
  • In the description, expanding on service details with conversational language, value propositions, and strategic keywords.
  • Adding pricing details if applicable to provide transparency to searchers.
  • Using persuasive language like "Get your car inspected by our certified mechanics" or "Achieve your healthiest smile with our dental expertise".
  • Specifying any geographic regions, different languages, or other unique qualifications relevant to each service.

Adding Products to your profile

Optimizing your Google My Business products is another important element for local SEO visibility. Here are some tips:

  • Audit your website and in-store inventory to compile a comprehensive list of every product you sell.
  • For each product, create a title using keywords that searches would use to find that item. For example, "12" New York Style Pepperoni Pizza".
  • In the description, include details like materials, size dimensions, colors, unique features, etc. This helps searchers know they've found the right product.
  • Upload high-quality photos of the actual product. Showcase it at different angles, configurations, or use cases if possible.
  • Group products by type or category. Pizza restaurants could have a "Pizzas" category, "Wings" category, etc.
  • Set pricing and inventory availability if applicable to give searchers key information upfront.
  • Use strategic keywords in titles and descriptions just like you would on your ecommerce product pages.

Completing your products helps prospects find you for product-specific queries and shows your business offers variety. Keep GMB products in sync with your real-world selection.

Responding to Reviews

Customer reviews and messages on your GMB listing are pivotal for reputation management. Be proactive by:

  • Responding to all reviews (positive and negative) in a timely, professional manner. Quick responses show you actively engage with customers.
  • Thanking the reviewer and acknowledging specifics of their experience to demonstrate you carefully read their feedback.
  • Replying in a friendly, helpful tone even to critical reviews. Do not get defensive - your goal is deescalating.
  • Incorporating relevant keywords and messaging in your responses where appropriate, such as “Thank you for visiting our modern barbecue restaurant and trying our specialty smoked brisket!"
  • Getting out ahead of any damaging reviews by having the customer reach out to you directly to resolve the issue before they post.

You might be asking yourself, how do I get ahead of any damaging reviews? The answer is – which is the leading review management software that my agency uses. automatically emails customers requesting feedback after an interaction with your business. This proactive approach provides benefits:

  • Feedback goes directly to you first before being published publicly. This allows you an opportunity to resolve issues before a damaging review.
  • By asking for reviews while the experience is fresh, customers are more likely to leave detailed, thoughtful feedback.
  • Automated review requests demonstrate you care about customer satisfaction and feedback.
  • Followup tools allow you to continue the conversation privately if needed to turn negative sentiment into constructive improvement.

Using GMB Posts

Google My Business posts are a great way to boost your local SEO, here are some tips:

  • Posts used to last only 7 days, but now they don’t expire for a much longer period of time.
  • Include strong keywords and geo-modifiers like your city name in post titles and text to get found locally.
  • Embed links to your website pages, booking links, menus, event listings etc. to drive clicks.
  • Post high-quality photos, videos, or graphics that align with your products, services, and brand.
  • Time limited offers and events around holidays for urgency. For example, "Book your Valentine's Day dinner now!"
  • Set up Google Posts strategically based on high-performing existing content from your website and social media. Repurpose top blog posts, popular products, etc. into Posts using keywords and optimized text.

Ensure NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) Consistency

Consistent NAP data is crucial for local SEO authority signals. Monitoring across key sites prevents citation issues that can lead to duplicate GMB listings and fragmented local visibility.

Here are some tips on monitoring and maintaining consistent NAP information across key sites:

  • Search for your business name across top directories/profiles (Facebook, Yelp, Yellowpages, Apple Maps etc.), aggregators (Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup), and review sites.
  • Compile a spreadsheet to track any listings found, documenting the business name, complete address, and phone number listed on each site.
  • Identify any inconsistencies where your NAP details differ. Even small things like "St" vs "Street" can be problematic.
  • Use tools like Moz Local, BrightLocal, or Synup to monitor listings and be alerted to duplicates.
  • Submit updated address/phone number correction requests to any sites where your information is incorrect or inconsistent.
  • For sites you don't control, try aggregator correction services like Yext to push updates.

Using Software to Beat your Competitors

Analyzing competitors' Google My Business profiles can provide optimization insights and help identify gaps in your own presence. Here are some tips:

  • Use tools like Moz Local, BrightLocal, or Whitespark to perform an audit of top 3-5 competing GMB profiles in your market.
  • Compare their profile completeness - do they have more photos, products, services, attributes etc. listed than you? Identify areas where they are outpacing you.
  • Review which categories and keywords they are optimizing for. Consider relevant ones you can also target in your profile.
  • Check if competitors have claimed recommended GMB profile features you haven't yet like appointments, booking services, loyalty programs etc.
  • Compare engagement metrics like reviews count, review score, questions asked. See where competitors are generating more customer interactions.
  • Sign up for Google alerts on competitors to be notified when they create new posts or offers. Stay on top of their updates.
  • Search directly on Google for your top keywords in incognito mode to identify where competitors rank vs you for core searches.

Frequently analyzing the GMB activity of leading local rivals helps motivate you to match and exceed their efforts across all facets of optimization. Use them to set the standard.

Using GMB Insights

As a local business owner, one of the most useful tools at your disposal is the free Google My Business insights dashboard. GMB insights provide a wealth of analytics and data about your listing performance and customer behavior patterns. Monitoring these metrics regularly is crucial for data-driven optimization and staying ahead of competitors in local SEO.

GMB insights

Unlike standard Google Analytics, GMB insights are specialized to highlight engagement with your local business profile and map listing specifically. The dashboard gives visibility into customer actions like searches, calls, directions, website clicks, and more. You can view trends over time, filter data in multiple ways, and benchmark against industry averages.

Leveraging these free insights moves your GMB optimization from guesswork to strategically targeting issues and opportunities uncovered in the data. You can track the impact of changes and zero in on what resonates with customers in your geographic area. Local SEO is a never-ending process of refinement, and GMB insights provide the fuel to power ongoing improvements.

Monitoring key metrics, query data, and customer patterns will enable you to make smart, informed local listing decisions. Here are some tips for utilizing Google My Business insights effectively:

  • Review metrics like total searches, calls, directions, photos views etc. Look for upward or downward trends over time.
  • Filter to peak hours and days of week to see when customers engage most. Use this to guide your staffing, promotions, and posts.
  • Check click-through rates on posts and photos. Higher CTRs indicate better performing content to help inform future posting strategy.
  • Analyze search query data to identify customer intent keywords and optimize accordingly. Look for FAQs to address in posts.

Local citations and directories

Local business citations refer to any online directory or listing that displays your business name, address, and phone number (NAP). This includes directories like Yelp, Yellowpages, BBB, and many industry or location-specific sites.

Citations serve as votes of confidence that your local business exists in the real world. The more citations you have from authoritative sites, the more signals you send to search engines that you are a legitimate, established local company.

Having consistent NAP details across citations also minimizes duplicate listings and fragmentation issues. This consolidation of signals boosts your local SEO authority.

Appearing on relevant, trusted directories enables you to rank higher on maps and local searches. Comprehensive citations also increase chances of getting displayed in the map pack.

Here are some key tips for citations:

  • Search for and claim listings on every applicable directory, especially high authority ones.
  • Keep your business name, address, phone exactly consistent across citations.
  • Automate submissions via tools like Moz Local to save time and maximize reach.
  • Monitor citations frequently for duplicate listings that need merging or removing.

Consistent and abundant local citations are essential for any effective local SEO strategy. Make them a priority for boosting local search visibility and authority.

Optimizing Your Website for Local SEO

We’ve covered everything you need to do to optimize your Google My Business (GMB) profile and improve visibility in the map pack. Now let’s shift focus to organic search and website optimization.

The map pack refers to the 3-pack of local business listings that often appears at the top of Google results for searches with local intent. Ranking here requires optimizing your GMB profile.

map pack

Organic search refers to earning non-paid placement directly in the main web page results. This requires optimizing your website content itself to rank for keywords.

So in summary:

  • Map pack - Optimizing your GMB profile to rank in the local 3-pack listings
  • Organic search - Optimizing website pages to rank in normal search results

While map pack visibility is tremendously important for businesses trying to attract local customers, you can’t neglect organic search. Many searches don’t trigger the map pack, so ranking well organically is still crucial for overall visibility.

Optimize Title Tags

The title tag is an on-page HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. It's considered one of the most important elements for SEO optimization.

The title tag appears as the clickable headline for a web page in search engine results. It's the first thing searchers see, so it needs to draw attention and accurately convey what the page is about.

An optimized title tag can improve click-through rate from search listings, as well as influence where the page ranks for target keywords. Follow these guidelines:

  • Keep titles succinct between 50-60 characters. Long titles may get truncated in search results.
  • Place your most important, targeted keywords near the beginning of the title tag where search engines apply more weight.
  • Include your brand name toward the end so searchers know the site, but focus on keywords first.
  • Write compelling, descriptive titles that entice searchers to click and visit your page over competitors.
  • For local SEO, naturally work your location into titles where appropriate.

Properly optimizing your title tags is key for on-page SEO and will substantially improve CTR and search visibility when done effectively.

Optimizing Title Tags Using RankMath

Here are some tips for optimizing title tags for local SEO using the RankMath WordPress plugin:

  • Install and activate the RankMath plugin on your WordPress site.
  • Under Setup Wizard, select your business address and make sure your city, state and keywords are specified. This populates titles and metadata with your location.
  • Go to Titles & Meta > Title Settings and select "Title Template" to customize.
  • Use the template {{title}} {{sep}} {{sitename}} {{sep}} {{location}} to append your location keywords automatically.
  • Click on individual pages and posts and ensure the auto-generated preview title includes your target city/location name and relevant page keyword.
  • Manually adjust any unsatisfactory titles by clicking into the page and editing the SEO title field.
  • Add title override if needed on pages like "Contact" and "About" to specify your city/region and keywords.
  • Set city name to populate based on user location using RankMath's Smart Replace feature.
  • Review automated title changes after modifying anything in RankMath and tweak further as needed.

Taking advantage of RankMath's local-focused templates, automation, and customization enables efficient, optimized title tag creation to boost local SEO authority.

Optimizing Meta Descriptions

The meta description is an HTML tag that provides a short summary of a web page's content. It is one of the key on-page optimization elements for SEO.

When a page appears in search engine results, the meta description will appear as the snippet of preview text under the page title and URL. It gives searchers a quick understanding of what the page is about.

Having an informative, engaging meta description can improve click-through rate from search results. Even though meta descriptions don't directly influence search rankings, compelling text can entice more users to visit your page.

Here are some key tips for optimizing meta descriptions:

  • Keep descriptions between 150-160 characters. Longer text may get truncated by Google.
  • Craft unique descriptions that summarize the page's topic and highlight the benefits the content provides to readers.
  • Include relevant keywords naturally but don't over-optimize. Readability is vital.
  • Add location names for local search optimization where appropriate.
  • Test different meta description variations and refine based on which get the most clicks.

Optimized meta descriptions act as a sales pitch after your title grabs attention. Taking time to write great preview text can significantly boost CTR from search listings.

Optimizing Heading Structure 

Headings, specifically H1 tags, are HTML elements that format sections of important text on a web page. They help communicate to both visitors and search engines what the page content focuses on. Optimizing your heading structure is crucial for improving local SEO visibility.

The H1 heading is the most prominent, and should summarize the overall topic of your page content. Having a properly optimized H1 heading helps search engines understand your page's relevance for certain keyword themes. This can improve your local SEO rankings.

  • Each page should have one clear, concise H1 heading summarizing the main topic or purpose of content.
  • Place your target keyword early in the H1 heading text - search engines give more weight to the beginning.
  • Keep H1s under 65 characters including location keywords to avoid truncation in search snippets.
  • Don't stack multiple H1 headings on a single page. Use supporting H2, H3 tags for subsections instead.
  • Break up lengthy H1s over 2 lines or incorporate location keywords in a supporting H2 heading.
  • Use location names and terminology in H1s where it fits naturally for local optimization. Ex. "Best Pizza in Miami Beach".
  • Have unique, localized H1 headings for key pages like "About Us" and "Contact" rather than sitewide repeats.

With strategic location keywords and concise text, your H1 headings will signal relevancy to searchers for certain local searches. This can improve click-through rate as well as SEO authority.

Include Schema Markup

JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data) structured data allows you to highlight key business information for search engines through code snippets on your site. For local SEO, be sure to include these specific schema types:

  • Organization schema for business name, address, phone, email, etc.
  • LocalBusiness schema for opening hours, price range, payment options, etc.
  • Geo schema for latitude/longitude coordinates.
  • Products and Services schema for menu items, service offerings, inventory, etc.
  • Review and AggregateRating schema for customer reviews, star ratings, and review count.
  • ImageObject schema for photos you want connected to the GMB listing.
  • FAQPage schema for frequently asked question content.

Follow Google's schema documentation for proper JSON-LD formatting and structure. Use their testing tool to validate your implementation.

For implementation:

  • Use Google's structured data testing tool to validate your schema and get markup code examples.
  • Try an automated schema generation tool like RankMath to scan pages and insert markup.
  • Update schema markup if business details like hours change. Keep aligned with your GMB listing.
  • Use Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool to see if Google is properly reading your schema

Keeping your website's structured data aligned with your Google My Business profile can strengthen the connection in Google's eyes, enhancing local SEO authority and visibility in map packs.

Bringing It All Together for Local SEO Success

The on-page optimizations covered like title tags, headings, along with off-page strategies like citations, reviews, and link building provide a strong foundation for local SEO performance.

While not comprehensive of every factor, focusing on these core elements will get your website and online presence set up for appealing to both search engines and local customers.

To pull it all together, you need to regularly track your local keyword rankings using rank tracking software. This enables you to gauge the tangible SEO results of your efforts and spot areas needing improvement.

Finding the Right SEO Tools for Your Needs

Choosing the optimal SEO tools for your specific needs and tech stack is vital for success. This is especially true for Mac users who face compatibility issues with some Windows-centric software.

But don't fret - we've compiled the ultimate guide to the top-rated SEO tools built for Mac. Our comprehensive 10+ Best SEO Tools For Mac guide serves as an invaluable resource for Apple users seeking the right solutions to boost website visibility.

Top Local SEO Software Recommendations

GMB Management and Analysis: BrightLocal Review

Citation Building and Analysis: Yext, Whitespark Review

Local SEO Audit Tools: Moz Local Review

Rank Tracking Software: Serpstat Review

Reputation Management: Review
On-Page Optimization: RankMath Review

Combining proven local SEO strategies with the right software tools for intelligence and automation will take your local visibility to the next level. Track rankings consistently to monitor your progress. Optimize on an ongoing basis and stay atop the local pack.

SEO Resources

I've compiled a list of guides to look at that can help you along your Local SEO domination.


As we've covered, implementing a comprehensive local SEO strategy takes time, expertise, and the right software tools. While this guide provides a great starting point, executing an effective optimization plan across all fronts requires dedicated effort and experience.

If you feel overwhelmed tackling local SEO on your own, the SEO professionals at can take this burden off your shoulders. Our dedicated team specializes in advanced local search optimization to help businesses dominate their area.

With as your partner, you get:

  • Initial local SEO audit of websites, citations, reviews, and competitors
  • Ongoing optimization of your Google My Business profile
  • Website optimization for local ranking signals
  • Management of citations, links, reviews, and online reputation
  • Custom reporting and insights into your local performance
  • The latest SEO software and tools driving results

Let our local search experts flawlessly execute a high-impact strategy tailored for your business goals. We handle the complexity so you can focus on daily operations while we boost revenue by increasing local visibility.

Don't leave local SEO to chance. Partner with to unlock your full local potential.

From The Author

Terry Williams

With over 10 years optimizing sites, I've boosted search visibility for brands through customized strategies. Currently, I develop effective SEO solutions for a top agency, immersed in the latest trends and innovations. Read my full bio.

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