Local SEO: the ultimate guide for small businesses

SEO isn’t just for big businesses. As a small company or a local business, there is actually a lot you can do yourself to get good results from search. This ultimate guide for local and small business SEO will help you get the most out of search by finding your niche, optimizing your pages and using social media.

As local SEO is basically about optimizing for local search engine results, it’s fair to say that local SEO and small business SEO are closely related, which is why we’ll cover both in this article.

We’ll discuss a variety of related topics in this article:

As long as Google’s local search result pages continue to grow and improve, we’ll never be done with this subject. In the meantime, here’s our ultimate guide to local and small business SEO. But first, let’s start with an update on local SEO and the Coronavirus pandemic.

Local SEO in tough times

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. Many local businesses have trouble keeping their heads above water while struggling with an audience that hasn’t come outside for a while. Even if everyone is allowed outside and do their thing, the behavior has changed. Priorities will change, which means some businesses will profit while others will falter. As a local business, you have to keep your ear to the ground to find out what your customers want and need. Maybe you need to pivot or find new ways of getting your products to your audience.

Even if businesses are reopening, chances are consumers will be cautious. On the other hand, e-commerce is soaring. For many businesses, now is the time to focus on getting online. It will be some time before everything goes back to normal, if ever. So, it’s best to find out what your customer needs right now and try to fulfill that demand. Many sites offer free data that helps you get insights into what’s happening, like Google’s Rising Retail Categories site.

Keep your listings up to date

For now, the least you can do is to keep your online business details up to date. Make sure that your data is correct and make use of the various tools search engines provide to help searchers find the most up to date information on your business. So, update your Google My Business, use the Posts feature to add additional information and add structured data if necessary. Google has guidance for businesses coping with COVID-19.

We have a couple of posts that can help you find your footing as a local business during this difficult time:

The three pillars of local SEO: proximity, prominence and relevance

Ranking locally, means you have to keep three things in mind. Proximity, prominence and relevance are the factors that determine if your business should appear at the top of the local SERPs for a specific search term.

  • To determine proximity, search engines have different means to find out where the searcher is, mostly based on zip codes and/or geo-coordinates.
  • Prominence is all about trying to find out how well-known your business. To determine this, search engines look at a variety of sources available on the web like links, reviews and citations.
  • Relevance is the third local SEO factor. Here, search engines look at how well a local company matches what a user is searching for. To be relevant, you don’t simply fill out and update your Google My Business account, as Google specifically mentions that it also factors in your rankings in the regular search results, so it is a good idea to work on your SEO in general.

More background on how local SEO works

A couple of years ago, an expert on local SEO called David Mihm wrote an epic eight-part series on local SEO. Today, while not brand-new, these posts still provide a solid overview of how local SEO functions and what you can do to influence it. Please read these and report back.

Check local search results

Curious what local results look like worldwide? Try Valentin.app. This web app gives you localized Google results without the hassle.

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking
  7. Social media and local SEO
  8. The impact of behavioral signals

Your site, our Local SEO plugin + My Business

To rank locally with your small business, you need to have a couple of things in order. You’ll often hear us talk about how essential Google My Business is for local businesses because it really is. But that’s not all. One of the most important things is having a great, SEO-friendly website that describes what you do, why people should use your business and why they should trust you. The website should support your brand and have content in your tone of voice, written in words your potential customers search for. Your website should be technically great, offer a great user experience, and work properly on mobile. Of course, it should be secure thanks to HTTPS and load quickly thanks to speed optimizations.

As you know, Yoast SEO helps you get your site ready for search engines. Not only that, but it also helps you create awesome content that’s bound to attract customers. Yoast SEO even builds a full structured data graph for you, based on what you’ve filled in. Search engines use this to determine who you are and to make connections to other parts of the web. All these factors help to make your site a great fit. However, there’s more you can do.

Align your listings

As a local business working on local SEO, it is very important to align all the different platforms you operate on. Search engines will check and double-check your details to make sure that you say who you are and that you say what you do. In case of a local business, details like addresses, phone numbers, geo-coordinates, opening hours et cetera, should be correct at all times. You should even present these details in localBusiness structured data, added to your site.

Local business Schema.org structured data incredibly important. It is one of the most important ways for search engines to read what your site is about, so they use it to verify all your other outlets. In the past, adding valid structured data was a chore, but not anymore. Thanks to the Yoast SEO structured data framework, you can be well on your way to a full graph.

The missing piece in this puzzle is our Local SEO plugin. This easy to use plugin is aimed at local businesses who want to manage their details without thinking about it. It even lets you build a complete and beautiful About Us page for your business, with all the details you want — including a nice Google map. It even lets you manage multiple locations with shared properties. In the background, the Local SEO plugin will automatically add the necessary Schema.org localBusiness structured data that Google loves so much.

If you run a WooCommerce online store, you’ll be please to hear that our Yoast SEO for WooCommerce plugin is another great help. This is an essential addition if you want to arrange a local pick up for your orders, among other things.

Combine Yoast SEO and the Local SEO plugin and you are well on your way to stardom

Finding your niche

Alright, there’s more you can do to make your business stand out. Determining your niche is vital for local or small businesses. When you know your niche, you can emphasize what makes your brand or products unique, therefore improving your chances to rank well for them. If you have a clear niche, you can compete locally with large national brands – despite their multi-million dollar advertising budgets.

Find out who your customers are and which words they use to describe your product or service because people will use the same terms to find your website. These terms can really help you optimize your local business SEO when you turn them into long-tail keywords and these keywords should be as specific as possible. Once you’ve done all of this, remember to regularly assess your niche as it evolves with the growth of your company.

Low budget branding

We have talked about this time and again: branding is very important for SEO. Branding means stuff like your logo and tagline. Do they represent your company without further explanation? What do your logo and tagline reveal about your values and your field of expertise? It’s all about recognition. You can work on your branding without investing a lot of dollars. Yes, low-budget branding is a thing, even if you’re a non-profit organization.

Read more: Low budget branding tips for small businesses »

Here’s a tip for branding: share your expertise! You can do that in blog posts and on social media. We’ll talk more about this later on.

Start writing great content

Your small business SEO will get a significant boost from the right content. Too many small business owners just put their products and contact details on their website and leave it at that. But there is so much more to tell and share!

Focus on making an awesome first impression on your potential customer. Write about your business, your business goals, how great your products are and things like that. You could also discuss market developments or events that relate to your business. These are just a few tips for your local SEO content strategy.

When writing your content, be realistic about the chances of getting that content to rank in search. If you are in a highly competitive market, content works very well as a marketing tool and as input for social media, but it probably won’t get you that number one spot in Google, and that’s OK. Manage your expectations.

Picking the right keywords to optimize for is very important. Usually, it’s a good idea to pick mid-tail keywords, including the local area you are targeting. It really doesn’t matter if you add this content to your site as a page or blog post. Just make sure that you write about things that people want to talk about or things that make people talk about your business in a positive way.

Keep reading: Improve your small business SEO today »

Share your content on social media

While you can actually sell your products on social media platforms, in most cases we recommend using social media for brand awareness or to lead potential customers to your website for a sale. Using social media as a small business is all about promoting your brand, your company, and your products to establish your image and to get the right traffic to your company website. When used in this way, social media can really help small business SEO.

I like to compare social media to a market where all the stall owners know each other and customers browse the products. At some point, someone will tell other visitors where to go to for a product: “The cheese over there is delicious”, “you should really check out the fruit over there”, that kind of thing. So make sure people start talking about you. And start talking about yourself online, to make others start talking to you on social platforms. Lastly, actively engage in social media conversations, to let people know you are listening. Learn how to use social media to increase your sales.

Local ranking factors that help your small business SEO

There are many things that influence your local rankings, but there is one very obvious one: your address details or NAP, which stands for Name, Address, Phone number. Be sure to add these in the correct formatting (in code), using Schema.org details, as mentioned earlier. You know that our Local SEO plugin can help you do that easily. As well as this, it may help to add your city, and perhaps your state, in the title of your pages for easier recognition as well.

Also, if you want to start optimizing your website in order to rank better, but you are not sure where to start, you might want to have a look at our new, free SEO course for beginners!

Google My Business

Make sure you use the exact same NAP details on both your website and your Google My Business listing and include your website link to your listing too. This is the only way for Google to understand the relationship between them. Add these details — for example in your footer — and of course, on your contact page. Google My Business really is your friend if you want to rank in your specific geographical area, so get your details right! Not only that, but the tool also gives you an enormous amount of options to manage and improve your listings.

Add ratings and reviews

Google My Business, like Facebook, allows others to leave a review of your company. If your company has a good rating, people will be more likely to click through to your website from either of these two platforms. Make sure you monitor and maintain these reviews.

If you get a negative review for any reason, react by responding and solving your customer’s problem. Then, once you have, ask them to change their review afterward. In other words, turn that dissatisfied customer into a brand ambassador!

It’s easy to make use of these reviews and ratings. If you need some tips, find out more in this article:

Read on: Get local reviews and ratings »

Links from related small businesses

Social ‘proof’, like the ratings and reviews mentioned above, should be backed up with a few links from relevant sites. Getting links to your business site is still an important part of local SEO. You should work hard to get mentions or citations of your business on other sites. How and where you do that, differs in every industry, but these include Yelp, Bing Places, Yahoo! Local, Apple Maps, among many other sites and services. Moz has a handy tool that checks your online presence.

You should get a listing on these sites, for the obvious reason that this means you also get a link to your website. If you can get some links from other related local websites, that will also help your site’s findability. Note that links from other local websites should be from sites that are in a related profession. It’s of no use to have your bakery website linked from an accountant’s website.

If your small business is closely related to other businesses that are not located in the same area, you should definitely also ask those businesses for a link. Google crawls the web link by link, so if your business is linked to from a website in the same field of business, that link is extra valuable to you.

Near me searches

When talking about local rankings, we also have to mention near me searches. These are searches and search suggestions that include words like “near me”, “closest”, “open” and “nearby”. Optimizing for these searches is similar to optimizing for local, but applies for global brands as well (“buy Lego near me”). So you’ll have to think outside the box — there’s probably more to optimize for. Google really focuses on search terms like these, as you can read in our post on Google’s Possum update.

In conclusion

As we’ve seen, there are many things you can do as a small business to improve your site and rank better. You should start by focusing on your niche and emphasizing your uniqueness. Think about how you present your brand: logos and taglines are important to give your customers an idea of who you are as a business.

You can increase your visibility by creating great content on your site, optimized for the most appropriate keywords. Also, it always helps if you are active on social media. There are several factors related to local SEO that help small businesses. Make sure Google My Business has the right details, keep track of your ratings and reviews, and try to get links from related small businesses. Finally, try to optimize for ‘near me’ searches.

Keep on reading: WordPress SEO: The definitive guide to higher rankings for WordPress sites »

24 Responses to Local SEO: the ultimate guide for small businesses

  1. Vidushi
    Vidushi  • 11 months ago

    The blog is amazing. I would like to add some guidelines to it which will help in doing local SEO in an effective manner.
    1. You must mention all the business details on all pages of the website.
    2. Add local business schema to your home page under head tag
    3. You must register your business in local directories
    4. You can even do SEO of your local directories so that it can rank on Google Search Engine which can drive sales to your business.

    I hope you will like the points which I have mentioned and it will help your small business run effectively in the competitive market.


  2. Shyam Govind
    Shyam Govind  • 11 months ago

    This is such a well written and timely article, Michiel. I recently started using Yoast plugin for my WordPress blog and this post is adding on to my understanding of SEO.

    I came to know more about Google’s Possum update from the link you shared in this post. So, thank you! And please keep sharing more of such awesome content.

  3. adriders
    adriders  • 11 months ago

    I totally agree with your views in this article about SEO. It is surely an important tool for promoting the business content.
    Local SEO is becoming increasingly important as more and more people use mobile devices for search. These days, 57% of all searches are performed from tablets and smartphones, and half of those searches have local intent.

  4. Mclain William
    Mclain William  • 11 months ago

    Search engine optimization (SEO) tends to overwhelm many modern-day businesses, especially small businesses that don’t have the resources to outsource. The web offers a deluge of information, techniques, and strategies on how to optimize your website for search engines. Much of this information ends up being conflicting and confusing for small businesses to find the right way forward. But not more, as the above-mentioned information is best for those small businesses who want to give a boost to their SEO.

  5. admin9681
    admin9681  • 11 months ago

    I love Yoast SEO plugin but I think the price of premium version is too expensive for most small business owner in Indonesia (during the crisis due to Covid-19)

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 11 months ago

      Hi! Sorry to hear this. We understand the affordability of our premium plugin is experienced differently around the globe. To help all site owners during the COVID-19 crisis we did make our most complete course available for everyone: you can enroll in this training https://yoast.com/academy/all-around-seo-training/ free of charge now. Also, it might be wise to keep an eye out for sales, as we do offer regular discounts on our products. Good luck!

  6. Avestan Technologies
    Avestan Technologies  • 11 months ago

    This is an amazing blog. You have mentioned all the most important techniques here. Worth to read!
    Thanks 🙂

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Thank you for your kind words :) Good luck with your SEO!

  7. Sybal R Janssen
    Sybal R Janssen  • 11 months ago

    Yoast is one of the few providers of SEO knowledge I consider a genuine authority, with expertise one can take to the bank. My number one financial priority for June is allocating funds to purchase this bundle. At last, I am starting a local business with a small, well-defined market niche. I have followed Yoast for years and now have come to the point of applying this SEO knowledge for my own business.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Hi Sybal, thank you so much. That’s wonderful to hear! Lots of luck with your business and keep following us for more insights on SEO and how to use it to grow your business!

  8. Jason
    Jason  • 11 months ago

    Thanks for the sharing! I have a question though – how do we know when have we really found our niche?

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Hi Jason, thank you for your question! We have an article dedicated to finding your niche: https://yoast.com/find-shop-niche/

      I hope this article helps you out :)

  9. Eddy Abasiada
    Eddy Abasiada  • 11 months ago

    Oops, it seems this feature s available for the premium users. I guess I just have to upgrade mine anytime soon

  10. Anna
    Anna  • 11 months ago

    I have recently started working off-page SEO for my website and this article helps me a lot

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Thank you Anna and keep up the good work!

  11. santosh
    santosh  • 11 months ago

    Its really good article. recently installed yoast plugin to my website and its really helping and very easy to do meta tags like a pro. Mine is also a local business, try to implement these practices.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Hi Santosh, great to hear that you’re using our plugin! Good luck with the implementation of these steps :)

  12. Eva
    Eva  • 11 months ago

    Nice blog post, explained a lot about how a small medium business can make their online presence with the help of SEO.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Thank you for your kind words, Eva!

  13. Ene
    Ene  • 11 months ago

    I’m saving up for the premium Thanks for the detailed content. Definitely bookmarking this page.
    It’s going to help me later on.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      Hi Ene, that’s great to hear! Good luck with your SEO!

  14. Gaurav Soam
    Gaurav Soam  • 11 months ago

    This is an amazing blog. You have mentioned all the most important techniques here. Worth to read!
    Thanks 🙂

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 11 months ago

      You are very welcome, Gaurav :)