New to local search? Won­der­ing where to start? Colum­nist Sher­ry Bonel­li offers five tac­tics to help you kick off your local SEO cam­paign.

If you’ve fol­lowed SEO strate­gies for any length of time, you know one thing: SEO changes all the time. When it comes to local SEO, it’s more impor­tant than ever that you opti­mize your on-site and off-site SEO strate­gies for clients and cus­tomers who may be search­ing for your local busi­ness. Local com­pe­ti­tion is heat­ing up, and if you’re not on top of your rank­ings, you can bet your com­peti­tors will be.

Here are five sol­id local SEO tac­tics you can use this year to help your busi­ness rank high­er for local search terms.

1. Title and meta description tags still matter


Title and meta descrip­tion tags are HTML ele­ments that you can cus­tomize to reflect the con­tent of your web page. The text of your title and descrip­tion tags is dis­played in search results. Think of this text as a “mini-ad” that you need to care­ful­ly craft.

Last year, Google increased the width of the main search results area to 600px. In light of this, the gen­er­al­ly accept­able length for title tags is approx­i­mate­ly 50 to 60 char­ac­ters, and descrip­tion tags can be approx­i­mate­ly 160 to 200 char­ac­ters. Take advan­tage of this space and use it wise­ly — and make sure you dou­ble-check that your titles and descrip­tions aren’t get­ting cut off in search results.

If you’re not sure how your title and meta descrip­tion tags will look or how many char­ac­ters you can get away with, try using an emu­la­tor like the one from SEO­mo­fo or Yoast’s SEO Plu­g­in for Word­Press:

Snippet Optimization Tool

yoast SEO Title And Description

Writ­ing titles and descrip­tions is con­sid­ered an art in the SEO world. In a sea of com­pet­ing search results, if this text isn’t unique, com­pelling and descrip­tive, then your click-through rate will suf­fer. Addi­tion­al­ly, one extra word or char­ac­ter could cut off your text with the dread­ed ellipses (…). This may not be a true tragedy, but it does look unpro­fes­sion­al, espe­cial­ly when it shows up in the mid­dle of a sen­tence, mak­ing your title or descrip­tion less impact­ful.

The les­son? This space is pre­cious, and every char­ac­ter counts. Here are some tips:

  • Nev­er waste space on page names that don’t pro­vide help­ful infor­ma­tion.

Wasted Title Space

  • If you want to reach local cus­tomers, include the name of the city your busi­ness is in and/or the area your busi­ness serves (e.g., “Serv­ing the Cor­ri­dor of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids”).
  • Focus on using one tar­get­ed key­word and care­ful­ly place that key­word as close to the begin­ning of the tag as you can.

Remem­ber, if your busi­ness shows up in the search results, you have one shot to get that per­son to click on your link. Don’t blow it by wast­ing char­ac­ters that won’t help con­vince a searcher you’re worth look­ing at.

2. Online directories and citations

Accord­ing to Google, rough­ly four out of five con­sumers use search engines to con­duct local search­es. Yet many small busi­ness­es have not claimed even a sin­gle a local busi­ness list­ing online, which is a huge missed oppor­tu­ni­ty.

It’s impor­tant that you get your busi­ness list­ed cor­rect­ly and con­sis­tent­ly on top online busi­ness direc­to­ries, like Yelp, Mer­chant Cir­cle, City­search and oth­ers. You will also want to seek out respectable local direc­to­ries to get your busi­ness list­ed on. Check with your local newspaper’s web­site and your Cham­ber of Com­merce to see if they have a local busi­ness direc­to­ry you can get list­ed on. You can also do a search for key­words like “[your city] direc­to­ry” to find oth­er local cita­tion sites or direc­to­ries.

It’s also impor­tant to get your business’s name, address and phone num­ber (NAP) on the major cita­tion data aggre­ga­tors like Infogroup, Neustar (aka Localeze), Acx­iom and Fac­tu­al. Always make sure that your company’s NAP is con­sis­tent on as many of these direc­to­ries and cita­tion sites as pos­si­ble. Dis­crep­an­cies like mis­spellings, abbre­vi­a­tions, lack of suite num­ber and wrong phone num­ber can cre­ate hav­oc when Google can’t deter­mine which infor­ma­tion about your busi­ness is cor­rect. If Google’s not sure, they may dis­play incor­rect infor­ma­tion — or not show your busi­ness at all in search results.

3. Google My Business: Claim and optimize

Google My Busi­ness (GMB) is con­sid­ered a direc­to­ry, but it’s a big­gie, so it deserves its own sec­tion. It’s very impor­tant for local busi­ness­es to claim their Google My Busi­ness (and Bing Places for Busi­ness) page. It’s free and can get you incred­i­ble expo­sure if you’re opti­mized enough to show up in Google’s local three-pack:

GMB Google My Business

To claim your Google My Busi­ness page, vis­it There’s a ver­i­fi­ca­tion process you’ll need to go through where Google will send a post­card with a PIN to your business’s phys­i­cal loca­tion. (No P.O. box­es allowed.) Then you’ll sim­ply log in and enter the PIN to ver­i­fy your busi­ness.

This ver­i­fi­ca­tion process is nec­es­sary because Google wants to con­firm that your busi­ness is legit­i­mate, and that you are actu­al­ly the busi­ness own­er. Please note that accord­ing to Google’s terms of ser­vice, only the busi­ness own­er can claim a GMB page. If you’re work­ing with a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency on your SEO efforts, you can then grant them per­mis­sion to be a man­ag­er of your page — that way, you remain in con­trol of your list­ing if you ter­mi­nate your rela­tion­ship with the agency.

The next step is to opti­mize your GMB list­ing with a sol­id descrip­tion, cat­e­gories, busi­ness hours, types of pay­ments accept­ed and so on. You also want to make sure to upload your logo and pho­tos of your busi­ness, prod­ucts or ser­vices. (It’s gen­er­al­ly rec­om­mend­ed that you upload at least three pho­tos.)

Ful­ly pop­u­late each and every rel­e­vant sec­tion so that your list­ing is com­plete. If you’re a ser­vice busi­ness and don’t have a loca­tion cus­tomers or clients can vis­it, don’t wor­ry; you can choose to hide your phys­i­cal address as you’re set­ting up your Google My Busi­ness list­ing.

As men­tioned above, Bing also has a com­pa­ra­ble page for local busi­ness­es called Bing Places for Busi­ness. The process is very sim­i­lar to GMB, and you should def­i­nite­ly have your busi­ness present on Bing’s local direc­to­ry, too.

4. Online reviews matter

Busi­ness­es are final­ly start­ing to real­ize the impor­tance of online reviews from their cus­tomers. Accord­ing to a recent sur­vey, 84 per­cent of peo­ple trust online reviews as much as a per­son­al rec­om­men­da­tion, and sev­en out of 10 cus­tomers will leave a review for a busi­ness if asked by the busi­ness.

There are sev­er­al rep­u­ta­tion mar­ket­ing soft­ware and tool options you can use to track, man­age and proac­tive­ly try to get reviews. Here are some to check out:

  • Rep­u­ta­tion Loop
  • Get Five Stars
  • Trust Pilot
  • Ven­das­ta

Addi­tion­al­ly, many social media plat­forms, like Hoot­suite and Tiny Torch, allow you to mon­i­tor and get alerts any time your brand is men­tioned. When­ev­er a review is left about your busi­ness, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, be sure to respond to it. That shows oth­er peo­ple read­ing the reviews that you, the busi­ness own­er, care what your cus­tomers think.

Two places where you should focus on get­ting reviews are your business’s Face­book page and Google My Busi­ness page. These are big ones. Many peo­ple turn to social media to see what their friends and fam­i­ly think about a busi­ness, so hav­ing good reviews on your business’s Face­book page can help to draw in prospec­tive cus­tomers. Get­ting pos­i­tive reviews on your Google My Busi­ness page is cru­cial because these reviews show up on Google when some­one search­es for your busi­ness.

Google also notes that “[h]igh-quality, pos­i­tive reviews from your cus­tomers will improve your business’s vis­i­bil­i­ty,” which implies that reviews might fac­tor into rank­ings on the local pack.

5. Use local structured data markup

Struc­tured data markup — often referred to as “schema markup” or “ markup” — can be added to your website’s code to pro­vide search engines with more infor­ma­tion about your busi­ness, like the prod­ucts you sell, reviews you’ve col­lect­ed, ser­vices you offer and so on.

Only 31.3 per­cent of web­sites are using this markup — and most are only using the basics. You can make your local busi­ness stand out (and pos­si­bly rank high­er than your com­peti­tors) if you add struc­tured data markup to your site where appro­pri­ate.

Google wants you to use struc­tured data markup because it helps their spi­ders bet­ter deter­mine what your site con­tent is about. Google even offers a Struc­tured Data Test­ing Tool so you can check to see if your markup is prop­er­ly imple­ment­ed.

If the thought of cod­ing freaks you out, you can also use Google’s Data High­lighter to mark up con­tent with your mouse. (Note that your web­site will need to be set up with Google Search Con­sole in order for this to work.)

This is just of the tip of the ice­berg when it comes to local SEO. Imple­ment­ing the five local search tac­tics above will give you a head start on your com­pe­ti­tion.