Local SEO for small businesses: tips to help rank on page one

PayPal Editorial Staff

PayPal Editorial Staff

March 05, 2023

Two flower store owners working and doing inventory over an open laptop

If you’ve ever searched Google for a restaurant or dry cleaner “near me,” you’re probably familiar with the local three-pack – the three listings that appear under a map on the first page of results. So, how does a business get one of those coveted spots? It all starts with local SEO.

What is local SEO?

Local search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on optimizing a website so that it specifically performs well in local search results. Because many people turn to search engines to track down products and services in their area, ensuring your business appears in local search results is vital to acquiring new customers.

From adding your business to city-specific review sites to using local keywords on your website and in your content (e.g., “best New York City burger” instead of “best burger”), you can help your business attract more local customers and improve your visibility in your community.

When you shift your focus from global to local, you reduce the number of sites you compete with. And with less competition, achieving number-one status in search results becomes much more feasible.

Does your business need a local SEO strategy?

Do you sell organic juices at the local farmer’s market? Do you offer lawn or maintenance services in your town? Not all businesses need a local SEO strategy, though it’s useful for operations that rely on nearby customers, such as service-based businesses like plumbers and HVAC technicians or health and wellness practices like doctors and dentists.

That said, optimizing for local search is a no-brainer if you have a brick-and-mortar location — but a business without a physical storefront (like a digital-first bakery) can benefit from local optimization, too.

Types of businesses that need local SEO

Any business that relies on customers from a specific area can benefit from local SEO. Here are a few examples:

  • Bars and restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Small retail stores
  • Jewelers
  • Hair and nail salons
  • Coffee shops
  • Service-based businesses (e.g., plumbing, cleaning, HVAC, electrical)
  • Health and wellness practices (e.g., doctors, dentists, therapists)
  • Professional services (e.g., accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, mortgage brokers)

By optimizing your business for local search, you’ll increase your visibility to anyone searching for the products or services you offer in your local area.

A definitive guide to local SEO

Convinced your business could benefit from local SEO? Here’s how to get started.

Step 1: Get listed

Make sure to claim your business name, address, and phone number — or “NAP” — listing in top local business directories, search engines, and social media platforms. Refer to our handy checklist below for the NAP listings that carry the most weight for SEO.

When you’re creating a directory listing, fill out every relevant section so that your listing is as complete as possible. Here’s some important information you should always include:

  • Business name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Hours and days of operation
  • Accepted payment types
  • High-quality images
  • Company logo
  • Accurate description of your business with a few of your target keywords sprinkled in

Remember to be consistent across all listings. If your business has a suite number, do you use “Suite 4” or “Ste. 4”? Whichever you decide, double-check that it’s entered the same way in every listing. Variations can confuse search engines and result in a lower rank on organic search.

Tip: To get listed in a Google Business Profile or Bing Places for Business, you’ll need to verify the physical address of your local business (no PO Boxes). Google asks you to provide your address at sign-up, then mails you a postcard with your PIN number. Once you submit your PIN number, your business will be verified, and you’ll be able to create your listing. Bing is a little bit more lenient and allows you to request your PIN via phone or email.

Now that your business is listed in all the right places, let’s tackle the next step: optimizing your website for search. If you already have an SEO strategy in place, great! Let’s tweak it to get you ranking locally. And if you haven’t done any SEO for your site, don’t worry — local SEO is a great place to start.

Step 2: Encourage and respond to reviews

You can boost local SEO by increasing your company reviews and testimonials. While it’s helpful for online shoppers to see reviews on your website, those reviews may not show up on organic search. But do you know what will? The social media pages and directory listings you created in the first step.

Engaging with customers on review platforms will give your listings traction and help your local business get better visibility in search. Most businesses get many of their reviews on Yelp, Facebook, and Google, so those sites are a great place to start. And don’t be afraid to encourage customers to leave reviews. Consider offering a discount or some other incentive to get the ball rolling. You may even find that just asking nicely does the trick.

Of course, the occasional bad review is inevitable. And while you can’t necessarily control what a local customer posts about your business online, you can control what happens next. The top review sites measure a business’s responsiveness, so be responsive! Good, bad, neutral — regardless of the review, a speedy response will benefit your SEO in the long run. Depending on the situation, you may even find that a quick response results in an updated review.

Step 3: Optimize for mobile

Are you tired of having marketing professionals reiterate the importance of making your website mobile-responsive? It may seem like we’re nagging, but it’s really that important – especially for local SEO.

After all, think about the times you’ve used search to find a business “near me” using your mobile device. You can improve local SEO by ensuring it’s optimized for mobile search.

Step 4: Include location keywords in your content

Your title tags, meta descriptions, and headers may already target a keyword, but what about a location? Updating your tags to include the target location makes it clear to both search engines and potential customers that your business services a specific area. Think about how a page's title and description will appear in the search results. For organic SEO to be effective, your tags need to read naturally, so avoid keyword stuffing.

The rest of your website content should also align with your local optimization strategy. This might be something as simple as adding your location to the existing content and alt text on a page, or it may be a little more intensive, like creating a whole landing page.

Another easy way to add localized content is by publishing blog posts. Google particularly loves what’s known as “evergreen” content — content that is always relevant and helpful. Create an editorial calendar of topics to support your organic SEO efforts and include long-tail keywords that contain your target location.

Why local SEO is important for your business

When it comes to local SEO, there is no finish line. (Sorry.) But it's a lot easier to defend a top position in search than it is to get there. By following the steps above, you'll create a solid foundation for local optimization and put your business on the right track to reaching number one.

Tip: Local SEO goes hand in hand with technical SEO. Use our technical SEO checklist to get started.

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