Want to get your business listed in Google’s local 3-pack?
Unfortunately, there’s no hack for an instant 3-pack listing (wouldn’t that be nice!). That means local businesses must rely on good local SEO for greater online visibility.
Local SERPs are extremely competitive. In addition, Google has made some changes that make it harder than ever to stay visible (e.g., the mobile 3-packs now featuring paid ads that push down organic results).
The good news?
Making a few easy improvements to your local SEO will have a tangible impact on your organic search rankings.
Here are eight easy hacks that you can start using today to boost your short- and long-term local SEO efforts.
1. Simulate Local Search During Keyword Research
Every good SEO campaign starts with keyword research, which – for most people – means turning to Google’s free tool, Keyword Planner. If you need generic keyword ideas, this tool is a gem.
However, ever since Google killed its location search filter back in December 2015, simulating local search results from a different city has become a lot more complicated. You can’t just add a location to your keyword because that creates an entirely different SERP (e.g. searching for “pizza” from NYC and “pizza New York” from San Diego will return radically different results).
To compensate, most SEOs now do one of three things:
- Add the “near” parameter to their URL: After typing in a query they modify the URL by adding “&near=cityname.” This draws results as if you’d searched from near that location.
- Use the “uule” parameter: You can append each search with a base64 encoded form of the “Canonical Name” of a location called the “uule” parameter.
- Use software to target specific GPS coordinates: Letting an algorithm geotarget your keywords via GPS coordinates is by far the easiest and most accurate solution. Check out this list of software solutions for local rank checking.
Once you’ve landed on your keywords, it’s time to put your research to work. Create content that targets keywords with low competition, and don’t forget to add them to your anchor text and HTML tags.
2. Capitalize on Easy Link Building Opportunities
According to a recent survey, link signals (i.e., inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, number of links, etc.) account for 29 percent of ranking factors, making them the most important ranking factor to consider. That means link building should be one of your top local SEO priorities.
Unfortunately, building organic links takes time. You need a repertoire of valuable content that influencers want to click on before you can truly take advantage of link building opportunities. Look for opportunities to collaborate with influencers and find other ways to build your brand reputation online.
SEO experts recently shared their experience and local-focused tactics with my team’s new link building survey. Here’s where they successfully and efficiently built links within the past 12 months:
- Local business websites (77 percent)
- Yelp and similar directories (80 percent)
- Local press (83 percent)
- Chambers of commerce (70 percent)
One of the best ways to score some quick, high-quality backlinks is to help site owners find and fix broken links in their content. Simply scour high-ranking posts in your niche for broken links, let the site owner know if you find any, and then offer up your website as a substitute.
Forty-three percent of SEOs interviewed used broken link building within the past 12 months, and it proved to be one of the easiest and most efficient ways to new backlinks.
3. Use Competitor Research to Discover More Backlink Opportunities
Competitor research is a great way to find out which domains are linking to your rival businesses, but leaving you out in the cold. Turn to your favorite competitor tracking tool and use it to discover link building opportunities that you might have overlooked:
- Figure out which sites link to more than one of your competitors, but don’t link to you.
- Determine the relative domain authority of each of these sites (your competitor analysis tool should give you this information).
- Make a list of the most influential and relevant domains.
- Perform link outreach to the domains on your list.
4. Weed out NAP Inconsistencies
It’s important that your NAP (name, address, and phone number) remains consistent on every website it’s listed on. Use rank tracking software to monitor your citations and if you ever find NAP inconsistencies, contact the site owners or directories in question and ask them to correct the mistake.
According to the study cited above, on-page signals including NAP are the second to third most important ranking signals for both local pack rankings and localized organic rankings.
5. Optimize Your Google My Business Listing
Your Google My Business page is easily the most important ranking factor when it comes to local pack ranking, and optimizing it is easy. Here’s what you have to do:
- Claim your listing (here’s how).
- Verify your account.
- Ensure your business details are up-to-date. Common mistakes include wrong opening hours, erroneous opening hours, and incorrect category listings.
- Link to your website.
- Upload high-quality business images (or refresh existing images if they’re more than a year old).
- Once your Google My Business page is set up, the best way to keep optimizing is to win customer reviews and build citations for local listings.
6. Curate Customer Proof
Social proof is among the most powerful content at your disposal. Reviews, testimonials, and case studies are both powerful ranking signal (7-13 percent) and persuasive pieces of copy that often decide whether a customer hires you or one of your competitors.
Getting customer proof takes a little work, but here are a few creative ways to encourage more reviews:
Offer link building opportunities: Your customers want to build links just as badly as you do, and many will leap at the opportunity to be featured in a case study if it means free publicity. Don’t have time to build a case study yourself? Websites like Case Study Buddy can help.
Encourage customers to leave reviews: Hand out leaflets, print out a QR code on your receipts or business cards, and ask customers in person when they’re paying the bill.
Ask for reviews: Yes, it really can be this simple. You won’t win reviews from all of your customers, but all you need is a trickle of positive feedback on the platforms your customers frequent (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Amazon, etc.) and you’ll soon build up a solid reputation.
7. Don’t Forget About Structured Data Markup
You’ll need to use structured data markup if you want your business to appear in the local Knowledge Graph panel on the right side of Google’s SERPs. It also lets you provide visitors with a rich snippet that gives them information like your NAP and positive reviews.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to use different markups for different platforms. For example, you should use Schema for Google search results, but you’ll need Open Graph for social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
The hack? There’s software available (and relatively easy to find) that will let you manage all your markups from one central hub.
8. Track Video & Image Ranking
While most businesses measure metrics like visitors and CTR, surprisingly few realize that quality rank tracking software can also check your video and image rankings.
Check your rank tracking tool for an option to enable universal search results, and your software should gather results from search engines like YouTube as well as Google, Bing, and other search engines.
Optimizing images is often as simple as compressing your images to reduce their file size. Make sure your images are properly formatted (usually .jpg or .png) and then compressed with a tool that preserves image quality.
To improve your videos, optimize your titles and metadata to be more clickable and include at least one keyword, creating unique thumbnails, and transcribe your video text to help YouTube’s indexing.
How to Get Started
Kick off your SEO campaign with local SEO basics – do some keyword research, create a Google My Business listing, perform competitor analysis, and then start planning out a few targeted landing pages. Start small and prioritize your SEO to focus on the most important local ranking signals first.
There’s plenty of time to dive into more advanced SEO once you’ve mastered these eight hacks.