Sometimes, SEO isn’t just about bringing the most qualified visitors from search engines; sometimes, it’s about making your business easy to find for local customers. Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar store or an ecommerce platform with a geo-specific audience, local SEO helps you target these potential customers directly.

Building out this strategy starts with a local SEO audit. That helps your company create a site structure and content plan that targets specific geographic locations, giving you the ability to boost rankings for a very specific kind of search.

We’ve put together a 10-step local SEO audit to help you understand how this kind of strategy differs from a more wide-reaching SEO plan and what you need to do to boost rankings locally.

Let’s dive in!

1. Set Up Google My Business

When you’re targeting a local audience, maintaining a Google My Business listing can provide a lot of important information about your business. This is what users will see when they search for your company online. Setting up your account will ensure that the information they find is correct and up to date at all times.Look at the example below from Blick Art Materials’ Philadelphia location. Businesses appear to the right of Google’s regular search results and show relevant information to the searcher. It includes:

  • A map location with relevant photos of the storefront
  • Links to the website and directions
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Contact information and business hours

Google My Business information for Blick Art Materials Philadelphia.

Google pulls together relevant information based on the company’s My Business account and separates it visually from the rest of the SERP. While this doesn’t necessarily impact the ranking results of Blick’s website, it has more or less the same effect. Searchers will be able to click through to the website without having to even consider the rest of the page, especially now that this format is more recognizable.

When you’re building your My Business profile, make sure that you associate the account with your business email and contact information. If there are separate branch locations for your stores, you’ll have the ability to separate those into location groups automatically—each tailored to a specific geographic location.

You’ll also want to make sure that any duplicate listings are removed if necessary. Maintaining a canonical listing for your business or store location ensures that you get the most value from your profile.

2. Make Sure Your Contact Information Is Correct

When you’re targeting a specific geographic area, the contact information on your website needs to be correct and up to date as well. While Google will pull this information from your My Business page, including it on your page ensures that web crawlers for other search engines can see it as well. Each crawler can then bring that data back to their respective search engine for indexing.

Including your contact information on your website is also a best practice when optimizing pages for users. It provides website visitors with the information they seek and makes the site more usable, thereby boosting its ranking. Most search engines will prioritize websites with a better overall experience.

When you’re publishing this contact information, it’s important to use the right schema markup language. This open-source community creates standards and best practices for how specific information should be coded into your site. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex all worked together to build a vocabulary that’s easy for webmasters and technical teams to understand.

Example schema structure for a local business via schema.org.

When you use the schema vocabulary correctly, it makes your website easier to parse, which makes it easier to crawl and increases the potential for your content to appear correctly in SERP features, like the Featured Snippet.Just make sure that you always include local branch information if your business has more than one location. Including a specific page for every store will make it easier for each to rank better in local searches for its area.If you’re not sure how to include this information effectively, take a look at what your competitors and other local businesses are doing. That can give you a great jumping-off point for your own site design.

3. Double-Check General SEO Best Practices

This should go without saying, but following all general SEO best practices will give your page the most ranking potential. As you’re working through your local SEO audit, this is a great time to check that your URLs, title tags, headers, and meta descriptions are all formatting correctly as well.

We’ve put together a 16-step SEO audit that can help you get started. The main difference you need to think about when targeting local SEO is how to structure those site elements to be more appealing for local searches. For example:

  • URLs should include the name of your town, city, borough, hamlet, etc., when necessary.
  • Specific geographic information should be present in title tags for your branch pages as well.
  • Your headers should mention the location you’re targeting naturally throughout the page.
  • Meta descriptions provide another opportunity to include the name of your town, city, borough, hamlet, etc.

Keep these things in mind whenever you create a new page for your website. Whether it’s a landing page or an event or a promotional page for an upcoming sale, each is a great opportunity to include content that’s tailored for local SEO.

4. Optimize Your Website Structure

The structure of your website can either help or hinder search engines’ ability to crawl, index, and rank your site. As you’re working through your local SEO audit, look for ways to structure content that make it easy for both web crawlers and local website visitors to understand. The better your website structure, the more ranking potential you have.

This is especially important when you have multiple store locations. We’ve established that each location needs a specific page with its own local information, but you also need to make it easy for people to navigate between these locations effectively.

The best way to do this is with your site structure. Take this example from pastry shop Milk Bar:

Example top-level navigation that includes brand locations.

Whenever someone comes to their site, it’s easy to choose their closest location from a drop-down menu in their site navigation.

Locations in Milk Bar’s top level navigation.

They’ve even broken it up further to showcase flagship locations, where people can go for more information on the most popular stores.

By structuring their site in this way, Milk Bar gives both website visitors and web crawlers a clear indication of which content to surface based on local searches. If someone searches for specific store locations, the My Business snippet on the right surfaces corresponding results.

Location specific snippets for different Milk Bar locations. Also note the ad inside the My Business snippet.

When you’re targeting local SEO, organizing your site to include the right contact information for each location you have is the best way to increase its ranking. If anyone searches for “bakeries in Chelsea” or “bakeries near me” when they’re in New York City, the closest location will have a better chance of ranking.

As you’re performing your local SEO audit, consider what other elements of your website can be improved by tweaking the structure of your content.

5. Strengthen Internal Linking on Your Site

Internal linking makes it easy for people to find the information that’s relevant to their search quickly. It also optimizes the crawl path for search engines’ bots and increases your domain strength. Optimizing link structure to provide both the best experience for visitors and the most logical structure for bots is a must.

When you’re thinking about linking between specific pages on your site, it can be helpful to think about it as a hierarchical structure, starting with your homepage at the top.

Internal linking structures via Neil Patel.

Not only do the different categories link to one another, but they link to individual posts as well. Doing this helps build a network of content that’s easy to understand at a glance and can help you visualize if there are any issues that need to be addressed.Think of it like a choose-your-own-adventure story, where each post is a choice that leads to one of your overarching narratives (categories). Whenever a visitor comes to your site, whatever page they happen to land on is their introduction to the story. From there, a logical internal linking structure ensures that they can always make their way back to your most relevant pages.

6. Encourage Customer Ratings and Reviews

When someone rates or reviews your store online, it will have an impact on your ranking potential. Positive ratings and reviews signal to search engines that your business is valuable to searchers—negative ratings and reviews have the opposite effect. Persuading your customers to leave these ratings and reviews is a great way to give your website a boost early on while at the same time acting as social proof of your value to potential customers.

There are many different ways to drive these types of reviews, from launching a simple email campaign to offering a discount on your price. Just keep in mind that search engines look at both the quantity of these reviews as well as the quality. Here’s an example of the reviews for the Blick Art Materials location shown in our first step.

Google ratings and reviews for a local store.

When you’re performing your local SEO audit, set aside some time to dig through popular review sites in your geographic area, including Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, to see where you stand. Many of these platforms will give you the ability to reply to these reviews to either thank the reviewer for their kind words or provide solutions to unhappy customers.

Either way, your engagement can act as a positive signal to reviewers that you’re actively engaged with what the community thinks. While this may not raise your rankings directly, it’s a great way to ensure that potential customers see that you’re active in the local community.

Building backlinks to your content is one of the best strategies you have for boosting ranking potential. When you’re going after local SEO, it’s important to look for links from prominent local sources. These will be more valuable than the general links you gain from other sites.

A great tactic for sourcing these links is to reach out to active websites in your town. Seek out your chamber of commerce to get your business listed; look for local community sites like Patch, and see how you can be featured; or find local Facebook groups that are relevant to your product. A link from one of these communities will look good to search engines and can drive more relevant traffic to your site organically.

That increase in local traffic can also act as a ranking signal for search engines, which works toward increasing your placement on the SERP over time.

As you are auditing these backlinks, also look out for inbound links that direct people to the wrong page or store location. It can be just as important to remove bad backlinks as it is to garner good ones.

8. Update Relevant Local Directories and Citations

There are tons of directory websites people can use to look up contact information for your business online. Whenever your name, address, and phone number are listed on one of these websites, it is considered a citation. During your local SEO audit, it’s important to go over these citations to make sure they are correct and up to date.

At times, you’ll have to remove duplicate listings for your business. Most directory websites accept submissions from just about anyone, so there’s a high potential for incorrect information. Having more than one listing for your company can potentially impact searchers’ ability to find it and will negatively impact your ranking potential.

Typically, all you need to do to update these listings is create an account with the directory or reach out to their support department. Once you verify your information, you should be able to control, to some extent, the information that’s included there.

9. Engage with Local Social Media Accounts

Social media may be more of a ranking factor for local SEO than general SEO. As you’re building your business, make sure you’re not only posting on social media but also engaging with local accounts. Look for relevant Facebook groups, Twitter handles, and other social media accounts to get involved with.

By participating in these conversations, you’re showing search engines that your business is relevant and valuable for local searchers. The more active you are, the more you can potentially boost your ranking. There’s also the added bonus of getting your business into your customers’ conversations, which can increase your visibility and your overall audience.

Get creative with the platforms you choose as well. In today’s social media landscape, there’s a network for just about anything. Whether it’s Untappd for beer, Meetup for networking, or Goodreads for books, find the right fit for your business. The more you interact, the more benefits you’ll see.

10. Create Locally Focused Content

When going through a local SEO audit, take a look at the different types of content you produce. Whether you’re posting to your blog, publishing to Facebook, or tweeting about an upcoming event, it’s important to target your geographic location.

One of the best ways you can do this is by finding the right keywords for your town. Start with something simple like best Boston restaurants or Arizona museums and look for long tail variations that are more specific to your needs. Once you have these keywords, it’s easier to create content that’s relevant to your audience. It could be as easy as putting together the “Top 5 Seafood Restaurants in Boston” or “8 Must See Arizona Museums.”

This content is a direct driver of local organic traffic and can compound over time to build the local authority of your site. Just make sure you’re always providing something of value to the reader.

This process is also a great opportunity for you to make connections with other content producers in your area. You can easily feature another local business, partner with a local influencer, or just talk about what your community means to you. An example of this might be your Press page, like this one from Milk Bar, which showcases content from local publications after the launch of their Boston store.

Milk Bar links to articles featuring their brand in a single location.

Whatever direction you go, the content you create will be searchable and valuable for local audiences. There’s no better way to show your investment in the community. And when you’re working with partners, linking to their content can help strengthen your domain as well.

When all is said and done, you should be threading local keywords and topics throughout the content you create or promote on your website. Doing so will ensure that you’re able to rank for what users are searching for at the right time.

A Local SEO Audit Helps You Attract More Customers

When you’ve optimized your site for local search, it not only helps you rank better but also can bring in more customers from your geographic area. Performing a local SEO audit also helps you show your investment in your community, make connections with other local businesses, and build a network of partners to grow your business.