If you operate a local business then you might have heard the term local SEO. If you haven’t, then chances are you’re fighting an uphill battle against your local competition. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make up ground quickly to earn your share of organic search traffic. It also doesn’t mean that you might not already be inadvertently engaging local SEO (and if that’s the case, kudos).
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a marketing tactic that aims to increase a local business’ visibility for “near me” proximity searches at an organic level. Meaning: when customers are searching for local products and services via Google Maps, Google Search, Apple Maps, Bing and so on, your business is likely to show up as one of the top organic results.
There are various ranking factors that contribute to local search rankings, such as:
- Quantity and quality of reviews
- Reviews response rate
- Number of business profiles (also known as citations)
- Accuracy of business profiles (consistent NAP)
- On-page and user signals
Of course, this is a simplified explanation. There is a great deal that goes into building an unstoppable local SEO strategy. But that can take weeks or months to plan and implement. Overall, a comprehensive local SEO strategy will cover all of the above and more. But if you’re only focused on a few ranking factors at this time, you can still improve your online visibility for local searches in your area.
Why is Local SEO important?
Well, plainly put, more people are shopping locally. This isn’t a mere occurrence either. It’s a trend that has taken shape over the last few years and is getting stronger every quarter.
What this means is that if your business isn’t optimized for local searches, then you’re missing out on sales. That’s the bad news. The good news: you can make up ground very quickly if you have the right local seo tools in your toolkit.
Here are some stats to get your local marketing palette salivating:
- A 2018 local services ads (LSAs) study by BrightLocal found that organic results receive the most clicks of all SERP types
- “Where to buy” + “Near me” searches had grown over 200% in two years as per March 2019 Think with Google report.
- Local and organic searches together make up 69% of overall digital traffic
- The traffic for location-based businesses has increased from 19.2% to 28.8% between Jan 2020 and July 2021
- Local search has a 22% session share and gives the highest ROI with the most page views per session (compared with other channels)
- One-third of online consumers use the internet to search for local businesses daily, as per a 2019 Statista survey
If these stats excite you, and you’re ready to earn your share of local search traffic, then the best starting place is Google Business Profile.
What Is Google Business Profile?
Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) is a local business listing on Google’s search network. A Google Business Profile (GBP) gives businesses access to localized searches in their area on both Google Maps and Google Search.
With a GBP, you can specify important data, like your business category and services, which helps customers find your brand when searching within a certain proximity — zip code, city, county, region, etc. You can also include your contact information (name, address, phone number, company website, and appointment links) so customers can reach out once they find your business listing.
Another great set of features allows businesses to showcase attributes that make them unique, such as a short and long description, reviews, exterior and interior photos, Q&As, product information, and more.
With a curated Google Business Profile, you stand a much higher chance of showing up as a top result in their coveted Map-Pack — the top 3 (sometimes 4) results for local businesses matching a user’s query.
Here's an example of Google Map-Pack Results for the local search "Hair Salon Near Me."
Google’s local business listing service is free. All you need is a Google account to get started.
Setting Up Your Google Business Profile
The following setup guide is provided directly from the Google Business Profile Help Center. Google documentation is always your best source when it comes to Google products, so it’s best to follow their instructions. However, this guide is simply a “setup guide.” If you want to learn the ins and outs of GBP and ways to optimize your profile so you can reach more customers quickly, then keep reading our guide.
First, visit https://www.google.com/business/ and login with your Google credentials. Once logged in, follow these steps:
- On your computer, go Business Profile Manager.
- Sign in to your Google Account, or create one.
- If you create a new Google Account, sign up with your business email domain.
- Enter the name of your business. Then, click Next.
- You may also be able to select your business from the list of suggested businesses as you type.
- If you get a message that someone else has already verified the business, request ownership of the Business Profile.
- Search for and select a business category. Then, click Next.
- Choose whether you have a location customers can visit.
- For businesses with a storefront staffed during business hours: Click Yes.
- You may be asked to enter your business address or position a marker on a map for the location of your businesses. When finished, click Next.
- For businesses that do not have a storefront staffed during business hours: Click No.
- It should be noted that by selecting “no,” you are labeling your business a service area business. Though this may be accurate, it greatly hinders your ability to rank in Google’s Map-Pack. For these reasons, do not suggest selecting “no” even if you do not serve customers at a storefront.
- For businesses with a storefront staffed during business hours: Click Yes.
- Enter the service area of your business.
- You can set your service area based on the cities, postal codes, or other areas that you serve. You can add up to 20 service areas.
- Recommendation: Do not extend the boundaries of your overall area farther than 2 hours driving time from where your business is based. For some businesses, it may be appropriate to have a larger service area.
- Enter a phone number and website URL. Then, click Next.
- You also have the option to create a website based on your information. Recommendation: Provide the individual phone number or store page for each location, rather than a remote call center.
- Click Finish.
- Select a verification option. Recommendation: Review your information before you request verification.
- To verify now: At the top, find the red banner and click Verify now.
- To verify later: Click Verify later Later.
- If you’re not authorized to manage the Business Profile for the chain: Find the person in your organization who’s authorized and continue the process.
Actions To Take After Verifying Your GBP
Once your Google Business Profile is verified, we recommend curating your basic and rich data to better distinguish your business online. Follow this guide to create a GBP that will show up in SERPs (search engine results pages) and attract new customers.
You can choose up to 5 business categories that represent your niche. If 5 are applicable, we recommend selecting all 5. However, you do not need to assign 5 business categories if the options provided by Google do not properly reflect your industry and offerings.
Your business categories will do a few things:
- They will give you access to searches that fit within that context.
- For instance, if you are a digital marketing agency and select the business category “internet marketing service” then users searching for “google ads services” and “social media marketing” are more likely to find your business profile.
- They will open or restrict the types of attributes you can assign to your business profile.
- For instance, if you are a restaurant, selecting that business category will enable you to include attributes like “reservation required,” “bar on-site,” “reservation links,” and so on.
This is how business categories look in GBP:
This is how business categories look in Direction Local:
As SEO experts, we know that tracking phone calls is a great way to grade the quality of your leads and engage an effective sales funnel. For these reasons, we recommend using a call tracking service, like CallRail.
In CallRail, you can create tracking numbers that route to your primary business phone number, mobile phone number, and so on.
This is a CallRail call log:
By doing so, you can see the source from where the calls are coming, such as your GBP, direct traffic from your site, organic traffic and so on.
This extra layer of tracking visibility will help you center your efforts on the channels driving the most traffic to your website and GBP.
Though this is not a requirement for a local SEO strategy, it will help you drill-down so you can refine your efforts over time. If you have already specified your phone number when setting up your GBP, but want to update that with a call tracking number, simply update your phone number and save changes.
Most businesses using a Google Business Profile do not add products to their profile, which leaves opportunity for you to outshine your competition.
If you have a set of static products that are popular among your existing customers, we recommend adding those here. You can add an image of the product, the price, a description and a link to learn more. Doing so will reinforce certain relationships between your business and Google — a great way to increase your visibility for local product searches.
In the case of Direction.com, we showcase our local SEO product, Direction Local, which increases our visibility for searches such as “local SEO software, “local SEO tools,” and so on.
Be sure to add the services that you offer. This section works similarly to the products section. Simply add your service title, the price, and a description.
This section is extremely important. By adding your services, you’ll receive more impressions for searches that match what you offer. More importantly, customers searching for local services have a high purchase intent, so being discoverable when they need what you offer could mean the difference between new business or a lost sale.
The attributes that you can specify are dependent on your business category, so select all the business categories that apply to your company before populating this section.
Attributes are a great way to distinguish your business by easily providing info that is unique to your operations and storefront. For instance, you can select whether your parking lot or bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. You can also choose to claim that you are a minority or woman-led business, which can be the extra justification a potential customer needs in order to contact you.
The businesses that take time to curate this section tend to receive more visibility on Google Search, because they’re providing users with details that streamline the shopping experience. All in all, Google prefers to keep their users on their platform. So, if they can show a business that meets their user’s search criteria and provides enough information where they don’t need to leave Google, they’re likely to rank that business higher in local searches.
Here are the following categories within the attributes sections:
- From the Business
- Health & Safety
- Service Options
Your description is an opportunity to explain to potential customers why you are unique in your words.
Google allows for 750 characters. You do not need to use all of them. What’s important is that you properly communicate your business’ ethos and offerings in an enticing (and honest) manner.
It is best practice to naturally weave in keywords that you want to be found for, the areas that you operate in, and the ideal customer you serve. Keyword density is very important, so don’t stuff your description with terms you want to be found for. What’s important is that you communicate what you do, who you serve, where you do business, and how your services benefits your clientele.
Photos are perhaps one of the most important data fields for you to populate. Not only do they add a visual aid to users who come across your profile, but they are indexed by Google and, therefore, can help your business appear in local photo searches.
If you’re setting up your first GBP, then be sure to include the following:
- Cover photo (typically your team or something unique to your company)
- Exterior photo (very important for maps visibility)
- Interior photo (great for customer justification and building trust)
A great photo gallery could mean the difference in earning new business or losing them to your competition. So, if you have a lot of excellent photos of your crew or your business in action, be sure to upload them to your profile. And add to it over time! Your GBP should evolve as your business changes and grows, so don’t be afraid to use this section as a representation of your company in action.
Now, Let's Optimize Your Profile
There is a lot that Google Business Profile can do to help you stand out online; Google wants you to take advantage of this.
Questions and Answers
In Google’s eyes, the more information you have on your GBP, the harder you’re working to provide your customers (and their users) with the most informative shopping experience. That’s why curating all of the fields we just reviewed above is so important. It shows you care and that you want to build trust with your customers… and that goes a long way in building strong local rankings.
One of the best ways you can quickly build trust in Google’s eyes is to use their Questions & Answers feature. It’s exactly what it sounds like; simply answer your audience’s most frequently asked questions.
The best way to source this if you don’t know what people are already asking is to:
- Review customer reviews for common feedback
- Draft from existing FAQs on your website
- Ask your customer service team
- Review GBP reporting insights — Searches Breakdown
We do not recommend adding links in your answers. One of the reasons this feature is so integral to profile optimization is because Google wants their users to stay on their platform. If they can recommend a local business that provides direct responses to FAQs without their users needing to go off-site (to your site) to find answers, then that’s a win.
If you’re just getting started, we recommend publishing 3-5 Q&As — you can always add to this as you learn more about your customers.
If you have an established GBP, check the Questions & Answers section for user-feedback. It’s not unlikely that your customers are already answering questions for you. Sometimes they’re responses are spot on; if so, give them a thumbs up. If they’re off the mark, simply provide the best answer to the question.
If you have a website (and, by the way, you don’t need a website to have a top ranking GBP), then you’ll want to reinforce the relationship with your Google Business Profile.
If you have one or multiple locations then it’s likely you showcase those addresses on your website — most likely the footer and your contact page. If that’s the case, hyperlink your GBP profile to the address on your site.
If your business address is not clearly displayed on your website, we recommend adding it to the footer or your contact page.
If you have a service area landing page because you serve multiple cities or regions,, for instance https://direction.com/seo/austin-tx/, you can embed your GBP onto the webpage and it will display a map of your location.
Following these steps will reinforce the relationship between your GBP and website, and help initiate a faster climb in local rankings.
As we mentioned earlier, reviews are very influential when it comes to building strong local rankings. The more 5-star reviews you have, the more likely Google and new customers will trust you as a quality source.
One of the questions we get asked a lot is how to get more customer reviews on Google. Believe us when we say, if there was a secret strategy to acquiring loads of customer reviews, we’d be doing it ourselves. But, as far as we know, there isn’t some magic ingredient to gaining 5-star reviews.
The best way to get more customer reviews is to:
- Provide an amazing experience that customers want to share
- Simply asking your customers to leave you a 5-star review
We know it’s not a super exciting marketing ingredient, but it works. If you’re just getting started on Google Business Profile and want to boost your visibility with customer reviews, just reach out to your contacts and ask. Be sure to share your reviews link so they can easily provide their feedback.
You can find your reviews link by logging into your Google Business Profile. Scroll down on the home tab to the section that reads “Get More Reviews,” and copy your review form.
Respond to Your Reviews
Getting new customer reviews is only half the battle. You also need to respond to your customers — regardless if their feedback is positive, negative, or simply a 5-star rating with no feedback.
Responding to negative feedback is essential. It shows you care and are doing everything in your power to remedy a poor experience. You’d be surprised how many 1 and 2 star reviews you can change by being genuine with your customers, and showing them they’re heard and appreciated.
If you have an established GBP, and are here for optimization guidance, we recommend taking some time to respond to your most recent customer reviews if you haven’t done so already. We recommend going back as far as 6 months to a year. Anything beyond a year tends to look a bit strange, so if you have reviews that are 2 years old and don’t have a response, you can leave those as is.
Google Business Profile has its own reporting dashboard so you can track your progress and plan strategies around what’s working and what needs improvement. They recently rolled out a new performance insight dashboard that contains valuable local reporting metrics, such as:
- Business profile interactions
- How people discovered you
- Phone calls
- Bookings made
- Requests for directions
- Website clicks
Business Profile Interactions
This is a summary overview of interactions on your GBP. Here you can see the total number of interactions (phone calls, requests for directions, website clicks, etc.). You can set custom date ranges to track your progress weekly, monthly, quarterly, and so on.
How People Discovered You
This section shows you where your traffic is coming from and from what devices. You can track:
- Google search on mobile and desktop
- Google maps search on mobile and desktop
The insights you learn here can be applied to your website design. For instance, if you see that the majority of your traffic is coming from users on mobile devices, then it makes sense to ensure your website is mobile friendly — especially your most frequently visited pages.
How Your Products Performed
If you’re using your GBP to showcase products, you can track how many users viewed those products and which ones are the most popular.
This is a great way to learn what your top sellers are and what your audience is most interested in. Share these insights with your sales team so they know which products to push and where upsell opportunities lie.
You can also use this information to improve the messaging on your website. For instance, if most customers are interested in product X, then it will serve your interests to optimize the landing page selling X.
It’s important to know how many phone calls your business is receiving. This overview also shows the number of missed phone calls, which can reveal holes in your lead intake funnel. If you’re seeing a high volume of missed calls, perhaps it’s time to fill another seat at your front desk or in your sales team.
If you’ve added an appointment link to your GBP, then you can track how many people booked appointments through that link. This is a great way to track how many local customers are reaching out to inquire about your services.
We do recommend using a UTM tracking link so you can see how many users opened your booking link. If you’re seeing a high number of meeting link clicks but a low volume of meetings booked, then there may be roadblocks preventing potential customers from completing the form.
Here you can see how many users requested directions to your storefront. If you have a volume of people requesting directions, then it’s a smart move to add more exterior photos of your business to your profile. This will improve the user experience and provide better wayfinding when new customers.
It’s always great to know how many of your website visitors are referred by your GBP. This can provide good insight into your local online presence. If you’re receiving a high volume of website visitors from GBP, then you have solid visibility; if you aren’t, then perhaps it’s time to revisit some of the optimizations we reviewed above.
All in all, Google Business Profile Insights will provide you valuable information into your local online presence. Using these insights to improve your website and your GBP can mean the difference in locking down the #1 spot on Google, or losing out to competitors who have cornered the Map-Pack.
Managing Your Google Business Profile with Direction Local
Clearly, Google Business Profile is one of the best ways for local businesses to reach new customers who are using Google Search and Google Maps to find products and services in their area.
But Google Business Profile alone isn’t always enough to dominate “near me” searches.
Well, because customers are using tons of different resources to shop locally. While most are using Google, others are using Bing, Yahoo Local, Apple Maps, Facebook, Cortana, Alexa, NextDoor and dozens more. Having a business profile on all of these networks is the best way to ensure you’re reaching customers when they’re on the digital hunt for the services you offer.
Now, you might be thinking, “if setting up a GBP is this intensive, how will I find the time to setup and manage dozens of business profiles?” Surprisingly, the answer is simple (and so is the solution): Direction Local.
Direction Local is a local SEO tool that consolidates all of your business data on one central dashboard and distributes that data to a network of 75+ online directories. It’s a quick way to get listed on the networks where you don’t have a business profile and an even easier means of managing all of your listings. With Direction Local, you’ll only need one login to manage all of your online listings, saving you a ton of time building an effective local SEO strategy. There’s a ton of awesome features that business owners are taking advantage of, such as a central dashboard for reviews management and a social media publishing suite… but those are best discussed on a free demo call.