The internet used to be a simple place. If you wanted to search for something, you’d head to Google and type in your keywords. There’d be a handful of results, but it was all very simplistic and not overly complex.

Back then, it was very easy to rank your website on Google and results were often not quite what you were looking for.

Now, times have changed and Google’s gotten a lot smarter!

These days, there’s always talk of improving your search ranking, SEO, and loads of other digital initiatives. Google is an advanced and complicated being, but it still remains the number one way to search for businesses.

Amongst the many developments, local SEO has been one of the most significant additions to the Google search engine arsenal. It offers a new way for local businesses to be seen, and an opportunity to drive local traffic to call or visit your business.

With that in mind, you need to know everything about local SEO. If you can harness its power, it will be highly advantageous to your insurance agency. With that in mind, we’ve devised the ultimate blueprint for you to follow:

What is Local SEO?

The best place to start is with a definition; what is local SEO?

In short, this type of SEO focuses on improving your web presence to reel in more customers who are looking for local businesses – or businesses near a specific location. With local SEO, you don’t just see a list of results, you also see the positions of the businesses on a map. In turn, this helps point people in the direction of your company.

For example, let’s say you live in New Jersey, and you’re looking for an insurance agency. What would you search for? ‘Insurance agency New Jersey’, or ‘Insurance agency near me’ are the two most obvious choices.

Here, you’ll be presented with results from insurance agencies listed as being in New Jersey, and there will be a map at the start of the results that shows you all the local listings. Often, these results come with star ratings to show the reviews for the company.

An incredible 86% of people look up the location of a business on Google Maps anyway, so you can see how local SEO is advantageous already. It makes life easier for your potential customers as they get the information they need right away.

What’s the difference between Local and Organic SEO?

Did you know that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine?

People search for topics that interest them, and they find links to the most relevant websites. In essence, this is what organic SEO is all about. The priority is driving traffic to a website, with the hope of generating leads or making sales.

As you improve your organic SEO, you will appear higher in the organic search rankings – which are basically the list of results you see when conducting a search, minus any advertisements or sponsored links. The higher you are, the more likely your website will be clicked, leading to a traffic increase.

This is handy if you’re trying to grow your online presence, gain out-of-state clients or rely on online sales. It can also be a useful way of generating leads by getting people to your website, then using excellent landing pages to convince them to sign up to your mailing lists or provide you with contact information.

The key difference between organic and local SEO is that local focuses on driving phone calls or foot traffic to your business. With the insurance agency in New Jersey example, your business is primarily reliant on people calling or coming to your office. You need qualified traffic, so organic SEO won’t necessarily point people to your store. It will flood your website with traffic, but you need local SEO to point people to call you or driving directions to your location.

So, in summary:

  • Organic SEO: helps you gain more website traffic
  • Local SEO: helps you gain more calls or foot traffic

The importance of Mobile Optimization and Local SEO

Mobile optimization is the art of making your website suitable for mobile devices. In a perfect world. your site should fit the entire screen, load up quickly, and be easy for mobile users to navigate.

What does this have to do with local SEO?

Excellent question! Well, it starts with the fact that 87% of smartphone users use search engines at least once per day.

To add to this, 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases.

Essentially, people are using their mobile devices to search for businesses all the time – and they’re going directly to these businesses and making purchases.

Think about it logically; how often do you use your mobile device to search for things? You might be on the train, walking down the street or just lying in bed – will you get your laptop out to search? No, it’s much easier to whip out your phone and have a gander online.

Mobile optimization is essential as Google ranks mobile-friendly sites above ones that aren’t optimized for mobile devices. This is important even for local searches. If your business isn’t mobile-friendly, then it won’t perform well or be seen as often in mobile searches.

Claiming your business pages

Now that we’ve covered a few need-to-know items, we can dive into the deep end of local SEO. If you want to optimize your local SEO, then it starts by claiming your business pages.

All the big search engines let you create and claim business pages, but we’ll focus on the top three; Google (obviously), Bing, and Apple.

Some of you may only choose to focus on Google, and we can see why. They have a 90% market share of the total online searches. That’s a ridiculous monopoly, but we do think it’s beneficial to explore the other two search engines as well. At the very least, you’re just making sure everyone knows your business exists!

So, let’s get back on-track and look at how you can claim your business pages:

Google My Business

When you create a Google My Business page, you can set your exact location on Google Maps, which effectively puts you in the local search results. But, it also gives you a sort of profile that users can see when they click on your listing – this tells them more about your company.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Go to Google My Business and select Manage Now
  • Type in your business name – this lets you create a new page or claim an existing listing
  • Fill in all the general information that’s presented on the next page – make sure you choose the correct business category for your company!
  • Choose your business location on the map
  • Verify your listing – Google will give you a few options on how you can do this

That’s all there is to it; you will now have a Google My Business page. From here, you can fill out more details to flesh your profile out more. Add your business hours, upload photos of your premises, explain your services, provide more contact information, etc.

With a Google My Business page, you also have a way for people to review your company. So, you can try to speak to previous clients and ask them to review your business on Google. This gets your star rating up, making your business look more attractive to searchers.

Bing Places

Believe it or not, but some people do use Bing! Remember, it costs no money to set up a business page on any of the search engines, so it’s well worth doing just to cover your bases.

Thankfully, the process here is far easier when you already have a Google My Business page:

  • Go to Bing Places for Business and select New User
  • Choose to import your Google My Business information
  • Verify your account – again, Bing gives you various options

It really doesn’t take that long – especially when you can import your info from Google – so you may as well set it up.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps is most commonly used by iPhone or iPad owners. If you owned either device and wanted to find an insurance agency in New Jersey, you may be inclined to head to the Apple Maps application. Similarly, it’s the map of choice for the Safari web browser – which is developed by Apple and used by many Mac and Macbook owners.

Again, setting up your page is simple:

  • Go to Apple Maps Connect and sign in
  • Fill in all the information presented to you – this includes your relationship to the business, necessary details and your location/contact information
  • Check over your information and submit it

Give it about a week, and your listing will be there in Apple Maps.

These business pages/listings are essential as you can’t be successful in local SEO without them. They (quite literally) put your business on the map!

This is only stage one, now we can move on to the next stage…

Finding the right Keywords

Keywords play a vital role in improving your organic SEO. No doubt you’ve spent a lot of time researching which keywords are the most relevant to your business, and will help you gain more web traffic. By choosing the right keywords, you appear in the search results that are more relevant to you, and you can use these keywords to influence your search engine performance.

The concept is similar with local SEO; you must conduct keyword research to ensure you appear in the most relevant search results.

To showcase this, we’re back again with our New Jersey insurance agency example! Let’s say that organically you’re ranking well for the keywords ‘insurance agency’ and ‘business insurance agency’. To help optimize these keywords for local searches, you can make one simple addition; localize them!

Instead of just ‘insurance agency’ work on keywords like ‘insurance agency New Jersey’, ‘New Jersey insurance agencies’ or ‘insurance agency nj’. By adding this local touch, you instantly target users who are explicitly looking for insurance agencies in this location.

Why is this important?

If you don’t localize the keywords like this, you won’t rank as high on Google’s Snack Pack or other maps. So, if someone is looking for an insurance agency they may not see your company in the results. Not only that, they can go to your competitors right across the street.

How can you conduct keyword research?

We have two leading suggestions:

  • Sneak a look at your rivals to see what they’re focusing on
  • Use various keyword research tools to help you find the best ones

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords involve multiple words that usually make up a short sentence. More often than not, this particular type of keyword is used in local SEO. They show that a user is clearly looking for a local business, and is ready to take action.

For example, a long-tail keyword can look like this; ‘best insurance agency in New Jersey within three miles.’

Now, compare this to a more standard keyword of ‘best insurance agency.’

How do they differ, other than the length?

The long-tail variation shows someone is keen to find an insurance agency and visit it. There’s almost a sense of urgency in the search or at least an inclination that they’re very interested in finding an insurance agency in New Jersey.

So, if you want to do well in local searches, put a lot of time into long-tail keyword research as this can often be the best way to find leads.

Keyword modifiers

Furthermore, think about ways of modifying keywords.

Using ‘best’ is an example of this, but you could also use things like ‘affordable’, ‘experienced’ or ‘professional’.

This helps you target audiences looking at more specific searches.

Keyword power tip

If you are not located in a popular city like New York City, it might be harder to find keywords.

So, if that is the case, do a localized keyword research pretending you are located in NYC. Take all of those keywords and replace NYC with your city. Even though keyword research tools won’t show you search volume, people are searching for your services and you will rank top for it!

Generate a list of keywords you believe people are using to find your business. It shouldn’t be ridiculously long, but it also shouldn’t be too short – you have to Goldilocks this one! The keywords you use will affect other aspects of local SEO, which we’ll talk about soon.

Local Citations

After doing your keyword research, you need to look at local citations. These are arguably the most critical ranking factor for local SEO, but what are they?

Well, there’s a lot to talk about with local citations, but we’ll give you the brief lowdown here. Local citations are any mentions of your business online that show your name, address, and phone number. We’ve already given three examples of this earlier if you cast your mind back to the various business listings.

But, you can get additional citations from other online sources – places like Yelp are an example, but there are also industry-specific business directories, etc.

Citations are critical as they tell the search engines you’re a legitimate company. Think about it; search engines like Google aim to provide users with the best information possible.

They want to promote the top businesses they deem the most useful and trustworthy based on the search criteria. If a company is cited all over the internet on authoritative directories and websites, then it looks far more professional and reliable than a company with no local citations at all.

You can generate local citations yourself, but you need to find the best places to do this. Alternatively, to save time and effort, you can pay for a local citation service. Here, a company will do the hard work for you and ensure you’re cited across the leading online sources.

Either method will work, it depends on how much time and money you’re willing to spend. The absolute crucial consideration with citations is to make sure they’re accurate. The information has to be the same across all the different websites.

Optimizing your website

If you’ve got a good memory – or just possess the ability to scroll upwards – then you’ll remember we spoke about the difference between organic and local SEO. While the local variety isn’t too focused on gaining web traffic, you still need to optimize your website for it.

To do this, you have to immerse yourself in on-page SEO. This means focusing on different aspects of your website to make your business perform better in local searches. Here’s what you need to know:

Web content

Even though we’re dealing with local SEO, the core fundamentals of organic SEO remain.

The content on your site is vital if you want it to rank highly. The key concern is that the content can be found by search engine bots, and is easy to index.

Of course, the content itself has to be relevant, and you need to implement your keywords naturally throughout. Never ever stuff your keywords or list them – it will be a red flag for search engines, and your performance will suffer. Make sure the content provides something of value to the reader; information, advice, etc.

Then, pay attention to these aspects:

  • Title tags – every page needs to have a clear title that includes one of your primary keywords. It should show what your business is about. For example; Insurance Agency New Jersey is a clear title tag with a keyword in it.
  • H1 tags – you also need tags for headers. This helps break up the content and make it more readable, and they also need to have keywords in them. Think about H2 and H3 tags as well.
  • Meta descriptions – this provides information for users when looking at search results. It helps search engine bots sort out your website as well. They must include keywords and get straight to the point.
  • URLs – no-fuss URLs are required, with at least one keyword in them. This can be your business name or anything else relevant, but it must be short and sweet (keep in mind the user, users prefer cleaner URLs).

Additional on-page Local SEO concerns

The above points will help your business follow the core SEO best practices. But, you have a few other concerns when targeting the local rankings.

One crucial element is the structure of your website. All websites must follow a solid structure that’s easy to navigate and use. With local SEO, you need to call upon landing pages to help you rank better and be seen by your target audience.

A landing page is a page that people see when they visit your website after clicking on a link. If someone sees your business in the local listings, they may click on your website to gain more information. Here, you need to have location-specific landing pages.

For example, your business is in New Jersey, but you might want to capture customers from specific areas within this state – like Montclair, Trenton, Princeton, Atlantic City, etc. So, you need landing pages for each location, and they should provide information that’s tailored to each specific location. This means adding the right contact information, working hours, and so on.

This is ideal if your service covers a large area – like the state of New Jersey. Your business remains in one place, but you can reel in customers from different cities or regions within this wider area.

In short, don’t neglect landing pages when constructing your website. Also, make sure you follow the landing pages best practices to capture as many leads as possible.

DON’T OVERDO LANDING PAGES: We can’t stress this one enough. In the past, it was very easy to take the same content and replace it with a different location. It was very easy to rank using this method and spam Google’s map pack. Google is a lot smarter today. So, if you overdo it, you won’t rank higher, and you might actually much lower.

In summary, on-page local SEO is mainly about your content and website structure. We spoke about ensuring your content is valuable to the user, and you can try a few tactics to emphasize this.

For example, embed a map onto your site that shows your location and provides all the key contact information. This helps you generate foot traffic as people know where you’re based and have a way of contacting you to arrange a meeting.

Off-Page optimization

The things you do away from your website are just as important as what you do on it. This is particularly true for local SEO; off-page optimization is equally crucial.

Local citations can technically be considered a type of off-page SEO as you’re doing something that positively affects your search performance. However, we have two main things that you need to put lots of focus on:

  • Reviews
  • Backlinks

Reviews

You know what reviews are, but what is their significance? Before we go into it, keep this in mind; 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.

Instantly, that shows how significant they are in influencing people’s decisions online! With local SEO, reviews and credibility are essential to set you apart from other companies. If someone searches for a New Jersey insurance agency, then you won’t be the only business they see. There’ll be multiple local listings, but which do you think will be ranked the highest? Often, it comes down to reviews.

An insurance agency with a five-star rating will be pushed above one with a 2-star rating. It’s a simple case of search engines wanting to display the best possible information for users. If lots of people have given one place loads of positive reviews, then it shows the company is trustworthy and good at their job.

We’ve got three main items to look at regarding reviews:

  • The number of reviews
  • Consistency of review
  • The ratings themselves

The more reviews a company has, the better it tends to perform locally. Even if you don’t have the best overall rating, the sheer frequency of reviews can put you ahead of others. For example, a five-star rated company with only 10 reviews isn’t as impressive as a four-star one with one hundred reviews.

Ideally, you want to get a lot of reviews for your Google Business page, and make them part of your agencies’ culture.

This is because those reviews will show up in the local search rankings. So, ask your customers to go to Google and review your business – this will build them up nicely. You can do this by sending out emails with a link to the review page, or by having banners on your website, etc.

Some local businesses use incentives that encourage more people to leave reviews. Offer discounts or a raffle ticket into a prize draw if customers leave a review. This can help you build up a healthy weight of reviews. Keep in mind, if you are doing this, make sure it is does not violate your industry’s guidelines.

Alongside Google, get reviews on various other websites. Yelp is a common place to go looking for businesses. We would recommend just passing on building up your Yelp review though. Our clients didn’t have the best experience with them. They would hide good reviews and promote bad ones… but if we signed up for a monthly package they would disappear. Really?

If you’d like to get more reviews, Facebook is also a highly popular place for reviews, so get some on that platform too.

Obviously, positive reviews will lead to a more positive local SEO outcome. The only way you’ll get positive reviews is if you offer a good service. Look internally to ensure your service is the best it can be, and people will have no choice but to leave positive reviews!

Never, ever, ever buy reviews – this will cause more damage than good.

Also, if you do get negative reviews, try and respond to them. This can help when users are looking through reviews as it may show that you’ve addressed any potential problems.

For example, one negative review may talk about how difficult it was to contact your company. You can reply saying that you’ve created new communication methods or taken steps to improve your contactability.

Backlinks

Backlinks are one of Google’s top-ranking factors for local SEO in 2019. What are they? Well, they’re links that point to your site from other websites.

The more links you have, the more credible your business seems, but the key is that the links come from reputable sources. For example, government websites, new publications, or any other sites that are deemed authoritative. This shows the search engine that high profile sources are linking to your business, so there must be something good about you.

When it comes to local SEO, you need to find local backlinks. In essence, this means getting links from local sources – like a local news website, a city council, and other local businesses.

As you can imagine, this is easier said than done – particularly if your business is in a niche market, like an insurance agency. But, here are a few ideas you can try out:

  • Network with other local businesses and think about forming partnerships. This will let you both link to each other through your websites.
  • Sponsor a local sports team or event – you’ll get a backlink as you’ll be mentioned on their websites as a sponsor.
  • Do something to help the community get in the local news.
  • Submit press releases to local news companies.
  • Offer to write guest posts on a local bloggers website.
  • Create informative content on your own site, making your business a source that people link to.

It can be hard going, but generating backlinks is very worthwhile (probably the hardest part of local SEO). One critical thing to mention is that you should never spam your links anywhere.

Some of you may be thinking you can just go to local news websites and put a link to your site in the comments section. This is known as a black hat link building technique, and you’ll be hit with ranking penalties.

Summary

via GIPHY

Wow, you’ve made it all the way to the end of this guide. We know there’s a lot to take in, but that just shows the complexities of local SEO. So, before you leave, we’d like to summarize all the major points.

Local SEO is different from organic SEO, as the aim is to gain call and foot traffic for your business. The local results are displayed above the organic ones, with a map depicting the various business locations.

When local SEO is done correctly, you will corner your target market. Local people will know about your business and can see where you’re based. Pay attention to all the things mentioned in this guide; business pages, citations, keyword research – everything!

If you want more people to visit your premises and become customers, then local SEO is the best and most cost-effective marketing technique to use.