In my 10+ years as an SEO, I’ve served my fair share of local businesses. In fact, that’s the bulk of the work that I do now. When working with businesses who serve clients in their local area only, I’ve found there are some unique SEO considerations as compared to businesses with a national audience. On the other hand, as with any SEO, there are many small tasks to do; but the impact of these changes can be crucial to boosting a site’s local rankings. The difference is, this ranking boost often happens much faster for local businesses.
Here I’ll share the 17 common problems local SEOs face, along with my own solutions to not only increase a local business site’s rankings, but also get the job done much faster.
1. Local keyword ideas
The struggle: You wouldn’t start SEO without keyword research, would you? But it’s not as straightforward for local SEO as the online SEO guides will tell you. The major struggle with local keyword research is how time-consuming it is; basically, you need to go through all the steps of the more generic keyword research, pick the keywords that work for you, and combine them with your location keywords. This is a whole lot of time-consuming, mechanical work.
The hack: I’m sure you know there are plenty of keyword suggestion tools out there, including the good old Keyword Planner. They can all be helpful if you’re looking for generic keyword ideas (and they’re all available in Rank Tracker‘s Keyword Research module).
The struggle begins when you need to rewrite all those keywords so that they include your location. For this purpose, I use the Word Combination tool in Rank Tracker. All you need to do is download Rank Tracker (free version will work), go to Keyword Research, hit Suggest Keywords, and select Word Combination. At the next step, paste in your “generic” keywords on the left, and your location keywords on the right.
That’s it — Rank Tracker will now nicely combine the keywords from the two columns into local long-tails for you.
2. Geo-specific rank tracking
The struggle: Of course, as you implement your SEO strategy, knowing where a site ranks in your target locations is imperative. But about a year ago, a local SEO’s nightmare became reality: Google removed the search tool that allowed users to change their geo-location when doing a search. This also broke the localized rank tracking functionality in all rank checking tools. To date, most of these tools still show very “approximate” rankings for your locations, that can be very different from the ones your client is seeing.
The hack: If you’d like to see what your rankings look like from a certain area, and if you only need to do this for one location, there’s a neat Location Emulation hack that lets you change your location in Google Chrome and see the SERP for that location (here’s how it works).
If you’re tracking a handful of locations though, you’ll need to use a tool to automate this. My understanding is that Rank Tracker is the only app that uses the Chrome hack to get localized ranking data. It lets you create as many localized versions of your target search engines as you want. To get started, go to Preferences > Preferred Search Engines in the Rank Trackingdashboard.
Here you can select the specific search engines from around the world that you target (currently 570 to choose from). Click the Add Custom link next to Google in your target country, and go on and specify your desired location — feel free to make it as precise as an exact street address.
Don’t forget to add a short name for your local version of Google. When you’re done, you’ll need to add the local search engine to your Rank Tracker workspace. To do this, right-click the header of any column in your workspace, and pick the new search engine you just created.
Side note: An important thing to remember is that you don’t just want to target Google in specific cities or countries. You’ll need to pick your target search engine(s) carefully for clients across different countries. Remember, Google is not the top search engine in all countries; even if it is, in many places there is a second search engine that receives nearly as much traffic. Remember to do your research when you start working with clients from abroad.
3. Local pack and Maps tracking
The struggle: Many local businesses need to know not only how they rank organically in their target locations, but also what their rankings are on Google Maps, and whether they show up in the 3-pack:
Often, you’ll need to track the Maps and local pack rankings from different locations, just like with organic positions. This makes the job hardly doable at all if you try to do it manually.
The hack: SEO tools can help you automate the tedious local rank checking. Rank Tracker’s free version offers both Google Maps and local pack tracking; the best part is, each of these verticals can be customized for any target location.
For Maps rankings, go to Preferences > Preferred Search Engines and add Google (Maps) to your target search engines by clicking on the + button next to it.
When you’ve done this, remember to add the Google (Maps) column to your workspace by right-clicking the header of any column.
For 3-pack rankings, go to Preferences > Rank Checking Mode and make sure the Use Universal Search results box is checked. This will ensure that Universal search results, like images, videos, and the local pack, are also being tracked. This setting will affect all target search engines you are tracking.
4. Video and image rankings
The struggle: Web page rankings are of course important to track, but what about those videos you’ve been working on? A tactic I love to use for many local businesses is to rank videos. This is often a golden opportunity many competitors don’t take advantage of, which leaves a lot of space to quickly rank a video on the 1st page of Google.
The downside here, again, is that this kind of rank checking is next to impossible to do manually, given the amount of all other kinds of results you’re already tracking.
The hack: In Rank Tracker, you can monitor where a video ranks in Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Like I mentioned before, all you need to do is go to Preferences > Rank Checking Mode and make sure the Use Universal Search results box is checked. Now your video results will appear right along with your map, local and organic rankings.
What about those businesses who could benefit from visitors finding their images (think photographers, artists, and similar)? This same setting will check for image rankings in your target search engines as well.
5. What about YouTube videos?
The struggle: Now let’s say you upload the video to YouTube to get an extra little boost from Google. Just as with your organic and local pack rankings, you’ll want to know where the video is ranking. Ugh, that’s yet another URL to check rankings for, and yet another search engine — YouTube — on your already long list.
The hack: Luckily, Rank Tracker also allows you to track where your YouTube videos are ranking in search engines. Simply create a new project, insert the YouTube URL, and type in the keywords you optimized the video for.
If you have more than one YouTube video to track, jump to Preferences > Alternative URLs and paste in the URLs of all your videos. Next, make sure your target search engines are selected, and click on Add More Search Engines, and then select YouTube from the list.
Now you can watch your video’s rankings grow in all your target search engines and YouTube.
6. Keeping track of competitor’s progress
The struggle: At every step of the SEO process you should be tracking what your competitors are doing. The problem is, your business competitors are not always the same as your organic rivals. Competing local businesses in your area may not be focusing on SEO, while businesses from neighboring areas, who may not be your main competition in the physical world, might be stealing your local rankings.
The hack: There’s a neat competitor suggestor functionality in Rank Tracker. All it asks for is your keyword list — then it goes through those keywords, looking for websites that rank among the top results most often across all of the terms. To get these competitor suggestions, all you need to do is go to Preferences > Competitors and click Suggest.
Of course, you can also add your competitors manually by hitting Add. Click OK when you’re done, and now your competitors’ rankings will appear right next to yours for easy comparison.
7. Finding high authority business directories
The struggle: A great way to collect more leads and to build trust with potential clients is to have business listings appear in high authority sites such as Yelp or yellow pages sites. The trick is, you will hardly be able to come up with a list of relevant directories for an unfamiliar niche and location without a little help.
The hack: In Rank Tracker, Keyword Difficulty is a great way to see the top ranking pages for any keyword, including those local directories. It’ll also give you valuable SEO quality stats on each of the pages so you can easily pick the more popular directories to target first.
In the Rank Tracking dashboard, select a keyword you’re about to look into, and switch to the Keyword Difficulty tab in the lower part of the screen. Click on the Update button and hang on a minute while the tool is collecting data.
I grab a list of those top directories and then create a profile for the business if they don’t have one. If there is an existing listing, I make sure the profile is fully completed and optimized.
8. Tracking business directory listings
The struggle: Now that those listings have been created and optimized, I want to track their rankings in search results as well. That’s another bunch of URLs to check rankings for.
The hack: In Rank Tracker, there’s a handy Alternative URLs option that lets you track rankings for all pages related to a business in one project. Go to Preferences > Alternative URLs, insert the URLs of the directory listings, and click OK.
This way, all the URLs you just specified will be tracked in your project along with the client’s main site.
9. “Should I also do social media?”
The struggle: Many local businesses struggle with picking the social media sites to use, finding the time to post regularly, and even deciding whether they need a social media strategy at all. Social signals are a good sign to Google, so it’s a great way to boost SEO; however, it may not be something a business absolutely needs to do. So how do you know if you need to be doing it?
The hack: This is where we revisit what the competition is doing. Remember the competitors Rank Tracker has found for you? It’s time to see what they are doing on social media. Jump to the Domain Strength module in your Rank Tracker project, and click Show Competitors. Then, hit Update.
Under the Social media popularity section, you’ll see how well your competitors’ domains are doing on social media. Take the time to analyze how their social media efforts correlate with rankings, and take a closer look at their Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest pages to see what they post about and how often.
10. Taking care of technical SEO (without being a technical person)
The struggle: On-site SEO is absolutely crucial to the success of an SEO campaign. What you may not realize is that a solid technical foundation can be a massive help in ranking a site in the local pack. But what if you’re not really a technical person?
The hack: This is where Website Auditor is a tremendous help. Simply by putting in your website URL, you can quickly evaluate the health of any site, looking at everything that can affect your overall rankings, including on-page and technical issues. If there’s a problem, WebSite Auditor will give you straightforward advice on how to fix it.
Fixing these issues even without any additional link building efforts will often boost a site’s ranking quite a bit. I’ve had sites not ranking within the top 50 results jump to the first or second page of Google within a few days by fixing these technical problems.
11. Improving internal linking
The struggle: An internal link structure is important for rankings as well. Not only will it help visitors better navigate through the site, it will help pass link juice between your most important pages. Simply put, this is linking your most important pages together. The difficulty is figuring out which of your pages enjoy the most link juice, and passing that link juice on to your top important pages — especially if you have a large site.
The hack: There are a few handy metrics in WebSite Auditor that will help you with this. Go to Site Structure > Pages in your project. You should see a Click Depth column — the number of clicks required to get to each of your pages from the home page. Ideally, you should strive for a click depth of up to 3 to make sure your pages are crawled frequently.
Then, there’s an InLink Rank column that shows each page’s “link popularity”. The value is calculated the same way as Google’s original PageRank, so it’s a great way to tell how much link juice each page is getting. If you don’t have an InLink Rank column in your workspace, right-click the header of any column to add it.
Finally, you can also examine the list of incoming internal links to the page to see where the link juice is flowing from, and how you can improve it.
It’s also important to know if you have any orphan pages (pages that exist on your site but are not linked to internally). Luckily, Website Auditor makes this as easy as clicking a button — just go to Preferences > Crawler Settings and select Search for orphan pages. Once you’ve done that, hit the Rebuild Project button. Your site will be crawled again, and WebSite Auditor will also search for orphan pages in search engine indexes and your sitemap.
12. Structured data and Open Graph markup
The struggle: Structured data markup is important if you want your business to appear in the local Knowledge Graph panel. It also lets you create rich snippets for your pages, and include things like reviews and ratings into your search result.
Open Graph is the markup that enables any web page to become a rich object in a social graph. It is used by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ to add a unique title, description, and image to your page’s snippet on these social networks. While it is unlikely that Open Graph markup has a direct impact on SEO, it can be incredibly useful for your social media efforts (which, in turn, are likely to affect SEO in some way).
But as you keep adding new content to your site, it gets harder to keep the markup on each of your pages in order.
The hack: The easy way to audit your pages’ microdata is right in WebSite Auditor Open graph and structured data markup tab (under the Pages dashboard). Here, you can review your Open Graph titles, images, and descriptions, and make sure structured data is implemented properly on every page you’re optimizing for search engines.
13. “Stealing” your competitors’ backlinks
The struggle: Ok, link building can be tricky. But it’s not as tricky for local businesses as it is for international brands. When you start working with a client who hardly did any SEO before, you may often find that they have a bunch of high-ranking competitors with solid backlink profiles. The struggle is to determine which of the competitors’ links have the most weight, and try and acquire the same links for the client’s website.
The hack: To take competitor tracking to another level, open up SEO SpyGlass and add in the same competitors you have in Rank Tracker by going to Domain Comparison and clicking on the Add/Remove Domains button.
Next, switch to Link Intersection to see the sites that link to more than one of your competitors, but don’t link to you. Use the Projects column to see which of the competitors each referring domain is linking to.
Copy these domains to a spreadsheet — they are perfect opportunities for link outreach since they are clearly niche-relevant sites.
14. Finding relevant local link opportunities
The struggle: With our keyword research done, our on-page optimization done, and our competitors’ strategies on our radar, it’s time for some link building. If you’ve ever spent time building backlinks to a site — and not just any backlinks but high quality backlinks — I don’t have to tell you how much time it takes.
The hack: LinkAssistant is so crucial for the sites I work on. I can’t believe the amount of time I used to spend manually searching for link opportunities, manually evaluating their value, figuring out if I had a diverse backlink profile, and tracking if the backlinks were actually live.
Download the free version of LinkAssistant, open the app, and start a new project for your site. Then click on the Look for Prospects button and select the type of backlink you’re interested in going after (guest posts, forums, directories, blog comments, and several others).
Next, insert your keywords and let LinkAssistant go out and find potential backlink sources. It’ll also collect the email addresses for the link prospects, so when it’s done, all you have to do is filter through the list, prioritize, and start the outreach process.
You can reach out to prospects and track your progress from within the LinkAssistant — just use the Email button to do that. You can send out outreach emails in bulk, use ready-made email templates, and create your own templates from scratch.
15. Professional client reporting
The struggle: If you’ve been doing SEO for clients for a while, I’m sure you know how hard it is to build a report a client will be happy with. The problem I find in most reporting tools is that the reports they offer are barely customizable, so you’re left with no choice but to include some of the data the client isn’t necessarily interested in, and omit some of the important details they want to see.
The hack: Whether I’m working on a personal site or on a client’s site, the reporting feature in all four SEO PowerSuite tools is very helpful as it pulls all the data automatically for me so I can get a quick overview of the site’s status at any time.
All tools have a Reports module. All reports are totally editable, both in terms of content and their look and feel.
When it comes to generating SEO reports for clients, I like to be able to add in my own comments to the reports where I want to expand on the information being presented. This helps you put your personal touch on the report, answer questions before the client asks, and show clients how you are helping them reach their goals. It also lets you reduce the amount of time needed for client calls and additional questions as well.
Finally, I review the data and click Share to send the client a link to the report. Hitting this button automatically saves the report into your SEO PowerSuite Cloud account, which is also handy if you like to quickly access reports both from your home and the office.
16. Understanding the impact of SEO on traffic
The struggle: Regularly reviewing your site’s analytics is important so you can see which of your efforts are working and which aren’t. But having your SEO data in one place and your Google Analytics stats in another is a bit of a pain with you having to switch back and forth between tabs, or copy the data from everywhere and try and make sense of it in a spreadsheet.
The hack: All of the SEO PowerSuite tools let you enter your Google Analytics account details under Preferences > Google Account Settings. This lets you get traffic data in the same place where your SEO data is, making it easy to figure out how your SEO efforts affect the site’s traffic and engagement.
Side note: If you are managing client accounts, they can add you as a manager to their Google Analytics account. When you insert your account information in SEO PowerSuite tools, their site will appear for you to select.
Now you can see how many visitors are coming to the site, which pages they view, and which backlinks are referring traffic to the site — all in the same place where your SEO stats are.
17. Not wasting time on managing all your SEO jobs manually
The struggle: We all know SEO is time-consuming, and you have to really commit yourself to it if you want to see tangible results. But most of the SEO tasks are routine jobs that can eat up hours, often leaving you little time for the important extra bits of the work you can’t automate.
The hack: There is nothing I love more than being able to automate a part of the process that doesn’t need my direct attention so I can spend my time where it matters most. SEO PowerSuite‘s scheduler function allows me to schedule tasks to be performed automatically, so when I sit down to work for the day I have all the data I need in front of me, all ready to go.
From any tool, go to Preferences > Scheduler and add a task (such as checking search engine rankings, publishing reports, updating backlinks, searching for link prospects, etc.).
Set the time and frequency at which you want your task to occur. Feel free to add in as many different tasks as you need, just mind that you need to keep your computer on with the SEO PowerSuite apps running for the tasks to be completed.
Pulling Local SEO Steps Together
Local SEO is quite involved. There are so many small steps that while they can make a big difference in terms of rankings, they can also be easily overlooked. Having a system in place to keep track of what matters most while guiding you to the next step of the process is not only essential, but a huge time saver.
What are the parts of local SEO you struggle with most? Which hacks are you using to save time on tedious tasks? I’m looking forward to your questions and thoughts in the comments below!