A Beginner's Guide to Local SEO for Small Businesses

Guide to Local SEO | Shopify Retail

As a small business with a physical location, you've probably heard about "local SEO" or have been told that you should really be optimized for local search.

In return, perhaps you've had a confused or overwhelmed look on your face, wondering 'what exactly is local SEO?, 'how's it different from your existing SEO efforts?', and 'how exactly do you get started?'

Not to fret, this is the first of a series of posts outlining how your business can be optimized for local search engine marketing. As a subset of a broader SEO marketing practices, basic local SEO encompasses the following three factors:

  1. Local Listings and Citations
  2. Online Reviews
  3. On-Site Local SEO optimization

I'll be providing an introduction to each of these three components in this post and providing more in-depth posts in the weeks to come. If you're ready to start cashing in on greater local search visibility, you've come to the right place. But first, we'll look at how the modern day consumer searches and shops in today's world. 

Let's dive in. 

The Modern Day Consumer

Not too long ago the primary means for consumers to discover local businesses was through flipping open a Yellow Pages catalogue, then turn the pages to the relevant category, find the nearest business of interest, focus in on the address and phone number, pick up their home phone, and call. 

Sounds a bit archaic by today's standards, right?

In today's landscape, more than 125 million US consumers walk around with smartphones, representing 54% of mobile subscribers. Here's a high-level breakdown of how they use their smartphones to access local information:

  • 47% of consumers use their smartphones to search for local information
  • 29% of mobile users are open to scanning a mobile tag to get coupons
  • Nearly 50% will research a product from their smartphone before buying

Or think of how many times you've searched for a keyword followed by your city? For example, instead of just searching for "pizza," you instead have searched for "pizza toronto"? 

MOZ Local highlights the following stats to give small businesses an idea of how often consumers are searching locally:

  • 4 billion desktop queries in the US have "local intent"
  • More than 50% of mobile searchers have "local intent"
  • Almost 15-20% of all searches are mobile

What they were then able to extrapolate is that there are approximately 7 billion unique local searches per month on Google in the US alone. 

Okay, so now you agree on the importance of having your business optimized for local SEO, here are a few places to get started.

Local Listings and Citations

There are literally thousands of places to list your business online, and fundamentally, creating local business listings is the key component of any local SEO campaign. But let's take a step back for a minute and look at why this is important.

To better understand the importance of listings and citations (a concept I'll explain below), let's look at the motives and experiences of two very important variables: the search engine and the consumer. 

Consumers are overwhelmed with the number of options they have available to them, whether it's places to eat, places to shop for underwear, or places to fill up on gas. So search engines make life extremely easy for them by allowing them to enter a few keywords, and return a host of options ranked and filed based on a number of factors that make it easier for consumers to choose and be satisfied at the end of the transactions. If the recommendations or results prove satisfactory, consumers will return to the search engine and use it again, allowing them to monetize through advertising. 

Learn More: Basics of Small Business Accounting

To ensure satisfaction, search engines process massive loads of data to be able to serve up the most relevant and best-reviewed option sorted by geography. Now the quality of this data that's used to process the information can make or break a service, and is precisely how Google broke away from the pack early on, through serving up better and more relevant search results. 

So how is the quality of this data ensured? Through cross-referencing each data point across the world wide web. However, there are three major data brokers whose data powers the likes of Google, Bing, Yahoo, Apple and more when it comes to their small business listings, and they are:

The data these giants provide is then cross-checked with more popular business listing services like:

  • Google+ Local
  • Yelp
  • Bing Places
  • Yellow Pages
  • Yahoo Local
  • Foursquare

Essentially, the more often your business listing is consistent across the multiple data providers, the more likely it is to be trusted, and the more likely it is to be served up by Google or any of the other search players when someone types in a keyword. Quality and relevance above all is the key to remember.

This graphic by getlisted.org (Now MOZ Local) provides a good visual overview of the local search ecosystem:

GetListed local search ecosystem | Shopify Retail

Now in order for you to qualify for a local business listing in any index, MOZ Local notes that your business must meet the following four criteria:

  1. Have a business name or DBA
  2. Have a local phone number that matches your city of location 
  3. Have a dedicated physical street address
  4. Make face-to-face contact with customers

Next, let's look at the two factors that heavily influence how search engines and the other web services find out about your business:

  1. The number and quality of links that point to your website and tracking the sites where those links appear
  2. Tracking the number of citations of your business and on which sites these citations appear

On first glance, you're probably thinking, I get links, maybe you've even done a link-building campaign in the past, but then you're probably wondering, 'what the hell is a citation?'

Simply put, a citation is a "mention" of your business name on webpages other than your own, followed by your address, phone number, or both, regardless of whether there is a link to your website or not. 

An example of a citation might be an online directory, like Yellow Pages, where your business is listed but not necessarily linked to.

YellowPages local search | Shopify Retail

When it comes to creating your business listing and getting citations, you have a couple of options, you can either go the DIY approach and list with all the major players, you can hire an agency, or you can turn to a location-based content management system (CMS) where you upload your address once and then use the software to push your listing to everywhere you want to be.

Some of your CMS options include:

Each platform and option has its own pros and cons, in addition to the cost associated with it. So do your due diligence and pick the solution that's best for you.


According to Search Engine Land, 72% of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, while 52% say that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business. 

Google positive retail reviews | Shopify Retail

Reviews not only drive a higher click-through rate to your site, but are listed on search engine page results (serps) and according to an extensive study conducted by Digital Marketing Works, reviews play a critical role in determining inclusion and ranking for Google's local "carousel results", that appear at the top of a serp.

Needless to say, if there is one thing small business owners can't afford to ignore in the digital age, it's their online reputation. 

The two core activities when it comes to online reviews are:

  1. Inviting people to actually leave a review
  2. Managing your online reputation

Getting people to leave a review can be a straightforward as having a call-to-action at your physical or digital check-out counter, or bringing it up while conversing with customers. While managing your online reputation is putting out fires in the form of negative reviews as soon as they flare up, and promoting your online reputation as social proof for your product or services. 

Experts also attest to the quantity, diversity, and speed of reviews to play determining factors in how reviews are used in search algorithms. Hopefully, this gets you started in thinking about the importance of reviews and how they factor in your local search marketing plan, I'll be doing a more extensive post to do the topic justice given its importance. In the meanwhile, for a comprehensive look at getting positive reviews on Google Places, make sure to read this post.

On-Site Optimization

Finally, let's take a look at getting the most critical component of your online presence, your website, optimized for local search, or the humble beginnings of it anyway. 

I'll start with a term thrown around quite a bit in local SEO speak, and its NAP, which stands for:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone Number

It's recommended to have your NAP or local information listed on every page. If you have multiple locations, you can either use multiple landing pages, or have them all listed on a single "contact us" page, which is a popular approach. Experts at MOZ recommend testing to see if your NAP is crawlable by Google, as it is sometimes included as an image as apposed to HTML code. 

Check out this example from Toronto men's fashion retailer GOTSTYLE:

GotStyle site optomization | Shopify Retail

You'll also want to optimize your site for local keywords over more competitive and broad-stroking keywords to rank better in local search results and is something you can accomplish through basic keyword research. For example, "book store Toronto" over just "book store."

Those optimized regional keywords can then be included in the following facets of your website based on your discretion and in consultation with someone well-versed in SEO:

  • Your URL
  • Page Titles
  • Meta Descriptions
  • H1 and H2 Tags
  • Sparingly throughout your site content

In addition, another key component which you've also heard many times before is the importance of having a mobile-optimized site. What's the point of increasing your rankings in local search results when your website isn't accessible on-the-go, when users and potential customers actually need to access information. In fact, 73% of mobile search triggers additional action and conversion like:

  • Research (36%)
  • Visit a store (17%)
  • Sharing information (18%)
  • Call a business (7%)
  • Make a purchase (17%)

Enticing enough for you? Hopefully so, bridging the online and offline experience has to be a top priority for small retail businesses in order to survive in today's world. Focus on these three core tenants of business listings and citations, online reviews, and on-site SEO for optimizing your local search marketing efforts and you'll be well on your way to reaping the benefits. 

P.S. Have you implemented local SEO best practices for your physical store? Let us know your tips and tricks and what results you saw in the comments below. 

P.P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you'll love 11 Easy Content Marketing Ideas You Can Put Into Action Today and How to Build a Massive Following on Instagram.