How do you make sure your local site ranks well in search?
There’s no easy answer, which can be frustrating for business owners who have a lot on their plate or link builders who aren’t as familiar with local link building strategies.
You might wonder if it’s even worth the hassle.
Yes, it is. And here’s why.
46% of all Google searches are local searches.
That means nearly half the time people head to Google, they are looking for businesses near them.
More importantly, more than half of all websites have no backlinks pointing to their site at all, which means their sites rank poorly in search engines.
All of this goes to show there is a ton of opportunity for local businesses — if you know what to do.
This article will give you everything you need to know to increase your link profile and drive local traffic.
First, we’re going to cover a bit of background — if you want to dive straight into strategies, skip ahead to here.
What is Local SEO and Why Does it Matter?
Let’s say you’re looking for a new blanket for your bed. You might head to Google and search for “best King comforter set.”
Which sites show up?
The real question is — how do you make sure your site shows up in those top few results?
As you know, Google uses more than 200 different factors when considering which web pages to display, and they don’t tell marketers exactly how each one is weighed.
Local SEO goes beyond standard SEO practices to optimize your site specifically to attract searchers in close geographical proximity to your business.
For example, when a searcher types in “plumber,” Google doesn’t show them plumbers from thousands of miles away, it shows them plumbers located near them. The same thing happens if you type in “plumber + your city” or “plumber near me.”
Google works hard to determine where you are and show you relevant plumbers that could help.
That is local SEO – but why does it matter?
Why does local SEO matter so much?
Local searchers are far more purchase-driven. In fact, 80% of local searches convert.
This makes sense when you consider search intent. A user looking for “Thai food near me” or “car repair shop Philadelphia” is likely to have a specific purchase in mind. Whereas someone searching “Thai food” or “car repair” could be looking for a recipe or a DIY video.
So, what’s the difference between SEO and local SEO?
The biggest difference between SEO and local SEO is the top ranking factors for each strategy.
For SEO in general, you are likely targeting Google’s top three ranking factors of content, metadata, and site performance.
For local SEO, however, things look a bit different.
What are the top local SEO Factors?
Local businesses face unique challenges when it comes to getting found online.
Smaller businesses have to compete with big-box stores — companies with a ton of brand recognition and multiple locations.
And that can get confusing for both search algorithms and users if those small businesses aren’t mindful of standardizing NAP citations (name, address, and phone number).
Due to those unique challenges, the most effective strategies for local SEO are a bit different than organic search or regular SEO.
According to a study by Moz, the top ranking factors for local SEO are:
- Google My Business listing
- Customer reviews
- On-page signals like NAP citations, keywords in titles, etc.
It’s well worth noting here that the single most effective step you can take to improve local SEO is to claim your Google My Business listing.
The next step should be to build a strong linking strategy to and from relevant local sites. And that requires you to consider off-page SEO.
What’s the difference between on-page and off-page SEO?
On-page SEO is factors you can control on your own website — things like external links, meta descriptions, page size, and high-quality local content.
Off-page SEO is factors from an external source that can impact your search ranking — things like inbound links or inbound traffic from social media efforts.
In general, sites have more control over on-page SEO and less control over off-page SEO.
Links, of course, may be considered on or off-page SEO. An internal link, say from your home page to your contact page, is on-site SEO. An external link, like from a local news site, is considered off-page SEO because it comes from outside of your website.
External links tend to carry a bit more weight as they serve as a ‘vote’ from an unbiased third party that your site is useful.
Is on-page SEO more important than off-page SEO?
Both types of SEO are important, however, off-page SEO factors tend to be more challenging to get and carry more weight with search engines. A successful local SEO strategy will have a mix of both on- and off page-SEO.
How Do Links Impact Local SEO?
As we mentioned above, when it comes to search engines, links function like votes.
When one website links to another, they are essentially telling the search engine “Hey, this site is useful and relevant.”
More links = more votes. More votes = higher search engine ranking.
(Of course, some votes are more valuable than others, but we will get into that in a bit).
There are two types of links — internal and external (sometimes also called backlinks.)
Internal links go from one page of your site to another page on your site.
These are important for SEO as well as website usability.
For example, you might link from your homepage to your contact page, from your menu page to your order form, or from your main services page to each individual service. These links tell search engines which pages on your site are important but also help users better navigate your site.
(If you’ve ever spent time searching a business’ website for their phone number or email address, you understand how important internal links are from the user standpoint.)
External links, aka backlinks or inbound links, are links from other websites to your site.
For example, a local restaurant might be on a list of the top 10 restaurants in their city, or a local plumber might have a link to their site from a news story about their charity donations.
External links work to drive direct traffic, but they also serve as a ‘vote’ from another website saying that your site is useful and relevant.
What is a backlink profile?
A backlink profile is a collection of all the sites that link to your site. It describes the overall health of a site’s inbound links, such as “We have a strong backlink profile”, which means that your site has a variety of high-quality inbound links pointing to it.
Why is Link Building Important for SEO?
There are two main reasons why link building is critical for SEO and for local businesses.
First, links drive direct traffic. People reading content on one site may follow that link to your site. Second, links are one of the main factors considered by search engines when deciding which website to display for a specific search result.
A recent study by Ahrefs found that 91% of all pages never get any organic traffic at all — and it’s almost entirely due to a lack of backlinks.
In fact, nearly 85% of all websites have between 0 and 3 backlinks.
That is astounding, particularly when you consider how easy it is to get at least a handful of links from sources like local directories, which will cover in the next section.
Links matter for local SEO in particular because they increase your local ranking, which increases the chance of making it into Google’s local three-pack.
This map-based display for local search results makes it easy for searchers to find your business’ address, star rating, and phone number.
In order to rank higher and qualify for the local three-pack, you need more than just a bunch of links; you need high-quality links.
But, what makes a link high-quality?
How to Tell if a Local Link is High-Quality
Not all links are created equal. To a certain extent, most people understand this intuitively. It is pretty clear that a link from The Philadelphia Inquirer is going to be more valuable than a link from a personal blog that gets less than a dozen views a month.
But what actual factors does Google look at when valuing links?
- PageRank of the referring page: This is a Google algorithm that ranks the importance of a webpage based on the number and value of links on the website.
- Link location: Links located in the main portion of a website, versus the header or footer, carry more weight. Links higher up on a page also tend to be valued higher.
- Anchor text: Relevant anchor text, such as the name of your brand or a key term that you target, can make a link more valuable versus something like “click here.”
- Links from unique domains: A link from a new site carries more value than a second, third, or fourth link from a single site. Essentially, 10 links from 10 different sites are more valuable than 10 links from a single site.
- The relevance of the referring site: A link from a site that makes sense for your industry may carry more weight than a link from a random site. For example, say you run a local bakery. A link from a news website in your city is more valuable than, say, the website of a car repair company two states away.
- The freshness of the link: Links from sites that have been recently updated or are new tends to carry more weight. This tells Google your page is currently relevant.
The more of these points a link hits, the higher quality that link will be.
What are nofollow links and do they impact SEO?
A nofollow link is a link that uses a specific attribute to avoid passing on link equity, also called PageRank. Essentially, it tells Google that the referring site does not want their link to be counted as a ‘vote’ for the site they are linking to.
Why would you use a nofollow link?
The most obvious use of nofollow links is in the comments section of a website. This prevents spammers from trying to build a high-ranking site by automating thousands of unrelated comments just for the backlinks.
A large publisher (like CNN) might nofollow links on their site to prevent passing on link value to the thousands of links they may have.
Or, an advertiser or sponsored post may use nofollow links to prevent penalties for being accused of selling links (Which, of course, is against Google’s terms.)
Link Building Versus Link Attraction: What’s the Difference?
Link building refers to a manual, strategic process of building links. It may include researching competitor sites to understand their backlink profile, researching sites in your niche, and reaching out to sites to ask for links. Other strategies include writing guest blog posts or searching for broken links. It is also sometimes called link prospecting.
Link attraction, on the other hand, is the strategy of creating high-value content people will want to link to. For example, an in-depth guide for local SEO or how-to guide relevant to your industry.
It is based on the premise that if you create extremely high-quality, useful content, your readers will do the work for you by sharing and commenting on content, allowing you to earn links naturally.
Is link building better than link attraction?
One strategy is not better than the other, they are simply different methods. Depending on your industry, you may find one link building method is more effective than another. For most businesses, a mix of both link strategies works best.
How to Build High-Quality Links for Local SEO
So, let’s get down to it — how do you get high-quality links that will drive traffic and increase conversions?
The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all link building strategy. The right strategies will depend on your current backlink profile, your content, and your industry.
However, there are distinct steps you can take to start building a strong backlink profile. The list below will help you move in the right direction. Once you have a strong profile, you can reevaluate what types of links are most effective and focus on the strategies you used to earn those links.
Keep in mind that the most effective links are those that are useful and relevant. Links should always bring value to the users and should never be just for SEO purposes.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #1: Connect with Local Directories
Some of the easiest links to get are from local citations and directories. These are sites that list local businesses and serve as a resource for searchers. All you have to do is sign up, claim your business, and add the relevant information.
If you haven’t yet, start by claiming your listings on:
- Google My Business
- Bing Places for Business
- Apple Maps
- Yellow pages
- Trip Advisor
- Business associations
- Your local chamber of commerce
For additional directories, search “your city business listings” and “your city directories” to find additional link opportunities.
Once you have claimed all these listings, make sure to optimize your citations for local SEO by making sure your name, address, and phone number are consistent. Fill out all the relevant fields and be sure to add your website. Images can also help directory citations rank higher.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #2: Look for Link Opportunities on Local Websites
As we mentioned earlier, relevant links carry are more valuable. Your next step is to look for links on local sites, such as local newspapers and local blogs.
- Search for “location + Keyterm”, for example: “Rittenhouse + restaurant” then follow up with those sites and ask for your restaurant to be included —- or pitch an article or interview with those sites. Note that non-local sites like Opentable are less helpful for local SEO than locally-based sites, like Philly Mage.
- Google your brand name, and reach out and ask site owners who have mentioned your site to include a link to your website as well.
- Ask writers of local round-up posts to include your business as well.
- Reach out to local journalists and pitch them an interesting story. Just make sure to do your research and approach writers that focus on your niche — say food or entertainment.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #3: Create Local Content
Not all content has an international audience.
In fact, local content can be incredibly useful to a local audience but completely useless to someone even 20 miles away. Consider writing about topics that are important to your local community.
For example, a bakery that sells cupcakes and custom cakes might create a list of the best child’s birthday party locations in the neighborhood, along with images and pricing.
A bike store in San Diego, for example, might create an interactive map that shows the safest or most scenic bike paths in the city, like the one below.
A few other ideas for local content:
- Stories or images from behind the scenes at your local business
- Staff bios or achievements
- Local event lists
- Answers to frequently-asked-questions in your area
- Gift guides to local businesses (especially around the holidays)
- Local activity guides
- Tourist information
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #4: Create Social Media Profiles
More than two-thirds of all internet users have at least one form of social media. Instagram alone has 1 billion monthly active users, which gives you the opportunity to reach a large audience.
If you don’t have profiles on the major social media sites, now is the time! Make sure to fill out the information fully, including information about your services, location, and link to your website.
Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn all allow you to create business profiles that can include links to your website. And while these links are not as valuable as a link from a relevant outside website, they can still carry some link value.
As an added bonus, nearly 600 million users visit local business Facebook pages every day. In addition to the links, your business might be found by users looking for a specific product or service.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #5: Engage on Social Media
Once your profiles are created, take the time to schedule posts and stay active on the platforms. If you don’t have time to update social media on the regular, consider automating it by using IFTTT to post new blog posts and other new content.
If you have the bandwidth, make engaging users on social media a priority. Post visual content and stories, and use local hashtags to get found by local customers.
Social media can also help to drive traffic to blog posts, customer reviews, and local content you create. These platforms allow you to connect with your audience in a more laid-back way so your business stays on their mind.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #6: Do Community Outreach
Doing good is not just good for your community; it can also be good for business. Consider contributing to a charity or participating in community outreach programs that support initiatives important to you.
- A pet food store might foster animals with a local rescue to help increase adoptions.
- A food drive during the holiday season
- Match customer donations to support a local Veteran’s group
- Raise money or collect supplies for a back to school drive
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #7: Sponsor a Local Scholarship
Scholarships are another way to create a win-win situation. Your company can both help the community and (hopefully) get links. Many businesses offer $1,000 or a bit more each year.
These often end up on lists of scholarships on college websites, which can be very valuable links.
For best results, relate the scholarship to your business in some way. For example, a store that sells teaching supplies might offer a yearly scholarship for students going to school to become a teacher, or a law firm owned by a first-generation college graduate might offer a scholarship for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Share the application page on social media and ask your followers to share it with any college students they know.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #8: Create a Job Board
You might have noticed a pattern with these link building suggestions — many involve offering something of value either to the community as a whole, or specific readers. There is a reason for that. Thinly veiled link requests aren’t going to get you very far.
You can’t get something for nothing, as they say.
Another way to attract relevant links from sites in your industry is to create a job board. You can charge companies to post, or just aggregate jobs from places like LinkedIn.
Problogger, for example, hosts a list of jobs for writers and marketers, which are part of their target audience.
As a result, their site shows up in a ton of lists for freelance writers: (and therefore gets a ton of external links):
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #9: Create Useful Resources
Despite the changes in SEO over the years, one thing remains true — great content will always rank well. A great way to attract links is to look for opportunities to create industry-specific guides or useful resources.
For example, a hardware store might create how-to videos to show how to fix common issues, such as how to unclog a sink or replace a toilet flush valve. By helping customers solve a problem today, they are more likely to trust that store when they need to purchase supplies to fix their toilet, right?
A baker might create a video about how to create the popular unicorn cake. Some people may use the guide to create their own cake, sure. But many others will think “Well, that is just too complicated.” — but now they know that baker can make them that specific cake.
Think about a major challenge your customers face and brainstorm how you can help them solve that issue.
Local SEO Link-Building Strategy #10: Outsmart Your Competition
When it comes to search results, who is beating you?
There is a good chance they have a better link profile than you.
So how do you rise to the top? By finding out where they are getting links from and then look for opportunities on those same sites.
Start by using a tool like SEMrush and create a list of sites you want links from.
Then, take a look at their site. If they have a broken link somewhere, maybe you can suggest a useful link on your site. Or, if they link to your competitor’s resource, can you create one that is more updated or in-depth?
Start by selecting a few of the suggesting local link building techniques above and see how they work for your brand. Once the links start rolling in, move on to other local SEO strategies such as building local landing pages and getting more customer reviews.
With slow, steady progress, your business will rise to the top of the local search results, becoming more visible to customers in your area.
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