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Small Business SEO: a beginner’s guide to local search SEO

Small businesses are often working with a pretty limited budget for SEO, but the good news is, one of the most effective strategies for a local business is often the cheapest: Local SEO. In this guide we'll explain what it is, and how to make it work for your website.

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Local SEO for small business guide

Local SEO is one of the best ways to help a small business succeed in the search engines, and  can be one of the most affordable SEO strategies at the same time.

But despite being relatively simple and impressively impactful, it's often overlooked.

This local SEO guide will help you get to grips with all the basics of local SEO optimisation for small business, including:


By the end of this guide, you should understand all the basics of local optimisation, and be confident in creating a plan to maximise your local presence online.

In this article, we'll be focusing specifically on local SEO for UK small businesses. If you want a wider introduction to the concept of search engine optimisation, we recommend starting with our Beginner's SEO Guide.

What is local SEO?

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is how you optimise and market your website to rank better for local terms and to customers in your area.

It's one of the best ways to focus on potential customers who are most likely to be interested in your services, shop or product, and can help you leapfrog your way up the local rankings by being included in local map packs.

Local map pack on Google SERP
The local pack displays three local business profiles at the top of the SERPs

There are 3 key elements to Local SEO: Proximity, Prominence and Relevance.

You want to optimise your site for all these things. 

To show Proximity, you need to be clear about the location of your business and/or the area to supply to.

Prominence is about how much Google trusts your business. This is affected by a huge number of different things, from the way your website is built and set up, to how many trusted backlinks you have. 

Relevance is all about the search term itself - is your business relevant to the query that's been searched? 

These are the three pillars of local SEO, and we're going to show you how you can optimise your website and your online visibility to improve each of those elements.

What's the difference between local SEO and SEO?

Local SEO isn't just normal SEO for local businesses - it's a specialised area, which focuses solely on getting your website to rank in the map pack for key terms.

Because it's a special subset of SEO, there are different strategies and tactics that you can use to help with your local rankings. Later in this guide we'll show you some SEO tips for small businesses that can help you improve your SEO locally.

Why local SEO for small businesses?

Why is local SEO important for small businesses?

Small businesses are the most likely to be reaching out to a local audience. That means local SEO can be the most significant way to improve your online exposure.

If your target customers are mostly local, then it helps you focus on the people most likely to be interested in what you're offering.

By putting your efforts into local SEO instead of a more generic marketing campaign, you're also making sure that you're not bringing in leads from areas you don't cover. 

After all, what's the point of getting a click from Greenwich if your shop is in Glasgow? 

It's also a great way to improve your local reputation and recognition. Even if a prospective client isn't specifically searching for a local business, good local SEO means you're still more likely to appear in the map listings for them, based on their current location.

Where to start with local SEO?

Local SEO strategies

Before you get started, it's important to get the basics right first and ensure that you're happy with your small business branding and online presence. 

Once you're happy with your website and you want to share it with the world, that's when local SEO can help you reach more relevant customers, more quickly.

Local SEO can really help your website and your business, but it isn't a magic bullet. Just like most other forms of optimisation, local SEO takes time and effort. 

But it's also one of the most effective places to spend that time and effort if you're a small business dealing with people and companies locally.

Local SEO keyword research

Just like with all other forms of SEO, the best place to start is with some keyword research.

Keyword research for local marketing is a little different to normal research, and there are few additional things to know.

Firstly, local keywords aren't just those with a location identifier, like "Warwick" in them. In fact one of the most common types of local search is a "near me" search.

Now, naturally you aren't going to be able to optimise your content to include the term "near me", and if you try you're going to look spammy.

However, a "near me" search indicates that someone wants a local result, meaning the rest of the keyphrase could be a good option to target.

However, another issue with identifying local keywords, is whether those "near me" searches are actually common terms used by people in your area.

And here where an unlikely organic keyword research tool comes into play - Google Keyword Planner.

Google Keyword Planner for Local SEO Research

We all know that search volume, difficulty and more is different for organic SEO and PPC. But  when it comes to local SEO, this tool from Google Ads can really help you out.

That's because unlike other keyword research tools, Google Keyword Planner lets you set regional restrictions on your results.

That means it will show you the data for a keyword when it's searched from your local area. This gives you a much more accurate picture of the size of your local target audience, and can help you focus your efforts more appropriately

Technical SEO

Now you're armed with some knowledge and a list of target local keywords, the next stage is to look at your website's current technical SEO performance.

This is really important for that second pillar of Local SEO - Prominence.

If your website has poor on-site SEO - if it's slow, if it has accessibility issues or it's poorly optimised then Google isn't going to want to promote it. 

It means you're starting your local SEO efforts at a severe disadvantage.

So you want to make sure that your website is perfectly set up for your ongoing local campaign, and use your target keywords in your content, site structure and meta titles and descriptions. 

It's worth considering whether ongoing website maintenance is right for you too, to continually improve your user experience and keep on top of issues which could affect your website's usability or security.

Google Business Profile (GBP)

Your Google Business Profile, or GBP, listing is one of the most important things to consider when working on your local SEO.

You'd be shocked how many small business owners don't make use of GBP, putting them at a serious disadvantage when trying to reach local customers.

Your first step is to claim your GBP listing, if you haven't already, and then to verify your claim. This is basically so Google knows that this business belongs to you, and they can authorise you to edit it.

Making the most of your GBP listing helps enormously with local SEO, as it gives you a better chance of ranking in local SERPs, Google Maps, and in the organic listings too.

So once you've claimed your business listing, the next step is to fill out as much information as you can. 

This listing is going to be one of the best weapons in your local SEO arsenal, so you want it to be as complete as possible, and as engaging and relevant to searchers as possible too.

Key features of your GBP profile:

  • Your business name, address, phone number and website
  • Business category
  • Opening hours
  • Questions
  • Reviews and star rating
  • Photos
  • Posts

It's important to fill out as much of this as you can, and make sure you keep it up to date by adding new posts, responding to questions and inviting customers to leave reviews.

Google citations

Citation building is another one of the most important elements of SEO. "Citations" exist on third party websites and directories, and list the NAP details for your own business.

NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone Number. And it's this information that Google looks at to determine that your business really does exist where you say it does.

But you don't just want any old local citations, spammy directories aren't considered to be reputable sources, so it's important to target sites that search engines trust, as well as those that are relevant to your industry or location.

In the UK some of the best places to check your NAP citations are present and correct are:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Yell
  • Bing
  • Apple Maps
  • Yahoo Local

It can also be good to look at national newspaper directory listings and, depending on your type of business, there are some other fairly obvious places you'd like to have citations on, such as TripAdvisor for anyone in the food, entertainment or hospitality industries.

Other good targets are local websites and industry directories, as they're considered to be more relevant to your business and more trusted sources.

When it comes to creating your citations, there is some discussion about whether your Name Address and Phone number have to be in the exact same format each time to be considered a match.

For example, if you listed your business as being at 3 High Street, is 3 High St. going to be counted as a correct citation?

Our advice is - don't take the risk. 

Make sure you're using the same format each and every time you add your NAP details to another website. That way you absolutely know your citation is being picked up correctly.

Social proof for local SEO

Building up your online reputation isn't all about tinkering around online. Some of it depends on having good relationships with your customers.

"Social proof" is where your reputation is reinforced by the public, and the best way to achieve this is through reviews.

Getting positive reviews online will show Google that you're a reputable business and does affect your local rankings.

But much more than that, it's also a brilliant motivator for your target customers.

Users are infinitely more likely to choose a business with a high rating from Google reviews, than one with a low rating, or worse, no reviews at all.

Local map pack with reviews
Reviews are displayed prominently in the map pack, increasing the click-through rate

So sending out review requests to your customers and clients can be really beneficial in a number of ways. It's even a good excuse to get in touch with them and see if there's an opportunity for some repeat business!

And Google isn't the only place your reviews matter. Facebook is also a great place to ask for reviews. You might also want to consider services like Trustpilot, which allow you to embed your review score on your website, further adding to that social proof of your good service.

One of the important things to remember when you're gathering reviews, is to make sure you respond to them - especially if it's a bad review. 

Don't stress too much if you do get a negative review. Businesses are made of individuals, and people don't always get it right.

A polite explanation or apology when someone has had a bad experience goes a long way. Personally, I'm one of those people who always reads the bad reviews first, because they often give you a better picture of someone's service.

If a bad review is followed by a response that is sympathetic, understanding and authentic, I know that even if something goes wrong, you're going to do your best to put it right.

In fact, some users might even think a 4.9 rating with a handful of negative reviews - which you have responded to - is more trustworthy than a perfect 5.0 star rating.

So don't be afraid to get involved with your reviews. Making the most of them can often be the catalyst that makes a customer choose you.

Local SEO landing pages

Something else you may want to consider for your on-site optimisation, is creating dedicated landing pages for different locations.

This is really important if you have offices, shops or restaurants in different areas. It's also helpful if you want to attract people from several towns or cities.

By creating dedicated landing or doorway pages for each of these places, it means you can dedicate your on-page SEO efforts specifically to that location. 

So instead of trying to get your homepage to rank for web design in Warwickshire, Coventry, Warwick and Leamington Spa, you can direct people looking for web design in Coventry to a dedicated Coventry page, and those looking for services in Warwick to the Warwick page.

One thing to be really careful of if you take up this option, is to ensure that you are not just using the same content for each page and swapping over the names of the towns. 

You might think it saves you time on writing, but believe me, it wastes all the time you spent creating the page in the first place!

Each page should have its own unique content tailored toward that specific location. And if you actually have a physical presence there, like a cafe or store, then make sure you have the address, phone number and a map integrated for each one.

Local social media strategies

You can also use your social media accounts to help with your local SEO, by getting involved with other local businesses and events, and by using local hashtags in your posts.

Facebook is one of the most popular social media sites to target for local SEO. It is a reputable platform for citation building, can help you get great reviews, and is a really good place to promote services, special offers and more, getting you some good backlinks to your website.

But don't forget that social media is really all about community, and engaging with that community is also a really natural way to network. You can get your name known by local customers and businesses, boosting your brand recognition in the area.

Local SEO and content marketing

Another thing to consider for improving your local SEO, is to do some content marketing that specifically targets the local area.

You do really want to be careful about this, as you don't want to come across as spammy, so it's important to plan out these articles carefully, and make sure they're really relevant to your business and your customers.

A great example would be if your business takes part in local events, whether that's having a stall at a local market, or being involved in local business awards. 

Writing articles about your involvement in local events is a great way to show your engagement with the community, and also to rank for some nice, relevant local keywords too!


Local SEO tools

The most important tool for local SEO will always be your Google Business Profile, but there are other services that can help you a lot with local SEO solutions.

We've already talked about how the Google Ads Keyword Planner can be super helpful for identifying good local keywords. We find that it's a great option to drill down into what is actually being searched in the local area.

Another one of our favourite local SEO specialist tools is Brightlocal. As well as providing local SEO analysis, including GBP audits, you can link this up with Google Analytics, Facebook and more to give you a rounded view of your local presence and performance online.

Their local SEO rank checker not only shows you where you rank locally for specific terms, but can show you on a map grid. This is particularly helpful if you're covering a few different local areas.

Another great feature of Brightlocal is their local citations SEO tool. This service creates NAP citations for selected websites and apps without you having to add them yourself - saving a lot of time and effort.

Your local SEO project plan

Local SEO for small businesses

Now you've got a good idea of what local SEO is, how it works, and the positive effect it could have on small businesses, you've got all the tools to create your own plan for tackling local search engine optimisation.

Pick and choose the strategies and methods that you think are going to work best for your business, and make sure you've done your research before you get started. You definitely don't want to be making decisions based on just your gut feeling.

Remember that all SEO is a long-term operation, not a quick fix. But a good local SEO campaign could be the easiest way to reach the customers who are most important to you.

Ready to wade into the wider world of SEO? Check out our Beginner's SEO Guide, or learn more about the additional digital marketing and local SEO services we offer.