Local SEO and SEM Best Practices for Businesses

Search engines like Google are often the first resource people turn to when searching for information about local businesses, so it’s essential to have a strong presence in the search engine results pages (SERPs). With the increase in micro-moments, or people turning to their phones to learn about goods and services in their time of need, marketers increasingly need to optimize for local searches. In this article, we’ll be covering local search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) best practices for local businesses.

What is local SEO?

Local SEO focuses on optimizing a website specifically for local search results. Local SEO is especially important for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations and those needing to reach an audience in a specific geographic location or service area.

Searches containing local keywords will often trigger a special type of Google search result called the Google Local Pack. When users perform a search, Google is able to recognize when users are looking for a business or service nearby, identifies their location and aims to give them the most relevant search results based on the keywords they used. This is beneficial for both the user looking for something nearby and the local businesses trying to outrank larger retailers.

What is local SEM?

Local SEM is a branch of search engine marketing that focuses on creating ads that are triggered by local keywords for searchers in a specified geographic location.

For those of you who are new to the term “Google Local Pack” let us show you what we mean. Below is an example we found when we searched “pizza near me.” At the top, we have two ads, followed by organic, local results. 

Screenshot of pizza places on Google.

How do SEO and SEM work together?

SEO and SEM complement each other and, when executed correctly, should lead to more traffic and conversions on your website. Strong SEM ads will entice users to click on your ads, and strong website copy will give users relevant information and lead them to convert.

Your business is probably trying to rank organically for the same keywords you’re bidding on in Google Ads, so your SEO & SEM strategies should align by optimizing your page copy and ad copy with those same local keywords. When the landing page copy is relevant to the ad copy, it gives users a cohesive experience so they don’t feel like they got lost after they clicked on an ad. This results in users spending more time on your website, taking more actions and ultimately converting at a higher rate. Creating a good experience for SEM audiences also improves your quality scores and lowers your cost-per-click, and these behavior metrics are positive SEO ranking signals as well.

Why are local SEO and SEM important?

SEO and SEM both help increase a local brand’s visibility for their most valuable audience — people who are in the area and are looking to visit, make an appointment, place an order or otherwise interact with a physical location instead of an online entity.

With 4 in 5 consumers using search engines to find local information, it’s imperative to not only have a presence in SERPs but to be near the top of search results for keywords related to your business. According to one Google study, 50 percent of consumers who conducted a local search query on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34 percent of consumers who searched on a tablet or computer did the same. By prioritizing SEO efforts and strategic SEM options, you can give your brand a big boost in Google search results.

Top 6 Local SEO Best Practices

To improve your rankings in organic SERPs and improve your chances of appearing in the Google Local Pack, you can optimize your website, online listings and overall digital footprint using local SEO best practices:

1. Claim Your Google Business Profile

Google Business Profile (GBP) is a free online tool businesses can use to manage their online presence across Google properties. This platform allows you to edit and maintain your business information. Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business profile will make it easier for visitors to find you and learn about what your business offers.

Google Business Profile is a powerful platform with many features. The most important elements of your GBP profile are your business name, address, phone number, website URL and hours of operation. We recommend including additional elements such as photos, holiday hours, service radius, FAQs and details about your products and/or services. Learn more Google Business Profile SEO tips and best practices from our experts.

The Importance of Reviews for Local SEO

Viewing and responding to customer reviews is another important aspect of Google Business Profile SEO. Reviews are critical for local SEO because they are a local ranking factor. We recommend that your business responds to all reviews, good or bad, to instill confidence and let customers know that you’re responsive and you care about their experiences.

2. Optimize Social Platforms and Local Directories

In addition to maintaining a Google Business Profile, businesses can submit their information to local directories and update their social media profiles. Having correct business information on Facebook, Best Business Bureau, Yelp, Foursquare, Yellow Pages and other listing sites will boost your brand’s visibility and increase backlinks to your website. When updating your business information on local directories and social platforms, it’s crucial that your name, address and phone number (NAP) are consistent across all listings. Inconsistencies will confuse potential customers, and your search engine rankings will suffer. We also recommend listing a local phone number when possible because it is another indication that your business is truly local.

3. Improve Your Website’s SEO Health

Search engines want your website to be as easy as possible for users and search engines to navigate, so best practices revolve around improving user experience and website code. It sounds intimidating, but SEO clean-up isn’t as difficult as it seems.

Best practices include removing duplicate content on your website, properly implementing HTML tags and minimizing both on-page and technical SEO errors such as missing metadata or broken links. We recommend using SEO monitoring tools like Screaming Frog to run SEO crawls that identify errors. Google and other search engines are more likely to give you ranking boosts if your website has minimal SEO errors. If you’d rather work with search engine optimization experts instead of taking a DIY approach, contact our team of Des Moines digital marketers.

SEO Tools for Website Clean-up

There are numerous SEO monitoring tools available, both paid and free, that offer different features, functionalities and reporting options. Free tools like Google Keyword Planner can help inform your keyword research. Google Business Profile helps users find your business info in search results. Google Search Console shows you how Google sees your website and highlights various website performance metrics. Paid tools include SEMrush, Moz, Ahrefs and more. These tools can help you stay on top of local SEO and SEM best practices.

4. Optimize Website Content

Focus on optimizing existing content on your blog and interior pages for search engines. Follow SEO copywriting best practices for on-page SEO elements, and include local keywords throughout h1 tags, h2 tags, body copy, meta titles and meta description to increase your chances of showing up in a local search result. We also recommend performing a competitive SEO analysis to see what keywords you’re using compared to competitors. This will give you ideas for additional keywords to target with your optimization efforts and give you a plan for where you can outrank the competition.

5. Create New Content

In addition to optimizing existing content, aim to regularly add relevant content that local searchers would find useful. Start by conducting keyword research for insights into monthly search volumes, user search intent and other important data. There are numerous SEO tools out there, but Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword tool by Google that you can utilize to do keyword research based on different geographic locations.

Valuable content can be anything from FAQ pages, in-depth blog posts, industry news articles and more. Blue Compass believes when businesses give away their expertise for free, users see the business as a credible source and are more likely to reach out in the future.

6. Add Local Business Schema

Schema markup is code that you can add to your website to help search bots understand your content better, and it can make your website stand out in SERPs. It enables search engines to easily discover important business information such as NAP, services, pricing details and more. For more information, check out the Google Developers guide.

These are just a few of the basic types of schema, but there are many more. The schema.org website mentions more markup types and provides additional information to get started.

  • Local Business Schema: This schema type focuses specifically on businesses that serve a local area. Along with your basic NAP information, businesses can include their products or services, service radius, pricing options and more. We usually recommend this option for storefronts or businesses only looking to reach local customers.
  • Organization Schema: This type of basic schema tells Google the vital details about your business or organization such as hours of operation, location, phone number, staff information, social platforms you claim and more.
  • Service Line Schema: Service line schema provides details about your services, including pricing information and more. Highlighting your services can help you rank better locally for those types of searches.
  • Event Schema: Event schema can help your business show up in rich snippets in SERPs for events you’re hosting. It identifies information about your event and tells search engines the details such as the date, time and location.

What is the difference between organization schema and local business schema?

Organization schema can be used for any type of entity, such as nonprofits, clubs, corporations and other groups. Local business schema is used for companies in a particular physical location or a branch of a larger organization. For example, restaurants, medical clinics or branches of a chain retailer would use local business schema.

4 Key Local Business SEM Best Practices

Local SEM best practices include many of the standard best practices for SEM, but there are some unique tactics you can implement to target local audiences while spending your budget efficiently. Follow these local business SEM best practices when running Google Ads campaigns to attract local customers, and reach out to the SEM experts at Blue Compass to learn more.

1. Conduct Thorough Keyword Research

Keyword research is vital to understanding the language searchers are using related to your business’ products or services. Conducting keyword research with a tool like Google Keyword Planner gives you an idea of the competition level (low, medium or high), the estimated cost-per-click (CPC), and more. Keyword research should also drive your strategy for both SEO and SEM efforts.

2. Optimize Google Ads Location Settings

When creating a campaign, be sure to adjust your Google Ads settings so you’re only showing ads to those in the locations you are targeting. The default setting for Google Ads when it comes to location is “physical locations and locations of interest.” So technically, someone in another country can see your ad for a local restaurant if they have previously looked at any news related to the United States. If a person is searching for anything related to the US, then Google flags them as “interested”. Be sure to adjust your location targeting settings so your ads are triggered only for users in your physical location to avoid wasting your budget.

3. Structure Your Campaigns and Ad Groups by Location

Google wants to provide users with relevant search results, and location influences ad relevance. You can break up your campaigns by location to make sure they’re hyper-relevant to local users. This is especially important if your business has multiple locations or service areas. People are more likely to click on ads with keywords that are specific to their area, so create separate campaigns for different locations and service areas. We also recommend splitting campaigns up by service lines, so you are delivering relevant, local content once users hit your landing pages. 

4. Use Ad Extensions to Your Advantage

Ad extensions can be beneficial because they display extra information with each Google Ad. Extensions such as sitelink extensions and callout extensions can be used to share local business details or unique snippets of information that convince users to click. In addition, location extensions allow your business to pay to appear in the Local Pack maps, allowing users to see where your business is physically located.

Contact Local SEO and SEM Experts

Local SEO and SEM are both crucial components of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Our digital marketing experts can handle the complexities of local search for your business. Contact us today to find out how we can create a strategic plan for improving your visibility in search engines through SEO and SEM best practices.


Digital Marketing, SEM, SEO

Blue Compass Digital Marketing Specialist, Mallory Cates
Mallory Suntken

Mallory double majored, earning her B.S. in Marketing and Management from Iowa State University. She writes SEO-focused content pieces, creates effective digital marketing campaigns and executes social media and SEO campaigns to drive traffic back to clients' websites. Mallory is always eager to learn more about the latest trends in SEO and all things digital marketing and loves taking on new challenges. She has been featured in several blogs for her social media and content marketing expertise.