Content is the foundation of digital marketing success, no matter the channel on which that content appears.
Content determines the businesses social media fans and followers choose to associate with, how visitors
choose to engage with your website, and for which keywords search engines find your site relevant.
If you’re like most small business owners, you probably have no trouble talking to friends, relatives,
business partners, and prospective customers about your business: the kinds of people you help, the pride
you take in your work, what customers value about your business, and so on.
But it’s tough to find time to write about your business. It can be a struggle to find the exact right words
to describe your business to the World Wide Web.
Fear not! Your website content doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, it will appear more authentic to your
customers—and probably be more useful to them—if it isn’t filled with refined marketing language, and
actually answers their questions about your company’s products or services.
With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you started with creating content:
What are the top things users look for?
Google and Bing both provide a very simple method for researching the key phrases that your prospective
customers are interested in: Simply visit either search engine’s homepage and perform a search. Prior to hitting
“return” on your keyboard, take a look at the list of terms related to the one you typed in.
These are generally the most popular words or phrases related to what you typed. Make a list of these terms
and be sure to target a page on your website about each one. Repeat this process several times to develop a
comprehensive list of subjects to start your content process.
Research keywords using Google Trends
Google Trends can provide you with a few more specifics around the relative search volume of each keyphrase
that Google or Bing suggests. You can even zoom in to your specific geographic area to see just how popular
certain phrases are in your state, metro area, or in some cases even your city. Google will also suggest
even more key phrases related to these phrases next to the geographic overlay, so don’t ignore these.
What are the top questions your customers ask you?
This is a great tip from Aaron Weiche of Spyder Trap Marketing.
If customers are asking you the same questions over and over again offline, they probably have the same
questions online as well—and may even type these questions directly into a search engine.
Each of your top questions should have a full page devoted to it to maximize your ranking potential for each question.
What’s unique about the areas you serve?
From an SEO standpoint, it’s a best practice to create a page for each town, county, or region that you serve.
For example, if you’re a suburban plumber looking for business in the major city in your metro area, you
could talk about the history of the sewage and water system of that market on its own page, highlight
subdivisions or condo buildings that have a higher incidence of plumbing issues, or list lawsuits
that have occurred over faulty pipes in that market. The more local the “scent” of a given page, the
more likely Google and Bing are to rank that page.
Case studies of previous projects
You can also start a little bit closer to home, so to speak, and feature projects you’ve worked on
in a particular market. Be as explicit as you can about the services you performed, or how your
products helped the customers achieve their goals. Case studies are one of the things that make
your business unique, so stay away from using canned marketing-speak, and focus on telling stories
that will help future customers relate to previous ones.
Customer interviews and transcriptions
The best way to help future customers relate to previous customers is through video interviews and testimonials.
In the era of smartphones, it’s super-simple to film and upload video interviews to YouTube and embed them
on your website. The personality of your clients and customers will really shine through the video.
Make sure you include a text transcript of your conversation below the video so that you get keyword
“credit” from the search engines also.
For more information on writing great content that is compelling to both humans and search engines,
see Moz’s complete Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
Many local business owners are surprised with the information that appears when they (and their customers) come
across their business listings at Google and Bing. Often, incorrect or out-of-date information shows up with
no explanation about where it comes from.
In some cases, even business owners who have already claimed their listings at major search engines like Google
and Bing continue to see improper information displayed about their businesses, which understandably just adds
to their frustration.
The reason this happens is that these search giants pull in business information from a variety of other sources,
in addition to maintaining their own business databases. They both do the best they can to match the data that
comes in from these other sources with what they have in their own index, but sometimes that doesn’t happen properly.
If the information is different enough from the correct listing, search engines might think it’s a different
business—or they might even feel that the wrong information appears so many times in the other places from
which they get their data that the info might actually be “right.”
The sources that Google and Bing pull information from vary from country to country. Each has its own set of
important players, known as data aggregators.
These aggregators have typically accumulated their business databases by scanning and transcribing things
like phone records, utility records, business registration websites, and printed yellow pages directories.
Google also crawls the web looking for business information wherever it can find it: online yellow pages directories,
review sites, local newspaper sites, and blogs. Many of these sources get their information from the same aggregators
that Google does—just one more reason you need to make sure your business information is correct at those handful
of primary providers in your country. If your data is wrong at those aggregators, it’s likely to be wrong in many
places across the web, including Google.
The data aggregators of the future
Factual is a relatively new player on the scene; they were hardly on anyone’s radar
less than two years ago.
And yet today, if you visit their homepage, you see a who’s who of local
search portals, including Yelp, Bing, and TripAdvisor. It’s clear they’re a force to be reckoned with, especially globally.
Even for experts, the local search ecosystem is incredibly confusing! But hopefully browsing the local search ecosystem
graphic relevant to your country will give you a better understanding of how these local data sites fit together,
and identify places to clean up incorrect listing information you might not otherwise have known about.
Every business that competes in a local market and who competes for the
display of localized results in SERPs will likely find the need to
conduct a local SEO audit at some point. Whether you’ve hired an SEO in
the past or not, the best way to beat the competition is to know where
you stand and what you need to fix, and then develop a plan to win based
on the competitive landscape.
While this may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that you can
do this for your business or your client using this Ultimate Local SEO
guide was created as a complete checklist and will show you what areas
you should focus on, what needs to be optimized, and what you need to do
to fix any problems you encounter. To make things easier, I have also
included many additional resources for further reading on the topics
In this guide I am going to cover the top areas we review for clients
who either want to know how they can improve or the ones that need a
local SEO audit. To make it easier I have included detailed explanations
of the topics and an Excel template you can use to conduct the audit.
Also since the Pigeon update, local search has started to weigh organic
factors more heavily so I have included them in this audit. However, if
after you have read this you’re looking for an even deeper audit for
Organic SEO, you should also check out Steve Webb’s article, ”
How to Perform the World’s Greatest SEO Audit.”
Who is this guide for?
This guide is intended for those businesses that already have an
existing Google My Business page. It’s also mostly geared towards brick
and mortar stores. If you don’t have a public address and you’re a
service area business, you can ignore the parts where I mention
publishing your physical address. If you don’t have a listing setup
already, it’s a little bit harder to audit. That being said, new
businesses can use this as a road map.
What we won’t cover
The local algorithm is complicated and ever evolving. Although we can
look at considerations such as proximity to similar businesses or
driving directions requests, I have decided to not include these since
we have limited control over them. This audit mainly covers the items
the website owner is in direct control over.
A little background
Being ready and willing to adopt change in online marketing is an
important factor in the path of success. Search changes and you have to
be ready to change with it. The good news is that if you’re constantly
trying to do the right thing while be the least imperfect, your results
will only get better with updates.
Some goons will always try to cheat the systems for a quick win, but
they will get caught and penalized eventually. However, if you stick
with the right path you can sleep easier at night knowing you don’t have
to worry about penalties.
But why are audits so important?
At my company we have found through a lot of trial and error that we
can provide the best results for our clients when we start a project off
with a complete and full understanding of the project as opposed to
just bits and pieces. If we have a complete snapshot of their SEO
efforts along with their competition we can create a plan that is going
to be much more effective and sustainable.
We now live in a world where marketers not only need to be forward
thinking with their strategies but they must also evaluate and consider
the work done by prior employees and SEOs who have worked on the website
in the past. If you don’t know what potential damage has been done, how
could you possibly be sure your efforts will help your client long
Given the impact and potential severity of penalties, it’s
irresponsible to ignore this or participate in activities that can harm
the client in the long run. Again, sadly, this is a lesson I have
learned the hard way.
What aspects does this local SEO audit cover?
Knowing what to include in your audit is a great first step. We have
broken our audit down into several different categories we find to be
essential to local SEO success. They are:
1) Google My Business page audit
2) Website & landing page audit
3) Citation analysis
4) Organic link & penalty analysis
5) Review analysis
6) Social analysis
7) Competition analysis
8) Ongoing strategy
Analyzing all of these factors will allow you to develop a strategy
with a much better picture of the major problems and what you’re up
against as far as the competition is concerned. If you don’t have the
full picture with all of the details, then you might uncover more
Before we get started, a disclaimer
In this guide I am going to try to break things down to make it easy
for beginners and advanced users. That being said, it’s a wise idea to
seek advice or read more about a topic if you don’t quite understand it.
If something is over your head, please don’t hesitate to reach out for
clarification. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How to use this guide for your local SEO audit
This guide is broken up into two parts including this post and a
spreadsheet. The written part that you are reading now will also
this spreadsheet which
will allow you to collect pertinent client intake information, record
problems, and serve as an easy reference as to what your ultimate goal
is for each of the items.
To use the spreadsheet you can click the link and then go to File > Make A Copy.
spreadsheet includes five tabs that each serve a different purpose. They are:
Current info – This tab allows you to record the information
the customer submits and compare it against the Google My Business
information you find. It also allows you to record your notes for any
proposed changes. This will help you when it comes time to report on
Questions to ask – These are some basic questions you can ask your clients up front that may save a lot of time in the long run.
Competitor information – You can use this tab to track your competitors and compare your metrics side by side.
Top 50 citations audit – This is the list of the top 50 citation sources as provided by Whitespark.
Audit steps – For the more advanced user I took everything in
this long document and condensed it to this easy to use spreadsheet with
an audit checklist and some small notes on what you’re checking for.
Get your audit shoes on. Now let’s get started
Step 1: Gather the facts
Whether you’re conducting this audit for a client or your own business
it’s important to start off with the right information. If clients fill
out this information properly, you can save a lot of time and also help
identify major issues right off the bat. Not only can we help identify
some of the common local SEO issues like inconsistent NAP with this
information, we can also have it recorded in the spreadsheet I mentioned
Since this is an audit, the spreadsheet has information to include the
current information and a column for proposed changes for the client.
Later, these will be used as action items.
The first tab in this spreadsheet has everything we need to get started
under the company information tab. This includes all of the basic
information we will need to be successful.
This information should be provided by the client up front so that we
can compare it to the information already existing on the web.
You can use the audit spreadsheet and enter this under the “Provided Information” column. This will help us identify problems easily as we collect more information.
The basic information we will need to get started will include NAP
information and other items. A sample of this can be seen below:
Questions to ask up front
Once we have the basic company information we can also ask some
questions. Keep in mind that the goal here is to be the least imperfect.
While some of these factors are more important than others, it’s always
good to do more and have a better understanding of the potential issues
rather than taking shortcuts. Shortcuts will just create more work
Feel free to edit the spreadsheet and add more questions to your copy based on your experience.
1) Have you ever been penalized or think you may have been? The
client should have a good idea if they were penalized in the past.
2) Have you ever hired anyone to build citations for you? If they
hired anyone to build citations for them they should have some
documentation which will make the citation audit portion of the audit
3) Have you ever hired an SEO company to work with you? If they
hired an SEO in the past it’s important to check any work they completed
4) Have you ever hired anyone to build links for you? If they have
hired anyone in the past to build links they will hopefully have
documentation you can review. If you see bad links you know you will
have your work cut out for you.
5) What are the primary keywords you want to rank for? Knowing
what the client wants and developing a strategy based off this is
essential to your local SEO success.
6) Have you ever used another business name in the past? Companies
that used a different name or that were acquired can lead to NAP
7) Is your business address a PO Box? PO Boxes and UPS boxes are a
no no. It’s good to know this up front before you get started.
8) Is your phone number a land line? Some Local SEOs claim that
landlines may provide some benefit. Regardless it’s good to know where
the phone number is registered.
9) Do other websites 301 redirect to your website? If other
websites redirect to their domain you may need to do an analysis on
these domains as well. Specifically for penalty evaluation.
10) Did you ever previously use call tracking numbers? Previously
used call tracking numbers can be a nightmare as far as local SEO is
concerned. If a client previously used call tracking numbers you will
want to search for these when we get to the citation portion of this
document. Cleaning up wrong phone numbers, including tracking numbers,
in the local ecosystem is essential to your local success.
Local SEO audit phase 1: Google My Business page
Google My Business Dashboard
has a lot of useful information. Although I reference the Google
Guidelines below, be sure to check them often. Google does change these
sometimes and you won’t really get any official notice. This happened
rather recently when they started allowing descriptive words in the
business name. Keep in mind that if any changes were recently made to
your Google My Business page they may not show in the live version. It
may take up to three days for these to show in the search results.
information collected below should be put in the “Current Info” tab on
the spreadsheet under the Google My Business Information. This will also
help us identify discrepancies right away when we look at the
1. Locate the proper Google My Business page we should be working with
We can’t really get started with an audit unless we know the proper
page we’re working this. Usually if a client hires you they already have
How to do this: If your client already has a Google My Business login, and log in to their dashboard
using the proper credentials. In the back end of the dashboard it
should show the businesses associated with this account. Copy this URL
and confirm with the business owner that this is the page they intend to
use. If it’s not their primary one we will correct this a bit later
Goal: We want to find and record the proper Google My Business URL in our Local SEO Audit Spreadsheet.
2. Find and destroy duplicate pages
Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this post,
Google has shut down Mapmaker. For a current list of best practices for
managing duplicate GMB listings, read: https://moz.com/blog/delete-gmb-listing.
Duplicate Google My Business listings can be one of the greatest threats to any local SEO campaign.
How to: There are several ways to find possible
duplicate pages but I have found the easiest way is to use Google
MapMaker. To do this log in to your Google account and visit
http://www.google.com/mapmaker or https://plus.google.com/local.
From this page you can search the business phone number such as
555-555-5555 or the business names. If you see multiple listings you
didn’t know about, a major priority is to record those URLs and delete
I personally see a lot of issues when dealing with attorneys where each
attorney has their own profile or in the case where an office has
moved. There should only be one listing and it should be 100% correct.
Goal: Make sure there are no duplicate listings. Kill any duplicates.
3. Ensure that the local listing is not penalized (IMPORTANT!)
Figuring out Google penalties in the local landscape is not usually a
walk in the park. In fact there are a lot of variables to consider and
now this is a bigger deal post Pigeon as more organic signals are
involved. We will look at other types of penalties later in this guide.
Unlike organic penalties Google does not notify businesses of local
penalties unless your account is suspended with a big red warning on the
back end of your My Business page.
According to Phil Rozek from Local Visibility System “My first
must-look-at item is: is the client’s site or Google Places page being
penalized, or at risk of getting penalized?”
How to do this: If your keyword is “Los Angeles personal
injury attorney” then you could search for this keyword on Google Maps
and Google Search results. If your business listing appears on the maps
side in position C for example but then does not appear at all in local
search results performing a normal Google Search, then it’s likely there
is a penalty in place. Sometimes you see listings that are not
suppressed on the maps side but are suppressed on the places side. This
is an easy way to take a look.
Goal: Do your best to determine that the listing is not penalized. If it is consult a penalty expert for further guidance.
4. Is the Google My Business page associated with an email address on the customer’s domain?
In my experience it’s best practice to have the login information for
the business under an email address associated with the domain name.
Additionally this ensures that the client has primary control of their
listing. As an example if you run Moz.com and had local listings your
Google My Business login should be email@example.com instead of
firstname.lastname@example.org. This helps associate that you are indeed the