Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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How to Improve Local Rankings in Google

Local search rankings are critical to local businesses

Increase your local search visibility on Google.

If you’re a local business, how you rank in local search can make or break your business. If you’re not showing up in Google when people search for what you do, your competitors are eating your lunch. That’s why it’s important to understand how to improve local rankings in Google and stay competitive.

It’s important to understand that there are two different local rankings in Google: the Local 3-Pack and the organic listings. The 3-Pack is the map with (typically) three local businesses beneath it corresponding to map pin icons on the map. The organic listings are typically beneath the Local 3-Pack and are the most common rankings customers consider.

These two parts of a local search result are determined by different factors. What’s most important to show up in the Local 3-Pack isn’t the same as what’s most important to show up in the local organic results. Let’s take them one at a time.

Google's Local 3-Pack for "near me" searches. To show up here, you need to improve local rankings in Google.

Google’s Local 3-Pack

Ranking factors for the Local 3-Pack

#1 Google My Business

This is the most important factor here. Critical to success here is making sure your category is correct, that your NAP (name, address, phone) is consistent with what’s on your your website, and that you’ve filled out as much information as possible. This may be the most important step you can take to improve local rankings in Google.

Related: Don’t Show Up Missing on Google My Business!

#2 Reviews and Citations

Positive online reviews are next in line. Make sure you have reviews on your Google My Business page. And not just review stars, but informational reviews; Google considers review comments important. 9 of 10 people trust online reviews. So does Google.Get reviews on a good number of other sites, too. Facebook, Yelp, DexKnows, SuperPages and CitySearch are good ones. Also any vertical directories you’re listed on.  You can suggest that delighted customers review at some of these places. You also need to monitor any reviews you get and respond to them whenever possible. A positive customer-focused response to a mediocre review can leave a very positive impression.

Related: How to Get Online Reviews

Citations that are consistent widely across the web gives Google confidence in your location and phone number. Consistency is critical because if a number of your listings have a previous address, some have a local number and others a toll-free number or fax number, Google isn’t confident which is right. If Google isn’t sure, it’s much less likely to rank you highly.

Related: Understand Common Citation Myths

#3 On-page SEO

This relates to making sure your website is secure, fast, and thoroughly Google-friendly. Make sure keyword placement is appropriate so that Google can tell clearly what each page is all about, and studiously avoid keyword stuffing.

Related: On-Page Optimization

The better your link profile, the higher your domain authority - and the higher you'll rank in Google results.#4 Domain Authority and your link profile

Your authority across the web informs Google about how important your website is. A commonly used measure of this is the Moz Domain Authority. It’s derived from a number of factors, the most important being your link profile: the number and quality of other websites linking to you.

Ranking factors for local organic listings

#1 On-page SEO

This is the same as #3 above for Local 3-Pack listings. It’s just more important for your organic ranking. It’s clearly indispensable for showing up in both parts of the search results.

#2 Domain Authority

See factor #4 above under the Local 3-Pack.

#3 Behavioral factors

A number of behavioral factors can affect your organic rankings in Google. They include the following.

  • Click through rate reflects the number of searchers exposed to your listing on a search engine results page (SERP) who actually click on your listing. They have looked at your page title and description and concluded that it’s a good match for what they’re looking for.Google's Local 3-Pack for "near me" searches. To show up here, you need to improve local rankings in Google.
  • Mobile clicks to call are possible only for mobile searchers, since you can’t click to call on a computer. But when someone finds you in a search on their phone and clicks to call you, it’s a very concrete message to Google that your page is an excellent result for that search. The more that happens, the better.
  • Bounce rate is related to the click through rate. For either to happen, the searcher needs an impression – you need to show up on the SERP for their search. A bounce occurs when someone is on a SERP with your listing and clicks on you but immediately bounces back to the search results to pick someone else instead of exploring your site. That’s a negative ranking factor. They clearly did not like your page or determined it wasn’t a good match for what they were looking for. And Google understands that.
  • The longer someone spends on your site, the more Google assumes they liked what they found there.Time onsite is something that Google tracks and most people aren’t aware of it. When someone clicks on your site and stays there awhile, perhaps exploring additional pages on your website, that tells the search engines that your site was an excellent match for that search. The longer they spend on your site, the more good information they must’ve found there. That makes you look really good in Google’s eyes, and will help you rank higher in the future.

#4 Reviews and citations

See#2 under the Local 3-Pack above. These are important to your rankings in both the organic results and the Local 3-Pack.

To improve local rankings in Google, you really need to pay attention to every one of the above ranking factors.

[Updated 2/12/21 to include a link to an excellent  Forbes article about NAP consistency.]

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7 Keys to Showing Up in “Near Me” Searches

If you own a local business, you need to show up in “near me” searches

Google's Local 3-Pack for "near me" searches.Google’s Consumer Insights has reported a 150% increase in “near me” searches in the past two years. A near me search almost always signals that the searcher is ready to buy a product or service. Think With Google reports that 76% of those result in a same-day in-store visit. Results are almost as strong for services like lawyers, plumbers, and landscapers.

Ideally you want to show up in Google’s Local 3-Pack, which shows three organic listings and a map showing where they are. Failing that, you want to show up in the organic listings beneath it and in the list when someone clicks “More places” at the bottom of the 3-Pack.

The 7 keys to “near me” visibility

Small business SEOClassic search engine optimization (SEO) is always essential to visibility in searches of any kind. But local SEO, which is needed for showing up in near me searches require some extra attention. Here are seven keys to improving your visibility in those kinds of local searches.

Most local searches are done via voice search on a phone.1) Mobile-friendly website

I always recommend a responsive website  so that the same content and experience is delivered regardless of the device visitors are using, whether computer, tablet, or phone. It needs to be mobile friendly with text that’s easy to read and buttons that are not too close together to be selected with a finger press.

You can check this easily with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

2) Fast pages

With today’s microscopic attention spans and general lack of patience, many searchers won’t wait more than two or three seconds for your site to show up in their browser or phone. There are a number of techniques you can use to speed up your pages that are beyond the scope of this article. But there are some excellent tools that can show you what your page download speed is. And if it’s too slow, some explain what factors are responsible for that and offer suggestions to speed things up. Here are three that I like:

3) Effective Local SEO

Increase your local search visibility on Google.This involves clearly having your location or locations listed on your website. And not just on your Contact Us page. If you have a single location, it belongs in your footer so it’s on every page. If you don’t have a storefront but provide services at the customer location, describe your service area, both on your Contact Us page and, if it’s not too extensive, in your footer.

Some businesses create individual town pages for the most important towns in their service area. If you elect to do that, it’s absolutely essential to make sure that they don’t look like duplicate content to Google. Each page needs to be completely unique and obviously focused on the town it’s about.

Any place your address appears you should have schema code for it. Sometimes called structured data markup or structured coding, this is a construct cooperatively developed by Google, Yahoo, & Bing to help them better understand information on web pages. We explain it in our blog post entitled What is Schema Markup? How important is it for local business SEO?

4) Claim your business listings

The most important business listing for you is probably going to be Google My Business. Make sure to claim  your listing there and fill it out as robustly as you possibly can. Include things like business hours, your logo, photos, a description of your business, handicap access — anything and everything that Google My Business will accept.

claim your social media listingsDon’t stop there. You need a social media presence in at least Facebook and Twitter, and depending on the nature of your business and your target market, possibly Instagram and others. You need a listing on Yelp, Yahoo Small Business, Bing Places for Business, and LinkedIn. Other good listings would be Angie’s List and Judy’s Book, and there are plenty more good ones as well.

Vertical directories are another good source of listings. Depending on the nature of your business, you might want to be listed in places like FindLaw or Houzz. Caution – these are more likely than others to charge a fee.

5) Get more reviews

Positive Yelp reviews can help your small business.Online reviews can help assure Google that you are worthy of a prominent listing in search results. Start with Google My Business itself; asked a delighted customer or two if they would give you a review there. More reviews are better, but only if they are spread out over time. If you get too many reviews in too short a period of time they may appear as though you purchased them or enlisted everyone in your family to write them, which is a violation of Google’s terms of service.

Don’t stop there. Get reviews on lots of sites. The more broadly across the web your reviews appear, the better your chances of showing up prominently in Google.

If someone gives you a word-of-mouth referral, the person they refer to you is very likely to check you out by looking you up. If they see lots of sites that show online review stars for you, it adds to your credibility and improves the likelihood that they will reach out to you.

6) Ensure broad and consistent NAP citations

NAP - name,address & phoneYou need to be everyplace your customers are on the web. You should have listings everywhere you can. These are called citations rather then links because some of them, like Alexa, don’t link to your website. A local citation is any online mention of your NAP. Citations can appear on local business directories, on websites and mobile apps, and on social media. They help customers  discover local businesses and can also improve your local search engine rankings.

One risk of widespread citations across the web is that older ones may have a variation of your company name, a previous business address, or an old phone number. That can confuse Google: if Google isn’t sure where you are, it’s unlikely to show you in local search results. If you don’t have the time to actively manage that, we have a service that can help get you that broad exposure and also ensure consistency across more than six dozen authoritative platforms.

It’s also critical to not only be consistent across the web, but also with how your NAP appears on your website. If you show a suite number across the web, don’t fail t include it on your website. Consistency matters.

7) Get geographically relevant backlinks

Backlinks are links from other websites to yours and are an essential part of Link building is essential to your authority on the web.all SEO efforts. Your website derives its authority or importance on the web based on the number of other websites that link to you and the authority they can pass along to you. And your authority is a critical factor in how high you rank in Google search results.

For local and near me searches, you should also have a good number of local backlinks. If you belong to a local chamber of commerce, make sure it links to you. If you participate in networking groups, make sure that they link to you. Any local businesses you work with repeatedly ought to be linking to you and, especially those you’re in a referral relationship with. And you can also get articles and press releases in local or hyperlocal news sources. That would include your local paper if they have an online presence, and other online sites like and

Go Get ’em!

These are all things you can do on your own. As this is written, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine and many businesses have temporarily slowed temporarily. If that applies to you, use the extra time you have to go through these seven keys to showing up in local and near me searches and implement everything you can. That should position you for a faster recovery once the current pandemic ends.

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Local SEO Citation Myths

Citations are important for Local SEO

Local listings on Google: the Local Pack or 3-Pack.

The Google Local 3-Pack

There are several tools available to help build citations across the web for Local SEO. We support the Yext platform, but it’s not the only good one. You can even manage them manually if you have the time and inclination. But it’s important to understand what citations are and why they’re important for local search, and not be mislead by common myths about them.

Your visibility in Local Search depends on three factors:

  1. Classic SEO: high quality on-page content well optimized for your target keyword phrases
  2. Prominence: citations listing your NAP (name, address, phone) consistently and widely across the web
  3. Proximity: how close your location is to the person doing a local search

Clearly, you have no control over the location of a searcher, but the other two factors are things we deal with all the time. For local businesses, classic SEO can get us a good bit of the way there. But ensuring a proper citation profile is essential as well.

Since we focus on small and very small businesses here at Rank Magic, the preponderance of our clients are local businesses. As a result, we support building and maintaining citations for many of them. If you own a local business, it’s important to understand what citations are and what they aren’t. And sadly, there are widespread myths about what they are and how they work. Joy Hawkins at Moz has recently written about them; and you can dig into her article for more information. The following is a quickly digestible overview with some of our own observations.

1) Your suite number has to be everywhere.

NAP - name,address & phone

Inevitably, some of your citations will include your suite number and others won’t. There is no need to worry; Google doesn’t pay very much attention to that. If you run a scan of your most important citations from the tool on our site, you may notice that if you enter a suite number in the scan, addresses without the suite number are not flagged as inconsistent or erroneous.

2) Minor differences in your name are critical.

You may be listed in some places as “Main Street Medical”, in others as “Dr. Stacey Morrow, Main Street Medical”, and in others as “Main Street Medical: Dr. Philip Cleaver”, etc. Never fear: Google is smart enough to understand that all of these represent the same practice. Where it becomes important though is if there is no overlap. Google may not understand that listings for “Dr. Stacey Morrow” and “Dr. Philip Cleaver” represent the same practice. In that case, it would be important to correct them.

3) You need to clean up your citations on hundreds of sites.

It’s good to clean up your citations on important and independent sites. But many sites are related. In its heyday, The Open Directory was replicated on more than 300 separate domains and subdomains. Fixing it in one place affected all of the others. That still happens today with many websites including results from If your citation on is correct, it will very soon trickle down to all of those other sites that repeat its listings.

It’s still helpful in local search for your citations to be spread widely across the web. The more places Google find a consistent NAP for your local business, the more confidence it has. Remember, if Google is confused about exactly where your business is or what your phone number is, it’s less likely to rank you as prominently.

4) There’s no local search risk in canceling a citation service.

Well … That may be a little complicated. A study of canceling the Moz Local service showed little or no change after cancellation. Yext is a little bit different. [Fair notice: we are a Yext Certified Partner.]

Yexy Knowledge Graph PowerListingsYext places a lock on your location information for the duration of your subscription. When you cancel that subscription, they simply remove the lock on it and then it’s free to be changed or updated in accordance with normal procedures at each citation source.

The folks at WhiteSpark did a study and concluded that the Yext seems to place a “cover” on top of the previous missing or incorrect listing and when that cover is removed many citation sources revert to the previous content — or lack thereof. In our experience,  we find that three or four months after canceling a Yext subscription about half of citations that were missing or incorrect before are missing or incorrect again. So while hanging onto your Yext subscription is a good idea, if you decide to cancel it you should plan to do a little manual cleanup after cancellation to preserve your local search visibility.

5) Citation building is the only link building you need for Local SEO success.

Remember the first of the three local ranking factors I cited at the top? You need natural, related links as part of classic SEO to help establish both relevance and authority, apart for just cementing your NAP. All of these factors work in concert, and working heavily on one of them doesn’t mean you can ignore the others.

6) Don’t worry if an unrelated business used to have your current phone number.

Google is pretty smart about recognizing that you’re not the same as the business that had your phone number in the past. However, it seems there may be a risk to this if customers continue to call your phone number trying to reach the previous business that had that number once before. That usually only happens if your phone number was active at that previous business recently. When Google discovers that, it may conclude that it provides a poor customer experience and that may affect your rankings.

As soon as you become aware that a different business once had your phone number, it would be a good idea to check and see if they are still listed out there with that phone number. (Our scan linked to above under myth #1 is an easy way to check this.) If they’re still listed on a number of sites , it would be good to correct that on those citation sources so they don’t impact negatively on your own business.

Google My Business listings are essential for local businesses.

7) Your Google My Business listing is a citation.

Actually your Google My Business listing is part of the core search engine, like Bing and Apple. It’s more important than a run-of-the-mill citation, but all of those citations across the web tend to support your NAP on Google my business.

I hope this leaves you more comfortable about your citations. I welcome your comments and suggestions – join the conversation in the Comments below.

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What is Schema Markup? How important is it for local business SEO?

What is Schema (Structured Data Markup)?

Structured code markup in accourdance with schema.orhSchema is a common short term for structured data, named after, the website for structured data markup. It was created by a collaborative team from Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It’s not too often that competitors come together with a common purpose. But structured coding is important enough for them to do it. It creates an agreed-upon set of rules for structured data that tells the search engines exactly what kind of information is on your website.

Schema code goes into the HTML code that tells a browser what information is on your website and how to display it. According to

Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means — “Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.

Schema for SEO

SEO really does improve small buisiness visibility.We always recommend that our SEO clients include schema structured data markup as an important SEO technique. That’s because giving the search engines structured data helps them understand your webpages better and results in a ranking increase for you. One study determined that websites with schema coding rank an average of four positions higher in search engine results than those without schema markup.

Schema allows search engines to better understand addresses, dates of events, phone numbers, email addresses, and other information about you. So it helps Google understand:

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • how to reach you,
  • and (critical for local businesses) where you are.

Neil Patel explains this in more detail if you’re interested in digging in deeper. There’s also a comprehensive guide to structured data from the folks at 3 White Hats. Search Engine Watch has posted a good article about why businesses should implement structured data. And for a strictly local business focus, Search Engine Journal has a guide on How to Use Schema for Local SEO.

You don’t need to know structured data details

Since schema is in the HTML code of your website, it’s the responsibility of your web designer to understand how to write that part of the code for your site. The structured code in schema tends to be detailed and complex. Unless you’re acting as your own web designer, the two things you need to know about schema on your website are

  1. Why it’s important, and
  2. Making sure that it’s there.

Surprisingly, according to recent research fewer than one-third of websites use schema markup.

Sample of structured data markup from Google's chema tester.

Did I say this stuff is complex? True. Above is a small sample of structured code from Google’s Structured data Testing Tool. But that’s why your small business’ competitors are probably not using it. So implementing it on your own site gives you a significant advantage over those competitors who don’t use it.

[Update October 19, 2020] For those of you who’d like a more thorough treatment of everything available in schema code, check out FatJoe’s article Everything You Need to Know About Schema Markup in 2020.

Don’t worry!

SEO really does help small businesses show up in Google.There is a stupefyingly simple way to implement this stuff on your website. It’s a lifesaver if you’re doing your own coding, but even if your webmaster does it for you, this solution can save significant time, effort, and money.

I have long been a proponent of Yext PowerListings for local businesses. Yext is the leader in local data management, and many of my clients subscribe to their Knowledge Graph service. [Full disclosure: I am a Yext Certified Partner] In a nutshell, PowerListings gives you a single place to enter tons of information about your business which is then published on more than six dozen local search engines, directories, maps, and mobile apps.

The simple solution: Yext Knowledge Tags

Yexy Knowledge Graph PowerListings Yext Knowledge Tags is an enhancement to their Knowledge Graph PowerListings which provides a simple short snippet of code to add to your web pages that will implement full schema coding throughout. If anything changes in your Knowledge Graph, it’s automatically reflected in the schema code on your website.  Immediately.

For existing subscribers, this is a no-brainer in my opinion. But whether or not you currently subscribe to the Yext Knowledge Graph or “PowerListings”, this is worth your serious consideration. I refer you to our explanation of local SEO, citations, and PowerListings.

Reach out for a friendly phone call about your website and how much of a difference this can make for you.

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What is Local Search? Why is Local SEO Important?

Increase your local search visibility on Google.What is Local Search?

Local search is happening more and more. Pretty much everyone has a smartphone; and more voice searches are happening every month. When someone is looking for a local business they increasingly conduct a “near me” search. They look for “coffee shop near me”, or a “plumber near me”.  They also often search for services in their state, county, or town.

A few statistics from Search Engine Journal:

  • 50% of people doing a phone search visited a local store within 24 hours.
  • 34% of people searching on their computer also visited a local store within the a day.
  • 71% of people say they search for the location of a business before visiting it for the first time.
  • 60% of adults search for local services or products on tablets and phones.
  • 97% of users looked online for local businesses in 2017 and 12% reported looking for a local business online every day. That number may be even higher today, two years later.

Why is local SEO important?

Local listings on Google: the Local Pack or 3-Pack.

The Google Local 3-Pack

If you’re a brick and mortar store or service who deals with local consumers on a face-to-face basis, understand that your customers who don’t yet know your business name are looking for you via local search.

If your competitors are doing local SEO, they’re going to show up in those searches where you may not. They may be showing up in the coveted Google Local 3-Pack and you may not be.

Local SEO is a bit different from — an expansion of — standard SEO.  To show up in local searches you need a  basis of proper SEO for your website, but that is often not enough.

What’s different about Local SEO?

Standard SEO practices focus on two kinds of things. Your on-page keyword optimization and other factors in your website help Google and other search engines understand what your website and your individual pages are all about. Your off-page authority on the web helps Google understand how important your website is. On-page factors typically control whether or not you will show up in Google’s results when someone searches for what you do. Off-page factors typically influence how high in the list you will show up. Both are necessary to compete successfully with other businesses like yours.

All of that is necessary for local SEO, but there are couple of additional factors that are not included there.

  1. The first is proximity to the searcher. If someone is searching for a local business, Google will tend to show them local businesses that are close rather than local businesses that are further away. I probably don’t need to tell you that you have no control over that.
  2. The second is your “prominence” across the web. This is something you can control.  How broadly are you mentioned in local search engines, directories, maps, and phone apps? How consistently are you listed in terms of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone)?

How well are you doing in local search?

It’s really easy to tell whether your site is like a Billboard in the Woods or not. Just don’t fall into the trap of searching for your business by name on Google and thinking that’s sufficient. Unless there are other businesses with names very similar to yours, this is not a good test. You need to pretend that you’re a customer who doesn’t know the name of your business but is searching for what you sell or what you do.

Try to look yourself up by searching like that customer would, including either a local town, your county, or just searching “near me”.

  • Do you show up in the first page or two of results?
  • Do you show up in the Local 3-Pack?
  • How many competitors are showing up higher than you?

If the results of your test are disappointing, don’t despair. At Rank Magic, we can fix that.

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