Local SEO ranking factors are still a black box for many companies that value local traffic.
Nobody actually knows what Google values. But studies and experience can reveal what is having an impact on ranking and placing in the coveted local pack.
According to Moz’s 2018 local search ranking factors survey, there are some changes to the importance of off-site factors.
Google My Business listings are more important, links are “working as well as ever,” and reviews are more important now than in 2017.
Meanwhile, the full report still lists on-site factors such as keyword relevance, mobile-friendly design, and volume of quality content on the website are all some of the most important factors.
Look at my last article for Search Engine Journal for my personal pick of the top 25 local search rank signals.
For an action-oriented checklist, here are 50 on-site and off-site points to audit.
Checklist: On-Site SEO
1. Optimized Home, About & Contact Pages
Make sure you have – and have optimized – your Home, About, and Contact pages to contain location information.
It’s shocking how often someone will miss optimizing local on at least one of these pages.
Tip: Put the name, address, and phone number (NAP) for all of your locations on the contact page.
2. Optimized Footer
Speaking of NAP, you should put this vital information is in the footer of your website, as well.
If you have multiple locations, you can list all of them.
Tip: Optimizing your footer with other content such as calls to action can increase conversion rates up to 50%.
3. Clickable Mobile Phone Numbers
Some mobile platforms make phone numbers automatically clickable, but others don’t.
Boost your phone conversions by following Google’s guidelines for making your on-site phone numbers clickable.
Tip: Consider adding a button that links to a phone number in addition to the number itself to increase usability.
4. Consistent NAP
This is subtle but important.
Make sure your NAP is consistent across your site and across all off-site resources (more on that later).
For example, “1234 Anywhere Street” and “1234 Anywhere St.” mean the same thing to most people, but can muddy up your SEO if you use them interchangeably.
Tip: You can use tools like Moz Local to audit this.
5. Structured Data Markup
Following from the previous point, you should make sure your site has structured data markup including all relevant information like your hours, departments, and NAP.
Tip: Google provides a tool to test your structured data markup.
6. Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool that lets you gain insight into how many people reach your site and by what means they got there.
It also alerts you to technical errors that can hinder your site from ranking well on Google.
Add your site and make sure it checks out.
7. Bing Webmaster Tools
Bing Webmaster Tools is Microsoft’s alternative to the Google tool above.
With an estimated 20% U.S. market share in search, you shouldn’t neglect setting up your site with Bing’s tool.
8. Optimized URLs
Make sure your page names and URLs contain location words.
Tip: Use a consistent and user-friendly system for all location and regional pages you create (see below).
9. Optimized Title Tags
Instead of having more generically SEO’d title tags, include location words. Ensure that your title tags are fewer than 60 characters, as well.
Tip: Use Google Keyword Planner to help find more relevant keywords.
10. Optimized Descriptions
Aside from making people want to click on your pages, your descriptions should also contain location words. Make sure they’re around 160 characters or less.
Tip: Avoid keyword stuffing in descriptions. Make them useful for human visitors.
11. Image Tags
You can use image optimization for local as well.
Besides photos of locations, you should also tag logos on appropriate pages with a geo term, as well.
12. Mobile Friendly / Responsive
This is a huge part of optimizing for local search is capturing mobile traffic.
Aside from being a search signal, having a mobile-friendly website increases usability greatly.
Tip: When creating your mobile web design, make sure the NAP has high visibility and is consistent with desktop versions.
13. Location Pages
Most businesses with multiple locations should still only have one website, but you should still have a specific page for each location.
Tip: This is an easy place to get inconsistent with NAP. I like to use a spreadsheet to have a “canonical” version of all contact information across multiple locations.
14. Regional Pages
If your business locations are spread out across multiple states and regions, you should also have regional pages.
Tip: A logical sitemap or outline will help you structure your content.
15. Embed Google Maps
Make sure you have embedded Google Maps in your contact, location, and regional pages.
While it may not help SEO as much as it used to, it still creates a great user experience.
16. More Local Pages
Your general content strategy can vary depending on how your business works – if you’re just a straight-up local business with a few locations or a national business with many locations.
If you’re still struggling to come up with more local content and you’re the former, consider adding pages targeting major cities that are proximate to your locations.
Tip: When adding more local pages, make sure the content does not duplicate other content on your site.
17. Local Links Out
This is a local version of standard good SEO practices.
Having a high-quality, diverse set of outbound links is good for your search rankings.
Where relevant, you can link out to local resources like state, county, and city offices, other local businesses, or other relevant places.
Tip: Publicizing events and charitable activities is an easy way to get local links from media and other sites.
18. Press Section
Even if your business isn’t regularly making the news, having a section for company news is an easy way to generate unique, high-quality content that can be highly localized.
19. Guides & How-Tos
Generating guides and how-to pages is another easy way to make desirable local pages.
Even the most B2B-centric businesses can generate some guides that have a lot of localization.
Tip: You can create extensive content in this area and use bits and bites of it to fuel social media.
20. On-Site Blog
Blogging might seem like a relic, surpassed by the speed and ease of use that social media offers. But it’s still a useful tool to generate quality content on specific topics, which helps get valuable inbound traffic.
Tip: Stay consistent and varied. Unless you have a very niche site, you should cover varied subtopics to capture more search.
21. Powerful Calls to Action
The goal isn’t just to get traffic to the site. You want it to convert.
Make sure your calls to action are powerful, and where relevant are location-specific.
Tip: You can create extensive content in this area and use bits and bites of it to fuel social media.
22. Update Frequently
Make sure your content is fresh and that the Last Modified date on search results page reflects that.
Even if you’re ranking for local, users are much more likely to go to a site that has been recently updated.
Tip: Here’s a guide for updating Last Modified on WordPress.
23. Optimized H1 and H2 Tags
Your meta tags and body copy are optimized for mobile. Make sure your H1 and H2 tags are, as well.
24. Load Time
Does your site load quickly? How about on mobile?
Again, as much local traffic is mobile-based, having a fast load time is crucial.
Tip: Page load speed is a signal for desktop and mobile search ranking on Google.
25. Internal Site Structure
A final on-site thing to look at: as you’ve generated many pages of local content, your site can get unwieldy.
You’ll want to check on your site structure to make it comprehensible to both human visitors and search engines, alike.
Checklist: Off-Site SEO
So you’ve done all or most of the above. You’re on relatively even footing with most other business sites out there, but if you want to excel in local search, then continue on to these more niche items.
1. Google My Business
This is by far the most important off-site SEO thing to check when setting up your local SEO.
As per the latest Moz Local Search Rankings survey, Google My Business (GMB) comprises 25% of the most important ranking factors for getting on the Google local pack.
Make sure you’ve claimed your business, set up the NAP and hours, and selected the right categories for your business. GMB is going to be the hub for much off-site activity.
Tip: Here is a good guide for setting up your GMB listing.
2. Bing Places For Business
Bing Places for Business is Microsoft’s analog for GMB. Claim your business and set up the NAP here, as well.
Tip: Don’t neglect Bing. Despite its low mindshare, it is the default search engine for Windows users.
Even though it’s facing more backlash than ever, Facebook is still showing amazing growth and revenue figures.
You need to be there from a business perspective.
Tip: Make sure your page has consistent NAP, hours, and website.
4. Google Local Pack
The Google Local Pack (formerly with seven, three, and now sometimes four listings) is the most important place to be in local search – even the first organic listing, as it appears above them.
To get into the local pack, you need to properly set up your GMB and have a strong online presence (hint: follow this checklist).
If and when you are on the pack, make sure your info is correct as you’ll have increased visibility.
5. Set Up Review Sites
To garner reviews (mostly positive, let’s hope) in the first place, make sure your business is listed on as many relevant ones as possible.
These include Yelp, Angie’s List, and BBB.
Tip: Again, make sure your NAP, website, and hours on all review sites are consistent.
6. Check Your Existing Reviews
Use an online reputation tool like Brand Yourself to search your brand name and comb through your reviews.
You want to address any negative reviews – this actually helps as a search signal.
Also, reviews are huge in local SEO. The oft-mentioned Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study has them at over 15% of the important signals.
Tip: Don’t just respond defensively to negative reviews. Consider reaching out personally to see how the customer was affected and try to resolve their problem.
7. Inbound Links Portfolio
It’s the same as regular SEO; you want a variety of inbound links that are relevant, are authoritative, and gained organically.
This will help your rankings for searches with or without local intent.
8. Local Links In
In addition to a standard high-quality inbound link portfolio, getting links from local sources is important for local SEO.
If you’ve followed along with the on-page checklist, then some good local link sources would be blog posts, fundraiser pages, events, and press or news posts.
Tip: Getting these links with local keyword anchor text can be invaluable if you have any control over it.
9. Social Listings
Every business should probably be on Facebook, but probably not on every social platform. Consider your business and the demographics of different platforms and make accounts/listings for every relevant one.
Tip: If you’re considering paid campaigns, most social platforms still have underpriced attention.
10. Online Directories & Citations
Make sure you’re listed with consistent NAP, website, and hours on directories like YP, Foursquare, and Yahoo Localworks.
Make sure your business is listed on all mapping resources.
GMB and Bing Places for Business should take care of Google and Bing Maps, but there are other online mapping services with their own submissions, like Apple Maps MapQuest, RoadTrippers, and Waze.
Tip: Keeping exactly specific NAP is essential for these listings.
12. Engage Influencers
Paid influencer campaigns are sometimes looked down upon, but they’re underpriced channels for attention.
Even if you don’t go down the paid influencer rabbit hole, positively interacting with influencers in your space grows your network.
Tip: Here’s a good crash course on launching an influencer marketing campaign.
13. Local Brand
This point straddles some of the on-site factors and local links point above.
If at all possible, try to focus on building your local brand, whether it’s through events, a separate marketing initiative, or branded content. This is an invaluable source of links and traffic, which both help immensely.
Tip: Building a brand often means not selling – at least upfront.
14. Truly Great GMB Photos
This is part of setting up your GMB, but it bears calling out separately.
If your business’ photos on GMB aren’t extremely high quality, your listing will suffer.
15. Google Posts
You can make posts directly through GMB with news, events, and products. These can appear in Google Search and Maps.
Tip: It’s a best practice to add a compelling piece of media to your posts.
16. Google Q&A
At the end of 2018, Google added the ability to add Q&A rich results to your website.
Even though it’s technically an on-site type of thing, actually answering Q&As will be an off-site activity that can add much value for your customers and ranking factors.
17. Google Reviews
This point also straddles the on-page and off-page concept.
You should encourage customers to leave reviews on Google (and obviously also offer a good customer experience).
Reviews explicitly on Google have the most effect for ranking.
Tip: Here’s some advice on getting customers to leave positive reviews.
18. Active GMB Management
By generally following the above advice, you’ll be on the way to managing GMB well, but this deserves a special shoutout.
By staying active on GMB – answering questions, responding to reviews, making posts – it seems like you improve factors for ranking.
19. Industry-Specific Websites
Make sure you are listed on all the industry-specific websites where people are searching.
For example, if you’re in the hotel industry, you need to be listed on online travel agencies and be integrated as a hotel on Google.
Tip: If you’re unsure if this applies to you, examine several typical ways customer funnels to see what intermediaries there are.
20. Over-Reliant on Citations
Even though it’s important to set up the biggest citations, keep in mind: It’s less and less valuable for your entire link profile or local SEO strategy centers on building hundreds of citations across low-value sites.
Tip: The top-tier citations are still important, but spending time creating hundreds of low-quality citations will be a waste.
21. GMB Spam
Searching through local Google business listing and reporting competitor spam can help you rank within the local pack by reducing competition.
And you’re actually improving search results for everyone.
Tip: You can also edit or report listings that keyword stuff.
22. Competitor Spam
If you’re in a competitive industry, it can be effective to track down and report all spam listings for competitors on any sites and directories.
This includes fake reviews and fake duplicate listings.
23. ‘Google Us’
One kind of tricky thing to do is to use other calls to action or marketing to encourage customers to Google the business rather than go directly to the site.
This increases search volume for the business, which is a factor for ranking.
Tip: You can also encourage customers to search for your reviews on Google to increase branded searches.
24. Yelp Check-In Offers
Giving customers Check-In Offers on Yelp can improve visibility on Yelp and increase positive reviews, which is one of the most important signals for local SEO.
Tip: Another way to increase Yelp visibility is to encourage satisfied customers to share photos on Yelp.
Do you have any video content? It’s another result that can show up in local search.
Make sure it’s uploaded to YouTube and has good title, description, and keyword optimization.
Tip: You can geotag video and include NAP and website in the description.
This is a fairly lengthy, comprehensive list of points to look out for in setting up or auditing your local SEO plan.
You don’t need to follow all of them right away, but successful marketers will end up doing most or all of them as they continue optimizing to capture local traffic.
Featured Image: Unsplash All screenshots taken by author, September 2019.
Websites hosted on WordPress.com can now monetize their content with a new recurring payments feature.
Available with any paid plan on WordPress.com, the recurring payment feature lets site owners collect repeat contributions from supporters in exchange for things like exclusive content or a monthly membership.
“Let your followers support you with periodic, scheduled payments. Charge for your weekly newsletter, accept monthly donations, sell yearly access to exclusive content — and do it all with an automated payment system.”
Recurring payments on WordPress.com allows site owners to:
Accept regularly-scheduled payments directly on their site.
Offer ongoing subscriptions, site memberships, monthly donations, and more.
Integrate their site with Stripe to process payments and collect funds.
WordPress.com site owners can enable recurring payments by following the steps below:
Step 1: Connect (or create) a Stripe account. Visit the Earn page from the WordPress dashboard and click Connect Stripe to Get Started.
Step 2: Add a recurring payments button to your site using the block editor.
Step 3: Customize details such as payment amounts, frequencies, subscription tiers, and so on.
Websites will pay WordPress a percentage of revenue earned through recurring payments, which varies depending on whether its a personal plan (8%), premium plan (4%), or business plan (2%). In addition to WordPress fees, Stripe collects 2.9% + $0.30 for each payment.
In order to make a recurring payment to a WordPress.com site, users will also need to have a WordPress.com account. If they don’t already have one, they’ll be prompted to create one when making a recurring payment for the first time.
For users, this will make it easy to subscribe to multiple sites with one account and manage all subscriptions from one place.
On Oct. 31, Google announced the launch of its Site Kit WordPress plugin that, “enables you to set up and configure key Google services, get insights on how people find and use your site, learn how to improve, and easily monetize your content.”
This plugin allows you to easily connect the following Google Services in a dashboard format within your WordPress backend:
It brings the convenience of accessing your site’s performance data while logged into the backend of the site. This is great for webmasters, developers and agencies who are often an admin for their own site or a client’s WordPress site. However, it does not offer the robust and dynamic capabilities of a Google Data Studio report or dashboard to sort data so it may not be ideal for a digital marketing manager or CMO.
With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to implement this plugin as it’s actually a nifty tool that can help you stay on top of your site’s performance metrics. It’s also another way to give Google more access to your site which can have some in-direct benefits organically.
Here is what the Google Site Kit plugin looks like within the WordPress plugin directory.
Installing and setting up Google Site Kit
To utilize the plugin, simply click install and activate as you would any other WordPress plugin. You will then be prompted to complete the set up.
Click on the “Start Setup” button.
You will be prompted to give access to your site’s Google Search Console profile, which means you need to sign in to the Gmail account that has access to your site’s Search Console profile.
Once logged in you need to grant permissions for Google to access the data in your Search Console profile.
Once you’ve granted all the respective permissions, you will get a completion notification and can then click on “Go to my Dashboard.”
Once you’re in the Dashboard you will see options to connect other services such as Analytics, AdSense and PageSpeed insights. You can now choose to connect these services if you like. If you go to the settings of the plugin you will see additional connection options for Optimize and Tag Manager.
Here is what the dashboard looks like with Search Console, analytics and PageSpeed Insights enabled. You can see a clear breakdown of the respective metrics.
The plugin allows you to dive into each reporting respectively with navigation options on the left to drill down into Search Console and analytics.
There is also an admin bar feature to see individual page stats.
In summary, this is a great plugin by Google but keep in mind it’s just version 1.0. I’m excited to see what features and integrations the later versions will have!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Tony Edward is a director of SEO at Tinuiti and an adjunct instructor of search marketing at NYU. Tony has been in the online marketing industry for over 10 years. His background stems from affiliate marketing and he has experience in paid search, social media and video marketing. Tony is also the founder of the Thinking Crypto YouTube channel.
Bing announced a new link penalties. These link penalties are focused on taking down private blog networks (PBNs), subdomain leasing and manipulative cross-site linking.
Inorganic Site Structure
An inorganic site structure is a linking pattern that uses internal site-level link signals (with subdomains) or cross-site linking patterns (with external domains) in order to manipulate search engine rankings.
While these spam techniques already existed, Bing introduced the concept of calling them “inorganic site structure” in order to describe them.
Bing noted that sites legitimately create subdomains to keep different parts of the site separate, such as support.example.com. These are treated as belonging to the main domain, passing site-level signals to the subdomains.
Bing also said sites like WordPress create standalone sites under subdomains, in which case no site level signals are passed to the subdomains.
Examples of Inorganic Site Structure
An inorganic site structure is when a company leases a subdomain in order to take advantage of site-level signals to rank better. There have been
Private blog networks were also included as inorganic site structure
Bing also introduced the idea of domain boundaries. The idea is that there are boundaries to a domain. Sometimes, as in the case of legitimate subdomains (ex. support.example.com), those boundaries extend out to the subdomain. In other cases like WordPress.com subdomains the boundaries do not extend to the subdomains.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs) Bing called out PBNs as a form of spam that abuse website boundaries.
“While not all link networks misrepresent website boundaries, there are many cases where a single website is artificially split across many different domains, all cross-linking to one another, for the obvious purpose of rank boosting. This is particularly true of PBNs (private blog networks).”
Subdomain Leasing Penalties
Bing explained why they consider subdomain leasing a spammy activity:
“…we heard concerns from the SEO community around the growing practice of hosting third-party content or letting a third party operate a designated subdomain or subfolder, generally in exchange for compensation.
…the practice equates to buying ranking signals, which is not much different from buying links.”
At the time of this article, I still see a news site subdomain ranking in Bing (and Google). This page belongs to another company. All the links are redirected affiliate type links with parameters meant for tracking the referrals.
According to Archive.org the subdomain page was credited to an anonymous news staffer. Sometime in the summer the author was switched to someone with a name who is labeled as an expert, although the content is still the same.
So if Bing is already handing out penalties that means Bing (and Google who also ranks this page) still have some catching up to do.
Bing mentioned sites that are essentially one site that are broken up into multiple interlinking sites. Curiously Bing said that these kinds of sites already in violation of other link spam rules but that additional penalties will apply.
Here’s the kind of link structure that Bing used as an example:
All these sites are interlinking to each other. All the sites have related content and according to Bing are essentially the same site. This kind of linking practice goes back many years. They are traditionally known as interlinked websites. They are generally topically related to each other.
Bing used the above example to illustrate interlinked sites that are really just one site.
That link structure resembles the structure of interlinked websites that belong to the same company. If you’re planning a new web venture, it’s generally a good idea to create a site that’s comprehensive than to create a multitude of sites that are focused on just a small part of the niche.
Curiously, in reference to the above illustration, Bing said that kind of link structure was already in violation of link guidelines and that more penalties would be piled on top of those:
“Fig. 3 – All these domains are effectively the same website. This kind of behavior is already in violation of our link policy.
Going forward, it will be also in violation of our “inorganic site structure” policy and may receive additional penalties.“
It’s good news to hear Bing is improving. Competition between search engines encourage innovation and as Bing improves perhaps search traffic may become more diversified as more people switch to Bing as well as other engines like DuckDuckGo.
Read Bing’s announcement: Some Thoughts on Website Boundaries