Greg Gifford continues to travel around the world, giving world-class presentations on SEO. This time, he’s coming to you from Slovenia at the inOrbit conference to share with everyone what they may have missed if they couldn’t make it to Slovenia. Check out this action-packed presentation that will deliver critical insights on local SEO.

Welcome back to another episode of Local Search Tuesdays. This week, I’m sharing my slides from the InOrbit conference in Slovenia last week.
I was lucky enough to get invited to come back to the InOrbit conference in Slovenia last week. I spoke there the first time in twenty nineteen and was supposed to speak there in twenty twenty, but COVID broke out and they had to cancel the conference.
Now I got to go back and rock another session on local SEO, and I wanted to share the presentation with you here today. Check it out.
How to be a local SEO superhero?
You’re watching this on my weekly series. So you probably know who I am, but just in case this is the first time you’re watching, I’m Greg. I’m the chief operating officer at SearchLab Digital. I’ve got a weekly video series that you’re watching right here. You can catch it every week on our blog or on social media. And I’m lucky enough to get to be invited to speak at conferences all over the world.
And I speak at a bunch of events every year. And because of that, sometimes I see some not so great speakers. You know, you’ll have a salesperson on stage instead of a digital marketing expert. They’re just trying to sell their product or service, and they’re not so great at public speaking, so they stand behind the podium and they kind of drone on and they don’t really engage with the audience.
And the background of their slides is typically just plain white. They don’t have any design elements or colors, and they use aerial font, and they pack every slide with bullet points and read bullet points the entire time. And not only is that not very fun to watch, scientists have actually proven with science that bullet points kill kittens. So we’re gonna keep all the kittens safe today.
And every time I do a presentation, I always have a movie theme because I’m absolutely obsessed with movies. So today’s theme is superhero movies. We have one hundred and one references to superhero movies today, including at least one movie for every year in the last fifty years. I know there’s gonna be some obscure stuff in here for those of you who maybe aren’t as into movies as I am.
So there is attribution over to the side, so you’ll have a kick ass list of movies to watch besides learning some awesome tips about local SEO.
So why the long face?
Are you spending too much time looking up at the competition ranking higher in search results? You don’t have to have a huge brain to succeed with local SEO even though sometimes it seems like it’s a bunch of magic or voodoo. I’m here today with a lot of hot tips to show you how to crush the competition and kick ass in search results. It’s important to understand that Google uses multiple algorithms, and the local algorithm is different from the traditional algorithm, and it weights the ranking factors differently, and it includes additional signals, which means if you need to do local SEO or you are working on a business that does face to face business with customers in a local area, you need to use different strategies to optimize for better visibility in those local search results. So let’s start with the basics. How do you know if you need it?
Like I just said, if you do face to face business with customers. Now that could be at a physical brick and mortar location, or it could be as a service based business like a plumber or an electrician.
And sometimes you might need local SEO even if you do ecommerce. So search for a few of your most important money keywords. And if you see a map pack displayed, that means those terms sometimes have local intent, and you should use local SEO strategies to optimize for those terms. It’s definitely important to pay attention to an annual study that happens called the local search ranking factor study where they take the top about forty experts across the planet in local search and send out a pretty in-depth survey so they can then aggregate the answers and get a pretty good handle on which factors truly influence visibility in search results, and you get two pie charts.
One that shows you the factors that influence your visibility in the map pack or in Google Maps searches, and another one that shows you the factors that influence your visibility in localized organic below the map pack in what most people consider to be the standard search results. The local search ranking factor study is pretty much the local search Bible. It shows you exactly what you need to do every year.
Now I like to explain to people with simple ideas and simple concepts how a lot of these things work Because I know how it is when you go to a conference and you take so many notes and you get kinda overwhelmed and you get back and you’re not really sure where to start. So boiling things down to simple concepts makes it easier for you to, a, change your strategies when you get home, and, b, if you have to go to your boss and make the case or go to your client and make the case for changing direction or changing strategy, you can use these simple examples. So the easiest way to explain how local SEO works is with pizza delivery.
And the video here kinda walks you through it, but the easiest way to explain it is that if you’re sitting at your office and you do a Google search for just two words, pizza delivery, you get a list of all the pizza spots that are right there by your office. But then you could go home and try the same search from home with the same two words and get different search results. Even though you didn’t specify a city or use a phrase like near me, you still get localized results, which makes sense. You need a pizza delivered from nearby, but that’s how the local algorithm works. It understands your location in the real world when you’re doing the search and your proximity to the potential search results, and that’s why you can see different results because you’re searching from different locations.
And keep in mind that local SEO is more than just optimizing and shoving in keywords in a few places.
It’s about making sure you’ve got an amazing user experience on your website, and it’s about optimizing for conversions because typically it’s easier to get more conversions out of the traffic you’re already getting than to try to get new traffic.
This is important because we know that people shop around. The more expensive your product or service skews, the more people are gonna do research before they submit a lead or before they buy from you. So you need to make sure that you stand out from your competition. You need to be appealing.
You need to be memorable. You need to give people a reason to come back to your site and convert at a later date when they’re ready to convert. Because if you’ve got the same generic b s content on your site that all of your competitors have, why would anyone care? Why would they come to you to buy?
You also need to be sure that your content shows everyone why you’re stinking awesome and why they should buy from you and not buy from the competition.
So make sure that your content is actually about your business. And I’m not talking about saying, oh, we’re family owned because everybody says that, or we treat customers like family.
I’m talking about what’s truly unique about your business and why you’re a better option than the competition, and make sure it’s about the local area as well. And there’s a really easy way to test this. I love doing this with home page content or about us page content. So the test works like this.
If you were to take, say, the home page content, you would only change two things on the page. You would change the business name every time the business appears and the city that you’re in every time that city appears. Only those two things. Change them every time they appear on the page.
Could you then take that content, put it on a similar website of the same vertical in a city on the other side of the country. If that content would still work, it’s not really about your business, and it’s not really about your local area. Another important content test that you should be running is to read your content out loud. Everything should sound conversational, like something that you would say face to face to a customer that just walked through the front door.
When you physically read it out loud to another human being, your ear will catch those turns of phrase that don’t sound conversational. You hear when you stuff the keywords, where if you’re just reading it in your head and thinking through it or or reading it and not speaking it out loud, your brain sees keywords, and the marketing side of your brain says, oh, this is great content. So reading it out loud really helps.
The most important simple concept that you can ever remember when it comes to SEO is that if you wanna show as a search result when a potential customer or current customer types in a certain phrase into Google, then you need a dedicated page of content on your website about that singular concept.
Because we’re talking about local SEO, it doesn’t have to be the best page on the Internet. It just needs to be the best answer in the local area to the question that that potential customer or current customer is asking. And if you’re writing the best content in the local area, that probably means you should answer some of the subsequent questions that that searcher would ask once they got that initial answer.
So once you’ve written this amazing content, you’ve gotta optimize it for the search engines. And when you’re optimizing for the local algorithm, you need to optimize differently.
So I’m gonna run you through the page elements that you need to optimize. And keep in mind, every time I say keyword and city, it’s the same keyword phrase and the same location phrase. So the most important, most weighted element on the page is the title tag. You need to have the keyword phrase and the city in that title tag. Now you don’t ever need to put the name of your your business first. You’re the only business name that you’ll always rank number one for that search phrase. And now Google displays the name of your business above your blue link when you show us a a search result anyway, so you don’t even really need it there for branding.
The second most important element is the h one heading. You should only have one h one heading on the page. It’s the big thick thick headline above the main body of text. It should be a bit more conversational and have the same keyword phrase and location phrase.
You need it in the page content as well, but, I mean, that’s pretty easy. You’ve already written the best answer in the local area that answers subsequent questions that’s all about you and all the local area, so you probably won’t have to optimize too much here. You need it in the alt text on your images as well. So alt text is a descriptor of the image in the actual image embed code.
Now back in the day, Google couldn’t tell what was in images, so it used the alt text for clues to what that image was about. Well, now machine learning and AI allows Google to know exactly what’s in those images, but it’s still part of the algorithm, and it’s something that a lot of marketers don’t do anything with. So it gives you a little bit of an edge.
For your internal pages on the site, it’s always helpful to have the same keyword and city phrase in the actual URL for the page.
Now once a page has been created and indexed, it doesn’t really do any good to go back and change that page URL. So just keep this in mind as you’re creating new content moving forward. And finally, it’s important to have those phrases in the meta description. Even though the meta description doesn’t influence your ranking in search results, it does populate those gray sentences underneath your blue link when you show as a search result. So writing compelling text here that includes the keywords that were searched will help you get more click throughs. It’s also important to have a blog and to post regularly to your blog.
Now what is regularly? It’s whatever you can sustain where you’re writing helpful information that’s going to answer customer questions. But the main reason that it’s important to have a blog is because there’s a humongous difference between the kind of content that goes in the main section of your site and the kind of content that goes on your blog. Main website content is that bottom of funnel content that’s meant to show up and convert.
Blog content is mid to upper funnel content. It’s more about informing potential customers. It’s even about discovery.
In fact, if you periodically write blog content that’s just about the local area and doesn’t really have anything to do with your business, that can really help get more eyeballs on your site. We call that pre funnel content because you’re gonna show in search results before people are looking for your product or service. And this may seem a bit counterintuitive, but if you make your blog a local destination and destination and share helpful information about the local area, it still fits. It still works with the local algorithm, and it helps you outpace the competition who’s not doing that. And it builds more local relevancy with Google’s algorithm. If you need ideas for how to do it, I’ve got an awesome blog post here that has a video that you can watch or you can read the transcript and get ten really awesome ideas that you can use as a springboard to write your own localized content.
Now everyone always wants to show up in other nearby cities, but there’s a really important thing you need to remember. If you don’t have a solid enough SEO foundation to pretty much dominate the search results in the town where you’re actually located, you don’t really have any hope of showing up in other nearby towns. So make sure you own your backyard before you try to expand. This video takes this a lot more in-depth.
Please go watch it. But if you’re in a less competitive area or just a more rural area, then a city page will be plenty. So watch this video. It walks you through how to create effective city pages.
And if you’re in a more competitive area or just a really dense metro area, you’re gonna have to be a bit more advanced and use local content silos, and this video will walk you through how to do that.
It’s important to understand the difference of inbound links as well. They’re weighted differently and evaluated differently in this local algorithm. The local algorithm doesn’t really care about the authority of a link, and by the way domain authority is a completely made up bullshit metric anyway, But the authority doesn’t matter. In fact, most of the links you wanna get are from local sites, and they’re gonna have lower authority.
And we don’t care if it’s a nofollow attribute on the link. It’s been proven time and time again that the local algorithm kinda doesn’t really care, and nofollow links are just as valuable.
Really, all you should worry about is getting links from local entities, so local businesses and local websites. And this is really easy to do if you get involved in the local community because any of those community initiatives are awesome opportunities to get some amazing local links. But I know that a lot of people like to dig into specific strategies and tactics, but trying to squeeze in as much as I can in a short period of time today. So watch this video. This video walks you through a multitude of strategies for building amazing local links.
Another really important factor in the local algorithm is customer reviews. They’re very weighted. In fact, they’ve gained weight every year for the past few years in that local search ranking factor study because we’ve all seen that Google is placing more and more value on these customer reviews.
So it’s really important to pay attention to what you’re doing. And I’m not talking about a testimonials page on your website. That page is basically worthless. Watch this video. It really walks you through it. But at a high level, customers really wanna read honest, unbiased reviews on third party sites, and they know your testimonials page is only gonna be glowing five star reviews that say how awesome you are. So you need to be proactive too.
Make sure that you’re really trying to get as many reviews as you can. Watch this video. It goes a lot more in-depth. But to pull out the most important bit here, you gotta make it easy for customers to leave a review.
Just because you ask for them to leave a review on Google doesn’t mean they’re going to know where to go.
So there are some ways that I talk about in the video to make it easy for people to leave reviews. You also need to ask every customer because it’s not human nature to leave a review when you’re happy. Those upset customers are gonna leave a review regardless, but the happy customers typically won’t leave reviews unless they’re asked. You need to make sure you answer every review as well.
Now this is more of a conversion factor than a ranking factor, but it’s really important to answer both positive and negative reviews in this video. We’ll walk you through that. And remember when you’re responding to a bad review that your response isn’t for the person that left the review. It’s for every potential customer in the future that’s reading your reviews and wants to see how you handled that situation.
And the algorithm actually doesn’t care how many reviews you have. You just need to make sure that you’ve gotten more reviews than the local competition.
And here’s some really cool new research.
You know when you first go to the business profile and there’s the default sort of about ten reviews that show before you select that you wanna watch or read the newest reviews or the best reviews or the worst reviews.
If a review includes a photo, then it’s stickier and it stays in that default sort for a longer period of time. If a review has more text, it will stay in the default sort for longer. Now this is a bit of a problem because bad reviews tend to be a lot longer than good reviews. And you can also give a thumbs up to a review.
So if a review has two or more upvotes, it stays in that default sort for a longer period of time. So if you get a bad review that shows in your default sort, that can be pretty damaging, but you can get it buried really quick. Just reach out to customers who have recently left you good reviews and ask them to add a little bit more story and context so they add more text, ask them to upload a photo as well. And once they’ve done that, you just need to get a few people at the office to give that review a thumbs up, and it jumps right to the top of that default sort.
Do this three or four times, and you can bury that bad review so it’s no longer damaging. It is a really effective, really cool trick that you can use. So let’s finish up talking about your Google Business Profile because your homepage of your website isn’t actually your homepage. Your Google Business Profile is your home page.
It’s the first impression that you make with potential customers when they search for you by name or when they come across you because you show up in, map pack or in Google Maps.
And showing up the map pack is really reliant on optimizing your business profile properly. So make sure you fill out everything, and make sure that you include UTM tracking on your website links because attribution is broken.
A lot of the clicks that come through on mobile searches do not have referral information passed along to Google Analytics, so they get tracked as direct traffic in Analytics. So if you add U Team Tracking like this video walks you through how to do, then you will correctly attribute that traffic in analytics. And, hey, we’re doing marketing. We want credit for all the wins, So make sure you’ve got the right data in Google Analytics.
And when you’re optimizing your business profile, it’s also about optimizing your website. That main website button typically points to your home page, but if you’re a multi location business, it would point to the location page for that particular location. And it’s very, very important that you optimize that page, again, typically your homepage, for your most important keyword phrase and the city that you’re in. You wanna make sure you’ve got your correct hours of operation listed, and this seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people get it wrong.
You wanna upload high quality photos so that people can see what the experience is like doing business with you. And because customers can upload photos along with reviews or just upload photos and attach them to your business profile, you can have a lot of these user generated photos that will show in your gallery. But Google tends to prefer those high quality, well shot images, well composed professional high pixel density images. So if you upload these high quality photos, those will kind of pop to the top, and you have a little more control over what people will see.
Make sure you select all of the correct categories. There are ten slots for categories. It doesn’t mean you need to fill all ten out unless there are ten that really truly apply to what you do. And be very strategic with what you choose as your primary category. According to this year’s version of the local search ranking factor study, the most influential element that you can optimize for better visibility in local searches is the first category that you choose in your Google Business Profile.
You need to be sure that you include services. Now the Google Business Profile platform will include some prepopulated services, but you can also enter your own custom services.
And these really do help you show up better in searches, so make sure you fill all of these out.
And Google is really trying to fight spam, and unfortunately, their spam detection has gone a little bit too far in the strict direction.
So if you’re having problems, it’s typically not really that helpful to talk to the support team.
Honestly, they’re not that great. So instead, go to the Google Business Profile community forum and post on the forum. Create a new thread for your issue and include as much information as you can about what’s going wrong. The really cool thing about the forums is that they’re not staffed by Google employees.
They’re staffed by volunteers, and those volunteers donate their time to help people. And once someone has volunteered enough awesome answers on a regular basis, they get invited into the product expert program. That means they’re endorsed by Google that they know their stuff about that particular product. They get a little badge.
So if you see a product expert designation, you know that person knows their stuff. And what’s really cool is once someone gets to gold level or above, they can escalate forum threads directly to the Google Business Profile team and skip support. So that’s typically the best way to get help if you’re experiencing something kind of wonky and weird.
And Google has rolled out a new reinstatement process for suspended profiles. And those of us in local SEO have been joking lately that the system is so sensitive. All you have to really do is move your mouse or breathe on your keyboard to get suspended. So it’s pretty easy to get suspended, but this new reinstatement process has now been rolled out worldwide, and you definitely need to watch this video. This is probably the most important video in the entire presentation today, because once you apply for reinstatement, it starts the one hour timer of doom. You get one hour to supply all of the necessary documentation, which could be paperwork, could be tax documents, and also likely includes a video walk through of your location.
You only have an hour to get all of that together. So if you start that timer and then you get distracted or something else comes up or you gotta go to a meeting or a phone call or you just don’t get everything in time and that timer runs out, you’re out of luck. So you wanna make sure you’ve got everything together before you start that process if you happen to get suspended.
And when you’re optimizing your business profile, kinda like I mentioned on the website, there are elements that influence ranking, and there’s elements that influence conversion. And it’s important to pay attention to these conversion focused elements because even though they don’t influence how you’re gonna show up, they definitely influence how many times you’re gonna convert from that profile. So use Google posts. A lot of people treat them like social media, but they’re not social media. I did a whiteboard Friday episode for Moz that walks you through about thirteen minutes of really in-depth strategy and tactics for Google posts, so please go watch that. But, honestly, I don’t think a lot of the advice out there is really as important as this. The most important thing to consider isn’t which template you use or what you’re putting into the post.
It’s paying attention to what the post thumbnail looks like because Google will automatically crop to a smaller version of your photo, and you can’t control that crop. And it only shows a few lines of text. And if that little thumbnail that shows in your profile isn’t compelling, then nobody’s gonna click that post, and it’s not gonna do anything for you.
The problem, though, is cropping is pretty inconsistent, and you can’t control it. So we created a Photoshop template that you can use to have better control over what shows in those post thumbnails. Because if half your image is cropped out, then it’s not really gonna be that effective. So you can download the guide at this link right here, and it looks like this. Anything inside of that white grid is considered safe and will show in the thumbnail, and the rest of the image will then appear once they’ve clicked on that thumbnail.
You should also pay attention to the questions and answers section in your business profile. This is a community discussion widget, so it allows anyone to ask you a question, and any random person can answer that question for you, and that should terrify you. But the general public thinks that it’s chat. They think it’s instant messaging and that someone at your business is waiting on the other end to answer those questions.
But it’s really community discussion, so anyone can answer the question.
Because it’s community discussion, that means questions can receive multiple answers, and you can give a thumbs up to answers. And whichever answer has the most thumbs up is the answer that’s displayed as the primary answer to the question, and then users have to click a link to see the remaining answers.
You’re allowed to ask yourself your own questions. A lot of people think that this is bad mojo, but Google actually encouraged you to do this in the blog post that they wrote about this when this was released.
We like to call it a pre site FAQ page because no one’s really gonna go to your website and read through forty or fifty FAQ questions to see if their question is there and maybe has an answer. They want immediate answers, and that takes too much effort. And their answer may not even be there anyway. And they’re honestly not gonna read through all the questions that you enter into the q and a widget on your business profile, but it’s really cool how Google created this widget.
If someone is entering a question and a similar question has been asked and answered in the past, then Google will automatically display an answer to the question as that potential customer is typing their question in. So they’re actually getting an answer faster than what they would get if they were talking to you on the phone or face to face or if they were using an actual chat widget. It’s even faster than what AI would be able to do. So it’s an amazing pre site experience.
And the last thing I wanna talk about, we have this really cool thing called the local SEO scoring matrix that we use when we talk to potential partners at conferences and when we’re doing demo calls with potential clients.
It’s basically a mini local SEO audit, and it looks at the four major areas that influence your visibility and local search results, which is the content on your site and how it’s optimized, the links pointed to your site from other sites, your Google business profile and how that’s optimized, and your reviews on Google and Yelp and how you respond to those reviews. Now the reason that we do Yelp, we work with primarily clients in North America, and Apple Maps review stars come from Yelp, not from Google. Now in Europe, or basically anywhere outside of the United States, honestly, the stars that show on Apple Maps may come from Yelp, but they could come from other sources like TripAdvisor or Foursquare.
So you would want to adjust this and pay attention to which site is feeding your reviews on Apple Maps for that particular vertical and score that instead of Yelp, unless you’re doing this for a site that’s in the United States. Now it’s important to point out that the matrix scores on tactics, not on strategy. A lot of people use those terms interchangeably, but strategy is where you’re going and tactics are how you get there. Scoring basic tactics makes it a more universal audit.
It’s more helpful because they can’t take that back to their current SEO partner and say, hey. What’s going on? And have that partner refute those results and argue and say, oh, they don’t know anything about your strategy. They don’t know anything about your business.
This is total BS. That doesn’t matter. When you keep it at really basic tactics that anyone would agree are important to handle, then it’s more helpful. And honestly, strategy won’t matter if you’re not using the right basic SEO tactics. So then the four areas are weighted to approximate the importance of each of those areas to the algorithm, and you get a score anywhere from zero to a hundred points. Although I should tell you that a hundred points is effectively impossible. The highest score we’ve ever seen is an eighty three point six, but that was one of our own clients.
The highest score we’ve ever seen from anyone that wasn’t a client was just a sixty five.
And, honestly, if you’re doing all the things you should be doing, you should have a score somewhere in the range of upper sixties to mid eighties. But some things will actually deduct points if you’re doing things that are really wrong and potentially hurting your visibility in searches.
The lowest score we’ve ever seen was a negative seventy one and a half, so it can get pretty bad. And this guy was paying four thousand dollars a month for SEO.
The average score is only eighteen out of a hundred.
Now this matrix was a massive game changer for us. When we started using this for every demo call where we would prescore a site and basically do a quick audit before a demo call, it more than doubled our close rate on demo calls. So I thought I would share it with you today. We have a generic version that will work for any local business, but we also have versions that are specifically updated for particular verticals that we tend to do a lot of business in.
We do a lot of business in the automotive vertical, so we have an auto dealer version. So download both of these. They’re both Excel files. When you download them, you’ll see the differences between the two and how we kinda tweak the auto dealer version for some of the specific things that mattered for that particular website.
These matrixes are really awesome at pointing out obvious local SEO opportunities without taking too much time.
I’m pretty much at the point now where I can finish an entire site score for all of the areas in about six and a half minutes. Most of the people on our team can do it in about ten minutes. So it’s not like it takes a lot of prep time, but you’ll come into these demo calls with potential clients, And it uncovers a lot of really egregious errors, if there are any, really quickly and easily. So it makes it look like you spent a lot of time when you didn’t really have to.
And then if that client decides to work with you, it’s a great guide for the things that you need to hit first for initial optimization elements.
So check it out, use it, and start closing more deals. Thanks so much for watching this fire hose of information. Hopefully, you won’t be depressed when you’re thinking about your placement and local search results because you’ll use all the hot tips that I shared with you today. And no, this is not the same joke because this is Ghostwriter two.
Your site will no longer be the underdog in search results, and everyone will be happy. That was how to be a local SEO superhero. There’s my email address. Please email me if you have any questions.
I always answer emails.
Sometimes they’re a bit delayed because I do travel a lot, but I will always answer questions if you email them to me. And then if you’d like a copy of the slides, I’m happy to send those as well because there is a list of all the movies at the end by order of release date. So you got a kick ass list of movies to watch. Thanks for watching.
That’s all the time we’ve got left for this week’s episode.
So you know what that means. Put your hand on the screen right here.
We totally just high fived because you learned something awesome. Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you again next week for another episode of Local Search Tuesdays.