Local SEO Guide – What Matters To Google For Your Small Business

Updated For 202o

You might already know how Google works.  Did you know that there are basically two ways to rank on google?  Keywords and Local SEO (aka Google My Business)

The first is for keywords.  For those that don’t know,  keywords (or keyword topics) rank on google, it’s pretty straightforward.  Say you have a site about purple elephants.  When other sites link to your site, Google takes that as those sites are “vouching” for your site.  If they use the word “purple elephants” then all the better.   Now Google is much smarter than this simple description, it weighs the “vouching” sites to determine if they have the authority or not.  A link from Mashable.com would be worth more than a link from my own website at jrjarvis.com.

In addition, it evaluates your page and how “good” the content is and if the content is even contextual to yours.   In other words, if your site was about purple elephants, then a link from the zoo would be better overall then a link from Walmart.  Finally, Google also takes into account a list of other harder to manipulate things such as how long people stay on your site, how many social shares are out there, and how updated the site is (and how long the domain is registered for).  All told it’s a lot for a business owner to master.

Note:  All of this is suspected, Google’s never revealed their exact formula.

Luckily there’s an easier way for local business owners.

Local SEO Guide

In this guide, we want to answer small business owner’s questions about local SEO for 2020.  There’s a ton of info on the internet but it usually aimed at helping SEO consultants figure out what works but not aimed at the very small businesses that would need to know.

localseomap 610x723If you were to master it all then you’d still be fighting an uphill battle as Google owns the first 4 results (they increase it from 3) and now they are putting local results ahead of search results.  While this is very frustrating for those who specialize in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) it’s a new opportunity for business owners to leapfrog over their competitors.

However, there is a way to jump up in the Google Results without paying for the click and without being a technical genius.  It’s Google’s LOCAL SEO.

What is Local SEO

Look at the image here on the left.  It’s showing the paid advertising, but on many searches, such as “business type near me” (plumbers near me) you’ll get a map image with 3 business (called the 3 pack)  See below.  Local SEO or Local Google is all about popping up in the 3 pack.

whatislocalseo 300x251

What is a Citation for local SEO?

With all this, you might think it’s too hard to rank #1 for “City Name” Real Estate Agent or Chiropractor Near Me.  That’s not true with Google Local, aka Google My Business (or GMB).

The local SEO results for Google are a different type of search altogether.  Instead of links, google uses citations a format called NAP (Name, Address, and Phone).

Components Of A Good Local SEO Citation
  1. Name of Your Business
  2. Address – where you can actually receive the mail
  3. Phone Number – This number will be used in verification purposes and customer calls

So basically Google scours the web and finds all the grouping for the name, address, and phone number that match the Google My Business listing.  This makes the results MUCH, MUCH harder to cheat.   So, in theory, it opens it up to the small guy to come on top.

In addition, GMB (Google My Business) looks at your description and website to and starts to compare them all.    Most often it’s doing this at yellow page type sites, like Yelp, Yellowpages and if you’re an agent Zillow and others.  (The problem we had with that is that none of those sites are pro-agent. )  If you’re a plumber, for example, then look for plumbing directories as well as these listed.

[box type=”info”] PRO TIP: Joining your chamber can often be a great source for a backlink (good for regular SEO and a NAP citation for your local SEO).[/box]

So how do you get ranked in the top 3 (known in the SEO world as 3 pack).  Well, no one knows the exact science but citations play a big role.  When Google looks at our site (or any others) it’ll notice that standard format name, address, phone number.  If you registered your business with Google it’ll notice the name as one of its “keywords” to search for.

Other factors that help are of course reviews.  However, even gaming the reviews isn’t going to push you to the top.  Photos and LINKS to your Google+ page important as well. Basically, there are 40 or so ingredients and since no two businesses have the exact same “signals” or ingredients there’s no exact way to game the system.  Just know that the more you do the better.  Also, all of these things can be done by someone without having any technical know-how of search engine optimization.  Instead of enumerating those, let’s look at a case study.

Case Study: How To Rank in the Top 3 Of Atlanta Real Estate Agents

whatmatterstogooglemybusiness 300x241

For our discussion, we’ll look at how to rank Real Estate Agents locally on Google, but this discussion will be applicable to all businesses. At the time of this writing Real Estate Agents In Atlanta produced these 3 results.

  1. Atlanta Intown
  2. Nest
  3. Sotheby’s

After looking at the stats below you’ll see that none of them stood out in a particular area, it was a combination of many things and although there’s no clearly dominant stat you can still learn from this.

We looked at the following “signals” or ingredients for Local SEO Factors.

Local SEO Factors

  • Domain Authority (Moz) – This is MOZ’s proprietary rating described as a score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERP). Domain Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.
  • Page Authority (Moz) – Page Authority is the same as Domain Authority but this is for individual pages.
  • Social Shares – The number of Facebook likes, tweets, and shares.
  • Backlinks – The number of other pages and domains linking back to the site.
  • Keyword Density for “Atlanta” – The number of times the word “Atlanta” was used on the business’s homepage that they used on the local GMB.
  • Word Count – In a recent study, word count seemed to correlate with higher results.  So we looked at how many words were on the page.
  • Reviews – The number of reviews for the small business.
  • Photos on GMB – The number of photos uploaded to the business.
  • GMB Profile Review – The overall completeness of Google My Business Profile
  • NAP – The citation itself.
  • Citations – The number of citations present on the web.  We did this by making our own crawler and trying to pretend to be google.

Real Estate Company

  • Domain Authority (Moz)
  • Page Authority (Moz)
  • Social Shares
  • Backlinks
  • Keyword Density for “Atlanta”
  • Word Count
  • Reviews
  • Photos on GMB
  • GMB Profile Review
  • NAP
  • Citations


  • 40
  • 29
  • 30
  • 159
  • 3.63%
  • 441
  • 2
  • 5
  • Complete
  • Consistent
  • 27


  • 38
  • 28
  • Many
  • 103
  • 4.8%
  • 1020
  • 7
  • 8
  • Complete
  • Consistent
  • 32


  • 42
  • 43
  • 1,000+
  • 65
  • .99%
  • 1167
  • 2 Reviews
  • 8
  • Missing
  • Present
  • 27

When you look at these results you can see where there’s an area of improvement for all 3 of these brands.  Now it’s important to note while the metrics don’t show a clear winner that these businesses already have great website exposure.  Sotheby’s makes this list because they have some great metrics but a ton of citations, international citations, while the other two are solid in this area.  I also suspect that the domain authority is helping here.

Brand Awareness Effect on Local SEO
In our research it’s still to early to tell if brand recognition is a factor in Atlanta local SEO.  Here’s what we do know.  If someone is searching for a type of business and they recognize the brand and that causes them to click, and this is a trending behavior, then YES, brand awareness does help.  It’s not so correlative though, because basically the businesses with higher click through rates (this is the measure of how many people have seen the listing vs how many people have clicked it) are going to rank higher.  Click through rates (CTR) ARE a factor for Google.  As you can see with just these results that Nest was able to break into the 3 pack without being a major brand.

Let’s take a look at who didn’t make the top 3 and look at those at 4 and 5.  I’ll bold areas of improvement but hopefully, you’ll see yourself.

Remax Cityside is number 4.

  • Domain Authority (Moz) – 32
  • Page Authority (Moz) – 24
  • Social Shares –  Nothing really
  • Backlinks –  35
  • Keyword Density for “Atlanta” – 5.08% (too high)
  • Word Count – 295
  • Reviews – 0
  • Photos on GMB – 1 Google 2 Users
  • GMB Profile Review – Not complete.

So Remax Cityside could hire someone with some local SEO knowledge and very well could enter the top 3.

Metrobrokers comes in at number 5.  This is a huge surprise to me since everything about their policy is pro-broker and anti-agent.  The reason that I’m surprised is that it’s this strategy that often limits exposure on the internet.  However, like Sotheby’s and Remax I suspect one of those backlinks to be from the partner/franchise company to be lifting them up

  • Domain Authority (Moz) – 43
  • Page Authority (Moz) – 42 (as high as Sotheby’s our highest rating)
  • Social Shares –  1000+
  • Backlinks –  14
  • Keyword Density for “Atlanta” – 1.83%
  • Word Count – 1094
  • Reviews – 0
  • Photos on GMB – 2 user
  • GMB Profile Review – Not complete.

All this data is great but it doesn’t cover the “unseeables” such as how long a user stays on the website. The biggest take-home is that you can’t JUST have your business on Google you must also have a web presence.

How to Improve Local SEO ranking for Small Businesses

  1. Don’t just get a website, get a page that you can pour into, make it a good resource.  Notice how many words they all had on their “landing page.”  Your Broker’s website might not be good enough.   SEO is very important but don’t get caught up in that, create content from your heart.  You’ll do better with 12 pages of passion than 100 pages of City Homes For Sale pages with copied content.  Those days ARE GONE. YOU NEED GOOD CONTENTThe key is to make sure that your website that you use in your citations is relevant to what people are searching for.   Pro Tip: Search your email and look for questions that your customers have asked. Copy and paste those into a document to collate them, then post them to your website under a frequently asked questions page. For bonus points put in a table of contents so users (and google) can jump to the questions they want. This kind of content is UNIQUE and highly rewarded by Google. Just make sure when you’re done you make it easy to find on your website (LINK TO IT!) 
  2. Get yourself on Google My Business – fill out the information and be HONEST. (Do it now)
  3. local seo nap 214x300Get citations (NAPs) on other sites and make sure they are consistent.  Don’t put different phone numbers out there, even though it’s great for tracking it’s going to hurt you.  Almost any directory has SOME value if it provides you with a NAP.    Pro Tip: The key to good citations or local SEO naps is consistency. You must use the same Name, Address, Phone Number, and website every time.  Google associates this information together, if you don’t do it consistently you end wasting your time by building very low-quality references.  For example, if you get 10 citations but half of them have a different phone number, then you built 2 sets of 5 citations.  In this particular form of search engine optimization, you want the pile-on effect, you don’t want to “diversify.” A good directory might cost you something but a lot are not worth it.  How do you know?  We made a handy guide for you to make sure you’re on each directory.
  4. Link It All Together – You are a business owner, not a secret agent, there is no reason not to put yourself out there.  Share your google page and your website content, often and everywhere. Pro Tip: Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.  Share it on LinkedIn, Facebook, and wherever else you might spend time.  Email it to clients, ask for their advice and opinion.  YES, you can have better results by engaging in other platforms but if you are a solo-prenuer or a very small business with no outside consultant (like me) or inside marketing person, then just do these things, frankly, this will beat 80% of your competitors. 
  5. Get Reviews from Customers – Get their reviews.  Reviews clearly don’t have a huge impact on the ranking but it does help on the click-through rate and helps with shared content, photos, etc.  Not to mention as you’re asking them about this it’s a great opportunity to ask for a referral.   It doesn’t matter if you have the best local seo services from our agency if you aren’t getting any reviews or getting bad reviews.Here’s a sample email to get reviews going for your business.
    Can I ask you for a favor?
    Our business is built on referrals and I hate asking for a review on a website but that might be the only research a person does for their {business type}.
    Did we provide 5-star service? If yes, read on… if not, please call me at 770-555-1212!
    I want to know what we can do to fix that! Could you take the time and review us at one or more of these sites? List of Review Site

    • Google Page
    • Yelp… and so on

    Local Business Owner

  6. Post – That’s right, post!  Google My Business now offers posting options that work like an Instagram post.  You can put an image up and something about your business with a strong call to action.  Make sure you’re using this.  Events work outstanding here, but any post is better than none. Posting will give you more visibility while you do this.

Local SEO Checklist

  • Build Citations – The most obvious one is to add your site and “NAP” to real estate agent directories.
    • Manual Local SEO Citations – Get our download.  You can work through the list of available directories at your own pace.  We recommend doing a few a week until you notice you’re in the top 3.
    • Citation Builder  – In addition, there are services that will manage these for you for a price.  Often starting at $30 a month or $5 a citation.  If you want to pay a third part, BrightLocal is a good place to start.
  • Use Keywords That Your Customer Use – before you go off and google that here’s what you want to do.  Understand what you want to rank for, locally, usually city name business type, like Atlanta Real Estate Agent for example.  Then go to your page that you are linking to from your google my business page and check to see how often you are using this.  Don’t go overboard with this, just make sure you’re in the 1%  to 2% range for that keyword.  More about this.
  • Get Reviews – For our consulting clients that ask us to do Citations for them, we also build them a review badge that does 2 things:
    • It makes it easy for them to send to their customers to get reviews.
    • Creates a link to the citation page which in turn helps boost the citations.
  • Post!


Picture of Joshua Jarvis

Joshua Jarvis

Joshua has started and sold several businesses over 15 years. Recently he left a 15-year career in real estate as a business owner to pursue my dream of writing and helping business owners grow their own dream.

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