A Comprehensive Guide to SEO for Local Businesses

Right now, customers are searching for your services or products in your local area, and they want answers – fast. They might click on the first result, they might browse the top three. Almost certainly, they’ve come to a decision by the time they reach the bottom of the first page.

If your website fails to appear on the front page of the search results, you are missing out on vital leads, revenue and business growth. But how does a local business appear at the top of Google? 

At Advance Online, we’ve implemented successful Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategies for hundreds of local businesses, getting them to the top of Google and driving high-value traffic to their websites.

In this guide, we share our experience and expertise by providing SEO advice tailored to local businesses, so you can take full advantage of your online customer base.

What is SEO?

what is SEO

You’ve heard the term from colleagues, competitors and the occasional YouTube advert – but what actually is SEO? 

Simply put, SEO is the process of improving a website so it appears higher in search engine results for specific search terms, also known as ‘keywords’. Such improvements can include, but are not limited to:

  • Improving the content of a website so it better targets the selected keywords
  • Making technical changes so Google can read the website more easily
  • Encouraging other websites to link to your own website to improve its perceived authority

By implementing SEO and appearing higher up in the search results, websites aim to capture more traffic. It’s an essential strategy for generating online leads.

How Does SEO Differ for Local Businesses?

As it stands, there are nearly 2 billion websites on the world wide web. But don’t worry, your local business doesn’t need to compete with all of them. When it comes to searches for localised services or products, search engines direct users towards local results (more on that later).

This doesn’t mean appearing in local search results is easy. With the first three results receiving over 68% of the traffic, even a relatively modest catchment area can quickly become crowded.

google share of clicks by position

Think about how many plumbers you could call in your local town; it’s probably quite a few. And that’s not to forget national chains and comparison websites, such as CheckaTrade, who consume vital oxygen in the search results.

If a local business wants to attract local online leads, it needs to take SEO seriously. More specifically, it must put time and effort into its local SEO.

What’s the Difference Between SEO and Local SEO?

SEO, or ‘global SEO’ as it’s sometimes called, optimises websites for search terms that do not have a specific geography. Examples of this are ‘online banking’ or ‘lasagne recipe’. 

Local SEO optimises websites for search terms directed at a specific geography or area. Search engines determine whether or not the search intent is local in three ways:

  • If the search term contains the name of a specific area 
  • If the search term contains local trigger words (e.g. ‘near me’)
  • If the service or product is best served by local tradesmen and vendors (such as ‘funeral director’ or ‘chip shop’, rather than ‘washing machine instructions’ or ‘pdf download’)

Because geography adds an extra dimension to the keyword, search engines use additional criteria to rank the search results. These additional criteria include the presence of locally relevant content and the proximity of the business to the search area or the searcher.

As a result, Local SEO involves additional strategies to target these local criteria, such as the creation of local content, an added focus on Google Business and the use of local directories and link building practices.

What are the Benefits of SEO for a Local Business?

With over 46% of Google searches directed locally, it’s clear SEO can generate new leads and revenue for any local business.

We’ve witnessed it first hand, having achieved excellent results for our clients. Such improvements represent thousands of pounds in extra revenue, fuelling profits and business growth.

46% - the number of Google searches directed locally

But as much as traffic is the main benefit of successful SEO, it’s not the only one. Over the years, our customers have reported the following:

  • Increased trustworthiness – Appearing at the top of the search results is a stamp of approval: if Google shows trust in you then customers will too
  • Improved brand awareness – Your services are top of the town (and the search results)
  • It’s data driven and easily tracked – With the right tools, the benefits of SEO can be easily calculated
  • It can scale with your business – As SEO grows your business, you can grow your SEO

For more SEO benefits, take a look at some of our case studies.

The Technical Stuff: How do Search Engines Determine Rankings?

Search engines earn their keep by displaying the best and most relevant results to their users. With so many websites to choose from, picking out the best ones is technically incredibly complex, but it can be boiled down to the following basic steps:

  • Automated bots periodically ‘crawl’ websites, harvesting their information
  • The search engine arranges this information into an ‘index’
  • When a user enters a search term, the search engine consults its index using algorithms, which match websites to the search term and determines the order to display them

In the main, SEO is centred around making it easy for search engines to harvest the website’s data and meeting the criteria the algorithms use to compare the webpages in the index. 

Search engines algorithms all use different (though often very similar) criteria. For example, Google uses what it calls “EEAT” criteria, which stands for Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.


In short, the better a web page meets the criteria in comparison to its competitors, the higher Google will place it in the search results. 

What do Google’s EEAT Criteria Mean for Local Businesses?

The EEAT criteria form the basis of Google’s ranking procedures. The technical explanations for each can be long, complicated and occasionally a little cryptic, so below, we’ve interpreted what EEAT criteria mean for a local business.


Just as a customer might ask for your credentials before soliciting your services, Google does the same when determining the order in which it displays the search results. If a local company can display its ‘expertise’ on its website (for example its qualifications or membership to associations) then it increases its chances of appearing on the front page.


Similar to expertise, Google assesses the company’s real-life experience in the relevant field. Companies that recount their actual experiences on a topic improve their chances of ranking higher – this can be in the form of case studies or unique images. If your content is generic or even AI-generated, then Google will probably take a pass.


Google measures authoritativeness in two ways: 

  • How much authority your company can offer on the topic, or ‘topical authority’ – this is typically measured by the breadth, depth and accuracy of the content available on your website
  • How much authority other websites attribute to you through citing your business or linking to your content

Increasing a site’s authoritativeness is one of the most powerful tools for ongoing SEO.


Before recommending a page to its users, Google wants to be certain there is a real and trustworthy business behind the digital front. By including information such as accurate contact details and customer service protocols, businesses can prove to Google that the site, and the company, are trustworthy enough for its users.

What Impacts SEO for a Local Business?

Google’s EEAT criteria are useful for understanding the general principles behind SEO, but what, in practice, affects the SEO of a local business’s website? 

We’ve detailed some of the basic factors that impact SEO below, split into three categories: on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO.

what is seo for local businesses

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is mostly about how well your content targets the keywords. For a local business, that means whether the content is relevant to both the service and the target area.

An on-page SEO checklist might include:

  • whether the titles, meta descriptions, headings and subheadings contain the keywords, including the target areas
  • the amount, quality, relevance and usefulness of the content
  • the presence of additional media, such as unique pictures and videos
  • the presence of contact information that shows the business is situated in or near the target area
  • whether the website has a comprehensive internal linking structure

Of course, there’s more to on-page SEO than just these bullet points. If you want to know more, take a look at our SEO checklist.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to SEO activities executed external to a website to improve a website’s ranking. 

One of the most important ranking factors in SEO is the amount, quality and relevance of websites that link to yours. The more links from high-quality websites you have, the more Google will favour you in the search results. 

Google determines the ‘quality’ of a linking website through assessing its SEO, much in the way it does your own website. In general, newspapers, universities and large companies will be seen as high-quality or ‘authoritative’, whereas unmanaged blogs and spam websites will be seen as low-quality or ‘lacking authority’.

seo for local businesses directories, blogs and media website backlinks

While it’s not possible for every local business to get a backlink from The Economist or The Evening Standard, there are various types of accessible backlinks that local businesses can make use of to enhance their off-page SEO. These include directories, local or trade publications, and the links generated by sponsoring local organisations and events.

Off-page SEO also incorporates directory maintenance, which means ensuring the information about the business shared across the internet is correct and consistent. 

A final factor important to off-page local SEO: Google Business. Not only does a well-optimised Google Business profile often appear near the top of the search results, it is also used as a local ranking factor for your website too. 

Ranking will be easier for areas near to the address on your Google Business profile, even if you choose not to display your address publicly. 

Technical SEO

How technical can SEO get? Well, how long is a piece of string…? However, technical SEO isn’t something to be feared. 

Technical SEO is all about making it easy for Google to access, crawl, read and understand the content on a website. At a basic level, a website with good technical SEO will:

  • load quickly
  • have an updated html sitemap submitted to Google Search Console
  • have an updated robots.txt.
  • be compatible with mobile devices 
  • include schema

If that sounds a little bewildering, don’t worry, you can always seek guidance from technical SEO specialists.

For more advice on on-page, off-page and technical SEO, see our blog post, SEO Tips for Local Businesses

Why do I Rank Low on Google?

why do i rank low on google

You might be reading this article because you’re disappointed with your current rankings. Finding yourself at the bottom of the pile is no fun. It’s bad for business too. 

There are two main factors that cause you to rank low on Google: the effectiveness of the SEO on your website and the effectiveness of the SEO on your competitors’ websites.

A quick audit of your own website, in line with the factors outlined in the previous section, will help you understand whether your SEO is up to scratch. Perhaps the on-page SEO needs tweaking, you need to build more citations, or there’s a clear technical issue.

If your own SEO seems fine, then it’s time to look at the SEO of your search competitors – those that appear at the top of the search results for your chosen keywords. 

How to Perform a Competitor SEO Audit

Performing an SEO competitor audit is similar to performing an audit  on your own website. Take the same steps and ask the following questions:

  • How many backlinks do they have, and what is the overall quality of their backlinks? (use a tool such as AHRefs free backlink checker)
  • Aside from service pages, what additional content have they included on their website? Do they have a blog, case studies, a gallery?
  • How strong is their off-site presence? Do they have many positive reviews on Google Business or other review sites?

bbc backlink profile

By assessing the strength of your competitors’ SEO and comparing it to your own, you can learn why Google has placed them higher and what you need to do to catch up.

An additional but very important point – having completed your audits, it might dawn on you that your competitors’ SEO is streets ahead of yours. 

Maybe they’ve got hundreds of backlinks, including one actually being from The Economist. Or maybe they’ve maintained a popular weekly blog for the past five years. Catching up will take a huge amount of time, effort and expense. 

If this is the case, you’ve probably been too ambitious with your keywords for your budget. The area you’re targeting is too large or the service is too broad, or both. 

You may need to reassess your strategy. Longtail, low volume and hyper local keywords could be the way to go

Where to Start with SEO for a Local Business

So you’ve decided to tackle your SEO. You’ve read guides and watched videos, and apparently, everything has to happen all at once, and it had to happen yesterday. 

What should you prioritise? Refining your keywords? Building the website? Should on-page or off-page optimisation come first?

Before you rush headlong into an SEO mire, there’s one thing you need to consider, and that’s how you want to implement your SEO.

options for seo for local businesses

There are several options available to you. You can try and do it yourself. You can employ someone to do it in-house. You can hire a freelancer. Or you can engage an SEO or digital marketing agency.

As a full service digital marketing agency, we believe in the value we bring to our clients, and we can tailor our SEO for local businesses on a budget. Equally, we understand everyone charts their own path. 

Maybe you don’t mind spending your free time learning the ropes and want to start out on your own, or perhaps you want to lean on the professionals from the outset, just as your customers lean on your expertise.

Whatever path you choose, the next thing you’ll have to consider is your SEO strategy. 

SEO Strategies for Local Businesses

Determining an SEO strategy can be a daunting affair. After all, it determines the success or failure of your SEO. 

At Advance Online, we’ve implemented SEO strategies for hundreds of local businesses, from plumbers to roofers, locksmiths to scrap metal merchants. We know what works and what doesn’t. 

Below are our four most important SEO strategies for a local business.

1. Thorough Keyword Research

Choosing the wrong keywords is a shortcut to failure. Either you’ll make it to the front page but find the search volume is too small to generate enough leads, or you’ll struggle to make it to the top of the rankings because the competition is too fierce. Both outcomes are equally undesirable.

Keyword selection is a careful balance of keyword search volume and keyword difficulty. Fortunately, there are some great tools, such as ahRefs and Google Keyword Planner, designed to help you understand the data underlying the keywords.

We’ve written a whole lot more about SEO Keywords for Local Businesses so make sure you check out our Help & Advice page.

2. An Effective SEO Setup

SEO is only as good as the foundations it’s built upon. You have to get it right in the first place.

Listed below are some of the most essential factors to consider when optimising your current website or setting up a new one:

  • Separate pages to target each main service/product keyword or keyword cluster (e.g. plumber and plumbers)
  • Keywords, including the target areas, contained within title tags and meta descriptions
  • Titles and meta descriptions of an appropriate length
  • Keywords, including the target areas, contained within the headings and subheadings.
  • Enough high-quality copy on each page
  • Unique, optimised images
  • Internal linking
  • Added to monitoring tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics
  • Site speed and mobile compatibility

This list is far from exhaustive. We offer more advice on SEO setup in our article ‘Your Step-by-Step SEO Checklist’.

3. Consistent, High-quality Citation and Backlink Building

A citation is the mention of your business details, such as name and address, on another website. A backlink is when another website links to yours. Often, they go hand in hand. Both are a great way to improve the authority of your website and promote it up the rankings.

For a local business, there are several kinds of citations and backlinks that are useful and (relatively) easy to obtain:

directory backlinking

It’s also worth reviewing the kinds of citations and backlinks your search competitors currently have and making a few additions and improvements based on what you find.

4. Google Business Optimisation

Google Business is of increasing importance to your online presence. Not only does it appear in search results and attract clicks, it is a ranking factor for your website.

Maintaining and optimising your Google Business profile is therefore essential to your SEO. 

That means writing high-quality business and service descriptions containing the relevant keywords, uploading photos and posts on a regular basis, and, most importantly, getting as many good reviews as possible.

Optimised Google Business Profile

SEO for Local Businesses: Best Practices

SEO is a fickle beast and not everything you do will help your rankings. In fact, bad SEO can do more harm than good. 

To make the most of your efforts and avoid unnecessary trouble, you should adhere to the following best practices:

Don’t Bite Off More than You Can Chew

As already mentioned, overambitious keywords are a direct path to disappointing organic traffic. It’s better, and easier, to start narrow and expand your SEO. 

Good SEO funds itself. If all goes well, it might not be long before you can target those keywords that once seemed out of reach.

Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

Reaching the top is difficult. Staying there can be just as hard.

At any moment, a competitor can knock you down the rankings by going that little bit further with their SEO. It might not take much: a couple of new backlinks or a popular blog post can all make a difference.

You need to monitor your rankings, and if you find yourself under ‘SEO attack’, take action quickly. That might mean building more backlinks or starting your own blog, and going that little bit further again…

google update severing backlinks

Another reason to keep monitoring your SEO is Google Core Updates. Periodically, Google makes improvements to its algorithm in order to, for example, weed out spammy backlinks or reward good content. Such updates can alter your rankings, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It pays to keep tabs. 

If It Feels Too Good to be True, It Probably Is

You don’t have to operate a website for long before someone slides into your inbox offering a trunk load of ‘high-quality’ backlinks on the cheap or improbably quick improvements in your rankings.

If an individual or organisation is offering suspiciously quick results for a low price, then chances are they are engaged in some nefarious SEO practices or being dishonest regarding outcomes. 

It won’t be long before such tactics are counteracted by a Google core update or incur a Google penalty, from which it will be difficult to recover.

SEO takes time; it takes hard work. There aren’t any shortcuts.

Don’t be Afraid to Invest

SEO investment cycle Whether that means paying an extra employee, a freelancer or an agency, it’s up to you. We understand it can be daunting investing in something that seems, compared to fliers and billboards, a little more intangible. But good SEO always has a positive return on investment, and those returns can used to fund more SEO.

So make sure in this or next year’s budget, you set aside enough funds to properly invest in your SEO.

Additional Digital Strategies to Complement Your Local SEO

strategies to complement seo

In addition to SEO, there are a number of other digital marketing strategies at your disposal. Not only do they have their own merits, they can be used to bolster your SEO and vice versa.

Such strategies include:

  • Content marketing: Use blog posts, video and other media to target additional, local and non-localised keywords and attract traffic to your website. One of the main advantages of content marketing is that is builds your topical authority, which is great for SEO
  • Pay-per-click (PPC): Companies can bid to have their websites appear at the top of the search results in the ‘ad’ section. Pay-per-click also includes display advertising, which are the adverts that appear at the edges and breaks of webpages 
  • Social media: A strong social media presence is a great way to advertise your business and interact with customers. It can also be used to share content campaigns and drive traffic to your website

Whatever additional strategies you choose, it’s important they align. For instance, a PPC campaign or content marketing strategy should target similar, variant or related keywords of your SEO strategy.

SEO for Local Businesses: Final Thoughts

We hope our guide has helped you to understand the basics of SEO for local businesses. 

As a digital marketing agency based in Surrey, we are passionate about sharing our knowledge and experience with local businesses near and far. To that end, we have written a range of digital marketing blog posts with more SEO advice tailored to smaller enterprises. Make sure to check them out. 

If you still have any questions or would like to comment on this post, please get in touch via our contact page. We would love to hear from you. 

More Articles

Join Our Mailing List

Get notified of the latest blog posts