The 5 Things Most Small Businesses Get Wrong with Local SEO

June 2, 2016

Local SEO has quickly become a booming SEM strategy in recent years. As a case in point, “Near me” search interest has increased 34X since 2011, and it’s doubled in the last year alone.

Further, according to Google, local searches send 50% of mobile visitors to stores within a day.

If you want to capitalize on this demand and interest, the good news is that it’s not too difficult to learn the basics of local SEO and get started:

  • Create a Google My Business listing
  • Have a mobile-friendly website
  • Optimize your pages for local keywords
  • Create local blog content
  • Get your name, address, and phone number (NAP) consistent across platforms
  • Drive high-quality backlinks to your website
  • Get on social media and interact with customers

That said, there are still some parts that small businesses tend to get wrong. Are you getting into trouble with any of the five following mistakes?


1. Forgetting competitive analysis

Local SEO represents an awesome opportunity for small businesses to compete with corporations that have huge marketing budgets, as Google’s local pack appears as the top result in 93% of searches with local intent.

But just because you’re able to jump right over big businesses vying for position in the general organic results doesn’t mean that you won’t have competition.

Many small businesses make the mistake of targeting keywords that are the most relevant to their business – and forgetting to see how many other local businesses have optimized themselves for the exact same tactic.

Take the time to do competitive analysis, not only to see what works for others, but to look for opportunities to target less competitive keywords. Just like regular SEO, you need to consider intent, traffic, and competition first.

2. Choosing the wrong categories

Categorizing your business on your My Business Page makes it easier for Google to uncover important information – like what kind of brand you are – that’s needed to help you appear relevant in the search results.

So if you forget to categorize your business, or choose the wrong categories, it can have a big impact on your rank (or your ability to rank) when it comes to local SEO.

If your business offers many different types of products or services, focus on the categories you want to rank well for most.

Many small businesses try to choose every category they’re relevant to, but Google recommends using as few categories as possible to describe your business.

Take advantage of the possibility of ranking well for specific services instead. For example, Papa John’s doesn’t offer on-premise dining, so categories like “Pizza Delivery” or “Pizza Takeout” would be more relevant, compared to “Delivery Restaurant” or “Takeout Restaurant.”

3. Neglecting your reviews

Whether you’re vying for a local SEO position or not, online reviews matter. People will actively seek out reviews of your business on third-party platforms, and 88% of them trust those reviews as much as personal recommendations.

So if you don’t make efforts to garner positive reviews across the web, it’s bad for business. This is especially true with Google reviews.

Check out the local pack that shows up when I search for “orthodontist Portland Oregon”:


Or when I search for “Magic Smiles Portland Oregon,” see what comes up:


Basically, Google reviews appear right in search results for businesses optimized for local SEO.

If you have bad reviews here, people won’t click. And if they don’t click, that hurts your SEO as well, to the point where you might stop appearing at the top of the local results.

So while your efforts should be focused on gathering positive reviews across the web, pay extra attention to Google reviews. Try reaching out to happy customers and asking them to share their experiences.

4. Duplicating content

Businesses focusing on local SEO are more likely to end up with duplicate content than other sites, which can create some problems.

The first type of duplicate content to avoid is duplicate NAP listings around the web. Google will get confused about which one is correct, and it can cause your reviews to get split up onto two pages. Make an effort to always claim your listing where possible and remove any duplicates.

The second type of duplicate content to avoid is on your website. If you have several locations you’re trying to rank for, you might create similar pages for each, only changing the location information.

This is a problem, as recent algorithm updates are causing sites with lots of duplicate (or largely similar) content to appear lower in the search results.

And the more duplicate content you have, the worse it gets. Say you copied over some customer reviews from other websites as well, or didn’t write your own product descriptions. Google might decide that you have way too much duplicate content, and instead of penalizing you, could remove your site from the index entirely.

Here are some recommendations from Google to minimize your chances of getting penalized:

  • Either merge your different location pages into one and include all the information there, or create unique copy for each location page
  • Avoid repeating boilerplates or publishing stubs across your pages
  • Instead of copying content to your web page (such as a review), offer a brief summary then link back to the original page
  • In cases where duplicate content is completely necessary, use a noindex meta tag on one of the pages

5. Building links everywhere

One of the main strategies small businesses use to improve local SEO is making sure their NAP appears across the web in relevant places. This is also a great link-building opportunity with local directories.

Link building matters a lot for SEO in general, according to Moz:


But the big problem with this method is the quality of backlinks your business is getting. Algorithm changes have resulted in backlink rank correlations decreasing across the web, as Google is trying to weed out pages that have backlinks from low quality domains.

And a lot of these local directories and websites somehow associated with your community are probably considered “low quality.”

To avoid getting penalized for your link-building efforts, look out for obviously high quality domains to list your business. These could include local media outlets, professional associations, the Chamber of Commerce, local trade sites, and as many .gov and .edu sites as you can find.

Yes, capturing this high-value backlinks can be a challenge, but when it comes to your business’s rankings in the local search results, you’ll find that the effort will pay big dividends for your brand.

Know any other common local SEO mistakes small businesses make? Share your experiences by leaving me a comment below:

Images: Pixabay, Google Search, Google Search, Moz

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