Local SEO is rarely in the middle of the road. Either your business maintains a monopoly and is largely uncontested, or there is incredibly fierce competition from all sites. In either case, the end goal is to be ranked first amongst similar businesses in your location. So why, you ask, is your site not ranking?
There are a number of factors, positive and negative, that may be keeping your site from the rankings. Here are some of the most likely offenders.
Your Niche is Dominated by Directories
This is one of the most common offenders after the recent Google Pigeon update. When someone searches for your niche, what they find is a series of business directories, such as the Yellow Pages, Yelp or Urban Spoon. These directories may or may not have your website listed. Typically, if you’re otherwise ranking perfectly, you’ll be four or five down on the list with these directories taking center stage. However, if your geographic location has local directories – such as local review sites and newspapers – those directories will also likely outrank you.
Unfortunately, short of becoming one of the big dogs yourself, there’s no real way to beat those directories at the organic search game. Instead, you have to focus on the local carousel, the local packs, and links from within those directories themselves. Claim and use your profiles on any directory that allows it and try to get your link in local directories whenever possible.
Your Competition is Too Strong
This one is a good old-fashioned battle for SEO dominance. If you’re in a highly competitive niche, you may be facing stiff competition. Are your competitors pulling in more traffic, better links and better content than you are? If so, you’re going to need to step up your SEO strategy. Avoid the pitfalls of sites that promise fast growth and immediate results; black hat may get you ahead for a few weeks, but you’ll suffer for it in the long run. Instead, run a site audit, disavow negative links, buff up your content, add more content, work on your local keywords and establish a presence on the local directories.
Your Business Address is Incorrect
Google determines your local ranking based on your proximity to the area in question. If you’re too far away from that location, you’re going to have a hard time ranking. This is worse after Google Pigeon, which tightened the radius of the circle Google uses to calculate locality.
More importantly, your listed address on your website needs to be consistent. It needs to match the location you’re trying to rank for, and it needs to match your address on other pages, like Yelp and Google+. If your address points to a corporate headquarters or a city you’re not actually in, you’re not going to rank locally.
Your Business Category is Incorrect
When you push information about your business into Google’s system, you’ll be asked to assign a business category for yourself. This is a critical decision. If you sell software, but you tell Google you’re in food service, Google is going to note that discrepancy and punish you for it. Either you’re not paying attention, in which case you shouldn’t be placed first, or you’re deliberately trying to pull one over on Google. Neither is a very good idea.
You Have No Google+ Page
Google+ is essential for three reasons. First, it’s a social media platform you can use just like you would use Facebook or a blog, or both. Second, it’s what allows your business to show up in the local pack results, those indented results laced with the organic search. Third, it’s how you show up in the carousel, that black stripe across the top of the results page. These latter two are the most important places to rank post-Pigeon, with directories taking up most of the organic slots. Google+ is critical to appear on those locations. Your reviews – covered later – are how you rank higher on those locations.
You’re Not Listing Local Keywords
This question is along the same lines as tech support asking you if your modem is plugged in. For some, it’s a dumb question that just has to be passed over. For others, it’s the face-palm moment of realization. If you’re not using local keywords and you don’t have a local address listed, how is Google going to determine your location? Anyone anywhere in the world could run a business named Orange County Books; that doesn’t mean it’s located in OC. Google needs more concrete information to go on. If you aren’t providing that information, you won’t rank.
You’re Suffering a Search Penalty
If you’ve gone through all of the previous tips and there’s nothing you can think of that you aren’t doing properly, maybe you have something else holding you back. If you ever bought traffic or links from Fiverr or a similar site, you may want to check for signs of black hat techniques being used. The same goes for hiring a low-cost SEO firm or outsourcing your SEO to a developing nation. If your site is suffering from a penalty, all the keyword optimization, linking and content creation in the world won’t save you.
You’re Using Local Optimized Gateway Pages
Panda 4.1 hit these pretty hard. If you run a site supporting a business with multiple locations, it may be tempting to set up a few small pages, each with nearly identical content, all optimized for the local keywords of each location of your business. This will lead to a penalty. Typically, these gateway pages offer little content, thin content or duplicate content. Otherwise, they tend to be over-optimized for those local keywords. You want to avoid these instances. Instead, use your unified homepage and use a sub-page for branches and branch-specific information.
Your Phone Number Isn’t Local
There was a time where the 800 number was all the rage. It looked professional, it was surprisingly easy to get and it gave your business an air of legitimacy. These days, however, the 800 number is just an impersonal global number with no signs pointing to a locality. It will benefit you far more to set up a local number using a local area code.
Your User Ratings are Low
When Google looks at your Google+ page and determines your place in the carousel and the local packs, it’s looking for two things; your proximity to the searcher and your overall rating. If you’re too far away, you won’t show up. If you’re close, you may show up, unless your rating is low. If you’re holding on to a 1-3 star rating, you’re going to have a hard time ranking at all. Work to boost your user ratings as much as possible.
There are a ton of other factors you may consider, ranging from your domain authority to your use of structured data and photo tagging. You can view a more complete list if none of the above points seem to apply to you.