How to Win at Local Search in a Small Market

I know some agencies don’t work with smaller, local clients because quite honestly the scale of these projects can make them difficult to work on. The number of link targets may seem small and there are often limitations in terms of what you can do with the website itself or the content. However, despite the difficulties, it usually just takes a bit of elbow grease to win these local SEO battles in a small market, particularly if your competitors aren’t well-versed in the ways of SEO. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can do most, or all of these things on your own and start winning your local search results rather quickly.

Make Google My Business A Big Priority

Not only do you need to make sure your business is on Google My Business to show up in local map listings and to share correct information about your hours in search results, but you’ll want to make sure you’re grooming your listing to be a winner. How do you do that?

  • Find duplicate listings on maps and get them removed or consolidate them into one listing (contact a Google My Business specialist if necessary).
  • Fill out your information as completely as possible – this means adding high-quality photos, an accurate description, including the proper business categories, your hours of operation, holiday hours, your website etc.
  • Use the posts feature to share specials or unique information – when someone searches for you by name these posts can help draw new or returning customers back in.
  • Get reviews! You know you look at reviews when you’re looking for products or services, so do your potential local customers (and so does Google!). Getting a steady stream of reviews lets Google know people are using your business and provides social proof to users that your business delivers the goods!

Get Your On-Site SEO In Order

The basics of SEO are still important at a local level, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve dotted your Is and crossed your Ts here. Check out some of the basics on how to make your site SEO friendly. Make sure your site has proper structured data setup for your local business type. You can test your site using Google’s structured data testing tool here. This can get a little advanced, so you may want to talk to an SEO or web developer about implementing this code, but if you’re pretty technically savvy and comfortable with making changes to your site, check out our schema guide.

Get Your Citations Right – Pay if Necessary

What are citations? Citations are listings of your business’s name, address, phone number (and oftentimes web address). Why is this important? When Google displays local results on a map, they want proof that the information they’re giving is correct. The more corroborating info Google sees as it crawls the web helps build the case that your information is, indeed, correct. This is even more important if your business has changed location or phone numbers multiple times, as that information can find its way to all kinds of nooks and crannies of the web. If you want to tackle this yourself, you can simply do searches for your old address and phone number and try to find and correct listings with the wrong data. Otherwise, there are a number of paid services that do a good job of finding the major data aggregators on the web and making sure your data is right in the most important citation sites. Here’s a couple of links if you want to go that route:

Get Real, Local Links

Getting links is hard. As an SEO I can say that, so I know how damn difficult it is when you’re just a regular person who doesn’t do it as part of their 9 to 5. In small, local markets sometimes just a handful of good links can be the difference between owning your local market and being in the middle of the pack. So it’s a worthwhile endeavor to roll up your sleeves and do a little dirty work to land some local links. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Strike up a deal with people you know! If you’re a local landscaper and you regularly work with construction companies in your area, ask them if you can get a link on the resources or links page on their website. If they don’t have a resource or links page, see if they have a testimonials page and offer to leave them a testimonial that gives a link back to your site. If that’s not an option, see if they have a blog and offer to write up a guest post that makes sense on their site (“How the right landscaping can increase your home’s value” or something like that would work). Ultimately, figure out a way that you can help them out in return for a link. If you’ve built good relationships with other local businesses and business owners it shouldn’t be too hard to get a few of them to point some good links in your direction.
  • Get in the news. In small markets, this can be surprisingly easy as local news is usually thirsty for any kind of story. Something as simple as organizing a food drive or doing a Halloween Candy Buyback can land you in the news and get you valuable local links that your competitors haven’t taken the time or made the effort to get. Make sure you’ve got a plan to contact your local media outlets – and the right people to talk to, and give them plenty of notice before your event so it ends up on their calendars.


Just because you’re a small local business doesn’t mean you can’t be an authoritative source of content. If you know your industry inside and out, your blog content can help build your exposure outside your region, passively build links, and help you dominate your local competitors. So, let’s talk dental SEO. If you’re a local dentist and you do “dental deep cleanings” and you realize many of your patients don’t know much about it – do a Google search and see who’s answering the question. If you can answer it as well or better than them, write a blog about it. Over time if you create truly helpful, detailed content, you can rank both locally and nationally for these topics and Google will see you as an authoritative content source. As you might imagine, that will only help your ability to rank locally. As an added bonus, if you answer questions about a product or service that you offer, make sure you link that blog post back to your product or service page – Google will see the connection between the pages and your high performing blog post will pass some “link juice” to your service page to help it rank higher as well.

Yes, the local search game can be a little rough and tumble, but you can win if you’re just willing to put in a bit more time and effort than your local competitors. Following the steps outlined above will certainly improve your chances of dominating your market in the near and long-term.

Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage Marketing. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and Moz.

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