Your Complete Guide to Local SEO + 14 Best Local SEO Tools (Recommended by Our Senior Director of SEO)

By Janet Lee | September 20, 2021 | 30 min read Reviewed By Tyler Brown, Senior Director of SEO

*Updated on March 29, 2024

Table of Contents

While most brands understand the importance of optimizing for traditional organic SEO, many don’t know how they can (or even that they should) optimize for local SEO as well.

In addition to the facts about Local SEO, you need the most recent information about Google’s emphasis on business hours and the impact that can have. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you should know about local SEO and “openness.”

Learn how to amplify your local SEO strategy and all the best local SEO tools you need to know about.

Skip to There’s More to Local SEO than NAP and Citations: About “Openness”.

Skip to 14 Local SEO Tools & Services.

What Is Local SEO?

Are you a business that offers services and products in specific geographic locations? If so, then you need local SEO.

Local SEO is a powerful tool for businesses to promote their products and services to customers in the area. For example, let’s say you’re a plumber who serves the Atlanta, Georgia area. When an Atlantan types in “plumber near me,” with local SEO tactics, your business can show up in their search results.

Better yet, local SEO is all about putting your business in that featured map pack—ideally at the very top. With the right strategies, Google can place you in the local 3-pack, a block of business listings that appear below a map in Google results for a search with local intent.

shoe stores near me

The local 3-pack is prime real estate, but businesses don’t get placement there from standard SEO. The local 3-pack info comes from a business’ Google My Business profile, which is a critical part of local SEO marketing. We’ll dive more into this in a bit.

What Is the Difference Between SEO & Local SEO?

While SEO focuses more on ranking in searches from a wide area (the country or the world), local SEO prioritizes appearing in search results in a specific location.

The goal of local SEO is to help your business get found online by people who are searching for nearby products or services.

How Does Local SEO Work?

Geographical location takes center stage in local SEO, so location-oriented keywords and “near me” searches often drive local SEO strategies.

Local search results show up through Google Maps, and when Google determines that a search has local intent or purchase intent. This is true even if the query doesn’t expressly state it and if the query wasn’t entered in Google Maps.

Why Local SEO Is Important for SEO

If you aren’t convinced that local SEO is important for your business, we’ll let these statistics speak for themselves:

What Are the Benefits of Local SEO?

Here are some of the specific benefits local SEO can have on your business:

  • Helping your business stand out in local searches, which can drive more foot traffic
  • Helping potential customers, both local and non-locals in the area, discover your company
  • Giving potential customers valuable information about your business, products, or services
  • Providing an easy way for people to call your business or access your website directly from search results
  • Building brand familiarity

Who Can Benefit the Most from Local SEO?

Local SEO can provide advantages for any business, large or small. These businesses may include:

  • Retail stores
  • Restaurants
  • Hair salons
  • Medical offices
  • Health spas
  • Florists
  • Lawn and yard care
  • Cleaning services
  • Electricians
  • Repair services
  • Locksmiths
  • Mechanics
  • Tax preparers
  • And more

A Word About Local SEO for Multi-Location Businesses

Local SEO is a really big deal for every company with a physical address. It can be even more highly specialized for companies with multiple locations. So, we created this comprehensive guide specifically for multi-location businesses and franchises. If this pertains to you, make sure you check this one out as well!

What Factors Affect Your Local SEO Rankings?

There are three core elements to local SEO:

  • Proximity – How close your business is to the searcher
  • Relevance – How relevant your products/services are to the search query
  • Prominence – What other consumers say about your business, products, and services

Each of these elements contributes to specific local SEO ranking factors:

1. Google Business Profile (GBP) Signals

As of the end of 2018, GBP signals (including proximity, categories, keywords in business title, and more) are the largest single factor for local 3-pack placement. They are also among the top factors for localized organic search results.

2. Link Signals

Google looks at the presence of links in deciding which businesses should rank higher in search engine results. Indeed, links are the top factor for localized organic search. Link signals (inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.) are also the second most impactful factor for local 3-pack placement. Topically and locally relevant links work best.

3. Review Signals

Over the last few years, review signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) have been playing a larger role in SEO. This factor is especially helpful when reviews contain keywords.

4. On-Page Signals

On-page signals come from your website and include the presence of NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number), keywords in titles, domain authority, etc. In particular, the correct NAP info across all online profiles/sites is critical for local search results.

5. Citation Signals

A citation is an online reference to your business name, address, and phone number (NAP). Google looks at listings in:

  • Local directories
  • Industry-specific directories
  • InfoUSA
  • Local chambers of commerce
  • The BBB
  • Yelp
  • Internet Yellow Pages sites
  • And others

6. Behavioral Signals

Behavioral data is also used to inform local rankings. These signals include things like:

  • Location of the searcher
  • Branded search volume
  • Click-through rate
  • Mobile clicks to call
  • Check-ins
  • In-store visits

7. Social Signals

Local search rankings also consider how people engage with a brand’s content on social media, as reflected in comments, shares, likes, reviews, votes, links, and more. The idea is that the more engagement content has, the higher its quality, value, and relevance.

8. Other Ranking Factors

It’s important to note that Google uses hundreds of different ranking factors and is pretty tight-lipped about exactly what those are. Therefore, it’s challenging to boil down local SEO into a specific checklist.

Setting up your business for success in the local SEO world requires looking at other factors such as:

  • 3rd party reviews and testimonials
  • Attached Google map on your site
  • Schema
  • Photos
  • Clickable phone numbers
  • Local keywords

There’s More to Local SEO than NAP and Citations: About “Openness”

If you’re paying close attention, you’re probably getting the sense that there’s much more to local SEO than filling out your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP). But what is “openness” and how does it affect rankings?

If you’re worried that Google will ask you to come lay down, make yourself comfortable, and then hit you with a barrage of Freudian questions—Don’t Worry! This isn’t that kind of openness.

“Openness” is Google’s weird way of letting SEO experts know they suddenly care a lot more about when a company is open.

“In case you missed it, last month, Google confirmed that the November Core Update (which was quite volatile) focused on enhancing the ranking signal with “openness,” a local ranking algorithm for business hours. As Joy Hawkins states, “We’re seeing that businesses literally vanish in the local pack when they are not open.”

“So, what exactly does this algorithm impact? During business operational hours openness has become a stronger signal even for non-navigational queries, according to Google Search Liaison. Non-navigational being defined as a general topic rather than if we’re to search for a business name.

“One point to consider is the importance of keeping our clients’ business operating hours accurate…Google has acknowledged a recent issue where businesses attempt to manipulate their listed hours to appear as operating 24/7, aiming to exploit the system for a ranking boost. Google has announced that it will be implementing changes to address this problem.”—Blake Robertson, SEO Expert, Big Leap

Openness “is in reference to Google Business Profiles and their hours of operation…what they’ve established as the business being open or closed, and there’s quite a large factor right now [regarding when] a business is closed. Google is actually showing those listings much less often in search results. Which has resulted in clients…asking questions like ‘Why can’t I find myself?’

“It’s also resulted in us on the tracking side [wondering], ‘Why is this bouncing around so much?’

“If we check rankings in the middle of the night, when a business is closed, it’s entirely possible that they’re not showing. And then, if we were to check rankings at another time, it may show.”—Tyler Brown, Senior Director of SEO, Big Leap

How Can You Improve Your Local SEO Results?

Improving your local SEO results is a focused strategy, but if successful it can help you compete more effectively for customers. See how we helped SwimJim capitalize on local SEO, which resulted in rankings on page one of the search results as well as spots in Google’s local 3-packs.

There are several things businesses can do to start improving their local SEO results. Start with these 6 tips and best practices:

1. Claim Your Google Business Profile

If your business is locally owned and operated, you might wonder how to get better exposure in search results. Maybe you’re using quality keywords on your site or other SEO wizardry. But how can people find you locally in a global sea of competitors?

The answer is to create a Google Business Profile (you might remember when it was called Google My Business) and use Google Local Services. This brief guide will help you realize the importance of utilizing these tools so you can start connecting with new local leads.

GBP is the gateway to managing your online presence in Google’s local search results, and it’s completely free. If you haven’t already, claim or create your Business listing. A good starting point (after obtaining access to Google My Business) is filling out as much information as possible in the Info section. This includes:

  • Business Name
  • Category
  • Physical Address
  • Business Hours (Including Special Hours)
  • Phone Number
  • Website
  • Attributes

Google Business Profile also has a Photos section which is a remarkable opportunity to give potential customers a familiarity of your business through photos. There are several different types of photos a business can contribute to their business listing in Google:

  • 360 photos
  • Interior photos
  • Exterior photos
  • At work photos
  • Team photos

Businesses can even upload a 30 second video about their business! There are several great opportunities for a business to give customers a taste of what they could experience.

Much of the information entered into Google My Business is pushed into the Local Knowledge Panel, which can be accessed in the Google Search Results Page and is also populated in Google Maps.

People can use Google Local Search to find you by category, location, and other descriptors. They can even view your physical site on Google Maps.

Giving your profile the detailed attention it deserves can earn you a significant advantage over competitors who don’t want to be troubled by all that “high-tech” stuff.

The most important thing for you to keep in mind is to be thorough. Follow these pointers to get the most from your free profile listing:

  • Use actual, current photos of your location.
  • Make a video highlighting your products or demonstrating your company’s personality.
  • Be descriptive and accurate regarding services and products.
  • Take time to verify your location.
  • Use Google’s buttons for appointments, bookings, orders, etc.
  • If your company has multiple locations, create a profile for each site with unique text and pictures of each physical location.

Big leap marketing SERP

Bigleap SERP snippet

GBP—Why It Matters

On average, businesses that leverage GBP receive more than 1,000 search views of their listing each month (in 2019). So if you’re not already on the GBP bandwagon, don’t miss out—learn why it’s important and how it can improve your local SEO rankings.

GBP is essential to improving your business’s local rankings. Just take a look at these key facts:

How Does GBP Improve Your Local SEO Rankings?

A few areas need to be fleshed out to gain a comprehensive grasp of GMB’s impact on local SEO. Let’s dive into each.

How GBP Works

Let’s say you’re going to a birthday party and want to pick up some dessert. You open Google and type in “bakery near me.” After hitting Enter, you’ll see a map with three local listings (officially known as the Local 3-Pack) pinned onto the page. The details of these businesses are directly pulled from their GBP listings.

2. Gather Customer Reviews

Customer reviews are so powerful—not just for your SEO, but for your audience as well. Don’t neglect this part of local SEO. You can ask your customers for a good review in many different ways, so find out what works and start raking in those gold stars!

3. Use Local Keywords

Use any keyword tool to compile a list of high-volume keywords relevant to your location and sprinkle them in your My Business listing, website content, and current SEO strategy. Don’t forget popular local destinations or region-specific landmarks (i.e., restaurants near SLC airport).

4. Optimize Your Social Media Profiles

Even social media can have an effect on local SEO for small companies. Consistency is key in your SEO strategy, so make sure you fill out your social media profiles with the same information in your My Business listing. If your information doesn’t match up across the web, Google is less likely to recommend you in location-specific search results.

5. Use Location Pages

If your business has multiple locations, creating different pages—with unique content—for each location is vital. Then use these specific multi-location tactics to further augment local SEO.

6. Maximize Local Citations

Every time your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) is referenced online, that is called a local citation, and it also helps to boost your local SEO. Look for ways to increase mentions of your business across the internet. Then, ensure your NAP info is accurate and identical across the board.

14 Best Local SEO Tools & Services

We know there are dozens of SEO tools and services available to help you with local SEO. And we also know most business owners don’t have the time to comb through them all. So we’ve done the work for you.

Here are the top 14 local SEO tools Big Leap’s Senior Director of SEO recommends to help you create a data-driven local SEO strategy.

  • What It Does: Online presence management tool
  • Price: Free
  • Pros: Free tools directly from Google, applies across Google platforms
  • Cons: Limited data (keyword, custom fields, or tags), displays basic business info, so users might not click through to a website

What Experts Say:

GBP “is a must for local and online presence, as well as ranking in the local map pack. As the saying goes: “No [GBP], no local ranking” (at least on Google). [GBP] can also be used to showcase products, services and posts detailing events or other goings on of a company. As well, actively posting on [GBP] is a local ranking factor.” – Andrew Jacobson, 9thCo

  • What It Does: Service to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google search results
  • Price: Free
  • Pros: Free tools directly from Google, applies across Google platforms
  • Cons: None, these tools are necessary for everything SEO

What Experts Say:

“The Google Search Console (GSC) is a free tool that gives its users a lot of helpful information about their pages, search queries, errors, etc. A small snippet of javascript is all that is required for a lot of helpful information.” – Jef Romero, Octiv Digital

  • What It Does: JSON-LD Schema Generator
  • Price: Free
  • Pros: Can load into the tool directly
  • Cons: None, really—just make sure there are no mistakes in your coding 

What Experts Say:

“Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes it easy for almost anyone to implement markups. Without any knowledge of coding, you can simply highlight and tag your content according to their appropriate category within the tool. When you’re done, insert the generated snippets into your web page.” – Shawn Lim, Traffic Bees

  • What It Does: Integrated and Local Citation Platform
  • Price: Free trial, then $39, $49, or $59/month, pay-as-you-go citation builder from $2/citation
  • Pros: 14-day free trial, easy citation building, adaptable
  • Cons: Not as user-friendly as other tools

What Experts Say:

“I’m a big fan of Brightlocal for businesses with more than 3 locations. The reason for this is that it allows for bulk updates to local citations and the ability to manage profiles across multiple platforms within one interface. This is vital for pushing offers live, changing opening times for seasonal periods and updating tagging and categorization across a number of profiles.” – Nathan Thompson, Pavilion Broadway

“My favorite local SEO tool is BrightLocal’s Local SERP Checker! I love this tool because you can view Map and SERP results for queries from any location. One pro of this tool is that it allows you to go beyond page one of the search results. It is also an excellent way to see whether our clients are showing up in the local 3-pack since some tools don’t track the SERP feature.” – Katie Stone, Leadhub

  • What It Does: Automated listing management tool
  • Price: $14 – $33/month, + optional add ons
  • Pros: Free SEO tools and guides available in an extensive resource center, easy to set up
  • Cons: Updates can take a long time to appear online, expensive plans

What Experts Say:

“Moz Local is a great local SEO tool that does a great job of managing local profiles, listings and data for businesses with more than a handful of local listings. It also helps with review management and even social posting, both great features for any local business.” – Stacy Caprio, Accelerated Growth Marketing

“One of the most helpful local SEO tools is Moz. Like other local sites, Moz will send your business’s information to hundreds of other directories on the web. Moz is great because it does most of the work for you and when it can’t, it will inform you of the exact information that you still need to add. In my opinion, the best part about Moz is the ability to check your online presence. This tool gives you a comprehensive look at how your local efforts are working.” – Andrea Bailey, Tandem Interactive

  • What It Does: Listing management tool
  • Price: $129.95 – $499.95/month
  • Pros: Easy to use, good data visualization
  • Cons: Expensive plans

What Experts Say:

“SEMrush is a marketing software that allows you to conduct keyword research, track search rankings, SEO status and helps you analyze backlinks. If you want to know what position your pages are ranking and how well your pages are performing from an SEO standpoint, SEMrush is one of the best tools.” – Stuart Leung, VP of Marketing at Breazy

  • What It Does: Toolset for SEO analysis and backlinks [Location Rank Tracking] 
  • Price: $99 – $999/month
  • Pros: Free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account available, discount for annual billing, can view the ranking history of a website and its pages
  • Cons: No trial period, costs more than most tools

What Experts Say:

“Ahrefs provides an easy overview into any and every competitor site that we need to do research on, whilst at the same time, allow us to stay on top of every site that we are currently building through the dashboard feature. We have used Ahrefs for anything under the SEO sun really, be it from Outreach Campaign through guest posting to actual SEO optimization for our own internal sites.” – Chloe, Undercut Digital Marketing

“I love and use it every day. It keeps track of my websites’ rankings, my competitors’ rankings, backlinks, how much traffic I’m getting, how much my website is worth and more. One of the best uses for it is to spy on competitors and see what they have done in order to be successful. You can see each and every backlink they have and especially what pages of theirs are popular. It even allows you to analyze other websites to see what keywords they are ranking for that you are not. It basically tells you what to write about, what kind and how many backlinks you need, and how far away you are from that #1 spot!” – Dane Kolbaba, Watchdog Pest Control

  • What It Does: WordPress SEO plugin
  • Price: Free to $99/year
  • Pros: Free, comprehensive plugin
  • Cons: Slow site speed, premium version required for advanced SEO settings

What Experts Say:

“We like using Yoast for SEO. It doesn’t matter if it is local or national but if you know your local market it will help you by making sure you’re hitting all the proper on-site items like keyword usage, headlines & much more.” – John Walko, Standout Website

  • What It Does: Service that allows businesses to add their listings to Bing
  • Price: Free
  • Pros: Free local listing
  • Cons: Bing search results are not as visible as Google

What Experts Say:

“Bing Places is a much simpler version of [GBP], as you simply need to fill out the relevant form about your business, and your listing will be shown when using Mapquest or another Microsoft navigation service.” – Andrew Jacobson, 9thCo

  • What It Does: Rank tracking tool
  • Price:$99 – $490/month
  • Pros: Choose keywords and locations for accurate keyword tracking
  • Cons: Can be pricey

What Experts Say:

“Easy to use. I like that the ranking can be checked down to a city level and on different platforms, like Bing, Google, Google Map[s], and more.” – Sandra L., Integrated Marketing Analyst

  • What It Does: Local search ranking tracking tool (shows and tracks Google Maps rankings)
  • Price:$24.99 – 199.99 billed monthly or annually, with pay-as-you-go plans available
  • Pros: Specifically designed for maps, real-time analysis
  • Cons: No longer a flat rate subscription, unused credits expire at the end of each monthly or annual billing cycle

What Experts Say:

“Local Falcon has an intuitive UI and UX while providing excellent data on how your business ranks in various places in town or in region. Often, business is hyper-local, and these days, understanding how your business performs in those situations is invaluable. With competition as fierce as it can be, having all of the information available makes decision-making easier and more profitable.” – Ryan W., Marketing Communications Consultant

  • What It Does: Managed citation and local SEO services
  • Price:$20 – $1,349/month depending on services
  • Pros: Great for enterprise companies, offers international options
  • Cons: Expensive, small/medium-size businesses cannot use

What Experts Say:

“Of the several tools they have, I like the Citation Finder tool best :-)” – Andy K. 

  • What It Does: Rank tracker software
  • Price: Quote required
  • Pros: Dedicated local SEO platform
  • Cons: Only dedicated to local and lead gen, must get a quote for a price

What Experts Say:

“Spending long hours researching comments to develop the business is a thing of the past. With this incredible tool, we have been able to minimize efforts and achieve the proposed objectives. We have been able to validate the commercial reputation of our business in an easy and innovative way and thus be able to develop our recruitment strategies. 

“This platform provides automated search tools in such an agile way that the time invested in this task is now put at the service of our customers. We have been able to identify the ranking of our business in search engines and thus be able to analyze the references of our customers and competitors.” – Daniel P., Marketing Specialist

  • What It Does: Matches brands who need local SEO, and marketing/nonprofits with sponsorship opportunities
  • Price: Quote required
  • Pros: Unique offering for local SEO
  • Cons: No package pricing, quote required

What Experts Say:

“ZipSprout has been great! Since 2016, they have helped our non-profit bike advocacy group secure four new sponsors at no cost to us. The ZipSprout staff is helpful, friendly, and quick to respond. Give ZipSprout a shot. You won’t be disappointed!” – Dave Simmons

Local SEO in Action

If you need some inspiration for your local SEO strategy, we’ve got you covered. At Big Leap, we’ve seen firsthand the difference a targeted local SEO strategy can make, both for large companies with several locations across the country and smaller businesses with just a few locations.

Let’s take a look:


An auto care company came to Big Leap to help improve its online visibility. With more than 300 locations, each with its own dedicated website, local SEO techniques were applied for a pilot program in 10 locations. Those 10 locations experienced an incredible 230% increase in organic traffic year over year. Read more about how local SEO helped our client.

Cascade Collision Repair hired Big Leap as they opened a new location. We helped them achieve local search engine visibility and lead flow for their new location while strengthening their presence at established locations. As a result, they saw visible differences in search result performance and more business. Read more of Cascade’s story.

Visit the local SEO section of our blog for more local SEO tips.

Using Google Local Services

Supercharge your online presence with Google Local Services. These are Google’s ad services specifically fine-tuned to help local businesses.

Google designed its Local Services Ads to connect you with highly-targeted leads, and that includes making it easy for prospects to contact you directly via phone or direct message. You only pay for your ads when you get a call, a booking, or a message directly through your ad. You can get Google notifications via email or Google’s Local Services Ads app. Google will even encourage your customers to leave a review once they’ve experienced what you have to offer.

bakery near me SERP

This local search directory lies on top of the organic search results, making it the first section the user sees. The local pack receives about 32% of clicks on SERPs.

Google chooses these top three listings based on a combination of factors—relevance, distance, and prominence—to find the best match for a user’s search. As a business owner, you must do your part to ensure you secure a top spot in these local search results. So, let’s talk about how you can do that.

Google’s Standards for Local Rankings

According to Google, to maximize your visibility to local searchers, your business information on GBP should be “accurate, complete, and engaging.”

Specifically, Google looks at the three factors below to determine your local ranking. Use these to help make your business show up on local Google search results.

1. Relevance

How well does your profile match what a user is looking for? Be sure to provide accurate and detailed information to help Google understand your business. That way, it can match your profile to relevant local searches.

This includes ensuring your:

  • Business name is accurately listed on your GBP profile
  • Website is on your profile (consider listing a specific location page if your site carries unique pages)
  • Category and description are filled in
  • Photos and videos are taken by customers/users at the exact business location
  • Reviews are being promptly addressed

2. Distance

How far is the business from the location terms used in a user’s search? If a user does not specify a location (using “cupcakes near me” instead of “cupcakes in West Hollywood”), Google will use the user’s location to determine which businesses to choose.

Therefore, ensure your address and phone number are stated clearly on your GBP profile so you can remain visible to your target market. Be sure to update them when there are any changes in your service locations.

3. Prominence

How well-known is your business? Google retrieves this information based on two factors:

  • Your online prominence: Backlinks, review count, ratings, and organic/web rankings are just a few things Google looks at to determine your online authority. Consider using a local SEO audit tool to discover areas of improvement and ensure you’ve got everything in check.
  • Your offline prominence: Some businesses, like museums or landmarks, are more prominent offline. Google tries to reflect this offline authority by including them in the Local 3-Pack.

For more guidance on ensuring your profile is in good shape, check out our seven tips for setting up the perfect GBP account.

3 Benefits of GBP for Your Local SEO Rankings & More

Aside from making your business visible to your target audience, GBP offers distinct benefits. Here are three ways your GBP can bolster your local SEO while providing other advantages along the way.

1. Improves Your Site Rankings

With a solid GBP profile, users can easily access your site, giving your traffic a nice boost. Better yet, the more relevant photos you have, the more clicks you’ll get—businesses with more than 100 photos get over 1,000% more website clicks than other listings.

More organic traffic will help you achieve better SEO rankings. And as mentioned earlier, Google will factor these in to determine your local SEO ranking.

2. Helps You Interact with Your Customers

GBP is a great tool that allows you to talk to your customers. By promptly responding to your GBP posts, such as negative and positive reviews, you can enhance your customer service, thereby increasing your engagement rates.

According to Google, responding to reviews means you value your customers. This can improve your visibility and woo users to visit your location and/or site. More importantly, it can enhance your credibility and build trust.

3. Access to Analytics Data

Making data-driven decisions is key to success, and GBP allows you to do just that. It offers analytics data that informs you where your searches originated from. That can help you potentially target people in a different area and expand your reach.

GBP customer data can be critical to making the right business decisions—decisions that amplify your local rankings and give your business the longevity it deserves.

Talk to Big Leap’s Local SEO Experts

You can see a lot goes into local SEO, from taking advantage of your GBP to staying on top of changes to the Google algorithm, as seen with their emphasis on openness.

It helps to have a team of local SEO experts who can make sure your Google Business Profile is in good shape. Whether you need to set up your account or are looking for ways to optimize it, reach out to Big Leap. Our holistic set of marketing services can help elevate your online visibility and build trust with potential customers.

With over a decade of experience helping businesses with their local online presence, we can help you gain a competitive advantage on the web.

Get a Free 30-minute consultation

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