the basics of local SEO

Understanding the Basics of Local SEO

Published on July 1, 2021. Updated on September 18, 2023.

It doesn't matter how great your website is if no one can find it. But with nearly 2 billion websites on the internet, it’s always been a challenge for small businesses to stand out online. There is competition everywhere, from other local mom-and-pop shops in your area to big box stores to online-only retailers. On top of that, tens of thousands of new websites are launched every single day, adding to this ever-growing list.

Oftentimes it can feel impossible for a small, local business to compete online. You can market and promote your site all you like, but in order to have long-term success, you need it to be found in search engines. Thanks to changes in search algorithms, small businesses now have a better chance of coming up in local search results by implementing some basic SEO techniques.

So What is Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher in relevant results on major search engines. In other words, it’s things you can do to help your website show up when customers search for your business or the products or services you offer, in the area you serve.

It's important to remember that search engine optimization is not a button you press or a one-time thing. It's an ongoing process and requires constant evaluation. SEO encompasses a wide range of tactics and best practices that start with creating a user-friendly and mobile optimized website, writing search-friendly content, and including the proper meta tags for each page of your website. But SEO also extends beyond your website and includes everything and anything you do to establish a strong online presence for your brand. In this article, we will focus primarily on the basic “on-site” elements of local SEO. 

How Do Search Engines Work?

In order to properly optimize a website for search, it’s important to understand how search engines actually work. Think of the internet as a giant library of content from millions of different web pages and sources. Search engines like Google are like librarians, and use robots called "spiders" that crawl web pages all across the internet to determine what content they contain and organize it. Once they’ve gathered enough information, they add these pages to their index and rank them in terms of quality, popularity and relevance. When a customer performs a search, Google then uses their proprietary algorithms to find the best match in their index of web pages, to instantly display a long list of results.

It’s important to note that Google does not release specifics about their algorithm and therefore it is impossible to know for sure exactly how each and every SEO strategy is taken into consideration. But over the last 15 years, studies have been done to determine what some of the best practices are for local SEO, which helps support many of these suggestions. That’s why it’s important to always follow best practices and implement various techniques to help improve a site’s search engine performance.

The Three Main Pillars of Local Search

There are three main aspects of local search that determine how major search engines rank websites. These factors are:

1. Relevance: Do you offer or sell what the customer is searching for?

2. Prominence: Are you a reputable business and do you stand out from other similar businesses in your area?

3. Proximity: Is your business physically located close to the searcher’s location?

For example, when someone searches for “best pizza place in Providence RI” or even “pizzeria near me,” Google references the customer’s exact location and its index of web pages to find the best match. Using the three factors mentioned above, Google will try to determine:

1. Relevance: Are you a pizzeria?

2. Prominence: Are you a notable pizzeria? (How long have you been in business, how popular is your website, do you have a lot of positive reviews?)

3. Proximity: Is your pizzeria located near the searcher? (This is why it’s so important to display your address on your website)

How to Improve Your Local Search Results

Taking these three pillars or factors into consideration, there are several things a business can do to improve their local search results. These include:

Write Search-Friendly Content

Since search engines like Google are looking for websites or businesses that are most relevant to a particular search, it’s important to make it super clear what your business does and what you offer. Too often, business owners make the mistake of writing very vague or generic content on their website and this can negatively impact their search results. If you’re a pizzeria, make it clear you are a pizzeria on your website. Don’t just use the term “restaurant” but include specific terms like “pizza restaurant” or “pizzeria.” It’s even better to include your location within these terms like “pizzeria in Providence.'' You can include these keywords and other relevant content throughout your site by talking about when your pizzeria opened, the different pizza options you offer, photos of your pizzeria and by including your menu on your site.

If you’re a business that offers multiple services or a wide range of products, focus on your most popular services and create unique pages on your site that are specific to each one. For example, if you are a contractor that specializes in kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, basement remodels and window replacement, create a unique page on your site for each of these services. Each page should be dedicated to that one service so you can go into detail and provide enough content for search engines to index it as relevant content. Describe each service, talk about the process or how your company is different, include an FAQ or common questions about the service, add photos of the service, and include customer reviews or testimonials. 

Include Your Physical Address

Many experts believe the physical address of a business is the #1 ranking factor in local SEO. Search engines know that the proximity of a business is very important for the convenience of the customer. If someone is searching for a pizzeria, they are more likely to call or visit a pizzeria that is close by, rather than travel to one that is far away. That’s why when you search for “pizzeria near me” the results will vary depending on your actual location where you perform the search. In other words, the closer a user is to a business’s address, the more likely the business will appear among local search results.

This is why it's very important for businesses to include their physical address on their website. Shockingly, many small businesses fail to include this basic information on their site. Make sure that your business address is correct and consistent across the web and that it’s centrally located in the area you serve. If you have an office, use that for your business address everywhere. If you work out of your house, use your home address. Many service-based businesses will choose to hide their address but this puts them at a major disadvantage. It’s always recommended to show your address even if you don’t welcome customers to show up in-person.

Keep in mind: search engines measure the proximity of a business, and don’t necessarily distinguish between towns or cities. They look at the location of the person performing the search and look for web pages or businesses that fall within that radius. So even if you’re located in a nearby town, you can still rank higher than another business within that town, as long as you’re closer. That’s why it’s always best to focus on your exact location rather than trying to trick the search engines into thinking you serve a much broader area. Search engines will almost always rank the business that is physically closer to the person conducting the search first. If you’re a service-based business that serves multiple locations, create a landing page for each area you serve. 

Optimize Your Site Meta Tags

Each page of your website should have its own set of unique meta-tags that reflect the content that’s on that page. Meta tags are lines of descriptive text that appear in the code of the site (not publicly visible on the site) that are designed for the search engine robots to see and index. These meta tags include a page title, description and keywords and help signal to search engines what that page is about.

Title Tag - A title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is about. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages as the clickable headline for a given result. Title tags should be between 50 - 60 characters in length and typically contain one or two keywords along with the business name and location.


Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword - Location | Company Name
Pizzeria - Italian Restaurant - Providence RI | Pietro's Pizza

Description - The description meta tag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about. Include 1 - 2 sentences that provide a general overview of the business or specific content found on that page.


Pietro's Pizza is the premier pizzeria and Italian restaurant in Providence, RI for over 20 years. Pietro's Pizza offers authentic, Neopolitan pizza and Italian cuisine available for dine-in, takeout or delivery.

Keywords - Keywords are terms or phrases that accurately describe the main products or services featured on the page. For best results don’t use broad or general terms. Instead, create specific key phrases that are “localized” for the particular business. Try to narrow terms to 5 - 10 phrases and create unique terms for each individual page to reflect the particular content on that page.


Pietro's Pizza in Providence RI, Pizzeria in Providence RI, Italian Restaurant in Providence RI, Pizza Delivery near Providence RI

Final Thoughts

Search engine optimization can feel like a difficult concept to wrap your head around, and therefore can be intimidating to take on. However, once you have a good understanding of how search engines work and the basic principles of local SEO, optimizing your website will become a straightforward task. Use the tips and suggestions in this article to optimize your websites and yield optimal results.

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