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Your Complete Local Search Audit Checklist

 

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Your Complete Local Search Audit Checklist

When taking on a new Local Search project and coming up with a proposal, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve decided to share our in-house checklist to save you the trouble of making your own and to help you avoid missing the important aspects along the way.

The more information you can gain before you take on a project, the better chance you have of bidding it accurately and the more you understand what needs to be done to achieve success, the better chance you have to deliver on it.

The following questions can be used to help you review any business’s local search presence. Answering these questions will assist you in ascertaining an appropriate amount of time and budget needed to fix problems and help you to generate a plan of action and a timeframe for completion. Of course each project is different, but we intentionally made this checklist a bit generic, so it should be applicable to most businesses you come across.

Now that the local algorithms have swung so far towards leaning on organic ranking factors – even for the shrunken Local Packs – you will need to do a complete Organic SEO audit as well, to track down all the possible causes of ranking problems that may exist.

Local Business Proposal Checklist

1. Are Expectations Realistic?

Some of the hardest conversations you can have with a client or superior involve telling them that there’s not much chance of you being able to achieve what they want to happen. Sometimes it’s a matter of budget or time. Sometimes what they want is against Google’s guidelines and sometimes the competition is so solid that it’s unrealistic to think you can beat them out for rankings. There’s also the sticky little issue of the ever-changing local algorithms…

Answer these questions first to save wasting time on aggravating or impossible projects.

Questions to Answer:

  • What are the online goals for this business?
  • Is the business physically located in a place that will allow it to rank in the local packs for market it’s after?
  • Is the budget in the ballpark for being able to achieve their goals?
  • Is the timeframe for achieving goals realistic?
  • Is the business willing to follow Google’s guidelines? Or are they more focused on finding loopholes to slip through?
  • Does this project seem like a good fit for you?
  • Can you deliver what the client needs in a cost effective manor?

2. What is the NAP and SEO History of the Business?

Start by getting a list of all the client’s old phone numbers, old business addresses, if they’ve changed their name at any time and current and old domain names. Ask them to go back at least 5 years for this information.

  • You’ll need to check all of these to help locate inconsistent and/or incomplete citations that need to be updated.
  • Ask the business for the SEO history on the site. If a business has used call tracking or directories or advertisers that are known for using call tracking numbers, you may uncover additional phone numbers that need to be cleaned up. If they have dealt with penalties or have built links, there may be lingering negative effects.
  • Don’t be surprised if you discover information the client failed to reveal, such as domains they own, but haven’t kept up to date or an old phone number they forgot about.

3. How Accurate and Consistent is the NAP+URL?

The older the business, the more likely the Name, Address, Phone and URL (NAP+URL) data set will be corrupted with conflicting information. The more inconsistency in the NAP+URL combination in important web places, the more work and time you’ll need to clean it up. In my experience, the time needed to discover and then clean up messy citations is the hardest thing to pin down in advance in a local audit. Consider if you’ll need to budget for any submission fees, as well.

Questions to Answer:

  • How much data clean up is needed?
  • Are there inaccurate listings at any of the major data providers? (NeustarLocaleze, Axciom, Infogroup, Factual)
  • Do they have someone in-house who can update citations under your direction or will you need to handle that? (This is a very time-consuming process!)
  • Can you outsource the citation cleanup to a reliable source? (Who, how much and how long?)
  • Does the address use correct USPS address format? If not, what needs to be done?

Typical problem areas to keep in mind that lead to inconsistency:

  • Big and/or older company.
  • Multiple locations.
  • Aggressive marketing (including a variety of SEO’s or in-house marketers).
  • Business has allowed its sales people to create listings.
  • Use of call tracking (typical for Internet Yellow Pages aka IYP advertisers).
  • Has moved locations, changed phone number or uses many different numbers.
  • Business has multiple websites – sometimes they do not all publish the same NAP

Useful Tools:

  • Moz Local Listing Tool – check for NAP variations and places it is inconsistent (Free)
  • Yext.com – check for NAP variations and places it is inconsistent (Free)
  • Whitespark Local Citation Finder – check for NAP variations and places it is inconsistent (Limited Free Trial)
  • Apple Maps Connect – add or update listings here (Free)
  • NapHunter – see NAPs from the search results pages. Download free app from GooglePlay or iTunes
  • Infogroup – check for existing listings
  • Acxiom – check for existing listings
  • Factual – check existing listings
  • USPS Address Listing Checker – returns accurate NAP format. (Free)
  • Google search – search for business name and address and then again for business name and phone number. Look through the results for NAP variations. (Free)

4. How Are the Business’s Online Profiles?

Time is required to fill out incomplete online business listings and if you need to create additional listings for single location businesses, there’s a great deal of manual work involved.

For businesses with multiple locations, you’ll usually want to deal with building citations in via distribution by the major data providers, APIs, and bulk uploads. This may require some developer time and you want to budget for data distribution fees.

Questions to Answer:

  • Do business listings exist in the right places? (This can differ by niche, location and competition.)
  • How do their citations compare to those of their competitors?
  • Are the listings complete? If not, what needs to be added?
  • Do they use appropriate categories?
  • Are they following the guidelines for the sites where they are listed?

Useful Tools:

5. Checking for Duplicate Listings

Duplicate listings at Google and Yelp are a problem. Near duplicate listings in other places, especially at the major data providers are a problem, as well. The more duplicate/near duplicate listings a client has, the more work it will be trying to get rid of them. Multiple listings can split up the potential ranking power of a profile (on Yelp, for example) and are against Google’s guidelines.

  • Are there duplicate listings at Google?
  • Are there duplicate listings at Yelp?
  • Are there duplicate listings at any of the major data providers?

Useful Tools:

  • Yelp Search – Use Yelp’s search feature to find duplicate or near duplicate listings in that directory.
  • Neustar Localeze – search by business name and also by phone number.
  • Infogroup – search by business name and also by phone number.
  • Acxiom – search by business name and also by phone number.
  • Factual – search first to see if and how business is listed.
  • Moz Local – select all variations, one at a time and on the resulting page click on the Duplicates tab.

6. Current Rankings & Competition

It’s critical that you research and understand the competition so that you can truly grasp the scope of the project as well as give the business realistic expectations in regards to results and time frames. Simply put, tougher competition equals more work every time. You need to get a quick snapshot of how difficult it may be for a business to rank for appropriate search terms before creating your proposal.

Questions to Answer:

  • How do they rank in Maps search results for their top keywords?
  • How do they rank in the Organic search results for their top keywords?
  • What businesses outrank them and how does their domain authority compare to that of their top competitors?
  • How do their links compare to those of the top rankers?
  • Do they have any messages about manual penalties in Google Search Console Tools?
  • Does their backlink profile look toxic?

Useful Tools:

  • OpenSiteExplorer.org – Compare domain authority, location page authority and links. View backlinks and anchor text. (Free)
  • PanguinTool – to see if they have any obvious penalties (Free)

The best local rank checkers emulate the location being searched before checking rankings.

  • WebCEO’s Tool Suite – This tool suite comes with a solid comprehensive local rank tracker. This comes as part of a SEN Pro Support Membership. If you’d like to grab a free trial then let us know and we’ll make it happen.
  • BrightLocal.com (Free Trial)
  • Whitespark.ca – local rank checker that sets location in browser before searching. (Paid)
  • Places Scout -rank checker that sets location in browser before searching. (Paid)
  • Moz.com – Rank checker (Paid)

7. Website Best Practices for Local

If your clients are unwilling or unable to institute website best practices for Local Search, you may not be able to make much happen for them. The business website’s domain authority is now a critical piece of the ranking algorithm for local search. A weak website will not get an enterprise in to the local pack unless their competition also has weak sites.

Questions to Answer:

  • Are they using best practices for Local Search optimization?
  • Are their pages unique, relevant and useful and contain enough text content?
  • Do they have locally relevant links?

Website Must Haves for Local Search:

  • Use categories/subcategories, location, and biz name in page titles. What? Where? Who?
  • Place NAP in Schema.org format on every page (one location).
  • Use location terms on pages (H1’s, text content, image alt tags) and in internal links.

Handling Multiple locations:

  • Unique landing page for every location with NAP in Schema.org encoding.
  • Footer links to location landing pages, if practical (just a few locations).
  • For many locations, findable directory pages, not too deep down in the site structure.
  • Do the landing pages have enough page authority to compete?
  • Link from Google My Business page to appropriate location landing page.
  • KML file (Keyhole Markup Language for Google Earth) that includes all locations.

Useful Tools:

  • Your best tool is an experienced and discerning human looking at both the website and at a site crawl.
  • Screaming Frog – site crawler that puts a lot of the info you want all on one spreadsheet. (Free)
  • WebCEO’s Tool Suite – This tool suite comes with a solid comprehensive local rank tracker. This comes as part of a SEN Pro Support Membership. If you’d like to grab a free trial then let us know and we’ll make it happen.
  • BrightLocal.com (Free Trial)

8. Customer Reviews

Customer reviews are vital to any business that wants long term success online and managing reviews is the most vital aspect of social media for any SMB. Establishing where a company stands with its reviews is a very important step. If a business needs help with a review strategy and process, then it’s wise to include that in what you do for them.

Questions to Answer:

  • Do they have enough Google reviews to compete in their niche and location?
  • Do they have an active profile on Yelp with reviews?
  • Are the reviews mostly positive or negative?
  • Do they have reviews on the sites Google probably thinks are important?
  • Are they committed to continually asking for customer feedback and using it to improve the company and its reputation?
  • Do they have a system in place for gaining good reviews on an ongoing basis?

Useful Tools:

  • The Local Knowledge Panel and the Google My Business dashboard show the number of Google reviews a business has. With enough authority, other sites where reviews are left can show in the Local Knowledge Panel.
  • Google search – search for business name+reviews and keyword phrase+location+reviews to see which review sites Google thinks are important at any given time and if you have reviews there.
  • BrightLocal.com – (Free Trial)

Conclusion

You may want to start by giving your client this handy PDF Local Search Questionnaire. Then you can do a quick check for most of these items in about 20 minutes for a single location business. You’re just trying to discover what type of problems they have at that point and how pervasive they may be. Do they need much citation cleanup? Do they need more citations? Do they need to have their profiles beefed up? Do they need to work on on-page optimization? Content? Links? Reviews?

Then, I’d get on the phone with the client and talk about their situation with them. If they seem like a good fit for you and are a client you’d like to have, then you can delve deeper into any issues that surfaced during your quick check to create a solid proposal and marketing plan.

If they appear to have a multitude of sticky problems, then I suggest doing a really thorough local audit in all of the aspects mentioned above and an Organic SEO audit. Then, use what you learn to help you create your proposal and/or project plan. That’s the best way to discover ALL the things that need to be done AND to get paid for it!

Now – Get out and Get Local!