Every business that competes in a local market and who competes for the display of localized results in SERPs will likely find the need to conduct a local SEO audit at some point. Whether you’ve hired an SEO in the past or not, the best way to beat the competition is to know where you stand and what you need to fix, and then develop a plan to win based on the competitive landscape.
While this may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that you can do this for your business or your client using this Ultimate Local SEO audit guide.
This guide was created as a complete checklist and will show you what areas you should focus on, what needs to be optimized, and what you need to do to fix any problems you encounter. To make things easier, I have also included many additional resources for further reading on the topics below.
In this guide I am going to cover the top areas we review for clients who either want to know how they can improve or the ones that need a local SEO audit. To make it easier I have included detailed explanations of the topics and an Excel template you can use to conduct the audit.
Also since the Pigeon update, local search has started to weigh organic factors more heavily so I have included them in this audit. However, if after you have read this you’re looking for an even deeper audit for Organic SEO, you should also check out Steve Webb’s article, ” How to Perform the World’s Greatest SEO Audit.”
Who is this guide for?
This guide is intended for those businesses that already have an existing Google My Business page. It’s also mostly geared towards brick and mortar stores. If you don’t have a public address and you’re a service area business, you can ignore the parts where I mention publishing your physical address. If you don’t have a listing setup already, it’s a little bit harder to audit. That being said, new businesses can use this as a road map.
What we won’t cover
The local algorithm is complicated and ever evolving. Although we can look at considerations such as proximity to similar businesses or driving directions requests, I have decided to not include these since we have limited control over them. This audit mainly covers the items the website owner is in direct control over.
A little background
Being ready and willing to adopt change in online marketing is an important factor in the path of success. Search changes and you have to be ready to change with it. The good news is that if you’re constantly trying to do the right thing while be the least imperfect, your results will only get better with updates.
Some goons will always try to cheat the systems for a quick win, but they will get caught and penalized eventually. However, if you stick with the right path you can sleep easier at night knowing you don’t have to worry about penalties.
But why are audits so important?
At my company we have found through a lot of trial and error that we can provide the best results for our clients when we start a project off with a complete and full understanding of the project as opposed to just bits and pieces. If we have a complete snapshot of their SEO efforts along with their competition we can create a plan that is going to be much more effective and sustainable.
We now live in a world where marketers not only need to be forward thinking with their strategies but they must also evaluate and consider the work done by prior employees and SEOs who have worked on the website in the past. If you don’t know what potential damage has been done, how could you possibly be sure your efforts will help your client long term?
Given the impact and potential severity of penalties, it’s irresponsible to ignore this or participate in activities that can harm the client in the long run. Again, sadly, this is a lesson I have learned the hard way.
What aspects does this local SEO audit cover?
Knowing what to include in your audit is a great first step. We have broken our audit down into several different categories we find to be essential to local SEO success. They are:
1) Google My Business page audit
2) Website & landing page audit
3) Citation analysis
4) Organic link & penalty analysis
5) Review analysis
6) Social analysis
7) Competition analysis
8) Ongoing strategy
Analyzing all of these factors will allow you to develop a strategy with a much better picture of the major problems and what you’re up against as far as the competition is concerned. If you don’t have the full picture with all of the details, then you might uncover more problems later.
Before we get started, a disclaimer
In this guide I am going to try to break things down to make it easy for beginners and advanced users. That being said, it’s a wise idea to seek advice or read more about a topic if you don’t quite understand it. If something is over your head, please don’t hesitate to reach out for clarification. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How to use this guide for your local SEO audit
This guide is broken up into two parts including this post and a spreadsheet. The written part that you are reading now will also correspond to this spreadsheet which will allow you to collect pertinent client intake information, record problems, and serve as an easy reference as to what your ultimate goal is for each of the items.
To use the spreadsheet you can click the link and then go to File > Make A Copy.
The complete spreadsheet includes five tabs that each serve a different purpose. They are:
Current info – This tab allows you to record the information the customer submits and compare it against the Google My Business information you find. It also allows you to record your notes for any proposed changes. This will help you when it comes time to report on your findings.
Questions to ask – These are some basic questions you can ask your clients up front that may save a lot of time in the long run.
Competitor information – You can use this tab to track your competitors and compare your metrics side by side.
Top 50 citations audit – This is the list of the top 50 citation sources as provided by Whitespark.
Audit steps – For the more advanced user I took everything in this long document and condensed it to this easy to use spreadsheet with an audit checklist and some small notes on what you’re checking for.
Get your audit shoes on. Now let’s get started
Step 1: Gather the facts
Whether you’re conducting this audit for a client or your own business it’s important to start off with the right information. If clients fill out this information properly, you can save a lot of time and also help identify major issues right off the bat. Not only can we help identify some of the common local SEO issues like inconsistent NAP with this information, we can also have it recorded in the spreadsheet I mentioned above.
Since this is an audit, the spreadsheet has information to include the current information and a column for proposed changes for the client. Later, these will be used as action items.
The first tab in this spreadsheet has everything we need to get started under the company information tab. This includes all of the basic information we will need to be successful.
This information should be provided by the client up front so that we can compare it to the information already existing on the web. You can use the audit spreadsheet and enter this under the “Provided Information” column. This will help us identify problems easily as we collect more information.
The basic information we will need to get started will include NAP information and other items. A sample of this can be seen below:
Questions to ask up front
Once we have the basic company information we can also ask some questions. Keep in mind that the goal here is to be the least imperfect. While some of these factors are more important than others, it’s always good to do more and have a better understanding of the potential issues rather than taking shortcuts. Shortcuts will just create more work later.
Feel free to edit the spreadsheet and add more questions to your copy based on your experience.
|1) Have you ever been penalized or think you may have been? The client should have a good idea if they were penalized in the past.|
|2) Have you ever hired anyone to build citations for you? If they hired anyone to build citations for them they should have some documentation which will make the citation audit portion of the audit easier.|
|3) Have you ever hired an SEO company to work with you? If they hired an SEO in the past it’s important to check any work they completed for accuracy.|
|4) Have you ever hired anyone to build links for you? If they have hired anyone in the past to build links they will hopefully have documentation you can review. If you see bad links you know you will have your work cut out for you.|
|5) What are the primary keywords you want to rank for? Knowing what the client wants and developing a strategy based off this is essential to your local SEO success.|
|6) Have you ever used another business name in the past? Companies that used a different name or that were acquired can lead to NAP inconsistencies.|
|7) Is your business address a PO Box? PO Boxes and UPS boxes are a no no. It’s good to know this up front before you get started.|
|8) Is your phone number a land line? Some Local SEOs claim that landlines may provide some benefit. Regardless it’s good to know where the phone number is registered.|
|9) Do other websites 301 redirect to your website? If other websites redirect to their domain you may need to do an analysis on these domains as well. Specifically for penalty evaluation.|
|10) Did you ever previously use call tracking numbers? Previously used call tracking numbers can be a nightmare as far as local SEO is concerned. If a client previously used call tracking numbers you will want to search for these when we get to the citation portion of this document. Cleaning up wrong phone numbers, including tracking numbers, in the local ecosystem is essential to your local success.|
Local SEO audit phase 1: Google My Business page
The new Google My Business Dashboard has a lot of useful information. Although I reference the Google Guidelines below, be sure to check them often. Google does change these sometimes and you won’t really get any official notice. This happened rather recently when they started allowing descriptive words in the business name. Keep in mind that if any changes were recently made to your Google My Business page they may not show in the live version. It may take up to three days for these to show in the search results.
Any information collected below should be put in the “Current Info” tab on the spreadsheet under the Google My Business Information. This will also help us identify discrepancies right away when we look at the spreadsheet.
1. Locate the proper Google My Business page we should be working with
We can’t really get started with an audit unless we know the proper page we’re working this. Usually if a client hires you they already have this information.
How to do this: If your client already has a Google My Business login, and log in to their dashboard using the proper credentials. In the back end of the dashboard it should show the businesses associated with this account. Copy this URL and confirm with the business owner that this is the page they intend to use. If it’s not their primary one we will correct this a bit later below.
Goal: We want to find and record the proper Google My Business URL in our Local SEO Audit Spreadsheet.
2. Find and destroy duplicate pages
Duplicate Google My Business listings can be one of the greatest threats to any local SEO campaign.
How to: There are several ways to find possible duplicate pages but I have found the easiest way is to use Google MapMaker. To do this log in to your Google account and visit http://www.google.com/mapmakeror https://plus.google.com/local. From this page you can search the business phone number such as 555-555-5555 or the business names. If you see multiple listings you didn’t know about, a major priority is to record those URLs and delete them.
I personally see a lot of issues when dealing with attorneys where each attorney has their own profile or in the case where an office has moved. There should only be one listing and it should be 100% correct.
You can also read my previous MOZ article.
Goal: Make sure there are no duplicate listings. Kill any duplicates.
3. Ensure that the local listing is not penalized (IMPORTANT!)
Figuring out Google penalties in the local landscape is not usually a walk in the park. In fact there are a lot of variables to consider and now this is a bigger deal post Pigeon as more organic signals are involved. We will look at other types of penalties later in this guide. Unlike organic penalties Google does not notify businesses of local penalties unless your account is suspended with a big red warning on the back end of your My Business page.
According to Phil Rozek from Local Visibility System “My first must-look-at item is: is the client’s site or Google Places page being penalized, or at risk of getting penalized?”
How to do this: If your keyword is “Los Angeles personal injury attorney” then you could search for this keyword on Google Maps and Google Search results. If your business listing appears on the maps side in position C for example but then does not appear at all in local search results performing a normal Google Search, then it’s likely there is a penalty in place. Sometimes you see listings that are not suppressed on the maps side but are suppressed on the places side. This is an easy way to take a look.
Goal: Do your best to determine that the listing is not penalized. If it is consult a penalty expert for further guidance.
4. Is the Google My Business page associated with an email address on the customer’s domain?
In my experience it’s best practice to have the login information for the business under an email address associated with the domain name. Additionally this ensures that the client has primary control of their listing. As an example if you run Moz.com and had local listings your Google My Business login should be email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. This helps associate that you are indeed the business owner.
How to: If someone else owns your Google My Business page you can transfer it to yourself. Read Google’s Transfer Ownership guide.
Goal: The Google My Business Login should be on an email address on the customers domain.
5. Is the page verified?
Ensuring your Google My Business page is verified is essential if you want to take full advantage of your business listing. When you log in to your dashboard you will be able to see right away if its verified or not. If it is not yet verified you will want to verify it using the available method. Usually these are by phone or by postcard. Typically the postcard option will take about a week to show up in the mail.
If you have not yet claimed your page you should be able to see this. Once you find the page you can click on the About tab and scroll to the bottom of the page where you will find the heading “Is This Your Business”. From there you can click “Manage this page” and go through the process.
How to: You can verify your page from the back end of the Google My Business Dashboard.
Goal: The page must be claimed & verified.
6. Is the correct business name used?
It’s crucial that the Business Name, Address, and Phone Number are as consistent as possible across the web. Google also now permits a one word descriptor of your business in the name of the business. Make sure you are only using your actual business name.
According to Google’s Guidelines “You should represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world”. In addition to this they go on to say “you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers”. Don’t add keywords just to spam the search results. You will get caught and penalized. Here is the link to their local business name guidelines where you can read more.
How to: You can change this from the back end of the Google My Business dashboard once it’s verified. Changing pertinent information may require a re-verification.
Goal: Ensure the proper business name is used and not inappropriately keyword stuffed. Add this information to the company information tab on your spreadsheet.
7. Is the correct address used?
This should also be consistent with the US Post Office and should be complete and accurate. According to Google’s guidelines on addresses they should only contain information that is part of your official address. Don’t add cross streets or other information in this section.
Google has a whole page dedicated to their address guidelines here.
In addition to this you need to know that PO Boxes and UPS Boxes are not allowed. Virtual offices are also a no no. If they don’t have an office there it could lead to a penalty.
Goal: Your address should be 100% complete and accurate. Suite numbers should be on address line two. Add this information to the company information tab on the spreadsheet. Make sure that no PO Boxes or UPS boxes are used.
8. Is the correct phone number used?
The local phone number for the corresponding office location should be used. Don’t use an 800 number as the primary number as it’s not best practice. This number should include a local area code.
How to: This can be changed in the Google My Business dashboard for your listing.
Goal: The businesses published main number (not a toll free or tracking number) should be used here. Add this information to the company information tab on the spreadsheet.
9. Proper category association (IMPORTANT!)
Using the correct categories for your business is essential. Custom categories are no longer allowed. You should be using all categories that are allowed for your industry. According to Google’s guidelines you should “Add categories which describe what your business is, and not what it does.”
In addition to this, Darren Shaw from Whitespark says “I think the most important thing in any local SEO audit is getting the categories right on the Google listing. I have seen a listing jump 7 spots just from a simple change of the primary category, and I have seen a listing completely disappear when an unrelated category was accidentally set. You want to make sure your primary category is the one that most closely represents your most important keyword, and you want to be careful to keep the other categories related to the main service(s).”
How to: This can be changed in the Google My Business dashboard for your listing.
Goal: Ensure your primary category your main category. Use all categories that fit in these guidelines.
10. Email address
Under the Contact Information box in the Google My Business dashboard you will find the email address setting. Make sure there is a public email address here where customers can contact you. This email should be on your domain.
How to: This can be changed in the Google My Business dashboard for your listing.
Goal: Make sure this is filled out with a public email address on the client’s domain name.
11. Proper URL
If you have a single location business it would be appropriate to use the home page for your company. However if you have multiple locations then best practice would be to use the landing page for that particular location. Keep in mind that since the Pigeon update it’s also important to weigh organic signals. If you have poor site structure you can also shoot yourself in the foot by doing this if there is no authority passed to your location landing page. This is the Website URL field in the Google My Business Dashboard.
Good URL Examples for landing pages:
Goal: The My Business listing should link to the page on your website that provides the best user experience.
12. Introduction description
According to Google’s guidelines you should use this field to “Add a brief description of your business here. This is where you can introduce yourself to your customers and teach them about your business.” Check that this description is also unique content by copying and pasting it into Google.
Goal: You should have a non spammy introduction description. This should be unique content and be over 250 words if possible.
13. Profile completeness
Your Google My Business profile should be 100% complete. If it’s not make sure to record the action items to get them taken care of.
Goal: The profile marker at the top of the dashboard should show 100% complete
14. Map & search photos
Photos play an important role in the carousel, and if a customer clicks through, they should see an accurate representation of your business in a very professional manner. If this is not the case then it should be fixed by providing better pictures.
Goal: Upload the best quality photos. If they suck, identify this as a problem.
15. Business hours
Are the business hours filled out correctly and completely for this location? They should be 100% filled out and accurate.
How to: These can be added from the Google My Business back end.
Goal: Business hours should be filled out and accurate.
16. Posts on G+
Posting to your page is a good way to show that you are active on your page and your business. Posting regularly is an important step that’s often overlooked.
How to: Post to your Google My Business page.
Goal: Make sure the business owner is posting consistently to their page. Preferably they should post at least weekly.
17. Trusted photographer used?
Google has always been looking for ways to validate that a business exists at their posted location. People try to spam the listings and sometimes get away with it. I suspect that not only does this virtual tour help verify your listing on a previously unprecedented level, it also provides a great user experience.
How to: From the Google My Business page click the “Add Virtual Tour” link. This will take you to the Google Maps business view screen. Learn more about this program here.
Goal: You should budget for and schedule a Google Trusted Photographer search.
Local SEO audit phase 2: website and landing page optimization
Having a properly optimized site is more important than ever since the Google Pigeon update. Organic signals are now more tied into the local algorithm and having a properly optimized website will help you outrank your competition.
In your Google My Business dashboard you have the ability to link to a website as we looked at above.
Depending on your site structure and other factors, it may make sense to link to either the home page of your website or a landing page that is designated to that location.
Typically a single location business might have all of the pertinent information we are going to discuss below on their home page. On the other hand, if you have multiple locations it generally makes sense to create a page for each location while also reviewing these factors and considerations. With the steps listed below we are talking about whichever page is associated with your Google My Business account listed above. Therefore in this section we will be auditing this information on your own website.
1. Correct crawlable NAP on landing page
Having the proper NAP is just as important off site as it is on site. We don’t want to ever send mixed signals to Google so if we keep our accuracy in place then we will be setup for long term success.
Common problems to look over
They use a tracking number. This is a big no no unless done with advanced knowledge, extreme preparation, and a working knowledge of this.
If the phone number is in an image it should have the proper corresponding ALT text.
Goal: The landing page should have NAP on it that matches your Google My Business profile. If your business hours are located within an image keep in mind that Googlebot will be unable to read it.
2. Site structure
According to Phil Rozek from Local Visibility System this is an important item and I agree. He mentions “Is there a page for every specific service (and location and practitioner, if applicable)? Does the homepage form the nucleus of the site, with a ton of useful detail on the page, and plenty of links to relevant subpages? Is the blog on the same domain? 9 times out of 10 people don’t get the basics right.”
If you are using a landing page for your geographic area, you can optimize your URL structure to accommodate best practices. A good location landing page would be descriptive of your actual physical location. While there are plenty of ways to optimize your landing page I prefer the non spammy result which would be something along the lines of:
This particular optimization item also requires a strong understanding of the site wide URL structure. Don’t just change this URL or take this decision lightly. Instead be sure you have the full picture and keyword map defined before jumping to a conclusion. Here is another resource.
Goal: You should have a solid site structure that meets your long term optimization goals which includes the city and state if possible.
3. Business hours
Consumers who find this page organically or through Google My Business may be looking for your hours. If your business hours are located within an image keep in mind that Googlebot will be unable to read it.
Goal: Ensure the customers business days and hours are listed in a crawlable format. These should of course match the business hours on your Google My Business page.
4. Landing page content
Having great content can be difficult at times especially if you have multiple locations. One tip for multiple locations that Mary Bowling has mentioned is that you can ask local operators to write that content. If you have the person running that location write the content it will ensure you get a different flavor each time. You should try for at least 400 words in my experience although I have seen pages with much less still be successful.
When it comes to content, the importance of this cannot be overlooked. One great resource you should read about landing page content is from Miriam Ellis titled ” Local Landing Pages: A Guide To Great Implementation In Every Situation.”
How to: To check and see if the content’s unique I have a couple of different methods. The first would be to do a quick check by copying a couple of sentences or a paragraph at a time and pasting them into a Google search. If other websites come up (and not yours) then there is a major issue that needs to be fixed. You can also used paid services such as Copyscape and Plag Spotter to do checks as well.
Goal: Have at least 400 words of unique (not copied) content on this page that is geared towards creating a great user experience. More is better and it should include the city and state.
5. Check and ensure your landing page is indexed
Assuming this page has been there for a while do a quick Google search for the landing page URL. If your landing page is not showing up, you are likely to find major organic issues such as site architecture or penalties.
How to: Open up a Google Chrome window and switch to Incognito search mode. If you’re not logged in under Google Incognito mode it will give you actual results your potential clients might see. Copy the landing page URL for your business and paste it into Google. If your site shows up in the results the page is indexed.
Goal: Your landing page should be indexable and indexed.
6. Landing page meta title tag
The landing page title is an important part for on page optimization. Crafting a perfect landing page title can be a difficult task. Keep in mind that you want to optimize this landing page organically around the business name, keyword, and location including city and state for local SEO. Further reading from Matt Cutts about making a web page for each store location can be found here.
How to: You can check this using the MozBar under the page analysis icon.
Goal: Landing page meta title should contain the City and state.
7. Meta description
The meta description is the snippet that may show in the search results underneath the title. Google can change this information to whatever they want to based on searcher intent. However it’s still best practice to have one in place to increase clickthrough rates and possible control the results.
How to: If you use the MozBar it’s easy to find the meta description of the page you’re analyzing by simply clicking the page analysis button. Changing the meta description will be done through your CMS.
Goal: The meta description should include the business name, city, state, and local phone number.
8. Heading tags
Having a single H1 tag on your landing page is an essential part of organic SEO. If you can include the city, state, and keyword in a non spammy way go for it.
How to: You can also easily check for this using the MozBar page analysis feature.
Goal: You should only have one H1 tag. It should have the city, state in the tag.
9. Driving directions & embedded map on landing page
Driving directions create a great user experience for someone looking for your business. Having them in a text format as well as an embedded map with landmark pictures is a great way to increase the user experience since it also adds an embeddable map.
How to: Go to the classic Google Maps and grab the embed code after searching for your business here.
Goal: Your landing page should have driving directions including an embedded map.
10. Payment information
Having payment information on your website is a great customer resource for your clients. Not only is it a content freebie but having this information may increase conversions. I like to add this into an audit so that people have an expectation and one less question when they call you.
Goal: The forms of payment you accept should be visible on your location landing page.
11. Customer reviews on page in Schema / hReview
Having text reviews from clients on your site is a great way to increase consumer confidence for your website. If you plan on putting them on your landing page it’s a good idea to have them in the hReview tag. This structured data tells Google what type of content these are. If it knows they are reviews it will classify them as such. In addition to increasing consumer confidence they can also increase the clickthrough rate by triggering review stars to display in the search results. More clicks = more business for your clients.
How to: I like it when things are easy. That is why I use to the MicroDataGenerator page found here. You can simply fill out these fields click submit and it will shoot out some HTML you can copy and paste into your website.
Goal: You should have at least one written customer testimonials that displays in Schema or hReview.
12. Alt text on landing page
If you have images on your landing page you should have image ALT tags according to best practice. Assuming the image is of the business location an alt tag might be something like “The business name in city state”.
How to: You can either view the source or hover over images to view the ALT text.
Goal: Your ALT text should include the city and state if appropriate.
13. Page authority of landing page
Since Google’s Pigeon update I have seen many instances where having a stronger landing page has helped my clients be more successful in local SERPs.
How to: You can pull the page authority of your landing page by opening your page in the MozBar. The metric titled “PA” will show you your page authority.
Goal: Record the page authority of the landing page. We can use this as a comparative metric later.
14. NAP in hCard / Schema.org
We already made sure that the NAP should be crawlable on the website. Making sure it’s also in hCard will help Google identify the type of data you are posting. In this case it’s a local business.
How to: Getting your NAP in Schema can be used by hand coding it or using a generator where you simply input the information. I use the Microdata Generator found here.
Goal: Have the crawlable in hCard
15. Load time of landing page
Site speed is an important metric when it comes to having a successful website. The crawl budget to assigned to your website can be correlated with site speed. If your site takes too long to load, Google won’t spend as much time on your site. The user will also feel the same way about your website. If it takes too long to load they will bounce. This is a major factor that is mostly overlooked and should never be ignored. You should also make sure to check the load time of the home page and other important pages as well.
How to: There are many ways to measure your site speed. I like to use URI Valet and try to get under 3.5 seconds at the 1.5mbps load time. In addition to this Google Analytics will report on your speed from their point of view as well. Review your whole site and also your landing page for any spikes. Try to identify any issues there. If you want to learn how you can fix this and provide recommendations check out Google’s Page Speed Insights.
Here is another other tool you should check out as well.
Goal: As a standard metric I like pages to be under 3-5 seconds at 1.5Mbps load time.
16. KML file on domain name
Although Google does not support KML files, I believe you take a closer step towards perfection by including this information.
How to: To see if there is a KML file submitted check the Sitemaps in Google Webmaster Tools. If you’re interested in adding one check out Geo Map Site Generator to create a geo sitemap.
Goal: Have a KML file on your domain name with all of your locations. You can reference it through an XML site map.
17. Domain authority of website
Although this is determined by offsite factors, I like to look at it earlier to get a better understanding of where you stand against your competition.
How to: You can check this by using the Moz Bar. The DA in toolbar stands for Domain Authority.
Goal: Have the highest domain authority over your competitors (naturally obtained). Record this number in the spreadsheet so you can compare against your competition.
18. Footer address
Having an address in your footer can be a good thing in my opinion if you have one location. When you have multiple locations and therefore multiple footer addresses you can create data confusion but more importantly you can create content dilution.
How to: Check this by simply checking the footer of the website.
Goal: If you have one location it’s easy and not spammy to include your single location in the footer of every page.
19. Is the content keyword stuffed?
What is keyword stuffing? Keyword stuffing is having too many keywords on your page to the point where they appear unnatural. How many is too many? Too many is too many. If you’re trying to rank for the keyword “Blue Nike Shoes” you might only mention that exact phrase one or twice in your content.
Bad Example: “Welcome to my shoe store where we sell Blue Nike Shoes. Our Blue Nike Shoes are the best Blue Nike Shoes you can buy on the internet.”
If you were naturally writing about Blue Nike Shoes you might introduce them as shoes but after that you would likely just refer to them as shoes or footwear.
Goal: No content should be keyword stuffed.
20. Landing page easily readable by search engines
Having a website that looks cool and is made with Flash is one thing. It’s also a big no no for the search engines. The content on your page should be crawlable.
How to: One easy trick to do this is to use the select all Edit> Select All. This will highlight everything on the page including all crawlable text. It will show up in blue.
Goal: Make sure your important text is not in images. Ensure the page is not all in Flash and that the text is crawlable.
21. Is your site design mobile friendly?
Google representatives have mentioned on more than one occasion that a site which is not mobile friendly may have reduced visibility in the search results. So you need to have a mobile friendly design. I prefer responsive designs because the content will resize properly depending on the type of device you’re on.
Learn more about responsive website designs.
How to: To check and see if the website is mobile friendly you can pull up the website and the landing page on your mobile device or tablet. You can also check out tools like Browserstack which will show you your website and how it will look in different browsers and sizes.
Goal: Ensure your entire website is mobile friendly, preferably through the use of a responsive design.
22. Is your site content mobile friendly?
If you have a mobile site on a separate domain like m.mysite.com you need to be sure that the content is not being shown as duplicate content. If you are using a responsive design this is not an issue.This should be reviewed closely. Although Google offers support for items such as canonical tags for duplicate content versions, I have found that Google is imperfect and when you try to make it decide, you open yourself up for more errors.
Goal: Run a duplicate content check to make sure the full site and mobile site are not both indexed.
23. WHOIS information review
This is something more out of habit on my side. If the owner of the domain name has opted to not have privacy protection they are required to list the contact name, address, phone number, and email address of the domain owner. I suggest keeping this information public and having it match your main location. Whether it’s used or not I can’t think of a better way of showing that you own the business.
How to: There are plenty of services out there that allow you to check the WHOIS information. GoDaddy even has a free WHOIS check here.
Goal: Check the WHOIS Information and ensure the NAP matches the main location.
24. Google Analytics
Having Google Analytics installed is essential. If your client does not have this installed it will be rather difficult to track problems, traffic changes, conversions, and other important visitor information.
How to: Check and see if this is installed by using your browsers view page source option. Search for Analytics and see if the tracking code snippet. You can learn more about using Google Analytics here.
Goal: Make sure Google Analytics is installed.
25. Google & Bing Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools provides a lot of useful information. This is where Google will tell you all sorts of useful information including whether or not your site is penalized, if your pages are indexed, and any crawl errors.
Goal: Ensure Google Webmaster and Bing Webmaster Tools are configured properly.
Local SEO audit phase 3: citations audit
When it comes to citations, more does not mean better. Let me say that another way. Better citations will always be more important than more citations from lower quality directories. I cannot stress this enough. Earlier in my local SEO career I made this mistake with clients. If you take the route of wanting the most citations you must do your own extensive due diligence on the impacts this could have long term for your clients. For the most part, if you’ve never heard of it, and it’s easy to get, you should conduct a link analysis on the domain. Many citations also come with a link, some of which are follow links. You can easily undo a lot of good work by adding hundreds or thousands of low quality directories with links.
Again I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Please be careful and ethical in your approach when getting citations.
What is a citation?
In case you don’t know a citation is, a citation is simply the listing of your business name, address, and phone number (or NAP as we call it in the industry) on the web. For example, if I have a Yelp profile it will include my business name, address, and phone number along with other pertinent business information. This is a structured citation as its a sanctioned business directory that provides this information. There are also what we call unstructured citations. Unstructured citations are mentions of your NAP on websites that are not necessarily a business directory. For example if my business was mentioned in my local newspaper they might also include my name, address, and phone number on their online article.
Where did these come from?
Citations may have been created by you, your company, or out of thin air from a phone book listing or something else. There are companies out there that sell this business listing information to other directories and feed them information. These are called data aggregators. It’s essential that your listings are correct with data aggregators. This will ensure that the listings are as correct as possible from the top down.
Are they that important?
Citations have always played a heavy part in the local SEO algorithm although my personal opinion is that this has been reduced post Pigeon. That being said, and even if your opinion differs on this subject, you should not disagree that your business visibility online should be the least imperfect. If you want to provide the best customer and search engine experience, it only makes sense to have a clean citation profile. Another reason for this, which we will talk about later, is reviews. If your business has duplicate listings it won’t only hurt your local SEO rankings, your customers might not find the right listing and therefore leave, or see incorrect information or outdated reviews.
The overall goal of the citation audit
To ensure that you are listed, that there are no duplicates, and that the information is 100% correct on the top 50 citation sources and all of the data aggregators.
Thanks to my friends over at Whitespark, we have been allowed to publish their list of the top 50 citations and I have included them in the spreadsheet. Keep in mind that you also want to search with an iOS device and ensure your business is listed in Apple Maps.
1. Check data aggregators
According to Moz.com, a data aggregator is “A company that maintains and supplies the underlying business database for local search directories.” In other words, they are the data holders that submit your business information to other directories. The main data aggregators in the United States are Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom, and Factual.
How to: One way to get a snapshot of this and fix it is to use the Moz Local platform. For $84 a year you get listed in the top 5 data aggregators. If you did it on your own, it would cost a lot more than that. Read about it and sign up for it here. Signing up for Moz Local can help alleviate some of the data aggregator stress and save you some money from doing it yourself. You can also avoid the embarrassment of how I look below.
Goal: Make sure your business is listed correctly without duplicates on the main data aggregators including Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom, and Factual in the US.
2. Check the top 50 citations
This is where the hard work gets real. Like I mentioned earlier more is not better. Using the list in the provided spreadsheet you should ensure that you are listed 100% consistent without duplicates in the top 50 citation sources. Any problems identified here are a priority to be fixed. In addition to being listed correctly without duplicates you should also make sure they are 100% filled out. Having a complete profile always provides a better user experience.
Click here to view the list of Top 50 Citation Sources provided by Whitespark.
Goal: Ensure the top 50 citations for your industry are live, correct, and don’t have duplicates.
3. Identify new high quality citation sources
If your top 50 citations are in order there may still be a few more you might be interested in depending on your industry. Typically a safe bet for everyone is to set a long term goal of unstructured citations or mentions in local and major newspapers and publications. Additionally see what niche sites are available for your type of business.
Some examples include:
Attorneys: Lawyers.com, Martindale.com, Avvo.com
Restaurants: Yelp.com, TripAdvisor.com, OpenTable.com
If you want to learn more you can read my other article to learn how you can find citations like an agency.
If you’re looking for a good list of niche citations check out Brightlocal’s newly published Best Niche Citation Sites for 41 Business Categories here on Brightlocal.
Goal: Get high quality unstructured citations when possible.
4. Verify you’re on Apple Maps
With the user base that Apple has it’s important to make sure you’re listed on Apple Maps. Previously this was a pain in the rear if you weren’t already listed. However in October 2014 Apple announced Apple Maps Connect.
How to: Visit Apple Maps Connect and log in using an Apple ID. This is a brand new product but you should be able to manage your listings here.
Goal: Make sure your NAP is correct on Apple Maps.
Local SEO audit phase 4: organic penalty analysis and link audit
There are a lot of SEO companies out there. If your client has ever had a different website it’s even more important to conduct a link analysis on their website. One of your responsibilities as someone performing an audit is to ensure that you can keep your client out of a penalty short term and long term. Even if you didn’t do the work yourself, you need to identify any potential problems and prepare them so they can make adequate business decisions. Google has been and can be pretty brutal with their penalties, and recovery is not a walk in the park.
Since the Pigeon Update, Google has put more weight on high quality links and overall authority into the local algorithm. I hesitate to say this knowing that some will just want to get more links. Don’t do this. Don’t even think about this. Links should be earned through content you produce or news mentions you get. Additionally, keep in mind that one strong link is better than 100,000 crappy links…by far.
This is also super exciting. If you notice that your competitor is beating your rankings with spammy links you can rest assured that they’ll get caught. In addition to this you can develop a strategy that kicks their spam to the curb without the risk of future penalty. It’s a win win, and a step towards long-term lasting results.
The problem with a link audit
Experience is key when conducting a link audit. For those of us that have reviewed hundreds of thousands of links by hand it becomes a bit easier. Tools also make this job easier, but tools are also imperfect. I could also write a10,000+ word article on link auditing based on my personal imperfect experience.
1. Ensure there is not a manual web spam action
Having a manual web spam action will ruin your day (or year). When you receive a penalty, Google can decide to take all or some of your website out of its index and hide pages from users. This will become your top priority to fix if it exists.
How to: If your site is verified in Google Webmaster Tools (which it should be) you can simply click on the manual actions tab. If nothing shows up you’re home free in this department.
Goal: Check Google Webmaster Tools and make sure there are no penalties under the manual actions tab. If there are this will become your top priority to fix this.
2. Check for algorithmic penalties
If you see any sharp drop in organic traffic in Google Analytics then there is a problem. Identifying algorithmic penalties can be a bit tricky, but, with proper work, you can identify and remove these. Check out Moz’s complete guide to algorithm changes.
How to: I prefer to take the easy route when it comes to addressing algorithmic penalties. If you have access to Google Analytics and have had enough website traffic to spot trends you can use a tool that will align your traffic numbers with the dates of known algorithmic updates. The Panguin tool makes this easy to do.
Goal: Try your best to determine if there are any algorithmic penalties and what you can do to fix them.
3. How many links do the site and page have?
Knowing the number of links can help us determine if there will be a potential problem in the future. If you have way more links than your competitors its worth checking them out in detail. If you find that they are all low quality or spammy then you have a potential problem on your hands and you need to get this taken care of as soon as possible. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
How to: The easiest way to check this is just using the MozBar.
Goal: Record the number of links to your landing page and root domain and compare it to your competitors.
4. Anchor text of links
Anchor text is the text that appears highlighted in a hypertext link and that can be clicked to open the target web page. For example, on an online store you might click “Checkout” which will lead you to their checkout page. If that link was clickable text (not a button) that would anchor text. Your anchor text distribution is very important to organic SEO (and now local SEO) as it correlates heavily with penalties which we are trying to avoid.
In some ways, this relates more to local businesses. If someone is writing about your or writing a review about your local business they would likely naturally make the anchor text your business name or your business name with the location. For example if you ran a Quiznos in Denver you might be linked via the anchor text “This Denver Quiznos Location”. This right here is natural because the writer decided to link to you in a way that is descriptive of your business name and location in their own words. However if Quiznos wanted to rank for “Sandwich Shop” and every link on the internet pointing back to them said “Sandwich Shop”, you can see how unnatural and unfeasible that would be. Unless someone was creating those intentionally they would not exist as the only keyword. Instead, you would see many variants of that like “sandwich shop in Denver” or “Denver sub shop” or “my favorite subs” or the brand name.
With anchor text, having too much of anything can be a bad thing. Now, here is the official answer to anchor text distribution and how much is too much: It depends on your industry.
You can read more about anchor text in the Anchor Text Distribution Study: Powered By Search Anchor Text Study
Goal: Your link profile should appear natural. If you’re a “Personal Injury Attorney” and 10% of your anchor text is a money phrase, that is bad. Brand anchor text should always occur more often than commercial keywords.
5. Link velocity
Another idea that gets people in trouble is link velocity. Some site owners who have not competed in the web landscape suddenly want to rank #1 and notice their competitors have a bunch of links. Thinking it’s the right thing to do (it’s not) they add a bunch overnight. This is the velocity that links are obtained to your website. If you go viral and do something newsworthy this will be natural and be substantiated by strong links from high quality sites. On the other side, if you just add links to get them, and they’re all low quality, you are going to be at a much higher risk of penalty. Again, don’t do it. Earn links and sleep good at night. If they had spikes in the past you can review these and remove as necessary.
Goal: Make sure that the link velocity seems natural. Review any spikes for problems.
6. Does a disavow exist?
Your clients site will have bad links. Maybe it’s 1 or 2 or maybe it’s 200,000. Either way we need to figure this out. If the bad links exist, the disavow file needs to be uploaded. This will be your saving grace if an algorithmic penalty exists and there is a Penguin update which takes your disavow into consideration. The most recent Penguin update just took place in October 2014 after over a year without one.
Goal: Ensure the disavow file is updated monthly to include any bad links whether they were intentional or from negative SEO.
Local SEO audit phase 5: reviews
Reviews are one of the most overlooked problems with local businesses. It’s not that they’re not concerned with them but rather that they’ve tried to fix them in the past but ran into resistance. Make no mistake about it, reviews are hard to get.
Not only are they hard to get, it’s important that you are on top of your review analysis in the audit phase. Even if you rank where you want to but your reviews are all one stars they likely won’t generate much business from ranking at the top.
With reviews, there are several major factors we need to be addressing in every review. These are:
a) Do they have a positive sentiment?
Having a positive sentiment helps increase consumer confidence and the search engine’s confidence in your business.
b) Are they unique?
Reviews should not be replicated across the web. If you have the exact same review posted on three sites it may be ignored.
c) Are they from power users?
Did you know that some services like Yelp have power users? Yelp calls them Elite users. Since they are recognized by Yelp their reviews will carry more weight than the average person with just one or two reviews. They become a lot more trusted once this reach this status.
1. Google My Business reviews
It’s no secret that strong reviews can increase a customer’s confidence. Reviews must be natural, legitimate, and be left for a business according to the guidelines. According to Google’s review guidelines you can remind your customers to leave feedback.
Typically I like to make sure clients have at least 10 reviews, but this does vary depending on the type of business you are in. If you’re a restaurant you are likely to have more reviews then an attorney. The key to obtaining reviews is to obtain them naturally over time. They need to be honest reviews from actual clients posted from their own devices.
Goal: Client should have at least 10 reviews with a 4 star or higher aggregate. If not, work on it.
2. Identify top 3rd party review sites
Depending on your niche, you might find that some review websites generate more traffic for your website than others. Pulling up Google Analytics will allow you to check out the referral traffic. Sort this by the top referrals and see which sites are sending the most traffic to you. If they allow reviews it’s a good idea to raise your rating by adhering to the third party reviews site’s guidelines and obtaining them when possible. I say this because Yelp for example does not allow you to solicit reviews.
Another thing to look for is lack of referral traffic. If you are a restaurant and are not getting any business from TripAdvisor it could be because your reviews are low which would make it a priority to fix.
If you are constantly getting bad reviews, you are pissing people off for some reason. Read them, learn from them, and use this to improve your business practices.
Goal: Record the major third party review sites for the niche. Ensure they have at least 5-10 reviews with at least a 4 star rating.
Above is an example from Avvo.com a popular attorney website.
Local SEO audit phase 6: social audit
Social media and local SEO definitely have some crossovers that you should be aware of. In my personal opinion it’s more about the NAP, check ins, and brand consistency. However there are some major benefits you can get locally from social. For example geo-tagged content. While I won’t spend too much time getting into this here I suggest you also spend some time checking out content that allows it to be geo-tagged on websites such as Panoramio. Additionally you should not overlook video sharing sites that are very strong like YouTube. These not only provide the ability to geo-tag content, you can also include your NAP in the description, and hopefully increase conversions by creating high quality videos.
One thing to keep in mind with any social profile is that you should not have duplicates. Not only would that create a bad user experience but it can also cause data confusion. You will want to manage your brand in each place.
1. Facebook review
If the business is a brick and mortar business they should have a claimed Facebook page with their correct NAP and linked to their website. Service area businesses should also of course have a claimed page but they would not display their NAP. Your longer term goals after pages are established will be to increase social engagement through getting more likes, shares, posts, and check ins.
1. Ensure the Facebook NAP is correct.
2. Are the best possible photos used for the cover photo and profile image?
3. Is the page completely filled out and linked to their website?
4. Are they active and posting regularly?
5. Do they have any business check ins?
6. Do they have reviews and do they meet the criteria mentioned in the review section?
2. Foursquare | Swarm audit
Foursquare used to be pretty popular for check-ins. Recently they decided to separate their check in function from the Foursquare app and spin it into Swarm. Having a social presence here can help alert their users of your business and allow them to check in. You can also take advantage of this by having check in deals among other offers. Make sure your Foursquare and Swarm profiles are correct and up to date with the information below:
1. Ensure the NAP is correct.
2. Are the best images used?
3. Is the page completely filled out and linked to their website?
4. Are they active and posting regularly?
5. Do they have any business check ins?
6. Do they have reviews and do they meet the criteria mentioned in the review section?
3. Google Plus audit
Being active on Google Plus can provide some tremendous benefits if used correctly. If the business is associated with the right groups and in the right relevant circles where their customers are, they can make a big impact. By being social, participating in these groups, and posting to their own business at least once a week they can share their messages with the appropriate audiences. All of this also shows that you are active on Google’s platform which can’t be a bad thing.
Goal: Make sure they are consistent in posting to Google Plus (at least once a week).
3. YouTube audit
As I mentioned above, having a video presence can be a very valuable thing. Of course having great videos is pretty self explanatory, but did you know your videos can also have NAP in the description, link to your landing page (If relevant), and be Geo Tagged? If not, take advantage of it.
Goal: Make sure the videos uploaded are high quality, have NAP in the description, and are geo-tagged.
Local SEO audit phase 7: competition analysis
Analyzing the competition is not some foolproof science. In fact it can be downright dangerous if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. One of the reasons this information is scary is that I usually like to look at the number of links and citations of the competition. This information is typically better left for the professionals as it’s NOT A NUMBERS GAME. It’s important to use the information in an ethical way to create a long term game plan that consists of major wins.
If you are just in SEO to make your numbers match the competition you are doomed to long term failure and should not be in this industry. It can also set the wrong mindset of “Well they’re not doing it so I’m not going to do it” instead of the “Lets be the least imperfect” mindset we started with.
You should only move forward with a competition analysis if you plan on developing a plan that falls within Google’s guidelines for your clients. </rant>
How a competition analysis is a good thing
Conducting a competition analysis can be a great thing to gain insight to help develop your own strategies. Some of the Good things you can do by looking at the competition are:
1) Review their citations and see if you missed any of the high quality easy wins they have
2) Identify their links and see if it generates any good ideas on what you can do to be successful, or what you can do better. If your main competition was mentioned by a major news outlet for their community service you could use this inspiration to develop a stronger campaign and help the world at the same time.
3) Gives you a general snapshot of what areas in which you might want to step up your game
If you beat your competition in every area and are not winning then you relied too much on imperfect tools for your imperfect data. Again, this is mostly used for a road map of what we can do moving forward.
1. Competition identification
Start by figuring out who your top competitors are. Once we have this list, we can go through it and compare some of these metrics for good. You can find your top competitors by doing a search for the keywords you want to rank for. You can then plug this information into a spreadsheet.
Goal: Find 3-7 competitors for your niche and record them in the spreadsheet with their NAP+W and G+ Page information.
2. Competition analysis
Once we have the list of competitors, we can take a simple look at their metrics. I prefer to record the following information for each competitor to get a snapshot of where they stand:
1) Domain Authority (Moz)
2) Figure out the domain authority of the competitors root domain using the Moz Toolbar.
3) Page Authority of landing page (Moz)
4) Figure out the page authority of the competitors Google My Business landing page using the Moz Toolbar.
5) Number of links from root domain
6) The number of links the competitor has from unique domains
7) Number of citations
8) The number of citations that are detected.
Once you have the information above, you can use this information to get a snapshot of where you will want to be. If your competition is beating you in all of the above areas you can now start thinking about how you can create a strategy that will not just increase the numbers, but how you can ultimately get more authority from stronger sites.
Local SEO audit phase 8: developing an ongoing strategy
After you have all of the information above compiled, you can now create your checklist of things you need to improve to be the least imperfect. With this information you should develop a priority list of the most important items you need to fix. You can then assign them by putting them in a schedule and knock them out one by one.
Once you have identified the problems that need to be fixed and gotten them resolved you can turn your attention to an ongoing strategy for your clients. Ongoing strategies in local SEO really boil down to a few major components including:
- Strong link earning – check out Casey Markee’s deck on Google Friendly Link Building.
- Strong content creation
- Strong structured and unstructured citations
- Good reviews
Based on your industry you can develop a plan that no longer chases the links and citations but rather earns them. In my opinion it’s essential to develop a plan for your ongoing efforts with set goals and project lengths. This way you can measure KPIs.
Many people make the mistake of signing up for ongoing SEO fees without a plan and that can lead to a lack of accountability and bad SEO. On the other hand it’s probably easy to see why generic priced SEO packages are also bad. If someone is charging $1,000 a month for 10 links or 10 citations, etc. they are likely going to be in a place that will hurt your SEO. Without the pre-knowledge from an audit like the one above you will be shooting in the dark which can ultimately hurt a website.
I hope you found this guide useful and will put it to good use. If you have any questions, need clarification, or want an audit please feel free to reach out to me on twitter @CaseyMeraz or at my website.