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
Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this post, Google has shut down Mapmaker. For a current list of best practices for managing duplicate GMB listings, read: https://moz.com/blog/delete-gmb-listing.
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/mapmaker or 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.