Local Search Hacks You Probably Haven’t Seen Before

Local search has seen an explosion of change over the last year. Tactics that used to work like gangbusters are now just table stakes. Darren shows you bleeding edge local search tips and tactics that you can implement immediately to boost your local search rankings.

The main tips and tactics from Darren’s SearchLove San Diego presentation are included below the slides. For the full experience with animated gifs, download the PowerPoint file or click here for the full PDF version.

The 6 Areas of Local Search

There are six main areas of local search based on Local Search Ranking Factors where you need to focus your main efforts and that will have the biggest impact:

  1. Google My Business
  2. Citations
  3. Website
  4. Links
  5. Reviews
  6. Behavioral

Here are some simple hacks you can complete to elevate your rankings in these core areas.

Hacking Google My Business

Find Competitors Categories
You can add multiple categories in your GMB listing, but you will only be able to see your Primary Category on your listing.

Find out what categories your top competitors are using by:

  • Going to their maps listing,
  • Right-click and view source,
  • Ctrl-F for and search for the primary category (enter the category name that is listed on their GMB listing).

(Hat tip to Joy Hawkins for this tip. It comes from her amazing guide, The Expert’s Guide to Local SEO)

Remove Spammers, Rank Higher
These spammers are the worst:

Take spammers down:

  • Go to their website and confirm their actual business names,
  • Find their listing in Google My Business,
  • Suggest an edit (if you’re a Local Guide your edit may get approved quicker)

Oh Snap – who’s laughing now?


Citation Consistency Shortcut
If you have multiple phone numbers across different important citation sources, this can have a negative impact on your local search campaigns and create bad data and information in the Local Search Ecosystem.

Update your GMB listing to include the additional phone numbers for a quick fix to citation inconsistency issues.

Get Your Citations Indexed
Many of your citations will not be indexed in Search Engines, with a little SQL injection to the index you can fix this.

  • Create a page on your website with links to the citation URL’s
  • Internally link to it,
  • Then submit it for indexing through Google Search Console
  • Once the fetch is done, request indexing

Hacking the Website

Get Stars in the Organic Results
Those glorious golden stars in search results help increase your click-through-rates, add micro-data/schema markup to your site pages. Click here for instructions on how to implement them on your site.

Before you go crazy trying to get all the rich snippets, here are a few rules/tips to making sure you do it right:

  • Doesn’t work on the homepage
  • Must be original content (no copying reviews)
  • The page must have page authority of ~25 or higher
  • Internally link with “reviews”/“testimonials” in anchor
  • Get external links to the page

Consolidate Your Content
Don’t be like the hundreds of other businesses in your city that have 1 page with a little bit of content, that no one reads, set yourself apart and have the best page in the city on the topic. Here’s an example of a business doing content right.

You can take this even further by consolidating your content from your blog to your service landing page an d 301 redirecting it. Now you have an even better service page, that is more informative, and ideally more helpful.

Hacking Local Links

In local SEO it’s truly amazing the impact just a few links can have.

Sponsorship’s are quick and easy links in your city that help you and other organizations that are important to your community. It’s a win-win.

  • One Search to rule them all – intitle:sponsors “Your City”,
  • Add &num=100 to the query,
  • Export to CSV with the Moz Bar,
  • Review results and find the best opportunity for your business.

Hacking Reviews

Get Your Keywords in Reviews
Reviews are not only critical to helping your rankings, but they are a must for reputation management. Take your review asking strategy to new levels, by simply adding more details to your request!

(If you want to learn more about keywords in reviews check out this episode of the Whitespark Weekly).

Ask For Yelp Reviews Without Asking
Yelp has a strict “don’t ask for reviews” policy. But you can create a check-in offer and get Yelp to do the asking for you (insert maniacal laugh here).


Incentivize Reviews The Safe Way
Offer incentives for Google reviews and they might all get removed. Do it the right way by creating incentives for your EMPLOYEES, not customers.

Rob Ousbey

Hacking Engagement
The future of local SEO is Entity Authority – David Mihm breaks it down for in his article on the Difference Making Local Ranking Factor. How can we impact engagement metrics?

Clicks from Search Results

  • Optimize titles and descriptions for clicks
  • Get the stars, get the clicks.
  • Emoji’s in your GMB business name (Guidelines violation – use at your own risk!).
  • Write a compelling GMB description (coming soon).

Clicks to Calls

  • Tons of glowing reviews = more calls.
  • Responding to reviews shows you care = more calls.
  • Have compelling photos and videos of your work on GMB

Driving Directions

  • Link to this on contact page, email sig, footer, etc.

Branded Searches

  • Link your email signature to a brand search.
  • Link to a brand search in your newsletters.
  • Sneaky: add a link to brand search in high traffic content.
  • Billboard to drive brand searches!
  • Ask people to Google your brand in TV or radio ads.

Darren Shaw

Darren Shaw founded Whitespark in 2005. The company specialized in web design and development, however, Darren's passion and curiosity for all things local search led Whitespark to focus primarily on local SEO in 2010 with the launch of the Local Citation Finder, followed by the Local Rank Tracker.

Follow Me on Twitter

48 comments on “Local Search Hacks You Probably Haven’t Seen Before

  • Interesting that the example given of the brakes website in Edmonton which has a service page with rich snippet review stars… doesn’t show up for me with stars at all.

    I examined the fugly website and discovered that the structured data is inserted via microformatting and seems completely bogus. (Made up review counts with no source connected to them.)

    Perhaps Google caught on and they’ve been penalized?

    Wouldn’t surprise me considering how the rest of the page looks.
    eg: (Random) h2 – “I Need a Good Mechanic in Edmonton Search Results”

  • In the spammer case of Personal Injury Lawyer, it is not cut and dry like you said. Personal Injury is a huge field and my clients only work with car accidents and contract disputes. Having places them on the title help users to narrow down who should they call if they have cases outside of those two. However, your suggestion can also be overridden by the map owners. So why waste time to offer suggestions … I suggest they follow and do the same.

    • Kim, it’s pretty cut and dry. The Google Guidelines state that the business name should only be your business name as it is represented in the real world and should not include any extra words. Anything other than your real world business name is spam and a violation of the guidelines. Essentially, it’s cheating, and pushing down legitimate businesses that are playing by the rules.

      From the Guidelines:

      Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. Accurately representing your business name helps customers find your business online.

      Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended.

  • Awww… if only a Yelp check-in offer was available for my business. I own a vacation rental and was told that it’s not available for every type of business.

    Thanks for the wonderful tips you provided!
    Teena from gorgeous NH

  • First one is not working for me. Viewing the source code and then CTRL+F their primary category does not show the code like the sample code you provided. Also it shows the code for all of the listings, not just that single listing – even if you click on their listing so it’s front and center. Let me know what I’m missing.

    • Hi Mike,

      What you’re missing is that you’re not going direct to the listing in Maps. If you go to the listing through a list of search results, it won’t work. What you need to do is open a new tab for Google Maps and then start typing the business name. The auto-complete should pop up with the business you’re looking for, and choose it from the auto-complete. This will take you direct to the listing for that business, and then it should work.

  • Nice tip about the competitor category hack BUT I can’t seem to replicate it. I even found your example competitor, jumped into the source, Ctrl+F. I also searched for “diesel” and nothing came up. No other categories other than the primary.

    • Hi Dan,

      If you go to the listing through a list of search results, it won’t work. What you need to do is open a new tab for Google Maps and then start typing the business name. The auto-complete should pop up with the business you’re looking for, and choose it from the auto-complete. This will take you direct to the listing for that business, and then it should work.

  • Darren,

    This is a great post! I really liked the branded search tips, hadn’t thought of linking to your email signature, newsletters and high traffic content (so sneaky, but GOOD!) to branded search. These are so simple yet so EASY to overlook. The category one is great too, I learned this brilliant hack a while back from an article written by Joy Hawkins. Thanks for these Hacks they really keep on top of my local SEO game. Thanks for these killer tips!

  • Hi, great article! Got position one for my site with that.

    But does that also work in the hotel niche? One of my clients got more Backlinks, daily reviews and weekly new content. They even have the city name in there Business Name / GMB Name but still don’t rank in the local pack oO

    It’s so frustrating!

    • Hi Chris,

      There were a number of different tactics mentioned in the presentation, so I’m not sure which “that” you’re referring to when you ask if it works for hotels. Generally, yes, I think all of these tips are valid for hotels as well.

      Your client may be suffering from being too far away from the search location, and that’s why they don’t rank. See this https://whitespark.ca/blog/proximity-searcher-still-1-local-search-ranking-factor/. That, or, 100 possible other things. Local search is complex.

  • Perhaps the most interesting, informative and actionable piece on local SEO i’ve read in ages. Fantastic tips in here.

  • WOW! you never cease to amaze with real-life, tested and true Local Search hacks. SearchLove San Diego participants were lucky to have you present 🙂

  • Hi Darren! Yet another great article. Thank you. I have a question. On the links to citations, do you agree that linking to sites that give follow links wouldn’t be good? I know many local citations don’t give follow links. But some do, especially paid ones. So my question is whether you agree.

    • Hi Tina! Are you worried about reciprocal links? If that’s your concern, then no, I don’t agree that it would be a problem. It’s perfectly fine to link to your citations that have followed links.

  • Also does pinging any of these citations / websites do any good (in terms of having Google crawl faster), similar to your example above of linking then indexing? I’m just trying to figure out how to make G crawl pages that link to my site, with follow links, more quickly. I wouldn’t want to be giving reciprocal links in those cases. Thanks very much!

    • Pinging would probably help a bit. If you have a facebook page that links to you, and then you link to that facebook page to direct your audience to follow you on facebook, this is perfectly natural and NOT the kind of reciprocal linking that Google is concerned about. Back in the day, there were link schemes where people would have a page on their site that said something like “We’ll link to your site if you link to us first. Just email us when you’ve added the link and we’ll link to you on this page”. That would result in a huge page of links to unrelated sites. This is the unnatural link manipulation behavior that Google started penalizing.

      Reciprocal links in general are quite natural and happen all the time all over the web. For example, Phil Rozek’s site mentions us and links to us all the time in his blog, and we do the same back to him. This is not a concern. The only kind of reciprocal linking that is a concern is the link scheme I mentioned above. If you’re not doing that, then you have nothing to worry about with reciprocal linking.

  • I can’t find the ‘other categories’ after I do the “Ctrl-F”. I type the keyword, but before and after it just shows lots of “null” words. No other keywords. I looked both on Firefox and Chrome. What am I missing?

    • What you’re missing is that you’re not going direct to the listing in Maps. If you go to the listing through a list of search results, it won’t work. What you need to do is open a new tab for Google Maps and then start typing the business name. The auto-complete should pop up with the business you’re looking for, and choose it from the auto-complete. This will take you direct to the listing for that business, and then it should work.

  • These are such a lifesavers! I bet this will help every Local SEO and local business owner to thrive trough the competition. Thank you for the insightful post, Darren!

  • Hey Darren, just curious if you have any insight on whether Google Q&A has value on local rank, or an overall SEO benefit? Clearly the content is regularly refreshed, though true value in some of the questions I’ve seen are a different story. My concern is that since anyone can respond, not just a business owner or brand, does Google view this authority as subjective, thus having no real value? Trying to juggle the cost/benefit of addressing Q&A to determine overall worth.

    • We can’t know for certain if Google uses Q&A information in rankings, but given how easy this would be to keyword-stuff/spam, I have to assume they would not use this data in the rankings algorithm. But, it’s hard to say without testing. Would be a great test to spam the heck out of Q&A for an obscure term that doesn’t appear on your website or anywhere else in your online presence and see if your rankings improve for the term.

      The value in Q&A is just getting the right questions and answers to your customers. The main thing is that the business should control this and not leave it to the public. They should seed the Q&A with good frequently asked questions that would provide helpful information to their customers. If it’s left untouched, what you’ll find is that people often ask silly questions and then other people leave silly answers. You should still monitor for this, but it looks a lot better if your Q&A mostly contains helpful questions and answers. You should see the GetFiveStars guide to Google Q&A.

  • Hi Darren,
    Fantastic Post.
    I do have a quick question that you might be able to help me with.
    You mentioned that we can add additional categories to our GMB listings but is there any benefit to adding secondary categories? I haven’t been able to find any information regarding whether or not the help with SEO or Ranking.

    • Definitely a benefit, as long as the categories are appropriate for your business. If you’re a lawyer and you have your category set as “lawyer”, but you also do criminal law and personal injury law, then you DEFINITELY want to set those additional categories. Doing so will give you a much better chance of ranking for more specific terms like “criminal lawyer”.

  • Thanks for the tip about the spammers and suggestion regarding the name edit. A nifty way to tackle those spams. In fact, I am just going to follow that.

  • Darren, is it safe to build a page and then cite our citation links to get them crawled by Google? I see your example in your post but was not sure if this is actually a safe method. Your thoughts? Does it work?

    • Perfectly safe (I don’t know how it could not be safe), and yes, it works to help get those citations indexed.

  • Daren,

    When you say to ask people to Google your brand, are you referring to the name of the company? Also, your tip about linking to a brand search in high content traffic sounds intriguing but I’m a bit lost about what you mean. Sorry for the confusion, it’s been a long day!

    • Hi Jack,

      Yes, I mean a search for the name of the company. Sometimes a brand name search might be ambiguous, though, so you have to help Google know WHICH entity you’re referring to. There are probably hundreds of businesses around the US called “Smile Dental”, so if you’re doing a branded search for Smile Dental in Denver, then make the search “Smile Dental Denver”. This is just an example that I haven’t tested. The key is to make sure that the search returns a knowledge panel for the business entity.

      When I suggest linking to the brand search in high traffic content, I mean dropping a link to your brand name where appropriate in that content that goes to the search results rather than your website. For example, you would link to https://www.google.com/search?q=Smile+Dental+rochester+ny

  • Excellent post, Darren. These are some great tips and strategies for local search! Appreciate your creative style as it makes for an entertaining (and informative) read. Thanks for the write-up!

  • Your suggestion for getting site citations indexed is great!
    I am curious about the GMB section “take down the spammers” has anyone noted that spammers have been able to affect legitimate business listings by suggesting incorrect variations of those listing. I would hope not, but haven’t looked into it.

  • Darren, Great Article, Actually there are some tricks I can use to improve the consistency of the information for my business by adding the additional information to the GMB Listing. And loved the tip to fight with the spammer by suggesting the edit if they are spamming the keywords to the listing.

  • Great blog Darren. Indexing the citations and Incentivize Reviews The Safe Way were really helpful to me. And in-fact all your points are important and very useful. Will be looking forward to your blogs.

  • I really love this!
    A little confused on:
    – incentivize reviews for employees (and clients in general)
    – What is “billboard” to drive brand search
    – How do you find some of your citations? Totally going to implement a few things here.

  • Loved it ! very helpful tips, That Ctrl-F thing is kind of my favorite 😛 always helps out a lot. Also I agree with you that those golden stars (schema tags) can increase those Click through rates by 2 to 3 times anyways Thanks !

  • Hi Darren,

    Great read. Just wondering why would you link your email signature to a branded search when you could link it to go to your website directly?

  • What are your thoughts about using the SameAs property for holding citations ?. Do they help or not anymore?

  • Regarding submitting a page of citation links to google to make sure they are all indexed – is it safe to remove after a period of time? I would assume so. I would not want to leave that in place for the simple reason that if your competition finds that page, you have just given them a handy shortcut to catching up with you.

Comments are closed.