In 2023, I’ll have been studying local SEO for 20 years, and I definitely still won’t know it all.
If you’re just entering this fine and spacious field of local search marketing, welcome to what will be a habit of lifelong scholarship. In the next 20 years, you’ll see as many (or more) changes than we’ve witnessed in the nascent decades of this discipline. You’ll study how to lay a feast of options before the local businesses you market, regularly setting out new dishes as new promotional opportunities arise. Your education is what will keep this buffet fresh and hot while keeping you enthusiastic about your work.
Here’s the view from my side of the table of what’s happened culturally over the past two decades in the industry: we started out from a real place — marketing actual local businesses — and have come to prize their qualities of realness more with each passing year as we’ve learned to prioritize owner expertise, their earned authority, trustworthiness, community involvement, economic essentialness, and basic human-ness! It’s been good growth that has handily paralleled Google’s own messaging about what they want and it’s been a steady evolution, set amid an otherwise-hectic rate of technological change.
It’s this combination of how to consistently think local like a philosopher coupled with how to selectively act local like a chef in a stocked pantry that you’ll be pursuing as a career scholar in local SEO. Today, I’d like to set my table for you with high quality paid and free local SEO educational resources and tools to keep you thinking and acting successfully in the years ahead.
Resources for formal local SEO training
You can’t major in local SEO in college, but being able to access organized training will be a faster path to education than trying to cobble information together from a bunch of random sources. If you’re hoping to get a job in local SEO, are already working for a local business that needs to market itself, or have decided to expand your marketing agency’s service menu, dedicated programs like these will help you absorb a lot of knowledge in a logical order:
Moz Academy’s Local SEO Certification (Paid – $395, 5 hours and 45 minutes)
Invest in this paid on-demand video course and you’ll access nearly six hours of formal but fun training in how to do local SEO. Take an exam at the end and receive a certification badge as proof of your proficiency and accomplishment. I contributed course materials for this program which is led and presented by Moz’s Senior Learning and Development Specialist, Meghan Pahinui, and I don’t know of another learning opportunity quite like it anywhere else on the web in terms of its completeness, quality, and value.
BrightonSEO’s Local SEO On Demand Course (Paid – £300, 3 hours)
I haven’t personally taken this three-hour paid course, but I have been a longtime viewer of the instructor, Greg Gifford, whom I consider to be a master at video-based teaching. BrightonSEO’s track record of publishing excellent local SEO materials gives me the confidence to include this resource in my formal training list as doubtless being of high quality.
Sterling Sky/LocalU’s Agency Training (Paid – $1500 per session with volume discounts)
Pay for live, modular teaching from some of the best in the business. While I haven’t personally taken these classes, I can vouch for Joy Hawkins’ world-class SEO skills and am confident that any program developed by her organization would be of excellent quality for agencies ready to make a substantial business investment in one-on-one training.
Pigzilla’s Private Local SEO Training Community (Paid – $5-$49 per month)
This is a subscription-based community run by Dani Owens in which you pay monthly for access to ongoing local SEO mentorship and materials. I’m not a member, but respected local SEO, Claire Carlile, gives it her endorsement and this could be a good fit for new marketers in search of supportive guidance. A seven-day free trial will help you decide if it’s a good match for your style and needs.
Prefer to teach yourself from great materials? Look no further than this comprehensive 9-chapter, totally free guide from Moz. I’m the chief contributor to this resource that will walk you through conceptualizing and marketing local businesses from the ground up. If your company is onboarding new local SEOs, give them this guide as a training manual.
If none of these training resources are exactly what you were looking for, an alternative tip would be to contact an experienced local SEO whom you really admire and ask if there is room on their calendar to coach you at an hourly rate. Some may be too busy, but others may welcome the opportunity to mentor you.
Resources for thinking local
Once you’ve accomplished a basic level of training in local SEO, cultivating your ability to think of everything from a local perspective will be an ongoing practice that sets you apart professionally and helps you bring value to any relevant organization. Get into the best possible local mindset with these resources:
Near Media (Free)
Respected industry figures Mike Blumenthal, Greg Sterling, and David Mihm publish this podcast, newsletter, and blog which has become the best place I know of to view commerce, search, and social through a local lens. Industry developments are assessed with practicality and an eye keenly focused on benefitting real local businesses. I’ve contributed to the blog at Near Media, and am a weekly reader and viewer of everything published by this organization because, for me, it defines thought leadership in the local space. Become a local SEO who thinks as logically as these gentlemen do and you will be a major asset to any business or agency.
Moz Blog’s Local Column (Free)
In company with some outstanding industry guest contributors, the local column of the Moz Blog is my home base, and I’m including it in the “think local” section of this guide because my own interest in local search has always had a philosophical root. I truly see local as a tool for prioritizing people and planet over mere profit and I hope readers are taking my work and using it to develop more inclusive, diverse, and sustainable local communities. Applause for you if you are thinking deeply about what strategic local SEO tactics can do to build a better world for all of us.
Start reading ILSR’s remarkable series of reports and you’ll quickly come to see the links between local businesses and larger concepts like politics, human rights, energy, and society. Keep a close eye on this organization for original data and statistics you can use to tell persuasive local business stories and get buy-in from colleagues and bosses on initiatives.
The American Independent Business Alliance (Free/Paid)
With a membership of more than 50,000 local businesses and organizations, AMIBA is a need-to-know resource for US local SEOs whose clients should be part of the Buy Local movement. AMIBA helps communities develop IBAs, and has both paid memberships and free learning resources to enable independently-owned companies become part of larger local initiatives. Truly a great org.
You’ll find outstanding local SEO takeaways from the live and live-streamed popular annual conference that is MozCon. MozCon is a general SEO and marketing conference with some presentations being local-specific and nearly all speakers sharing trends in thought and tactics that are applicable to most business types. Missed the most recent event? Check out the video bundles.
Local University (Free/Paid)
Free weekly video round-ups of local search news and a celebrated paid traveling conference series have made LocalU an industry favorite for many years. Some of the best minds in the local search community are involved in this organization, many of whom I’ve learned so much from outside the formal conference circuit. Great news is that LocalU has a virtual event planned for late 2022, so you can attend the conference from any location.
Street Fight (Free)
If the local businesses you market tend to fall into more highly-funded categories, Street Fight’s publication keeps a running tab on new local tech and bigger brand developments, acquisitions, and news. Awareness of what’s going on at the cutting edge of commerce can often provide inspiration for smaller-scale implementation for SMBs. All Local SEOs can benefit from learning how big businesses think and selectively draw lessons from this about how they want to operate and differentiate.
Pro tip for a never-ending stream of localistic thoughts enriching your mind: find your favorite local SEOs on Twitter and look at their profiles to follow whomever they follow. Their chosen sources will sometimes surprise you and can be real gems.
Resources for acting local
Now things are getting exciting. Once you know local search fundamentals and are working to develop your own business philosophy, you’ll want to be able to take bold action on up-to-the minute developments and use good tools effectively. Learn, test, and iterate with help from these resources:
Search Engine Roundtable (Free)
The local category of Barry Schwartz’s famed publication reports new local developments faster than any other site on the web. If you want to be the first (or the second) to know when Google rolls out a new feature or experiences a new large-scale problem, be a regular Roundtable reader.
For some of the best actionable local SEO advice anywhere, tune into the ongoing small-scale studies Joy Hawkins’ agency conducts. Data-based tactics are best! Meanwhile, if you run into a problem while doing local SEO, head to her forum for good, free advice from the community.
Make a copy of the spreadsheet and start documenting client vs. competitor wins and losses to help you create an informed local search marketing strategy. This work deserves to be foundational and primary to most campaigns, and a ready-made spreadsheet makes it easier.
The tactics you prioritize for each unique local business you market should be customized to their potential and goals, but it’s great to know which factors a large pool of local SEOs feel are currently having the most observable impact on Google’s local and organic rankings. This annual survey has become an industry institution.
This paid tool is a step ahead of many others because it allows you to emulate rankings from local packs and Google Maps, which are typically different. There are also Google organic and Bing options as well, to give you a very big picture of online performance.
MobileMoxie’s SERPerator (Free/Paid)
Emulate mobile local ranking for free three times a month, and upgrade to a paid account if you love this.
So quick, easy, and doesn’t cost a penny. Make it a cinch to request reviews from customers with this link-generating widget from the good folks at Whitespark.
GMBSpy Chrome Extension (Free)
For another vital action, get this great Chrome extension to reveal all the Google Business Profile categories being used in your market and industry.
GMB Everywhere (Free)
This extension also surfaces categories, but does even more in terms of auditing competitors’ posting strategy and contents.
Moz’s Check Presence Tool (Free)
Get an at-a-glance sense of the health of any local business’ citations by simply entering the company name and address.
Moz Local (Paid)
Build out and maintain a high-quality set of local business listings and manage your reviews with this trusted software. The tool also offers basic review sentiment analysis, which is one of the most important tasks of local campaigns.
Moz Link Intersect tool (Paid)
If you are a Moz Pro subscriber, don’t overlook the highly useful Link Intersect feature of Link Explorer which lets you discover local competitors’ linked unstructured citations, enabling you to see where you could earn linktations for the businesses you market.
Get slack or email notifications any time this tool finds social mentions of your business. Being where your customers are talking about you is a fundamental local search marketing practice.
Buzzsumo’s Content Analyzer (Free)
Get publication inspiration by entering a topic, keyword, or domain name into this widget to see how many social shares are occurring around that theme.
This newcomer service is at the cutting edge of both the image and visual search trend we are watching take over the local space. This service generates local business photography that is geared at improving conversions.
Working with a local business owner who is an expert at what they do, but doesn’t excel at writing? Film them talking with this up-and-coming tool and use a single session to spark multiple types of content.
If you can use a spreadsheet, you can use Noah Learner’s cool application for publishing Google posts to multiple Google Business Profiles.
Microdata Generator (Free)
Generate local business schema with this simple widget from Steven Ferrino.
This list could go on forever, but I’ll cut it off here and hope you’ll add some of these actionable resources to your kit.
Why should you learn local SEO?
I’m not saying you should! Local may not be your dream career, but here’s something to consider: Google has been ruling the SEO world for as long as I’ve been working online, and local is the ace up their sleeve. They are deeply staked to it. It’s what they have that Amazon doesn’t, and, for that matter, local is the thing Amazon keeps trying to experiment with by opening and shuttering a series of physical stores of their own. Virtual e-commerce may have spiked over the past few years, but it’s downtrending again. And, to put it bluntly, saving the planet means breaking our overdependent long-distance shipping habit in favor of local fulfillment because of the problem of fossil fuels.
As we covered here in a recent column, working with independent local businesses can align well with personal convictions about healthy societies, but if that’s not a deciding factor for you, it could just be that local businesses are as old as dust and have great sticking power. You can choose to make career gambles on affiliate marketing, or crypto, or whatever the next thrilling surge may be. Many people thrive on the excitement and some get rich. But if you’d prefer a safer bet, look around your own town and see how many people are on their way right now to the grocery store, bank, diner, and doctor. They’ll keep in those well-worn grooves for the foreseeable future, and you can create a good niche for yourself in teaching established models the newest tactics for promoting themselves to a society in love with tech.
For me, local offers all the excitement I can handle, and if you value a working environment in which constant learning is part and parcel of the job, you may have just discovered the “you are here” on the big map of your career options.