Businesses on page 2 of the SERP might as well not exist.

It sounds harsh but it’s simply the reality that both you and your clients should be fully aware of.

You know the drill—you want pizza so you get on your phone and do a search. Google presents its top 3 local options in the "Snack Pack" and 10 other organic results. You pick one and make a call or pop in the pizza joint.

Your search doesn't last too long typically - you're not digging far beyond the top 3 spots.

Your clients want and need to appear in one of those spots, or on the first page at least for those target keywords. So how do you get them there? How do you explain it if their site is AWOL?

You’ll need to do a local SEO audit to find out.

Here’s how to get it done.


How to Perform Your Audit

For local businesses, appearing in the SERP for local search terms, like ‘yoga in Santa Fe NM’ or ‘orthodontist Cambridge MA’ is essential. SearchEngineWatch notes that “80% users conduct online searches for local businesses, while 50% of users who do a local search on mobile for a business visit its store within a day.”

Your job is to identify all the SEO issues that are holding your clients back from dominating their local SERP and snack pack results. Working through this complete guide will help; You can also download our local SEO checklist if you want the pared down version of this post.

There are many local SEO tools that’ll help you as you proceed. I’ve listed a few of my top choices with each step of the audit. With these tools to help you automate your research, it shouldn't take more than 44 minutes to complete all the steps once you've got your process down.

Let’s get started!

Performing a Complete Local SEO Audit in 12 Steps

Audit Keywords

Time Commitment: 7 minutes

What are your client's target keywords? Step one of your audit should be to determine what they’re currently ranking for and identify any opportunities they might be missing.

For example, if they’re ranking well for ‘Philadelphia Bankruptcy Attorney’ but are nowhere to be found for ‘Philadelphia Bankruptcy Lawyer’, you’ve identified an area to improve.

Start by asking for a list of services, products, or a page your client would like to drive traffic to. Once you have this you’ll be able to use tools like Keyword Finder to quickly put together a list of high volume local target keywords.

how to do a local seo audit keyword finder

With this list in hand, you can proceed through the rest of your local SEO audit and determine how well these keywords are optimized every step of the way.

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Competitor’s Local SEO

Time Commitment: 7 minutes

Your client’s local SEO audit should include a look at their competitor's SEO profiles early on. Due to their influence on where your client ranks, competitor SEO could be considered an honorary ranking factor in the yearly SEO reports we all read. If your client is located in a highly competitive area where the other top businesses are doing everything right, you need to document what they're up against.

Doing a competitor analysis early on will give you a frame of reference for everything you discover about your client’s local SEO profile.

You don’t need to do a full-blown diagnostic on each competitor, but take a look at the following, and compare that data against your client’s:

  • GMB ranking for top keywords
  • Organic rankings for top keywords
  • Review quantity and quality
  • Number of links
  • Site Speed
  • Social Stats

In most cases, you should be able to take a look through these items and develop a hypothesis on why your client’s competitor is in the position they're in compared to your client.

how to do a local-seo audit competition research

Identify your client’s top competition

Vendasta partner Elijah Vieau of Techwyse notes that both client and competitor SEO audits can be similar:

"We take the same approach to auditing our clients and their competitors with regards to local SEO.

It starts with checking their GMB listing (categories, images, etc). This is followed by a citation crawl using White Spark. We'll pull this into a sheet and manually check each link for accuracy, along with ensuring the NAP is consistent on their website.

Based on this we'll get a heartbeat for their overall citation accuracy, as well as the authority and relevancy of the listings. From our client and competitor analysis, we'll identify gaps in our client's citation profile, and look to ultimately submit their NAP to those directories as needed.

On the keyword side of this, we'll use a tool such as Rank Ranger to track ranking improvements within the local pack over time and use a combination of Google Analytics and GMB Insights to uncover opportunities for local landing optimizations to increase rank and conversions."

Elijah Vieau

Director of SEO, Techwyse

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Google My Business Listing

Time Commitment: 3 minutes

Google My Business is one of the biggest drivers of local SEO success. If you want your client to appear in Google’s ‘snack pack’', their GMB listing should be robust, and well-optimized with their core target keywords.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Do they have a GMB listing? If so, is it claimed and verified?
  • Is all business information present and correct?
  • Do they have multiple reviews and a high cumulative rating? Are they responding to reviews?
  • Do they have appropriate business categories listed?
  • Do they have images of the business?
  • Have they created any GMB posts?
  • Are they participating in the Questions & Answers section?

These are the core elements that make up a strong GMB listing.

Here's how Eagan Heath of Get Found Madison audits his client's GMB business listings:

Eagan Heath

Founder, Get Found Madison

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Reviews for Quality and Quantity

Time Commitment: 2 minutes

Reviews pack a ton of clout in both the local ranking and reputation-building arenas. Search engines regard them as a powerful and authentic measure of a local business’s popularity and viability. Plus, potential customers trust reviews as an accurate gauge of that business’s quality level.

Getting an abundance of positive, glowing and wordy reviews across multiple review platforms like GMB, Facebook, Yelp, and vertical-specific sites like Houzz, Tripadvisor, and Healthgrades helps you win on many levels.

Local SEO Guide notes that Google does pick up on the keywords people use in their reviews: “At a high level, having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of a city you are working to rank in, in reviews has a high correlation with high ranking Google My Business results.”

So in addition review quality and diversity across the top platforms, you’ll want to examine the content of all available reviews to see if your client’s target keywords are present.

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Time Commitment: 3 minutes

Links remain the bread and butter of Google’s ranking algorithm.

Darren Shaw of Whitespark explains,

“Google is still leaning heavily on links as a primary measure of a business’ authority and prominence, and the local search practitioners that invest time and resources to secure quality links for their clients are reaping the ranking rewards.”


Darren Shaw

Founder/President, Whitespark

A diverse array of quality links is crucial for any local business’s link portfolio. This means that you’ll need to evaluate your client’s links, looking for links with:

  • Local content
  • Industry or vertical topic clusters
  • High domain authority

Link quality will win over quantity, and quality + quantity will help your client dominate the search rankings in their market. On the flip side, if you see a high volume of spammy, off-topic links, you’ll want to make a note of it as a red flag that may be damaging your client’s ability to rank well for their target keywords.

Our SEO wizard Jubaer Prodhan expands on this,

“Google is rewarding relevancy now than ever before. If you're auditing a local business website, it's better to set aside general SEO metrics and focus more on relevancy. For local SEO, a backlink from same niche/industry is good, but not relevant enough. A backlink from DA 20 website which is from the same city and same industry is much much better than a general backlink from DA 60 website. Having said that, don't just mark positive to all the relevant industry or same city backlinks. Check the linking page OBL (outbound links) number, Moz Spam score, content quality carefully. Clearly, you don't want to get backlinks from a page which Google considers as a LinkFirm or Thin Content page.”

Jubaer Prodhan

Search Marketing Specialist, Vendasta

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Schema-Markup for Local

Time Commitment: 2 minutes

Schema markup is code that goes on a website to help search engines return more informative results for users. Schema tells the search engines what your data means, not just what it says.

This markup is a key way to tell search engines exactly what a given website is about, which will help them serve it up on SERPs for the correct search queries.

One way to check to ensure that your client’s site is using schema markup is to enter their URL in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. You’ll be able to check to see if all the correct info about the business has been included.

Jubaer walks us through adding schema-markup to your client’s website and individual landing pages:

"SMBs often don't realize how important schema-markup is. If you have a local client who isn't using schema-markup on their pages, it's your great opportunity.

First, take a quick look at the keywords and SERP results. It will help you to understand the user intent so you can give the best value. Try to identify which markups (reviews, event, article, product etc) can be a good fit for your client's website. Then create a content map and tag which markup will you use for which page. While highlighting/adding information in the markup fields, add information which the user would find most helpful.

To add Schema markup, if it's a WordPress website, "All In One Schema Rich Snippets" is a great plugin. For other websites, Schema markup generator this is a good tool to create the code."


Jubaer Prodhan

Search Marketing Specialist, Vendasta

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Local SEO Citations

Time Commitment: 3 minutes

How frequently is your client's business mentioned online? Auditing their citations will determine just how many online mentions exist of the name, address, and phone number for their business.

It’s important to look into both your client’s structured and unstructured citations, as they're quite a bit different.

For structured citations, you’ll audit their business listings across the web, looking at social platforms and directories like Yelp, Yellowpages, Facebook, Superpages, and MapQuest. You’ll also need to check to see if their correct business info is listed on the main data aggregators: Axiom, Neustar/Localeze, Factual, and Infogroup.

Next, you’ll need to check your client’s unstructured citations. According to Zachary Yuzdepski,

"An unstructured citation can be found on random websites, blogs, event listings, job posting sites, government records or social media mentions. These are unstructured because they could be as simple as a company mention. Usually, these citations don’t include a business’s NAP data.”

Zachary Yuzdepski

Markerting Analyst, Vendasta

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit SEO on Main Pages

Time Commitment: 7 minutes

An audit of the main website pages is probably the most important piece of your entire audit. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming if you have the proper tools though. Screaming Frog is one of many excellent tools that’ll deliver a comprehensive look at your client's on-page SEO.

Local SEO expert Jeff Lenney shared some quick tips on using Screaming Frog to audit your client's on-page keyword optimization here:

Jeff Lenney

Search Engine Optimization Expert, JLenney Marketing, LLC

With your list of target keywords in hand, you’ll want to run through each page on your spreadsheet (as Jeff demonstrated) looking over the keywords on each page. Specifically, you’ll be looking at the:

  • Page titles
  • Title tags
  • Sub-headings
  • Word count
  • Meta description

Even with just this information, you’ll be well-equipped to analyze how well their pages are optimized for local SEO. Plus, you’ll be able to recommend improvements and content gaps that might be missing.

Once you’ve evaluated and recorded the weaknesses in your client’s local SEO (and they’ve hired you to save the day) you can make use of a host of top-tier SEO plugins to help you do your work.

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Image SEO

Time Commitment: 3 minutes

There are two main components to image optimization for local SEO: keyword usage and how images affect page load speed.

You can use ScreamingFrog to evaluate both.

Keyword Usage: Auditing image keyword optimization boils down to evaluating each image’s filename and alt text. Since Google can’t yet tell what visual content an image contains yet, site crawlers rely on things like the filename and alt text to determine what’s being displayed. These are places that should be optimized with relevant target keywords.

Page Load Speed: You can get some big improvements in page load speed when images are optimized to reduce their file size without significantly impacting their visual quality. Using Screaming Frog, you can take an inventory of all the images on your client’s site and highlight the images that are slowing things down. (There are also image size optimization plugins that resize images automatically going forward.)

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Check Website Speed

Time Commitment: 1 minute

Having a site that loads rapidly is crucial in today’s online business environment.

Edwin Toonen of Yoast notes that

“Google’s latest research shows that the chance of a bounce increases 32% when the page load time goes from 1s to 3s. 1s to 5s increases the chance to 90% and if your site takes up to 10s to load, the chance of a bounce increases to 123%. That’s incredible. For search engines, better results and performance is a sign of a healthy site that pleases customers and therefore should be rewarded with a higher ranking.”

Edwin Toonen

Content Manager, Yoast

Google PageSpeed Insights Tool performs a near-instant audit of a given URL for both mobile and desktop searches. This will give you a quick way to tell if improvements are needed, and a list of actions to take to improve your client's website speed.

‘Cause we don’t want to be average!

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Site Engagement

Time Commitment: 3 minutes

What visitors do when they discover your client’s business online affects their rankings. In fact, David Mihm argues that “Engagement is simply a much more accurate signal of the quality of local businesses than the traditional ranking factors of links, directory citations, and even reviews.”

Metrics like organic search click-through rate (CTR), dwell time, bounce rate, and conversion rate are all ranking factors. You can simply use Google Analytics (You’ll need access from your client) to examine your client’s engagement metrics and compare them to industry benchmarks.

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

Audit Social Engagement

Time Commitment: 3 minutes

The truth is that we’re not sure to what extent social signals are baked into Google’s ranking algorithm. However, there’s no doubt that a strong social media presence can significantly boost local SEO efforts.

According to Ron Dod of Visiture, the bigger and more engaged your client’s audience is, the more they’ll be able to boost rankings:

“The bigger your brand is and the more consumers trust you, the more likely you are to receive a larger share of clicks in Google. Social media can be a great and efficient way to help you build your brand and get in front of people who wouldn’t have otherwise found you.”

Ron Dod

Cofounder and CEO , Visiture

Cornelia Cozmiuc of Cognitive SEO shares thoughts on a recent study on whether social signals influence SEO,

“It’s probably also worth mentioning another recent adage, coming from the creator of the XKCD web comic, which states that “correlation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there.’“ Which is to say that just because we cannot definitely state that more shares on a social network will lead to a higher position in the rankings list, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen."

Cornelia Cozmiuc

Marketer & Storyteller, Cognitive SEO

Therefore, evaluating your client’s social platforms is an essential part of your local SEO audit.

  • Number of people that like your client’s page on Facebook + Facebook shares
  • Number of Twitter followers + tweets mentioning your brand name
  • Number of LinkedIn company followers and Linkedin Shares

Here’s how to use Buzzsumo to see your client’s top social shares:

Helpful Local SEO Tools:

  • Use NameCHK to find all social media profiles
  • Use Buzzsumo to find your client’s most shared content

How to Report Your Audit Results

Your clients aren’t going to want a 3-hour masterclass on local SEO. You may not even need to cover each step of your audit. The main information to convey is that the gaps you found will prevent their site from ranking as well as it could for their target keywords.

What you’ll want to focus on is how long it’ll take to fix the optimization issues that you found, how much it’ll cost them, and a ballpark estimate on the areas you expect will improve. The last part of this is the hardest. It’s incredibly hard to make predictions because there are so many factors involved in local SEO.

You can present your local SEO report in whichever manner you and your clients prefer. For some clients, a written report may be enough. However, most will want and need a bit more explanation from you.

Vendasta partner Phil Tucker of Be Famous Media has developed a useful approach to sharing audit reports with clients:

“I usually will do reports and have PDFs that will show historical ranking changes and where they rank, depending on the client, in Google, Google Maps, Google Mobile, Yahoo, and Bing. I may even make a screenshot video of myself going over the report and digging into results a bit. I find the video is good because I can make the video whenever I want, and they can watch it whenever they want it, versus an actual screen share.”

Phil Tucker

Founder, Be Famous Media

Another tip from Phil is that taking a consultative approach to your report to clients is key. Correct local SEO is a means to an end: getting leads!

“One of the things I've been working on is really making sure the customer understands that we're in this together. It's not just the ranking that matters, but also what happens after the traffic gets to their website. That way, even if they don't necessarily have the budget for my recommendations today, it’s still in the back of their mind. So down the road, as the campaign progresses, it's a lot easier conversation of, "Oh, yeah, remember when we talked about that?" It's a lot easier to upsell them to get a website that's converting well, not just ranking well.”

Phil Tucker

Founder, Be Famous Media

Final Thoughts

Performing a comprehensive local SEO audit using the 12 steps I’ve outlined is going to dredge up issues, no matter which business you audit. However, local SEO is still a mystery to many local businesses, so educating your clients on the value of this work is key.

Finding and fixing any SEO optimization issues you discover along the way is also crucial, as is recording your progress to ensure you’re not missing any vital pieces of the local SEO puzzle.

If you’d like to keep your audit progress organized, just download our free Local SEO Checklist and record your progress as you go! If you’d like to get some help bumping your clients up in their local and organic SERP rankings, hop on a demo to learn about our white label local SEO products!