Some search engine optimization principles are universal. Want to show up first in Canadian search results? You’ll need great content, solid technical optimization, and links from high-authority external sites. Within those broad rules, however, you’ll find endless variation, depending on your goals.
Want to reach a Canadian audience?
You need to optimize your website for Canadian users.
We’re going to teach you how. In this article, we’ll cover local, on-page, technical, and off-page optimization—all with the goal of helping you rank well in Canada.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand that Google, Bing, and similar search engines are all Canadian search engines—by default—if you’re searching from a computer in Canada (or with a Canadian VPN). This means that content optimized for Canada will perform better on large search engines for any searches performed in Canada.
Okay! With that out of the way, we can take the plunge into Canadian SEO:
I. Optimizing for Local SEO
We’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of on-page, technical, and off-page SEO soon—but we should pause here and consider the businesses we’re optimizing for.
There are, broadly, two types of websites that want to optimize for Canadian content. The first are websites trying to reach all Canadians—e-commerce sites, national news sites, not-for-profit organizations, and more.
The second—and far more common—are local businesses. Restaurants, service providers like mechanics and cleaners, local stores—you get the idea. These companies need to employ very specific strategies and keywords to rank well in their region.
Let’s explore one of the most important strategies for local SEO:
Using location-specific keywords
Local businesses need to teach search engines about their location and the areas they serve. The best way of doing this is to include location-specific keywords in:
- Your title tags
- Your headers
- Your meta descriptions
- Your image alt text
- The anchor text for your internal links
- The body of your content
Obviously, we want to do this in the least spammy way possible: A sentence like “Our St. Catherine’s business is the best in the St. Catherine’s area” looks unnatural to search engines and humans.
Instead, make content that lends itself naturally to location-specific keywords.
Imagine you’re a Vancouver-based heating and cooling business—you might make an article titled “The Most Energy Efficient Ways To Heat Your Vancouver Home”.
In this article, you’d naturally want to talk about the weather in Vancouver, the cost of energy in Vancouver, and even the architecture in Vancouver—and all of this would send strong signals to Google that you’re a Vancouver-based (and thus Canadian) business.
Talking about entities related to your location is another great, natural-looking way to show search engines and users that you’re a local. Here in Winnipeg, we might write that a pest control business “kills pests as well as the Jets kill penalties” (at the time of writing, the Jets have a really good PK). Get creative!
Service-in-location (SIL) keywords
One of the best ways for local businesses to do this is by using service-in-location (SIL) keywords in their content—these often work wonders as anchor text pointing to your home page. SIL keywords are structured like this:
(A service your company offers) in (A location you’re trying to rank in)
Here are some examples:
“We offer storage lockers in Winnipeg.”
“Looking for snowmobile repair in Whistler?”
“We’ve got electric bikes for rent in Burlington.”
While these make excellent anchor texts, they can also make wonderful article ideas. Take the last one, for example: You could write a whole article titled “The 5 best places to ride electric bikes in Burlington”, then very naturally include the anchor text we came up with above.
II. Utilizing On-Page Elements
In the last section, we focused on content and keywords for local businesses. Let’s turn our attention to other on-page elements that can help you rank on Canadian search engines and show up where it matters in the search results:
Use your footer to provide important information about your location
Search engines use a name, address, and phone number (NAP) citations in order to get information about where your business is located. Users are also keenly interested in this information (we can’t tell you how many times we’ve been frustrated by a site where location information wasn’t immediately available).
By including your address in your footer, you make it easy for both users and a search engine to find, no matter what page they’re on. When that address is in Canada, it sends important signals—websites with physical Canadian addresses are far more likely to have Canadian content.
Finally, make sure the NAP information in your footer matches your Google Business Profile. You need a Google Business Profile (GBP) to succeed in the world of local SEO.
Use testimonials with location information
Testimonials are great for both e-commerce and local businesses—they’re even great for not-for-profits and service-based websites.
When trying to improve your ranking on Canadian search engines, the best testimonials contain location information + a keyword you’re trying to rank for.
- “They’ve got the best sausages in Dartmouth”
- “Of all the cleaning staff I’ve worked with in Mississauga, Cleaning Co. is the best”
- “The best transport company in all of Canada, hands down”
Even testimonials with more specific location information, like neighbourhoods, send powerful signals to users and search engines.
Include location keywords in product information and service pages
I’ve touched on this topic for local businesses, but location keywords and related keywords are important for the product and service pages of e-commerce sites, too. You can build up an entire site dedicated to Canadian content, then use location keywords to signal that the products and services offered on that site are made for Canadians.
Again, getting hyper-specific with keywords is a great idea; you can build pages targeting your largest Canadian markets, like big cities. Talk about local landmarks! Neighbourhoods in the area! Anything that signals that you know the areas you’re targeting.
Use Canadian spelling of words
Pretty self-explanatory; Canadian users and search engines will trust you more if you spell things the way Canadians do. Superfluous U’s everywhere!
Note that some word processors (like Google Docs) don’t actually have a Canadian dictionary. When using those word processors, we recommend creating a personalized dictionary as you go, defaulting to British spellings and adding Canadian variants as they pop up.
Optimize images for Canadian SEO
You should be using alt text on all of your images—it’s both essential to comply with accessibility requirements and an easy way to add keywords to your pages. Where possible, include Canadian entities in your images—you can then describe those Canadian entities in the alt text for those images. Something as simple as a Canadian flag or maple leaf will do!
III. Technical Optimization
Now that you know how to build content that ranks well on Canadian search engines, it’s time to turn to the technical side of things like a meta description, page title, and a mobile friendly website.
Use a .ca or provincial domain extension
You can teach a search engine that your site is Canadian from the moment you register your domain name. Using a .ca domain extension (also known as a top-level domain, or TLD) tells a search engine that you’re a Canadian business—and that your website is designed for Canadian audiences.
Businesses could also opt to use a provincial domain extension (like .on.ca)—generally, however, we’d advise against this. Most provincial extensions are used by government organizations—using them could create confusion.
Both provincial and country-level TLDs do provide significant advantages for geotargeting, however—this means that if your business deals exclusively in one province, the benefits of a provincial domain extension may outweigh the risks.
Use the hreflang attribute
The hreflang attribute has two properties that can help you rank on Canadian search engines:
First, hreflang can be used to indicate that a page is designed for a certain region. A page marked with the hreflang en-ca attribute is designed for English speakers in Canada. You can use this attribute to teach search engines that an entire subdirectory is dedicated to Canadians—a great option if you don’t want to use a .ca domain.
Hreflang is also great for creating French variants (marked with fr-ca) for your pages. This strategy is great for bilingual regions like Quebec and New Brunswick.
Schema is incredibly important for local search engine optimization (let us know in the comments if you want a detailed article on local business schema). You can use it to get Rich Results, which can drastically improve your clickthrough rate (CTR).
Keep in mind that you’ll need a schema for all of your localized pages—this allows you to, for example, generate Rich Results for both French and English pages (or for both Canadian and international pages).
IV. Off-Page Optimization
Now that we’ve improved your site’s ability to rank on Canadian search engines, it’s time to focus on getting relevant, high-authority links from other sites. We’ll also build your NAP citations.
Submit your website to Canadian, provincial, and city directories
Every country has its own ecosystem for building high-quality NAP citations and easy-to-acquire backlinks, and Canada is no exception. By submitting your website to a variety of different directories, you can easily build your off-page presence.
Start by submitting your website to the Yellow Pages (YP) (yes, the same Yellow Pages your grandma used to use). YP is the single most important directory in Canada—sites like Yahoo Canada use YP to populate its list of businesses.
You should also submit your business to local directories like chambers of commerce—that will tie the business more directly to your city or province.
Submit your website to large directories that accommodate localized search
Don’t neglect larger directories like Yelp or Foursquare. These directories allow for localized searches by city—and that can send powerful signals to search engines about your locations. You can create links by using tools like BrightLocal and WhiteSpark to automatically build citations (for a fee)—those tools also have free versions that can help you find directories to submit your site to.
Submit guest posts to local and national blogs
Guest posting is a great way of (semi)-naturally building links to your website. Generally, there are two types of sites you want to guest post for: Sites that cover your niche and sites that are in your area (be they local or national).
The best sites to guest post to? The ones that are both local and related to your niche.
Those sites aren’t always easy to find, however (they’re usually your competitors), so we recommend looking for local interest blogs or blogs within Canada that cover your niche outside of your city.
Join local online communities/forums
One of the best ways of creating links to your website is to join local groups online. There’s a subreddit for every major Canadian city. You can find buy/sell/trade and community groups on Facebook for those cities, too, as well as for individual neighbourhoods. Maybe you could even go as far as to sponsor local events.
Add your location to social media accounts
This is an easy win to show up higher in search results now with E-E-A-T in play. You can create a NAP citation and tell your users where to find you, all in one move. Whether you’re using Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media platforms, you should add your location.
There are powerful tactics available to show users and search engines that your content is made for Canadians. We recommend an all-out approach—use on-page, technical, and off-page elements in order to establish yourself as a trustworthy Canadian page for the search results. Whether you’re a local business or an e-commerce site, performing well on Canadian search engines will boost your visibility in the Canadian market.
Have you used any of these strategies to improve your rankings in Canada? Know any other tactics Canadian businesses can use to dominate the search results? Want us to elaborate on any of the points we brought up in this article? Contact Us for Canada search engine optimization services today.
Get in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.
Until next time—may your compass point to the true north.
Jacob Kettner is the owner and CEO of First Rank Inc., a digital marketing agency based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He currently sits on Manitoba Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advisor Council which assists people grow their small businesses in Manitoba.