According to a recent study by BIA/Kelsey, nearly all consumers (97 percent) now go online when researching products or services in their local area.
The question is if they search for what you sell, will they find you?
You can't be in the running if you aren't in the race. And the local SEO market is a pretty big race.
With the advent of Google My Business (formerly Google Places) and the introduction of the local SERPS (Search Engine Results Page), Google has made a move to local in a big way. Why did they do this? Because they realized that most searches conducted online have a local intent, meaning people are looking for something close to their geographic area. It makes sense, if you're searching for “Pizza” and you live in Charlotte, what good would a pizza joint in Denver do for you?
So how does local SEO benefit local business owners?
In a big way. In the past, you were competing with a very large pool of competitors, whether they were located down the street, or across the country from you. Now, if a search occurs that has local intent such as “Cupcakes in Charlotte”, or “Cupcake shops near me”, Google will not only try and localize the results for the searcher, they will display a listing of Google My Business pages along with an area map. Not only that but with location technology, especially on mobile, even if you search for “Cupcake Shops”, Google will assume you mean cupcake shops near you and will return local search results for your area.
Your free Google Plus Business page has effectively leapfrogged ahead of dozens of businesses, some of which have spent quite a bit of time and money trying to climb the search engine rankings.
This levels the playing field with you, the small business with a small budget, versus big business, with very deep pockets and resources. Is your business taking advantage of this?
If you're ready to put in some time and effort to improve your search rankings in your local market, below are some of the most important things to get you started in the right direction. While this isn't a complete list, if you do these things, and do them well, you should be able to see some marked improvement in your rankings.
While this isn't a complete list, if you do these things, and do them well, you should be able to see some marked improvement in your rankings.
Optimize Your Website
Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP)
There are some simple things you can do to your website that can have a big impact in how the search engines view your site. If you're a local business, you want to make it clear that you're a local business. You do this by including your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) prominently on your website. This is not only beneficial to your visitors, it helps the search engines determine your geographic location and the local market your serve. In addition to placing your NAP on your contact page, consider placing it in the footer area of your website so it appears on all of your pages.
What's the title of your website? You can see the title of a site quickly by looking at the browser tab on which the website is opened. Most of the time, people will use the name of their business. While this is ok, what's really effective is when you name the title of your website to what you actually sell, or what service you provide. Adding your city or town name in the title is also very effective in “localizing” your website.
If you're a gluten-free bake shop in Charlotte, instead of making the title of your website, “Annie's Bake Shop Inc”, consider naming it, “Gluten Free bakery in Charlotte”. You can add your business name at the end if you like, “Gluten Free Cupcakes Atlanta | Your Business Name”
Create Localized Content
Create content on your website that is localized to your area. It will send clear signals to the search engines that your site is about a particular area and it will also be more relevant to your readers. For example, if you were a real estate agent, instead of blogging about generic real estate tips, talk about:
- The best neighborhoods in your area for families, singles, retired people, etc
- New construction projects in your area
- Interview local businesses and government officials for your blog
Create a theme on your site around what your business does and what area it serves. Become a local resource for your industry, people will respond better when the content is personalized to their specific area.
Google My Business and Bing Places Pages
Creating your local business pages on Google My Business and Bing Places will give you an additional web property other than your website to rank in the local search engine results. For local results, the local listing (also knows as the map listing) sits above the organic search listings.
Why not have one horse in the race when you can have two? Better yet, as you can see in the example below of one of my clients, they are listed 3 times in the search results (Google Adwords is the one at the top) in the search results for almost every search term important to their business.
Make sure these listings are filled out 100% completely with accurate information and that your business category is correct.
Customer reviews play a big role in local SEO, both from a search engine standpoint and from a customer standpoint. Almost everyone checks out reviews before buying a product or service these days.
Google has it's own review system that is shown in the local search results. You will see the 5-star rating system under a business (the 5-star system does not become active until you have at least 5 reviews) and Google also pulls in reviews from third party sites. The 3rd party review sites that Google uses depends on your location and industry.
Here is a good article explaining how to find good review sites for your business.
Citations are mentions of your business across the web. These mentions may or may not be active links back to your website. The reason Google makes citations a factor in local search is that they realize that Joe's Pizza may be the best pizza in the city, but Joe is not very good at SEO or link building. So they include citations, or mentions, of Joe's Pizza as a ranking factor.
Citations are broken down into two categories, structured and unstructured citations.
These are citations where the information or organized in a set format. Your business listing on Yelp or the Yellow Pages is an example of a structured citation. Great sources of structured citations are online directories that service your city or industry as well as review sites like Yelp, Angie's List, and Foursquare.
These are mentions of your business in an unorganized format. Think of a local newspaper or blog mentioning your business in an article or on social media where people are talking about your business. Getting interviewed by the local media, getting a lot of social media attention, and guest posting on other blogs are all great sources of unstructured citations.
When you are getting citations for you business, it is very important to keep your Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) consistent across the web. The NAP you have on your website should be the same anytime you create a new citation. If you website has your as “Joes Pizza”, don't start creating citations that refer to you as “Joes Famous Pizza”, “Joes Pizzeria”, “Joes Pizza LLC”, all of these variations causes confusion with the search engines (and people trying o find you) and can lead to you missing out on the credit for those citations.
Links To Your Website
In traditional SEO, links play a huge part in how your rank in the search engine results (SERPS). While not as critical in local SEO, they still play a role.
Many links will come naturally as you get citations for your business, but there are other great local sources for you to find links for your website. Many local associations and businesses will gladly add you to their site if you help them as well.
- Sponsor a local sports team or youth league
- Join the Chamber of Commerce or other local civic associations
- Sponsor a contest for a local blogger
- Other local businesses
- Host a contest and let the media/bloggers know about it
- Trade associations and suppliers
As you can see, even if you know nothing about link building, if you get yourself out there it's not that hard to get some links back to your website.
It's Not Rocket Science
As you can see, doing local SEO isn't a big mystery. Yes, it's tedious and you need to be organized and methodical in how you approach it, but it's within the reach of every business owner. So go out there and start getting some local rankings and watch what some good local SEO can do for your business.