The online world has provided us with countless opportunities. Authors and talented writers can effectively promote their work online, artists can reach out to new audiences, and small businesses can further expand their presence without having to invest in brick-and-mortar stores. If you are a small local business owner you should seriously consider investing in your online presence. Not only is it cost-effective, but it will also help you attract customers faster. The solution is Local SEO.
Search engine optimization is a vital element of online promotion, and local SEO will help you set up a website that ranks well in local search pages. Before we begin the Local SEO for Small Businesses guide, let’s take a look at a few statistics that might convince you of its effectiveness.
• Studies show that almost 72% of consumers use online reviews when making shopping decisions. • 90% of smart-phone users use their phones before shopping, and 84% use them while they are shopping.
• 47% of consumers use smartphones to find local information, and 50% will search a product on their smart-phone before making a purchase.
• Over 4 billion desktop queries in the US have “local intent”, and over 50% of mobile searches have “local intent”.
• Prospects that search and find localized results are more likely to convert, because when they look for a service and find it, they will want to take advantage of its services.
• Local SEO has the highest ROI (return of investment), compared to other online marketing strategies.
Behavioral Patterns of Modern Day Consumers
A long time ago, consumers would use Yellow Pages and other catalogues to find local businesses. This is a rather archaic approach. The modern consumer has changed. He walks around with a smartphone and searches for services or products online. When he searches for something online, he usually types down the location or name of the city, and this is automatically considered a local query. Imagine that there are over 7 billion unique local searches per month in the US alone.
It is easy to see how consumers may feel overwhelmed by the number of shopping places, restaurants and service providers. This is where Google tries to help. It will tailor results according to the location and interests of a user. If consumers like the result they will most likely return, and monetize through advertising.
In other words, whether you have a single store front, or an international chain, a good local SEO strategy will help you bring more customers to your doors. If you use an effective strategy you will help Google provide with quality data.
But how exactly is quality data ensured? Google with cross-reference each data point across different channels. At the moment, there are three major data brokers who leverage information on major search engines. They are:
If your data is consistent across several data providers, your Trust rank will increase and you will probably be served up by Google when users type relevant keywords.
To qualify for a local business listing you must respect the following criteria:
• You must have a local phone number which matches your city or location
• You must have a dedicated physical street address
• You must have a business name
• You must make face-to-face contact with clients
1. Claim your Google Profile
You might have already done this (go back and check), but if you didn’t, here’s how you can do it. You have to set up your Google Places for Business, as well as the Google+ Local profile. You must fill all the relevant fields (including images and videos). Here are the instructions:
a. Setting Up Google Places for Your Business
If possible, you should set up the Google Places for Business first. Go to http://www.google.com/local/add and follow the instructions in this tutorial. When you are done, you must verify the listing via postcard (this may take up to a week).
b. Setting up the Google+ Local Page
Now you have to visit http://plus.google.com and follow the instructions on the support page. During the verification process you can select your business from a drop down menu (because you already have a Google Places listing). This will allow you to manage both listings from a single dashboard (login here).
Local SEO Marketing Practices & Basic Elements
The first thing you should know is that all the elements that apply to national SEO also apply to local SEO. This includes on-page practices, social media, indexing, backlinks and many more). Nevertheless, local SEO comes with its unique set of challenges.
Let’s take a look at the most important factors for Local SEO:
• The first and most important part is creating and claiming a local profile with Google (and other platforms). This way, your local listing will appear in local search results.
• The second thing you should consider is the citation. A citation refers to any place online that uses your name, address and phone number all on the same page and in the same format as your local listing. It is imperative to use the same format to help Google identify your listing. You should not abbreviate.
• The third most important element is reviews. It is recommended to have very good reviews, and the quantity of reviews is more important than the quantity. Nevertheless, try not to have only 5-star reviews, as they will seem fake.
When you begin your local SEO campaign you should make sure that you mix all the elements above. Make sure your name, address and phone numbers are used on every page of your site, in the exact same format as your Google local listing. Small business owners recommend using this information in the footer.
The second thing you should consider is using your City and State names in the title tags, meta description and in the content on your website (try not to stuff your content with keywords). Thirdly, include a KML (Keyhole markup language) file on your site. Lastly, use Schema Local Markup to help search engines identify and display your location. (Start with http://schema.org/localbusiness and http://schema.org/postaladdress)
2. Local Citation Building
SEO optimization is required for local listings. There are two major factors that influence how well search engines will index your business across the web. The first one is the number of quality backlinks that point to your website. This can be done by politely asking people to link to your website (focus on local business groups, directories, newspaper sites, friends or previous customers).
You could also guest-blog on relevant websites; check out the link-building strategies of your competitors, and invest in social media (this may include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, aligning your social networks with your website, posting updates on your accounts and investing in other platforms like Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest).
The second strategy involves tracking the number of citations for your business, and where the citations appear. Citations appear on different online directories, like the Yellow Pages (the online version). They contain the information and address of your business, but not necessarily a backlink.
A citation looks something like this:
56-58 Long Acre
020 3485 3349
If you are new to the local SEO world, you should start building citations on local business directories. Most of them are free, but before you submit your information to these websites you should consider the following:
• All citations must EXACTLY match the NAP of your business and the Google Places/Google+ local listing.
• Set up a dedicated email for this type of activity to avoid spam marketing emails.
• Shy away from reciprocal linking. Google does not tolerate such a practice.
• Citation building takes a long time, so you should learn how to build citations at a scale to save time. (Check out this tutorial by Moz).
All you need now is the places where you can get local citations. We will only share 30, but there are more that you can check out later.
3. On-Site Optimization for Local Listings
The critical component for your online presence and website is optimizing it for local searches. Once again, remember to add your NAP on every page of your website (preferably in the footer). If you have multiple locations you should create multiple landing pages, or have them all listed in the “Contact Us” section of your website. To increase the chances of being listed in local searches you must invest in basic keyword research. Optimized regional keywords can be included in several elements of your page including:
• Your page URLs
• Page Titles
• H1 and H2 tags
• Meta descriptions
• In the content on your website
On-site optimization is also referred to optimizing your website for mobile use. Considering that so any people use smart-phones on a daily basis, it would be a shame to miss out on new opportunities. What is the point of investing in local search results when a mobile customer cannot access your website from his device? To make mobile users like your website you can either create a responsive website, or invest in a dedicated mobile version of your site.
Other On-Site SEO Practices:
1. Keyword Research: You can use a keyword planner to find out more words and phrases that your customers might be interested in. You should focus on terms that are relevant to your service and also take into consideration the search volume of the keywords.
2. Add Keywords to the ALT text of your images.
4. Online Reviews and Recommendations
It is no secret that most buyers are emotional ones. Studies also show that 72% of consumers will trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation, and also that positive reviews usually determine them to use a service or product. Reviews are displayed in the right corner of a local search query, under the map.
Not only do reviews drive a higher click-through rate for your website, but they will also appear on search engine listings. A study conducted by Digital Marketing Works says that reviews play a critical role in determining the inclusion on Google’s local carousel results. To build reviews you must do two things. First of all, you should encourage customers to actually leave a review. Secondly, you have to manage your online reputation (this may include putting out fires from negative reviews, and questioning disgruntled customers about their problems).
The quality and quantity of reviews are not the only factors that factor into how search algorithms view them. You must also consider the diversity and speed at which reviews appear.
Here are a few Ideas that will Help you Build Good Reviews:
• Ask existing and new clients to leave a review either personally or on the phone/email.
• You can also add a “leave a review” link on a prominent place on your website or in an email signature.
• Create a flyer with details about how reviews can be made on your Google+ local page. Send it to your customers and prospects.
• Add a poster in your office which shows the Google+ local review page URL.
• Lastly, encourage customers to leave reviews on trusted review sites like 192.com, touchlocal.com, yell.com, yelp.co.uk or scoot.co.uk.
These are the basic steps that you should follow to setup and improve your local SEO for your business. In time, you will understand more about how local search listings work.
Tips for Improving your Local SEO Strategy:
• Publish locally relevant content: the key is to become an authority in your industry, and this means you must invest in blog content. Promote local industry gatherings, show behind-the-scenes videos, talk about news and employees.
• Remove duplicate listings with Google Mapmaker. This will help you avoid diluting reviews on several Google+ Local pages.
• Develop an effective system for building customer reviews. • Optimize your business categories.
• Earn local links, they are invaluable.
• Verify the consistency of your small business online (check the NAP information)
• Use local SEO specific tools & websites like WhiteSpark local citation finder (16$/month) and MySEOTool to keep track of rankings and localization.