The age of internet has changed the way we learn, shop, interact and collaborate. The search engines, like Google, Bing and Yahoo!, have long ago challenged dictionaries, textbooks, yellow pages. Especially the yellow pages.
With the way mobile technologies have evolved, nowadays everyone and their grandmother has a smartphone. It’s much easier now to google a local business, service or product, than to look for these things the old-fashioned way. Online search is now a prefered method of discovering local information and businesses.
Back in 2015 researchers estimated there were seven billion local searches per month on Google in the US alone. Today, with the rise of mobile searches, this number has doubled.
Google actually realised this long ago, as of 2009 they started showing local results for generic queries. You do not necessarily need to include any geographic terms in your search to get the local results.
So what does this mean for your local business? Only that the potential to get new customers via local search is, quite literally, enormous.
In this local SEO guide, we will cover everything you need to know to get your piece of the local search pie. You will learn how the search engines work and what needs to be done for them to see your website properly. You will discover the difference between Local Organic SEO and Local SEO, learn how to get listed in the Map results, where to get good backlinks, how to get your products and services reviewed and why these things matter for your success. And a lot more.
Basically, this is a step-by-step Local SEO guide on how to devise your own internet marketing strategy and get your business website to the top of the local search results.
How do search engines work?
Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.) are literally the librarians of the internet. They utilise scripts called crawlers, robots or spiders to collect info on absolutely everything on the web, every page, image or line of text. Then they sort the gathered information and show the relevant results for the search queries.
All these processes are possible thanks to extremely complex algorithms, which are different for each search engine. This is the reason why you might see different results for similar queries with different search engines. These algorithms are constantly evolving and we need to keep up both with the changes in them and the differences in the search engines.
The four steps every search engine performs are never changing though. These are: crawling, indexing, ranking and delivering. Let’s see what each step implies.
By optimizing your website pages for the search engines you make sure the search engine spiders will understand the information you are providing, index it, rank it, and deliver to your prospective customers. The important thing is – by doing everything properly here, you are making sure the customers see exactly what you want them to see, not some random info the crawler picked up and put in place because it had no indicators to do otherwise.
What is SEO, Local SEO and what’s the difference?
Local SEO is a branch of SEO, which has the focus on geo-specific search. A local SEO campaign entails usage of geo-specific keywords and utilization of local ranking factors (we will discuss these later on), to get a website to the top of organic local search results.
Let’s illustrate. Imagine you are in NY, New York and your local small business provides roofing services. Your local SEO campaign would target keywords related to the services you provide and words like NY, New York and nearby zip codes. Something like these: “NY roofing contractors”, “New York roofing services“ or “roofing contractors 10040”.
If you focus your SEO campaign on the local market you are getting better quality organic traffic from local areas, and prospective customers who are far more likely to give their money to a local business.
On the other hand, if you are selling roofing materials online, but do not have a brick and mortar store, you do not need to show up in search results for a specific location, you are more interested in wider audience. This is where regular, or organic SEO comes in handy.
There are two components to Local SEO:
- Organic search Local SEO. All the principles of organic SEO work here, this is where your actual business website is being ranked.
- Local 3 Pack. This is the search section with the map, here your Google my Business page is ranked, not your website.
Let’s learn how to properly do both.
Major Ranking Factors in Organic Local Search
To get your small business website to the top of local search results you need to build your marketing campaign around the ranking factors, which Google and other search engines take to consideration when they are deciding which website is the most relevant to a particular search query.
There are 8 of the major ranking factors. These 8 factors have been discovered in a recent case study by Moz, you can study it closely here. These are the general signals that Google will look for, they will have a positive or negative impact on your search results position. Thus, they are the main areas you need to focus your local marketing campaign on.
- Link Signals
- On-Page Signals
- Behavioral Signals
- Citation Signals
- My Business Signals
- Review Signals
- Social Signal
So, let’s look into the most important ranking factors and learn how to optimize for them.
Per the Moz study I mentioned above, link signals are the first ranking factor in organic local search results. I have already mentioned it above – the internet consists of trillions of pages connected with links. The more authority links point to your website, the better. The process of getting those links is called link building.
Link building is, of course, not as easy as it used to be back in the 90’s. Search engines look at the links that point to your website more closely now, these have to be proper websites with real audience and relevant content.
A lot of techniques of organic SEO work for local business websites in this regard. You need to provide your website visitors with valuable content, promote the content to relevant influencers, publish guest posts in blogs in your niche, get backlinks on relevant listings.
There is, however, a difference in local link building, you need to focus on the locally targeted listings and blogs in your area.
Link building tactics for local business websites
- Get your business listed in the local business directories and listings (this is called local citations, more on it later)
- Become a sponsor of local events, charities and non-profit organizations. Most of these organizations have websites of their own and will be happy to provide a backlink to you.
- Utilize local newspapers.
- Network with your local bloggers, and other local businesses relevant to your niche, offer them a guest post or link exchange.
- Participate in relevant local events. Not only is this good for link building since most of these events are probably going to mention your website on theirs, but it’s tremendously good for your business in general. This way you raise awareness, support the local community and attract your target audience.
- Research your brand mentions. Chances are you’ve been mentioned more than once, but without a link to your website. Simply ask them to place your link in the mention.
This one is also a great way to make sure your customers are satisfied with your service. Why? Because most probably those mentions are reviews people leave after getting to know your business, and if the review is bad you can address the issue swiftly, leave your customer happy and signal to potential customers that you care.
Don’t know where to start with your link building campaign? Request a consultation here.
Preparing your website for local search
What I’m about to describe is better taken care of when you first launch your business website, however, everything can be fixed afterwards as well.
SEO can be simplified down to two key areas, these are relevance and authority. On-page signals are what shows the search engines your relevance. In local SEO we can break this down to two areas, which are services and geography. Simply put, you want to make sure the services you provide and the locations in which you provide them are clearly indicated.
Let’s say you are a dentist, in this case you can provide your services from your location only, but if you are a locksmith, you travel and provide your services in a wider area. Your prospective customer needs to be sure that you provide the exact service they are looking for, in the location they need it at, and they need to know you are very good at what you do. All these things are what on-page signals take care of.
The key on-page elements for local businesses are:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Header tags
- Page content
- Name, address and phone (NAP)
And to illustrate your credibility you need to include such specific elements:
- External reviews
Title tags, or page titles are the most critical element. You need to make sure your service, location and brand are clearly indicated in the page titles.
Make sure to include keywords that might help your customers make a decision, but don’t be spammy, use your common sense. There is no strict limit to the number of characters you can use in a title tag, but our long practice shows that 60 characters is the ultimate length.
Let’s give you an example to illustrate the above words. Let’s say you are a locksmith in Brooklyn, New York, who provides a 24/7 service, including emergency response within 60 minutes. This is one possible page title for you:
24/7 Emergency Locksmith – On site within 60 mins | Mr Unlock
Site structure is of the utmost importance here, thus if you have multiple locations, you need to insure it is very easy for both search engines and your customers to understand that.
If you work in multiple locations the ultimate way to go here is to create area specific landing pages for each location. Your landing page URLs will look something like this:
This way you will organically rank in places where you do not necessarily have a physical presence.
Want to be sure your landing pages are up to the high standards of the modern web? Let us have a look!
Meta descriptions and header tags (H1) are very important too, they are what forms the snippet you see in your search engine results. This is the very information that can either make your potential customers to click the link and get to you, or scroll down and get to your competitors.
Bear in mind that Google is much smarter now, you can not simply put the same keyword in your title, meta description and H1 tags and be done with it. You will need to be more creative than that and use synonyms, and be as natural about it as possible.
As for the number of characters – there is no limit here either, but search engines tend to cut descriptions longer than 160 symbols in the snippets. So you need to be informative, yet brief in your meta descriptions.
Since you want to reach local clients it is better to include the city or area your business works at in the title or description.
Page content naturally has to be unique, relevant and valuable for your customers.
Images. In terms of SEO the most important thing you need to take care here are the alt tags, they need to be present on every image you use on your website. It is considered best practice to use unique images, so try to use your own pictures as much as possible.
Map. This is pretty obvious – if you are a local business you need to embed a Google Map so your customers could easily find your location.
Name, address and phone (NAP). These have to be consistent across your website and absolutely all the listings and citations you get. So if anything changes, the NAP has to be updated everywhere. It is also good practice to use schema markup to display your NAP.
We can do all of this for your local business, just give us a call.
You might have heard of it, but what exactly is schema markup and structured data?
Structured data is a method used for communicating your metadata to search engines. This is the code responsible for the so-called rich snippets, the beautiful and informative snippets in your search results. These are the snippets that look something like this:
A rich snippet provides more information than title and description, there can be a photo, a star rating, number of reviews, price range etc. The information included in a rich snippet is determined by the structured data markup that uses Schema.org vocabulary.
Schema.org is a brainchild of Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo! Yes, all the major search engines collaborated on it to bring you the best user experience as a searcher by providing a unified vocabulary for structured data across the web.
Here’s how a basic markup for local business will look with Scema.org vocabulary and JSON-LD implementation:
The above example provides the type of business, postal address, description, business name, telephone number, geo coordinates, opening hours and links to social profile.
Types of local business data available for structured data markup:
- Business Name
- Phone Number
- Email Address
- Business Hours
- Geo-location Information (coordinates and map)
- Business Description
- Social Profile Links
- Site Name
Additionally you can use:
- Media (images and videos)
- Corporate Contacts
- Sitelinks Search Box
Great news – we can do all this for you too, simply fill in the form below and we will contact you back right away.
Citation signals (local citations)
Simply put local citation is a mention of your business on other websites. There are hundreds upon hundreds of business directories you can use for local citations, Yelp, Yahoo! Local, Thompson Local, Bing Places, Brown Book, Internet Yellow Pages are just a few.
Not all of the directories allow to place your link into your citation, but those that do prove to be extremely valuable backlinks for local search ranking.
Finding these local business directories and listings is quite easy. Start with googling your competitors, most of the relevant listings will be in the search results. You can also search for your business type keywords plus location.
Or you can give us a call and we will research local directories for you and create the best local citations for you across them all.
As has already been mentioned above – it is of the utmost importance that your name, address and phone number are consistent across absolutely all of your listings, as well as on your website. Do not forget about this when you move or change the phone number.
A 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey showed that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Moreover, reviews on sales pages have been proved to increase conversions by 18%. And it is understandable. Would you rather go to a restaurant that has 8.9 rating on Foursquare and tons of praising reviews from satisfied customers, or to a burger place with no website, no reviews and no info on the web at all? If you are like most of the people and don’t enjoy risking your health and money you would probably choose the first option, wouldn’t you?
But the most important thing about consumer reviews is that they are one of the major ranking factors for search engines. So how do you get these wonderful reviews for your local business?
Claim your business on the top review websites
This is the obvious first thing you need to do. There are dozens of review websites starting with Yelp and ending with something like Better Business Bureau. You do not need to be featured on absolutely all of them, just choose the ones that are the most appropriate and relevant to your business niche. If you own a sandwich bar TripAdvisor should be on the top of your list, for instance.
If you are not sure which review websites are the ones for you simply stick with the major ones. Like Google reviews. Actually, this one should be a priority for every local business, it shows up right beside your Google My Business page. Facebook and Yelp are also good places to start your hunt for good consumer reviews.
There are websites like Yelp, which require a verification process. It takes time but it’s worth it.
How do you make people leave reviews?
Once you establish your presence on all the important review websites, how do you start getting those reviews from your customers? Simply ask them! If your customers are reluctant you can always offer some store points for future purchases to encourage them to leave more reviews. You can use any other type of encouragement, just make sure to test if your customers actually like the thing you are offering.
Great tactic to get positive reviews is sending follow-up emails (if you are not collecting your customers’ info, start doing it now!). Once a customer makes a purchase or uses a service you provide, send them an email and ask if they were happy with your product, provide a link to your Facebook business page, or your Yelp listing, or any other review website you deem more valuable, and ask your clients to leave their feedback. 7 out of 10 people will.
Make sure to promptly resolve any bad reviews. There are applications that will alert you each time your brand is mentioned, so you can promptly respond and resolve the issue if there is any described in a bad review.
What is Local 3 Pack?
Whenever you search for something geo specific, like a sandwich bar in New York, it’s the first three listings after ads that appear in your search results:
How do you get your business into the 3 Pack?
First things first – you need to claim your Google My Business profile. Doing it is pretty easy, just click this link and follow all the steps Google requires you to.
Remember about the importance of NAP (name, address and phone number) and it’s consistency across all the mentions of your business? Well, here it is really tremendously important to list real and current information which has to be the same as stated on your website.
If you provide services at your clients’ locations, Google has you covered, simply check the yes box:
Pay attention when choosing the category for your business, you want Google to know what it is your business does exactly, to showcase you for the right search enquiries. Try to be as specific as possible here.
You want to claim or create your Google My Business profile as soon as possible, there is a verification process which takes time. But you absolutely have to verify your property if you want to be able to edit it in the future. So do this as soon as you have a permanent local address and phone number. There is a number of ways to verify your business, you can get detailed instructions from Google here.
Google determines if a search enquiry is local by relevance, distance and prominence. So to rank better you need to provide the most accurate and complete information in your profile. Make sure to keep your opening hours accurate and add some photos.
Another advice here – manage your reviews. Try to respond as fast as you can, not only to resolve issues in bad reviews, but to thank your customers for their business in good ones too.
It is important to utilise every tool Google offers you. Posts have very recently been added to Google My Business. Using this tool you can inform your customers about deals of the day, hot promotions, recent news etc.
To start adding posts go to your GMB account and click on Posts button:
The text here is limited to 300 words, but it is enough to provide quick news for your clients, think about it as a sort of ad. You can add an image, add start and end times for an event and add a call to action button.
What’s so great about posts and why do you absolutely have to use them regularly? Well, these posts are published directly to Google Search and Maps. How awesome is that? Your products, services and events right there in Google Search!
Google encourages small businesses to use posts to share daily specials and current deals, promote events, showcase new arrivals and top products.
Google posts are also great for providing your customers a shortcut way to get your services, if you add a button they will be able to book a reservation, sign up to your newsletter and even buy a product right where they found you – on Google.
Here are a couple of technical issues you need to check to make sure your efforts in local SEO optimization are not going down the drain:
Make sure your website is being indexed
Things happen, there are coding errors that can prevent your website from being crawled by search engines. To make sure the spiders see your website google site:yourdomain.com. If the number of results Google found looks close to the number of pages you have, than your website is well indexed and you have nothing to worry about. While you are at it – check the snippets and titles with description. You need to make sure the snippets look good, the info has your NAP and the titles and descriptions are unique. If the result of this check are poor – you have some work to do.
Check if the website is crawlable
This simple test will show you if the search engines can understand the content you are offering them. Google cache:yourdomain.com/pagename
When you get the results for your cache search check the “text only version” at the top right corner. What you see now is exactly what a search engine spider “sees” when it visits your pages. You want this text to have plenty of keywords, but not too much or the crawler will deem the page as spam.
Make sure your website is optimized for mobile devices
A lot of local search is done on mobile devices. You want your customers to be able to read your pages on any device they might have. Besides, Google has banned websites that are not optimized from their mobile search results. You do not want to be banned from that.
If you happen to find any of the above issues – give us a call, we know how to fix them promptly.