For most local businesses, the thought of showing up on page one of Google seems like an unattainable dream. But if most or all of your business comes from people who live in your community, it’s time to get serious about local SEO.
I'm here to tell you that dream ranking can be attained. It just takes a serious commitment to a handful of things.
The next logical question then... is local SEO really worth the investment?
Here are a few stats that should answer that question. Did you know that…
Your customers turn to Google to answer their questions. Google knows where they’re searching from (especially if their search is done on a smartphone).
If you don’t rank well in your city for the things people are searching for, all of a sudden marketing gets harder and a lot more expensive.
Here’s the good news, though. If you focus on these five elements, you can expect great results from local SEO and search. (Keep in mind, the competitiveness of your industry may dictate your ultimate results.)
Google has a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to their local directory listings. Is it Google+… is it Google My Business? What? Here’s what you need to know now: you must pay attention to, claim, and optimize your Google My Business Listing.
Never heard of Google My Business? The go here to Google’s Free Business Listing page and find out if you can claim your current listing.
Many people created or had Google+ listings and Google made a mess of how this became Google My Business. That means you may have some cleanup to do to make sure that you only have one listing for your business and (more importantly) it’s the one Google thinks is your business.
Once you claim the right listing, it’s time to get to work optimizing your GMB page. This is essential if you want your business to show up in the coveted Google 3-pack for local searches like this. (This is the 3-pack for a search for 'martial arts Las Vegas.")
Take full advantage of all the Google My Business real estate and linking options available to you. Make sure you have the right business category and subcategories chosen for your business.
Make note of the exact way your business name, address and phone number (NAP) appear. When we say exact… we mean EXACT. As in, is it Avenue or Ave.? Is it Plumbing & Electrical or Plumbing AND Electrical?
Whatever you show listed as the NAP on your Google My Business Page, you’ll want to use consistently on your own website and across all directories. (Directories? What? Don’t get overwhelmed… more on this in a bit.)
At a recent Duct Tape Marketing training, we had a lengthy discussion about schema. For a content creator like me, this brought much hand wringing as even just the word “schema” sounds uber technical.
Thankfully, it’s not. In a nutshell, schema is specialized HTML code that is used to give more meaning to your content. It helps Google’s spiders know exactly what they’re looking at when it comes to identifying something like an address on your web pages so they’re 100% certain . about what they’re looking at.
You can learn about the current popular markup for local businesses by visiting Schema.org.
Without getting overly technical, search engines are busy trying to adopt a consistent markup protocol to use HTML code to properly identify things online like addresses, books, movies, reviews businesses, etc. Schema is not visible… it’s embedded in code.
The good news is you don’t need to know anything about the underlying code to get this part right.
Simply visit Schema.org’s Local Business NAP generator and fill in the blanks – The tool will produce the HTML code you need to add to your site in place of your current address.
There are other things you can do with structured markup and you can read all about it here.
What’s a directory? You’re probably familiar with a few of them: like Yelp!, YellowPages.com and Google+ Local. Or maybe some industry-specific directories like Angie’s List or Houzz sound familiar.
What you probably didn’t realize is that Google relies on hundreds of data aggregators and directories just like these to help them keep track of and sort all the local businesses on the web.
Have you moved your business or changed your phone number in the last few years? Or maybe you’ve listed a bunch of conflicting details in business filings or Chamber directories.
Getting your listing straight on Google is essential, and if there’s any inconsistent information out there about your business, there’s a good chance Google isn’t sure which listing is correct and that’s just no good.
To give you an idea of how this works, take a look at this image. This shows the complex interrelation of information sourced between data aggregators, directories, and search engines in the US.
Google uses a lot of different data sources to try to get the most accurate picture. And the last thing Google wants to do is send someone to the wrong address when they search for a local business.
Here’s is an example of a local business that has multiple inconsistent citations online. The name is spelled out differently, there are three different phone numbers and at least two different addresses.
I’m certainly not trying to pick on this business… rather, this is to show you how common this problem is. In general, there’s some sort of inaccurate data out there for most businesses.
You can use a tool like MozLocal to see just how bad this problem is for your business. Once you determine there are a few inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete listings use MozLocal, BrightLocal, WhiteSpark or Yext to clean up your listings and suppress inaccurate duplicates that often occur.
This step alone can do more for your local rankings than any other aspect of local SEO.
This one is sorta funny… as I think most of us might not think to do it. Yet when I explain it, we all might have a collective “duh” moment.
Think about how you do business person to person. You meet a prospect (in your city). You hand them your marketing kit. They just know that you work in their city.
Online, it’s not that simple. Google doesn’t necessarily know where you do your work. In fact, when you create content online, you need to go above and beyond to spell out where you do your work.
I’m not talking about getting all spammy and inserting location references that’s seem forced. That can hurt you more than it’ll help. But you certainly should talk about where you work. In some cases, it even makes sense to have specific pages with case studies for specific trade areas, suburbs, and neighborhoods.
If your company is involved in the local community, blog about it. Post about local events and happenings. Don’t be afraid to use your blog to talk about community, customer and employee-related local news. Not only does it give your company authenticity, but it has SEO benefits as well.
If you have multiple locations you may want to learn about and adopt what many SEO folks refer to as content silos for each location – here’s a great primer on local content silos.
I feel like every time I bring up reviews with a client or potential client, they cringe. Like it or not, reviews have become another important form of content.
Remember that stat about customers trusting reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations? In the internet age, people rely on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase.
So, while you need positive reviews for social proof, they are also a pillar of your local SEO efforts. We’ve talked a lot about the coveted 3-pack. Well, Google factors review activity as one of the elements that helps determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack.
While it’s not the only factor, it is an important one.
This graph from a BrightLocal survey shows you just how important reviews have become in the purchase journey for local businesses.
Just a few short years ago, only about 22% of buyers regularly read online reviews. In 2014 and 2015 that number has gone up considerably. Look at those who read reviews occasionally – well over 59% today.
Take a look at the businesses in the image above. You can see that their reviews are displayed prominently. Those reviews are a trust factor for Google and play a large role in what businesses are shown in a high ranking position.
You must have at least 5 reviews for Google to display the review stars as a highlighting feature of local results – that alone makes it important to acquire reviews.
The problem is… reviews are harder to get than they should be. Even a business with raving fans has to do some work to get reviews from their happy customers.
The key is to ask often and make it as easy as possible for your happy customers to log in to the sites that matter and leave a review.
A glowing email testimonial is great, but from a local SEO standpoint, it’s far better to push for a Google, Yelp, Facebook or industry review. (Check out this list of important industry review sites.)
You can always repurpose these reviews in email newsletters, on your site, or even hang them up in your store.
Many businesses are finding that they need to make review collection a process rather than leaving it to chance. And that’s where a review funnel comes into play. Read more about what that is here.
As you can see, Local SEO doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does take a commitment. Make each of these 5 steps a priority for your local business. You may find that organic search becomes your most potent lead generation channel.