SEO is a broad collection of different tools and strategies that one can use to better help their website show up more frequently to the users they want to find it. One subset of these tools and strategies can be grouped together into a subsection known as Local SEO. Instead of focusing on having your website show globally to all users, Local SEO is finding ways to better reach local users that are in your city or region. This would be most important to small businesses that rely on local customers as opposed to generating global traffic. If this is you, the following guide will help you understand what you need to do to get a basic local internet presence, explain the why behind these, and get you started with how to do them.
There are 4 main things that any small business will want to start with to help increase local visibility. These are:
- Create & Manage a Google Business Profile
- Ensure your website follows Local On-Page Optimization best practices
- Establish Local Citations
- Generate & Manage Customer Reviews
These are not the only things you can do to help bolster our local visibility, but they are a great place to start.
Step 0 – Be Local
This may seem like something that doesn’t need mentioning but since Covid, researchers have found that more than 50% of consumers now prefer to buy locally instead of looking outside of their market. To succeed in local SEO, you must embrace your locality. Understanding your local customers is vital. First, identify your customers’ preferences, behaviors, and needs. This knowledge will help you tailor your SEO efforts to meet their expectations. Incorporate local keywords, phrases, and information into your website content (we will touch more on this later on in this article).
Most of this article focuses on optimizing your online presence. However, the absolute best way to get web traffic and leads is to have a great reputation within your community. People who have a great experience with you will recommend you to others within your community. Taking time to be involved in your community is a great way to both spread awareness and give you an opportunity for people to get to know your brand. It is important to keep this in mind with everything you do, and though we will discuss more technical things you can do to optimize for Local SEO, perception and reputation will remain one of the most important factors for ranking well, and keeping that rank.
Step 1 – Google Business Profile
Google Business Profile (GBP and formerly Google My Business) is a powerful tool for local SEO. These are the local listings that show in Google Maps and on the side of Search Results. Here are the steps you need to take to get your Google Business Profile off and running.
Claim and Verify
Claim your Google Business Profile listing and verify your business. This step is crucial for appearing in Google’s local search results and Google Maps. This can be a frustrating process at times. Google has recently made this process more cumbersome to help avoid fraud. Sometimes Google will ask to send you a postcard or film a quick video to get verified. If this is the case for your business, stick with it. While it can be time-consuming, the work will be worth it. If you need assistance with this, give us a call and we would be happy to give some advice on how to finish this.
Complete Your Profile
Provide detailed and accurate information about your business. Include your business hours, services, website, and high-quality photos of your products or premises. Make sure your services and the areas you serve remain up to date as your business grows. Sometimes Google will apply updates to items on your profile without your approval. These are usually updates they believe are appropriate from users’ suggestions or from content they find across the internet. Keep an eye on your profile to ensure everything stays accurate
Check Your Profile Routinely
Update your listing regularly with new photos, new services offered, or any other new details about your company. You can make announcements that will show when your profile is displayed on Google, making it easy to reach people with important updates on your business. Google likes profiles that are active. So adding and/or changing content on the profile shows that you are an engaged and active business. Users will also be more likely to trust your brand if your online information is up-to-date and consistent.
Step 2 – Local On-Page Optimization
The next thing you need to do is ensure your website has some basic local on-page optimizations. Mention your city, neighborhood, and nearby landmarks. This helps search engines associate your business with specific locations. It’s a simple idea, but Google only knows what you tell it. There have been times that I have forgotten this. I was once trying to get a local HVAC company to rank locally for the keyword “ductless heat pump”. I created a page and optimized the content to obtain this ranking, but the ranking never came. After a while, I was scratching my head wondering why we weren’t moving in the right direction. I then had the embarrassing realization that the town that I was trying to rank in was never mentioned once in the content. I added the town into the title and meta, into an H2, into the body copy, and sure enough the ranking came.
There is no end to things you can do to better optimize this and it will depend on your services and the scope of the area you are trying to reach, but if you want to optimize your site for local SEO, start with the following steps:
- Ensure your address is included in the footer:
This is important for both Google and your users. We want to make sure that if someone ever wonders how to find you they don’t have to navigate far. Including this information in footers is a common practice.
- Build a location page:
On top of that, create a page that is dedicated to talking about where you are located. Include an embedded link to your Google Business Profile on Google Maps. For any page it is a good idea to shoot for 500 words of text so it has a better chance of ranking on Google. If your business services multiple areas, build multiple location pages. This can quickly become a time consuming endeavor, but at the minimum you have one good page that talks about where you are.
- Include your location in your titles and headlines:
For On-Page SEO, utilizing titles and headlines on your pages is critical for telling Google what keywords are important to us. The same is true for Local SEO. Make sure your targeted location is included in titles and headlines on the appropriate pages.
- Include location-based keywords into your copy:
Make sure they copy on your website reflects where you are at as well. Talking about the areas you serve can help reinforce your location with Google
Step 3 – Local Citations
Local citations are references to your business’s information usually in the form of a business listing, though really they are any page that lists information about your business. Sites like Yelp, MapQuest, or Waze are all examples of these listings. There are a surprisingly large number of local directories that can be found across the internet of various levels of usability. Some of these exist solely for SEO purposes. There are tools available to help push your information to as many of these as possible, but these tools usually require a subscription to maintain the information.
These local citations help as they essentially give additional credibility to Google that your business exists, and will therefore be more likely to show up to users you want to see it. As with all things SEO, there is no magic formula saying you need to have x number of local citations to be visible. For starting off, ensure the main directories you think your customers will find you have your information presented correctly. Some of these will require you to create an account with them, but once your information is created you shouldn’t need to update them often and if you are supplying the information yourself, you would be paying a subscription fee to maintain it.
Step 4 – Customer Reviews
One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd of other businesses is to have a robust review profile. People want to purchase from businesses they feel they can trust. If your business shows few or no reviews, a potential customer may decide to go somewhere else that can show a history of good service.
Your Google Business Profile offers a tool to help display your reviews. If you have customers who have previously purchased your services, reach out to them and see if they can leave a review for you. There is a short link you can get from your profile that will take users directly to a leave-a-review page. Include this as a part of your email signature and encourage any customers to leave feedback for you. Reviews are the best way to win over future customers. If you show a history of providing excellent customer service, people will be more likely to seek you out. As you get these reviews, respond to all of them, especially the negative ones. If you show that you hear negative feedback and react positively to it, you can still win the trust of potential customers. If you receive reviews that are false or for a different organization, you can appeal these and Google will sometimes remove them.
Include reviews on your website if you are able. There are plugins that can pull and display reviews from your GBP directly on your website. The more you can do to show you have left other customers happy, the more likely you will have additional customers sign up in the future.
Bonus – Other Strategies
There are many different ways to boost local presence that have not yet been mentioned. Start with the items listed above and if you still wish to do more, here are a few things that can help:
- Build contextual backlinks:
Backlinks are critical for SEO. The anchor text that links to our pages also impacts how Google views our authority for certain topics. If you can find sites to link to you including your target location in the anchor text used, you will have a better chance of showing in Google searches for local keywords.
- Have a social presence:
Social media is a world of its own. Having a strong social presence can help generate traffic to your website.
- Write blogs:
Content is king when it comes to SEO. Write good blogs that discuss tangential topics in a local frame. This can reinforce our targeted location with Google, build contextual authority, and help us show for alternative keywords.
- Partner locally:
Get information about your business posted on local news sites. Collaborate with other businesses to write blogs that mention each other. Host local events to reach people from a non-search perspective. This requires a lot of work compared to the other items listed in this article, but having people out there talking about you in person is one of the best ways to generate high quality leads. Word of mouth is the best reference you can get.
There are many ways you can help build your business’s local visibility. These items listed above provide a starting point for you to help get your business seen online. However it is important to remember that even if you optimize your site perfectly, get tons of local citations, find some great contextual backlinks, and build lots of quality local content, your overall performance is going to come down to how well you are able to serve your customers. Negative reviews and poor reputation will dissuade people from interacting with your site online. One of the factors that does play into where you rank on Google is the number of times people click on your site, how long they stay, and how often they come back. If people are avoiding your brand for a reputation issue, there is no cure to get you to rank higher other than fixing your reputation.
At the end of the day, your business exists locally to help your community by solving a specific problem people in your area are experiencing. If you are able to embrace that philosophy and seek to serve your community, you will build a strong reputation. Use the methods listed above to help those in need of your services find you.