These days, a lot of people are conscious of buying local and supporting neighborhood businesses.
Good news for you, right?
As a local business owner, you know more than anyone that your business helps contribute to the local economy, gives your customers warm, personalized service, and is way friendlier to the environment than your industrial rivals.
The problem is, it’s not always easy to get noticed. Sure, maybe you have a website and put up flyers wherever you can, or maybe your loyal customers are committed to spreading the word about you; regardless, chances are you’re still not getting nearly as much traction as you’d like.
Or, maybe you’ve just started a small business, and you’re wondering how to let the neighborhood know you’ve arrived.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, then what you need is to learn SEO: Search Engine Optimization.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website and content, in order to rank highly on search engines like Google or Bing. Meaning, if someone were to type a term or question into a search engine, you’d want your website to show up as one of the first links available in the SERP (search engine results page).
How does this happen?
Over time, the art of SEO has changed along with Google’s whims, algorithms and updates.
In the past, to get your site to rank highly in Google, all you had to do was target some keywords in your niche, get sites to link back to your content, and stuff your posts full of those keywords until you magically rose to the top of Google.
In other words, you were able to trick Google into thinking your content was valuable when it wasn’t. Your content didn’t even need to make sense, as long as it had the words “best camera store Maine” spread throughout the piece (or whichever terms you were trying to target).
But then – Google’s algorithm got smarter. Today, SEO is based a lot more on the quality of content and the intent of the people searching, rather than on exact-match keywords. It’s about creating information that will actually be useful to the person searching for it.
There are also technical aspects involved, but it’s not nearly as daunting as it sounds.
Unfortunately, a lot of business owners attempting to optimize their content today are still in an old-school mindset, in that their content reads as spammy and robotic. And, as Google has gotten much better at looking at the human element of content that goes online, spammy and robotic just isn’t going to cut it.
As a local business trying to gain exposure, you need to become acquainted with strategies for local SEO. Don’t worry – we’re going to bring you up to speed!
Local SEO refers to any search query that’s “localized”, meaning about or relevant to a specific location. SEO best practices for local businesses differ somewhat than those of international companies, so we’re going to focus on how to rock your local SEO game.
Like we said above, SEO is your way to get noticed, gain exposure, and grow traffic to your website that will lead people to your door. In fact, a recent survey showed that 46% of the searches on Google are looking for local information, and 72% of the people searching for something local will visit a store within 5 miles of where they are.
Another advantage of local SEO is that these tactics are easier – albeit someone different – to implement than “international” tactics, because you’re dealing with a smaller, more concentrated audience. Instead of competing with any number of businesses all over the world, your only competition is the businesses that surround your target area.
And, as part of organic marketing, SEO in general can save you tons of money if you know what you’re doing. Where paid advertising can run you some pretty steep bills, ranking highly on Google can bring you that same exposure for free!
In a study of over 500 internet users, Ignite Visibility found that nearly 70% of searchers use Google as their preferred way of searching for a local business.
As Google is the biggest player in the local SEO game, let’s take a look at what happens when someone searches for something local on the search engine.
Usually, a local search query involves a product or service and the name of a location. Say we’re looking for a good moving company in Tacoma, Washington:
You’ll notice that all of the immediate results are advertisements, which is pretty common for local search results – after all, the top of a Google search results page is prime real estate (see what I did there?)
Then, you’ll usually get a map, with 3 or 4 businesses immediately listed:
If you click into Maps, you’ll see an even longer list, also ranked, of movers:
Then, underneath this section, you’ll find the regular organic search results:
So one thing to note is that, while the first organic result in Google is a nice place to be, it’s not going to have the same pull for your business as it would for a “long-distance” search, due to the number of things that show up on top of it.
Luckily, there are a few other ways to get your business noticed, which we’ll talk about it in the rest of this guide.
Before we get into basic local business SEO strategies, let’s do a quick review of some important abbreviations and terms that appear frequently in the SEO world:
Search Query – A query – based on a specific term – that a user will type into a search engine in order to get information.
NAP – This refers to your business’s Name, Address, and Phone Number. It is an important factor when it comes to citations (which we’ll address below).
SERP – As mentioned above, this stands for the Search Engine Results Page, or the list of results a visitor would see after performing a search query in Google.
3-Pack, Map Pack, Local Pack – The top 3 (sometimes 2 or 4) results that show up for a local search. This will appear above the SERP, like we saw with the Tacoma movers example.
Featured snippet – If you’ve ever Googled your own medical symptoms (we’ve all been there), you’ve likely given yourself a heart attack from reading a featured snippet. Also known as an “answer box,” this is the box of text that often appears below the search bar and tries to immediately answer the searcher’s question.
What’s the formula for getting local ranking “juice” from Google?
To determine where a local business comes up in a SERP, Google looks at three things: Distance, relevance, and prominence.
Distance is how close your business is physically to the location specified in the search query, and accordingly is out of your hands. While you can’t influence distance, you can somewhat influence relevance, which says how closely your business matches the thing being searched for.
However, prominence is where you come in, as do the other local businesses in your neighborhood.
How well-known is your business? The more prominent it is on and offline, the higher the chance that it will rank highly.
There are several things you can do to increase your business’s relevance, starting with:
There are three main aspects to making your site relevant to a search query: Content, links, and the technical well-being of your site. Here are some on-site basics to look out for:
1. Create a Contact Page that shows your NAP. If you have 10 or fewer locations, make sure to list the complete NAP of each one in the footer.
2. Add a map. Make it as easy as possible for customers to find your business after looking at your site.
3. Have a clickable phone number on mobile devices. 88% of people will call or visit a store within 24 hours, so it’s important to make that phone call as easy as possible for your site visitors. (Check out this Google guide for help making your phone number clickable.)
4. Make sure your NAP is consistent everywhere it appears on your site.
5. Add Schema. Schema is descriptive data within the HTML of your site that tells search engines what your site is all about, and it’s a key part of on-site optimization. This video will walk you through adding Schema microdata to your site:
6. Include testimonials. Google looks at customer testimonials as a symbol of trust, and they can give your site a strong SEO boost (in addition to helping convert leads into paying customers).
When visitors come to your website, you want them to stay there – but if they can’t find what they’re looking for relatively quickly, they’ll leave. This will give your website a high bounce rate, which can negatively impact your SEO.
Not to worry – you can reduce your bounce rate by improving your website navigation according to each of your business’s locations. Instead of directing all of your visitors to your homepage, you can create separate pages for each location.
Then, on your homepage, make sure it’s immediately clear to your visitors where they need to click in order to get the information they’re looking for.
Happy visitors = lower bounce rate = better SEO rankings!
For better or worse, SEO is an ongoing process, and that includes routinely updating your website content to stay relevant. Small business blogging is a key component of this, because it will help generate traffic to your site – and search engines like content that is up-to-date and relevant.
If you haven’t already set up your blog, don’t choose a new domain name. Instead, try to host your blog under your website’s domain name (www.businessname.com/blog), so that when people link back to your blog, they’ll be linking back to your website as well. (We’ll get back to why this is important below.)
Here are a few other tips for writing local SEO content:
As a business owner, you’re the expert in your niche. If someone were to call you with a question about your goods or services, what would they ask? Create the content that your readers will find valuable, because chances are, Google will too.
The people looking for the service you provide won’t necessarily name your neighborhood or city when they search, so it’s important that your content ranks for multiple locations in your area.
Not only are these happenings relevant to your audience, but writing about them will also give you a chance to boost your SEO. As a local business owner, you have “authority” to write about your neighborhood and to respond to things in real time.
The meat of your content is important, but so is the structure of your posts. Pay attention to your H1s, title tags, URLs, and meta descriptions, and to incorporate internal links to other relevant posts.
Yes, really. Does it sound natural? If you read your content to another person, would they understand what you’re saying, or would it sound spammy? Remember, the old way of keyword stuffing no longer cuts it for SEO, so make sure your posts read like a human voice is speaking them.
This should go without saying, but the content on your site should be authentic as well as informative. Search engines are on the lookout for duplicate content, or content that repeats itself on the web, and they won’t like it if your site borrows from others’ original work.
While optimizing your website and content is key to improving local SEO, it’s equally as important to influence your business’s presence on the rest of the web. Let’s take a look at some specifics:
We already talked about how on-site SEO affects your business website’s relevance; now, we’ll address how off-site tactics – namely, local links and citations – affect your prominence.
Unlike SEO that spans longer “distances,” local SEO focuses on citations; that is, having other local businesses – with high authority – refer to your business NAP. Instead of linking back to your website, citations are plain text that deal with your brick-and-mortar location.
If you know anything about link building, you can think of citations as the local version of building links. The more that other local businesses in your area mention your business, the higher your business will come up in Google as a response to a search query.
There are two types of citations:
Structured – Structured citations come from local business directories. (Think Yelp, Foursquare, or Yellow Pages.) With this type of citation, you can usually control how the information about your business appears.
Unstructured – These are online mentions of your business from sources other than directories, such as a blogger who passed through your restaurant or a newspaper covering the services you offer. Unlike structured citations, these mentions will often have incomplete information about your business (a name and address without a phone number, for example).
Building citations is time-consuming but worth it. It’s one of the most powerful SEO tools you have at your disposal as a local business owner, and most people don’t know about it. That means if you invest enough effort, you’ll have an advantage over your local competitors.
Also, citations are easier to build than links that point back to your website. While links to your website are nice, they’re not necessary for boosting local SEO; the main thing is that your business is mentioned elsewhere, so that search engines have a way to verify that your business is legit.
If you don’t have time to manually build citations, you may want to put a little money into it instead. There are citation-building services that have access to thousands of sites, and they will manually build citations for you in an organized way.
Or, you can go with an automated citation-building service, which gives you extra wiggle room in case you want to change part of your NAP or rebrand down the line.
If either of these options speaks to you, have at it – just make sure to vet the service you plan on using before committing. Remember, you want quality sites mentioning your business, but some of the services out there will take your money while selling you fluff.
Citations are crucial, but having local websites link to your content and website is also important for local SEO.
If you’re publishing valuable content on your blog, hopefully other businesses will begin to link to your best articles. That said, you can also take link-building into your own hands.
One of the best ways to get local links is to form relationships with other businesses in your neighborhood, both on and offline. This includes offering partnerships to organizations or services, leading community events, and following local blogs whose content is relevant to (but not competitive with) yours so that you can comment and link back to their posts.
In other words – network. Chances are that once you’ve made a name for yourself in your community – especially if you’ve spearheaded events or partnered with other prominent organizations – local publications will write about you and link to your business website.
Like with citations, you want inbound links from authoritative websites – sites that are high-quality and trusted. The stronger the websites linking to you, the more they can help boost your rankings.
You should also link to your own content within your posts. Called “internal links,” these links tell search engines that your content is consistent and relevant, and they can help you rank for local keywords that you’re trying to target.
In addition to building citations, there are several review platforms that you must register for as a local business. Why? Because immediately following the 3-pack, you’ll often see these sites crop up on the first few SERP listings – and you want your business to be there.
If you haven’t gotten on the Google My Business train yet, stop what you’re doing and create an account. Registering your business will help it come up on the map pack following a search query related to what you offer.
Your business may already be listed, in which case you should claim it as your own and verify that you own it. If not, it’s time to register your company. Once you sign up, you’ll get a verification code delivered to your business’s address within 3 to 5 days, which you will need to enter in the appropriate field on your GMB account.
You can also choose to use your Google Analytics Gmail account, if applicable, and your GMB profile will be verified automatically.
Once you are verified, make sure to enter the following information:
Business Name, with no qualifiers.
Category. Get specific here, because this will help Google match your business with search queries. For example, don’t just say “Clothing store,” but rather “Women’s Clothing” or “Vintage Consignment Shop”.
NAP, exactly the same way it appears on your website. If you have several locations, make sure to list each one.
Reviews. Reviews will also be displayed in the local pack next to your contact info, and it’s important to take stock of them and respond when necessary, because most customers shopping local will use them to make decisions about where they purchase.
Images. Others can also add images to your profile, so make sure to check back on this from time to time.
If you register for GMB first, then you can simply import your information from your GMB profile to Bing Places and get automatic verification.
But, in case you need to start from scratch – like with GMB, if your business is already listed on Bing Places, you can claim it as your own. If not, you should complete your listing profile, including hours of operation, photos of your business or services, and the ways for customers to get to your business.
And, similar to GMB, you’ll receive a PIN to your business’s address, phone number or email, so you can verify that you own it.
As we mentioned earlier, SEO is an ongoing process, and that includes checking up on things that are happening off-site as well as on your own pages.
Any user can swoop in and suggest edits for your business’s information as it appears in the local pack, and you want to make sure that the information that appears there is always correct – both so your customers can find you, and so Google keeps displaying your business in response to queries.
If you see something awry, try to fix the changes as quickly as possible, either by writing to GMB’s support or by following these instructions.
With all of the factors that go into improving your local SEO game, it can be difficult to monitor and keep track of everything on your own. Thankfully, a lot of cool small business tools have been created that can help you manage and even automate some of the SEO processes. Here are some of our favorites:
Just as it sounds, this review software tool helps you monitor and track reviews made about your business across the web.
ReviewTrackers sends you alerts when new customer feedback is posted to main review sites, and it presents the information in an easy-to-digest dashboard. You can also use the tool to ask customers for feedback, and help ensure your business has a strong reputation online.
If you’re at a standstill with citations, Whitespark is your next move. Their Citation Finder will help you find the citation opportunities you’re missing as well as remove duplicates (which hurt your SEO), so you can list your business in quality directories and boost your rankings.
They also offer a Local Rank Tracker, which tells you how your local SEO compares to competitors in the area and how you rank across different search engines and result types.
As big players in the SEO world, Moz has tools for everything – including helping local businesses boost their SEO. Moz Local acts as an all-in-one platform, on which you upload your business’s information and the tool will send it out to search engines on your behalf.
This is particularly helpful for when you need to make changes in your business’s information; rather than updating it on each individual search engine and review site, you only have to change it once in Moz – and the tool takes care of the rest. It also sends you periodic reports to help you monitor your growth.
Remember that Schema microdata we spoke about earlier? This Hall Analysis tool helps you easily create your markup. All you have to do is fill out your information, and the tool will generate the code you need to add to your site.
Once you’ve created and added your Schema, use the Google Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure the code is clean.
Just enter your URL or a portion of your code, and then test your code for warnings or errors. This will help you make sure you’ve included all the necessary data in your Schema markup for search engines to crawl your site and know exactly what you offer.
Yext offers a whole bunch of services that help improve local SEO, including directly answering questions that users have about your business, keeping your business’s information up-to-date all over the web, and offering listing improvement suggestions.
They also provide extensive analytics and help prevent duplicate listings, which negatively impact your local SEO.
Improving local SEO is not without its challenges, but it’s an effort that will pay off once you boost your rankings.
Showing up at the top of search engines will help you grow traffic to your website, gain brand recognition, and most of all, increase the number of customers that make it to your doorstep. Follow this guide, and remember to invest in both on-site and off-site methods as you grow your business.
Looking for other ways to grow your business? Head to Tailor Brands to design and launch your brand!