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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential for every business, not just large corporations. As a local business or small company, you could benefit substantially from implementing SEO strategies. Instead of relying on word of mouth or foot traffic, crafting a focused local SEO strategy can be the difference between your business thriving vs. just surviving.
Why is it so critical? Well, reports show that 4 out of every 5 customers use search engines to find local businesses.
It’s great that consumers are looking for businesses near them online. However, it can be difficult for them to find you if your business hasn’t optimized for local searches. Without robust local SEO strategies in place, you could be losing out on web traffic and potential new customers.
To help you get started, we’ve put together this expert guide for local business SEO. We’ll be looking at what local SEO is (and how it differs from traditional SEO), and how you can grow your business through digital marketing by optimizing your website and online listings for local-specific searches.
In an ever-changing world, we’ll give you the tools you need to understand not just the way that customers’ search behavior has changed, but exactly how to use local SEO to reach those customers looking for the products or services that your business provides.
Part 1: Understanding Local SEO
Before delving into the specifics of implementing effective local SEO, it’s crucial to understand this concept and why it matters.
In this section, we look at what local SEO is. It’s an essential tool for any small business, and it can help you stay ahead of your nearby competition when it comes to who gets the prime online real estate.
What Is Local SEO for Small Businesses?
In simple terms, local SEO is the process of promoting your services or products to customers in your area. Your company will show up in the search results when these potential customers are searching for them online.
With standard SEO, businesses attempt to get their web pages listed higher in search results for generic search queries. Local SEO is all about reaching your geographically-based target audience.
With local SEO, you’re targeting your SEO campaigns towards location-specific questions. Think of searches for ‘Dog Walkers in [location],’ or ‘Carpenter near me’ as examples. You don’t want to promote your business to people looking for dog walkers when they live in another state. You want to promote it to people searching for dog walkers in the area that you serve.
These kinds of online searches tend to include the phrase ‘near me’ or a particular location. For these queries, search engines such as Google will provide business suggestions listed by location. They curate this data based on the IP address of the searcher’s device.
SEO is something that many small businesses know they need, and many may even implement basic strategies. However, most small, location-based businesses do not genuinely understand local SEO or take the time to build and improve it. Why? It can seem confusing and intimidating to those with no experience in the area.
Don’t let this source of enormous potential go to waste. Stay ahead of the game in comparison to your local competition by implementing local SEO.
Why Do You Need Local SEO for Your Small Business?
People need to find products and services near them all the time. In today’s digital world, Google is the most common solution, no matter the product or service.
What do you do when the washing machine is leaking? You Google ‘plumber near me’. And what happens when you need a haircut? You Google ‘hairdressers in [your town]’.
People are continually performing local searches to find a company or service near to them. Sometimes, searchers know what they are looking for and type in the name of a specific business. More often, however, searchers know what service or product they need, but don’t have a particular business in mind.
*Enter the Google Local 3-Pack*
Have you ever wondered what that fancy little map is at the top of your local search?
Well, its Google’s way of showing users looking for a product or service exactly what it feels are the three most relevant businesses to choose from. There are a multitude of different factors that we’ll go into when in reference to *how* you land in the Local 3-Pack, but the moral of the story is….you want your business to be there.
This is prime real estate that most businesses are missing out on. I often hear from business owners, “is this the way people are finding me now?” The answer is always a resounding YES!
In fact, the Local 3-Pack gets 44% of the clicks from all local searches, and there are 1.2 TRILLION searches per year. Think about that.
Local SEO can be a real boost to your business in other ways, too:
• Business credibility: When your business appears at the top of the search results or shows up on Google Maps, it gives your business credibility. Your potential customers are more likely to consider your business as a legitimate, trustworthy company. The credibility means they’ll also be more likely to get in touch and use your business.
• ROI: Local SEO for small business offers a high return on investment. Whether you decide to go the DIY route or pay a local SEO expert, the long-term ROI on local SEO is higher than Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, etc. Imagine doubling or tripling your revenue, while spending a fraction of that on Local SEO!
Five Keys to Explosive SEO Growth for Your Local Business
Local SEO is the secret to unlocking a vast amount of potential growth for your company. But you don’t have to take our word for it as proof. Take a look at the five keys below, which outline exactly how local search will drive explosive growth for your business in the future.
- In the last two years, mobile searches with ‘Where to buy’ and ‘near me’ have grown by over 200%.
- Reports show 76% of local searches on mobile devices result in a visit to a physical location/company within one day.
- Online searchers visit over 1.5 billion locations related to their Google searches every month.
Part 2: How to Implement Local SEO for Your Business
Now that you know why local SEO is such a beneficial digital marketing strategy for your business, let’s look at how you can implement it to be as successful as possible.
In this section, we look at the most effective ways of ensuring your small business has positioned itself best for online growth in your local area.
We’ll focus mainly on optimizing for Google, for the simple reason that Google has a 92% share of all search engine inquiries. Google uses three main local ranking factors to determine where your business will appear in local search results:
- Distance: to determine proximity, search engines such as Google use geo-coordinates and zip codes. This data helps to work out where the searcher is relative to your business location.
- Relevance: Google looks at how well your small business matches up with what the searcher is seeking.
- Prominence: Search engines examine sources on the web, such as links, citations, and reviews. This data helps to determine how well-known your business is.
These three local ranking factors are exactly what you need to focus on if you want to set your business apart from the local competition.
Step 1: Google My Business
The first and most critical thing to do for local SEO is to set up your Google My Business (GMB) listing.
GMB addresses all three local ranking factors, so it’s the best place to start. The information on your GMB will feed into various places, such as the Google Local 3-Pack, the knowledge panel, and search results on Google Maps.
Setting up your listing should be straightforward, and Google offers plenty of online advice and guides to help you get off the ground. The key to optimizing your profile is to include a variety of information, such as:
- Contact details
- Website URL
- Business description
- Opening times
- Service Area
NOTE: if you’re a franchise or have several branches, you’ll only need to create a GMB listing for each location that you own or operate. One GMB listing does not serve all of your locations.
It’s crucial that you make sure all of your information is correct and that the category you select to describe your company is the most accurate it can be. The address you enter for your business will dictate where you’ll appear in local search results.
Proximity is one of the most significant ranking factors for GMB and the Google Local 3-Pack. It is one of the most difficult to master because your location is (usually) static. With that said, it’s essential that you somehow convey to Google that your location is relevant to searchers across your ENTIRE service area. I go into more detail in this video on local SEO ranking factors in 2020.
Once you’ve set up your business on GMB and Google has verified it, it should appear in Google Maps and the Google Search Results.
One of the latest features available to Google My Business users is Google Posts. Google Posts allows you to share updates, special offers, or other relevant content on your profile. This content could be images, text, videos, or links. The key is to offer information that is attention-grabbing and engaging.
GMB and Google Posts are excellent ways for you as a small local business owner to stand apart from your competition. You can use them to promote special offers or discounts and let people know about you and your products or services.
Step 2: NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number)
NAP is one of the main ranking signals that search engines use. It helps determine whether your business listing is an appropriate solution to a local search query.
NAP relates to your business’s distance and relevance factors, so you always need to be consistent with these in citations. A citation is any online mention of your local business’s critical details: name, address, phone number, and website URL. These factors are likely to be in locations such as business listing websites or online directories.
Wherever the details of your business appear, make sure that they are the same in every instance. The key is consistency.
The more consistency between each listing of your NAPs on an external website, the better the chances are of search engines being able to validate and tag your company when users perform a relevant search.
Further, you should make sure that you have plenty of online citations. They will help make sure your website is identifiable as a local option (checking the ‘distance’ box) and falls within the right category (relevance).
Popular sites for citations include:
- Yahoo Local
Once you have created listings on a range of citation sites, run a simple check. You want to make sure that all the details are consistent and correct.
Tools such as Yext are great for small businesses. They enable you to run a search of all your citations and edit any out-of-date or incorrect entries.
Step 3: Focus on Gaining Reviews
Reviews are vital to how small businesses rank for prominence on Google.
The search engine will crawl the web to see how people have reviewed and rated your company and what score they have given it. The higher the number of positive reviews you have, the more prominent your business will be.
Google My Business will display reviews from several citation websites on your profile/panel. It will include reviews from:
- GMB/Google Maps
- Apple Maps
- Bing Places
The best way to gain reviews is to offer outstanding service. However, you can also increase your review count by collecting customer email addresses and offering promotions or discounts in return for reviews.
Don’t worry if you get a bad review (as long as it’s not frequent). It won’t necessarily count against you. Instead, it assures Google that you’re a legitimate company with real reviews.
Step 4: Local Citations + Social Media Presence
Since prominence is an essential local SEO ranking factor, you want to appear with your business Name/Address/Phone in as many places as possible!
Social media and Local Citations are the perfect place to boost these signals with just simple business information. Local citations help Google verify your company, and all forms of social media can increase your legitimacy and local appeal.
Essential Social Accounts: Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/LinkedIn
These accounts are must-haves when it comes to social media for your small business. They’re both authoritative in the eyes of Google, and they allow you to engage with potential customers. The bare minimum you should add on these platforms are your business hours, discounts, special offers, and pictures of your business.
To increase engagement and reviews, make sure you post frequently, as social media networks reward engagement as a signal to highlight your business even more. Social media is also a great way to boost traffic directly to your website, but we’ll go into more detail on that with our small business social media hacks.
Step 5: Optimize Your Website
SEO for small local businesses doesn’t stop with a Google My Business account. It’s a common myth that once you’ve optimized for local, you don’t need to focus on your on-site pages’ content and design.
Your well-optimized on-site content is the key to outranking other local companies that have performed the same local SEO processes. Consider the following steps to make sure your website pages boost your local SEO endeavors:
- Headers and Title Tags: Check that your homepage H1 and title tags include your business and the city’s name. These heading tags add weight to your local search ranking.
- Images: Include photos of the locations you serve. Also, be sure to optimize the file names and alt image with the city/area’s name to rank more highly for images.
- Meta-Descriptions: Include local keywords in your meta-descriptions to drive traffic to your site.
- Map: Embed a Google map of your location/locations. This sends direct signals back to Google that you are relevant and prominent for specific local searches.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of good user experience on your site. The more engaging and intuitive your website, the more likely people are to convert, and the more customers you generate.
Step 6: Optimize for Mobile
Did you know that 9 out of 10 smartphone users regularly use their mobile devices to do a local search? Mobile queries are why you must optimize your website for cross-device functionality. Websites built with responsive design in mind often perform significantly better than their static counterparts.
Not only that, but Google has implemented its mobile-first search index, which takes website speed and user experience into consideration.
The Bottom Line
Local Search Engine Optimization is an essential tool for your small local business if you’re looking to grow your customer base. Start with setting up a solid GMB profile, and build from there. Always remember that the key factors are distance, relevance, and prominence. You want to tailor all of your local SEO efforts towards increasing your visibility through these means.
By coordinating and prioritizing local SEO efforts, you as a small business owner can cement yourself in the Google Local 3-Pack for local searches.