It's simple: running a business today requires an online presence. Even if a mom-and-pop hardware store has been a community staple for forty years, it will be left in the past if there is no information about it online.
Advertising has changed and shifted to the online world, and strong search rankings determine results. While optimizing your website for search has similarities to an advertising campaign in that the goal attracts customers, the two are quite different. Search engine optimization (SEO) involves structuring your online business presence so that search engines can find your website in a query.
Building momentum with SEO takes patience and practice, and unlike advertising and PPC (Pay Per Click), there is no instant feedback on how well your efforts are doing. The process of SEO creates organic growth of viewers and ranking. Customers have taken the reins and look to find exactly what they are looking for.
When it comes to staying in business, a local operation needs all the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tools in place and deployed. Ramping up the visibility of a local company via SEO tactics is central to today's marketing strategies.
Tailoring SEO to a local customer base will yield better results since many users base their searches on their locations. It is crucial to make it as easy as possible to locate a business's contact info, location, and operation hours. This guide will help any local business get seen on Google's first page, desktop, mobile, and map apps.
The first step in implementing a local SEO strategy is to get your business on to Google Maps. It's a very simple process to claim a listing.
Google My Business is a tool provided by the search engine for business owners to list and manage their presence on Google. GMB goes beyond NAP (Name, Address & Phone Number) by offering an area to add more detailed information. You can put business hours, a product/service description, current offers, map locations, and reviews on the app and use the tracking dashboard to see who contacts your business through clicks, calls, bookings, and follows.
Optimize your Google Maps listing with GMB by filling out all the requested information and staying up-to-date with customers' questions and comments. The benefit of a GMB optimized Google Map entry is higher visibility.
For instance, if a customer employs the proximity-based 'near me' option while searching with basic keywords, a GMB listing will have a better chance of appearing in search. Even if a customer does not have their location tracking on Google Maps, a robust GMB verified listing boosts visibility. That means enabling not only NAP but reviews and links to offers and product mentions.
By claiming your listing, Google gets the message that your business is open and activated. This distinction enables you to rank higher than competitors who have yet to do the same. With local searches, small businesses are afforded a competitive chance when it comes to massive global brands that might seek to dominate the area.
Google's Local Pack prefers businesses verified with Google My Business listings. The Local Pack, aka the Snack Pack, is a search result section highlighting three local companies related to a user's query. Until 2015, the Local Pack listed seven companies, but by 2020, it’s now down to only three, to make room for newer mobile-friendly innovations like featured snippets and knowledge panels. Therefore, a user will only see three results on mobile, tablet, or desktop.
In a 2021 Brightlocal study analyzing local pack ranking factors, the top three thing visitors valued when searching for a business were:
Given that data, getting listed in the coveted Local Pack should be a top priority. Small business benefits from appearing in local searches, and since most users don't go further than Google's first page results, every query is a potential sale made or lost.
The first steps to being featured in the Local Pack involve the basics of listing your business on Google. Go through the simple process of claiming a listing and proving Google with all the necessary information and accuracy. Be sure to fill out all the available fields.
Their step-by-step guide to setting up and verifying your Google My Business account is easy and uncomplicated. Just follow their instructions, and in a few short minutes, you can be up and running. If there is any confusion in the process, Google offers a phone-in helpline.
A feature of Google Business Profiles that may alarm some business owners is anyone's ability to edit your information. A customer, critic, or competitor can suggest an edit that alters the vital information such as opening hours, location, etc. After creating a business profile, the best practice is to monitor your page regularly and check for any inconsistencies or changes.
Bear in mind that Google invites user-generated content to update business information. There is an option for a customer to go to Know This Place, click it, and start answering questions
Many business owners have cried foul to Google's favoring of the crowd over the business owner, but Google shows no signs of shutting down this option. Therefore check your verified listing regularly to be sure the information remains accurate.
After getting the necessary information entered and verified by Google, the fun begins. Think of your listing as more than just directions to your shop – think of it as an active advertisement.
Google prefers to display its information at the top of a SERP (Search Engine Results Pages); therefore, entering your business into Google My Business and Maps gives them the incentive to feature you. Filling out all available fields with keywords, answers to questions, photos, and rich data will please the Google algorithms and better your chances at page one ranking. Your business can also appear in geo-location results when users are searching in your neighborhood.
When it comes to keywords, local SEO might seem more targeted and less high-level; however, consider that it yields a higher ROI since searching is more than likely serious about finding, and purchasing a product or service.
Research the competition in your area and see what comes up first in a Google Maps result. A helpful technique is to enter their URL into Google Keyword Planner and note associated keywords with their website. There are also several free keyword planner services to assist you.
Take those keywords as a guide to incorporate into your list.
The Google Keyword Planner can show you the top keywords via search terms. For instance, if you run a yoga studio in Denver, you can search for "yoga Denver," "yoga studio Colorado," or "yoga workout Denver," etc.
When it comes to keywords for your business website, consider your Google Business Listing and coordinate with keywords of location, type of business, opening hours, and contact information.
It's not just about the power of Google My Business validation; your website is still a vital component in attracting new customers. Local SEO for business websites can be highly effective in pumping up your listing.
Keywords relating to location and neighborhood should be populated throughout title tags and in the homepage copy and regular blog posts. If your business services multiple locations create features on each one with descriptives about the area and culture.
A location-specific guide is also a great way to integrate your business into a local community. Local directory listings and blogs will take note and might even offer a feature.
Searching for "5 best pizza joints in Boise Idaho" yields Google Maps search results at the top of the page with Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Foursquare as the main SERPs below the 3 Pack:
“Drycleaners of Bozeman Montana” displays the Google Map and 3 Pack with one business ranking above a Yelp link:
Even a highly competitive result for a search like "best burrito in San Francisco" yields the same 3 Pack style with popular local listicle blog posts from sites like Business Insider, Thrillist, and SF Eater at the top of the SERP:
A mobile-friendly website is a key component of online success. With most local searches happening on mobile devices, it's an obvious necessity to design and keep current with mobile trends. Make the process of finding your business as easy as possible for a local or a tourist. Google and other search engines will rank mobile-friendly websites higher than ones who aren't.
The user-friendly, mobile-optimized website will hold a customer's attention longer and become a trusted business, showing that you are tech-savvy and conscious of the user experience.
In 2019, Hitwise reported that 58% of Google searches in the US were made on mobile. Consider appealing more to your mobile audience using features inside the ‘Snack-Pack’ and Carousel to check the UX (user experience) windows designed specifically for mobile view. You can even run a speed test from Think with Google.
While Google dominates the search engine landscape, be sure to claim your business on other popular search sites such as Bing, and business review sites like Yelp.
While Bing is not as popular as Google, it is still widely used and should be considered when implementing an SEO strategy. Bing is the third-largest search engine globally (YouTube is 2nd to Google) and is commonly used in the United States as an alternative and sometimes preferred website. Your business will be visible to this audience that uses them as their primary search engine by listing on Bing.
To claim your local listing go to Bing Places for Business and follow their prompts in three easy steps. Like Google, fill out all their necessary fields to claim, complete, and verify your business listing. Bing makes it simple for all users, and best of all, it's free. After claiming your business on Bing Places, they will display hours, location, contact information, and also your Yelp profile and reviews.
Yelp is a somewhat controversial website in that the power of the crowd can sometimes lead to misinformation or negativity in the review space. However, despite audiences' knowledge of Yelp's problematic reputation, customers keep returning to search for businesses near them. With over 80 million viewers each month, You cannot ignore Yelp when it comes to local SEO.
Yelp is a trusted website that ranks high in the SERPs, and users expect to find a Yelp page for businesses of every type, not just restaurants, bars, hair salons, or mechanics. By maintaining an active Yelp page and replying to customers' reviews, your brick-and-mortar establishment will appear more often in searches and lead traffic to your website as well.
Yelp requires some work from the business owner to monitor and respond to any negative experiences that customers may have been angry about. This condition allows showing that you care about customer experience and not just the bottom line.
Customers tend to trust outside reviews before booking appointments or purchasing products. A glowing review of your establishment can bring in a lot of new foot traffic. A best practice in local SEO is to incentivize customers to write reviews. Provide perks such as coupons or discounts for referrals and reviews on sites like Yelp and Google as a way to build visibility.
All the listings across search engines and review sites should have identical and up-to-date information. This consistency is especially right for social media listings. Facebook may link to another service instead of Google Maps; therefore, users can access your location on different map applications if your address is correct. Be sure to match your website's contact data to these other listings to avoid any confusion or complaints.
The phone directory and Yellow Pages business listings arriving in a heavy book on your doorstep are a thing of the past. They've moved online in the form of websites maintained by chambers of commerce and local business associations.
Google isn't the only game in town when it comes to local SEO. By getting listed on smaller local and neighborhood websites, you plant your brand as a contributing member of a regional community. If there is a shopping center or town square near your physical address, be proactive by approaching these websites with your listing information. Every link and backlink counts when it comes to contributing to a higher ranking.
Using a third-party service to help your business get listed on local search directories and chambers of commerce will save some time from a tedious process. Companies such as Whitespark, LocalSEOHelp, and Brightlocal can take the pressure off manually approaching every marginal listing directory on your own, leaving you time to concentrate on building your website's content and keywords.
Think of local SEO as your targeted marketing campaign. By following simple steps that emphasize location and reviews, your search ranking will have the chance of appearing in Google's coveted three-pack.
When customers search for a business in their area, adhere to a few basic protocols to follow once you're up and running:
Local SEO is an ongoing process. If you prioritize Google My Business, while diversifying your presence across multiple search engines and review websites, you'll be on your way to a consistent Page 1 ranking.
From content creation to SEO, here’s everything you need find customers and keep them.