If you’re a local business – that is, most or all your business comes from customers living in your community – you need to be very serious about local SEO.
There’s good news: ranking locally for the kinds of things your prospects are looking for isn’t rocket science, and maybe-not-quite-so-good news: it takes a serious commitment to a handful of things.
In case you’re wondering if it’s worth the investment, consider these statistics:
- 98% of searchers choose a business from the first page of search results
- 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 77% of smartphone users contact a business after looking for local Information
There are more, but you get the point – if you don’t rank locally for the things people are searching for, marketing will be harder and more expensive.
If you focus on these five elements, you can expect great results from local SEO and search.
Optimize your Google My Business
Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing.
If you’ve never heard of Google My Business, go immediately to Google’s Free Business Listing page and see if you can claim your current listing.
Many people created Google+ listings before Google had a bit of a snafu in the Google My Business department; you may have to do some cleanup and make sure there’s only one listing for your business and that it’s the right one.
Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to take full advantage of the options available to you.
First, choose the correct business category and subcategories. Ensure that the name, address, and phone number (NAP) on Google My Business is identical to what’s on your website. And when we say identical, we mean identical – one should not say Market St. while the other says Market Street, if it’s Heating & Cooling on your site it shouldn’t be Heating and Cooling on Google My Business, one phone number shouldn’t look like this: (123) 456-789 while the other looks like this: 123.456.789. Etc.
Get your markup right
Search engines are trying to adopt a consistent mark-up protocol to use HTML code for identifying businesses, reviews, addresses, books, movies, and the like. (Learn more about that by visiting Schema.org)
Using the proper markup for your address is akin to handing Google your business card on a silver platter – it allows Google’s search “spiders” to be 100% certain what they’re looking at when it comes to identifying an address on your web pages.
The good news is that 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 about them here.
Clean up your citations
You might be familiar with directories like Yelp!, Google Local, or industry specific directories like Houze or Angie’s List – but you probably don’t know that Google relies on hundreds of data aggregators and directories to help them sort and organize local businesses.
Getting your listing straight on Google is essential, and if you’ve moved, gotten a new phone number, or haven’t consistently listed your NAP details, Google probably isn’t sure which listing is correct – not a good thing.
Google uses multiple data sources to create the most accurate picture. The image above is from MOZLocal and shows the interrelation of information sourced between data aggregators, directories, and search engines in the US.
The last thing Google wants to do is send someone to the wrong address when they search for a local business.
The image above is an example of a local business with multiple inconsistent citations online; the name is spelled differently and there are three different phone numbers and two different addresses. And by no means are we picking on this business specifically – this sort of inaccurate/inconsistent data exists for the majority of businesses.
Using a tool like MozLocal will show you how bad the problem is for your business; once you find the inaccurate/inconsistent/incomplete listings, use MozLocal, BrightLocal, WhiteSpark, or Yext to fix them.
This step alone can do more for your local listings than any other aspect of local SEO.
Create local SEO content
This one should be obvious but really isn’t.
When you create a brochure and hand it to a prospect, it’s pretty obvious that you work in their city. When you create content online, on the other hand, you need to spell out where you do your work.
It’s easy to get spammy by listing too much local content, which can hurt you, but you need to talk about where you work and, in some cases, have specific pages with case studies for specific trade areas, suburbs, and neighborhoods.
Don’t forget to blog and post about local events and happenings, too. Using your blog to talk about community and customer- and employee-related local news is a great way to authentically spice up your local content.
If you have multiple locations, you should learn about what SEO folks refer to as ‘content silos’ for each location. (Here’s a great primer on local content silos.)
Focus on reviews
Reviews are an increasingly important form of content, as people are relying increasingly on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase.
So while you need positive reviews for social proof, you also need them as a pillar of your local SEO efforts.
It’s not the only factor, but it’s an important one.
The graph above from a BrightLocal survey demonstrates how important reviews have become in the purchase journey for local businesses. Just a few years ago, nearly 30% of consumers agreed that they didn’t use reviews; today, only 8% of consumers ignore reviews. Or – 92% of buyers rely on reviews when making a local purchasing decision.
Look at the businesses in the image above. Reviews are displayed; you can see that they play a large role in what businesses appear and, for the consumer, what businesses will get clicked. You need at least five reviews before Google displays the review stars as a highlighting feature of local results – that alone makes it important to acquire reviews.
Reviews are harder to get than they should be; even a business with raving fans must work to get those reviews from 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. Sure, you’ll take a glowing email testimonial from a customer, but it’s far better to get a Google, Yelp, Facebook, or industry review. (Check out this list of important industry review sites.) You can also repurpose these reviews in email newsletters, on your site, or even hanging up in the store.
Take some time and make each of the five steps above a priority for your local business and you may find that local leads drawn from organic search can become your most potent lead generation channel.