If most or all of your business comes from customers living in your community, you need to get serious about local search and search engine optimization (SEO). If your business is not showing up in Google when your prospect does a search you are heading down a tough road.
Ranking higher for local searches, the searches your prospects are doing right now, it’s too complicated. But it does take a serious commitment to a handful of things.
As the saying goes “Just because it’s simply doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
In case there is any doubt about whether or not higher rankings are worth the investment, here are a few staggering survey facts.
- 98% of searchers choose a business that is on page 1 of the results they get.
- 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 77% of smartphone users contact a business after looking for local Information
The point is: if you don’t rank well locally for the things people are searching for marketing will be a lot harder and a lot more expensive.
But, this is the Simple Guide so we’ll get right to it. If you’ll focus on these five puzzle pieces you can expect great results from local SEO and search. (Your mileage may vary depending on location, competition, etc.)
Element #1: Optimize Google My Business
Claim and optimize your Google My Business Listing. Google has gone through several iterations of their local business flagship, but for now Google My Business is what you need to pay attention to.
If you’ve never heard of Google My Business and therefore don’t know what a tremendous impact this system can have on your local search results, please stop and go immediately to Google’s Free Business Listing page and find out if you can claim your current listing.
Many people created or had created Google+ listings and Google made a mess of how this became Google My Business so you may have some cleanup to do to make sure that you only have one listing for your business and it’s the one Google thinks is your business.
Once you claim the listing for your business, you need to take full advantage of all of the customization, capabilities and linking options available to you.
If your goal is to have your business show up in the coveted Google 3-pack for local searches shown above, optimizing your Google My Business profile is essential.
Make sure you have the right business category and subcategories chosen for your business.
Make note of the exact way your business name, address and phone number (NAP) appear. Exact meaning is it Street or St., is it Heating & Cooling or Heating and Cooling.
Whatever you show listed as the NAP on your Google My Business Page, you’ll want to use consistently on your own website and across all directories. (More on this in a bit.)
Element #2: Get Markup Right
This element is a little “techie” but don’t worry, you can easily figure it out. Search engines are busy trying to adopt a consistent markup protocol to use HTML code to properly identify things like businesses, reviews, addresses, books, movies and other groups. If that interest you, learn about the current popular markup for local businesses by visiting Schema.org.
Using proper markup for your address is kind of like handing Google your business card. It doesn’t look like anything to the naked eye, but Google spiders can be 100% certain what they are looking at when it comes to identifying an address on your web pages.
The good news is that you don’t really 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. Again, this NAP information needs to be consistent everywhere it is listed.
There are other things you can do with structured markup and you can read all about it here.
Element #3: Clean Up Citations
So, you might very well be familiar with a few directories like Yelp! and Google Local, or maybe even an industry specific directories like Houzz, Homefinders, or Angie’s List, but you probably didn’t realize that Google relies on hundreds of data aggregators and directories to help them sort out and keep straight all of the local businesses out.
So, getting your listing straight on Google is essential, but if you’ve moved, or changed your phone, or just listed your details in all sorts of ways in business filings or Chamber directories, there’s a good chance Google isn’t sure which listing is correct and that’s not a good thing.
Google uses many data sources to try to get the most accurate picture. The image above from MOZLocal, shows the interrelation of information sourced between data aggregators, directories, and search engines in the US. As you can see from the image – local search citation can be a wide and complicated assembly of wide sites and entries.
The last thing Google wants to do is send someone to the wrong address when they search for a local business.
Above is an example of a local business that has multiple inconsistent citations online. You’ll notice there are different names (“and” versus “&”), there are three different phone numbers, and at least two different addresses.
This is not uncommon. In my experience, some sort of inaccurate data is out there for most businesses.
You can use a tool like MozLocal and see just how bad this problem is for your business.
Once you determine there are a few inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete listings use MozLocal, BrightLocal, WhiteSpark, Advice Local, Yext to clean listings and suppress inaccurate duplicates that often occur.
Moz also has this list of other local directories by city and this list of industry specific directories.
This step alone can do more for your local listings than any most other aspects of local SEO.
Element #4: Create local SEO content
Content is the fuel of your marketing system. And local marketing requires local content.
If you think about it, when you create a brochure and hand it to a prospect that pretty much know that you work in their city. But, when you create content online, you need to go over and above to spell out where you do your work.
It’s easy to get sketchy, listing lots of local content unrelated to your products an services, and that can hurt you as much as help you. That said, you should have content about where you work and in some cases have specific pages on your website with case studies in specific trade areas, suburbs, and neighborhoods.
Your blog (you do have a blog, right?) is also a place to post articles about local events and happenings. Using your blog to talk about community, customer, and employee related local news is a great way to add to your local content in very authentic ways.
If you have multiple locations, you may want to learn about and adopt what many SEO folks refer to as content silos for each location – here’s a great primer on local content silos.
Element #5: Focus on reviews
Reviews have become another important form of content. As the statistic cited at the beginning of this post suggests, people increasingly rely on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase.
Google factors review activity as one of the elements that helps determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack. So, while you need positive reviews for social proof, you also need them as a pillar of your local SEO efforts.
The graph above from a BrightLocal survey illustrates just how important reviews have become in the purchase journey for local businesses. Just a few years go nearly 30% admitted they didn’t use reviews – today that number is 8%. Meaning – 92% of buyers regularly or occasionally rely on reviews when making a local buying decision.
You must have at least 5 reviews for Google to display the review stars as a highlighting feature of local results – that alone makes it important to acquire reviews. Take a look at the businesses in the image above. Reviews are displayed and play a large role in what businesses are shown and for the consumer, what businesses are clicked.
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 earn them, 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. It never hurts to have a very positive email testimonial from a customer, but far better to receive a Google, Yelp, Facebook or industry review. (Check out this list of important industry review sites.)
Beyond the review site themselves, you can always repurpose these reviews in email newsletters, on your site, or even hanging up in the store.
Many businesses are finding that they need to make review collection a process rather than leaving it to chance. Tools like GetFiveStars and Grade.us can help automate the process of review collection.
Take some time and make each of the five local search elements 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.
If you are going to be competitive in the local search game then you need a local search playbook.
Click here to download the Local SEO Playbook – a free guide to local rankings. You’ll find this resource valuable if you are trying to get found and make the phone ring.