Let's talk about Local SEO
If you’ve got a local, brick-and-mortar business, you may wonder about the importance of search engine optimization. After all, dozens of potential customers pass by your physical location each and every day. And that’s on top of your local advertising budget – money spent on radio ads, television, billboards, and merchandise with your logo that your customers carry around and wear.
Can local SEO really make a difference for your business? And if so, how much of a difference could it make? Are there that many people searching for local businesses through Google, Bing, and Yahoo?
Yes. Local SEO has the power to drive hundreds of prospective customers to your site at no cost. Local SEO adds zero to your current advertising budget. And it will likely have a greater impact on your business’s traffic and sales – even if you don’t do any actual business online.
Consider the following statistics…
- Nearly half of all Google searches seek local information.
- Over 95% of people learn more about local companies online than anywhere else.
- 18% of local mobile phone searches led to a purchase within 24 hours, compared to only 7% of non-local searches.
- Searches for ‘near me’ and ‘close by’ have grown over 900% in the past few years.
More and more of your customers are finding you online. And as that number grows, it’s going to become ever more important for your online presence to be rock-solid from the foundation to the roof.
If your website is out-of-date or unoptimized, your customers will likely never see you. And if they do, there’s a good chance they’ll pass you by without even giving you a shot. Websites that are nonresponsive, difficult-to-navigate, or look like they were built in the late 90s simply won’t cut it anymore.
It’s 2020. Does your business’s website look like it?
If you’re shaking your head and wondering, “How am I going to get my site up-to-snuff on top of everything else I’ve gotta do…” then fear not!
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about Local SEO, from what it is to the best practices for making your site irresistible to Google’s local search algorithms.
So, enough with the chit-chat, let’s get down to business.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO. You’ve heard the term. And you even realize that it’s a necessity in today’s digital world. But you’re not sure exactly what it is…
Local Search Engine Optimization (or Local SEO for short) is a method of refining your online presence, including your website and any social media accounts, so that more prospective customers in your town find and engage with you.
When someone searches for ‘best used bookstore near me’, they’re likely wanting to find a business they can walk into – or at least call – as soon as possible. They’re begging for any local used bookstore to stand up, raise a hand, and say, “Come on by! I want your business.”
Local SEO is how you make yourself known to those customers who want an answer, product, service, or solution – right now! It’s your means of standing up, waving, and calling out to them.
So… Can Local SEO Help My Business?
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I get it. I see that local SEO has potential. But my business is [fill in the blank]. Can it really help me?”
Well, that depends. While local SEO can be a huge boon to business owners who have a physical location, it won’t help everyone. For example, if you run an online-only business, local SEO is a bit different. People need to be able to visit your location for local SEO to have the most impact.
This means that influencers, authors, and any business or organization that lacks a physical presence should focus on SEO proper rather than local SEO.
But if you’re running a business that has a brick-and-mortar location… and if you want to attract more customers to that location… then local SEO is for you, regardless of your industry. And it’s something you need to incorporate if you’re going to build an effective marketing strategy that won’t devour your budget.
So, how do you optimize your business’s website for local searches?
There are many ways to achieve that goal. And we’re going to look at three big categories of ways…
- Building a solid local SEO foundation – Before you can frame a house, you’ve got to pour a foundation. This isn’t just true of physical buildings. It’s also true for your online presence. Without a solid foundation, all the tips and tricks you can find will fall flat. This is the stage where you make sure your website is built and formatted correctly. And it’s where you create local-focused, keyword-infused content that’s engaging and relevant to your customers.
- Establishing a long-term local SEO strategy – Once the foundation is built, you’re going to want to look at the ways that you can refine your online presence so that you’re easy to find and people can learn more about you. You’ll want to establish strong social media presences and create ways for people to leave (hopefully good) reviews.
- Putting the finishing touches on your local SEO – If you want to take your local SEO strategy to the next level, you’ll want to move beyond the basics that we lay out in the previous two sections. Putting the finishing touches on involves drilling down into long-tail keywords, cultivating links, and developing authority for your domain.
Let’s take it a step at a time…
Building a Solid Local SEO Foundation
The most basic foundation of your digital presence is your website. This is where all SEO begins and ends. And you can pull out all the tricks and tips you want – if your website isn’t in good shape, it’ll all be for naught.
So, what exactly do you need to do to your website to ensure that it’s local SEO friendly?
One of the first things you need to do is ensure mobile responsiveness. More people are accessing the internet from their phones and tablets than ever before. If your site is built for desktop only, you are missing out on important traffic and revenue.
In fact, even Google is looking at your mobile site before your desktop configuration. So if you don’t do anything else, at least make sure that your site is built for smartphones.
You’ll also want to make sure that your website has a simple, logical structure. If your site was created from scratch, this is something that you’ll have to ask your developer to ensure. On the other hand, if you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, most of this will be taken care of through their methodology and with the help of plugins.
When using a CMS, effective use of categories and tags can make a huge difference in your SEO success. Especially if you tag relevant, keyword-rich content with the location you’re interested in targeting. These are basic but important things to consider when building and maintaining your website.
In addition to tags and categories, you’ll want to make ample use of metadata. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, metadata is the hidden data that describes the words, pictures, links, and other visible media on your site. This includes everything from a page’s title and the description it shows in search results, to tags on images and even GPS coordinates.
Google has an entire online manual available that spells out all the possible metadata you can include on your site. It includes…
- Business Hours
- Price Ranges
- Telephone Numbers
- Geographic Coordinates
- And more…
When you tag the data on your site with these labels, you’re making it easier for Google to find and rank the information on your site. And an easy-to-understand site is a higher-ranking site.
There’s one more thing to remember as you’re building your business’s digital footprint. Always make sure that you have a consistent NAP: name, address, and phone number. If the name of your business is ‘ComputersGalore,’ then always use that spelling and spacing. Don’t make it ‘ComputersGalore, LLC’ on Google My Business, ‘Computers Galore’ on your Facebook page, and ‘ComputersGalore.com’ on your site’s about us page. Consistency is key.
So, make sure that every mention of your name, your physical address, and your phone number is exactly the same, no matter where it’s found.
It seems simple, stupid even. But it’s one of those things that makes Google’s job easier. And anything that makes Google’s job easier will make Google like your site better and rank it higher.
Since search engines first emerged, keywords have been an important way to get noticed. And though recent advances in search algorithms have made individual keywords less important than they used to be, they’re still hugely important.
With that said, there are some things you may want to consider regarding keywords as you develop the content on your site.
With the advent of voice-controlled devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, more and more people are conducting searches via their voices. And though this might not seem like that important of a shift, the reality is that people speak differently than they type.
Today’s effective keyword strategy will keep this in mind. So, instead of focusing on keywords like ‘veterinarians in Dallas, TX’, it will make more sense to go with something like, ‘What are the best veterinarians near me?’ Search terms that take the form of questions are becoming much more common.
In fact, you can use a service like Answer the Public to find out exactly what questions people are asking about any topic you can imagine. This is a great way to develop content that’s tailored to the questions your customers are asking.
And that’s the kind of content that gets noticed by Google and moved up the rankings. This is especially helpful for Local SEO if the content you’re writing is focused on local concerns.
Which brings us to our next piece in the local SEO puzzle…
Content is king in the SEO world. That’s true when it comes to general principles of SEO, and it’s just as true when it comes to local SEO. In fact, it may be even more true for local SEO.
Think about it this way…
Which of the following do you think would be more relevant to people looking for car advice who live in Michigan… ‘3 Tips to Keep Your Car Running Through the Winter’ or ‘3 Tips to Keep Your Car Running Through a Detroit Winter’?
The answer is obvious.
Now, some of the specifics here will depend on your industry. But generally, if you produce content that’s focused on a locale and has some real depth to it, your local SEO efforts will benefit.
The key in all of this is having content that has depth to it. It’s not enough to regurgitate a bunch of facts from Wikipedia on a bullet list. You need to give some serious thought to the questions related to your business that local people are asking.
This is where Answer the Public can become an amazing source of content-inspiration. You can use it to discover the things that people want to know – and that you have the answer to. It’s as simple as typing in your industry or a related term. Then, go through the questions and comparisons listed there. Make a list of topics that you could address. And write the content that addresses those topics with the keywords in mind.
The more local-focused the questions and issues are, the better off your local SEO will be. And if you can develop a library of quality content that’s laser-focused, you’ll find your site rocketing up the search rankings.
Next to keywords and content, links are one of the most important elements in any SEO endeavor. When authoritative domains link to your site, they lend their credibility and authority to you. And the more of those links you cultivate, the more likely Google will push you to the top of the search engine results.
As with the other foundational principles that we’ve discussed so far, links are important for all SEO efforts. But they’re especially important for those of the local SEO variety.
The primary difference between traditional and local SEO, when it comes to links, is that you want to cultivate local links.
So, what are local links?
Local links can come in many flavors, including…
- Citation Sites & Local Directories – These are usually directories categorized by industry, location, or some other criteria. They’re like an online Yellow Pages, with hundreds of listings for businesses and organizations of every stripe. These listings include the NAP of each business – name, address, and phone number. But most of them also give you an opportunity to include a website. This is a quick and easy way to increase authoritative, inbound links to your site. Take note though, some of these citation sites will charge you to be included. Once you find a site that you think might work, look for a page that gives info on how to submit your site. That should answer any questions you may have about the particular site you’re looking at. Examples of these include: Yellowpages, Apple Maps, Foursquare, and Yahoo’s Localworks.
- Industry-Focused Local Sites – In addition to more general citation sites, you might also consider industry-specific sites. For example, some newspaper websites include a place for local businesses or organizations to offer contact information – and a web address. And then there are local clubs and associations such as the Chamber of Commerce. Sometimes, these organizations will also provide a place to include information about and links to your business. Depending on what industry you’re in, you may also want to consider local universities and government associations. Links from any of these sites will boost your business’s local credibility.
- Local Partners – In addition to the above, you may want to consider ways that you could band together with other local businesses and offer link exchanges. Perhaps each of you could write related blogs and include links to each other. With that said, it’s worth noting that excessive link exchanges are forbidden by Google. But including a link here and there to other local businesses can help you build your site’s authority.
If you can put these four things in place – a solid website, relevant keywords, deep content, and local links – you’ll have a great foundation to build on with more advanced local SEO strategies.
Establishing a Long-Term Local SEO Strategy
Google My Business & Bing Places
Google My Business (GMB) is the online profile formerly known as Google Local or (for a brief time) Google+ Local. It gives you an opportunity to let Google know exactly who you are so that Google can pass along the correct information to searchers. A well-done Google My Business profile has the power to supercharge your local SEO.
You’ve likely benefited from GMB even if you didn’t know that’s what it’s called. If you’ve ever searched for something like ‘Mexican restaurants near me’ on Google, then you’ve probably seen the box that appears on the side of the search results, filled with information about local businesses.
You can easily find addresses, business hours, phone numbers, and even reviews. That entire profile is a product of Google My Business.
What you may not know is that it’s completely editable. If you’ve got a business, you can create a Google My Business profile and include whatever information you want your prospective customers to know – from contact information to business and service descriptions to the days of the week that you’re open.
When your Google My Business profile is up-to-date and consistent with your website and social media profiles, it becomes a powerful tool to reach customers. In fact, for many customers it’s likely to be the first thing they see.
And speaking of the first thing your customers ‘see’, you can also include pictures on your GMB profile. By including photos of your store, your menu, your staff, your products, and even your customers (with their permission), you’ll increase your credibility and make people feel more comfortable walking through your doors.
And you shouldn’t forget about Bing! Since Google is the world’s largest search engine, we tend to spend more time focusing on it. But Bing has a similar program to Google My Business called Bing Places. It offers many of the same features you’ll find on Google but it reaches users who are on Bing. So, it won’t target quite as many people as Google but it’s well worth doing since it’s free and easy.
With this said, it’s important to realize that you are not in complete control of your Google My Business profile. Customers can leave their own reviews and can answer FAQs that others have posed. However, if you focus on providing top-quality service, reviews can be one more way to build your local SEO potential.
Online reviews can be the boon or bane of your existence. Collecting four- and five-star reviews will push you ahead of the competition. But if you develop a reputation for single star service, people will take note and avoid you.
And it’s not just prospective customers that recognize the value of online reviews. Search engines do too. Google has said that high-quality reviews will improve your business’s visibility.
And online reviews don’t just have to be through Google My Business. You can gather reviews through Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and Glassdoor. Every positive review through any of these sites will help you in your local SEO efforts.
And if your reviewers include important keywords – such as the city you’re in – those reviews will boost your local SEO even further.
And when you get a review, make sure to respond to it. Google notices when you respond to reviews – especially negative reviews – and they reward you with higher search rankings. So get in the habit of checking your reviews every month and responding to each and every one.
Moving to Social Media
Today, more and more people are discovering local businesses through social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram make it easier than ever to share and engage with content from companies near them. And though trying to maintain multiple social media accounts can be overwhelming, every business should have a Facebook page. They’re easy to set up and completely free.
If nothing else, a Facebook business page will give you one more opportunity to make your contact information known and to create links back to your website. Facebook also gives you the opportunity to collect more reviews.
So, if social media is so valuable, why isn’t it higher up on this list? Google has made it clear that social media has a limited impact on your site’s rankings. With that said, it still does have an impact and if you’re looking to maximize your local SEO, you need to make use of every tool available to you – including social media profiles.
So, even if you’re not going to be regularly posting on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, etc. You can at least create an account and pin a post or image that lets people know who you are and points them back to your site.
Once you’ve gotten to this point, you’ll be well on your way to local SEO success. But there are a few more finishing touches that you can add to your overall strategy – and that can make the difference between a good search ranking and an awesome one.
Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Local SEO
Drilling Down on Your SEO Keywords
We’ve already looked at the importance of keywords. But we ought to say one more word about it.
When developing content for your site – even your ‘about us’ copy – you should think long and hard about making things as specific as possible. By using long-tail keywords, you can find niches that would otherwise get lost in all the other sites out there.
What do we mean by ‘long-tail keywords’? These are the phrases that include three, four, or more words. There won’t be as many people out there searching for the exact phrase but the people who are searching for it will be more likely to want exactly what you’re selling.
Think of it this way, if someone searched for ‘music store’, they could be looking for any number of things: a place to buy a new guitar, a place to sell an old banjo, a place to browse for pianos, or a place to test out a set of drums.
If you own a music store that specializes in buying and selling used guitars, you’ll be competing against every other music store in town. But if you use long-tail keywords to develop the content on your site, you can target your customers more directly. So, rather than trying to rank for ‘music store’, you could focus on ranking for ‘place that buys guitars near me.’
By doing this, you’ll be much more likely to connect with the people you really want to connect with.
Cultivate Inbound & Outbound Links
As with keywords, we’ve already discussed the value of links to your site. But links are worth one more look.
It’s not enough to only have one other site linking to yours. You want to cultivate a diverse set of links. This is why putting your profile on as many citation sites as possible is important.
But you should also look for other opportunities to cultivate inbound links. For example, you could write blogs (or hire someone to ghostwrite them) for community websites – a local newspaper or community organization – then, ask if you can include a link to your business’s site in the ‘about the author’ section of the blog.
This creates links which increases site authority. And if you can get some inbound links from an authoritative site that include your location as a main term… well, that’s the jackpot of the local SEO world.
But don’t just greedily grab for inbound links. Share the love and the wealth with some outbound links as well. Link to blogs related to your business or to other local businesses. Become known for giving as much as you get.
If you’ll view the cultivation of quality inbound and outbound links as a core part of your long-term local SEO strategy, you’ll be planting seeds that will continue to blossom well into the future.
Developing Your Domain Authority
Domain authority is your site’s overall influence in the digital world. When your website is viewed as authoritative on its topic, search engines will rank you higher. So, what’s domain authority made up of?
- How many incoming links point to your site?
- What’s the quality and relevance of those links?
- What’s the quality of your site’s content?
- How popular is your site/business on social media?
- How effectively optimized is your website?
In other words, have you done everything that we’ve discussed in this guide? If you’ll take all the tips laid out here and put them into practice, you will see an increase in domain authority. But don’t think this is a onetime deal.
Developing your domain authority takes time. And it’s something that you must continue to do in the future if you’re going to maintain that authority. Getting a site to the number one spot on Google takes work. Keeping it there takes continual dedication.
But if you’ll follow these steps – and do them well – you’ll be able to achieve what so many other local businesses wish for (but are often unwilling to put in the effort for): a top ranked local website.