You have built your small business to the point where a significant portion of sales is the result of your online presence. That’s great! Just remember to not overlook your local customers. Any business with a bricks-and-mortar presence or one that relies on face-to-face interaction with clients should take advantage of local SEO.
Local search does more than let potential customers and clients know that you exist and where you are. It also acts as a tool to drive them to your website. This means that every business should develop a local SEO strategy.
Why should you do this? For starters, Google’s algorithm puts more emphasis on local search that it did in the past. A local search is one that includes both the item and the desired location, such as “Milwaukee yarn products” or “Madison bookstore.” With a staggering 7 billion searches across all platforms every month having local intent, local search matters.
Basics of Local SEO
What is a search engine optimization strategy that will allow you to show up in local searches? Although there can be many elements, the basics include:
- Local listings
- Local optimization on your website
How does one get a local listing? There are many popular listing services that include:
- Google+ Local
- Bing Places
- Yellow Pages
- Yahoo Local
Your business name, address and phone number (NAP) need to be consistent across all platforms. Otherwise, your entries will not have a high trust ranking and will suffer as a result.
In addition to NAP consistency, there are two other factors that influence how your business will be ranked in local searches: inbound links and citations (or mentions). What is the difference between the two? Consider this example: A simple listing in online Yellow Pages is a citation. If your listing linked to your website, it would be an inbound link.
A few years ago, a study by Search Engine Land showed that 72 percent of consumer trusted online reviews as much as they did personal recommendations from friends and family. More than half said that positive online reviews made them more likely to use a local business. This has only increased since then. Positive reviews make it more likely that a viewer will click through to your website.
There are two key elements to managing reviews:
- First, you need to encourage customers to leave them. They must be authentic, relevant, and timely. Being authentic means that there might be some negative reviews.
- Second, how you deal with online complaints is important. Take the feedback, positive or negative, to heart. If it is negative, indicate what you might do differently in the future. Even if the review is negative, your response will be part of your reputation management.
The first rule of on-site optimization is to have your NAP information on every page of your company’s website. Make sure that your NAP can be crawled by Google—it should be HTML code rather than an image. And make sure it matches your other online listings and citations.
Optimize your web pages for local terms even if your business is primarily online. For example, “Madison bookstore” is better than “bookstore.” After doing keyword research, incorporate the terms into your URL, your page titles, your H1 and H2 headers, and your page meta descriptions. Don’t forget to include the terms in the content of the page. Beware, however, that you do not engage in keyword “stuffing.” The search engines will penalize you greatly for this!
A final note: Optimize your site for mobile users. More than 60 percent of local searches are from mobile devices.
Getting It Done: DIY or Outsourcing?
If you enjoy digging into the mechanics of search engine marketing, give it a try. In our experience, however, most small business owners prefer to focus on what they know better—their own business. If you choose the outsourcing option, you can either hire an agency or use a content management system (CMS). The most popular of these are Yext, Moz Local and UBL. Whatever approach you chose, the results should be worth the cost in time and money. Having a consistent and integrated online presence that includes local search can only help your business thrive.