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Introduction to Local SEO
When a user enters a query with a local keyword (or a geographic indicator is telling Google their location), Google produces a separate set of results near the top of the SERPs. For local businesses, relying on customers in their own communities to thrive and grow, this distinguished set of ranks has been a boon—it means a shortcut to visibility for the audiences who matter most. But what about other companies that operate on a national scale? Or local businesses that haven’t yet dabbled in online marketing?
Local SEO is important for most businesses. It’s changed a lot in the past few years, and it’s going to change even more in the next few. In 2021, will it be necessary for you to leverage the strategy?
A PDF version of this local SEO guide presentation is available here.
Benefits of Local SEO
First, a quick recap of how local SEO can help your business:
- Lower competition. Because your list of competitors is narrowed down to only those in your geographic vicinity, you’ll have an easier time earning a rank quickly.
- Increased visibility. You don’t have to fight for a top spot—the top three local entries will always rise above the other results for local queries.
- Peripheral ranking options. If you want to rank, it’s not just about ongoing content and inbound links (though those are important too). You can hedge your bets by using other ongoing tactics like review optimization and citation management.
- Greater visitor relevance. Anyone who sees your local entry will be a local resident, meaning the relevance of your traffic will ultimately increase.
How Local SEO Is Changing
Aside from these benefits, local SEO itself is changing. Be aware of what local SEO is today versus what it will be in 2016.
Greater unification with mobile
Local results on desktop are starting to shift to a layout friendlier for mobile devices. Earlier this year, Google released its local 3-pack update, which reduced the top pack of local results on desktop browsers from seven to three. Website and directions are available with a click, meaning local entries are probably going to keep getting easier and more convenient to interact with. Accordingly, you’ll stand to gain more and more from being in one of those top slots.
Local search is getting even more local. Instead of just focusing on a city or region, new local searches could drill down further into neighborhoods or even based on proximity to the user. That means even less competition for even more specific niches.
Users are starting to grow used to local results and are using mobile devices (which almost always make queries local) more than ever before. In 2016, local results will be more important to users than ever—which means they’re even more valuable to rank for.
Local SEO vs. National SEO: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters
Google doesn’t use the same algorithm for its national search results and its new local 3-pack, which displays three relevant local businesses for your local query. There are some overlapping ranking factors, of course, but the algorithms themselves and the target results are somewhat distinct. However, some experts in the industry have taken this to mean that national and local SEO should be treated entirely separately. For example, a local business might focus exclusively on trying to rank in the local 3-pack while disregarding national search, or a national company might ignore local ranks altogether.
Approaching SEO from one side or the other, despite the schism in Google’s algorithms, is a flawed strategy. It’s far better to use one group of strategies for the purpose of generating inbound traffic.
When starting out online, small businesses attempt different strategies. Some seek to tackle the whole world as their market; others start small by targeting their local region.
As the online world has grown to become saturated with businesses all vying for the top spot in global reach, some are turning to smaller, concentrated markets through national and local search.
In theory, national and local search are indeed much more promising to target. But you need to be aware of certain key differences between them to determine which you should aim for.
The following is a discussion that should help you distinguish between national and local SEO.
National SEO, being broader, allows you to use broader search terms. This can make it harder to rank for because the competition is inevitably fiercer at this level. After all, there are only 10 spots on Google’s first page.
If you are competing against 30 or 50 companies nationally, and all the metrics are the same, it’s going to be tough for your business to get ahead just in terms of creating solid backlinks.
So it’s probably safe to say that cornering local search is a lot easier. There’s much less competition in this area compared to national search. Optimizing for home improvement contractors by city or state is apt to be far less grueling than optimizing for a broader reach.
But if you are just starting out, you could be facing a fairly substantial amount of work to land local citations and get listed on small business directories in your city.
Separating the strategies adds needless complication
Occam’s razor suggests that when solving a problem, the simplest solution is likely the best one. Similarly, in SEO, the simplest approach is likely the most meaningful. That’s not to say that SEO can be handled with only the basics (even though I’m a proponent of the minimalistic approach to SEO), but the fewer unnecessary complications you add to your strategy, the better. Adding another “wing” of SEO could potentially confuse your efforts, especially if you assign different team members to those responsibilities. For example, if you have one set of people working only on national SEO and another set working exclusively on local SEO, you could end up working toward different goals, ultimately weakening the possible success of each one.
Every business can find value in both worlds
Rather than focusing on both national and local SEO as separate entities, some businesses completely eradicate one side of the spectrum to focus on the other. For example, a restaurant that only operates in one location might completely avoid national SEO and exclusively focus on achieving a local 3-pack ranking. On the opposite side of things, a large financial firm with locations in multiple states might completely ignore local SEO.
The problem is, both types of companies have something to gain from the other side of the strategy. For example, the restaurant could achieve a higher national rank and see a trickle of inbound traffic even if the majority of its hits come through on a local position. The financial firm could easily optimize for its specific locations and earn tons of local-specific traffic, resulting in more visibility.
There are too many common ranking factors
While each algorithm functions almost independently, they are based in a wide pool of identical ranking factors. Even if you decide to focus exclusively on one, you could easily start influencing the other by proxy. For example, both local and national ranks depend in part on your domain authority as an independent site. Getting more inbound links from high-authority external sources will increase your ranks for both types of SEO. Mobile optimization, too, is important for both national and local rankings. The list goes on and on, to the point where it’s far easier to manage both simultaneously than just one or the other.
Algorithm-specific strategies are becoming less important
A handful of technological developments are making individual algorithms less and less important. A few years ago, it was possible (and advisable) to optimize separately for Bing and Google. Today, the search engines have developed so closely to one another that one set of rankings is almost indistinguishable from the other. The emergence of digital assistants like Siri and Cortana also muddies the waters by masking which algorithm they use to fetch results and combining them with other, offline search features. The modern search engine is almost algorithm-agnostic, meaning you have to pay less attention to individual algorithms’ quirks and subtleties.
Organic visits are organic visits
While you can easily tinker with your Google Analytics account to tease out which visits came from your local rankings and which came from national rankings, at the end of the day, what you need to focus on are your overall organic visits. Organic visits are the best measure you have to determine the effectiveness of your campaign, and both national and local rankings contribute to that overall figure.
Most best practices are focused on users
Though there are plenty of technical requirements to earn a high rank, for the most part, all your search ranks are dependent on user experience factors. Lower bounce rates, greater content, more active social media profiles, and offsite relationship building all contribute to more brand awareness and better customer relationships, which also help your local and national ranks. The bottom line for any SEO campaign is making your users happy—because if your users are happy, Google will be happy, and you’ll rank higher accordingly. Keep your focus on the experience of your customers, and it’s hard to go too wrong.
Why Isn’t My Business Showing Up in Google Local Search?
Google pretty much dominates local search at the moment. When that works in your favor, you’ll see your company sitting atop the search results for many a local phrase. But if you’re not ranking high in local search, or not appearing at all, it can seriously impact your business. If people can’t find you, how can they buy what you’re selling? It’s a big problem with a multitude of solutions. For some, it’s as simple as getting listed. For others, it’s a bit more complicated. Though local search has specific requirements, it’s still search and requires SEO. Bearing that in mind, let’s look at some reasons a company might fail to appear in Google Local and what can be done to remedy the situation.
You’re Not Listed
This is by far the simplest reason you’re not appearing in local search results but not always the easiest to fix. Getting listed can be a bit of process. Google is very stringent in its listing guidelines so you absolutely must do your best follow them to the letter if you want to see progress. Your first step is to create a local business on Google. You only qualify for this option if:
- Your business as a mailing address
- You follow Google’s quality guidelines
So long as you follow instructions, set up isn’t all that difficult. But this is actually where a lot of people get tripped up.
You Didn’t Follow the Quality Guidelines
As Local University puts it, Google’s quality guidelines for business listings shouldn’t be called guidelines at all — they should be called rules. Because if you don’t follow them precisely, the result is more often than not a failure to be listed or a failure to have your listing appear as you’d like it to. The guidelines are pretty detailed. For instance, if your business has a mailbox or suite number, you need to include that information in Address Line 2, and under no circumstances should it appear in Address Line 1. It’s a bit persnickety, to be honest. You should definitely take the time to review them on your own. But let’s take a look at a few aspects here just so you’re clear on some of the bigger requirements:
- Only a business owner (or someone authorized by the business owner) can verify a business listing.
- Try to use an email address attached to your company’s domain name to add trust to your verification request
- The business name in your listing should be what it’s actually called, though you can use one word to clarify what your company does. You can also use a “single descriptor” to better identify your company’s location, which can actually be made up of more than one word. See what I mean about these guidelines being very precise?
- Use your company’s real physical address
- Only one account can be created for a business location unless you’re an individual practitioner within a larger business (like a doctor or lawyer) or the page is for a department that acts individually within an organization like a university or hospital.
- Use a local phone number.
- Select a category based on what the business is “not what it does.” You would say “Hospital” not “Vaccinations,” according to Google.
- Fraudulent or illegal businesses aren’t allowed to create listings.
- Google does have some country restrictions.
- Some business models are ineligible for a listing including those that:
- Don’t make in-person contact with customers
- Aren’t open yet
- Consist of a class or event held at a location you don’t own
- Stock your products but you don’t own the retail store
I realize that’s a lot to wrap your mind around and it will take some serious time to familiarize yourself with all of these rules before you can get a handle on it. But it’s worth the effort if you want to see your business rank higher.
Your Business Isn’t Verified
If you’ve gone to all the effort to do the above, it would be a real shame to forget to verify your listing, now wouldn’t it? But that’s often a reason why people fail to see their businesses in the local search results. They just never got around to this step. So take this opportunity, while you’re thinking about it, to verify your page. When logged into Google+ and navigate to your page then hover on the “Unverified” button at the top. Click on “Verify Now” and follow the instructions. Typically, you just need to input your mailing address and click on “Request Postcard.” You’ll have to wait a few days to get your postcard but this is your ticket to verification. Seems sort of low-tech, I know, but it’s Google’s way for business owners to prove they are who they say they are. Just follow the instructions on the card to complete the verification process. Your site should be listed and ranking in no time after that.
You Didn’t Fill Out All of Your Business Details
Once you’ve got the basics taken care of, you need to populate your listing with some real information. That means filling out your business introduction as fully as possible. Really take this opportunity to introduce yourself to your potential customers. What is your business all about? Why did you start it? What are you passionate about? What separates you from your competition? Don’t go all salesman mode in your introduction but you should definitely make the effort to demonstrate what makes you stand out. Another thing you need to remember to include is photos. As with anything online, photos add character and life. Without them, your listing will look incomplete and is less likely to engage potential customers. Plus, even if it does appear in the search results, it’s going to be a lot less enticing if there aren’t any images to attract attention. Your profile photo, especially, needs to be eye-catching. From there, you can share photos to your Google+ Page regularly. People always like to get a behind the scenes glimpse of how businesses operate, so the more photos of that nature you can provide, the better. Customers who frequent your business can upload their own photos and tag your company in them as well, which further adds to your credibility and literal visibility.
You Don’t Have Any Reviews
While not having any reviews won’t prevent a business from showing up in local search results altogether, it can impact your rank. A business in your niche with a ton of reviews will always rank much higher because it’s viewed to be a greater authority in your industry by Google. And reviews don’t lie. This customer word-of-mouth is worth its weight in gold and a highly coveted piece of the Google Local puzzle. Your “star” rating will appear with your business listing, along with review excerpts when somebody Google’s your company name.
It appears along the righthand side of search results. This snapshot is your opportunity to really impress a potential customer. Think of how many times you’ve searched for a business or service. When greeted with the search results, which ones were you the most likely to click on? The ones with the most positive reviews, right? It’s human nature to pursue options that other people have already vetted for you. So by all means, take advantage of that fact! Google Local search results are becoming increasingly important — seemingly with every algorithm update. If you’re a small business owner with a brick and mortar location, you can’t afford to gloss over this optimization strategy.
Why Local SEO Should Be a Top Priority
Local SEO has caught the attention of search marketers everywhere. By optimizing your site for a geographic location, you can ensure more visibility for your business in searches that originate within that region or searches that contain geo-specific keywords. That concept typically resonates as impressive, as it should, but only as a gimmick. Many entrepreneurs and search marketers see local SEO as a peripheral strategy—an add-on to consider only once all the other strategies have been taken care of.
However, local SEO is far more powerful and more important than most people realize. If anything, it should be your top priority, and here are seven reasons why:
1. It isn’t that different from national SEO.
Realistically, you’re going to be using the same techniques for local SEO that you’re already doing for your national SEO program; you’re just going to be tweaking them and rebalancing them for a local focus. That means you don’t have to learn anything new, and you won’t have to change much in your existing structures. Some search marketers are reluctant to get into local SEO because it’s yet another strategy to toy with and master—but this simply isn’t the case. Your transition should instead be smooth and painless.
2. The competition is relatively low.
SEO is popular. A decade ago, when not every business had a website and even fewer businesses were actively marketing themselves online, national SEO was a viable option. Today, the market is oversaturated with businesses, and unless you have a decade of history under your belt, it’s almost impossible to rank for anything on a national scale. On the other hand, local markets have yet to see that level of saturation. Instead of dealing with an entire country’s worth of competitors, you’ll be zeroing in on your competitors within the city. That means fewer headaches, and faster, better results.
3. It’s cheaper than a national SEO plan.
All things considered; a local SEO plan is going to cost you less than a national counterpart. Let’s say you’re trying to rank for two different keyword topics. On a national plan, you’ll spend months trying to rank with high-authority backlinks and tons of great content—both of which cost significant money—and you’ll end up near the bottom of page one, if you’re lucky. On a local plan, you’ll use more cost-efficient strategies like moderate link building tactics, moderate content efforts, and the cultivation of local reviews, and you’ll have a very good chance of ending up at a top rank. All in all, you’ll be spending less for equal or better results.
4. Local searches are dominant.
While an argument could be made that the majority of national queries see more traffic than their local counterparts, the actual number of local searches is high and growing. Because mobile devices are at peak popularity and geographic indicators are in practically every online-enabled device, almost every modern user search becomes a local search by default these days. That means without even realizing it, users are becoming dependent on local searches for their needs.
5. Some local SEO tactics are completely hands-off.
While national SEO strategies almost always rely on you doing the work yourself, there are some local SEO tactics that don’t require your intervention. For example, positive local reviews are one of the best ways to increase your local rank, and you’re forbidden from buying or soliciting those reviews. Instead, all you have to do is make sure your customers know that you’re listed, give them great service, and let them do the rest on their own time—it’s less work required of you!
6. Your community will grow to love you.
Most local SEO strategies are dependent upon your community. You’ll be fostering good vibes and positive reviews in an effort to increase your presence on local directories. You’ll be submitting and circulating good press on local news outlets. You’ll be building relationships with individual community members and other local businesses. All these things will increase your rank, but even more importantly, they’ll help your community grow to love your business. It’s almost a sophisticated style of word-of-mouth marketing.
7. It’s only going to grow more important.
In the coming years, local SEO is going to grow to be even more important than it is today. Wearable technology, like smart watches, will start becoming more popular, and users will demand even better on-the-go search functionality. Local searches may start being relevant to a neighborhood or city block, rather than just a city or region, and local businesses may be able to make special offers based on physical location. Meanwhile, national SEO will only become more competitive, especially as Google increases the functionality of the Knowledge Graph, which could take away a significant portion of national search traffic. As important as local SEO is today, another five years will make it even greater.
How to Move Your Business Without Disrupting Local SEO Rankings
In most scenarios, preparing your business for a move to a new location is a sign of success. Maybe you’ve outgrown your old location, maybe you’re moving to a swankier place, or maybe you’re heading downtown to be closer to your clients. Whatever the case, moving is an exciting time for businesses much in the same way it is for individuals—it’s a new opportunity and the beginning of a new era.
Unfortunately, moving your business has a few downsides. Even if you spend the days and weeks leading up to the move updating your clients and partners about the change, there’s still one major hiccup that can damage your business as a result of switching addresses: your local SEO could suffer.
If you’re proactive and dutiful, you can avoid the worst and make the transition to your new location without any major interruptions in the progress of your local SEO campaign. This article will show you how to get it done.
The Problem With Moving
Usually, when we talk about seeing a ranking drop or a decrease in domain authority, it’s because Google is mad at you. Posting spammy links or bad content is a violation of Google’s official policies, and doing so will make them penalize you. Moving to a new location isn’t going to make Google mad—but at the same time, if you handle it improperly, it can cause your rankings to plummet.
Here’s the root of the problem: your NAP. “NAP” is shorthand for name, address, and phone number—the three critical pieces of information Google uses to categorize and understand your business. Because this information is vital to producing accurate, reliable local search results, Google takes it very seriously. But rather than relying on businesses to present this information on their own, Google tries to fact-check by aggregating information from all over the web. It might take the NAP information on your site and compare it against your NAP as it exists on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and a thousand other third-party local directories. If it finds that your NAP is inconsistent, it serves as a blow against you, and two things might happen—your domain authority might drop, and your address might populate incorrectly for any relevant inbound queries. Neither is good for your search visibility.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to this. Google’s aggregation of data makes its search results far more accurate, but it also means it takes a longer time for your information to update throughout the web. If you update your NAP information on your own site, it might take months or even years for those independent local directories to catch on and update their databases, and even more time for Google’s data refreshes to catch up to the change. In the meantime, you’ll be losing tons of potential visibility and traffic.
How to Prepare for the Change
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do in advance of your move. You can’t write a letter to Google explaining the address transition or schedule your address change the way you can with the United States Postal Service. Plus, changing your address too early can be just as problematic as changing your address too late.
Instead, all you can do is proactively prepare for the transition period and be ready to take action the minute your address officially changes.
Making the Switch
When you finally make the move to your new location, you’ll have to take several steps to ensure your new information is incorporated throughout the web as thoroughly, as accurately, and of course, as quickly as possible.
First and foremost, update your website—and update it everywhere. It’s the first place Google checks when evaluating your NAP information. Include your full information in the footer, with a phone number in the header, and be sure all your internal pages—especially the Contact page—are updated as well. If you have any location-specific internal pages, make a note to update them with the new location.
Social Media Profiles
Next, you’ll want to update your social media profiles. These are easy to miss, especially if you don’t regularly audit your content and social profile information. Make it a point to not only update your basic profile information on every platform you use, but also to post an announcement to your audience addressing the change.
Local Directories and Databases
This is the tough part. There are literally thousands of different local directories and databases that have your information on file, and they’re all perused by Google’s search crawlers as a potential source of valuable information. If you want to be thorough, you’ll need to update as many of them as possible.
There are services out there that will clean up your local profile for free—for a few hundred dollars, they’ll track down every instance of your business’s information on the web, and they’ll manually update it to reflect your current location. For the time-strapped business with a bit of extra money to spare, this service is definitely worth it.
Otherwise, you can manually track down these instances and update them one by one. Generally, you can find them by searching for your own business name. Then, you can claim your business’s profile and update your information in the back end of the system or write to the webmaster to inform them of the change. If you’re doing this, it will be impossible to update every single instance of your business on the web—for now, stick to the major players like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and UrbanSpoon.
No matter what approach you use in updating your address throughout the web or how quickly you act after the initial move takes place, remember that the transition is going to take some time. You could spend a few weeks or even a few months with your address in a transition state, but as long as you act quickly and thoroughly, you should have no trouble minimizing the SEO fallout and keeping your domain authority afloat.
How to Rank for Local SEO in Multiple Locations
Optimizing your site based on your business’s location can help your business appear in local directories, Google Maps, and climb the ranks in traditional searches.
Most of these strategies are based around your business’s specific location. For example, one step of the process is ensuring that your name and address are appearing accurately and consistently across the web, and one ongoing strategy is to use your city and state in the context of your written content. This presents a major problem for businesses with multiple locations: how do you locally optimize your site?
Fortunately, locally optimizing your online presence is simpler than you might think. I’ve outlined the process in five easy steps:
1. Consolidate Everything in One Domain.
It may be tempting to split your locations up into multiple domains, and some businesses have tried this as an ongoing strategy. On one hand, it makes logical sense—if each location is different, why not try to rank on each site individually?
However, in practice, this segmented strategy is ineffective. Google’s search bots and individual users may be confused when they see multiple domains for what appears to be one master brand. Even if you need separate information, like different menus, using a single root domain to consolidate all that information still gives you the chance to present those in a segmented format. Using one domain gathers all the authority you would have built in your individual presences and places it into one master hub. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to split your domain authority; for example, if you have five locations, each location will only get 20 percent of its potential visibility if you split them into separate domains.
2. Create Specific Pages for Each Location.
Even though you’ve consolidated all your locations under one domain, it’s important to differentiate between your locations. Otherwise, Google won’t know that you have multiple locations and your users might have a hard time figuring out the nearest one to them.
The best way to do this is to create a separate page for each of your locations, usually listed in the navigation under “Locations” or something similar. Create a page title that includes each city or neighborhood (as relevant) and write a full body of content that elaborates on the unique features of each location. Be sure to also include the address and phone number of each location on these individual pages. This will clearly demonstrate to Google how your locations are set up, and how they all relate to your master brand.
It’s also important to list all of your locations on your “Contact” page, with the address and phone number for each reiterated.
3. Check Your External Listings and Correct Any Errors.
In the post-Pigeon era, having your contact information clearly segmented for your locations on your site—even when it’s on multiple pages—simply isn’t enough. Google looks to external sources to organize and verify its indexed information, and any inconsistencies on offsite listings of your locations could result in a decrease in your domain authority and rank.
To remedy this, you’ll have to check every local listing or directory site you can find to ensure your information is accurate—and update it if necessary. Common places include Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and TripAdvisor, but you’ll want to look for others, just to be sure. Some directories function differently than others, but as a general rule, you should have a separate entry for each of your locations. If you’re having trouble finding these directories or want to double check to make sure you’ve hit them all, there are a number of local citation tools that can help you automate the work.
4. Start Writing Locally for Each Location.
This can be tricky, especially if you’re consolidating everything into one master blog, but it’s important to include content based around each of your individual locations. That means featuring the city or neighborhood of the location in the title and body of each relevant piece.
If you’re having trouble generating topic ideas, look to each location’s recent events. Have they celebrated an anniversary? Have they made new hires? Have they hit a new landmark achievement? Obviously, your content marketing campaign can’t solely focus on your office, but posting these kinds of topics occasionally can seriously help your local ranks when you have multiple locations.
5. Have Each Location Cultivate and Manage Online Reviews.
Reviews are critically important for local businesses—the more you have and the more positive they are, the higher you’re going to rank. And, since each of your locations is going to be listed separately on review sites, it’s up to your individual locations to actively cultivate and manage those online reviews. Make sure each of your employees know to encourage your customers to post reviews about their experience. Then, designate a contact at each of your locations to take point on actively monitoring and responding to those reviews. Commenting on positive reviews is a show of customer appreciation, while proactively responding to negative reviews (which will come up from time to time) can help mitigate the situation and show you’re willing to step in and make things right.
Like with any optimization strategy, the setup phase is important but it’s the ongoing work that will make or break your campaign. Make sure you implement a plan that allows for each of your locations to actively encourage and respond to online reviews, and keep your content strategy as present and relevant as possible. Over time, each of your individual locations will rise through local-specific searches, and the authority of your master domain will skyrocket as your individual locations all feed into it.
5 Mistakes that Can Harm Local SEO
As with any SEO campaign, one mistake isn’t going to kill you—posting a poor piece of content can’t completely ruin your chances at ranking as long as the rest of your content strategy is in proper order—but there are some mistakes in local SEO that can seriously compromise your results.
These mistakes are all too common because they aren’t always apparent or easy to spot. Many entrepreneurs make them without even realizing it and end up with falling ranks, so don’t let yourself become one of them:
1. Discrepancies in Your NAP.
As you might imagine, one of the most important parts of a local SEO campaign is making sure Google understands where your business is located. The search algorithm scans multiple sources for information that includes your name, address, and phone number, then forms a conclusion based on that information. If it finds a piece of information that conflicts with the others, it is unable to form that conclusion, and as a result, you’ll end up with less authority. If the discrepancies are severe, you may not even end up ranking in the right city.
Google is serious about NAP information—even small discrepancies can be problematic. For example, writing out “street” on your website while abbreviating it to “st” on your local profile could result in a major problem for your ultimate ranks. The details matter more than you think, so take the extra time to verify that your local listing is correct on every publicly available location. Fortunately, there are a host of automated or service-based options available to you to make quick work of this task.
2. Incomplete Local Profiles.
Modern SEO is about far more than just what’s on your website. There are hundreds of external sources, such as local directories and review sites, that all contain pertinent information about local businesses. Google relies on these profiles to form conclusions about a company’s direction, status, and quality, so leaving them empty is a bad idea.
Most local directories give you several options to fill out, including details like how many years you’ve been in business and what your mission statement is, along with sections for uploading pictures. If you aren’t filling out all of these forms, and filling them out accurately, you’ll be missing out on some serious web visibility, and that could hurt your ranking.
To take things a step further, remember that many individual users consult these local directories when making a purchasing decision. If all they see from your business is a bunch of empty spaces, they’re highly likely to move on without a second thought. Instead, take the opportunity to sell yourself.
3. Inaccurate Categorization.
Categorization, like your NAP information, is a bigger deal than it seems to be. If you choose an inappropriate category, or if you select conflicting categories on different local directories, you could lose out on authority and rankings as a result. When you first start a campaign, think carefully about the type of category you want to be known for, and once you choose it, be consistent with it on every platform. It also pays to be as specific as possible. For example, listing yourself as a “criminal defense attorney” is much better than just an “attorney.” This distinction will help you rank in more specific searches and will help Google understand your business better.
Also consider your business category carefully when choosing the type of local directories you seek in your campaign. For example, UrbanSpoon caters specifically to restaurants—you wouldn’t want to list yourself there if you run an auto body repair shop.
4. No Local Content.
Some marketers make the mistake of drawing a line between traditional SEO and local search strategies. They take care of all their local listings, but then focus on the remainder of their SEO campaign like they would a national program. As a result, their content isn’t specific, and they end up losing out on a ton of local authority.
Make sure you write at least one or two local-specific articles every week on your site. Find ways to make your content specific to your city or region, and take every opportunity you can to get involved in the community and write about it.
5. Ignoring Local Connections.
Finally, don’t lose out on the opportunity to cement yourself further in the community by forging local connections and using them to your advantage. Work with your local newspapers to get some additional press. Mention nearby or similar local business on social media, and share their material—they’ll likely share yours in kind. Donate to local schools and universities in exchange for getting mentioned on their valuable .edu real estate. The key is to embed yourself into the local community however you can, and use those connections to build your authority.
Local SEO is no exception to this trend associated with its national cousin. But before you make any immediate judgments or think you know local SEO inside and out, check out these all-too-common misconceptions about the strategy:
How to Acquire Local SEO Citations
Ranking factors for local SEO are in many ways similar to those for national ranking, such as the quality and diversity of your onsite content and the quality of your external links, but there are a handful of distinguishing factors that are locally exclusive.
The ones most important to your local rank are called “local citations,” and simply put, they’re instances of your business profile on various directories and listings around the web. Google aggregates this information and uses its prominence and accuracy to determine your business’s local authority. The problem is, finding and building all these citations can be a tedious, complicated endeavor.
Fortunately, there’s a more straightforward way to go about it:
Background: Discover Where (and How) You’re Already Listed
Before you do anything, you should know exactly where you stand with local citations. Even if you’ve never taken any efforts to improve your local standings, there’s a good chance your business is listed with at least a handful of major directories. Run a quick search for your business name alongside a geographic indicator (usually your city name). Other than pages of your site, you might see your business profile on Yelp, Yahoo Local, or other third party aggregators. Take note of this information. Is your information accurate? How many places do you see your business? This will let you know how much work you have in store for yourself. If you find your information isn’t accurate or that you aren’t listed anywhere, you’ll have a hole to dig yourself out of.
Step One: Ensure the Accuracy of Your NAP
Your first step is to make sure your NAP information (name, address, and phone number) is accurate and present on your main site. This is the first place Google’s going to look for your local information, so if it isn’t accurate or consistent here, it will reflect poorly on you and you’ll have a hard time ranking on a local level. Everything needs to be consistent here, including the formatting of your name and whether you spell out or abbreviate your address nomenclature. Make sure it’s easily visible on your homepage, on your contact page, and the footer of your site no matter which page you’re on. Jot it down to ensure you keep it consistent throughout the remainder of the process.
Step Two: Get Social and Start Guest Posting
Now, check out your social media profiles, and try to claim as many as you can on as many platforms as you can. The more visibility you can get out of these free profiles, the better—even if you don’t plan on updating them all regularly. Include your accurate NAP information in the profile section, and use them as groundwork to get rolling on your guest posting strategy (which will also come in handy for links). If you can, include at least your business name and location in your author profile on offsite opportunities.
Step Three: Sign Up for the Notables
Once you’ve established some level of an offsite presence, you can start signing up for the major aggregators—the third party local directories that Google relies on most for accurate information. Most of these sites offer free signups for business owners (as long as you can prove you own the business), and information submissions and edits are a snap to do. Yelp is the most prominent example here, but Superpages, City Search, Angie’s List, Yahoo Local, and Trip Advisor are good examples of other organizations. Depending on the nature of your business, you might also look for industry-specific listings, the way Urban Spoon functions for restaurants.
Step Four: Sign Up for Local Directories
Once you’ve hit all the major citation providers you can find, do some digging and get yourself listed in some local directories and newspapers. Find your city’s online headquarters (which may be a community page, news page, or similar) and find ways to get yourself listed. Because they’re focused on only one geographic area, you’ll earn more local authority this way. Searching for “business listings” followed by your city name should give you a good list to start.
Step Five: Find Out What Your Competitors Are Doing
Finally, search for your competitors alongside a geographic indicator. Find out where they’re being listed, and if there are any directories or offsite citations they have that you don’t, make a submission. You may not want to copy your competitor’s strategy directly, but performing this step can help you find opportunities for citations that you otherwise would have missed.
Optional: Use a Cleanup or Citation Service
The process of submitting citations to local directories, even in this step-by-step format, is tedious and time consuming. You could easily spend dozens of hours executing the work. There are several service providers who can do all this work for you, sometimes to hundreds of directories at once, but this costs several hundred dollars at a minimum. You’ll have to decide which is more important to you: time or money.
5 Great Citation Tools for Local SEO
It’s almost impossible to find every local directory on the web, and even more difficult to try and manage all those changes alone. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools available on the web that can help you not only track down where and how your business is listed, but also help you correct any potential errors.
These five tools are some of the best we’ve found:
Yext has exploded in popularity since the Pigeon update in 2014 completely overhauled the way Google handled local searches. For free, you can enter your business name and phone number, and Yext will generate a report of all the places your business is listed on the web. This hits up major platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor, but also scours for those hard-to-detect nooks and crannies of the web. If you want them to fix the errors in your listings, you’ll have to sign up for a monthly service that’s billed annually—which you may or may not want to do depending on the size of your business and the budget you have allocated to local search. But the reporting tool is incredibly useful regardless.
WhiteSpark offers a more thorough local citation builder than Yext, as well as a management tool that helps you keep everything in order. However, it might be overkill if you’re only looking to fix the citations that are already out there. For as little as $20 a month, you can perform several keyword-based searches per day to discover where your business is or could be mentioned, and gain access to a dashboard that keeps track of all your efforts to list your business elsewhere. If you aren’t sure whether WhiteSpark is a good fit, you can sign up for a free trial and give it a test run.
BrightLocal’s citation tracker is a tool that helps you find all instances of your business across the web and easily audit your information. It’s similar to Yext in the sense that it generates a comprehensive report, highlighting any inaccurate or obsolete information that needs to be corrected. BrightLocal stands out by offering a competitive analysis, showing you where your competitors are listing their business, so you can encroach on their visibility or simply learn the most common practices for your industry.
PlacesScout is a local citation finder much like WhiteSpark, but it also has a competitive feature similar to that of BrightLocal. It also gives you a consolidated dashboard where you can manage and post online reviews, further improving your local SEO. It’s a comprehensive resource, but it’s also a bit on the pricey side, so if you’re a new business, you might want to consider a more inexpensive option to get things started.
How & Where to Share Your Content for Local SEO
By now, you probably know what it takes to write great content, but do you know how to write locally focused content? Do you know the best places to syndicate and share that local content? Knowing these tidbits can mean the difference between your campaign taking off or fizzling.
Types of Content to Produce
For the most part, the content that works best for local SEO is the same type of content that would work for national SEO campaigns. There are just two distinguishing factors that will require you to update your approach: you’ll need to take extra care to make your content shareable, and you’ll have to make it specific to your region.
The best local content will include:
- Your city, neighborhood, or region in the title as well as the body of your article. Whichever local keywords you choose to use, stay consistent with them from article to article.
- Some kind of local relevance. Stuffing a local phrase into your articles isn’t going to work. Instead, focus on articles that are important to your community, such as those related to an upcoming event.
- Written material is fine, but use occasional multiple mediums. Experiment with images and videos to share.
- Links back to your website. Otherwise, you won’t be able to pass domain authority to your site.
Now that you know how to write great local content, all that’s left is to find the best places to share and syndicate it.
Social Media Profiles
Your first stop is also the easiest, and you’ve probably already thought of it. Share your content on your brand’s social media pages. This is especially useful for time-sensitive content, such as posting an article the day before you plan on attending a local event. Sharing this type of content on your page regularly will help your followers understand how dedicated you are to your region and strengthen the connection between your brand and your locale. It’s also a great medium to inspire further social sharing; followers belonging to your same region will be far more likely to share your material to their followers and increase the reach of your local content.
Local Social Groups
Local social groups are pages or groups on social media platforms dedicated to various happenings and events going on in a particular area. For example, your neighborhood might have a community page on Facebook or a Group on LinkedIn. Do some research to ferret out these groups and consider using them as a platform for your local material. Keep in mind that only individual profiles will be able to share content with the group, so choose a representative from your team to follow through. These community pages have a much more personal feel and will likely attract more people to your brand. Just make sure your content has some real value for the community as a whole.
Local News Sites
Local news sites are perfect opportunities for your local content. Most local news outlets are desperate for new material, and some may even offer a publication platform that local businesses can use to submit material. Getting a piece of content hosted on one of these sites will not only increase your brand’s visibility, it will also pass high authority to your domain if you include a backlink. Even better, since the site is local, it will increase the relevance of your brand to the community in the eyes of search engines.
Local Community Groups or Forums
There is no shortage of community groups and forums online, but you might have a difficult time finding them. A quick search should turn up a handful of results to get you started, but don’t be afraid to ask around in the community to find some deeper, less obvious results. Posting your content here is an open invitation for more traffic, and like with local news sites, the links and authority you get from these will do wonders for increasing your brand’s association with your local area. You can even post comments and get involved in discussions to increase engagement with your material.
If your local content is newsworthy (which is always a plus), you can also consider submitting it as a formal press release. This might cost a bit of extra money, but you’ll get your content the chance to be published on practically every local news outlet and a handful of national ones. Getting published on a national channel will give you tons of authority, and your region will get significant attention because of it. If your content generally isn’t newsworthy, consider going out of your way to find more newsworthy material for regular press releases.
As with a traditional SEO campaign, the success of your local SEO strategy will largely depend on your consistency. You’re going to have to produce content on a regular and frequent basis, you will see that content to similar yet diversified channels to see results. The more dedicated you remain to your core strategy, the greater reputation you’re going to build.
How Working with Competitors Can Help Local SEO
Working directly with your competitors, and at times giving them mention, is actually a worthwhile strategy for local SEO. With the right approach, you’ll greatly increase your domain authority and local relevance, and any traffic you lose to your competitor will be more than made up for by the increases you see from local searches.
The Local Relevance Factor
First, consider the local relevance factor. Google is constantly updating its index to determine which businesses are local where, and what those businesses do. It searches for contextual clues throughout your content, your links, and the prominent titles on your website. One obvious strategy to increase the local relevance of your brand is to include your city and/or state in much of your web copy. But another, even more valuable strategy is to mention your competitors.
When Google crawls the web and sees you and your competitor’s name frequently mentioned together, it will learn to form a connection between them. Because your competitors operate in the same region and the same industry, you’ll gain extra authority from both a local SEO and industry-based SEO perspective. That means your domain authority will increase, your rankings for local keywords will rise, and you’ll enjoy the benefits of far more organic search traffic.
The Competitor Search Factor
There’s another major search benefit to using your competitors’ names. Imagine a prospective customer who is searching for a solution both you and your competitor offer. They’ve only heard of your competitor before, but they want to do some research before buying. They search Google for your competitor’s name.
If your brand frequently mentions your competitor’s name, it’s highly likely that you’ll be the second result to pop up. That means you have a shot at stealing your competitor’s otherwise untouchable branded search traffic.
Strategies to Use Your Competitors
Now that you know the benefits of mentioning and using your competitors in a local SEO strategy, we can focus on the day-to-day tactics that make these benefits possible. There are several strategies you can use, both onsite and offsite, but using them in conjunction with each other will give you the greatest benefit.
Mutually Attending Events
Your first option is to find out what local events your competitors are attending and attend them. Local event attendance is a great local SEO strategy in itself, since you have the perfect opportunity to submit a press release and write new content featuring local keywords, but if you can capitalize on your competitors being there too, you can sweeten the deal. Consider interviewing a representative from one of your competitors at the event if you really feel like going all-out. We have done this at our West Palm Beach location, with great success:
First, understand that “exchanging links” regularly can get you into trouble—if you constantly swap links with one partner, Google will suspect you of link manipulation and you’ll likely be penalized accordingly. However, occasionally swapping guest posts can only serve to strengthen both of your sites. You’ll trade authority and diversify your content blend, all while increasing your local relevance. It really is a win-win situation.
Writing Industry-Covering Review Articles
This is one of the greatest strategies you can use since it capitalizes on a very specific type of query. Write an article that covers all the options consumers have for businesses like yours in the area. For example, you could use an article to ask and answer the question, “who is the best plumber in Albany?” In the article, detail yourself along with all your competitors, but do try to keep the article unbiased. Anyone looking to comparison shop will find your article easily, and you’ll have the home field advantage since the article is featured on your site. You might lose a few visitors to your external links, but the information you provide will allow you to win out in the long run.
Mimicking Your Competitors’ Backlink Profiles and Followings
Finally, take advantage of the work your competitors have already done. You can use a backlink profile tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to review and see what types of links your competitors are building. While you don’t want to copy this exactly, you can draw inspiration from it and discover new local sources you haven’t previously considered. You can also engage with your competitors’ social followings; you can usually determine whether each follower is a local resident, and you can definitely tell they’re interested in your industry. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple mention to earn a new loyal follower. We cover more of this in detail in our comprehensive online marketing guide.
Don’t hesitate to use your competitors when trying to build your local SEO presence. While it might seem strange or counterintuitive at first, soon you’ll find that the strategy has immense net value to your brand. Build yourself into a recognizable local presence, keep user experience at the heart of what you do, and you’ll see multiplied incoming traffic as a result.
Do Other Local Business Ads Threaten Local SEO?
Google advertisements have been around since, well, Google itself, and businesses have been taking advantage of them in every iteration they’ve seen. From the off-hand ads that nobody clicked, to the yellow-denoted paid results at the top of your list, to the carousel like shopping results for products related to your search, Google is always tinkering with the way it processes and displays advertisements.
For many marketers, these ads are a blessing—they’re a quick, relatively cheap way to get some extra exposure on the most popular search engine on the planet. But there’s also a flip side for businesses looking to generate more attention organically. Dealing with prominently displayed ads means receiving less search traffic—even if you’re ranking first, organically. There are only two ways around this dilemma. One is to pay for your own set of ads, but because so many businesses are competing for that ad space, costs have dramatically risen over the course of the past few years. The other solution is to go after more targeted, niche phrases that don’t carry advertisements, but those generate far less total web traffic. Both solutions only mitigate the problems that paid search ads present for organic search marketers.
Now, Google is unleashing an entirely new type of advertising, to roll out immediately, that could disrupt the local SEO world. If you’re involved in local search marketing, you need to know the specifics and start preparing for the inevitable changes to come.
The Extent of the New Local Ads
The local ads produced and managed by Google are a bit different than their older counterparts. Perhaps most notably, they’re only available on mobile devices. When a mobile user searches for a certain keyword phrase, he/she may now be subjected to these new “local” advertisements, while on a desktop or laptop, only organic results may appear. We know that “near me” searches have more than doubled in the past year, with the vast majority of those queries being performed on a mobile device, so it makes sense that Google would try to appeal to that growing demographic of local searchers.
Google is calling these mobile-specific ads the “nearby businesses” pack, which generates results based in part on proximity. For certain queries, up to four separate results may appear—sometimes less, but never more. The paid ads themselves are quite similar to organic listings, featuring the name of the business in a functionally similar layout. However, as you might expect, paid ads are listed more prominently, and they feature not only the name of the business and a link to their site, but also hot buttons that allow a user to call the business or get directions.
The advertisements function within AdWords like any other paid Google ad. However, they are primarily driven by the optional location extensions that businesses can enable. Because it is a new feature, not much is known about the tricks and settings you can play with for the best possible results. Google will likely experiment with the ads further before becoming satisfied with the layout.
How Nearby Business Ads Will Affect Local SEO
Local SEO was once a relative safe haven for businesses intimidated or frustrated by the level of competition in a national search. Optimizing your business for local-specific queries was faster, easier, cheaper, and ultimately more successful, especially if you only had a limited budget to work with. It was a space where any local business could conceivably rank at the top for at least one keyword phrase.
Now, paid local ads are diminishing that competitive edge. Even in local-specific queries, users will first face a list of paid advertisers before getting to the organic listings, meaning a top organic rank today won’t generate as much traffic as a top organic rank did a few weeks ago. However, that doesn’t mean that local SEO will no longer be effective.
There are a couple of complicating factors that make local SEO still viable, even in this new context. First, consider the fact that paid ads do generate much traffic, but many users still see paid ads as white noise, skipping down to the organic results because they know the businesses listing themselves have an ulterior motive to generate revenue. This means that, while paid ads will take away some of your organic visitors, they won’t take away a majority of them.
Second, the competitive landscape for local ads will be less severe than the one for national ads, just like local SEO is less competitive than national SEO. This means that fewer businesses will be listing ads for the majority of search queries, leaving some of your territory completely untouched and other parts of it with one or two ads, rather than four.
Finally, remember that paid ads are a good option for generating more traffic—it brings to mind the expression, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Nearby business ads will cost less than their national counterparts, and will guarantee you some level of traffic for your campaign. If working in conjunction with a traditional local SEO plan, your results could easily multiply.
As of now, there is no indication that these new local advertisements will kill local SEO. On the contrary, they may actually help businesses in the local SEO game improve their overall position. Watch for developments, defend your turf, and keep following best practices to get yourself ranked higher organically.
How to Perform Keyword Research for Local SEO
As you undoubtedly know, keywords are the terms people type when they search for something. For instance, if someone searches for Akron dental implants then “Akron dental implants” would be the keyword.
The Google Keyword Tool is probably the most-used keyword tool out there. It’ll give you a great start and it’s free, but if you stop with that, you’re selling yourself short. If you’ve never used it before, you can learn about doing keyword research here.
Let’s say you’re a cosmetic dentist in Houston. If you search for the terms “cosmetic dentist houston” and “cosmetic dentistry in houston,” you can see in the screenshot below that the terms look like they get almost the same amount of searches.
Whenever you’re searching with this tool, be sure to select the “exact” checkbox on the left. That limits the number of searches to searches done in the local area instead of the entire U.S. (Click on the image below to see larger version and hit the back button to come back here).
But let’s head over to Google Trends, where we can dig deeper for locally relevant search information over time or for specific time periods.
First, you’ll see a plain kind of screen like the one below. Just enter in one of the search terms you’re looking at and hit enter (or click the Explore button).
On the left you will see “Search Terms.” Click “Add terms” and put in the other keywords you’re researching. You’ll also see a map. Click on the map until you zoom down to your area.
In our example, it’s Houston. Now the data and graph will change. In this instance, you’ll see that “cosmetic dentistry Houston” (in red) is almost always searched for more often than “cosmetic dentist Houston” (in blue).
There are a few little peaks where they were close in terms of the number of searches that web surfers entered for them, but not most of the time. Nice to know, right?
Another thing to consider when you do this is that many people wouldn’t even include “Houston” in the search term. They would just search for “cosmetic dentistry.”
If you use Google Trends and drill down to your area on that map, you can compare that too — i.e., “cosmetic dentistry” versus “cosmetic dentistry Houston.”
Ranking for local terms sometimes means more than just keyword research and optimizing your own site, though. When you’re searching in Google, a local keyword phrase like the ones above will often bring up “local search results” as seen in the image below.
Getting into the local search results ballgame is an entirely different monster. It includes ensuring you have a Google Places listing that is perfectly optimized, gaining valuable citations (mentions of your business, URL, and address) around the web (think Yelp and other review sites), and more.
Warning: Do not buy into “local SEO services” that offer dozens of rave reviews for your business that they claim will boost your Google Places page rank. Don’t take a chance on buying reviews directly from anyone, either.
This is bad business, and these review sites are taking notice. Yelp has recently slammed down on this, publicly outing businesses they caught doing this. If they catch you doing it, there’ll be a huge warning to any visitor who visits your listing that resembles the one below.
There are many ways to get reviews and citations naturally. You just have to come up with the right marketing plan!
Building Links for Dominating Local Search
When Google detects a local indicator (such as your inclusion of geographic keywords, location data provided by your mobile phone, or the common phrase “near me”), it calls upon this separate algorithm to produce three results deemed most relevant to your query.
Note the difference when I search for “pediatrician”:
Versus when I search for “pediatrician near me”:
Ignore the paid advertisement at the top and note the three organic entries that appear above the “standard” results. In local SEO, your goal is to be listed as one of these entries.
To do that, you need to achieve a handful of goals:
- Achieve a high domain authority. You can do this by following standard SEO service best practices—writing good content, attracting strong links, and optimizing your site for performance.
- Get good reviews. Google taps into your business reviews on various third party sources to evaluate your business.
- Feature yourself on local directories. The more accurate, consistent, and present this data is, the better your chances of ranking.
- Associate yourself with your geographic area. Make sure your address is accurate, and establish relationships with other local sources and businesses.
At first glance, it would seem that regular, relevant white hat link building services—the kind you follow for a national campaign—is sufficient to improve your domain authority. Hold that thought.
The Tenets of Link Building
External links pass authority from the linking source to the destination source. For example, if you link from an average source (say a competitor of yours) that’s relevant to your industry, you might get an average amount of authority, and your recognition as a member of said industry will increase. If you link on a high-authority source irrelevant to your industry, you might get lots of authority, but only a modest increase in your recognition as an industry authority (assuming your content is related to your industry in some way). Ideally, you’ll find a balance between high-authority sources and sources relevant to your industry to get the “best of both worlds.”
Qualities of a “Local” Link
Now let’s think about what it would mean to have a “local link.” For this, it’s helpful to think of your geographic area as a type of industry of its own. Google looks at the strength of your reputation in a geographic area when it determines the top three results for a local query relevant to you; therefore, having more links pointing to your site from locally relevant authorities (with locally relevant content) can help you increase your local relevance. Examples of locally relevant authorities might include local news sites, neighborhood associations, or organizations exclusive to your area.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that local links are only beneficial to local companies. This isn’t the case. Any authoritative link can be valuable in boosting your domain authority, so a business in Houston could theoretically increase in rank thanks to an inbound link from a Detroit newspaper (provided it’s relevant); Google won’t confuse you for being a Detroit business, but you won’t gain any Houston-specific relevance.
(Side note: if you live in Houston, you’ve got plenty of choices for local links, so you won’t have to go wooing the folks in Detroit to earn some extra authority):
A Practical Introduction to “Local Link Building”
All this is to say that yes, local link building can be distinguished from traditional link building, if you only seek out local sources. However, because all inbound links will support your domain authority and increase both your national and local ranks, it’s unwise to limit yourself to only local sources.
Instead of thinking about local link building as yet another separate strategy you must pursue to get your business visible in search engines, think about it as a niche subset of your overall link building strategy; oftentimes, local sources are easy to persuade, and if you participate actively in local events, you’ll probably earn these links naturally (and that’s never a bad thing).
If you’re looking for a concise takeaway from this analysis, it’s this: know that locally relevant links can increase your reputation in a specific geographic area, but it’s neither essential nor wise to exclusively pursue local links. Keep them as a subsection of your overall link building strategy.
Most Valuable Content for Local SEO
There are five types of content you’ll need in order to rank for your local keywords effectively:
1. Press Releases.
Press releases are one of the most powerful forms of content available, and if done right, they can be powerhouses for your local SEO campaign. When you draft a press release with local SEO in mind, make sure your topic is in line with the geographic specificity required of a local campaign—while all press releases typically feature the city and state where the news is taking place, if your event is related to a community development, you’ll stand to benefit that much more.
For example, let’s say your business is attending a major trade show in your area. You’ll be able to throw in as many geographic variations as you like in the body of the article, and they’ll all be completely in context. Plus, you’ll stand to gain some peripheral traffic from people searching for the official name of the event.
With most press release distribution systems, you’ll have the ability to select geo-targeted publication outlets. If you’re not using such a system, it’s wise to manually focus on the publications within your city, county, and possibly your state. Getting external links from such sources will do wonders for your local optimization campaign—far more than just stuffing the name of your city into your meta tags.
2. City Information Articles.
These types of articles can typically be posted on your blog, as long as they don’t interfere with your main line of content marketing. Essentially, they are informational posts designed to cover a specific topic of interest within your city. For example, a bed and breakfast in Sacramento could cover “the best bed and breakfast locations in Sacramento” or something similar, and list out the 10 most popular destinations in the area.
Of course, many entrepreneurs are reluctant to write such an article because they fear naming or acknowledging their competition. As a result, many articles are clearly written as sales pieces, briefly acknowledging their competitors, then explaining how clearly superior they are. Instead, focus on the informative quality of your piece—showcase your own advantages, but be honest and give each entry equal weight. If your content skews too heavily toward yourself, you won’t gain much authority, but if you write the best informational piece on this topic on the web (which is possible, considering the limited competition in local search), you’ll stand to gain enormous traffic.
3. Social Media Updates.
Your social updates are also going to play a heavy role in how your business is seen by search engines. It’s not entirely clear which social signals trigger what conclusions in Google’s algorithm, but it is clear that posting frequency, audience size, and user engagement are all important determining factors in calculating rank.
Take advantage of your social platforms whenever you do something specific to your community—such as attending a fair or having your employees volunteer for a local charity. Tag other local businesses in the body of your social posts, and of course make sure those posts are optimized with local-specific tags and keywords. By getting other local businesses involved with your social activities, you’ll establish yourself in a network of local businesses, and it will be that much easier for you to rank locally.
4. Forum Posts.
Local forums can be hard to find at times, but they’re definitely out there. You may not be able to find a geographically relevant forum in your specific industry, but you’ll easily be able to find general forums about the state of your town or the progress of your community.
Get involved on these forums as much as possible, making posts of your own and engaging with your fellow citizens. Not only with the external links and frequent brand mentions establish you as a greater local authority in the eyes of Google, you’ll also stand to gain additional traffic from locals who have grown to respect you as a contributor. Just be sure your posts remain focused on bringing value to the community rather than solely increasing your rank.
Interviews are great pieces of content in general, but especially when performed in a local context. Find a local personality to interview—it could be a politician, a business owner, or anyone else in some kind of position of status—and make a video or audio recording with an accompanying written transcript. The interview should catch the attention of local publications and local citizens. Plus, your interviewee will likely link to and share the interview, thereby doubling your potential audience.
Throughout your interview, be sure to include specific questions about your neighborhood or area in general—it’s a perfect opportunity to optimize your content for your geographic area and simultaneously build yourself as a leading authority in the community.
Just like traditional SEO, local SEO takes time. You can’t expect to implement these content types and see a drastic change overnight. In addition to writing and publishing locally-optimized content, it’s important to stay involved with your community by engaging in conversations on your social media pages and local directory profiles. The more attention your business gets in the local community, the more you’ll show up in search results.
How to Perform a Local SEO Audit
After Google’s Pigeon update, the scope and environment for local SEO has changed dramatically. There are now dozens of new ranking factors, stemming from third party sites and user reviews, which can affect your overall ranking for a local search term. The good news is that you don’t have to spend as much effort stuffing keywords into your content, but in exchange, you have to rely more on the actions of your customers and audience to fuel your authority.
If you want to get a read for the health of your local SEO campaign and find direction for any changes you’ll need to make, it’s a good idea to perform a high-level SEO audit.
Get a Campaign Snapshot
Before you start looking at the individual factors that are affecting your authority and rank, you’ll want to get a relative measurement of how your campaign is performing. For this, you’ll want to look at some of the same metrics you’d use in a national campaign, with extra attention to your user demographics.
Log into Google Analytics and check out the Acquisition tab, whose Overview will show you a breakdown of how many site visitors you had, and where those visitors came from. Pay special attention to the Organic Traffic number—this is the number of people who came to your site from searching for a term. Social Traffic is also important, especially if you have an active social media presence as a part of your overall campaign.
Your Organic Traffic figure should grow from month to month fairly consistently. If you notice the numbers growing stagnant, it could be an indication of something wrong with the campaign.
While still in Analytics, head over to the Audience section, and take a look at the Overview. Depending on the operating range of your company and which local markets you’re targeting, you can look at the county and territory of your users or the city under the “Demographics” tab on the left. Analytics will break down your user visits as a total number of visitors, and as a percentage of your total traffic. A high percentage of local visitors is generally an indication of a high-quality local optimization campaign.
Once you know where you stand with organic visits and demographics, you can look at the individual components of your campaign and analyze how they are influencing the broader numbers.
Check Your Offsite Presence
One of the most important elements of a post-Pigeon local optimization campaign is your business’s presence on as many third party and local directory sites as possible. The go-to example is Yelp, an aggregator of local business information and customer reviews, but there are several other sites with a niche focus, such as UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor.
Claim your company’s account on as many of these platforms as possible. You’ll want to do this for two reasons: first, you’ll be able to verify your information’s consistency across the web, especially your name, address, phone number, and business hours. Second, you’ll have more opportunities to cultivate reviews, but we’ll get more into that in the next section.
Claiming your profile and verifying your information on these sites is usually a one-time process, but you’ll want to check back every so often to make sure your information is still up-to-date. You’ll also want to do a quick check to see if there are any new, relevant directories that have emerged and claim your account early.
The Importance of Reviews: Analyze and Nurture Your Reviews
Checking your business information is only the first half of the local directory audit. The second part is more intensive, and arguably more important for your customer relationships. These sites all share one core feature: the ability for customers to post public reviews. The more high-quality reviews you have the better—it looks good to the other customers and even sends an authoritative ranking signal to Google.
Take a look at the number of new reviews you’ve gotten, and how positive those reviews are. If you’re getting a high number of negative reviews, read them carefully and try to figure out what you can change to encourage more positive reviews. If you aren’t getting many reviews at all, you need to do more to encourage your in-person customers to leave feedback. (Remember, it’s a violation of policy to directly ask for reviews. Instead, simply direct your customers to the review site itself and leave the decision to review up to them).
You’ll also have the opportunity to reply to reviews. This is a good chance to reinforce positive experiences, and make up for any negative ones.
Local reviews are more than just surface-level pieces of information that occasional users use as guides to make purchasing decisions. Even users who never explicitly read reviews can be indirectly affected by them:
- Local reviews inform users of past transactions. The first benefit here is probably the most obvious. Well-written user reviews inform others whether a given transaction was beneficial, neutral, or unfortunate. Consumers who are serious about a buying decision rely on these specific details to help them make a final call.
- Local reviews affect your search ranks. In fact, local reviews affect your search visibility in more than just one way. Google relies on data from third-party directories and review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to form an aggregated judgment of a local business—more reviews and more positive reviews mean you’re more likely to rank in local searches. Plus, if you get more reviews on a specific directory, your profile page on that directory will be more likely to rank as well.
- Local reviews are aggregated to form first impressions. In Google’s new local 3-pack, you’ll see that each business’s entry is accompanied by an aggregated star rating, drawn from Google reviews specifically. Users who glance at your business and see a star rating may form an instant judgment.
- Local reviews drive direct traffic to your site. Plenty of users peruse local review sites directly, hoping to discover new businesses or find alternative suppliers. If a review is well-written and positive enough, it could attract a decent stream of direct referral traffic to your site.
- Local reviews can help you build a better business. Last but certainly not least, local reviews are raw information about how you’re doing business. The more reviews you receive, the more information you’ll have to improve your company.
Actionable Steps to Improve Local SEO
While certain SEO fundamentals, like maintaining a regular and high-quality content strategy, still apply to local businesses, entrepreneurs also need to take measures to optimize their online presence for a local community. If you’re looking for simple ways to get involved and strengthen your local relevance online, try some or all of these 15 actionable ideas:
1. Optimize your site with location-based keywords.
First and foremost, use onsite title tags and metadescriptions to maximize your geographical relevance. For example, if your homepage’s title tag currently reads “Unique coffee shop,” change it to read “City, State unique coffee shop” or something similar. Use variations of your location, such as Seattle, Seattle Washington, and Seattle WA to avoid duplication and optimize for multiple potential queries.
2. Create location-relevant blog posts.
This is a long-term strategy that will improve your ranking in local search results and win you more local customers as well. Blog about things that are currently happening in your city that might have to do with your business or industry. For example, if you own a coffee shop and the city is making renovations to a park down the street, talk about how it’s going to benefit your community! And of course, use lots of location-specific keywords.
3. Make sure your contact info is consistent, everywhere.
Sometimes referred to as “NAP” (standing for name, address, and phone number), your onsite contact info is vitally important for SEO. If Google detects even the slightest formatting inconsistency, such as displaying “Rd” in one area and “Road” in another, it could penalize you with a lower ranking. Ensure its consistency across all your pages, and on your offsite profiles as well.
Titles and Descriptions
The first things to look at are your titles and meta descriptions. Are they narrowly local to your area? If not, then you need to change them so that they are.
Example: If you have a page for Kansas City Events in 2013, you want that to be specifically portrayed. You don’t want a title like “Local Events in 2013.” You want it to say specifically: “Kansas City Events in 2013.”
Meta descriptions may not be a ranking factor the way they once were, but more often than not they are what’s seen on the search results page. The terms you use will show up as bold text in the title and as the description on the search results page if they match the words that someone was searching for.
4. Create a specific location page.
Google will penalize you if you have too many pages that only exist to boost page rank, but it’s a good idea to have one page that details your physical location. You can include this on a contact page, but it’s better if you title your page in line with your physical location. Include map integration, and multiple ways to contact your business.
Optimizing your images is something you should be doing as well. That goes for every website, but it can work wonders for local businesses.
Next time you’re at an event or out on a job, take photos. Use them in your blog posts. Before you upload them to your site, make sure that the filename, description, and ALT tags mention your local area.
Using Google Maps can be tremendously helpful for your local site. But most businesses don’t realize just how much you can do with them. Do you offer a service of some kind?
Let’s say that you specialize in kitchen remodeling, okay? Now that you know you should be taking photos on every job, you should have lots of photos of your work to show. This is where it gets good! (I do have to mention that this does cost a bit of money, but you’ll see why it’s so worth it.)
You can use a map of your local area to highlight jobs you’ve done. Each one gets its own placement on the map. Each one will have a thumbnail of the photo for that job and a link to a post or page that goes into more depth about it.
So essentially, you’re creating localized pages for each job, which gives you that many more pages of localized content on autopilot. Each map icon of each job also gets indexed as a page in Google!
The posts that are created for each icon are done so in GEO-Tagged microdata format, which Google, Bing, and Yahoo! all love. So how’s all this possible? It’s done with a WP plugin. (Sorry, you’re kinda outta luck if you aren’t on WordPress). It’s called WP Map Folio.
5. Set up all your social media profiles (if you haven’t yet).
You probably already have a Facebook page, but you need to go the extra mile. Even if you don’t plan on updating every profile regularly, it’s important to claim as many profiles as you can. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn are the power players in social media, but don’t neglect your other options. Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat can all help improve your local authority.
6. Ensure your listing with Google Local.
Google Local Businesses recently combined with Google+, so if you already have a Google+ profile, you’re halfway there. Fill out your profile completely—Google is a stickler for details. Make sure your name, address, and phone number are all consistent, and post your business hours so your potential customers can easily see them when they search for you.
7. Create local listings wherever you can.
After Google’s recent so-called “Pigeon update,” the importance of local directories has significantly risen. In fact, some directory pages on Yelp! are actually outranking company pages in branded search results. Check out every local directory that’s relevant to your business, such as Yelp!,Urbanspoon, and TripAdvisor, and make sure your business has a presence there. It’s also a good idea to make sure your information is up-to-date.
8. Ask your customers to review your site on local directories.
First, make sure you do not pay for reviews or force your customers to write them up. It’s quite evident which reviews are natural and which reviews have been purchased—make sure yours are natural. But it is perfectly acceptable to encourage your customers to write up reviews about you on these sites. Include links to your specific profile in your physical establishment as well as on your social media profiles to attract more potential reviewers.
9. Ask your customers for video reviews and testimonials.
Similarly, you can ask that your patrons submit reviews for direct use on your site. Video reviews and testimonials are great ways to spice up your website and include more visual content to be crawled by Google. You can also share them on social media and use that as a platform to encourage more reviews.
10 . Distribute press releases locally to attract local links.
Writing high-quality press releases is a great strategy to build links quickly and get some extra public attention for your business. When you go to distribute a new press release, make sure you’re targeting all the local channels. You can even submit directly to local news stations and other local websites for consideration. Just make sure your release is newsworthy.
11. Browse local forums and communities for link building opportunities.
There’s no shortage of community pages and forums. Find one that’s relevant to you, such as a neighborhood association page or a group of small business owners, and utilize it. Contribute relevant links pointing back to your site on an occasional basis. You can even post promotions and coupons to the group, as long as the community allows it.
12. Woo the blogging community.
There’s no shortage of bloggers in the world today. Look for popular bloggers in your area, and write to them. Ask them to consider writing up a review of your establishment, or to at least mention you in the body of their blog. Be friendly and cast a wide net—the worst they can do is turn you down. Guest blogging for SEO remains a vital opportunity, particularly for local SEO.
13. Take steps to optimize your site for mobile.
If your site isn’t optimized for mobile yet, you need to take steps to optimize it. You do have a couple of options; you could either redesign your website to be responsive (so it automatically resizes based on the device accessing it) or you could develop a specific mobile version of your webpage.
14. Attend local events and use a specific hashtag.
One of the easiest ways to attract local attention, and thus valuable backlinks, is to make your presence known at popular local events. Attend such an event and post pictures and updates on your social media profiles—it’s even better if you can use a hashtag associated with the event itself.
15. Cater to your community.
Do everything you can to get involved in the community. Find out what your neighborhood values, and cater to its residents. Make an appearance at every local event you can, offer free giveaways and promotions at community gatherings, and get to know your community leaders individually. They’ll take care of the rest—posting, sharing, and talking about your site online and building your authority collectively.
You don’t have to be a technical genius to get the most out of your local SEO strategy. What it really takes is a commitment to your local community and a commitment to regularly updating your online presence. Through relevant link building, relationship building, and community involvement, you can gradually build an online and offline local empire, winning the loyalty of your current customers and positioning yourself for new traffic with a higher search engine rank.
Local SEO, like any marketing strategy, will never be wholly “necessary.” Your business won’t automatically fail because you haven’t adopted a local strategy. However, if you’re without a local SEO strategy in 2016, you’re going to miss out on a ton of traffic, and your competitors will have an easier time accumulating that traffic for themselves.
For businesses reliant on community and neighborhood populations for revenue, local SEO is an absolute must in 2016 if you do any marketing whatsoever. For other businesses, it’s a little grayer; if you’re doing a national SEO strategy already, you might as well throw in some local optimization strategies to round out your visibility. If you operate nationally, have never touched any kind of SEO, and are fine with the stream of leads you’re currently getting—you can stand to benefit from local SEO, but it’s probably not going to break you if you decide against it. Use your best judgment and remember that local SEO, when implemented properly, almost always yields a positive ROI.
Aiming for local ensures that your business gets found by your target customers with ease. By properly optimizing your site for the local search terms, getting listed on local directories, and claiming your profile on Google Plus Pages, you can place your business in the best possible position to dominate the local market.
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