Small, local businesses can feel insignificant when compared to giant corporations; however, unlike their global counterparts, local businesses have the ability to target a local market. Through certain local SEO ranking factors (which will be discussed later on), your business can appear in (Snack) Pack Rankings, as well as organic page rankings.
Before we dive into the following local SEO guide, here’s why your local business should focus on local SEO.
Why Local SEO?
Local SEO could be considered a subset of SEO and underneath the greater umbrella of Search Marketing. Yet, many businesses tend to overlook its importance. As the name suggests, local SEO is the art and science of ensuring that a local brick-and-mortar store ranks highly in search engines so that its customer base can find them. A local SEO strategy can also align with your general SEO campaign.
Having a strong local search ranking can give you a leg-up on the competition. Plus, local SEO is not too difficult to implement.
How Does Local SEO Rank You?
When we practice SEO, we understand the main goal. To build qualified organic traffic to our website. We want our business to reach the top of the first page of results. Why? Because it adds trust, authority and heightens our brand’s visibility and reach.
If you are a local business, though, your SEO strategy should focus on placing you highly in two different results: (Snack) Pack Rankings and organic page rankings.
What are (Snack) Pack Rankings?
When you search for a store, shop or restaurant online, the search engine will offer a small box of results. This is called Pack, or Snack Pack, and proves effective if your business can make an appearance. Within this box of results, you can usually find a local business’s:
- Opening hours
- Contact information (phone number, email, etc.)
- Link to website
- Google Map result
All of the above information can help persuade a potential customer to use your services or purchase your goods while helping your business’s SEO and search engine ranking.
Organic Page Rankings
Beneath the Snack Pack, there are the standard organic results, which also contain some (though not all) local business results. Understanding that you submitted a localized search query, Google and the other engines are sure to alter the standard organic results to match your localized intent. Thus, if your business does not appear in the Snack Pack, you do not have to fear you will be completely undiscovered.
The downside to organic page rankings for restaurants, cafes, and bars, though, is that advisor sites, such as TripAdvisor, usually dominate these results.
What are Local SEO Ranking Factors for Local Businesses?
1. Google My Business
A crucial first step to any local SEO strategy is to verify your local business’s Google My Business (GMB) listing. By doing so, your business is more likely to appear in Google’s Snack Pack results, Google Maps, and organic search rankings. A completed GMB listing is absolutely critical in achieving Snack Pack results.
Complete All Fields Google Asks of You
It is strongly advised for you to include your business’s phone number, address, website, business hours and reviews. Any box they ask you to fill, do so. Otherwise, you can lose customers because they do not know, for example, what days of the week you are open.
You may not realize that anyone can suggest an edit to your GMB’s listing. Customers and competitors could change your details without you even knowing (you may not be notified), and because these suggested edits are not merely “suggested,” they can be applied without your consent.
To stop this from happening, view your GMB dashboard regularly, and amend any details that have been adapted. You need your listing to remain accurate, so check the content for any unwanted changes.
Once your GMB listing is verified, it’s time to optimize it.
How to Optimize Your GMB Listing
The process is simple enough, but local businesses need to be thorough. To optimize your business’s Google local listing, make sure:
- The category is correct
- The website link is active and functional
- Relevant keywords are in the GMB business’s title tag
- Include regular post updates (more on this soon)
- To include emojis (although its effectiveness is still unknown)
Google My Business has the option to add posts, similar to social media updates. These show in your GMB Google search, and you can personalize the content through the inclusion of an image, call-to-actions (CTA) and having it click-through to your website or another one altogether.
If you are unsure of the content to create, a few post ideas involve:
Upcoming events: If you are hosting a themed-party for Halloween, Christmas, or New Years, you can create a post with the date and time. If you need to buy tickets to attend, have the post link to the Bookings Page.
A sale: For retail stores, advertise your next sale. Add a specific time when the doors will be opening.
Market your latest post: Are you proud of your most recent blog post and want people to witness it? Link to said post, and increase traffic to your website. This acts as a social media post all on its own.
Do you have a new product or service? If you have new content releasing your latest product or service, link to the blog post and spread the word.
GMB Online Reviews
Google encourages local businesses to ask their customers for online reviews. These reviews appear next to your listing on Google Maps, are hugely beneficial to your local search ranking, and can impact your click-through rates.
According to the Local Consumer Review Survey conducted by BrightLocal:
- 73% of consumers trust a local business more with positive reviews
- 49% of consumers need a business to have at least a four-star rating
- Consumers read, on average, 7 reviews before trusting a local business
Business reviews for local SEO represent an ongoing conversation your customers are having regarding your business on the internet. While a business owner cannot control what customers post, there are ways to influence and contribute to building a positive reputation through consumer reviews and owner responses. More on business reviews for local SEO in section 5.
Google now allows business owners to include a 750 character business description on your GMB listing. Out of those 750 characters, only 250 characters worth of content will show. You need to create a business description that targets essential information and keywords (including your location) so that it can improve your local search ranking.
When it comes to keyword research:
- See what your competitors rank for
- Use Google Autocomplete for inspiration
- Brainstorm SiLs (“Service in Locations”). g., Graphic Designer in Philadelphia.
An SEO audit can ensure your business is targeting the most effective keywords possible. The Agency Guy, Inc is always available to review your current local marketing strategy, diagnose issues and help you to optimize your local SEO strategy. TAG also represents hundreds of vetted agencies and consultants to which we will match specific needs. Based on the results of an SEO audit, one of our vetted agencies will research the right keywords for your business description, allowing your local business to rank higher. Our SEO services are to help with your organic search so that your local search ranking improves.
2. Link Signals (A.K.A Backlinks)
Link signals are generally considered to be the second most influential factor for Snack Pack results, and the most important for organic page results. But don’t let fancy terminology like “link signals” or “backlinks” trip you up. When SEO’s use this terminology, they essentially just mean links (aka hyperlinks) from 3rd party websites back to yours.
Authority of links: In a perfect world, only legitimate and respectable websites would be linking to you. In fact, search engines may potentially devalue or penalize your website if it has a reputation for acquiring links from spammy websites. So be discerning when doing outreach to obtain backlinks, and in doing so, prioritize getting links from sites with relevant content, high domain authority, and a clean reputation.
If you’ve used spammy backlink building techniques in the past, it’s probably not too late to clean up your act. Through a process called a link cleanup, you can outreach to website owners and have them remove spammy links or web pages that link back to you and/or disavow these links. Of course, in a worst case scenario, you could always start over with a new domain.
Anchor text: All anchor texts need to be relevant to the page it is linking to. For instance, an “SEO services” anchor text will take you to a page on SEO services – or so it should. If it does not match to your backlink, Google will flag it, possibly resulting in a penalty. Anchor text should also vary, as having too many of the same could result in penalization.
Quantity of links: The more high-quality backlinks you have, the better your site is going to rank; therefore, find natural ways to spread your content so that you can get the authoritative links you need. Start by writing content for smaller, reputable websites, and build a portfolio. Then, once you have the experience, you can contact sites such as Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Huffington Post, etc. and become a guest blogger.
Link Building for Local SEO
Dan Leibson from Local SEO Guide says:
“Seriously, go start building links. It makes a difference in not just local organic rankings but is also a major competitive differentiator in pack rankings. It’s hard, you’ll learn a lot, and in the end, you are going to be able to build a process that you can leverage for success.”
Local link building can become a natural habit, and it can help a business get backlinks every month. Write an entry on your blog or web page about a relevant local event or business. Include links to their websites, communicate with said companies or organization through email or social media, and ask them to link or share the post on their own social networks.
Of course, there are many local link building tactics. You can enter your business for local awards or hire local influencers, for example.
3. On-Page Signals
The most significant influencing factors of on-page signals are NAP (name, address and phone number), keywords, and your domain authority. While you want to avoid keyword stuffing, you need to get the balance right throughout your on-page content. Mentioning your business’s location where relevant is of high importance when increasing your local ranking.
The page title tag: Ensure your keywords are placed in the title tag. The business name and location should be included here.
Meta description: Not necessarily for search engines to crawl; however, this 130-150 character description can increase click-through rates.
Page URL: Be sure to include the business location within the URL of the business location page. For example:
If you have multiple locations, have a location page for each physical address that you have.
What are Geo-Localized Landing Pages?
Local landing pages, otherwise known as city landing pages, are web pages a business creates on their website to highlight a geographic location of their business for its customers. Local landing pages are most suitable for service area businesses (SABs) and multi-location brick-and-mortar businesses, as these businesses need to publicize that they:
- Serve a variety of cities and areas surrounding the city where they are physically located
- Have multiple forward-facing offices
Knowledge is power when it comes to creating a geo-localized landing page strategy for local markets. Avoid the common pitfalls of publishing fake addresses, creating “thin” or duplicated content, and do not bury your local landing pages – link to them from a high-level web page instead.
When implementing local SEO practices, be sure to continue following the cardinal rules of SEO.
Do not keyword stuff.
Do not create “thin” or weak content simply for SEO purposes.
Keep you NAP citations current and consistent (more on this below).
All traditional non-local SEO ranking best practices still apply.
4. NAP and Local Citations
NAP (mentioned above) can help with citation quality, quantity, and consistency. A local citation is when a business’s NAP data shows up on directory sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp. Local citations, and NAP, are significant factors in helping your business rank higher in local search results.
Local business owners (and marketers) can create citations on a variety of major local business data platforms. The core platforms include Google My Business (mentioned in section one), Infogroup and Acxiom. Review-orientated websites like Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor can also help with local business listings and a business’s NAP data.
What is the Critical Importance of NAP?
Remember, the quantity of citations a business amasses, the quality of the platforms they exist on and the accuracy of the data featured on platforms will influence rankings. If a local business’s NAP data is valid, Google and other search engines will authorize that website’s credibility, strengthening the business’s chance of ranking well.
Accurate NAP data and citations help people discover local businesses, which results in higher web or foot traffic, accumulating more transactions. But inaccurate NAP data and citations misdirect customers, leading to a loss in revenue and reputation.
Fixing inaccurate citations is an arduous and challenging task. Yet, the good news is that citation cleanup is entirely doable. Investing in accurate business information will enhance your local listings.
Check out our post about optimizing business listings for SEO for more information about how and why to do it.
5. Business Reviews
No reviews is good news, right? Wrong. It is understandable for business owners to get tunnel vision when it comes to business reviews, but collating, managing and maintaining business reviews is a crucial element to a local business’s SEO.
It is imperative to know that not all review sites are equal, and Google does not always favor their review system. First, determine the most important review sites in your industry. Search for “(industry keywords) reviews.”
For building contractors, the likely review site to appear will be Yell. For retail, Trustpilot is a common review site.
Review sites that syndicate their reviews to other websites offer more value than those that do not. Review syndication not only increases the chances of a potential customer seeing a business’s reviews on more websites, but Google is more likely to count these reviews multiple times in its ranking algorithm.
Do not forget to syndicate your reviews yourself too, though! Thank customers who leave a good review by posting a link to the said review on social media platforms and your own website.
Using a review aggregator has also begun to have an economic effect on companies and businesses which manufacture products commonly under review, such as electronic games, software, hardware, and books. Review aggregators allow consumers to compare a variety of reviews so that they can come to a decision more quickly. And because review aggregators collate and compare many different reviews, the system calculates an approximate average assessment, making the review process much easier for consumers.
Managing and Maintaining Your Business Reviews
The likes of TripAdvisor has recently spoken out on online reputation management and how imperative it is, surveying that 97% of business owners say online reputation management is essential, while 98% also confirm that online reviews are also crucial to their business.
Local businesses need to undergo an in-depth audit of their online reputation so that they can see whether there are any negative reviews. 22% of business is lost when potential customers find one negative review, and if they find three negative articles, the number can jump to 59%.
Manage and maintain your business reviews by setting up Google Alerts for your local business’s name, related industry terms, and key executives. Mention and Cision are more robust tracking systems to help manage your online reviews.
Want more info about business reviews and SEO. Check out our post Everything you Need to Know about Business Reviews and Local SEO.
6. Schema Markup
Nowadays, when you search for information about a business, you are likely to get the answer within the search results, rather than having to find the website and click-through. In essence, Google is in control of our brand and the information/data relating to our businesses.
The vocabulary of Schema Markup, officially called schema.org, was created by Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex in 2011. This global standard vocabulary was to help the search engines better understand content on the web.
Local businesses who adopt Schema Markup are rewarded with ‘rich results,’ which were previously known as rich snippets. Rich results bring up a local business’s information, reviews, as well as product information.
Schema Markup can be overwhelming to business owners and marketers alike. Yet, they do not have to worry too much about reading writing the code, as there are a lot of tools available to help local businesses.
7. Social Signals (Social Media)
The effectiveness of social media has been a discussion amongst digital marketers for some time now. There is both evidence to and for social media and whether it impacts your local search ranking. However, anyone looking to increase both their overall and local SEO should consider:
- Growing their Facebook audience
- Encouraging Facebook shares
- Increasing their Facebook comments and likes
- Growing their Twitter audience
- Ask Twitter followers to Tweet your brand and their experience
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to SEO. All SEO campaigns need to be carefully crafted so that it suits your business, your goals, and even your customers. Local businesses can drum up a lot of business through the local search ranking factors listed above.
With 97% of consumers relying on the internet to find a local business, your business will be missing a trick if you ignore local SEO and all its wonders. For more advice on how to optimize your organic SEO so that your local search engine ranking increases, contact us so we can help pair you up with a digital marketing agency who understands you completely.