SEO has been around for a long time. As a new business owner – or a business owner digging deeper into optimization – you’ll soon find that it’s quite complex. Like traditional marketing, search marketing has its specialties, and one of them is local SEO, which is what this article is about today.
11 people for every small business…
Every time there’s a recession, statistics show a jump in small business ownership. According to the Office of Advocacy, there were 30.7 million small businesses as of 2019 and 99.9% of all U.S. businesses are small businesses. That sounds like a lot of competition, but consider that there are over 331 million people in the U.S. That’s an average of 11 people per small business.
Now, consider that not all 30.7 million small businesses live close to you, and most can only handle a small area. Suddenly, things start looking a lot easier, don’t they?
Well, they are… and they aren’t; you still have to advertise. You still have to get the word out about your business. Conceivably, you could hand out thousands of business cards, pay a TV station or two, and put out radio ads, but these kinds of traditional advertising generally take more than the small business owner can afford.
A website, on the other hand, gives you a relatively inexpensive way to become known to your target market; namely, those in your area (and who doesn’t want more than 11 customers?). That is, if you practice local SEO.
So what is local SEO?
Many people assume local SEO is just SEO for your physical location. For instance, we’re headquartered in San Francisco, so local SEO would mean optimizing for the San Francisco location. While this is true, there’s more to it.
Local SEO is useful whether your target market in the location of your brick and mortar store, or if it’s 5,000 miles away in Russia. The further away you are the more complex your optimization campaigns become, which is why another name for it is hyper localization, but the principles are still the same.
It’s more than just putting your zip code on your website. A whole lot more.
In simple terms, it compels you to identify your business address, taking care to reveal your neighborhood as well as the city where you are located. People (and Google Maps for that matter) are becoming more precise and accurate about search results – especially when it comes to the location. Keep in mind local is all about geographic location; it’s where your clients are. They can be in Italy or Russia.
Given the ease of access on smartphones and tablets, people now use search engines while on the move. On top of this, in order to get the best search results, they’re more inclined to use the name of the neighborhood instead of the city. So if your business website declares presence in “San Francisco” but makes no reference to “Castro Street” or other similar landmarks, it’ll end up losing customers searching for your services using long tailed keywords. Now, regardless of your business motive, this surely isn’t what you want!
Why would I need local SEO?
Approximately 90% of Americans are currently online. That’s over 280 million people. Nearly 46% of those people are using their computers and mobile devices to search for everything from plumbers to stones for garden paths. Where are you in the mix?
Local SEO thins the herd of search results. Some searches only bring back 20,000 results or so; some bring back even less. However, it’s common to see over 1 million, or as many as 240 million pages for any given search term. This is especially true if the term is about a product or service in high demand, like search marketing (service) or statistics software (product).
If you have no location attached to your site – if you could be anywhere in the world -, there’s no way for the search engines to consider your site relevant for a local search (i.e. SEO in California). This is where local SEO comes in very, very handy.
Local Search, Local Terms
Local SEO often brings a big ”X marks the spot” picture to mind. People see that X and say, “Yep, that’s my local area.” After all, your location is where you are, right? But optimizing for a location (i.e. local SEO) isn’t about where you are physically. It’s about where your ideal audience is. It’s about finding out how they search, what they search for and, ultimately, how to get them to your site.
So why is local SEO such an important thing for many sites? In the example below, we compare “sofa” to “couch”. Notice that the top regions aren’t the same.
One of the keys for local optimization efforts is targeting the phrases used by your market. If you sell furniture to Kentucky (couch country), but you live in Louisiana (sofa country) and use your language, you just might miss a lot of potential traffic. Location-based SEO can help you gain that traffic. If all of that sounds good to you, read on!
Location-based Search: Optimizing Your Local SEO Strategy
As much goes into local SEO as goes into SEO in general. The difference is focus – your focus – and where you put your efforts. If you have a physical store on top of your online presence, you’d better take some time management classes; you’ll need them to get your own local SEO done.
Localizing your business does not require rocket science. For all it’s worth, it is quite similar to search engine optimization using frequently searched keywords. But instead of focusing on keywords like “SEO services” or “the best grill”, you’ll be required to work with long tailed keywords declaring the locality/neighborhood where your business is situated. Here are a few key points to look at:
Clean Your On-Site Optimization
Cleaning up your content to reflect your local flavor is not only done on the pages your readers can see but also on your title tags, description tags, H1, H2, H3, and image alt text that the search engines can see. All of those small elements will and can play a strong role in making sure the search engines understand you are in San Francisco and not in Turkey.
NAP: Accurate Information About Company
No, this doesn’t mean go get some sleep on a regular base. NAP stands for (N)ame, (A)ddress, and (P)hone number. If you’re a local company, your site needs to have all three pieces of information on it, especially on the contact page.
- Provide a local number, even if you have a toll free number, too.
- Don’t use an image for this information. Make sure it’s all searchable text.
- Use full names with no abbreviations (i.e. avenue, instead of ave).
- Include zip code, city and state information.
- Be consistent. Wherever your company and URL are, make sure your NAP is exactly the same.
It is essential that you have a proper and consistent NAP. Below is a chart of the kind of information people are looking for in their local searches. Take note and use as many of those elements on your pages as possible.
Claim Your Local Profiles
By claiming your online company profile, you retain some control over your local rankings. If your business changes, update the information listed; it only hurts when your profile is out of date. –And, once claimed, it’s important to use the account or it may be removed in an attempt to keep the listings clean and udpated. There are many sites out there where you can add your business profile information. All of them require a few top pointers, such as:
- Choose the most relevant categories – Categories shouldn’t be chosen based on keywords. Instead, choose what most closely matches what your business is.
- Use your local number, not 1-800 or tracking number.
- Ensure your website URL is exactly what you want it to be – in other words, if you have a www site, don’t leave off the www (and vice versa).
- Leave no field left unfilled out of laziness – don’t get lazy with your listings. If there is a place for a description, as an example, fill it in!
- Point out that visitors can review your business on these profiles
Search Engine Profiles
Local profiles are a pretty big thing in local SEO, and where better to have one for search engines than on the search engines themselves? Google and Bing both have their own versions:
Good Starting Places
- A Step by Step Guide to Create Bing Local Listings via RankWatch
- The Ultimate Guide to ‘Google My Business’ via Vertical Response
Google Places allows various locations, as well, which is very handy for businesses that are branching on. As a bonus, Google provides a mobile-friendly website for
Top Local Directories
Although many people think of directories as nothing but spam, local directories have a lot of major pull. Think about it – how often have you put in a local search only to find directory listings all over your SERPs? Here are a few good, busy places to get you started, in no particular order:
Before submitting your business, first search and make sure it’s not already listed. If you don’t show up, then list away!
Are you a part of the Chamber of Commerce? How about a member of the local Business Association? Perhaps you’re a member of the Better Business Bureau. These things may not seem like part of your online presence, but they can be. Think of the memberships you’ve taken part in and consider which ones you might be able to ask for a link.
Even small business owners can benefit from a blog. Having a blog gives you the opportunity to write posts specifically targeting your neighborhood or city. Do you sell candles? How about an article about the upcoming Halloween festivities and your favorite, decorated homes? Not only does this give your visitors something interesting to read, but you can also let the homeowners know you gave them kudos in a blog post. Very few people really have a problem with being made famous.
Quality Link Building
Links on the Internet tie together pages and websites. This “web” forms an important relationship for search engines, which use links to discover new pages and determine their popularity. Try starting up a company blog, turning it into a valuable resource for customers in your industry to read. Blogs work great since they regularly update with fresh content, can generate links to other blogs, and can participate in an online conversation.
Especially if you have more than one location, providing location-specific pages can be extremely helpful in making your presence known to your target marketing. If you have two store locations and they’re in two different cities, for example, creating a page for each location would allow you to provide location-specific coupons and offers. It also provides the opportunity to have both locations visible to your potential visitors.
Add Testimonials and Reviews
Whenever possible, get local reviews and testimonials. More often than not, you may notice those businesses are the ones getting the highest visibility on Google. Even more important is the fact that prospective customers are going to be more convinced by what other customers have to say about you than anything you may state yourself. This is another reason why becoming active in places like Angie’s List, Yelp and other online reviews is a smart move. It’s organic and one of the best ways to get local visibility.
Of course, having a ton of positive reviews is a big plus and, in a perfect world, it happens. But be prepared for a few bad ones, and don’t get discouraged. Deal with negative reviews diplomatically and shine in the eyes of new potential customers.
There are only two main keys to help generate positive reviews for your company: You just have to ask and make it easy for people to leave a review. Timing is also important: Asking right at the time of purchase won’t generate an honest review. Instead, one example approach might be to get the customer’s email during the sale to later email that customer to ask if the service or product worked out for them; if so, then request a review. By implementing this strategy, you not only ensure that you ask only happy customers for reviews, but you can make it easy by providing a link right to where you want the review to appear online.
Capitalize on Social Media
Social media is solidly an important part of a brand, and it only makes sense to turn to new authority as old strategies become less reliable. A smart brand will put some dedication into building online authority in social media. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all offer opportunities to connect with local professional groups and peers – an invaluable connection if you have a service-based company.
Create Local Content
Comparing your business to others in the area and industry can be too overwhelming, especially in more saturated businesses. You might notice that most don’t have content specific to local areas in order to optimize a search. Creating content that uses local keywords, such as your location followed by the service you offer, is one of the best possible strategies to implement for your company website.
How Big Is Your Traffic Corridor?
A traffic corridor is where you want your site traffic to come from. To answer this question, you have to know how far you can reasonably spread your business at this moment. Don’t get greedy, here. You can always grow, but you can’t take back failed service because of your inability to provide to an area.
For example, if you’re an in-house computer technician, your service area may only be 30 miles or so. Any more than this, and you risk spending more time driving (and more gas) than you would working and making money. On the other hand, if you live in New York, it may be one of the boroughs.
Those who offer products have other options to look at. For example, if you have a physical store and all your visitors can do is order online then go pick their order up, you have a limited area. If you ship products, your area goes only as far as you’re willing to ship. These limitations could be within your city, state, nation or continent (USPS offers a shipping price calculator, as does UPS and FedEx).
If you offer in-home or at-your-business services…
If you don’t know how far you can travel during a day (and still get customers taken care of), Free Map Tools has a few handy mapping tools for that. Gathering this information is the beginning of finding out how well you’re actually targeting your traffic corridor:
How far can I travel? – The online application provides you with a radius, showing you the distance by road and as the crow flies.
What zip codes are in my traffic corridor? – If you have zip code parameters enabled on your website, through a user form or shopping solution, it could be handy to learn about the zip codes in your corridor. The radius search map brings up a list of zip codes available in your travel area.
What cities are in my traffic corridor? – The radius search map highlights the area, overlaying the cities within the area. Like Google Maps, if you think a few cities aren’t listed, you can zoom in to get a closer view.
Local SEO Campaigns for Your Location
It’s easy to think you’re doing well when your traffic numbers start rising, but traffic doesn’t do any good if it’s:
- Not coming from the right location
- Not using topical key phrases (i.e. when people visit a home repair site for making money)
- Not looking for what you have to offer
The chances of one of these types of visitors converting into customers are slim. If you dig into analytics and the data doesn’t match up with your traffic corridor and/or search terms, your local SEO needs tweaking.
While creating a location-focused campaign, ask yourself:
- Does my website define the targeted areas?
- If you have several locations: have I provided a list of those locations with address and hours information?
- Do I have separate pages for each location, or at least each city?
- If you only have one location: is my physical address listed on the site?
- Have I created Google, Bing and Yahoo accounts for my business profiles?
- Is the address written exactly the same across all three accounts?
- Have I provided as much information as possible on these accounts?
- Are the search phrases different depending on location?
- Have I thoroughly researched location terminology (i.e. couch vs. sofa)?
- Have I capitalized on my local citation resources (i.e. Yelp, BBB, Chamber of Commerce, HotFrog, etc.)?
- Is the address written exactly the same across these accounts?
If you answered “no” to these questions, you need to create a campaign to turn the answers to “yes”!
Never Enough Time
If you have a lot of pages, products and target areas, you aren’t going to be able to localize the whole site at once. It’s better to focus on a few and take your time making sure everything’s right, than to rush through and risk messing up.
Create a few location-based landing pages and test them. While you’re waiting for results, incorporate tools such as 4Square to add value when people come to your shop. As well, look into QR codes to grow your business. QR codes and mobile use are growing at a fantastic rate; they’re definitely two things to consider for your business.
-And finally, if you’re reading this and thinking, “But I just did such and such for my site… and now I’m supposed to do this, too,” we empathize, sympathize and understand. The day you started your online business presence is the day you stepped into one of the most fast-paced, fastest changing industries ever.
You don’t have to take all the advice given here and on other blogs – in fact, we encourage you to consider what advice actually fits your business. However, with few exceptions, local SEO is one of those things you can’t afford to ignore.