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You probably already know the importance of using SEO to boost brand awareness and drive web traffic. And on-page is one of the most prevalent examples of SEO. However, placing the entire focus on on-page SEO misses one critical element, especially for companies with a geo-specific audience: the importance of local and whether you’re hitting the most important local SEO ranking factors.
What is Local SEO?
When most people think “SEO”, what they’re actually thinking about is optimizing for universal search (excellent article about universal search). They often think of search snippets, with title tags and meta descriptions, or putting the right keywords in the right places on a page.
All of those have positive benefits; after all local SEO is about 97% the same actions as universal. Yet, the 3% that isn’t the same often makes 100% of the difference.
Local SEO, much like “regular” SEO, is a process that helps a website’s visibility in search engines. The goal of local SEO is to help your local business attract more customers from your local area by targeting specific geographic locations. For example, if you’re a stylist in the Bay area, local SEO is for you; you need clients from the surrounding area – not the West Coast.
Local search provides business owners with two ranking possibilities in Google’s search results: Local Organic and Local Map Pack. You want your business to show up in both.
The Local Pack includes the list of businesses meeting the search term and an accompanying map that shows the physical location of these businesses. The Local Pack is the sweet spot – the top three spaces on a map. In fact, on searches where the local map shows, the #1 local position gets about 44% of the clicks. And that 44% converts at a 500% conversion rate!
Local Organic is the regular results you get when searching a local term. Local organic search will show businesses under headings like “Top 5 coffee shops in San Francisco” or whatever the user needs along with a clickable listing of your company name. In other words, it “localizes” the results to help customers find products and services in their area. These are the clickable blue links that customers can use to learn more about your company when they search for things like “dentists near me” or “restaurants in San Francisco”
Your Local SEO Strategies
With local organic, you’ll still want to take care of your on-page. Website content and customer experience still matter. Yet, local businesses have a few extra steps. If you only optimize for on-page SEO, you’re missing an entire swath of potential brand awareness opportunities because Google’s web crawlers are only able to glimpse part of the picture.
Beyond on-page, local SEO involves optimizing your online presence in business directories, such as Google My Business, Yelp, and Bing Places, as well as local online directories such as SFGate’s business listings. This includes providing accurate and consistent business information like name, address, phone number (NAP), opening hours, and customer reviews.
Additionally, local SEO strategies may involve creating localized content, obtaining local backlinks, and engaging with the local community through social media platforms and online forums. The goal is to build credibility and authority for your business within the Bay area, making it more visible to potential customers who are searching for products or services here.
By implementing effective local SEO strategies, you can improve your online visibility, increase website traffic, attract more local customers, and ultimately grow your business within your target geographical area. It’s a must for community-based, brick-and-mortar businesses as well as online businesses with multiple service areas.
Local SEO Ranking Factors: The 3%
As we mentioned further up, local SEO has a lot of similarities to universal, but where it differs is huge. One such difference is the use of a Google Business Profile (GBP).
Ultimately, Google uses a combination of the following three factors: relevance, distance, and prominence.
Relevance: how well your GBP matches what someone is searching for. If someone is searching for a Bay Area dentist, and you’re a landscaper, your profile shouldn’t be showing.
Distance: how close your result is from the person searching. If your beauty salon is in San Mateo and your searcher is in San Francisco, a salon in SF is more likely to show than your own.
Prominence: how well-known your business is. Google uses factors such as inbound links, articles, and review count. It also checks how high up you’re ranking in local organic, so you can’t leave on-page SEO undone.
You can’t do anything about distance unless you plan on opening a chain of locations. That’s a whole other article. You can, however, do something about relevance and prominence.
Start With Your Google Business Profile
According to Whitespark’s annual report on local SEO, the top ranking factor for Local Pack is your GBP. Just building and optimizing your GBP alone can take time, starting with verifying your business.
There are several areas you can optimize on your Google Business Profile to improve your relevance and prominence:
- Verify your location by going through the Google verification process. Failing to do so will prevent your profile from showing. Keep in mind that you will need to provide Google with a proper physical address. They don’t accept PO boxes or UPS mailboxes as acceptable address forms. This part can be hidden from customers if there’s a reason not to make it publicly available, such as having a home-based business. Make sure to add a service area as a radius or by listing specific towns and communities served.
- Complete your business profile with location information and user intent in mind. This should include listing your products or services and specific service areas.
- List your hours of operation and keep this information up to date
- Choose the right business categories. There are currently more than 4,000 categories, and you can choose more than one. However, choose your categories carefully, as this is part of what provides Google with the relevance signal. For example, a jewelry store might use “Jewelers” as a main category and then supplement it with “jewelry cleaning” and “watch repair”.
- Select proper attributes. You want to create an emotional connection with prospective customers, and attributes help you accomplish that. Attributes are descriptors that tell customers who they’re dealing with, such as a veteran- or woman-owned business. Pick all that could apply to you and resonate with users.
- Link to a location-specific page on your site. Especially if you have multiple locations, a location-specific page can help Google understand how far out to mark your business as “within the proper distance”. For example, if you have a jewelry store in Sacramento and a store in San Francisco, you should have a local page for each on your site. Your Sacramento GBP should link to your Sacramento local page on your site and so on.
- Manage and respond to reviews. Not only does this help you as a local search ranking factor, but reviews also act as a measure of customer satisfaction. The key for reviews to help with ranking, however, is to have them come in steadily rather than in bursts. In other words, having 3 or 4 reviews steadily per week is better than 20 all at once and then silence for a month.
Continue With On-Page SEO
Design your pages according to standard on-page SEO best practices, but optimize for local search as well. One way to do this is to include your target county, city, or state in your web copy. “Bay Area Mineral Spa – Barb’s Bodacious Bods”, is a good example, but be precise. Your titles should cover what you offer first, then your location, and both before your brand (unless it makes sense to include the brand first).
As a local company, your website should have location-specific pages that talk about your services and/or products. Throughout the site, you should include your name, address, and phone number (NAP) for your locations. This information should be up-to-date, cross-linked, and consistent anywhere you list your business, including all of your social media profiles.
You should also include Schema structured data markup. Structured data not only further helps search engines understand your site, but it also helps provide rich additions to your search snippets, such as ratings, FAQs, and breadcrumbs.
Step Up with Social Proof
Social proof is one of the main ways of establishing brand trust and authority. People trust products more if they are recommended by someone they trust.
In addition to completing your Google business profile, which includes space for customer testimonials, claim or create a business listing on Yelp, Facebook, Bing Places, and other consumer or industry review sites.
Automate notifications so you’ll know when a customer leaves a review or mention, and respond to these immediately. From a customer service perspective, it’s especially important to address any negative mentions or reviews. This supports transparency and builds trust when customers can see the importance you place on customer satisfaction.
The importance of local SEO for Bay Area businesses can’t be overstated. It helps Google make sense of your content and helps customers find the services they need.
However, not all business owners have the time or the know-how to optimize for local SEO. That’s why it pays to reach out to an SEO specialist at Level343. With 60+ years of combined experience, we know how to help your local business succeed online.