Do you remember the days when choosing a local business was all about picking what was close by, what a friend told you about, or what you could find in the yellow pages? Remember when you didn’t have to take into account the bias of what a Local SEO Agency guided you to choose? That thick phone book really came in handy when you needed a business, the likes of which you hadn’t worked with before. You’d thumb through the list and pick one based off of how close to you they were, or whichever one’s name sounded the most appealing.
Thankfully for most of us, times have changed. Choosing a great business to provide you with a product or service is now something that can be researched online and carefully picked based on whatever factors are most important to you, such as reviews, ratings, recommendations and location.
If you’re a local business, you have to both be present and stand out in online searches in your area. To do that, you absolutely need local SEO services.
What is Local SEO?
In general, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of using a variety of both on-page and off-page tactics to grow the number of visitors to your site, bringing in more conversions and leads and/or sales. Local SEO is the same thing, but focuses on a local area, such as a city.
For instance, let’s say you’re a plumber in Portland, OR. Ideally, someone in need of a plumber in Portland would open Google, type in “Portland OR plumber” and find you right there. A local SEO agency works on making that happen for you.
Anatomy of a Local Search Results Page
When you perform a local search, the results you see can be divided up into a few different sections. Let’s go back to our Portland, OR plumber example and search for a local plumber.
The first thing you see is called the Local Services ads:
These ads put advertisers through background checks in order to be “Google Guaranteed”. These ads won’t show up for all local searches – only those for these specific local services:
- Auto glass services
- Carpet cleaning services
- Cleaning services
- General contractors
- Garage door services
- HVAC (heating or air conditioning)
- Roadside assistance
If you’re in any of these vocations, Local Services Ads are a great way to show up at the very top of search results.
Next, you’ll see the regular PPC ads:
These ads are paid for and run via Google AdWords.
After the ads, you’ll see what’s called the Local Pack:
Securing a spot in the top three results in the local pack can be ridiculously awesome for any local business. Being one of these top three listings gets you a lot more visibility and puts you at the top of the page, without having to pay to get there. As a local business, this is the ultimate spot to get listed.
Below the local pack, you’ll find the regular organic search results:
In our example here, one of the plumbers, 3 Mountains Plumbing, comes up both in the local pack and high in the organic search results, making them more visible than their competitors (in the local and organic search results).
Now, there’s one more piece of the local search puzzle that’ll come up if we search a specific plumber. Let’s go with 3 Mountains Plumbing:
This is called the Knowledge Panel. Much of the information is pulled from the business’s Google My Business profile, and it comes up to the right of the list of results when searching for their name (and was in the Local Pack we saw earlier). In it, you can see their address, contact information, website, reviews, and location on the map. If they were working with a savvy local SEO agency, you might also see links to their social media profiles in their listing.
Elements of a Successful Local SEO Campaign
A local SEO campaign is made up of multiple components. When working with a local SEO agency, they’ll work on each of these elements (plus more) to get you as much visibility in your local area as possible. To be highly visible, you want to be in as many of the above sections as possible. If you’re not on the first page of results, you’re just not going to get the calls and leads/sales you need.
To get on that first page of results and make it into the Local Pack, you’ll need to perform a combination of all of the following local SEO components.
The very first thing you need to be aware of in local SEO is the importance of NAP consistency. NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone number, and you need to keep it consistent across every site your business is listed on. The NAP in the footer of your website needs to match what’s on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and any other website you’re listed on. When Google’s algorithm is deciding whether or not to rank you for any given search, if it finds inconsistent addresses for your business, it might just decide that that’s too confusing and keep you lower in the search results.
Build Out Your Google My Business Listing
Claiming and building out your Google My Business listing is the first thing you should do in any local SEO campaign. Add your logo, images, and video, and keep it updated with weekly posts. All of this information will help your local visibility and will be displayed in the Knowledge Panel in a branded search (searching for your name directly).
The Knowledge Panel will display your social media profiles, if you follow the directions Google gives in their Google My Business Help area. You’ll need to use structured data on your website to tell Google which social profiles belong to your business.
Filling out your Google My Business listing will also give you a better chance of making it into the Local Pack. Google uses a lot more data than just how filled out your profile is when it picks who to display in the Local Pack, but it really can’t hurt. Plus, it makes your branded searches look great!
Get More Reviews
Part of building out your Google My Business listing and running any kind of local search campaign should also include getting more reviews. According to a 2017 survey by Bright Local, 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from a friend. The same survey found that positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more. Clearly, having positive online reviews will mean more calls and more leads. If your competitors have better ratings, you will lose business to them.
Getting more positive reviews and building up your ratings on the review sites that are the most influential in your industry has to be included in any local SEO campaign. If you have poor reviews, it won’t really matter how great your rankings are – you’ll still lose business to competitors with good reviews.
Of course, no matter the industry you’re in, your reviews and ratings on Google are very influential. Although Google does display reviews from other websites, if someone is using Google to perform a search, the Google reviews are the first glimpse they’re going to get of your rating. Make sure it’s a good one to increase your chances of getting that phone call or lead.
Build Online Citations
Online citations are mentions of your business (your NAP) across the web. Citations are different from links, though. Whereas building links is more about creating links to your website on relevant industry sites, building citations is about creating mentions of your business’s name, address and phone number across the web. These listings might include a link to your website, but are usually nofollow links. Examples of websites you’d see citations on would be YellowPages, FourSquare, MapQuest, Angie’s List, and Manta.
Perform On-Page Optimization
On-page optimization is an incredibly important piece of any local SEO campaign. If you’re a plumber in Portland, your website needs to say you’re a plumber in Portland on every page. A local SEO agency can help you determine which keywords to use and help you optimize your content for them.
Every page should have an optimized title, meta description, URL, header, and page content. Your address and phone number must also be clearly displayed and easily read on your site (again, for NAP consistency). Of course, too many instances of “Portland OR plumber” can start to look spammy, so make sure you’re optimizing each page, but not keyword stuffing.
Each page should be optimized for one specific keyword or keyword phrase. For instance, if you’re a plumber in Portland and one of the services you offer is hot water heater tune-ups, that service page on your site should have “Portland OR water heater tune-ups” and “plumber” included in and mixed throughout the meta title, description, headings, and content.
Social Media Marketing
Social media can have a big influence on local visibility. Keep your profiles updated and active across the platforms you have, and consider at least claiming and building out any that you don’t. Social profiles are a great opportunity for you to list your NAP and other information about your business. Be careful here, though – you don’t want to set up a social profile and then abandon it. If you should be contacted by or reviewed by someone on a social network that you’re not checking, more people could see that you’re unresponsive, giving you a negative presence there.
Create Great Content
A local business should have local content on its website. Have a strategy in place for adding content to your website on a regular basis, and keep a good chunk of it targeted toward and optimized for the local audience. Keeping a blog is a fantastic way to continue adding local content and keywords to your site. You can use the blog to write about keywords you’re working on ranking for to add another instance of them to your site, supporting your main page for that product, service, or other element of your business.
Instead of writing about whatever comes to mind, use keyword research to inform your content strategy. Which keywords are you on the cusp of ranking for? Which ones are you not showing up for at all? Which core services or products are you ranking for, but you can write about to keep anchoring? Use a strategy, not a throw-things-at-the-wall style.
As a local business, you should be very aware of how you look on mobile. The percentage of searches performed on a mobile device continues rising, and for local businesses, can be a make-it or break-it situation. Especially if you serve customers at your location, you need to be both visible in mobile search and easy to find.
On top of that, Google says it will soon switch to a mobile-first index, meaning its algorithm will calculate the rankings based off of mobile websites and mobile searches. A couple things you can do to make sure you’re prepared:
Test Your Website with Google’s Mobile Friendly Test
Run your homepage and a content page through Google’s mobile friendly test. How does it stack up? Does Google give you any tips on things to fix? If so, work on those. If not, great! Your site works on mobile. However, do not skip the second part of working on your mobile presence!
Give Mobile Users What They Want
It’s time to think critically about mobile content. What do people who are on their mobile phones want from your site, that maybe desktop users don’t? What kind of content are searchers likely looking for in your industry when they’re on their phones? What questions are they asking? What do they need in their local area? Answer all of these questions with your content.
That’s it! Local search has a lot of moving parts, and hiring a local SEO agency is often the best way to make sure your site is visible in local searches.