When creating your marketing plan, you may have become familiar with the principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You may even have hired a professional content writer to evaluate your website and tailor it so it ends up at the top of customers’ search results.
But if your business is location-specific, consider focusing on local SEO. Local SEO involves optimizing your website and product descriptions so that it appears in the search results of local users.
Local SEO Explained
Local SEO involves refining traditional SEO strategies to increase your website’s visibility to customers in your area. If you operate a restaurant, a small boutique, or provide a service, local SEO keeps you at the top of the search results within your area rather than focusing on a broad range of internet users.
Google and other search engines determine what to show users based partly on their IP address or their location if they are on a mobile device. If someone is looking for a business in a certain industry like a car repair shop, Google uses their location to direct them to businesses in their area. Oftentimes, results appear on a map with a few other business options. Local SEO increases your chances of being displayed on this map.
Why You Should Use Local SEO
Depending on what your business does and who it serves, many of your customers may be located in a small area. Businesses who depend on local residents to thrive — like restaurants, grocery stores, hair and nail salons, doctors’ offices, and other service providers — are the most likely to benefit from local SEO.
According to Backlinko, 46% of all Google searches are for local businesses and/or local services. The site also reports that 76% of people visit a business within one day of finding it with a smart phone. Making sure that your business is visible to both visitors and locals when they are searching for you on their computer or through a mobile device drives them into your store.
Local SEO lets you:
- Improve your online visibility with area residents and workers
- Drive traffic to your website
- Build links and relationships with other businesses in your area
- Reduce advertising costs by improving visibility
- Attract repeat business
Who Won’t Benefit From Local SEO?
If your business serves customers nationwide, or if you operate exclusively online, then you aren’t likely to benefit from local SEO. If your e-commerce site generates most of your revenue, then you should focus more on traditional SEO, since your customer base can be located anywhere you ship.
Firms offering business-to-business also won’t likely benefit from local SEO, since its purpose is to drive foot traffic and reservations to area companies. If you have a brick-and-mortar store with locations in more than one state, you can still use local SEO to drive traffic to each of your locations, but the process is more complicated. Consider focusing on customer engagement to drive traffic to each of your specific locations.
Local SEO vs. Traditional SEO
Traditional SEO involves increasing your site’s profile in global searches. An SEO strategy is focused on driving traffic from across the nation and even globally to your website. Since Google uses a computer’s IP address or geolocation to determine which results to show to a user, any business will benefit from standard SEO practices.
Traditional SEO uses keywords and phrases to tell Google and other search engines that your site is a quality match for a user’s search. To improve your Google site ranking, SEO factors in other tools that the search engine can use to categorize your business.
- Meta descriptions
- Mobile pages
- Inbound links (backlinks)
- Social media mentions
Each of these items may or may not exist on your site, but they all communicate to Google that your website is a high-quality search result for a keyword or phrase. For example, a meta description is a short phrase that describes something on your website.
If your e-commerce site sells beauty products and you have a blog on your page, your meta description could read: “This blog offers skincare tips and tricks for maintaining a youthful glow.” This phrase not only lets the reader know what is in your blog without clicking on it, it also helps Google determine when to show your website in search results.
Local SEO is developed with the goal of generating foot traffic and increasing visits to a physical business. It is specifically designed with local users and visitors in mind. If you run a restaurant in Chicago, using local SEO will help someone find you by searching for “Best seafood restaurant in Chicago.”
This type of SEO uses features such as maps, Google My Business listings, customer reviews, Yelp listings, and other means that not only direct users to your website but also into your business.
Customers perform local searches when they use a modifier to narrow search results down to a certain location. Your customers can find you by typing in your city or a specific region within your city.
Someone performing a high-level local search might Google “Best Nail Salons in San Francisco.” These searches are typically performed by visitors or people who aren’t familiar with the area or those who aren’t interested in looking at one particular region of the city. A San Francisco resident might conduct the same search using the term “Best Nail Salon in North Beach San Francisco.”
Local searches are also used to contact a business. When a customer is out and about looking for a shop to fix their tire or they want to make a reservation for dinner later in the day, they might use a local search on their phone to find your phone number.
Local SEO for small business lets you claim your company with Google and other search engines, ensuring that your listing is accurate and displays correctly when someone Googles you. You can optimize your search results by making it easier for the Google local algorithm to find your business and show it to people who are searching online.
How the Google Local Algorithm Works
As more people open and close businesses and start websites, the internet becomes more crowded and cluttered. Google regularly updates its algorithms to make sure that the right search results appear with each query. Increased competition makes it harder for search engines to find your business, and using local SEO keeps you on Google’s radar.
There are three components of Google’s algorithm that are used to rank each website as a relevant search result: relevance, proximity, and prominence.
Most traditional SEO strategies involve establishing your site’s relevance. Keywords, phrases, backlinks, content, and other items help Google determine your target audience.
Your seafood restaurant in Chicago should have the words “seafood restaurant” and “Chicago” listed often enough that Google deems your site relevant to a search for “best seafood restaurant in Chicago.” But use keywords sparingly. Stuffing them throughout your website actually decreases your ranking and is a surefire way to relegate your website to page three of the search results.
Prominence refers to how your company measures up to your competitors. Google uses tools like backlinks, articles, social media mentions, reviews, and others to measure your website against similar ones. These items tell the search engine that your website is credible, and they help you appear higher in searches.
Once Google has determined that your website offers a credible and relevant search result, the algorithm will check your proximity to the customer or the person performing the search. This is one of the key components of local SEO, because it helps Google show users businesses that are located nearby.
When someone uses a modifier for a certain city or they are within a city, proximity is determined by location. When someone doesn’t use a modifier, Google and other search engines determine their location based on where they are doing the search. If they are using a cell phone or tablet to search for a restaurant nearby, the phone’s geo-location services are used to display search results.
In order to filter out more spam, Google’s algorithm switched from a 7-pack model to a 3-pack model. Previously, Google would display the top seven search results near a user’s location. If they were looking for a grocery store, their Google map would display seven pins with business listings and phone numbers. Now, search results are limited to the top three locations near a user. Rather than listing a phone number, Google now lists websites and hours of operation.
By switching from the 7-pack to the 3-pack, Google has effectively increased competition for the top search results. Since the 3-pack results are dependent on location, you can’t optimize your website to be included in these results. But focusing on the elements of local SEO can vastly improve your chances of ending up in the 3-pack when someone in your location performs a relevant search.
If you don’t end up in the 3-pack, your business may still end up near the top of the organic search results that are displayed after the top three. Many users still scroll past the top three to find other business, but they rarely navigate away from the first page of results.
Elements of local SEO
Focus on these elements to improve your local SEO.
- Consistent Name Address and Phone Number (NAP) listing
- Google My Business Listing
- Customer reviews
- Content on your page
- User engagement
- Inbound links (or backlinks)
Consistent NAP Listings
Your NAP listings should be the same on your website and outside listings, including Yelp, Google My Business, Yellow Pages, Google Maps, and others. If your business has moved or you have changed your phone number, check all of these sites and look through search engine results to make sure that the correct address and phone number are listed.
If anything in the listing is incorrect, you should be able to claim your listing as the business owner and input the corrected information.
Google My Business
When you’ve signed your lease and are planning your grand opening, sign up for a Google My Business profile. This listing is similar to the Yellow Pages of yesteryear. All you have to do is sign in, claim your business, update your address, phone number, website listing, and hours, and verify that all information submitted is correct.
Pay close attention to your business hours. When someone searches for “Miami restaurants open after 10 pm,” your Google My Business listing makes it easier for the search engine to include you in this query. It also lets people know how long you are open when they find your business in search results. When your business appears, there will be a notification underneath the search result telling customers that you are only open for 20 minutes or that your business is closed for the day, but you open tomorrow at 11 am.
Your listing on Google My Business not only tells Google how to populate Google Maps and other listings, it also makes it easier for customers to review your business.
Along with a map listing, many Google users seek out reviews when researching a business. After a certain number of reviews, Google lists an average rating of your business under your listing. Businesses with more favorable reviews and higher ratings usually end up performing better in search results.
As part of your customer service strategy, you should encourage all of your customers to leave a review, particularly if you know they had an outstanding experience.
If you do come across negative reviews, use the opportunity to respond to the customer and see how you can fix the service failure. Although the internet is home to many trolls who might leave a negative review just because they can, most negative reviews do stem from bad customer service. Make sure that your employees are well trained and encourage consistent customer service. You may even go as far as publishing your customer service goals on your website to hold employees accountable.
Most platforms allow business owners to post to their site as the owner, so you can directly reply to online complaints and negative reviews. Resist the urge to be defensive. Instead, address the comment and either ask how you can fix it or communicate how the situation was resolved. If you can, contact the customer privately and try to resolve the problem offline.
Your on-page content should be written in a way that clearly communicates what your business does and who you serve. Creating content that is specifically directed at people in your area helps improve your SEO and increases your chances of being listed in local searches.
When creating headings and sub-headings on your page, include some geographical tags that makes it easier for search engines to index your site as a local business. Your website might feature a link to a blog post titled “Milwaukee’s premiere sports bar.”
Tailoring your content to the local community not only helps improve your rankings, it also lets you build connections with your customers. If your sports bar in Milwaukee publishes a blog, use it to create some fan appreciation posts within the page.
Along with on-page content, off-page content can be used to improve your local SEO. If you own the Milwaukee sports bar in the previous example, you can tag the customers featured in your fan appreciation posts and encourage them to tag you while they are live tweeting during a game. When a customer or other business mentions you on social media, it creates a social signal, which improves the relevancy of your company on search engines.
Using branded hashtags and engaging with customers through your social media pages helps build your rapport with your customers, while also establishing your business as relevant and credible.
Inbound Links (Backlinks)
Inbound links, or backlinks, are generated when someone references your business and creates a link back to your website on their page. An easy way to create backlinks is to serve as an expert for a local article or to write guest blogs for others.
You can also search the internet for your business to see if there are already backlinks to your website. If you find them, click on them to make sure that they work correctly. If not, contact the owner of the website and ask them to correct the link.
Publishing interesting and engaging content that people want to share improves your chances of generating backlinks. Encourage people to share your content to their social media feeds by adding buttons on your site that people can click to share your content.
Google allows businesses and other websites to buy advertising, which lists their website at the top of search engines. These businesses are tagged as “promoted” so users know that the company has paid to be listed on the first page, and it is a good way to generate traffic to your website.
When advertising on Google, you can use local extensions to promote your company on Google Maps and in other hyper local searches. These extensions allow your location and phone number to be displayed on your ad, making it easier for customers to contact you. Some ads let you include a “call” button which will direct a smart phone to call your company without typing in the number.
Adding local extensions to your Google ads also helps people find your physical location. Along with the call feature, a local extension can be synced with Google Maps or Apple Maps that give people directions to your business.
Local extensions not only display on the map, they also appear under your meta description. The listing will feature a pin that users can click to bring up your location on the map, or they can just navigate to your site directly to check out your menu before searching for your location.
Optimizing Your Local SEO
Start your local SEO optimization by searching for yourself online. Check your listing with Google, Apple, Yelp, Bing, Trip Advisor, Yellow Pages, and other sources people use to search for local businesses. Make sure that they are all correct and consistent. If your address, phone number, and business hours aren’t included on your website, add a contact page with this information.
After your listings are updated, use several keywords and phrases to search for your business and see how you stack up. If you’re not appearing in local search results, start looking through your on-page content to see where you can add hyperlocal references and keywords. Headings and sub-headings are good locations to add local detail without interrupting the flow of your site. Check these and even your URLs to improve local SEO.
If your website is not optimized for mobile devices, make it your top priority. Potential customers are likely using their phones or other mobile devices to find you, and if they can’t navigate your website with their phone, they might not visit your store.
Start engaging with people on your website and on your social media feeds. Publish content that is relevant to your local audience, and make it easy for others to share. Posting blogs, videos, social media contests, and other content not only drives people to your website, it also tells Google and other search engines that your site is credible for relevant queries.
There are many factors that contribute to successful local SEO. But the process doesn’t have to be daunting. Research your business online the way a customer would to find areas in which you can improve your local SEO. Or hire an agency to conduct an SEO audit and ask them to include local SEO as part of the project.
Once you have nailed the process, more customers can find you online and in person, contributing to your success.