- Optimizing your titles
- Optimizing your web pages meta description
- Being listed on Google Local 3-Pack and Google Maps
- Setting up your Google My Business page
- Adding quality content to your website
- Writing local content
- Encouraging customers to leave reviews
- Networking both online and offline with other local businesses
- Ensuring you have citations and you are in the online business directories listings
- Ensuring your website is mobile friendly and optimized for mobile devices
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search Engine Land defines search engine optimization as the "process of getting traffic from the 'free,' 'organic,' 'editorial' or 'natural'" search results on search engines." In other words, by adjusting a webpage's on-page SEO elements and influencing off-page SEO factors, you can improve where a webpage appears on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Depending on your source, Google holds anywhere from 92% market share worldwide to 93% of the search market between all their properties. And according to Statista, between Q3 of 2013 and Q4 of 2020, mobile searches have increased to over 60% of all organic search engine visits in the United States. As of January 2021, Google has 93.22% of the mobile search market, with Yahoo/Bing at 3.94% and DuckDuckGo at 2.65%. (Statista: Market share of selected leading mobile search providers in the United States)
All the search engines work similarly through the use of an algorithm. An algorithm by definition is "a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer." The Google algorithm is about as secret as the formula for Coca-Cola. In other words, we don't know what all goes into it. What we do know is that it is constantly changing!
Want proof? Here are four pages dedicated to tracking the Google algorithm and its changes:
The Google Bot
Before we dive into our ten best practices for local SEO, let's first understand how Google searches the web. Google uses a software program called a robot or the Google bot. Its job is to constantly go out and search the web for new information. This is one reason having fresh content on your site is so important. Also, following specific formats makes it easier for the bot to understand the context of your website and your page.
It's all about context
Before we go any further, we have to ensure that you know and understand that Google cares more about the web site's context and your website pages than anything else. You can have the most beautiful site in the world, sites linking to you, and technically optimized perfectly, but Google still won't show you on the SERPs. The bottom line is that if Google doesn't understand what you do, then it is hard for them to know when and where to show you on the SERPs for their users' searches. You must have rich and engaging content! When that happens, you have a better chance of your website performing well.
Local SEO is much more competitive
These days local SEO is much more competitive than it was just a few years ago. Depending on your geographical location and what your competition is doing will determine how competitive both online and off.
If you are a local small business owner or work for a local small business, then having a basic understanding of what local SEO is and the changing environment is essential.
Here are our top ten ways to successfully manage and rank better in local SEO searches:
1. Optimize your titles
Not to put any pressure on you, but your website page's headline or title is your first shot at getting a searcher to click and visit your page from the SERPs. Therefore you will want to craft and optimize this first.
You have approximately 50-60 characters to catch the searcher's attention. Here are a few things you might want to include:
- Main keyword(s) of the page
- Type of Service
- Area Service
- Name of business (if it's not in your URL)
You will also want to be readable and logical. Google is getting smarter every day, and the more human-sounding, the better off you will be in the long run.
2. Optimize your webpages meta description
A meta description is simply the description of the context of a page. While one would think that they affect your website ranking, fortunately they don’t. However they will affect the relevance of your website for certain keywords searchers might use. It is about anticipating potential clients’ needs when searching for businesses like yours.
You have approximately 160 to 200 characters, therefore, take advantage of this space and use it wisely!
Writing descriptions and titles could be considered more art than anything else when it comes to SEO. If it helps you can think about them as “mini-ads” that you need to carefully craft. However unlike and ad you don’t want to be pitchy, but informative.
Here are some tips on writing good meta descriptions:
- Focus on your prospects problem
- Be sure to say your business’s solution
- Talk about the outcome of your service
- Space is precious, never waste space, keep it clean and tight.
- To reach searchers looking for local information, include the name of the city your business is in and/or the area your business serves.
- Focus on using one targeted keyword and carefully place that keyword as close to the beginning of the tag as you can.
If you want some more information on good meta descriptions take a look at this post from Dan Shure at Evolving SEO entitled 15 Meta Description Examples & How To Master.
Remember, if your business shows up in the search results, you have one shot to get that person to click on your link. Don’t blow it by wasting characters that won’t help convince a searcher you’re worth looking at.
3. Google Local 3-Pack and Google Maps
When users search for local information oftentimes the SERPs will include a “map pack,” local pack, or 3-pack. No matter what you refer to it as, you want your business to show up here as Google is including the top 3 businesses that are relevant to the search.
This allows local businesses a chance to show up twice on the SERPs, once in the organic search results and the second time in the local map pack. A map pack differs from organic results by showcasing the company’s hours, reviews and photos if available.
Google Maps (both the app and desktop and mobile web versions) is intended to help those looking for directions as well as to discover businesses and locations. Think of it as the new Yelp, without the overly aggressive advertising reps.
This begs the question of how do you ensure that you are showing up in these areas. This is where Google My Business comes in.
4. Set up your Google My Business page
From your local coffee shop to restaurants or service area businesses, ensuring your Google My Business page is set up correctly is critical for any local business. It is completely free to claim your Google My Business account. In doing so, your business will show up in Google local search results, Google Maps, and Google Search Knowledge Panel. Photos are a great way to allow the customer to get a good feel for what your unique business has to offer.
If you need some help claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing, take a look at 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: A Deep Dive Into Google My Business blog post and video. They will take you step by step through how to claim and set up and optimize your Google My Business listing. If you need help contact us, we help small business claim and set up their GMB listings for FREE.
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5. Add quality content to your website
Once you get a user to your website, you want to reward them with answers to their questions. You will need to feed Google with content. As previously mentioned, the Google bot is always on the hunt for content.
Ideal forms of content can be:
- Pillar pages
- Landing pages
- Geographic landing pages
Whatever type of content you choose, you will want to structure the page to make sense to the reader. Use headlines and headline tags (h1, h2, and h3) to help make the text skimmable. You can and should use keywords in your headlines as well.
In the body copy, you want to include keywords in a natural and human-readable fashion. In other words, don't keyword stuff. Google is way smarter than that!
6. Write local content
If you want to compete locally or in a specific geographic area, you must generate content with a local spin on your website. If you are a small business that targets a geographic area, you need to have content that not only says what you do but where you do it in those areas.
Here are a couple of tips to help:
- List local landmarks in your area. These are things that don't move or are critical, such as town/city halls, courthouses, parks, lakes, and rivers.
- Avoid other businesses. While it is tempting to help your friend's business out by mentioning it, you aren't doing yourself a lot of favor, especially since they have relocated three times.
While people like to give recommendations on how many words a page should have, I believe it needs to be long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep it interesting. In other words, don't try to stretch out your content just to fill space but don't cut yourself off if you need to explain something in more detail. But on average, I would shoot for 800 to 1,500 words with 200-500 words focusing on the area you want to service. If you have multiple locations or a wide service area, you need to have content around each area. For example, if you have three main services and two larger cities or towns in it, you would want to have at least six content pieces. Each one would cover the geographic area and the service.
7. Encourage customers to leave reviews
Online reviews are extremely important for local small businesses. According to BrightLocal's Local Consumer Review Survey for 2020, "Consumers are most likely to look at Google My Business for local business reviews" and "93% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year (2020), with 34% searching every day". Not only do online reviews correlate with higher local rankings, but positive reviews also help you gain clients' (and potential clients') trust.
It seems to be part of human nature to let others know about a poor experience. Therefore people will often leave a negative review rather than a positive one. For example, we have a client who specializes in bankruptcy cases. As you might imagine, the firm doesn't get many positive reviews since people don't want to air out their personal business in such a public way.
All businesses, regardless of the size, should respond to both positive and negative reviews within two business days, ideally within 24 hours.
...there’s no real distinction in consumers’ perceptions of businesses responding to ‘positive’ versus ‘negative’ reviews. 69% say they are more likely to use a business that has responded to their positive reviews, while 70% are more likely to use a business that responds to negative reviews. No matter the sentiment of the feedback, consumers want to see that the business cares.
With the client, as mentioned earlier, we have seen that simply responding to their negative reviews has helped turn lower star ratings into higher ones. In the least, it lets people who are looking for bankruptcy services know that they care about their reputation.
A word of caution regarding reviews
Whatever you do, do not offer incentives for clients to leave reviews or buy reviews. Not only is this illegal (see FTC Stops Automobile Shipment Broker from Misrepresenting Online Reviews), but it is against the terms and conditions of any of the review sites. The bottom line is don't tempt fate. If the FTC doesn't catch you, you will be highly likely to be caught by Google or any of the other review sites.
You will also not want to ask for reviews from all of your clients at one time. Think about how it would look to you if all of a sudden a business got 30 reviews in less than a week when they had none previously?
Reasons you don't want to do it:
- It doesn't look natural to prospects or the review sites
- You risk getting them suppressed or even removed if they appear suspicious to the review sites.
What can you do? Ask for a review!
There are several reputation management platforms you can use to track, manage and proactively try to get reviews. Here are some to check out:
8. Network both online and offline with other local businesses
Get to know your fellow business owners through professional organizations, local chambers of commerce, leads, and referral networking groups.
Consider following local businesses' social media channels and like, share and comment on their posts. Most are likely to reciprocate, and adding to others' discussions can help you reach new people.
9. Citations and online business directories listings
Have you ever heard of the word citations used in the context of the internet? Chances are you may not have. To clear up any confusion, a citation is when another website (such as an online directory) mentions your name, address, phone number, and/or website. According to Google, roughly four out of five consumers use search engines to conduct local searches. Yet many small businesses have yet to claim even one local business listing online.
You must get your business listed correctly and consistently on top of online business directories such as Citysearch, Yelp, MerchantCircle, Foursquare, Yelp, Google My Business, and others. You will also want to find other respectable local directories to get your business listed on. Good places to start are local news outlets, TV, radio, newspapers, and your Chamber of Commerce.
NAP (Name, Address, and Phone number)
When it comes to your NAP, you won't want to catch 40 winks with your Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP), ensuring that this information about a business is correct across as many online business directories and other citations sites as possible. Discrepancies like lack of suite number, abbreviations, misspellings, and wrong phone numbers can create havoc! You run the risk of displaying incorrect information or not showing your business at all in search results.
At the risk of sounding trivial, but you need to make sure that the contact page has your name, address, phone number (NAP) listed correctly on your website. Google will start with your website as it should be the most authoritative place and the foundation for your local business marketing.
To ensure that things are correct, you can try to search for local directories, use this list of local business directories from HubSpot, or a service that will help you automate it:
The bottom line is you have to make sure that your name, address, and phone number appear the same on all listings as it does on your website.
10. Ensure your website is mobile friendly and optimized for mobile devices
Unless you have been living under a rock or in quarantine for too long, we are now living in a mobile-first world. According to an article from Think With Google, there are more searches on mobile than on desktop. In another post from Think With Google, they state that "75% of smartphone users expect to get immediate information while using their smartphone." Even back in 2015, Google started penalizing websites that were not mobile-friendly, referred to as Mobilegeddon. And if 2020 didn't usher in enough change, Google started rolling out their mobile-first indexing. What that means is that when the Google bot crawls the web and looks at sites, it is doing so from a mobile-first perspective. In other words, think of the Google bot crawling your site on the phone rather than a desktop computer.
With mobile being so prevalent, Google has developed a mobile-friendly website tester that you can run your site through to see how it fares.
There you have it, the ten best practices to successfully manage and rank better in local SEO searches. One note of caution, while we at Cube Creative Design love local SEO, it is not a silver bullet. Local SEO is but one part of a much larger puzzle (maybe the sides and corners) that needs to be assembled to be found online and helping your business grow.
If you are a small business and looking to help grow your business with local SEO, then reach out to us. We will be happy to help advise and guide you through the process.