Ranking well in local search results is one of the most important things a small business can do to succeed in today’s fast-paced mobile market. As more and more people perform searches on their smartphones and tablets, and Google continues to refine its personalized search results to prominently display items of local interest, local search engine optimization (SEO) is critical.
Is this a job a small business owner can take on herself? Probably not. SEO at any level is complex and ever-evolving, and the general recommendation is that it’s better left to the professionals. That said, in this article, we’re going to explore all the steps we take when optimizing our clients’ sites for local search.
Step One – Cleaning Up Dirty Data
Citations – listings of your business in various local directories like YellowPages, SuperPages, Manta, Yelp, and others – provide basic information about your business. Sometimes these are profiles you may have set up yourself; sometimes the information is collected from other websites or resources. Regardless, it’s important to make sure that your NAP data (Name, Address, and Phone) is accurate everywhere it appears. Otherwise, you’re sending mixed signals to Google, which could result in penalties against your site or a failure to rank in your city or town.
After review, it’s time to correct any inaccuracies that turn up. We like to use local search data aggregators to do this, as contacting each and every misinformed directory could take days. Our favorite companies for quick updates are:
Step Two – If You Build It, They Will Come
The more citations you have, the more likely it is that potential customers will be able to find you. In addition, a plethora of consistent listings will increase your site’s reputation with Google. That’s why we recommend consistently increasing your profiles on local search sites and industry-specific directories all the time. New sites are always coming out, and it’s important to stay informed and get listed.
However, citations aren’t something to approach with reckless abandon. Each directory has a reputation of its own, and part of that reputation is passed along to your business when they list you. Quantity is important – especially when it comes to the major players – but don’t forgo quality when getting listed. If a directory looks spammy, isn’t user-friendly, or otherwise seems suspicious, don’t sign up.
When looking for respected resources on which to place your citations, don’t forget the Better Business Bureau (BBB.org) or your local Chamber of Commerce, along with other area or industry specific listings. General Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) are a great place to start when building your local search profile, but some narrower directories can also provide high-quality listings since they give Google a better idea of what your business has to offer. For example, a listing on Washington.org reinforces to Google that you’re located in or near Washington D.C., while a listing on ProfessionalWebDesignDirectory.com tells the search engine that your company provides website design services. These area and industry specific directories can be harder to find, but the citations are definitely worthwhile!
Step Three – Make Your Site the Best
You can get listed all over the web – and you should. But it’s also important to make sure that your own site is top-notch. When it comes to being relevant in today’s search environment, this means creating a website that is not only technologically great but also offers a great user experience. User experience web design makes it so that when someone visits your site, they have an easy time navigating from page to page to uncover the information they need.
Of course, make your site beautiful, but also consider functionality. For local SEO, this means making good use of title and image tags, headers, descriptions, and text (all things we consider for nationally optimized sites, too). It also means providing as much local content as possible – things like city or town specific pages, testimonials from local customers, and images that show your business is active and involved in your community.
Local blogs are also helpful when it comes to connecting your business to potential clients and customers. Not only will maintaining a local blog give you the opportunity to feature cities and projects in the area where you’re doing business, but it will also provide information to local users.
Finally, make sure that your site is optimized for mobile. Smartphones and tablets have all but taken over the local search market, and users are quick to click away from sites that don’t display properly on their devices. Responsive web design is the best way to go to achieve this goal, since a responsive website automatically adjusts to any screen size.
Step Four – Link Building is Still In Fashion
Of all the changing aspects of both local and broad-based search optimization, link building tactics change the most. Today, exchanging (or worse, buying) links isn’t an option when it comes to healthy SEO. Instead, we like to think of link-building as a side-effect of good marketing. Publish content people to want to read, get involved in your community, network with others, and the links will come. Here are some examples of great ways to get backlinks without buying, spamming others, or otherwise damaging your SEO efforts:
- Run a contest. A giveaway is a great way to get people talking about your business.
- Host an event. Publish details about your event on local calendars, promote it with press releases, and then get out there and make it great.
- Help out a charity. We shouldn’t donate to a charitable cause for our own benefit, but businesses can benefit from increased publicity, backlinks, and social “bonuses” when they get involved in a cause.
- Network with local bloggers. Active bloggers are always looking for something to write about. When you network with the bloggers in your area and impress them with your company’s offerings, you can bet they’ll want to write about you!
- Create coupons. Give discounts to members of local or national organizations, and those organizations are likely to promote your offer with a link on their site.
All of these tactics have been part of traditional marketing since the dawn of time, and as search engines have become “smarter” at recognizing lazy or unethical link –building tactics, it’s these authentic methods that we can count on for SEO!
Step Five – Respond to Reviews
The internet makes it extremely easy for dissatisfied customers to vent their exasperation when your business fails to live up to expectations. While you can’t control what these people write about you, you can do your best to respond in a constructive way when they say something negative. Reputation management can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort to show others that your company takes criticism seriously and wants to resolve any customer complaints.
On the other hand, the internet also makes it easy for happy customers to write rave reviews about your products and services. You can increase your local search rankings by having lots of positive reviews on sites like Yelp, Manta, and Foursquare, so make sure to encourage satisfied customers to share their feedback.
Bad reviews can sink a business, but positive ones can have the opposite effect. We know that consumers trust online reviews almost as much as they trust a recommendation from a friend, so don’t be shy about asking your customers to review your business.
Step Six – Don’t Forget About Paid Options
Paying for advertising on Google, Yahoo, or Bing isn’t going to improve your organic search rankings, but it will help you reach a customer base quickly and efficiently. With fluctuating organic rankings a problem everyone faces these days, paid search ads can help you stay on top and steadily attract new customers.
Of course, paid advertising doesn’t begin and end with Google. Not only is Bing an affordable option for PPC ads, but many IYPs also offer pay-per-click placement, as do popular social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Consider your audience and the potential traffic you stand to gain when evaluating PPC campaigns.
Step Seven – Report and Reevaluate
Like many SEO-related efforts, the last step in dominating local search is an on-going one. You will always need to track and report on your strategies in order to see what’s working and what can be improved. This data will allow you to make smarter decisions, over time building up the options that are working, reducing the ones that aren’t, or tweaking your overall strategy to improve performance. Even the best SEO doesn’t get it right the first time – it takes reporting and reevaluation to achieve the best results.
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