Local SEO for Small Business
Many local business owners often question the validity of online marketing strategies. After all, where is the sense in spending time and resources in marketing your business to strangers online, when you have a solid customer base that recognizes it as an established presence on the high street?
This attitude may have made the cut 10 years ago, but times have changed, as has online marketing. In the past, online marketing and SEO have been the tools of large corporations who needed to appeal to national audiences, but there are now countless reasons why digital marketing is not only useful, but essential, for local and small business owners. So, it’s time to start seriously considering an online element to your business’s marketing strategy – the trouble is knowing where to start.
To help you make the transition into the digital space, we have put together a short guide to help you identify the main methods of local digital marketing, so you too can start reaping the benefits.
Local SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)
When performing a geographically specific query, search engines such as Google endeavors to return businesses that are local to that area, and not websites that rank well for the search terms nationally.
The best way to start your business ranking amongst localised search results is to create a local page on all of the major search engines. This is a relatively simple process that involves inputting your businesses information to populate your profile page – you don’t even need a website!
Once your page is created, your business will appear in the local section of the SERPs. Have a look at the example below:
In this instance the search term is “Butchers in Sidcup”. As you can see, Google returned two local butchers at the top of their results page above more authoritative sites, such as yell.com. This makes it possible for smaller, local businesses to compete with industry heavyweights online.
It’s safe to assume that Carnivore Foods Ltd are fairly established as Sidcup butchers, and have feasibly spent time optimising their business website, as it appears first in the natural results. However, it is still possible for Mason KC to also appear amongst these results with no need for SEO techniques, by simply listing their business in the local section of Google.
Local competition for the search term “Butchers in Sidcup” is fairly low in this example, and there are a number of factors that you can consider, to determine how competitive the local section of a SERP is for your business and sector, including:
- How local the search is. If you consider the number of butchers in Sidcup, compared to the number of butchers in the city of London, you can see how the level of competition can quickly change from area to area.
- The industry that you operate in. For example, coffee shops are ten a penny, so chances are you will have a lot of competition in this industry. However, it’s unlikely that a left handed shop will have much local competition.
- The tech savvy-ness of the industry. You would anticipate that the owner of a computer repair store would be more in tune with the importance of Google Search than a sandwich shop, for example. However, this is an assumption and may not always be the case.
If competition in your area is tough and you find yourself struggling to appear competitively in the local SERPs, there are a number of steps that you can take to optimise your local business page, such as:
- Photos – Populating your local page with photos, both of the interior and exterior of your business, is a good way to optimise your page.
- Information – Make sure that you provide a good amount of useful information about your business, such as opening times, phone numbers and an address to help customers understand more about your business.
- Categorisation – Make sure your business is properly categorised to make your page is as relevant as possible to searches.
Unlike an all-out SEO strategy, which could take months to implement, these are fairly simple changes that will take a few moments to apply and they could improve your online business success rating.
If your business has a website, it’s possible to optimise the pages on the site to improve how well you rank in local search. There are a number of steps that you can take, all of which will indicate to search engines not only what your business does, but also the specific areas that you operate in.
Some techniques that you may want to consider implementing for your own business’s website include:
- Optimise your content. Stuffing your content full of keywords is thought of as outdated SEO, but this doesn’t mean that Google (and other search engines) aren’t paying attention to the keywords that you’re using. Ensure you have a page written, not just for all of your services and products, but also pages that target the surrounding geographical areas that you operate in. For example, a brick layer in London’s Camden Borough may also want to target more specific areas within Camden, such as Holborn, Bloomsbury and Hampstead Heath.
- Headers and Titles. Another way that search engines can understand where your business operates is through the title tags and page headers that you use. It’s not uncommon to see a website use the same title tags across the whole website; however you should look to customise these depending on what the page in question is about. For a local website, you should also include your area of operation in all of your title tags.
- Link to your Google+ page. One advantage that you have over your national competitors is that you’re a local business. Make sure you use this advantage by linking your Google+ local business profile to the best pages on your website (i.e. pages where the titles, headers and content have all been optimised for local keywords).
- Be consistent. It’s important when you’re looking to optimise your site that you’re consistent with information, particularly the spelling of your business name, as well as your business address and phone number. Every time you list this information on your site, you should ensure that it exactly matches the information on your Google+ local business page.
- Get links. As with a traditional SEO strategy, links play a part in allowing Google to determine how much authority to assign your website. This, in turn, will dictate where you rank in natural results when people search.
Optimising your website is useful if you find that there is a lot of competiti
on in the local business section of the SERPs. However, applying these changes may take some time, so your site might not return immediate results. But, if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with even more opportunities to get your business in front of new potential customers.
Another reason that it’s important to make sure your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP) information is always consistent, is for business citations. Much like links to a website, citations act as signals to search engines which indicate the authority of your business. No actual link is required from the website; however it’s essential that your NAP details are always accurate to help Google properly assign the authority to your site.
It has been suggested that business citations are one of the leading signals that Google uses when determining where your site will appear in its local rankings, so it helps to do what you can to attain as many of these as possible.
Since the dawn of the internet, the word directory has been tainted by old school SEOers. However, providing you know the difference between a good and bad directory, they can still be a valid way to help build authority online for your business. You should typically be targeting sites that allow you to verify your business. To help get you started, here is a list of some useful directory sites that you could look to. (Ed. Note: this list is localized for UK businesses. Many of these have US counterparts as well.)
Remember, this is just a starting point – the more places that cite your business’s NAP information, the more authority your website will receive.
Directories are not your only option when getting your business cited. You should also be targeting blogs, press releases, and forums, as well as question and answer sites. Links will certainly help drive traffic directly from these sources, but all you need is your business’s NAP details cited for authority.
Importance of Reviews
The final piece of the optimisation puzzle comes in the form of online reviews. Whether you have taken an active interest in your business’s online presence or not, it is certainly something you’re going to want to handle from now on.
Recent studies have suggested that search engines rely heavily on online reviews when ranking your website in the local section of their SERPs. Not only will reviews help influence search engine ranking, but they have been proven to also heavily influence potential customers when deciding which links on a SERP to click on.
Getting online reviews for an offline business is a difficult task, and you must be careful about the ways in which you’re soliciting reviews for your business.
You shouldn’t look to solicit reviews in return for gifts, or submitting fake reviews – they should be as natural as possible. However, you can use your website to prompt customers to leave you feedback. You can also hand out leaflets in store with QR codes that link to review sites to help get your offline customers to leave you reviews online.
Responsive design is becoming increasingly important in online search, and it’s certainly something that a local business can benefit from. It may not be at the top of your priority list, but a mobile site makes your business all the more accessible to customers. If you take an electrician for example, there is a good chance that a customer will search for your service on a smartphone in an emergency.
Google has announced that responsive design for viewing websites on mobile devices will play an even bigger part in their ranking algorithms in the coming months. As of April 21st 2015, sites that do not have a mobile friendly experience may be demoted, which could impact a business’s overall visibility online. On the other hand, sites that are responsive in their design will have a tag indicating so on Google’s SERP.
Sooner or later, responsive design will pay dividends for your business’s online visibility. It’s recommended that you start considering responsive design now, so you can make the most out of any future algorithm changes in favour of mobile friendly sites.
For the first time, digital marketing is making it possible for local businesses to go global. Even for those without a fully-fledged online presence or website, the power of search marketing and SEO can be harnessed – as can the benefits that come with them. If you’re a small business owner, and think your company could benefit from a bit of a boost online, consider implementing the above Google Local changes. Many of the aforementioned adjustments take very little time and effort to execute, and the benefits reaped can give your business long lasting benefits.