What is Local SEO?
Today, SEO tips and SEO guides have made local SEO an integral part of their agendas and you will find a plentitude of posts all over the internet that unanimously emphasise its application in your business’s seo marketing strategy.
Local Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) has seen a considerable and rapid growth in the last few years, especially because of the increase in the number of smartphones being used and the enhancement in mobile connectivity.
In spite of the fact that it shares several similarities with normal organic SEO, there are some stark differences that set it apart from the latter.
An example of how far this phenomenon has come is that if I were to run a simple Google search (be it on my phone or desktop) for the best plumber in Adelaide, the results would typically include the places which were nearest to my location, and they would even be illustrated through a map!
Simply put, this particular flavour of SEO focuses on yielding search results for customers who are looking for specific businesses within their immediate area. In fact, 2011 revealed that more than 40% of the queries made on mobile devices are from users looking for local information.
- 1 What is Local SEO?
- 2 What are the primary factors that affect local SEO
- 3 This is where you want to be!
- 4 Other factors to consider
- 5 Conclusion: Why your local business website needs to be optimized for local search in 2015
Fresh Egg stated, in 2013, and 4 out of 5 smartphone users utilise their devices to look for local data, and from these 4, two-thirds act based on the results displayed, and a third went as far as making a purchase based on these results.
Google has also implied in one of its recent updates that a third of all mobile based searches in the US is now ‘local’, and that 87 % of people use mobile devices while travelling.
They have also discovered that 95% of these mobile users search for information on their phones. The truth is that their phones serve two basic functions – making phone calls or visiting big (or small) businesses!
There are many ways and factors that will affect your business’s local rankings, but none will have an effect more profound than Google.
Google has two services – Google Places for Business and Google+ Local, which are the starting point for any local search campaign.
Combine these two with Google’s dominance over the search engine market, and this effectively makes them the Yellow Pages of the digital era, with their listings growing with each passing day.
What are the primary factors that affect local SEO
A number of factors go into local SEO optimization of your business’s website, here are some of the more crucial ones:
1. On page optimization
The main purpose of on page optimization is to enable both search engines and businesses to find you in the dense, convoluted maze that is the internet. For this to happen, you must set up your website’s name, address and phone number (area code included) – this is known as NAP for short.
Make sure that you include this as an HTML tag text so that search engine web crawlers can find it. A common mistake people make is to include their NAP with an image that cannot be crawled.
Typically, you should place your NAP either in the header, or the footer, of your website.
If your business has multiple physical locations, you’ll need to create location pages that will enable site visitors to see not only your NAP, but also specific store hours, descriptions, transit/parking info, testimonials, promotions and so on.
Be sure not to duplicate content across several location pages. If, on the other hand, you have a single physical location for your business, you should create an ‘About Us’ page that gives a local description.
The content that you publish must be locally relevant. In order to stand out from the crowd. you need to establish your website as an authority in its particular niche. You can do this by periodically publishing relevant content in the form of blogs.
Be sure to mention relevant local news, employees, gatherings and other informational content on the blog. Don’t limit yourself to publishing content that is directly related to what you sell – this will limit your audience.
For instance, if you’re a pest exterminator that is servicing parts of Sydney, you could create a post that mentions ways to prevent pest infestations.
You could also include statistics of seasonal trends that affect growth of pests in homes and guides on the most common pests that afflict Sydney households.
2. Google places for business page
While claiming the page, be sure to enter valid contact info, address and opening hours. In fact, ensure that your business’s profile is thoroughly complete.
If you can include category information about your business i.e. the niches you address, Google will have an improved idea of what your business caters to; it will create a signal that will relate you to any local searches related to categories related to your business.
This is the simplest way to make your establishment pop up in maps and searches.
Closely tied to the Google Places business page will be your Google+ Local page which will have a greater focus on interaction through social media.
This page will hold information and images related to your business, as well as reviews, posts, videos and so on. It will be linked to the Google business places page.
Google Local places page dominates search results by a wide margin – in fact, you’ll note that quite a lot of scrolling is required to find other results.
And if your targeted clientele uses maps for searching, local listings will dominate the results even more!
You will likely already be familiar with what constitutes inbound links i.e. links that direct to your website from another domain. Citations are something else; a mention of your business’s name and address on other websites is what makes a citation – and it doesn’t have to contain a link to your website either.
Both external linking and citation building are crucial for off-page local optimization. Some tips for enhancing your chances of earning inbound links and citations are as follows:
- Make sure that your business address is consistent all over the internet. This includes the same spelling of your establishment’s name, the same address and the same phone numbers wherever you have listed your business. For instance, abbreviating the name of place in one listing while writing it in full in another will make one of the two listings invalid in the eyes of a search engine. A useful tool for verifying the consistency of your business details is Moz.com/Local.
- Build citations on all major map data aggregators that provide information to Google+ Local, Yelp, Bing, Apple, Trip Advisor and so on. These vary from country to country, so make sure that you find the ones which are most relevant to Australia. Ensure that the citations are complete and consistent across all of these aggregators and get rid of any duplicate links that you discover.
- Get links from local sources – this is another way to enhance your local search optimization. The only sure shot way to earn local links is to create relevant and informative content on your website which other authority sites can refer to.
For instance, you may want to develop content based relationships with community organisations, or get involved in local happenings, or provide internship programs to local schools. All this will help establish your local presence.
Reviews, in the sense of small business SEO, are the ones which are made by customers that get published online. Although any good review about your business is desirable, not all good reviews will have an effect on your rankings on Google local search.
In particular, the reviews which customers leave on Google+ Local are the ones that contribute the most to your ranking. Reviews left on other authority sites such as hotfrog.com.au etc. also have an impact.
The reviews which are left on forums, social media, blogs and less authoritative directories are not part of the algorithm Google uses for local search. However, these reviews may still affect customer decisions, which means that they aren’t totally irrelevant.
There are three reasons why local reviews are important – they have a direct impact on your Google local search rankings, they determine which results will receive the most clicks, and they affect consumer’s purchase decisions. In other words, they are as significant as citations and backlinks when it comes to your local search optimization strategy.
Even if, somehow, you are able to get your business at the top of the local query results for your targeted keywords with little or no reviews at all, you won’t be able to get much trade if business that rank below you in the search results have better user ratings / reviews.
Your targeted clientele will most definitely be reading reviews about your establishment and will compare them to those of your competition.
As opposed to the marketing copy on your website and your Google Plus Local page, they will regard these reviews as unsolicited opinions of the quality of your services/products.
If there are, say, 10 excellent ratings for your business, with corresponding positive reviews, your potential customers will see that you are a trustworthy business. They would see little risk in doing business with you and hence you’ll have a higher likelihood of being contacted by them for business.
Importance of Google+ reviews:
Reviews which your customers leave on your Google+ page have the most impact on your rankings, as already stated. This is because Google believes that these reviews are more trustworthy than ones left on third party sites.
Furthermore, these reviews are the ones which will be the most visible to your targeted customer base, since they are directly linked from the search results.
Some ways to gain reviews:
- Contact old and new customers directly, via phone or through email and ask them to leave reviews.
- Contact people on social media that you’re connected with e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook etc.
- Place a ‘leave a review’ link in a visible section of your site, and also in your mailing signature.
- In your office / store, place a sign that mentions a review URL.
- Place a printed flyer in handouts or mail-outs to customers, which includes detailed instructions on the procedure to leave a review.
- Make sure that your sales receipts / business cards include a review page link.
How many reviews do you need?
Certain kinds of businesses (hairdressers, mechanics, restaurants, etc.) have an obviously greater tendency of receiving user reviews compared to others (solicitors, surgeons, accountants, etc.).
Also, the size of the city/town out of which you operate has an impact e.g. a business located in downtown Adelaide will get more reviews than a similar business operating out of the suburbs.
As in the case of citations and backlinks, your primary concern should be with quality as opposed to quantity.
It isn’t simply about how many reviews you can get. You can stand out from the competition if you have, say, ten positive 100+ word customer reviews, while they have 20 mixed, one liners.
You should aim for as many honest reviews as you can get, but a more specific target can be set by seeing how many reviews your competition has on their Google+ Local page and other third party websites. Be sure to keep track of their numbers in order to stay ahead of the game.
5. Local Keyword Research
Keyword research is a very important part of your overall local SEO strategy since the correct selection of keywords for your content will determine the audience for your business’s site.
If you miss out on crucial keywords, it would translate into missing out on possibly profitable clientele. Several site owners have started to realise that localised keywords are also important and have started to include these into their overall keyword research.
Before you start working on local keywords, you need to do the normal national keyword research first, so that you can gain insight into the user’s intent. Use a keyword research tool, such as Google Keyword Planner, to find general keywords which have a search volume and are related to your business.
After this, use a tool such as Google Trends, to find location specific keywords based on city and province. Google Trends has three features which are particularly helpful for local keyword research: Interest garnered over time, regionally expressed interest and related searches. You can also use Google Keyword Planner for finding local terms, since it allows you to refine your research down to city level.
If you have more than one physical location for your business, you should create separate pages for each location and optimise these pages individually – this will yield the best user experience.
This is where you want to be!
Seemingly alien jargon can be a serious impediment for those who are new to internet marketing. The famous (or infamous) ‘7 pack’ of Google search is one such formidable term which newcomers often inquire about.
Basically, in the local search results that a Google search generates, there is a section comprising of a list of business names, addresses, phone numbers and a map. This is referred to as the ‘7-Pack’, even though it doesn’t list 7 different businesses anymore.
Take a look for yourself by running a local business search of any kind for a specific region in the country, say Adelaide, you will see that the ‘7-pack’ stands out from the rest of the results.
There are many apparent reasons for why the search displays only a specific number of a particular type of business, but from the perspective of an average user, it would appear as if there were only the businesses listed that were present.
Take this forward by another step – what if the end user was new to the town and he/she searched for a particular type of business? Then, for him/her, only the businesses listed in the 7-pack would be meaningful and, in fact, he/she might assume that there are no other businesses around town of that type!
From the business’ point of view, this means that not being able to show up in the 7-pack could put you at a serious disadvantage when it comes to getting visits from interested customers.
Basically, what Google is doing by implementing the ‘7-pack’ is refining the search result for users to show only the most relevant and trustworthy businesses of the type the user searches for.
Achieving a place in this slot should be your ultimate goal and it will only be possible if you implement extensive and thorough local SEO.
Note that since Google reigns supreme among search engines, your main focus of optimization to enhance your search ranking should be on Google i.e. start by creating a Google Local for business page. Getting your address listed correctly in all prominent directories will be a major task in this undertaking.
Other factors to consider
The foundation for all kinds of local SEO techniques is a website with a sound structure which has been designed from the point of view of guiding both people and search engines towards the information they are looking for.
This is how a great web design will help improve your business’s ranking in local search:
- Dedicated landing pages on your website (if you’re a business spanning multiple locations), will ensure that search engines search out each of your business locations individually, allowing you to create focused pages with greater local search ranking.
- Using structured data on your website will make it easier for the search engines to find out the purpose and relevance of a particular webpage. HTML is used for adding structured data to web pages, and is directly responsible for the generation of search results.
- Localised content on your website will allow your business to ‘speak’ to the clientele from a particular area. This means that you will have to carry out language analysis to find the most relevant keywords for specific areas. You may also have to assess the product/service preference in different areas to come up with the most appealing way to present your website.
- A website with an internal link structure that has been designed to make navigation through the website easier for search engine crawlers will ensure that all your localised pages are accessible to the search engine. If, on the other hand, you didn’t optimize your website’s link structure by creating an HTML sitemap and submitting an XML sitemap to search engines, your pages’ visibility to the search engines will be in jeopardy.
- In order to provide the greatest degree of accessibility to your site visitors, make sure that you create a web design which adapts itself to accommodate the device being use to browse your site. In fact, an adaptive design is a preference of Google, since it allows the screen size to be adjusted automatically without the need for redirection for mobile devices.
Besides web design, another, somewhat recent, aspect of SEO is social media presence. It has now become intertwined with SEO and by extension, to local SEO, where check-ins and geo-tagged media are essential for location based ranking.
Receiving reviews on sites like Google+ means, to search engines, that your business website is popular and active amongst its users. Furthermore, the health of your SM profile, and how active you are on it, will be a determinant in your current Google rankings.
The kinks in the correlation between SM and SEO are still in the process of being worked out, but there is no doubt about its existence.
Conclusion: Why your local business website needs to be optimized for local search in 2015
Television, newspapers, radio and yellow page listings have seen their roles diminished considerably in the recent years, in terms of advertisement potential, thanks to the onset of modern computer devices such as smartphones and tablets that allow users to look for businesses in a more dynamic and accessible manner.
Tech savvy users who want to find brands, products and businesses in cities all around Australia – Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne – will tend to use their smartphones to access map locations rather than look them up in long, tiresome yellow pages. In fact, online listing services such as Google local listing, Yelp etc. are the yellow pages of the 21st century!
For this reason, it is important that your business be as prominent and accessible as possible on the internet. You will need to carry out local search engine optimization to achieve this prominence, preferably sooner rather than later, since there could be people looking for your type of business on the internet right now, but your poor local optimization hinders your discovery!
Understand that your competition will most likely have already realized the importance of local SEO, so a delay would only harm your work interests in the long run. If you’re unable to carry out local SEO on your own, there are plenty of professional outfits such as Local Splash that can do the job for you.