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If your business is like most operating in the digital age, you rely on your online presence to reach and connect with both new and existing customers. Some businesses have even made their mark existing solely on the internet. But there are still millions of organizations that have physical locations to serve customers in their area. And while those companies used to rely on foot traffic or on regional advertisements to drive revenue, times have changed.
Nowadays, word of mouth isn't nearly enough. Rather, it's necessary to use technology to appeal to local audiences. By utilizing the principles of search engine optimization with a local twist, you'll be able to effectively reach consumers in your area. It's a technique known aptly as local SEO -- and it's essential for any business that wants to increase their visibility to those seeking nearby search results.
First, let's talk about what local SEO is and what it involves. Like regular search engine optimization, this digital marketing technique involves tweaking the information you publicly publish to target certain demographics. For an eCommerce company or a huge corporate brand that operates worldwide, SEO goals will differ greatly from an independently operated restaurant or a small town boutique. Smaller or regional businesses will typically want to attract more local business, which is where local SEO will come in handy.
The aim of local SEO is to allow the business to show up prominently when users search for results nearby or in a specific locality. Most people generally use Google to conduct searches (including those for local businesses), but services like Yelp and Apple Maps are also used for this purpose. A lot of the same techniques used in other SEO strategies will be utilized when focusing on local SEO, but they'll likely be modified in order to specifically target people who are looking for local results.
Check out this local SEO training for more background information on local SEO strategies:
If you're already executing an SEO strategy, is local SEO really that important? If you depend on customers in your area, the answer is a resounding yes.
Local SEO should be a vital part of your business's marketing strategy due to the sheer volume of local searches that are conducted. Approximately 60% of American adults use their smartphones and tablets to find local product and service information. What's more, 46% of all Google searches are local. And since 50% of consumers who conduct local smartphone searches visit a store within one day -- and 18% of local mobile searches result in a sale within 24 hours -- ignoring the importance of local SEO can cause you to miss out big time. If you aren't able to reach local customers and provide them with value, you'll be literally leaving money on the table.
When you conduct a local search on Google, there are two different places your business can appear: in the normal, organic search results (which show up below paid links in any search you perform) and in the so-called local “snack pack.”
You've probably referenced the snack pack before without ever knowing its name. It's also known as the three-pack or as the Google Maps box. It features the top three listings that have been determined to be relevant by Google to a specific search query.
Example of Snack Pack for "urgent care Bellaire":
Rather than simply listing those businesses as links with a short meta description, the businesses highlighted in the snack pack are showcased in a much more prominent way. Underneath an expandable map that shows the general location of each of those businesses, the individual organizations are displayed with their name, the type of business, their address, the distance away from a user's location, and their hours, as well as the ability to get directions and place a call to the business right from the search result.
Being featured in this snack pack has huge perks. Because these listings show the user more information and provide an instant call-to-action, businesses that are focusing on local SEO often make it their goal to show up here. One study found that 33% of clicks go to these local snack pack results; while organic results shouldn't be discounted, these positions are highly coveted.
Now that you know what local SEO is and why it's so crucial, you can start to focus on what it takes to have a successful local SEO strategy. While many of these principles are also required for general SEO, putting a local spin on your optimization means that you'll get even more detail-oriented. From the basics to the specifics, here's your local SEO guide to ensure your efforts are on point.
Generally speaking, a responsive website design is a non-negotiable. Now that Google has rolled out mobile first indexing, you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you're not able to provide mobile users with a consistent site experience.
Google's emphasis on mobile really comes from consumer trends. Since most users are inclined to conduct searches -- and take action -- from their smartphones and tablets, you can't expect to generate traffic, leads, or sales if your site is barely able to be accessed or navigated from a mobile device. What's more, most local users who want to find something nearby are going to turn to their phones first. Before you focus on any other local SEO techniques, you'll need to focus on your site's mobile experience to ensure potential customers can access the information they need.
Keyword research is a basic part of any SEO strategy, but keywords used in local SEO may be a bit different from what you're used to seeing. Instead of going after broad industry keywords, you'll want to zero in on more specific (and often longer) keywords that will align with what locals are looking for. To find the right localized keywords, you should focus on:
Local businesses often use keywords that are formatted in specific ways -- for example, [service] [location]. If you run an urgent care facility in Bellaire, for example, some of your keywords might include “urgent care Bellaire” or “24 hour urgent care in Bellaire TX.” These keywords should involve a list of locations you physically serve to increase your chances of showing up for users in those areas. Make sure to use variations on those keywords to widen the net, too.
If you're struggling to think of keywords to use, try researching the terms your local competitors are ranking on. A competitor that currently occupies the number one search result slot will likely rank on a number of popular terms. You might not be able to edge them out, but these keywords can provide you with inspiration for the ones you can use. You can also use this information to discover the untapped terms that your competitors may have missed.
While you can certainly pay for software programs that will do keyword research for you, that's not the only way to zero in on relevant and local search terms. Using Google's autocomplete feature can generate keyword suggestions, as can searching the services section of Craigslist. Even message boards and forums can provide you with valuable information about what consumers are looking for. Once you have a better idea of what people are typing in, you can harness that knowledge to choose keywords that will appeal to these kinds of users.
For more information about keyword research, check out the following videos:
As we've mentioned, ensuring your website provides a consistently pleasant experience is key. The same can be said for choosing relevant keywords to appeal to local users. But there's more work to be done on your website to improve your local SEO efforts. In addition to traditional search engine optimization tactics, you'll definitely want to hone in on the techniques that can make you more pertinent to people searching in your immediate area.
If you have multiple physical locations in one general area or specifically want to appeal to people searching in your main service areas, it's often a good idea to set up separate landing pages for those localities. Not only will this allow you to better track your SEO efforts, but it'll also improve your chances of ranking on local search terms. Unless you have a physical presence in numerous locations, however, don't go overboard with the number of landing pages you create.
In addition to optimizing those local landing pages, you'll also want to optimize your homepage for local SEO. This should be focused around your primary location; even if you serve other areas, it's better to be a bit more specific to increase your opportunities to rank. That said, if you happen to have hundreds of physical locations, you shouldn't go this route.
This term may sound intimidating at first, but it's actually pretty simple. Essentially, it's just a bit of extra coding that provides Google with more information about your website and what you're all about. Google even has a handy tool that can do most of the work for you. You'll just need to enter information about your business, render the code, test it, and enter it into the header section on the back end of your website.
Another great way to amp up your local SEO is to create and foster mutually beneficial relationships with consumers and other businesses. These efforts are often utilized with any SEO strategy, but they'll need to take on a local twist to improve your regional presence. These tactics can include”¦
Create high-quality content for a locally-focused website in exchange for a link back to your own site. This is commonly referred to as guest blogging. Make sure the site in question gets a good amount of traffic that's relevant to your target audience and that its own rankings are impressive.
Check out the video below for more tips for guest blogging:
Rather than creating content for other websites, you can use your own site to host a fantastic, in-depth resource for locals. It doesn't have to be promotional or directly tied to your services; instead, it can be a “best of” guide or an events calendar that appeals to your ideal demographic. Then, you can share this resource in Facebook groups and on other channels to boost awareness and drive traffic.
Don't forget that you can ask customers to review your business. Politely remind locals that one of the best ways to ensure your business's success is by posting an honest review on Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, and other platforms. You'll also need to learn how to respond to reviews posted on these sites. Negative reviews, in particular, should be addressed in a thoughtful, compassionate way. Even if you feel the customer is incorrect in their assessment, you'll show your dedication to stellar customer service if you keep a cool head in your response. Realistically, consumers expect a negative review every now and then; that's not what will keep them from buying your products or services. A poor attitude, however, or a clear disregard for best practices could make them run for the hills.
In addition to having a responsive website, choosing the right keywords to target, and making your site a hub for local users, you'll also need to turn to outside resources to improve your presence. That will involve claiming and managing your local business listings online. Google My Business is arguably the most important, though Bing Places, Apple Maps, and other local citations are necessary, as well. Ensuring that your business information is listed correctly and that you provide useful data to potential customers will be key.
Listing your business details in GMB is one of the more effective ways to ensure you show up early on in organic search results (and potentially in the aforementioned “snack pack”). To set up this free tool, you can either claim an existing business or create a new one. Enter your business name, physical address, map location, business category, phone number, and website. You'll then need to verify your listing, as well as add photos, business hours, services, and amenities. Make sure to check on your GMB listing often to ensure nothing has been amended without your consent and to ensure all information is still relevant.
Check out the video below for tips on how to optimize your Google MyBusiness profile:
People tend to dismiss Bing as a search engine, which makes sense because their market share is far smaller than that of Google. However, it's still a good idea to claim your Bing Places profile. After checking to make sure your business isn't already listed (if it is, you can claim it), you can select your business type and location. Bing Places will actually import data from Google My Business, which is why it makes sense to fill out and verify your GMB listing first. If you aren't already verified on GMB, you can enter your physical address, website, category, contact information, social media accounts, relevant links, and photos. Bing Places isn't as extensive as GMB, but it's recommended that you cover your bases by listing your business here, too. Just make sure that all of the information you enter is consistent across the board.
Since nearly a third of all smartphone users use an iPhone, it makes sense that you'd also want to claim your business on Apple Maps. Even if you personally use Google Maps on your own iPhone, don't forget that Apple Maps is the default map search tool for both Siri and Spotlight searches. What's more, it's likely that millions of iPhone users prefer Apple's navigation app over Google's. Head to Apple's Maps Connect page and add a new business page. From there, you can specify your relationship to the business, enter basic details, list a phone number and location, add operational hours, and review everything before submitting. It can take anywhere from a week to a few months to have your business appear in Apple Maps -- and while it's not as detail-oriented as GMB, your local SEO efforts will go farther if you take advantage of this opportunity to list here.
You can also claim your business on various review websites, app platforms, and other listing pages to ensure customers can find consistent information about your organization. In some cases, you may have the opportunity to provide some in-depth information; in others, you might simply list the NAP (Name, Address, Phone) for your company. These citations may be structured (like with social media platforms or review sites) or unstructured (typically seen in blog posts or news articles). Facebook, Foursquare, Yahoo! Local, and Yelp are all good options for businesses across numerous industries. There's also the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List, Glassdoor, OpenTable, YP.com (Yellow Pages), Yext, TripAdvisor, Indeed, CitySearch, Consumer Affairs, and many more. Do your research to determine which platforms are best suited for your business and perform a citation audit to determine which listings may already exist (and correct details that are inaccurate). Then, you can build additional citations to increase your web presence.
When your business depends on local customers to survive, focusing on these specific SEO efforts can make all the difference. While this doesn't mean you'll be able to throw other SEO techniques out the window, it does mean you'll want to add at least some of these tactics into your strategy. Over time, thanks to your increased visibility on a local scale, you'll start to see improved results and will find more opportunities to achieve your business goals.