With at least half of all searches being conducted on mobile devices, local search engine optimization has become a critical part of marketing strategy. Google continuously looks for ways to get people the best search results for where they are. Knowing how it works will help you get the most from local search engine optimization.
Remember, like politics, all ‘search’ is local
Local SEO means you that searchers don’t need to include the city or state in their queries – Google will assume that people are looking for businesses near where they are. It also means that you don’t need to include the name of your city and state in your business name or even in your website copy. You no longer need a laundry list of cities you serve on your home page – or anywhere else on your website, for that matter.
Google uses an algorithm to determine which websites are likely to most closely match what a person is looking for when they search. As the web’s most popular search engine, they want to keep searchers happy by showing them what they want to see. That’s why the Google algorithm is continuously tweaked to improve the search experience – it was changed more than 500 times last year.
It can be challenging to keep up. In fact, there are whole companies whose very existence depends on figuring out Google’s algorithm and using that information to help their client companies appear as high up in the rankings as possible.
Be consistent and complete
This seems obvious, but it’s shocking how many businesses have inconsistent or complete information floating around the web. Make sure yours isn’t one of them.
Your business name needs to be exactly the same everywhere – on your website, on your Google business listing, and on every social media account you have. If you call your business ‘Joe’s Diner’ on your website, it can’t be ‘Joe’s Italian Diner’ or ‘Joe’s Diner Milwaukee’ or even “Joes Diner’ anywhere else.
The reason for this is simple: Google’s algorithm considers all those names to be different businesses. One of the major ways that Google decides which websites to list first is by the number of interactions people have with your business. If your business has four different names in four different places, your search ranking is effectively being split four ways. Use the exact same name, including spelling, punctuation and abbreviations, everywhere, every time.
Make sure your Google business listing is complete. Your business name, address, phone number, website and hours of operation are all critical. Make sure all those items are there, and that they are correct on Google, on your website and on all your social media.
Many people think that if they have their hours on their website, they’re all set. But consider this: When people search, they often click on the first item in the pack, which includes the first three results after the paid ads. This opens up your Google business listing on the right, with a longer list of search results on the left. If the listing is missing the hours of operation, for example, the searcher is more likely to go back to the list and choose the next listing down, rather than go to your website and try to find your hours there.
If you’re new to SEO or you just want to double check that your local results are the best they can be, check out our “How to Set up a Google My Business Listing” article.
Rack up some reviews
One of the first things people notice when they see local search listings is that some businesses have orange stars next to their names and some don’t. These stars represent reviews, and they can really set your business apart from the competition.
Many searchers will bypass the first or second listing if it has no stars. Of the three results listed in the pack, many people will click on the listing with the most stars, rather than the first one.
Getting reviews can be tricky, because you don’t want to give the impression that you expect a good review or that your service is in some way contingent on a good review. But you can certainly ask your customers, especially ‘regulars,’ to post a review of your business if they are so inclined. Some businesses have a little sign near the cash register, or include a request at the bottom of each invoice. Let your customers know they can simply open Google Maps, click on your location, select your business and write a review.
Reviews show up in other places besides Google, of course. Check Yelp, Reddit and other review sites as well to make sure your information is accurate and complete.
The double-edged sword of reviews is that customer who are not happy with your product are service are more likely to post a review than those who are happy. Be sure to monitor your reviews and know how to deal with them – it’s a critical part of social media for small business.
Links, links, links
Having high quality links to and from your website is an important way to boost your local search results. Here are a few ways to get local links:
• Get together with other businesses in the local merchant’s organization or Chamber of Commerce. Link to local companies whose target customers are similar to yours.
• Offer a discount or promotion to veterans or students, and link to the local veteran’s organization or school.
• Sponsor a local event and link to the event’s page.
• Sponsor a youth sports team and link to the league page.
Each of these companies or organizations should link back to your site as well.
Links are different from citations, and as the Google algorithms matures, links are becoming far more important than citations. So mentioning another website, or getting a mention on another site, is far less useful than linking.
Maximizing your local search results takes some time and effort, but it can be well worth it. As mobile devices become even more ubiquitous, and Google’s algorithm becomes more sophisticated, it pays to be at the top of your local SEO game.