Running a business with local appeal means you have your work cut out for you. Not only do you need to rank for terms related to your industry; you also need to rank for terms related to your locale. It does require a bit of extra effort to accomplish. There’s directory listings and local SEO to account for. But that shouldn’t discourage you from pursuing the very best optimization tactics you can. Why, you might ask? According to WooRank, 61 percent of local searches resulted in purchases back in 2012. And since then, search has just gotten smarter. So when prospective customers input a product/service + location query, they’re greeted with more relevant results. And even if someone doesn’t input her location, often Google will display personalized results that include local options. Basically, local search optimization is very important. It has been for a couple years now and it continues to become even more so. Now’s the time to jump on board.
On the surface, much of the same things work in local SEO than in non-location specific SEO. That is, search has become a lot more semantic over the past few years. You can thank Google Hummingbirdfor that. Basically, this means that natural phrasing is now recognized by the search engine. For the layperson, this means he no longer has to phrase his search queries in that awkward, stilted way those of us who’ve been in the SEO game for some time have grown to accept. Instead, you can search for something in the exact same way as you’d speak it aloud and wind up with the same — or very similar — results. For example, if you wanted to find a sandwich shop in Chicago, you wouldn’t have to type “sandwich shop Chicago” anymore. Rather, you could type (or speak, if using dictation) “What’s a good sandwich shop in Chicago?” and see relevant results. In case you didn’t notice, this cranks the importance of longtail phrases up a notch. Another thing you need to know is that search is becoming increasingly contextual. Search engines are getting smarter, so they know what you mean even if you don’t come right out and say it. They understand that “attorney” and “lawyer” are interchangeable, for instance. Likewise, it can use your search history to put together an idea of what you’re looking for. This is where the location-based stuff really comes in. Your target customers don’t even necessarily have to search for their location anymore to receive localized results. The search algorithm has gotten so smart, it remembers where a person is located and will automatically deliver up results based primarily in that area. But keywords and contextual phrases are only a part of the local search puzzle.
Name, address, phone number. That’s what NAP stands for in the local search world and it’s vitally important that you make sure this information is a) present b) accurate and c) standardized. Let’s break each of those things down, shall we? For starters, you need to make sure that your business is listed. If it’s been around for a bit, it will most likely have listings online already. Then you need to make sure your address is accurate everywhere it appears. And finally, the address needs to appear in the exact same format wherever it appears. According to Duct Tape Marketing, you can accomplish all three of these things by first going to the USPS site to verify the right format for your company’s address. Jot it down then confirm your address is listed exactly in this manner with Factual, Localeze, Acxiom, and Infogroup.
Another thing beyond specific search terms you need to optimize for is the local citation. Local citations are any place online where your company is listed. Business directories are going to be your biggest source of citations. The more references to your company from quality directory sites you have, the higher your site will rank for local search terms. End of story. Now, there are a ton of directory sites out there and trying to check to see if you’re already listed — and if not, add your listing — can be an incredibly time consuming process. That’s why using Moz Local is such a good idea. With it, you can easily see where your site is currently listed online, whether your NAP is in the proper format (and correct) and if there are places you’ve yet to claim a listing. You can also verify that your site is listed properly and in the right category with Google+ Local, which is very important since that directly impacts search engine rank.
Positive reviews have always been helpful for businesses. But now they carry some SEO weight, too, beyond their testimonial value. While there are numerous review sites out there, reviews on certain sites pack more of a punch than others. For instance, Google+ and Yelp are very important and should be where you spend the majority of your time attempting to build reviews. For Google+, you need to build a company page and then make it absolutely clear on your website (and in your physical location if you have one) that you’re on G+. While it’s generally not the best practice to solicit reviews all the time, you can certainly print up a blurb at the bottom of your receipts or invoices that acts as a reminder that satisfied customers are encouraged to leave reviews. Getting a lot of G+ reviews is important because your overall rating and review snippets will appear on the righthand side of the search results when someone Google’s your company by name. Yelp is currently the largest review site out there and actually fuels Bing Local results. Double score! You’ll often find your company is already listed on the site without you having to do anything. Just make sure all of your information is correct and keep an eye on reviews. Should a negative review appear, respond as quickly and professionally as you can. And above all else try to right whatever was wrong in the customer’s eyes. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed by potential customers that read these reviews.
I’ve already mentioned the importance of Google+ for boosting your rank for local search terms, but other social networks also provide considerable value. For instance, you can create a company page for your business on Facebook. This will offer an optimal citation opportunity, give your customers a chance to review your products or services, and provide a means of building a community around them. Another locally-based social feature comes from Pinterest. Late last year, the pin board social network launched a new feature called Place Pins. This allows you to build location-based pins that your customers and fans can then view directly on a map. This won’t work for every business and is designed specifically for the hospitality and food industries, but it’s still worth noting as an avenue of local optimization. Local SEO has opened up a whole new world of opportunity to small businesses across the globe. But it’s an opportunity you have to seize if you want to make the most of it. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what you need to do to gain real traction with your search rank.