Local Search Engine Optimization: The Silver Bullet Every Business Needs!

Local search engine optimization (Local SEO) has been the “golden ticket” for businesses with a local address for years, and it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. So, for the remainder of 2015, and throughout 2016, every business with a local address (sorry P.O box owners need not continue reading) must focus on local optimization. If you don’t, I guarantee your business will lose online, and fall further behind. Statistics consistently show that user’s use and interact with Google’s Local Map Pack. After Google’s update on August 6th, 2015 during which Google limited the Local Map Pack from displaying seven results to displaying only three results, it’s even more important that local businesses fight for these top positions.

Local SEO is not an easy task that you can do overnight. Consistency and quality will help ensure you keep up with the competition and hard-work, going that extra mile as they say, will ensure you stay ahead of the competition. Several things overlap in local optimization, so forgive me if I mention a few things more than once.

Here is an overview of many of the things that are important to rank locally online (in no particular order). There are quite a bit more things to consider and your local optimization expert can customize a plan to fit your business and goals. I can’t guarantee without doing these things on our own, that they will work, but if you do these things well, you may just end up dominating your local market.

  • Reviews
  • Consistency
  • Content
  • Social Signals
  • Citations
  • Onsite Optimization
  • Analytics
  • Business Directories
  • Local Business Directories
  • Niche Business Directories
  • Online Profiles

Onsite Optimization Practices

Onsite Optimization (on-site optimization for those of you that prefer the hyphen) is extremely important and something that you should focus on in the beginning of any local search engine optimization campaign. There’s quite a bit involved with optimizing your website and webpages. Proper optimization will help you locally and beyond. When optimizing your website for search queries, keep in mind that your website’s page titles, h tags, internal links, anchor text, link titles, images, image attributes, content, schema (pay attention to schema, it’s amazing) and contact information should mention your market(s). After reading the articles below, you’ll learn that there’s much more to onsite optimization than this paragraph. Above all else, please don’t be spammy. If it makes sense to mention a city or market in an image or any other element, then mention it. You can do more harm by over optimizing, so be natural and only optimize things when it makes sense. A website is built first for users and second for search engines, never worry about search engines before users. If you do a great job at pleasing users, you’ll find that you’ll also do a great job at pleasing search engines.

I started writing out individual tips about onsite optimization, but there’s a great deal of amazing information online that will help you meet your goals and crush the competition. So, I won’t go into the specifics in this article. I will say this though, make sure your website is fully responsive, which means that it can be viewed easily on a desktop, a mobile device and a tablet. This is an absolute must and it has been an absolute must for years. Come on folks, get with it – go responsive, and do it now. Also, use schema to identify products, your business, and services. One more thing before I forget, get an SSL certificate for your entire website. Not just your shopping cart, not just your contact page, not just certain sections, get an SSL certificate for the entire website – every file. Google mentioned they preferred SSL certificates a very, very, very long-time ago. We can install them for you of course, just use our contact form, or you can also ask your web team (after of course asking them why they didn’t tell you about it a year ago), it doesn’t matter to us, but get an SSL certificate and do it now.

Refer to the below articles for more information on how to optimize your website for search engines:

SEO Cheat Sheet for Developers | Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page

2015 Technical On-site Optimization Checklist | Visual Guide to a Perfectly Optimized Page

General Business Directories

For the purpose of this article, business directories are general directories that allow businesses to list information about their business. Some directories allow a few things such as the business name, the business address and the business URL, and other directories allow much more. Take advantage of these directories and list as much information as you can about your business. Take your time and fully complete each field in each directory. The more information, the better. Make sure that in every case your name, address and phone number (NAP) information is exactly the same in every business directory. We also recommend keeping your logo, business hours, URL, and your business categories the same in each directory.

Here are a few general business directories your business should consider: DMOZ, Aabaco and BOTW.org, and here’s a list to some additional business directories that you can use to list your business – SEO Business Directories.

In terms of NAP information, exactly means exactly – Maxwells, LLC is not the same as Maxwells and Dr. is not the same as Drive.

Determine what you’re going to use e.g. Maxwells, LLC 1111 E. Fake Dr., Dearborn, MI 85265 and stick with it. Keep things exact, and you’ll have better luck with local optimization.

Aside from those things, mix information up a little. Take the time to make unique descriptions for each directory and use different pictures. When writing descriptions, mention your market, your services/products and key personnel. If directories allow you to put links to other websites you own or control, link to them, but mix it up. For example, if they allow three total links, switch them up between your different web profiles and social media websites. Don’t make every business directory listing the exact same, and of course, be sure to make sure your profile is optimized with mentions of your market, but don’t be spammy. You can rename image filenames, use location data in images, use different image descriptions etc.

Many business directories are free, but some may charge a fee to review your site. If it’s not too expensive and the directory is well-known, you may want to consider paying a small fee to get listed. Before deciding on listing or claiming your business look through the directory to ensure they have good editorial standards. If you see companies listed and their business name is a keyword and not their real business name, chances are you’ll want to stay away from the directory. It’s not worth it. We’re looking for quality submissions and directory owners that allow businesses to “buy keyword rich links,” are not quality.

Local/Niche Business Directories

Local/Niche business directories are very similar to business directories, except instead of allowing every business to list and claim a business, they only allow businesses in certain cities or in certain niches. In many cases, local and niche business directories are more valuable for your business than general business directories because they are more relevant. A local chamber of commerce, or a best of {city} directory are always great places to start. If you’re a doctor or lawyer, you’ll find plenty of niche directories you can use to beef up your local optimization efforts. Every industry and every city has local or niche directories. When listing your business, the same rules apply. Be sure to keep consistent name, address and phone number information (NAP), and be sure to keep the same URL, same business hours, and similar categories. Don’t forget to mix things up like your business description, image filenames, image descriptions, and social links.

By doing Google and Bing searches you can find these directories and don’t be afraid to go to page 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. Just like general directories, many local and niche directories are free, but some do charge a fee to review your website. As with general directories, before deciding to list or claim your business, look around the directory to ensure the webmasters are not allowing businesses to list their business with keyword rich titles. The title of every business in the directory should be the business name. If they’re allowing businesses to purchase keyword rich titles for their businesses, their directory will soon be worthless, or it already is. Remember, quality is always the most important thing.

Online Profiles:

Google My Business, Bing, Yahoo!, Crunch Base, LinkedIn, BBB, Thumbtack etc…

In some cases, online profiles are business directory listings, and in some cases they aren’t. Online profiles, like directories can be listed as general, geographic and niche. Many of them allow a great deal of information including a business description, category, logos, links to social platforms, product pictures, service pictures, exterior pictures, interior pictures etc. Some of them are profiles that can be constantly updated like a Facebook or Twitter business page and some of them are updated less frequently like Wikipedia, Thumbtack or the Better Business Bureau. All of them are important and can help with your local optimization efforts, which will lead to more business. As with the rest of the profiles mentioned above, keep the NAP information consistent and create different descriptions, so that each profile has unique value. Some profiles let you add history milestones, some let users leave reviews and some let other contributors add additional details about your organization. It’s important to seek out all web profile opportunities and complete as many of them as possible overtime. The world is changing and users are finding businesses in non-traditional places often. it’s important that your business always looks amazing and always has the correct information, so that-that potential customer can quickly contact your organization.

You never know when or how a customer is going to find you, but if you’ve done your best to make every web profile you can incredible, that first impression will be good, and the chances of you earning a customer’s business will increase. Most companies may be afraid to create a profile in fear of malicious intent from an upset customer, but today, approaching 2016, you need to get rid of that fear and embrace these platforms. Most of them are manageable, because you can create them, make them look great and forget about them until you need to make an update or two months down the line. If someone happens to leave a negative review, you’ll be notified about the review and it will give you an opportunity to respond and improve your business processes.

I’m not saying that you need to go out and create a Pinterest account, and an Instagram account, and a Foursquare account. Especially if you’re not going to use them, I’m saying that you should claim web profiles related to your business or the markets you serve, so that you can communicate with your customers where they communicate.

Do not open social media accounts just to have a social media account, if you open something and ignore it for years, it will end up looking bad as opposed good. Create social media profiles you’re going to use, and create web profiles that do not need to be updated frequently. A majority of web profiles are simply profiles. They are informational pages about a person or company and do not need constant updating, but they can act as one more piece of credibility for search engines, and one more opportunity to meet a new customer.

Check out these tips to better optimize your profiles from Search Engine Watch.

Backlinks

Yep, you guessed it. Links are still very important. But let’s not talk about the all too easy very cheap links that many companies pass off in link bundles or sell you with high hopes of becoming the #1 website in the world for {you pick a term}. Links are very important, and today quality links are the only thing you want to get. I’m not going to go into individual link building techniques, because by the time you read this, those same techniques will be abused by thousands and they’ll get you in trouble. However, I will tell that if you follow this guide, stay consistent, stay quality and build great content and amazing resources, links will come. People love to link to great content. In writing this I’ve linked to tons of great content and I did it on my own free will, because people took the time to create valuable resources. One tid bit of advice, don’t buy links and get links from different domains and different sources. Keep your link portfolio diverse. Do not get 1,000 links from the same domain, it just looks silly and doesn’t do much good – it can actually do harm. You may also want to avoid getting links from offshore sites that have no reason to link to you. Hire a good team, or if you’re the type that can follow the guide, understand what to do, and stay detailed, do it yourself. If you build it, links will come. I guarantee it.

Diversified Online Reviews

Believe it or not, reviews matter when it comes to local optimization. And to add to that, forget local optimization. Reviews matter, because almost everyone reads reviews and they are trusted by the masses – in fact a 2014 survey concluded that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. That said, the reviews that matter need to come from authority sites like Google, Yelp, Amazon and Avvo, they have to be diversified, meaning that you want reviews from several places, and if you can get reviews from “authority reviewers” or users that leave reviews often about different businesses, your review ranking factor may increase. Of course, positive reviews are what you’re after. That doesn’t mean that a negative review will end your chances of dominating your local market, but you’ll need what’s typically called positive review sentiment. Get a review system in place and ensure your system focuses on earning reviews from several authority websites. Finally, try to get reviews on certain products and/or services. If you can get users to leave reviews about specific products or services they purchased – the better.

When it comes to reviews remember to get reviews from different places, from “power reviewers” and try to get users to talk about specific products and services. For example, “The Hawaiian Pizza at Bobby’s Pizzeria was amazing”, or “Brian did an amazing job with our divorce, the process was as pleasant as it could have been, and more important than anything, I have 50% custody of my children!”

If you can accomplish these things, reviews will help supercharge your local SEO campaign.

Web Work Consistency

If you’re going to dominate your local market, you need to work towards it consistently. It’s like anything else in life. If you want to get in shape – go to the gym often. If you want to learn a new language – work on it daily. Search engines and users love consistency. Publish great content, build winning web profiles, engage socially with your fans, ask for reviews, and optimize your site often. Consistently work towards your goals and you’ll meet them. Almost every client I meet with initially asks me two things “How long until I get results?” and “How long will I be investing in my business?” Unfortunately for all of my clients, the answer to their first question depends on way too many variables and the best I can say is that you’ll start seeing things getting better after a few months. To me, better means that reviews will start rolling in, web profiles will start popping up and looking good, content will start appearing on their site, their fan base will start to grow and some rankings will improve. That said, a lot more can happen in a few months if things go great and their competitors are clueless, which is rarely the case. As for the second question, investing in your business will never end. In fact, you’ll likely invest more overtime, because budgets should be a function of revenue and more often than not, businesses want to grow. That typically means more markets, more products, more services, more, more, more… Consistency matters. Stick with it, outlast the competition and you’ll come out on top.

Engaging & Relevant Local Content

Who among you has not heard the following phrase “Content is King!” If you’ve talked with a knowledgeable web savvy person, they’ve surely mentioned that content is king. It’s been king for years, probably centuries, and it’s not changing anytime soon. Content isn’t merely a well written article, or a top ten list. Content is any piece of media – video, graphic, PowerPoint animated GIF, article, research report, info-graphic etc. With content, you can attract and engage. With local content, you can attract and engage local markets and send signals to search engines that local users engage in your content. When I talk about content, I’m not talking about a boring article, or a poorly created video. I’m talking about engaging content that captures attention and entertains readers. Content that gets editors to link to it, or mention it in their story or editorial. When we’re talking about local optimization, you’re going to want to focus on developing content relevant to the market you’re trying to dominate. Sure, it can be tricky, especially for boring things like dentistry or plumbing, but talk about reasons why Dentists in Arizona do things a certain way because Arizona allows corporations to own a Dental office, corporations that aren’t actual dentists. Or why plumbers in Texas are subject to certain codes that plumbers in other states aren’t. Be creative, be useful, be relevant and have fun. More important than anything else, be local and optimize your content for the local market.

Citations

Citations are very similar to business directory listings. In fact, a business directory listing is always a citation, but a citation is not always a business listing. A citation is a reference to your business online i.e. you business name, address and phone number (NAP), but it doesn’t always include your business’s URL, which is what a business directory listing always includes. Search engines use citations to evaluate or determine if your brand is being talked about online. Just like with anything else local and SEO related, it is very important that your name, address, and phone number (NAP) information is accurate in citations. Again, this helps search engines confirm that the information they’re showing users is accurate. iPhone Maps never recovered from their misinformation problem regarding maps. To this day, iPhone users end up miles from my home if they choose to get directions from Siri. It may seem small, but users depend heavily on search engines, and wrong information can ruin an entire day.

Citations may just be mentions in an article i.e. Maggies Frozen Treats on 1234 E. Fake Street, San Francisco, CA is offering $5 off all orders over $25 all week long. Call 949-555-1234 for details.

This is a great citation. Say it’s in a local magazine and will certainly help with their local optimization. So citations matter, as part of your overall local optimization campaign.

Local Website Signals

If it’s in this guide, it matters in terms of local optimization. In fact, many of these techniques and much of this information can be used to develop a large campaign that will help outside of just local search engine optimization. Believe it or not search engines use bounce rates, click thru-rates, pagespeed, time on site and many other factors they gather {mainly} from Google Analytics and what users do on your site. This means you need to make engaging content for users. It also means you may need to think about dropping that $3/month hosting package you have and look for ways to increase your page load speed such as caching, gzip compression, content delivery networks, etc., etc. etc. etc. – there’s literally hundreds of things you can do to speed up your site. If you use WordPress, the entire process can be a lot easier, but even without WordPress, you can quickly and easily speed up your site. Use Google’s Page Speed Insight tool for ideas and to see where you stand today. As a shameless plug, we can help you with this too, just contact us.

If you’re going to dominate your local market, you need to work towards it consistently. It’s like anything else in life. If you want to get in shape – go to the gym often. If you want to learn a new language – work on it daily. Search engines and users love consistency. Publish great content, build winning web profiles, engage socially with your fans, ask for reviews, and optimize your site often. Consistently work towards your goals and you’ll meet them. Almost every client I meet with initially asks me two things “How long until I get results?” and “How long will I be investing in my business?” Unfortunately for all of my clients, the answer to their first question depends on way too many variables and the best I can say is that you’ll start seeing things getting better after a few months. To me, better means that reviews will start rolling in, web profiles will start popping up and looking good, content will start appearing on their site, their fan base will start to grow and some rankings will improve. That said, a lot more can happen in a few months if things go great and their competitors are clueless, which is rarely the case. As for the second question, investing in your business will never end. In fact, you’ll likely invest more overtime, because budgets should be a function of revenue and more often than not, businesses want to grow. That typically means more markets, more products, more services, more, more, more…. Consistency matters. Stick with it, outlast the competition and you’ll come out on top.

There’s a long-list of things to avoid when it comes to local optimization. It works well when you’re optimizing for the city or cities you have business addresses in. P.O Boxes don’t do much, you’ll have a very hard time ranking based on a P.O. Box. Don’t be spammy by including your target market in page titles, h tags, images, body content etc. Google, Bing and many other search engines are smart. They have algorithms that can easily pick up spammy intent. Keep things clean and don’t over reach by trying to optimize for markets you’re not in. If you’re a national brand with a very authoritative site, it’s a different story. I’ve seen plenty of strong sites rank for keywords related to markets and the business had no offices in the market and had no good content for the market, yes, I’m shocked that they rank, but I believe that Google and other search engines know that these sites can still help users in these markets meet their needs. If you play your cards right and build a strong brand, you too can play in multiple markets, but you’ll never plan in multiple markets in the Location Map Pack without a business location in that market, and after all, that’s what this local search engine optimization guide is all about.

Things to Avoid When Implementing a Local SEO Campaign

  • Don’t keyword stuff the footer with markets you serve, but aren’t actually located in
  • Don’t set up Google My Business Pages for markets you don’t have an address in
  • Don’t use inconsistent NAP (name address and phone number information)
  • Don’t use wrong or inconsistent business categories
  • Don’t use the same business description for every profile page
  • Don’t set up pages on your site for every city using the same text except the {city name}
  • Don’t quickly choose keywords, take the time to choose keywords that will work long-term
  • Don’t use improper schema on your website to identify your business and contact details

Wrapping up this Local Search Engine Optimization Guide to Your Business’s Golden Ticket

As I mentioned in the first sentence, Local SEO is the Golden Ticket for small businesses looking to earn more revenue online. To do things right, it takes a lot of work, but once you’ve taken the time to earn top positions in Google’s Map Pack, you’ll see your revenue increase, and you’ll see your brand value increase. Don’t take my word for it though, do a couple searches on your own for any local restaurant or service provider and you’ll surely see a few businesses listed in Google’s Map Pack. Those businesses aren’t paying Google 1 cent for placement, and if they keep up their hard work, they’ll continue to stay where they are. Leave a comment below if you have questions or feel free to contact us in private, and as always, thanks for reading.

Additional Resources
Local Search Engine Ranking Factors
Google Using Points To Boost User Reviews, Beef Up Maps Content