In our fast-paced, digital world, few things help small businesses the way a local search engine optimization (SEO) strategy can.
Search engines keep getting smarter, but that doesn't mean SEO is no longer necessary. Your business will lose out to competitors if you're not working to keep it in the public eye.
Although all SEO hinges on great content and a responsive website, local SEO has its own practices and requirements that influence how you rank locally. There are literally hundreds of local SEO ranking factors to consider, but what I've detailed here are five of the most important.
1. Create a targeted landing page for each location
Creating a unique page for each city you service is the best way to earn organic rankings in different locales. Each page should be strategically thought out to appeal to your target city, and it should include the following:
- Your business's name, address, and phone number (NAP)
- Your products/services
- A unique URL and page title
- A map/directions to your business's brick-and-mortar location
- Store hours
- A business email address and/or contact forms
- Social media buttons
- Unique meta descriptions/meta tags that include location keywords
What you should never do is copy and paste the same landing page 50 times and merely swap out the city names. Doing that is a sure-fire way to earn yourself a duplicate-content penalty.
A lot of SEO-friendly Web design best-practices also apply to landing page optimization:
- Your pages should be responsive, especially for mobile users.
- Your copy should be clear and compelling.
- Navigation should be seamless and intuitive.
- Your descriptions should include relevant keywords that will help your search engine ranking.
2. Optimize your local listings and keep citations consistent
Your website might be where your business lives online, but often it's not where a lot of customers find you. Instead, they turn to directories such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, Urban Spoon, and Trip Advisor. That means you should have a local business listing on popular social media and review sites, along with all of the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.).
Your Google+ Local Page (or Pages, if you have multiple branches) is especially important. The data entered into your Google My Business (GMB) dashboard accounts for 14.7 % of your local search ranking factors, and it is weighted heavily in Google's search results, including maps and mobile search.
Proper categorization is also vitally important to your local rankings. The 2-10 categories you choose (depending on the directory) when listing your business help search engines determine which businesses appear during a relevant query.
Though it's not difficult to get listings, it can be time-consuming to optimize them. Each listing should include your NAP—your business's name, address, and phone number—along with a brief description of your services. To get the most from your listings, you might also want to include the following:
- Website URL
- Hours of operation
- Ratings and reviews
- Other features and services you offer
- Your credentials
Whatever information you provide, make sure it's accurate and consistent across every listing. Google crawls the data on your citations—mentions of your business that often include name and address—and inconsistent information will hurt your ranking.
3. Develop a local content strategy
Local content goes so much deeper than simple blog posts and landing pages: It includes every outward-facing facet of your business. (Even restaurants that have a gorgeous venue, the best ambience, and the most delicious food will get one-star ratings if their service falls short.)
To truly optimize your content, you need a strategy in place to create, promote, and improve it. Here are some steps to take:
- Define your ideal customer: Before you can hone your marketing efforts, you need to understand whom you're marketing to. Create a snapshot of your ideal customer, then devise a strategy on how to appeal to that persona.
- Develop a positioning strategy: Positioning involves narrowing your target audience and establishing a niche for yourself. By specializing, you'll be able to appeal more completely to your ideal customer and you'll narrow your competition. A large part of positioning is establishing yourself as a "thought leader" by contributing high-quality content offerings on one or two topic; doing so usually takes time.
- Hone your messaging: You'll want to make sure that your website, landing pages, and all of your offerings specifically reflect your positioning and appeal to your ideal customer. Make sure that content adheres to a common style and that your messaging is consistent.
- Publish regularly: I say "publish," but this step might look different, depending on your industry. The key takeaway here is to produce quality content regularly, to keep new customers flooding in—and old customers coming back for more.
- Promote: If you build it, they won't come. Not unless you're promoting your content. Reach out to your customers where they live, especially on social media, to let them know what you're up to—whether that's writing a new blog post, producing a new product, or hosting a new contest.
Now take those steps again. And again. Offering one winning piece of content isn't enough; you need to repeat the process and continue refining your content offerings.
Maintaining a local content strategy takes time and a lot of hard work, but it eventually pays off with increased trust and brand awareness.
4. Strategically use and promote reviews
Reviews are the most powerful pieces of social proof at your disposal, and they continue to play a big role in how your website ranks.
In 2015, Review signals (e.g., quantity, velocity, diversity) accounted for 8.4% of overall local search ranking factors. Moreover, 92% of consumers read online reviews, and most judge a business based primarily on their star ratings.
Needless to say, good reviews are good for business.
Of course, you can't just earn one positive review and pat yourself on the back. As with everything else in SEO, the key is repetition. And key to repetition is to develop a strategy that encourages positive reviews.
Every year, Bright Local publishes a Local Consumer Review Survey, which has pointed toward the tried-and-true elements of a review strategy. Although each strategy will look a little different from others, the successful ones share the following qualities:
- Clearly outlined: Your review strategy should have very clear objectives. You should know exactly which sites you want reviews on and how many reviews you want per month.
- Easy to understand: As with many things, simplicity is key. Make sure your review process is accessible to all of your employees.
- Supported by your employees: You want your customer-facing employees to be on board with your review strategy. If your employees are genuinely eager about the review process, your customers may find that enthusiasm infectious.
- Delivered immediately: Customers are most enthusiastic immediately after services have been rendered, when their satisfaction is highest. Request reviews immediately for better results.
- Optimized and reusable: Did you meet the goals you outlined? If not, figure out what went wrong and tweak your review strategy until you have a repeatable process.
Practical ways that businesses encourage more reviews include offering incentives for reviewers (discounts, chances to win prizes, etc.), hosting contests on social media, and having staff give reminders after services are rendered.
Of course, success first and foremost hinges on offering consistently high-quality services. You won't be winning five stars if you haven't earned them.
5. Measure your performance
Measuring your ROI is arguably the most important part of every SEO campaign—local or otherwise. Without data to draw on, you won't be able to improve your strategy.
At the very least, you need the following insights:
- Average cost per click of local ads
- The number of new Google reviews you receive on a monthly basis
- Which local keywords refer traffic to your website
- How many page sessions result in conversion, and your average click through rate
Fortunately, tools* are available to help measure key performance indicators. Whichever tool you choose, make sure it's up to date with the latest changes to Google's search location filter. A change in late 2015 disrupted many tools' localized rankings data and compromised their accuracy.
With the right tools, you'll be able to cherry-pick the most profitable keywords for your local SEO campaign, you'll gain comprehensive reports on ranking progress, and you'll be able to monitor ranking data for you and your competitors' sites.
That concrete data is the only way to know for sure whether your local SEO is working or not.
* * *
We've discussed a lot of local SEO tactics in this article, but keep in mind that general SEO best-practices don't disappear when you're optimizing for local SEO. Today, more consumers are finding small businesses on their cell phones instead of their computers, which means responsive Web design and mobile optimization are more important than ever before. Don't neglect SEO basics while you focus on local optimization.
* An SEO tool I founded, Rank Tracker, measures KPIs across 325 search engines, checks keyword search rankings, and suggests profitable keywords you might have missed.