Leora’s Introduction: Persistence pays – Thomas asked more than once to guest post, and he has left several insightful comments on Websites for Small Biz. After several emails back and forth, we agreed on the topic of Local SEO. Enjoy, and for those of you that serve a local market, I expect you will gain from the useful ideas in this Local SEO post.
A few years back, Ben Hook wrote a great guest post for Leora about SEM and small businesses with information that is still applicable today. Ben shows how small businesses can utilize Google to drive more traffic to their sites by getting listed locally, having products show up within “Google Shopping,” and how title tags can help search engines find and rank your pages, but there is a lot more you can do for local search engine optimization to help drive traffic and customers towards your businesses.
Get Listed in Directories
The only time I’ve used a phone book in the last five years was when I needed a fire starter on a particularly cold January evening. Paying for a full page Yellow Pages advertisement used to be worth it, but those investments are quickly going up in smoke as people simply use Google to find local listings. However, this doesn’t mean that the CEO of Yellow Pages is broke and alone with only old phone books to warm him. Now you can get listed on online directories like yellowpages.com. This is usually free and all you have to do is jump through a few hoops to “claim” your site in order to edit relevant information. This is important because Google, and other search engines, crawl these directories and actually rank them, plus people will directly use directories to search for what they’re looking for. In a Google search for “Boise Italian restaurants” the first three natural listings were all from directories.
In this case, Urban Spoon, Yellow Pages, and Trip Advisor are listed. The first two point to a listing page for Boise Italian restaurants, but the third link points directly to a listing for Gino’s Italian Restaurant on Trip Advisor. Getting listed in local directories is easy – try starting with these big names.
Reviews, Ratings, and Google+
Creating online profiles for your business opens the option for customers to review your business. This can be a scary thought, but if you’re running a reputable business and already have good customer service you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. In fact, Google takes reviews and ratings into account when ranking local businesses in the “Local Listings” section. Google+ is also becoming a factor in Google SERP rankings.
In a search for “Boise dentists” the local listings all feature sites with Google reviews or at least a Google+ page. Modern Dental ranks at the top with a 29/30 score and 27 Google reviews, while some pages list with only a Google+ page. SEOs all across the board are seeing more traffic and influence when they interact heavily in Google+ which is starting to build some traction as a decent social networking platform.
On Page SEO
Ranking locally for search terms via directories or Google’s local listings are fine and dandy, but ranking naturally is also important. Check out Leora’s introduction to SEO for a refresher about what makes good SEO. You need to keep these in mind with a local strategy as well.
- Keywords: Make sure your keywords include the town, state, or area that you want to be associated with. Often overlooked but important “keywords” are the phone number (especially with the area code), zip code, and full address.. A good way to include these naturally on every page is to have a footer that lists your address and contact information.
- Incoming links: Any good SEO campaign should include a link building strategy. In the case of local link building, focus on getting links from local sites. Generally I would promote relevancy first link building and suggest staying within your sites niche when building links, but think of “local” as a niche. This opens up a wider demographic of sites to target than just local competitors.
- Content: Establishing a blog on your site is a great way to produce fresh, relevant, and keyword dense content. Great content also naturally builds link as sites link to it. If don’t aren’t a wordsmith, consider hiring an experienced writer or blogger to develop content for you. Anything on your site needs to read well not only for visitors, but for Google’s crawlers as well.
Things to Check For
Ranking locally is usually easier than ranking for a highly competitive keyword, but your efforts need to be focused and planned out. Here are some things to check for that are often missed or disregarded.
- Make sure all of your contact information (especially physical address) is the same across all of the directories, social media profiles (remember Google Plus!), and the website.
- Also make sure that you’ve put your business under the correct category in the directories as well. If you can, keep the category the same. Don’t label accidentally label your concrete foundation business as “cuisine” and miss out on searchers.
- Respond to reviews. It takes time and can be a rude awakening, but respond to good and bad reviews alike. This not only establishes a connection with the reviewer, but shows the community you are engaged and are willing to solve problems. This can also help boost the number of reviews you get which can help rank you higher in the local listings.
- It can be easy to accidentally overuse keywords so make them appear naturally within your content.
Local businesses often think that “SEO” is only for the big, international sites but that simply isn’t the case. Putting in the effort to rank locally can drive high quality traffic to your site for fairly cheap if you have the time and a little bit of know-how.