Local Search Ranking Signals
Almost everyone carries a mobile device, and this means they can search for a local business near them from anywhere they might be. However, the increased volume makes it harder for businesses to stand out.
Getting into the Google Local Pack (the top three local listings that appear below the map) is advantageous because potential customers can contact a business, see its hours, see its rating, and more without leaving the search results page. If customers can do all of that from the Google page, they have little incentive to click on websites to find the same information. It’s easy to see how being listed in the local pack leads to more business, but how can a company get there?
As with most SEO tactics, the best approach is to tackle the problem from as many angles as possible. The ranking signals are presented in roughly the order they should be addressed. Those listed first are the minimum a business will need to attend to in order to rank at all in a local search. This is a very bare summary of topics that could each be delved into in their own posts, but they will give a business owner a useful overview.
Google My Business
Every company should claim their Google My Business page. It’s a quick and easy process that will lay the foundations for all other Local SEO efforts. Businesses that have not done this should start here.
The next step is to select the categories that best describe the business as succinctly and accurately as possible. The fewer categories used to define the business, the better.
To continue fleshing out the Google My Business profile, businesses should add pictures of their location, services, staff, and products. Photos not only draw customer attention, they are a local ranking signal.
Bing Places for Business
While Google is the best known and most widely used search engine, no business should risk losing those customers who choose to go with Bing. It’s well worthwhile to spend the few moments it takes to claim a Bing Place for Business account.
Other Online Directories
Any online directory a business can claim could mean being found by a customer. It’s a fast process with no downside, so some other directories to look into include: Apple Maps, Yellowpages, Foursquare, and Yahoo’s Localworks.
Like directories, many review sites allow businesses to claim a listing. Some of the most popular are Yelp, Glassdoor, Angie’s List, and BBB. It should be becoming clear that the more places a business can claim a listing, the better – both in terms of visibility and SEO.
Speaking of reviews, clearly every business wants them to be positive. Google forbids businesses from offering something in exchange for a review or setting up review stations, but one thing a business can do to improve their visibility is to respond to reviews whenever possible. The percentage of reviews with responses influences local SEO – and that applies to both positive and negative reviews. Not responding to negative reviews will be a detriment to SEO efforts, so businesses should have a plan in place to provide polite and professional responses to all reviews.
Reviews that incorporate keywords or location names also boost local SEO more than those that don’t.
Facebook and Other Social Media Platforms
Some business owners don’t realize that many potential customers use Facebook to begin their search for a product or service. Ideally, a business should maintain a Facebook page that interacts with and engages its target audience, time permitting. At minimum, businesses should create a Facebook page that links to its website and includes a description and business hours. Pictures and again, reviews, will amplify the page’s value to local SEO.
Other social platforms help Google gather information on a business as well as providing a high-authority link back to the business website. Businesses should claim a site on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, keeping as much consistency as possible across platforms.
The downside to social media is that customers have been conditioned to expect an almost instantaneous response when they contact a business through a platform like Facebook or Twitter. For businesses that don’t have the resources to devote to monitoring social media, leave a note or other contact information so customers know they aren’t being ignored.
NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. Because consistency is key, businesses must make sure their NAP information is identical anywhere a mention of the company appears. For example, if a business is listed in one place as Garcia’s Lawn Care and elsewhere as Garcia’s Lawn Services, those listing should be revised into consistency.
Mobile-friendly / Responsive Design
Today, not only are many more searches conducted from mobile devices, but Google also assesses a business’s mobile site before its desktop site. A business that doesn’t have a responsive or mobile-friendly site will suffer a hit in Google rank and also risk frustrating potential customers who are searching from a phone or tablet.
The previous section summarizes the minimum steps every business should take to begin optimizing for local search. For those with the resources and the desire to get to the top of the search results page, below are additional strategies to deploy.
Structured Data Markup
Businesses have several opportunities to use structured data markup for local SEO: multiple departments, hours, address, website, phone number, menu, and so on. Google recommends adding these markups through its own guide or a tool like Schema.
When a business sees that its efforts are paying off—that is to say, customers are using search engines to find them and clicking through to their website—then it’s time to focus on keeping them on the site. How long visitors spend on a site influences that site’s rank, and perhaps more importantly, it’s where potentials make the decision whether to become customers or leave the page and continue their search.
Local Content and Keyword Optimization
Including content that can emphasize location is a tremendous aid to local SEO. Businesses should try to create articles and other content that emphasizes their key term as well as their location, but they should also be sure to do it in a way that feels natural and still offers value to readers – for example, content should strive to not just optimize “Local SEO” but “Local SEO Myrtle Beach.” The article should provide information to potential clients – not just a string of keywords.
Businesses should also employ on-page SEO by working the key term and location information into the page’s title / title tags and meta description. An appropriate title for a web page would be something like “Local SEO Services Myrtle Beach.”
Links are critical to SEO, and local SEO is no exception. To achieve a respectable local rank, businesses need to cultivate inbound links that are:
- Coming from Relevant Local Sites
The single most important (and easiest) step a business can take to increase its local rank is to claim its Google My Business account and ensure all the information it contains is accurate. This will serve as the foundation on which the business can continue to build local visibility through social media, optimized content, link-building, and so on.
In the current market, it’s essential for businesses to be found where customers are looking, and for the most part, that’s Google.