There are literally millions of searches happening online everyday. With the rise in popularity of mobile phones and faster wireless speeds, this number is steadily rising. In 2011 75% of consumers said they used the internet to search for a local business.
Impressive stats, right? Backed up in my personal experience by the fact that I’ve had a lot of people ask me what to do with Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) recently. Chatting with different folks from a variety of industries, it was interesting to discover that most people don’t really know much about Local SEO, but they all wanted to know how it works and what they should be doing with it. Guys, this post is for you!
Rather than come up with a complex manual of technical industry jargon, this Local SEO Guide is designed to be easy to understand and implement as possible. I’ll be revisiting and updating the content regularly, based on reader responses and the inevitable future changes to Local SEO. So please leave feedback and any questions you may have and check back when you can.
Ready to get going? Let’s start with the basics …
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the optimization of websites through targeting geographically-related keyword phrases. While traditional SEO is implemented to rank for a keyword like “plumbers”, Local SEO techniques attempt to rank keywords like “plumbers sydney”. Although many of the techniques are the same – great on-page optimization as the foundation and solid off-page optimization as the support – there are many different factors involved in ranking a location-based keyword highly.
What are Local SEO Ranking Factors?
There are 3 major areas to consider when it comes to Local SEO:
- Places Page
- External Factors
First things first – make sure you have a Google Places page set up and verified. This is the first thing you need to work on to get some traction in Local SEO. If you don’t have a Google Places page, you can set one up here.
A Places page that’s filled out completely and accurately will be more optimised than one not complete (or non-existent!), and therefore more likely to rank higher. This means you need to ensure you have all your information entered accurately – your business name, address, trading hours, payment methods, images, etc. Spend some time filling out as much as you can in as much detail as you can. This information will let Google and the search community know what your business is about and what kind of search terms it should appear for. It’s the first set of criteria Google looks at when ranking local searches.
A citation is a listing of your business information (address, trading hours, etc) on another website. A citation in Local SEO is like a backlink in traditional SEO – another website voting for yours. And just like you should be consistently building links to your website, you should be continually building citations as well. Quantity is important, and so is quality and relevancy. For instance, it’s better to get one citation from an authoritative website that’s related to your industry than ten from low authority non-entities.
Maintaining consistency is also key when it comes to citations. Having one citation with your phone number as “1234 5678″ and another as “1800 123 456″ can weaken the power of both. Even having “St” on some and “Street” on the others be detrimental.
How Do I Get Citations?
To get citations, its usually a very simple matter of submitting your details to a directory website such as Truelocal for review. Once approved, your listing will go live and you’ll get the benefit of that citation. A great tool for finding potential citation sources for your demographic and geographic area is Whitesparks Citation Finder Tool. This tool also reports on what citations you already have, so you can work at getting them all consistent. Using the same method, you can check out where your competitors are getting their citations from and grab them too! You can try the tool for free, but it’s quite limited in what it will do for you until you sign up. I recommend the small business plan for most as it should cover your citation-sourcing needs and is only $20/month.
Online reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising (second only to personal referrals) with 60% of consumers saying they have more trust and are more likely to buy with a business that has positive reviews. So besides the obvious brand boost, getting reviews on your Places page also helps with ranking more highly in for local search terms.
How Do I Get Reviews?
Unfortunately, just performing a great service or selling a great product isn’t always enough for someone to leave you a great review. Some do, but others will need prompting and others will need an incentive (discounts for repeat business, freebies etc). My favourite tactic is to simply ask! You’d be surprised how many people are keen to help out.
To illustrate, let me share a story with you …
I once got locked out of my apartment and needed to get back in. It was 9pm and I’d had a long day at work. I’d come outside to let my girlfriend in and accidentally left the keys inside. I was hungry, tired and frustrated with myself at what had happened. I called a few locksmiths and found one who had great customer service over the phone and offered a great price. He told me he’d be over in 20 minutes and came in around 10. He quickly got me into my apartment and it was time to discuss payment. I didn’t have much cash on me so we agreed that I’d pay him 50% now, and 50% via EFT on an Invoice – close one!
When he emailed me the invoice, he did something so simple:
He asked if I’d leave a review! Well of course I would, after the excellent service he provided why wouldn’t I? The above email could be improved by cleaning up the URLs and focusing more directly on the most important ones, but you get the idea. If you never ask your customers to review your local listings, chances are they won’t.
Now that your Place page is set up correctly and you have lots of citations and reviews, you need to look at your website itself. Is your physical location present on your website? Is it easily findable by users? Some websites like to have their address on every page of their site which can help in some cases but at the very least, you should make sure your location is on your contact page and use an embedded map if possible. See our contact page as an example.
Got a Google+ account? Great! You can link your account with your Places page via the new Google+ Local platform, giving even more benefit to your users – they can add you in circles, write to you, and even view status updates from your page. You can read more on that here. Google+ also brings a ton of author SEO benefits such as Google Authorship, stronger brand presence, more referral traffic – the list goes on! You can sign up to Google+ here and learn more about the benefits of Authorship here.
So What Now?
Local SEO is really pretty simple when you break it down. Get your Places page sorted, set some time aside each month to check your citations are consistent and growing, and continue to ask your customers for positive reviews. Chances are, the majority your competitors aren’t up to speed in at least two of these three areas. Keep up your efforts and you should be well on your way to dominating local search!