If you want to attract more customers, one of the most important factors is local SEO. People searching for a business, whether it’s a restaurant, dentist, landscape service, auto repair shop, attorney or anything else, are likely to search using local terms. The first step is to get your business listed on Google My Business and Google Maps. Google recently made a major change to local listings, changing from a 7-pack to a 3-pack format.
This means that Google now only features the top three businesses for a search term rather than the top seven, as before. This makes local SEO more competitive as many people won’t bother to look beyond the featured results. Now, if you want to get potential customers’ attention, it makes a big difference if you’re in the top three. Let’s look at some ways to accomplish this.
Create and Optimize Your Google My Business Page
The first step for local SEO is creating your Google My Business page. Without this, you have no chance of being listed in Google’s local listings. This is a simple process but it’s important that you’re thorough and accurate about it. When you do this for the first time, you also have to verify your business with Google and fill out vital information. Here are some of the main points for optimizing your listing.
- NAP – NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. It’s crucial that you fill out all your basic business information thoroughly and accurately.
- Citation consistency – Citation consistency means that you list your business the same way all over the internet. Even minor variations can harm your local SEO. For example, if the name of your website is John A. Smith, General Contractor and your Google My Business listing is Smith General Contracting, Google is likely to consider these two separate businesses. The same is true for your address. Don’t list your address as 100 Main Street, 2nd Floor in one place and 100 Main St., Ste. 201 somewhere else. Look up all of your listings online and make them consistent.
- Provide useful information for customers– When people look up your listing, they want to know things like your business hours, what days you’re open and a summary of what you sell or do. Choose the most accurate category for your business. The more accurate you are on these points, the better for local SEO and for helping you attract customers.
- Add photos – Quality photographs of yourself and your business add to your credibility and help you rank better with Google. This also gives you the chance to show off your business to customers who look you up.
The Importance of Reviews
Getting reviews from customers is an increasingly important part of local SEO. You also want to do this to build up your business’s reputation and social proof. When people see positive reviews, they’re more likely to try a new business. Google also considers reviews extremely valuable. Customers can now leave reviews on many sites, such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Trip Advisor (for hospitality industry businesses), and many others. For SEO purposes, however, Google reviews are most important.
According to Moz, review signals are 8.4% of Google’s local ranking formula. It’s hard to quantify ranking factors with precision as Google is not very transparent about this. However, there’s no doubt that reviews are a significant factor. Apart from helping you rank better, Google reviews are also visible to searchers, at least for businesses that are among the top listings. Naturally, what helps you are not simply reviews but positive reviews. Keep these guidelines in mind to get more good reviews for your business.
- Set up profiles on review sites- If you’re set up with Google My Business, you’re ready to get reviews on Google. However, it’s also wise to set up profiles on any sites where reviews of your type of business appear. Even when you convince people to write you a review, you can’t always predict where they’ll write it. The more places you’re listed, the better.
- Ask customers for reviews- Don’t be shy about asking for reviews. This is an essential aspect of doing business today and there’s nothing wrong with making the request as long as you’re polite about it. Leave a link to your review profile (or multiple profiles) on your website. If you have a physical business, post a sign on the wall encouraging people to leave reviews. You can also put down your review links on business cards or appointment cards that you hand out to customers (such as in doctor’s offices, veterinarians, spas, etc.). Never try to compel people to write positive reviews or offer incentives to do so as this tends to turn customers off and violates the TOS of review sites.
- Train employees to help you get reviews- Recruit sales associates, customer service reps, receptionists, and other employees to encourage customers to write reviews. Whether they interact with customers in person, on the phone, or online, it never hurts to drop a gentle reminder.
- Monitor your online reputation- Make sure you’re aware when people review your business. Set up Google Alerts for your business name or use other reputation management tools or services. If you get negative reviews, contact the customer and see if you can appease him or her.
Get Local Links and Citations
Links have long been a central aspect of SEO. When you’re focusing on local SEO, one of your best tools to rank better is to build local links and citations. These are simply local mentions of your business, such as in business directories, local publications, or any popular websites that list businesses. Such citations prove to Google that you’re relevant in your area and that people are talking about your business. In some cases, you’re fortunate enough to get local citations without even trying. For example, if you own a restaurant and a reviewer for the local paper or a regional magazine stops in and writes a review, you’ve got a valuable local link (provided it’s a good review, of course!). However, you can’t count on getting local citations passively. You should also actively seek them.
- Submit your site to as many leading citation sources as possible- This includes search engines, review sites, and business directories. Additionally, submit your business information to any directories that are specific to your business. For example, legal directories such as Findlaw, Avvo, and others list law firms.
- Find local publications and directories that are potentially good for links and citations- If you’re in Houston, for example, search for “Houston business directory” and “Houston business listings.” Also, do a search that includes your business type, which brings up associations that list your type of business, as in “Houston dentist listings” or “Houston dentist association.”
- Network locally- You can also get links and citations less formally by meeting people in your area who might link to you. This could be someone who publishes a print publication or has a website. You might offer to exchange links.
Local SEO depends on many factors. Without knowing Google’s formula, you can still do as much as you can to optimize your site for local rankings. In addition to the tips we’ve already covered, here are a few additional ones.
- Embed a Google Map into your website- This helps people find you and helps you rank with Google.
- Use Google Plus- Google Plus, which is Google’s own social media platform, is distinct from Google My Business. Sharing content on Google Plus helps you gain authority with Google.
- Make your site mobile-friendly- More and more customers are searching for businesses on smartphones and other mobile devices. Google also counts mobile-friendliness as an SEO factor.
- Create content that’s locally relevant- It helps to mention your city, neighborhood, and region when creating content such as blog posts, social media posts, articles, and videos. When possible, write pieces with a local slant. You can even insert place names into general topics. For example, in an article about shopping for a new car, you could say, “Residents of Manchester, New Hampshire can find the best deals on new cars…”
- Have a professional and attractive logo- Logos often show up in search listings and help to make your business appear more legitimate and professional.
Mike Khorev is an SEO expert and digital marketing strategist who helps small and mid-size businesses generate more leads and sales and grow revenue online. He offers expert advice on marketing your company the right way through performance-based SEO, digital marketing, web design, social media, search engine marketing and many other online practices. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.