One of those phrases that’s thrown around in marketing circles is SEO, or search engine optimization. Basically, it’s how we refer to the process of building or remaking a website to be more friendly to search engines. If you’re a small company that mostly does business out of a brick-and-mortar location, it can be hard to see how hypothetical concepts like SEO can work for you. But rest assured, it can! You can optimize your web presence for local searches, which will in turn help you net more local business. We’ve put together this local SEO guide to help you understand how it can have a real-world effect on your business… and how to harness its power.
In this article, we’re assuming that your business already has an internet presence; if not, check our tips for building an online presence. This is our start-from-scratch guide to local SEO: no experience required. Let’s get started!
Snack Pack and Organic: What is Local SEO?
Let’s begin by defining search engine optimization. When you’re optimizing your website, you’re improving your site’s organic (or unpaid) search results. Remember, it’s not a replacement for advertising!
When you ask Google a question (out loud or in your search bar), the search engine sends out a crawler, or a super-fast website scanner. It gathers all the information it can find related to your question. The engine builds an index based on this information and feeds it through an algorithm to determine the best answers. Those answers are your search results.
Let’s try an experiment:
Search Google for something simple that can be found in a business near you, like coffee. The first thing you’ll see are two or three relevant paid ads. Mine, for example, are for Dunkin Donuts and for a few bags of coffee I can order online.
Next you’ll see a box containing a Google Maps display and three locations that apply to your search. This boxed area is called the Google Snack Pack. Keep scrolling and you’ll see the organic search results: articles about coffee, the Wikipedia page for coffee, and some results for local coffee shops. According to this study, 40 percent of clicks go to local organic results, while 33 percent go to the Snack Pack results. You want to be in both of those categories!
But what information is Google using to put together these local results? In other words, why might one coffee shop show up over another? The basic answer is this: it’s looking for what it can verify. By searching for signals like inbound and internal links, citations, reviews, website design and content, and social media profiles, the engine determines which relevant results are legitimate. Even if you’re running a legit business in the real world (or so we hope), the trick is to make sure search engines know it!
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some ways to do that.
We’ll start with the obvious: the big search engine company itself! Google My Business is a powerful, free, easy-to-use tool, one you should familiarize yourself with. This is how you can directly interact with one of the search engines you’re optimizing for.
To get started, you’ll want to claim and verify your business in the Google My Business interface. Simply click “Manage Now” and search for your business. Once you’ve found it, click “Manage Now” again. If your business isn’t found, just click the dropdown option below what you’re typing that says “Create a business with this name.” Be certain you’ve typed your business name correctly when you do this! You want your My Business profile to be completely accurate.
Then just follow the instructions. You’ll be asked to list your business address, but if you work from home, just list your home address. You can check a box here to hide your address from the public. Keep entering the information that Google asks for and you’ll verify your business.
Because this is a Google service, verified businesses get improved search rankings. You’ve already done part of the legwork to let Google know that you’re a credible candidate for search results. But there’s more that you can do on Google My Business than just verifying yourself. You can answer customer questions, interact with reviews, post photos, list hours and amenities, and more. The more you add to your My Business profile, the better your rankings through Google will be!
Be Caught NAP-ping
When potential customers are searching for a business, what information do they want to know? The most basic answer is your NAP – that’s your Name, Address, and Phone number. These are the three most important things to have on your site; all three will show up in search results. This information is usually in the header or footer of a site so it’s easy for visitors to find.
Your NAP needs to remain consistent, no matter if it’s here on your website, on Google My Business, or in any other directory. Even simple things like spelling errors can derail you, and don’t leave any the’s out of your name! Furthermore, search engine crawlers can’t read images, so be sure to have your information in text on your page and not only as part of a graphic.
Your NAP isn’t the only thing you should have on your site, of course.
Think about what else your customers need to know in order to visit your store, then make sure this information is accurate and easy to find and read. Your About Us page is a great place for this! Listing your hours of operation, service offerings, product menu, or even things like a Google Map display can all increase your credibility to search engines.
If you have multiple brick-and-mortar locations for your business, it’s a good idea to add a page for each individual location. This helps search engines determine which of your locations is most relevant to a prospective customer, as well as giving that customer the information they need to visit. Each page can be as in-depth as you’d like, including descriptions, customer reviews, parking information, or promotions, but at the very least it should contain that location’s NAP and hours.
For more on making a good first impression, we have some tricks for crafting a landing page that converts.
Keywords Are Key
Beyond making your most important information readily available, you’ll want to optimize your site for search engine crawlers. If a crawler finds lots of relevant information on your website, you’ll come out higher in search rankings. You can determine what crawlers, and thus potential customers, are searching for by doing keyword research.
This is a deceptively easy process. You can get started using the SiL format, which stands for [Service] in [Location]. First, list the services you provide in all the ways you can think of phrasing it, including plural forms.
- dog groomer
- dog groomers
- dog grooming
- pet groomer
- pet groomers
- pet grooming
- pet salon
Then add all of the locations you serve. You might include cities, neighborhoods, or even the street you’re on.
That list could look like this:
- Wheat Ridge
- West Colfax Avenue
If you get stuck (or if you just want to automate the process) you can try this Keyword Generator. You can also try looking through Craigslist.org for ideas. When you look under the service your business provides, you should see ads for similar services in your area. What kind of keywords and phrases are these ads using?
Once you have a list of keywords that will lead customers to you through search engines, you can begin implementing them throughout your website.
Don’t Be Content – Make Content
Now that you have your keywords, you need a place to put them. You need to create more content – but how? An easy answer is (quite literally) right in front of you: a blog!
Writing blog posts might sound intimidating, but whether you run an auto repair shop, a restaurant, or a hair salon, there’s always something to blog about. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when you’re coming up with post ideas. What can you teach your community about your field? Can you comment on new developments in your industry? Are you participating in or sponsoring any local events? Do you have any customer reviews or exceptional employees that you can highlight?
Blog posts like these are a useful way to give yourself and your business professional clout and local relevance… and attract the attention of those search engine crawlers, of course.
Have a Structured Approach
When people are on your site, they move through it using internal links. Links between the pages on your website give it structure and navigability, something search engine crawlers are looking for. They also help determine the hierarchy and ranking power of your site’s different pages. Having a strong network of internal links will help boost your overall search rankings, which in turn helps push you towards the top of local results.
The key word here is network. Rather than pointing all of your links back to your home or contact pages, marketer Neil Patel suggests linking your “deeper” content together – i.e. all of those blog posts you’re writing. Link your posts and other pages together in ways that are helpful and make sense. This will help you create a website that’s… well, webby and, more importantly, easier for both visitors and search engine crawlers to navigate through.
As a business, a desktop site is your internet bread and butter. It’s where you’ll focus most of your attention when you’re working on your online presence. But having a site that translates smoothly onto mobile devices is imperative. Of the 4 in 5 people who search for local information with a search engine, 88 percent of them do so on their smartphones, and 61 percent of people with smartphones are more likely to contact businesses that have a functional, mobile-friendly site.
Google’s search algorithm takes this into account by ranking mobile-friendly sites higher in mobile searches. So when an enormous chunk of your potential customers are looking up your information on the go, it pays to make it easy for them to do so.
Creating a mobile-friendly site is an undertaking in and of itself. And just like in SEO, mobile-friendliness isn’t black and white – it’s a process. You can take steps towards having a site that works better on smartphones one at a time.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Use a simple design. When it comes to mobile, having a lot of complex elements on your page will make load times slower and the interface more difficult to use. Streamline the design as much as you can!
- Think big… particularly when it comes to things like buttons or text. Small buttons might be easy to click with a mouse, but they’re hard to push with your finger. Likewise, make your text big enough to read quickly and easily without breaking out the magnifying glass.
- Use a framework like Bootstrap or Skeleton. These let your website scale to different display sizes, meaning they’ll be functional on desktops, tablets, or smartphones.
- Think in percentages, not pixels. Rather than having a set width, the elements of your page should be able to scale to display sizes. This goes hand-in-hand with using a framework.
- Compress any images on your site. Having large files, particularly images, on your site can cause it to load slowly. Remember, you’re working with smartphones here; when they’re using mobile data, loading a webpage containing a lot of information can severely slow down the process. Making your file sizes as small as possible will help!
- Don’t use Flash. This is all-around good advice, as Flash can cause slow loading times even on desktop computers. But neither Android nor iOS support flash, so avoid using it for your mobile site.
- Get an expert opinion, especially if any of this seems out of your reach. Web design experts can optimize your site for mobile and will help relieve any related headaches you might have.
Inbound links, or links on other websites that go to a page on your website, are great for your SEO. Search engine crawlers see these links as verification of your site from outside sources, which boosts your credibility. Getting these links requires some legwork, but there are plenty of options for getting other websites to link to you, especially if you look in your local community.
Start with data aggregators like Neustar Localeze or Factual. These companies provide data to mapping companies like Google Maps, Yelp, and Trip Advisor. Again, make sure your NAP is entered correctly, consistently, across any platform you use.
Next, you’ll want to emphasize any affiliations with your local chamber of commerce, trade organizations, and other groups your business is a part of. Links coming from these websites are especially helpful. After that, it’s time to get creative. There are all kinds of ways to attract links to your website. Consider guest blogging on another site, hosting a community event, or joining a partner directory.
Socialize With Your Network
Search engines will use your social media profiles as another way of gauging your legitimacy. Facebook in particular offers several opportunities for businesses to advertise to and engage with their communities and actually functions as a search engine itself. Your business Facebook profile is a great place to post up-to-date information concerning your business, like holiday closures or special events. Search engines can track the use of and engagement with your social media profiles, so making good professional use of any social media platforms can help you net higher search rankings.
Get a Second Opinion
The way people find businesses has changed, and brick-and-mortar businesses can’t just rely on foot traffic or traditional advertising anymore. Optimizing your website, and by extension your company, for local searches won’t just keep you afloat. It can help your company thrive!
But if you’re finding local SEO intimidating or simply too time-consuming on top of the responsibility of running the other facets of your business, there are plenty of experts ready to help. At Punch Bug, local SEO is one of our specialties; find out more about what we can offer your business here!