Local SEO: The Only Guide You Need
If your business is not on the web, you’re missing an opportunity to generate more leads and create awareness for your brand. With the help of Google, Bing, and Yahoo’s new local SEO focus you have to take advantage.
What is the difference between a Normal search vs a Local search?
Before any of this local SEO stuff came along most of the search results were dominated by all the big companies over the non-local SEO companies.
The difference now is that you’re adding the cities, zip codes and addresses to search queries. For example, “italian restaurant 43551” or “wedding photographer around toledo, Ohio”.
There’s a “what” and “where” component that’s changing the game, and these big search engines want to help local businesses, services providers and products to get found.
This is good news for companies without a local presence, because small local businesses can compete against those big companies that have better rankings and are taking business away from them, when consumers are in a buying mood ready to make a purchase from their smart phones.
Why care about Local SEO?
If you go back in time when we used to use the yellow pages (which probably is sitting in someones porch) we’ve always needed local companies, services and products. The only BIG change is the way we do local search and the tools we use.
Before you used to look in our local newspaper, our big yellow pages directories or some local magazine but thanks to the Internet times have changed. We now use search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and our computers, smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices to find what we need.
Think about when was the last time you used your Yellow Pages to find a local restaurant or a local dentist?
What you see going on today online is that there’s more than just the search engines but other websites too, competing for your local attention. Of course, Google is still the king of all of them since it came out with Google maps and Yahoo and Bing have their own local options too.
If you’re new to the tech world, Yelp, Gowalla, Foursquare, Urban Spoon might sound unfamiliar but these sites are also helping local business connect with more local consumers. They offer feedback and reviews on local stores, restaurants, products and services by real consumer in the spot.
Because it’s so important to focus on local search, right now is the best time to roll out a local SEO strategy to bring in more business.
How much will a Local SEO strategy cost me?
Here’s the deal, no matter what it cost you should be concerned with Local SEO, because studies prove that organic search traffic is converting better than most marketing alternatives.
Unlike the traditional way of marketing where your prospects are being hammered with ads and promotions to purchase from you. Inbound marketing is more effective because these prospects are actually looking to solve an issue, or buy a product, all you have to do is get in front of them.
Do you have to spend a fortune to achieve the search results yo want? Not really, If you’re determined to put in the time. If you optimize a local business listing the right way, it can show up in the first page of Google within weeks, sometimes day and as I said it surpasses old school marketing tactics.
The Big Balancer
Thanks’ to Google’s big focus on local times are changing in the search results for small businesses. Geo-targeted searches show Google maps listings first over some huge website.
This levels the playing field for small businesses because they have one thing in their side: a local address. A local address is so important that it doesn’t matter how much money you or big companies throw into their SEO strategy.
This give small businesses and service providers get in front of their prospects when they’re ready to buy. Leveraging local search makes it the most powerful tool for building your awareness, authority and credibility.
Always on Their Hands – How Mobile Works with Local
Mobile is one of the fastest growing industries and more and more people are adapting to smart phones and tablets (ask your grandparent, I bet they have one). iPhones, Blackberries, Google Androids make the user experience a lot easier and the nice thing is, it’s always on their hands.
For example, I just Google “wedding photographer 43551” on my iPhone and I can see every listing, their address, phone number (with a clickable button to call now) and a reviews button too. I can even get directions from where I’m at instantly. Now tell me if that’s not powerful.
It all starts with Google Places
By far, Google Places is the #1 tool for local search marketing online, and the best part – it’s free. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have a website for your business, it offers small businesses visibility to prospects. I’m sure you’ve done search queries on Google and seen Google Places listings before while looking for a company or a service in your city.
Typically if someone is doing these sort of search queries they are in a buying mood and they want to purchase it somewhere close. Google already knows this and Google Places has become the most powerful tool for local search.
How Google Places Ranks Listings
Google says that they rank links primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. Although it does say “Google Maps business listings are generated and ranked entirely by mathematical algorithms” this means that your business may not always show up the same way as before for the same keyword or category.
I found this resource extremely valuable for small business and I think every business should go here to learn more.
How Google Places has Grown
In 2004 they launched “Google Local” business listings with maps. Then in 2005 they came out with “Google Maps“, a really cool mapping tool where you could see any almost any location in “satellite view” and get directions. Later they both merged and became what is now called “Google Places”.
The “7-pack” Search Results vs. Organic Search Listings
Pretty much anytime you do a local search you get the “7-pack” search results from Google Places. They’ve dominated the local search results for many years when you do a keyword query.
A few years back there were companies complaining about this because all their local SEO efforts were being pushed down and they had great organic search rankings, but with the “7-pack” their listing showed to far down the first page or in the second page. (And how often do you visit the second page of the SERPS?)
Changes made to the “7-pack”
In 2010, Google decided to listen to it’s users and a new look was brought out for the first page of local search results, where there was both the “7-pack” results with their own organic search results.
What you should now: The new changes stress how important it is to optimize both for the organic listing and Google places also – local companies that are optimizing for local SEO seem to have the edge on competitors. Here’s a look at what you see today: If your business is in that list, boooooy are you getting some exposure. Plus you can see that the top 4 results still get some exposure over the fold. Now let’s talk about the how to get to the top ranking. I’m sure you’re asking yourself that.
Getting to the Top of the Google Places Listing
One of the best resources is Google itself. I tell all my clients to listen to Google’s advice. They really do give you all the tools and steps necessary to build your businesses’ places page.
But before you go any further, there are a few tips that will help you maximize your rank in Google Places:
- Completed Listings – If you start your listing, complete every box that needs to be filled. I’ve analyzed businesses that aren’t on the 7-pack and one thing that’s common in all of them is missing information. When you provide all the information Google ask for you get better rankings and the end user gets a better experience. I mean put everything, coupons, photos, videos – they let you do all this and it’s all for free.
- Stay Consistent – It’s important to have the right keywords in place. Google Places lets you explain what your business is about through those keywords and how they relate to you. But you also need to be consistent with the contact info (phone, URL, address) found on your first domain and any citation websites. They need to trust you and when they see the same info across all these sites, it builds trust.
- Citations – When it comes to citations, Google trust them just like they do backlinks. They help a business establish trust in Google’s eyes through the validation of business info. All information that represents your business (phone, URL, address) must match (as I said earlier).
Here’s the checklist to make your Google Places listing effective: Business Name
- Represent your business like it appear in the real world.
- Don’t try to manipulate the search results by adding more than what is correct.
- Keep the marketing tag lines away from the business name field.
- Place the corresponding information in the correct boxes provided.
- If you have more than one business location, create a listing for each one.
- P.O Boxes are not accepted. It has to be a physical address.
- Keep your address consistent and accurate as listed in your website.
- If you have more than one location that you service (e.g. on-location photographer) don’t make a listing for each city you service. Only create one listing. How to add service areas to your Google Places listing.
- Are you a doctor, law firm or business with more than one specialization? Google says “it should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the office.“
- In your address lines don’t include URL, or keywords if they do not pertain there.
Website & Phone
- Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible, and provide one website that represents your individual business location.
- If your phone number is LOCAL it could have a bigger SEO weight.
- Do not give phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers besides those of the real business. (they will verify your phone by giving you a call)
CategoriesThis is where the keywords really matter.
- It’s against the guidelines to say what your business does or sells (e.g. cameras & lenses). It should say what your business IS (e.g. Photography). That information should be saved in your description or custom attributes.
- Use one entry field as provided. Don’t over-do it, you’ll be seen as trying to stuff your listing.
- Do not use the category section to add a location (e.g. Toledo Ohio Wedding Photographer is not allowed).
Customer Reviews – Taking Google Places to the next level
This is one of the best features your Google business listing can have. You can have your customers, friends and family write Google Maps reviews for your business. We’ve always trusted the word of past customers over what the company tells us.
If you have positive reviews this can motivate new prospects in Google to choose you over your competitors. All a reviewer must do is find your business in Google Maps, click the “More Info” button, and then “write a review”, then write it, choose a rating and save it.
Note: The reviewer must have a Google account or be signed in if they already have one.
Because they do pull reviews from other sites this can be good and bad. It can bring you more exposure or hurt your brand with bad reviews. You can “flag it as inappropriate” and submit a report. They’ll remove it if they find it against their policy.
Bing Business Portal
Not everyone is a fan boy of Google unlike me so I know there’s many people that still use Yahoo and Bing. Bing’s local listing is part of the Bing Business Portal and they have a maps feature very much alike Google maps.
Even though their search volume isn’t close to Google’s it has many customers. You shouldn’t ignore them, if you do, you’re missing out on millions of prospects that could be looking for you in Bing instead of Google or Yahoo. How Bing Business Portal can Help Your Business:
- You can claim your business listing.
- Manage your listing and choose which categories you want to show up under
- Add your logo, pictures, and more
- Create a mobile site, get a QR code for better experience for your mobile customers
- Have coupons or deals and have promotions for free on Bing plus Facebook
To be successful online you need credibility and trust. One of the best ways to achieve both is by word-of-mouth and testimonials.
If you can ask your customers to take 5 minutes to review your website on sites like Yelp, Foursquare, citysearch.com and others. Bing listings also grab these testimonials and reviews from these sites. If people truly trust you and believe in you they will do it.
Important: Take advantage of Bing’s mobile site offer – it’s a great resource and builds on your local SEO strategy.
Sort of like Google Places, Yahoo Local has a great local business directory that’s connected to the search engine, but their local listing isn’t connected with a map feature. Yahoo does offer an enhanced version to attract more customers. Google just give you these features for free. What you get with a basic listing in Yahoo Local:
- Products or Services
- Contact information:website, address, and phone
- Hours of operation
Yahoo Enhanced Listing – Get everything offered with a Basic Listing, plus:
- Add a business description so it’s easier for customers to find you online
- Promote your business with a logo, photos, and a tagline
- Attract even more customers with online coupons
Yahoo local also pulls reviews from major social networks and uses them in your local listing where they are titled under “web reviews”. The best part about Yahoo is that it indexes review content which makes keyword friendly reviews a powerful helper – this can help you rank over your competitors when prospects do a search query.
Although you might not get the traffic you get from Google Places, it shouldn’t be ignored. Yahoo Local has been known to convert just as well.
Phewwww… that’s a lot of work we’ve been doing. I’m sure if you’ve made it this far you’re serious about getting your site ranked well in the search engines and their local search.
Once you have joined the different search engine listings and added all your right keywords, it’s crucial to have your website optimized to match those geo-targeted keywords. It’s really basic SEO practices that you need, but also remember to use your regional keywords:
- Meta Description
- Page Titles
- H1 and H2 tags
- In your sites body content
Avoid keyword stuffing
Remember PEOPLE will visit and read your website, if they see a word repeated over and over they can tell. You don’t have to use “black hat” SEO strategies to tell people and Google what your site is about.
Use your blog if you have one
Blogging is here to stay, no matter what people say. If you’ve been writing a blog, you have a head start over your competition, because it’s one of the easiest and best ways to grow your local ranking.
Local Link Building
There’s a ton of places you can get local links – but you need to know where to find local websites. You can use some of the resources here to build links locally:
- Social Media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter are all communities full of people that want to connect and share with each other. Use it to find people with the same interests willing to network and link to your website
- Organizations – Take advantage of the BBB aka Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce are all sites that can help bring trust and authority to your website and business. If you belong to any sort of local groups or associations as to get linked back.
- Search online for local Websites or Blogs – search engines value these sort of links. If you can find a blog, comment on their posts, offer to write a guest post or just send a request for a link – what is there to loose? Here’s a cool trick to find websites:
- Toledo + “Blog”
- 43551 + “Wedding Blog”
- Directory – Here’s another trick to find some in your local area.
- Toledo + “Directory”
- 43551 + “Directory”
- Neighborhood + “Directory”
And you can get even more creative if you want by doing a statewide search query for directories. Please don’t get caught up doing just link building.
Focus on building content, remember epic content is KING! If you focus on producing the best content your audience wants, it not only builds great SEO, it grows credibility locally and expert status with potential clients.
This is really what it’s all about and it’s important you maintain consistency in your business description, your address and all the information you provide across the web.
In your website’s footer include your contact info – this makes it easy for Google Places, Yahoo and Bing Local to recognize your business. I hope this report helps you place higher in the search engines, hopefully within Google’s top 7 listing.
Final Thoughts and Other Resources
By reading this report alone you should be able to understand local SEO and enough skills to raise your businesses’ search engine ranking. If you’re goal is to get customers in your region, it’s for your own good to focus on a local search strategy so your potential customers can find you when they’re in the BUY mode.
As you see here, most of it is free and in some cases you’ll have to pay a small fee, but it’s worth the return on investment. Google Places should be the first place to work on because it has the best results in your search engine optimization. Here’s a list of local citation that impact your results the most:
- Merchant Circle
- Judy’s Book
- Yellow Book
- Magic Yellow Pages
- Dex Knows
- Info USA
- Insider Pages
- City Search
Google’s Matt Cutts | How to Get Better Visibility on Google
Hardcore Local SEO Tactics – OUTSPOKEN Media
Local Search Ranking Factors – David Mihm
One Last Thing
Now that you’ve read this article, I want you to do two things:
Bookmark this page so you can come back to it as you apply the steps. I know it’s a long post and a lot of people don’t have time to read it in one setting.
The other thing I want you to do is don’t forget to share this on Twitter and Facebook and everyone else, this post took me very long to write and I hope many can find it and use it to increase their local SEO ranking. Oh, and don’t forget to share this on Twitter and Facebook and everyone else
Now may ask, What do you think?, Are you going to use these strategies on your business?