Local SEO is not like other types of SEO. It’s not about letting search engines know that your webpages are relevant to specific searches. It’s about letting search engines know that your website is relevant to specific locations.
Ok, so it may not sound that different, but it really is – if only because Local SEO is a lot more intuitive than SEO in general.
I’ll put it another way – Local SEO is for websites and shops with a physical location and somehow dealing with real world things is easier, even in SEO.
Find my store
Let’s say you have a website for a carpet cleaners in Antarctica (they might have carpets there, who knows, I’ve never been). It would be helpful if you could have your carpet cleaner business turn up in search results for people in the Antarctic, but not so much for people in London. This is where Local SEO comes in.
Instead of trying to get the number one rank for a search term globally (eg carpet cleaning), you should be trying to get it for just your local area (eg carpet cleaning Antarctica). The great thing is that you do this in much the same way online as you would offline. By which I mean you should:
- Add yourself to local business directories
- Try to get featured in the local paper
- Make sure you have a clear address (or service area) stated on your website
- At least consider adding the name of the area you are in to your company name
- Basically just tell people where you are
This being the 21st century there are also slightly more technical things you can do. The joy of Local SEO (as opposed to other SEO) is that it is in fact only slightly technical!
Basically though, you just have to sign up to a few websites to massively increase the likelihood of people finding your business.
Does Local SEO affect my search rankings?
Before we get started on how easy and non-technical Local SEO is, let’s deal with the big nerd question in the room. If you do good Local SEO, does it help your normal SEO?
The answer is a big old fat yes. Not only will it help get you in the ‘knowledge graph’ section of Google (the bit on the right), it should boost you up the rankings for searches related to your area.
I’ll put it this way – Google wants to show everyone the most relevant possible answer to their searches. If you’ve told Google maps that you are a carpet cleaner in Antarctica, what would Google gain from not boosting you up search results for people in Antarctica searching for cleaner carpets?
It’s not a riddle – they would get nothing.
Use Google My Business to get on Google Maps
At The Online Advertising Guide we are obviously on board with websites having entirely literal names, and so Google My Business is a firm favourite.
Google My Business (or GMB) is where you can go to set up a profile for your business on Google Maps. If you only sign up to one mapping service, make it this one as it is the most popular mapping / navigation service by a HUGE margin. About 2/3rds of people use it compared to about 11% for the next largest service.
Therefore signing up to Google Maps is a no-brainer for any local business, especially because Google Maps will have possibly made a profile for you anyway. This is because Google Maps isn’t set up for people to advertise their business – it’s set up for people to find their way to places.
So whether or not you are on there, it’s possible you are on there. These profiles which are set up automatically are populated with information from the general public, and so are (unsurprisingly) often wrong. Therefore you need to set up your own profile so you can make sure all the information on there is right, and so that you can respond to reviews and questions about your business.
Google My Business is how you take control of your mapping destiny, and to do this, simply go to business.google.com and sign up.
Note: You’ll need a Google account to do this, but you can turn your work email into a Google account by going here and choosing “use my current email address instead”.
Once you’ve signed up you can:
- Find your automatically created listing and claim it
- Create a new listing if you are not already on there
- Create a service area business
If you can claim a listing that already exists for your business, then you should. It can be tempting to want a fresh start, but it really makes no sense to start a new listing and leaving another automatic listing live at the same time. It will just confuse your customers.
Google makes it easy for you to find yourself by auto-completing when you try to enter your business name. You can also claim businesses straight from Google Maps if you find a listing for a place you own. Just go to the listing, then click “Claim this business”.
The “Create a service area business” option is for businesses which don’t want people turning up on their doorstep. For example if you are a charity with outreach workers but only a tiny office, you may not want people to come to you. To do this just say you are a service area business, then choose your service area – simple!
You can also add multiple businesses under one account if you like, just repeat the process for each location.
Set up your profile
Once you have signed up and verified your location, make sure to add as many details as possible to your profile. Put some thought into categorising your business properly, and make sure all your contact details and opening hours are correct. You should also definitely add your own website address and a good description of your business.
Fill in as many fields as possible, as they will help Google to show your listing to more people. It will also stop other people from filling in these details – as it is important to always keep in mind that your profile is editable by the public (more on that later).
You should also add images to your page. This includes a logo and cover image. The cover image is what people will see in a large variety of places including:
- In the right hand column in Google Search Results
- On Google Maps when they hover over your pin, or select your location
- In Google Calendar when they select you as the location of an event (this isn’t always the case though)
This makes it vital to have a good cover image, as it represents you more than any other image you put on Google My Business.
You should also add a few images of the inside of your location, what you sell, and the outside of your location. All of these will come up in search results and in Google Maps, and can really encourage people to choose you over other places.
Again, you should do your best for this section as members of the public can add photos too. While most people won’t bother to add information to your profile, many people will add photos to your location for any old reason. These photos from the public can be great, but they can also just be random selfies or unflattering images of basically anything.
Managing your profile
Once you have set up your profile and added images, there isn’t really much else to do in the long run. You will have to keep an eye on questions and reviews (more on that in a minute), and keep your profile up to date, but that’s basically it. In case you want to do more though, here is a quick overview of all the sections of Google My Business:
- Posts – a new feature which most people haven’t used yet. It is essentially a miniature Twitter feed attached to your Google Search result. I wouldn’t pay it too much attention, as in terms of social media it will be seen by very few people. Use it to announce sales perhaps, but that is it really.
- Info – where all the details for your business are stored. Make sure the address, opening hours, phone number and URL are all correct, and add special opening hours around holiday dates (if you have special opening hours).
- Insights – some stats for you on how effective these listings are. You might especially like the second chart which shows how many requested directions to your shop in the last month. Keep in mind that it doesn’t prove they actually went in your business after seeing the listing, but it’s helpful nonetheless.
- Reviews – where you can see, and reply to reviews. If you reply on your account, it should come up as “Response from the owner” rather than as your name. It’s best practise is to reply to everyone who says anything, but it’s up to you to decide how much to engage.
- Photos – includes photos that you have added, ones from the public, and the 360 section includes Google Street View. Note: You can’t delete photos from he public unless there is a good reason (eg it’s offensive etc), and you do that by clicking the flag in the corner.
- Users – here you can manage who has access to your Google My Business Account.
Reviews and Questions
One of the main reasons why you should take control of your Google Maps listing is so that you can respond to reviews and questions.
These can be asked by anyone about your business, and answered by anyone too. They appear underneath your listing, and so can make a big impact on anyone who is seriously researching your business.
From what I’ve seen, members of the public who answer questions are not generally doing it in order to help your business out, and can say pretty harsh things for no reason at all (what a shock!).
You should get emailed whenever you get a question on your listing, and it is VERY important that you answer these questions as soon as possible. Most people expect an answer within a couple of hours, and while that might not be reasonable, you should endeavour to answer asap.
If you find old questions on your profile when you first sign up, go back and answer them anyway if you can so at least people can see that you are trying.
These give your business a star rating, and you need to treat these in the spirit they are intended – as a customer service exercise. If someone says something nice, then say thank you. Before I get into the negatives you should keep in mind – the vast majority of reviews are positive.
For many businesses, you will mostly just get occasional emails telling you about five star reviews, which make your day a little better.
However, this is not always the case, and there will be bad reviews for *literally* every business. If someone says something mean do not get mad and reply. Fighting with your customers in public is the exact worst thing you can do. Instead, take a breath and try to address their complaint.
The ideal outcome you can get from a 1 star review with a grumble is that your customer is so pleased with how well you responded to their complaint that they change their review. This can mean giving them a way to contact you outside of the review system, and giving them as much attention as possible to fix the reason why they complained in the first place.
This isn’t gaming the system or being cynical – it’s how the system should work. Someone is upset with you, so you fix it.
Keep in mind two things:
- Lots of people are jerks. Just like with all internet commenting, some people will just say terrible things for no reason. I’ve seen bad reviews of art galleries because people don’t like certain ‘masterpiece’ paintings. Some people are just mean and/or weird.
- A clever answer on your behalf means nothing if they don’t change their review. I’ve seen places cleverly respond to one star reviews which entirely changes the context and meaning of the review, but as the reviewer didn’t change the rating all anyone else sees is that they received some one star reviews. It is a public forum, but you are talking to an individual so focus on them.
Updates by the public (Google Local Guides)
Sometimes in the Info section in GMB you will have to deal with updates from the public. For example you can add details for your business under Accessibility, Amenities, Dining Options, etc, but these can all also be added by anyone.
The way it works is that people who are signed up to Google Local Guides are asked questions about places they’ve been (Google knows where they’ve been by using the GPS on their phone). You don’t need to be specifically knowledgeable to become a local guide, so they are just random members of the public essentially.
Google Local Guides is a gamified system – meaning that it constantly encourages people to write reviews and answer questions about places. In return they get points, which help them level up – and in return they get rewards. Due to this, people do answer a lot of questions and write a lot reviews, even about places that haven’t really made an impression on them. This in turn means that a lot of reviews are largely ambivalent, and a lot of questions are answered wrongly.
What this means for you – the Google My Business profile owner – is that in the info section you will occasionally see updates from the public about your business. If someone answers a question about a location different to what you have input, then Google will ask you to deal with it (by asking you to “Accept all updates”). The updated info is in orange – if you disagree with what has been updated then just update it yourself and click save (which will then trigger Google asking more people to check what you said was true).
If you leave updates for too long then Google will eventually start showing them whether you have agreed to them or not. You won’t receive an email to tell you about updates, so make sure to check your info section now and then.
It’s overall a minor annoyance, and simply the way Google gets you to keep engaging with your listing.
Other Mapping Sites – Bing, Apple, Facebook etc
There are a few other big mapping sites you can also set yourself up on if you like. Below are brief details about the main ones, but outside of these you should also see if there are any local directories you can get into. None of these will have near the impact of Google My Business, but once you’ve set up one directory, you might as well hit as many as possible to ensure you get as much notice as possible.
And the good news is, they are all free!
Once you are set up on Google My Business, the next thing you should do is set yourself up on Bing Places. This isn’t because Bing is the second biggest map website, but simply because you can import your listing from Google Maps into it. It’s easy enough to do – just go to Bing Places, set up a profile and click the “Import data from Google My Business” account.
Bing Places has a few different options to Google My Business, and you’ll have to upload pictures manually. You should therefore take a minute to optimise your listing accordingly.
Bing Places also does this thing where they lose confidence in listings over time. This means they will email you periodically to confirm your details again. It doesn’t really take any time to do (you just login and click a button). Make sure you do it though as otherwise they might start listing your business as closed!
Apple Maps is by far the most annoying mapping service in that the only way to verify your listing is by phone call. This means an automated voice will call your listed number and tell you a code to input in the site IMMEDIATELY. These automated calls can be quite hard to understand, and if you are a shop then it can be easy to miss them.
Also Apple Maps isn’t great. It is popular-ish though, so after signing up to Google Maps and Bing Places, it’s the third thing you should do. You can sign up to Apple Maps Connect here.
Facebook allows you to list the location of your business. There is nothing more to say about it than this really. We recommend filling in as many details as possible on the Facebook profile page for your business anyway, so you should have already done this if you have a profile.
If you have a website or business that is related to a certain area, then rejoice, you have an extra type of SEO to take advantage of. And double rejoice – it’s the most straightforward type of SEO! Just tell people where you are!
If you build it (your profile that is), they will come!