Contributed by Mike Hayes, Founder of Darby Hayes Consulting
If you run a local business, there is a good chance you’ve heard of SEO (and likely been pitched SEO services by numerous email and telemarketers).
However, there is a lot of misinformation around the web, and what this guide hopes to do is set the record straight on SEO for local businesses. It will hopefully prove useful to business owners as well as aspiring SEOs.
Let’s dive in…
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is ”the practice of publishing websites and web pages in a way that ranks highly in commercial search engines”.
What are these practices? Well, the tactics and strategies associated with SEO have changed over time (as have the search engines themselves), but the fundamentals of quality web content and high authority backlinks (ie links from other powerful websites) have generally remained in place.
How is Local SEO Different?
The Internet is a big place, and search engines serve up an almost inconceivable amount of different content. There are 3 large buckets that most SEOs use when analyzing content:
- Informative content (What is, who is, product reviews, “best of” content, etc.),
- E-commerce (direct buyer intent, “laptops”, “flatscreen TVs”, “buy power tools”)
- Local services (plumber san Antonio, AC repair Miami, etc).
While most non-local queries are accommodated by huge authority sites and require a site to rank nationally, local service queries are usually accommodated by far fewer, and much smaller, local companies.
Less competition, more targeted customers? Sounds like a winning combination, no? But wait, there’s more!
Google Business Profile (GBP)
Starting in 2007 Google began including local business listings in their organic search results. These results were presented as part of Google maps, sometimes referred to as the Google Map Pack or the Local Pack. As a webmaster, you can get your company listed and control your listing with “Google Business Profile” (GBP).
See an example here for “plumber San Antonio”:
What makes GMB different from regular, “organic” SEO? A few things:
- Blended Algorithm: While the ranking algorithm for GMB is impacted by organic search (e.g. you will often see the same sites ranked in maps as they are ranked organically), they are not 100% similar.
- Reviews: Reviews can impact your rankings, and of course affect your click-through rate and conversion rates. This is good! It means you can gain positive algorithmic effects from your happy customers.
- Citations: Citations (i.e. a mention of your Company’s Name, Address and Telephone Number) in high-quality web directories can impact rankings. This is a relatively easy, and legitimate way to build links and build citations (just stay away from low-quality directories).
There are many other things that go into optimizing a GMB listing, they go beyond the scope of this post. However just getting your company verified, adding some images, and getting some quality reviews, can get you some instant visibility.
Speaking of reviews and citations, we would be remiss if we didn’t speak to the issue of local review sites like Yelp and HomeAdvisor.
If you’ve been in a local service niche, you will have certainly run into these two sites. They are littered all throughout local organic search results (usually taking up at least one of the first 3 spots, much to the chagrin of local SEOs and local business owners), and are used heavily by customers to vet companies.
In reality, even though these sites aren’t really search engines in the classic sense (although Yelp does have a ranking algorithm of its own), they still need to be tackled by SEOs or local businesses. They take up too much real estate to ignore. In fact, leveraging these local sites can allow you to dominate the SERPs, by essentially ranking in multiple places on the first page of Google.
Here are a few quick tips for tackling these sites:
- See which ones are ranking for your main target terms. Tackle those first.
- Add lots of images, FAQ text, owner bios, and descriptions to all your profiles.
- Reach out to satisfied customers for reviews (automated e-mail follow-up is great for this).
- Link to your profile URLs from your website, your guest posts, etc. You may end up ranking your profile URL for target terms!
A Final Note about Citations
You will hear all about citations when it comes to local SEO. Many of the services offered in regard to local SEO have to do with local listing management, and this is for good reason.
They are certainly important, and it’s important to make sure they are consistent (including correct information, etc.) Furthermore, it’s important to make sure you are listed in all the places your competition is listed (and, an often-ignored fact, that your citations are indexed in Google!)
Here are a few tools that can help you if you feel like doing it yourself:
Whitespark – Does citation searches to see where your company is listed (and your competition). Can take in a keyword and location and spit out citation sources, which is very useful.
Brightlocal – Another similar provider to Whitespark, allows for citation management, local rank tracking, as well as tracking the ranking of 3rd party sites where your site is mentioned (i.e. your yelp profile).
Google Submit URL tool (https://www.google.com/search?q=google+submit+URL) – You can submit your citations directly to google to make sure they are indexed. It will hit you with annoying captchas after about 10 submissions, but it practically guarantees indexation.
Local SEO is a very powerful opportunity for either Internet marketers or local business owners. When done right, it’s pretty easy to compete. Unlike national SEO, your competition is generally less numerous as well as less savvy. Make it part of your competitive arsenal going forward, and you won’t be disappointed.