Google is the new Yellow Pages—it’s where customers go to find the products and services they’re looking for right now. Ten years ago, every local business knew that being listed in the Yellow Pages was essential for driving leads. And nowadays, ranking well on Google is even more important.
That’s where local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) comes in. Local SEO is a marketing technique of optimizing your website to rank well when users are searching for your products or services in your area. And if you’re not focusing at least some of your marketing efforts on Local SEO, you should be.
Here’s what you need to know:
On-page optimization refers to how your site is built and coded. You want to be sure search engines can easily figure out what your page is about and match it to relevant queries.
Make Sure Your Site is Crawlable
This one’s pretty simple to understand—if you want your website to appear in search engine rankings, you have to be sure the search engines can effectively read your pages—but implementation can get a bit technical. I advise pointing your web developer to this post on the Google Webmaster blog.
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Page Titles and Meta Descriptions are the most important on-page signals of what a web page is about. You can read more about them and how to optimize them in “The Top 2 SEO Tips for Every Business,” but basically, make sure they contain enough keywords to help in search while still staying readable to humans.
Even if you rank well, nobody will click through to your site if the Page Title & Meta descriptions are keyword-stuffed mumbo-jumbo. And remember, the point of SEO is to draw traffic, which means people clicking through to your site.
Of course you want your page content to be relevant to the products or services you are offering. If you are a pizzeria in Brooklyn, NY, you want to talk about pizza and Brooklyn. Ideally, you’d have a blog where you post frequent updates about pizza and Brooklyn and establish yourself as an authority on Brooklyn pizza. But, at a minimum, make sure your content is relevant to your keywords.
And just like Page Title and Meta description be sure to avoid keyword stuffing. With Google too much of a good thing (keyword frequency) can be a very bad thing—you can get your site penalized in the rankings which can be very difficult to recover from.
Off-page optimization is all of the SEO work that happens on websites other than your own. The most important off-page factor in Search Engine Optimization is inbound links—links from other websites back to your own site—and that’s where we’ll focus our attention.
Inbound links are seen as referrals, and the more referrals you get (and the higher-quality sites you get them from), the better your search rankings will be.
Social Media can be a great way to engage your customers, drive traffic to your site, and help with your SEO, but only if you do it right. I’ve encountered many business owners who think, “We have to be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, FourSquare, etc.,” but don’t have the time or the desire to actually engage on these platforms.
Only join a social media platform if you plan to dedicate time and resources to it. Your Facebook and Google+ pages need content, you need to tweet regularly, and more importantly, you have to respond to comments/tweets in a timely matter. Social media is a two-way conversation and serves as a public forum of your customer service. Be sure to monitor often, respond quickly, and always put your best foot forward.
And if you’re only going to join one social media platform, I recommend Google+. While it may not be the best for customer engagement, as a Google product, Google does put more SEO emphasis on its social signals. (As I’ll discuss later in this article, Google+ Places is also vitally important for local search.)
Local Review Sites
Local review sites are a great way to get some backlinks—and another avenue to guide actual people (not just search bots) back to your website. While some of these backlinks are “nofollow” (they don’t pass ranking authority with the referral), consumers do use these sites so your business should be on them. For a pretty comprehensive list of local review sites check out this post from Website Magazine.
Like social media, many of these sites offer a two-way conversation. For especially popular review sites like Yelp, be sure to monitor your reviews and provide good customer service. If someone has a negative review reach out to him/her and see what you can do to fix the situation. Negative reviews can spread like wildfire so you definitely want to nip them in the bud.
Together Google, Bing, and Yahoo account for roughly 95% of all search volume, with Google dominating nearly 2/3 of the market. And all three offer free local listings to businesses—listings that they feature prominently in local search.
Google Places for Business , as Google itself states, is “the easiest way to show up on Google Search and Maps. “ If you only take one thing away from this article let it be this: Claim your Google Places listing. Right now.
In the Press
Getting press coverage is another great way to build up authoritative, high-quality backlinks. Sponsor an event, donate to charity, or volunteer. Not only will this help build your reputation in your community (off-line marketing), you can generate online buzz if you position yourself correctly. Reach out to local news sites (like Patch) and focus on the event or charity you’re supporting. You’ll be helping a good cause and getting some “link-juice” while you’re at it.
Local businesses need to take advantage of local search. I hope these tips help give you a strong foothold on the local search market, but if you need more comprehensive SEO contact DotcomWeavers today.
About the Author: Dan Rapoport is the Digital Marketing Strategist for DotcomWeavers.