Whether you’re a third generation family-owned business or a brand new boutique store that opened a month ago, you understand the importance of having a website. Unfortunately, our experience shows that many local businesses still treat their site like an afterthought, magically hoping that people will find it, while focusing most of their attention on their brick and mortar location.
In fact, your website is your best opportunity to reach the broadest base of potential customers and increase your revenue. So how do you do this? Just like you need to advertise your retail store, you also need spread the word about your site. As daunting as this seems, there are some logical starting points, and the best place to begin is focusing on local search engine optimization.
In essence, Local SEO is the equivalent of standing on a soapbox at the center of town with a giant bullhorn telling people who you are. Google and other search engines have created an environment that is to your distinct advantage. Most online searches, especially on mobile platforms, will return local results over national results. For example, a search for pest control is going to automatically give preference to local pest control companies over larger nationwide chains such as Orkin or Terminix.
But just because you already have this built-in advantage doesn’t mean you don’t have some work to do. You still have other local competitors to worry about, so we’ve prepared a handy guide for you to follow. Following these tips will improve your chances of having your website appear above your competitors in local search results.
Claim Your Google Places Account
One of the most important things you need to do is claim your Google Places account. Google Places is the business side of Google+, Google’s social media platform. It’s also tied into Google Reviews and Google Maps. More than likely, your account is already created; you just need to verify that you are the owner. Once you do, you also need to make sure that your business is categorized in the proper industry so that Google knows when to serve up your listing.
Not taking advantage of your Google Places account is the equivalent of not listing your business in the phone book thirty years ago. It’s how people find you today. And since we all know that this is ultimately Google’s world, you’re going to be favored if you take advantage of and correctly use Google’s tools.
Besides Google Places, you should also make sure your listings are claimed, verified and correct in the online directories for Bing and Yahoo as well.
Reviews Are Your Best Friend
If you’re familiar with Malcolm Gladwell, then you know that your best customers are your biggest advocates. And that’s why reviews are so important. People trust their peers’ opinions when making a purchasing decision.
This is why you need to cultivate and encourage your shoppers to leave reviews for your company. Get your company profile set up and validated on Yelp, Angie’s List, Foursquare (now known as Swarm) and Google Places. Not only will these reviews build brand trust for your company, but Google will give a slight edge in search results to companies with a steady flow of positive reviews, especially on Google Places.
Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
As far as priorities go, this one depends a little on your own website analytics. If you are finding that you have a lot of visitors to your site from mobile and tablet users then for goodness sake, make sure your website can easily be navigated on smaller screens.
Primarily, this means that your site should be responsive. Responsive is a built-in functionality that resizes your webpages to fit the visitor’s display, no matter the screen size.
Statistics are showing that more and more people are researching their purchase decisions on a mobile device first. If your site can’t be navigated easily, your potential customers will just as easily click on to your competitors’ sites. So even if the majority of your traffic isn’t coming from mobile yet, you should still plan for the inevitable fact that it will shift that way.
A.B.C. (Always Be Creating…Content)
Websites that aren’t routinely updated slowly fade into obscurity, whereas sites that routinely add new content with a focus on local search terms will be favored in search engine results. This is the nature of business today.
Create a blog on your site. Add articles that discuss alternative uses for your product or service. Answer common questions from your customers. Write opinions about trends in your industry. Link your social media accounts and share content that interests your customer base.
In the end, this new content creates reason for your customers to visit your site on a regular basis and will keep them on your site longer. The longer you can get your customer to stick around, the more time you have to convert that visit to a sale.
If you still think that social media is a trend, it’s time to leave that train of thought back at the station. Social media is here for the long haul, and your customers are using it.
On the opposite front, it doesn’t pay to be on every social media outlet available. You probably don’t have the resources to do that, and ultimately it probably doesn’t make sense for your business. If you’re a wedding photographer, share your photos on Instagram. If you’re a local hardware store, share DIY projects and maintenance tips on Facebook or Twitter.
Determine what social media platforms your customers do use and create your presence out there. Once you do, you’ll want to understand that this is a commitment. Create a publication schedule. Share content on a regular basis. And be prompt in responding to customer inquiries.
Create Local AdWords Campaigns
While all of the above require very little monetary investment, it’s worth noting that a very important way to improve your local search results is through paid search.
Paid search requires a whole article unto itself and requires a good deal of thought and planning before you venture out into the wild. But the fact that both Google AdWords and Bing PPC give you the tools to specifically target local or regional searches means that you can create hyper focused, minimal cost ad campaigns for your specific products.
Google paid ads are highlighted above, to the right of and below organic search results. They are also one of the most effective ways to get page one results for your business, especially when your organic search competition is firmly entrenched on the first page.
And don’t forget to bid on your brand name too. Your competitors are probably already doing this exact thing, and if their ads are pushing your website down in the search rankings, you’re going to lose clicks to them even if someone was searching for your site initially.
Practice Proper SEO
And finally, the best thing to do to improve your Local SEO results is to properly implement general SEO in the first place.
Optimize and implement title tags, meta descriptions, URLs, and heading tags across all of your pages. Focus on keywords that your customers are searching for, but don’t let the keywords dictate how you write. Just write compelling content. Put yourself in the mindset of your customer and try to proactively write the answer to their questions. Follow these basics, and you’ll see your search engine rankings get a positive lift.