There are a few things we need to cover before we jump straight into local SEO. The first is SEO itself. There are a lot of factors that go into search engine optimization. A lot. We are covering the basics and the things you can do as a marketer or small-business owner without getting too technical.
So, what is search engine optimization? According to Google, SEO is “the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.” Google would know, since it is the No. 1 search engine.
If your business has no digital presence or you are not properly representing yourself through your digital channels, you’re not going to be found by a search engine or any person who uses a search engine to find information. This leads me to the next thing we need to talk about: consumer behavior.
According to a Google study, “Consumers are searching for local information everywhere, on every decision, at every point in the purchase process.”* Four out of five consumers conduct local searches on search engines, 88 percent on a smartphone and 84 percent on a desktop. So if you’re thinking, “This isn’t that big of a deal because my customers aren’t looking for me online,” you’re probably wrong.
The moments you want to be found are when people are searching with intent and want immediate answers. If your business can’t be found in these moments, you lose out on potential business. Consumers find information categorized by the following four buckets:
- I want to know: want help understanding something
- I want to go: want help finding a location
- I want to do: want help completing a task
- I want to buy: want help making a product decision
Another element of SEO is locality. Consumers, especially in the I-want-to-go moments, are searching for information that’s relevant to their location. If someone wants to meet a friend for coffee, they want to find a coffee shop in their neighborhood or city; if they want to meet with a financial advisor, they want one in their town. This is where small business or local businesses can excel, but often do not.
That said, let’s get into how you improve your chances of being there for those moments. We’re going to focus on two types of enhancements that can impact SEO: Content and Technical.
If you already have listings, or are just starting out, ensure that all of your listings have the same, and correct, name, address, phone number, website information or NAP+W. This is very important for a small business, but I can’t tell you how often small-business listings are just slightly different each place they are found. Basic listings I recommend having include a Google listing (Google My Business) and a Facebook business page. Depending on your industry, I would also recommend listing your business on Yelp, TripAdvisor or UrbanSpoon. For B2B information, consider LinkedIn.
Tip: Keep a spreadsheet of all URLs and names of the sites where you have listings. Many small-business owners set them up and forget about them and/or have conflicting or outdated listings, which can hurt their position in search results. It’s important to keep on top of updating your spreadsheet as needed.
While you don’t necessarily need a website (a Facebook business page could stand in the place of the website), I recommend having one. People in their 20s and 30s almost require it for doing business with them; it is seen as a validity factor. A website is a great place to house content that will help you show up for keywords that you would like to be known for. Even a small one with basic NAP information is better than no website at all.
Tip: Try this article if you’re looking to create a bare-bones website. It provides good information on the basics of a content strategy for your homepage, which might be your only page.
Although you should not focus on keywords while building your website or creating content (you should focus instead on the consumer experience), keywords are important because search engine crawlers and consumers look for keywords to figure out if content is relevant.
Tip: A quick exercise you can do is to write a list of things you’d like to show up for in search results. Next, take that list and see if you find any of the words you wrote down on your website or listing. You’d be surprised how often many of them are nowhere to be found on any page of a small-business website. You could also take a look at your analytics for inspiration—if you have it set up, that is. HubSpot has a good guide on keyword strategy if you’d like to take it a bit further.
Reviews are taken into account in local SEO. The main reason for this is because consumers find them useful. If you do not have any online reviews because you are just starting out, ensure that you have them enabled on the listings you’ve created.
Tip: If you already have the ability to receive reviews but clients haven’t yet taken the time to post anything, begin to ask for them. Send regular customers an email, create a Facebook post, make a sign at your point-of-sale system, etc. Some industries cannot receive reviews because of laws and regulations. If that’s the case in your situation, as long as all of your other ducks are in a row, it will not hurt you because no one else in your industry can receive them either.
Some marketers and many small-business owners do not know the technical side of SEO. The following are a few of the high-level things you can do yourself (or ensure).
Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Google rewards such sites by placing them higher in search results because many consumers perform searches from their smartphones. Having a mobile-friendly site does not mean that your site simply shows up on a browser on a smartphone; any website that works will do that. Instead, it means your site is easy to use on a smartphone without having to pinch and drag all over the screen.
Tip: If you already have a site and want to test to see if it’s mobile friendly, you can use this Google Developer Mobile-Friendly Test. If you don’t already have a site and are looking to have one built, be sure to request responsive design from your developer or designer. If you’re going the free route, look for responsive WordPress themes.
Build and submit an XML sitemap to Google if you haven’t already. Search engines are smart, but they don’t know everything. Submitting an XML sitemap to Google will help search engines navigate your site more easily.
Besides the items listed in this blog, there are many other things you can do improve your site. Depending on your skill level, you may be able to do them yourself, or you may need to hire someone to help you. That said, if you’d like to see how your site performs and what you should fix, you can run a quick audit of your site here on SeoSite Checkup Score for a more comprehensive list of SEO fixes.
Local SEO can really help your business, but like most things, it takes time and effort to do it right. Don’t blow it off, because each day you wait, you’re missing opportunities.