For small businesses hoping to increase visibility in a local market, here’s where to start.
I spent a weekend in New York City about this time last year. It was my first time staying in the city for more than a few hours, and while I’d made a few plans, I mostly wanted to walk around and explore on my own. One of my top interests included trying out the various bars and restaurants, but there seemed to be so many to choose from, and I mostly wanted places that happened to be wherever I was at that moment. So I turned to Google maps.
This strategy hasn’t always worked perfectly for me, but in a place like New York, which is full of both restaurants and people who have opinions on restaurants, it was a run-away success. I simply zoomed in on my neighborhood (or the one where I planned to be later that afternoon), searched for “brunch” or “dinner” or “cozy bar,” and Google showed me all the possible places in the area, their price points, ratings, reviews, and pictures.
I used this strategy a half dozen times over the course of that weekend, and it never failed to lead me to just the place I wanted.
Many of us are used to thinking about SEO in terms of broad, subject-based keywords. But depending on your business, local optimization might be much more important. If you’re a B2B business that relies on in-person visits, your keyword optimization won’t help as much if it’s drawing in visitors from the wrong part of the country. And if you’re a B2C business with a physical location that you expect customer and clients to visit, local SEO optimization will encourage them to come calling.
Fortunately, while local SEO requires some time and attention to set up and keep running, it’s also one of the best things you can do to improve your traffic—online and offline. here’s where to start.
1. Make sure you list your business.
The first step is pretty simple: go to Google My Business (and Bing and Yahoo!) and set up a listing for your business. You’ll need to add your business name, location address, your phone number, and your open hours. If you’re in Google Maps or searching for a business on Chrome, this is the information Google will use in their special content areas to describe your business. This also gives you an opportunity to add photos if your business. A nice external shot can help visitors know they’ve found the right place. Internal pictures give them a sense of your environment.
2. Sort out your citations.
Citations are the Internet equivalent for putting your telephone number in the phone book. You want to make sure your business citations (i.e. your NAP—name, address, phone) are correct and consistent wherever they appear. You also want to make sure they appear in any relevant online directories, such as the chamber of commerce or Yelp. Also take time to search for any incorrect or duplicate citations. If a business owner or directory includes your address on their website but doesn’t add your suite number, or if they’ve confused you with a nearby business with a similar name, it can cause a lot of confusion for you, your customers, and Google.
3. Encourage reviews.
Reviews can be scary, but they’re also a huge ranking factor for Google. By creating a listing page for your business, your customers will be able to leave public reviews. While you should never leave fake reviews or offer anyone compensation for the reviews they leave, it is a good idea to ask your customers to leave a review. You can include this on your website, or simply mention it when you see customers in person. Google will rank you more highly if you attract authentic, high-quality reviews, and it helps establish your credentials with other searchers.
4. Put up some high-quality photos.
We’re becoming increasingly more comfortable with ways in which the Internet and the physical world intersect. But many of us still like some assurances before we make an in-person visit to a location. Photos help your visitors make that connection, and there’s nothing like welcoming, professional photographs to establish legitimacy and rapport with customers.
5. Optimize your website.
Even for local businesses, your website is still your best sales tool. We’ve already indicated ways in which more and more of us are coming to rely on the Internet to look up local businesses before we make a visit. I know I will look up a restaurant before I decide to go there for dinner, to check out the menu, or to look up happy hour specials. I search for local businesses to double-check their open hours, or to find a phone number so that I can schedule an appointment. If the business I’m looking for has a dated or unprofessional website, it makes me wonder if they’re still open or if they’re struggling financially. If you’re optimizing for local, don’t skimp on your website because you expect visitors to come walking through your door. Your website is probably their first point of contact. Treat it that way.
6. Network with other local organizations.
A lot of local SEO involves… well, local connections. Your business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a network of other nearby businesses, all of which provides you with an excellent opportunity to establish yourself in the area. Maybe that means reaching out to your local newspaper for a feature, or sponsoring an event at a local charity. If businesses with well-established local credentials link to you, it enforces your local status online.
7. Prioritize mobile.
More and more, visitors are using their phones (and the Internet) to find their way to brick-and-mortar locations. This makes it especially important to have a website that works well on mobile devices. If a customer is nearby and considering dropping into your store, they may decide to go elsewhere if they can’t access the information they need off your website.
Local SEO will only become more important.
It wasn’t so long ago that people were predicting the Internet would be the end of brick-and-mortar businesses. Instead, the Internet allowed these businesses to launch online stores and expand their market to a national range. But the reverse is also happening: rather than dismantling local businesses, the Internet is increasing their visibility, making it easier for savvy entrepreneurs to reach their niche.
This trend isn’t going away any time soon. But the businesses who don’t take advantage of it might. Maintaining a competitive edge is more important than ever, but it’s also more accessible. If you need help, drop us a line.