The Beginners Guide to Local SEO
A Few Local SEO Best Practices Go a Long Way
Search engines like Google and Bing don’t disclose the algorithms that dictate search ranking because they don’t want people to game them. As such, SEO—and by extension local SEO—is not an exact science. But if we take action on mutually recognized ranking factors and signals, we can measurably improve our search ranking over time. Here we’ll discuss a few of the best practices you should employ to that end.
As any reputable discussion of local SEO will conclude, everything that applies to general SEO also applies to local SEO. So for the purposes of this quick guide, we’ll assume your site is up to snuff for 2017. That means, at the very least, your off-site business listings are accurate and consistent, your site is indexed, it’s mobile friendly, it loads quickly, and it otherwise generally follows best practices for contemporary website accessibility.
If you’re not there yet, talk to your site administrator, or bring your site up to date, and then come back here and start up where you left off.
Perform a Site Audit
You can’t know that you’re improving if you don’t know where you’re at. That’s why it’s essential to conduct a site audit at the beginning of any SEO effort. A site audit is a review of your site’s infrastructure, including on-page and off-page elements, to assess search engine visibility for your existing pages and ranking for your chosen search terms.
And while they may sound trivial, these rudimentary factors matter. For example, a widely cited study found that 40 percent of respondents said they’ll leave a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Fewer customers reaching your site means fewer customers reaching your physical storefront. If you’d like an all-inclusive look at how potential customers view your stores online, contact us for a demo and we’ll analyze your brand’s locations.
To track your current rankings, start a simple spreadsheet and document your positions for all desired search terms. Then measure and document again after each change you make. This applies the Lean Startup Methodology—build, measure, learn. This is how you’ll know you’re going in the right direction. The more best practices you implement, the more you should see your ranking improve. If you’ve got too many moving parts, or just need a solution for regular monitoring, contact us about local SEO rank tracking.
Focus More on User Knowledge, Less on Keyword Placement
Now that you know where you stand on your current search terms, let’s make sure those are actually the search terms your customers are using. Find your customers, and get to know them. Know their struggles and their pain points. Know them well. Sentiment analysis can do much of the heavy lifting here, but it’s good practice for your marketing, sales, and product teams to be fluent in the stuff too. At the end of the day, search engine algorithms—not to mention customers—are looking for quality, unique, relevant content. If you provide it, they’ll both keep happy.
Proximity Means More After Google’s Possum Update
With a growing focus on mobile, and especially with Google’s Possum update, search location (where, precisely, a given user is when they conduct a search) is now weighted much more heavily than in the past.
That means a search for, say, “Mexican restaurant Seattle” in one neighborhood won’t bear the same results as that same search in a different neighborhood. Google says that local results are “based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location.”
So unless you plan on moving your storefront to improve your search ranking, this leaves the factors you can change to relevance and prominence. You can build relevance by accurately portraying your business on your site (correct name, address, phone number, store hours, etc.), and you can build prominence by garnering authoritative links and bolstering your Google My Business accounts through adding Google Attributes and regularly posting on Google Posts.
Verify Your Google My Business Locations, Perform in Local Pack
Businesses with a physical storefront can no longer ignore Google’s Local Pack. To improve your standings in the Local Pack, you need to claim your Google My Business account. Enter all the business information you’re prompted for, keep your hours accurate for holidays and special events, add photos early and often, and select your relevant attributes.
Join the GMB community. Seek help and help others. Have an issue and can’t get through to support? Tweet to @GoogleMyBiz. I’ve received a response from that account in minutes, whereas sometimes support responses can take weeks. Lastly, your GMB account gives you the ability to respond to reviews in a timely manner, which brings us to our next topic.
Reputation Management Is Just as Important as it Always Has Been
Tend to your most profitable marketing channel—word of mouth. Survey after study after survey confirms that customers trust online reviews when they’re making purchase decisions. Online reviews add a megaphone to word of mouth. Find out where your customers are coming from and going to online and where they’re talking about your business.
A friend of mine runs a spearfishing guide business in Hawaii. More than 50 percent of his traffic comes from TripAdvisor, where he maintains a five-star rating. If his TripAdvisor rating tanked, he might be in big trouble. So he takes care of his customers and asks them to leave reviews. If someone’s unhappy, he works it out with them.
Ensure you’re taking care of your customers with good business fundamentals. Then ensure those happy customers are leaving reviews. Google itself says that “review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.”
Sentiment analysis can also keep you ahead of the curve on this, giving you time to head off potential crises and anticipate developing needs and wants so you can stay nimble with your business decisions.
Let’s say your customers don’t like a product you’ve introduced, or one of your branch locations is underperforming, you’ll know about it in real time. Similarly, you’ll know when things are going well by the way your customers rave about you.
Follow these recommendations, and you’ll be well on your way to better search engine placement. Lastly, let us know about your experiences in the comments; we’d love to know how things are going.