Local SEO Guide: How To Rank Your Local Business
In this Local SEO Guide, I am going to share with you some key strategies to help local businesses owners optimize their local online presence for the purpose of ranking their local businesses high in Google, Bing, Apple Map, and other local search engines in a rapidly changing local search environment.
One of the biggest challenges for small local businesses is how to bring more foot traffic into their physical stores and how to tap into the potential that the Internet offers to capture a larger market share to grow their businesses. This is accomplished by capturing the maximum number of people who have never been familiar with your business before and drawing them to your opportunities on your website. As I am working with small businesses, I am more and more being asked questions about how to rank a local small business high in local Search Engine Results (SERPs). Many people start their businesses by selling their products and services to their relatives, friends, neighbors, etc. Eventually, they expand to people within their physical environments. But as you have already found out, you cannot grow your business this way. This is therefore the first of articles that are intended to help local businesses that have a physical location and also need to build a successful online presence to drive more sales both in the store and online. Research shows that 90% of all purchases take place in physical stores and 80% of disposable income is spent within 20 miles of home.
OnMax Host Digital Experts understand the challenges that local businesses face when preparing and launching an online marketing campaign that is geo-location specific. According to some researches, approximately 46% of all Google searches are local. This means that almost half of the people searching for information on Google are looking for something local and they are performing these searches using various search engines such as Google, Bing, Apple Maps, Yelp, etc. Approximately 87% of searches are done on Google.
My goal today with this Local SEO Guide is to show you how to rank your local business higher in local search results. Just like with SEO in general, there are two types of factors that affect your search engine ranking. I am going to focus specifically on factors that are specific to local SEO. Please note that this Guide is not a comprehensive list of factors. I will publish another article soon in which I will provide a longer list of factors so make sure that you subscribe to this blog to be notified. So, I am going to describe on-page and off-page SEO factors.
The first step therefore is to have a solid local SEO strategy that can put the business on the map. The off-page factors for the local business will focus more on building relevant NAP (Name - Address - Phone Number) aspect of link building. But before we delve into these aspects, we need to establish a foundation upon which to build the strategy.
OPTIMIZED WEBSITE DESIGN
Many small business owners have asked me whether they still need websites to build their online presence to grow their businesses. Many think that they can just rely on their social media pages and landing pages. My answer is that small local businesses have never needed well-designed websites in 2019 more than ever before and this will continue to be the case into the future. Your website is your bedrock when it comes to generating higher Click Through Rates (CTRs) from your local organic Search Engine Results (SERPs). According to a recent State of Local SEO Report by Moz, more than 64% of marketers surveyed observed that there is a strong correlation between organic and local rank - 75% correlation between organic website rankings and local pack presence. It is also established that your best chance of being included in the 3-pack or Snack Pack at the top is to have the strongest website possible.
So, far from being it the case that websites have become obsolete. In the contrary, more than ever before, your website is your firmest bedrock for maintaining free local visibility in local Search Engine Results (SERPs) in a highly competitive environment with increased scarcity of opportunity. Your website is therefore your strategic tool for bridging the local organic gap.
Yet, according to a 2017 CNBC Survey, 45% of small businesses did not have a website and a recent audit of over 9,000 of Google My Business (GMB) listings found that 27% have no website link. So, in an environment where websites are the foundation for competitive local business organic ranking, every small business must not only have a website, but the most powerful possible website in order to achieve maximum organic local rankings.
HOW DO YOU BUILD A STRONG WEBSITE?
Because my focus in this article is to provide you with a summary Local SEO Guide to help rank your local business in organic search results (SERPs), I am not going in-depth in how to build a strong website. I have addressed many aspects of this in some of my previous articles. In summary, a strong website requires the following factors:
- Best Technical Design
- Best User Experience including Excellent Mobile Usability
- Relevant Content that provides answers to searchers' queries
- On-Page Optimization
You can read more about the importance of a website in my article, "Why Every Entrepreneur Needs A Website". You may also read the following article to learn more about new trends in website design / development in 2019: New Website Development Trends for 2019.
One of the Off-Page factors considered by Search Engines Algorithms in ranking a website in SERPs is the number and quality of external links pointing to your website. External links play an important part in local SEO ranking, though for Local SEO, the difference is the type of links needed. Local Businesses must place a greater focus on NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) Citations, Local Reviews, and Google My Business (GMB) signals. In other words, links from relevant local high authority directories.
CLAIM YOUR GOOGLE MY BUSINESS (GMB) LISTING
Before I dive into the importance of Google My Business (GMB) Listing for ranking your small business in local search results, let me remind you what Local SEO is: "Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of optimizing your online presence to attract more business leads in the form of relevant traffic to your website and store from relevant local searches."
It is a well established fact that most people turn to search engines like Google, Bing, Yelp, Apple Maps, etc. to find local businesses for products and services they need. Again, our focus in this article will be mostly on Google because Google has an estimated 87% of the search marketing market. This means that 87% of the searches that are conducted online are done on Google Search Engine. Therefore, I am focusing on how to position your local business in local search results on Google. The strategy described below will also yield results on the other search engines.
But before we continue, you need to first claim your free Google My Business (GMB) Listing. So, if you have not yet created your GMB, you must do it before continuing with this Guide because claiming and optimizing your GMB Listing is the cornerstone of your Local SEO Strategy, though not the only thing. If you have a Gmail account, then you already have a GMB. You just need to claim it. There is however much more to Local SEO than GMB Listing and I will elaborate on those factors later.
Research shows that about 56% of local retail businesses have not claimed their GMB Listing. Many business owners are not aware that they already have a GMB and therefore are not taking advantage of this free tool from Google. I will provide more information on how to claim and optimize your GMB.
GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS
As a business owner, your goal in marketing - whether online or through offline channels - is to bring increased foot traffic to your physical business location (store) or virtual traffic (Clicks) to your website. The purpose of implementing an effective Local SEO Strategy is to get your website content appear at the top of search results on local search engine search results (SERPs), and ultimately to increase the chances that searchers will click on your links, bringing them to your website and eventually converting them into customers.
It is therefore very important that you clearly understand how Google search engine algorithms presents the search results on their result page. I believe that you have performed numerous searches online and therefore have interfaced with search results in the past. You should therefore be familiar with them. If not, I recommend that you go to Google and perform a random search. After you click the search button, you will be redirected to the search results page (SERPs). You will first land on the first page. Obviously, as a business owner and marketer, you want your content to appear at the top of the first page. This is what I mean by ranking high in SERPs.
You will also notice that there are two sets of search results on Google Search Results (SERPs):
1) The "Snack Pack" also referred to as "3-Pack".
2) Organic results.
GOOGLE SNACK PACK RESULTS
The Google Snack Pack, also referred to as 'Google 3-Pack' is the boxed area that appears at the top on the first page of Google Search Results (SERPs) when a local search is performed through Google Search Engine. The above image represents search results for my search query that you can see above: "Indian Cuisine Near Me."
There are three (3) search results in the box. They represent three Indian Cuisine restaurants, showing their respective Star Ratings, Locations, Short Descriptions, and Featured Images to the right. The three businesses featured in the Snack Pack did not make it there by accident. I will write more on this topic in another article. In summary, some of the steps described in this Summary Local SEO Guide can help you feature in the 3-Pack. As you can see, appearing in the 3-Pack gives you a much better chance of being seen by searchers and having a Click to your website. Like I wrote earlier, a lot of work must be done during the design and on-page optimization in order to appear in the Snack Pack. Additional off-page optimization factors include local NAP Citations, local reviews, and Google My Business (GMB) signals.
ORGANIC SEARCH RESULTS
Organic Search Results are search results that are naturally generated as opposed to those resulting from paid advertising. Organic Search Results appear below the Snack Pack as paginated lists. They are based on relevance to the search terms or queries entered into the search tool by searchers. Google claims that users generally click on organic search results more often than they click on paid ads results. So, organic Search Results are those that the search engines deem to be the most relevant and authoritative listings for the search queries that were entered into the Google Search Tool.
If you want to really grow your business, you must reach people who have never been familiar with your brand before, and who find your business through natural searches online. Organic Search Visibility is therefore one of the best ways to increase your brand awareness and grow your business. This makes organic search traffic your most valuable traffic for many reasons that I will explain below and in future articles. Ranking high in organic search results takes time. You must work patiently and consistently to achieve high ranking. Beware of those who promise you to rank you number 1 in one day. Remember that they will make the same promise to the next client they get. When done well, it may take about three to six months to begin seeing results. It is the most cost effective and brings in about 70% of your traffic.
HOW TO CLAIM AND OPTIMIZE YOUR GMB?
I said earlier that claiming and optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) Listing is your starting point in developing and executing a winning local SEO Strategy to rank your local business. If you have not done so yet, you need to claim your free GMB Listing now before continuing. And then follow the steps described later in this article to optimize it. You can get a new GMB Listing simply by creating a new Google (Gmail) account.
In order to ensure the success of your local business, the first step is to leverage your Location-Based or Geo-Based SEO Strategy. And this begins with creating and / or claiming your FREE Google My Business (GMB) Listing. Google My Business is a free tool offered by Google that helps local business owners manage their online presence across the Google Search Engine and its growing portfolio of utilities. The GMB therefore offers you the greatest impact for local brand exposure.
Google's Local Search Results provide a list of nearby businesses together with pertinent information to help the searchers find a specific business based on their search queries. This information include business Name - Address, - Phone number (NAP), business category(ies), clients reviews, etc. Google draws this information from your GMB Listing and displays it in the SERPs together with other meta information. Once you have created your GMB Listing, a map is also created and a Google Maps Location generated that synchronizes with Google Search.
Every local business must therefore take advantage of this tool. But it is important to stress that the GMB must not be seen as a replacement to your website. In other words, local businesses still need a well designed website that is fully optimized for mobile and for speed.
Here are a few things you need to do to optimize your Google My Business (GMB) Listing:
- Your Business Description. Include your primary keywords as well as important keywords in your description. Include relevant links to your description as well as relevant images.
- Correct Business Categories. Choose the most relevant business categories for your business.
- Correct Business Address and Phone Number that are consistent with the information on your website and local directories. You must use the same exact details and format on your website and in all directories. You will also need to use schema.org markup on your NAP to give search engines all they need to display your company information correctly.
- Business Hours. This is important so that visitors know when to come to your business location.
- Real Customer Reviews - Local reviews have a direct impact on your local search rankings. Develop and implement a strategy for collecting customer reviews on Google, Yelp, your website and on all other directories you are listed in.
LOCAL ON-PAGE SEO FACTORS
When you build a website, you always want your target audience to find it, enjoy your content because it provides answers to their questions. If this is an e-Commerce, then you want your products and / or services to meet the need of the searchers. As a result, a local business website must also be mobile friendly and be fully optimized for speed.
Below, I am listing a a few factors that you must have on your website. For more details on SEO Strategy, please read my article SEO Checklist For A New Website in 2019.
- Crawl Accessibility: Ensures that search engines reach and index your web page content.
- Compelling Content: Your content must answer the specific queries of searchers. If your content is great, it is will more likely to be shared by your website visitors.
- Optimize Content with relevant keywords: This helps match your content with the search terms entered by searchers into the search engine search tool.
- Great User Experience: This include web page load speed, ease of use, great user interface (UI) on all devices.
- Snippet/Schema Markup to stand out in SERPs.
- Titles, URL, and Descriptions that generate high Click Through Rates (CTR).
Specifically for local businesses, add city/region names plus a relevant keyword within your web page and / or landing page in the following areas:
- Title tags
- H1 Tags
- Image Alt Attributes
- Embed your Google Map with your address in your landing page.
LOCAL LINK BUILDING AND LOCAL CITATIONS
A citation is simply a reference made online that cites and refers to your business Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP). These references are included in other local high authority websites that are relevant to your business. Local SEO campaigns rely on links from such websites, such as local directories.
These citations (in various directories) do not have to be linked. They only need to reference your business NAP consistently (in the same way). You need to find all existing mentions of your business online and then update them to reflect the same information. You can accomplish this in two ways: (1) Manually find each one of them and manually update your information; (2) You can contact an expert to it for you. For more information, go to Google Maps Marketing. Our Experts can help perform citation cleanup and also include your business in relevant directories.
Here are a few things that you can do to build you local links:
- Find out your competitors' citations and include your business.
- Find meetup groups (Meetup.com) that are relevant to your business and offer to sponsor their events in exchange for a mention of your business on their websites.
- You can also run your own meetup events and establish links from the meetup website.
- Find new and creative opportunities to get mentioned in local press, including participating in local Podcasts giving interviews, contributing to local activities, sponsoring local non-profit organizations, etc.
Again, this takes time. At all costs, avoid black hat tricks that promise to get you tons of links overnight. Be actively creative to create a buzz in your local area.
CLICK THROUGH RATES (CTR)
Click Through Rate (CTR) represents the ratio of the number of people who click on your link (such as from from Google Organic Search Results - SERPs) over the total number of people who viewed the same link (total number of impressions) to arrive at your website. This is an important metric to track because while it is important for your content to rank high in SERPs, ranking alone does not translate to sales. Your ultimate goal is to have your ad or content viewed by the maximum number of people possible and for the maximum number of them to click on the link, come to your website and convert into customers (sales).
Google search engine algorithms use this metric to measure as one of its core quality score within their AdWords platform. Google considers the CTR as a measure of the quality of the user's experience. It therefore goes without saying that the more clicks you generate on SERPs, the more favorable Google sees your content. But, like with everything else, other factors contribute to your overall performance online. Your CTR must remain consistently high to ensure that your rankings are stable.
The value of high CTRs can be diluted by high bounce rates. A bounce rate is the ratio of the number of visitors to your web page who exit your website after visiting the first page they land on without clicking on links to visit other pages. So, if many people click on your link in SERPs but bounce out of your website, it is a reflection that they did not find your content compelling or interesting.
Some of the On-Page SEO factors that I mentioned above can help increase your CTR: a compelling meta description, relevant and readable title tags, etc. can help get the readers to click on your link in SERPs. Set up Schema.org Markup and Reviews are also critical to increase searchers' confidence in your listing.
Google My Business (GMB) Optimization Summary
Claiming and verifying your Google My Business (GMB) Listing is your first step to executing your Local SEO Strategy and ranking your business in local Search Results Snack Pack. Google has added additional features to the GMB. These cool features not only help enhance your GMB listing but they also help grab viewers attention. Small businesses must take advantage of these features to fully optimize their GMB and increase their chances of improving their ranking in SERPs.
I also recommend that you regularly log into your GMB to make sure that everything remains alright. Google My Business has a feature that enables viewers to suggest an Edit to your GMB Listing. With these Suggestions, visitors can actually make some dramatic changes to your listing because these suggestions actually go LIVE on your Listing without you being even notified by Google. By logging regularly into your GMB, you will ensure that any unwanted changes made to your Listing are corrected immediately.
Other things that you need to monitor regularly on your GMB Listing is Google updates and Reviews. From time to time, Google may make updates to your Listing information. Google algorithms make these automatic updates when they find new information about your business in directories or other sources. You can review these changes and make necessary corrections to ensure that your Listing remains accurate. So log into your GMB account, you will see "Google Updates". Click on this to review those updates.
Anyone can write a review on your GMB Listing. An unhappy customer or someone who just wants to create a bad impression about your business can leave bad, bogus or inaccurate reviews. It is very important that you address such issues promptly by creating a new post to explain, counter or correct the impression created by such information.
- NAP (Proximity)
- Business Categories
- Image Optimization
- Citations / Directories
- Customer Reviews
- Social Signals
- Meta Title
- Meta Desciption
- Relevant Content
- Consistent NAP
- Domain Authority
- Website Authority
- Inbound Links (Quality & Quantity)
- Social Signals
If you have questions, please feel free to ask below. I also encourage you to add ideas and share experiences. This is a place of sharing and discussion. And if you have found this article to be useful, please share it in your own social media environment.
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