Just to be clear, a “local business” refers to any business that has either a physical location that offers face-to-face contact with the customer, such as a showroom or shop, or one that offers a face-to-face service within a certain area.
When it comes to local search, it’s simple: if searchers can’t find you on the web, then frankly, you don’t exist. It’s the way of the modern world.
It’s all very well dominating the SERPs for your more general target keywords, but if you fail to rank highly for location-specific terms then you are missing an almighty opportunity.
When users are searching for a local term, they are far more likely to be looking for a service or product. Hence why the conversions on local search tend to be higher, and why you need to ensure that your local search engine marketing is up to scratch.
Of course all the usual SEO 101 stuff applies. Offer an unrivaled user experience, nail your on-site optimization, provide exceptional content and build quality links.
Those fundamentals will set you up for ranking well for local search terms, but there are extra steps you must take to differentiate yourself from the competition and really bolster your local SEM strategy.
Local business listings
The first place to start is with local business listings. Ensure that your business is included in all the major directories (Yell, Yelp, Thomson Local, etc.), as well as any industry specific ones. Some listings may already exist, and it may just be a case of claiming your business so that you can take ownership of the listing.
We recommend keeping track of all your business listings in one comprehensive spreadsheet to save you repeating or forgetting any entries. It also enables you to be consistent (more on this in the next point) in your information across all listings.
Remove all duplicated entries, as multiple listings for one business or location can become confusing, both to potential customers but also to Google. And we certainly don’t want to be confusing the Big G.
Be thorough but don’t be reckless. Avoid spammy directories as these could have a detrimental effect on your SEO. Deploy a spot of common sense to identify the spammy directories but if you are really unsure then it’s worth checking the spam score via Moz’s Open Site Explorer or via other similar tools.
So this technically falls under business listings, but it’s so important we’ve given Google My Business it’s own subheading. Arguably the most important business listing because, well, it’s Google. Remember to implement the following:
- Claim your business via a verification process
- Include accurate information: contact details, location and opening hours
- Carefully select a small number of highly relevant categories to represent your business
- Ensure up-to-date branding, such as in any images of logos or premises
- Use high quality images to represent the business
Be comprehensive and accurate in the information you provide in order to strengthen your Google My Business profile and improve your chances of being featured in Google’s three-pack.
For further information, have a read of Google’s guidelines on representing your business. Don’t forget to also cover off the equivalent for Bing and Yahoo with Bing Places and Yahoo! Local.
NAP consistency sounds a like a fancy term but the concept is very simple. NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone number, although it is sometimes expanded to NAP+W to include website address too. As mentioned above, it is crucial that your business information appears consistently across the web.
This is particularly important to consider if your business has changed address, contact details or even rebranded. Any mentions of your business will need to be checked and updated to ensure accuracy.
Simply google your business name (do the same with your previous business name if you have undergone a name change) and work your way through the listings. Maintain a spreadsheet of your progress so you can keep track.
Reviews can bring both utter joy and absolute misery to any business owner. Unfortunately you cannot simply ignore them, as reviews are indeed used as ranking signals in the eyes of the search engine. This is especially true for your Google My Business reviews.
Not only are reviews important in terms of local rankings, they are also key in terms of click-through rates. According to a recent study by BrightLocal, 74 per cent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
Apart from providing the most incredible customer service you can muster, how else can you seize some control over your reviews? No, this isn’t about getting your mum, brother and great-nan to write a review for your business. It’s about a bit of gentle encouragement and managing a bad customer experience before it reaches the review stage.
It is also important to check the rules and regulations of each review platform, as they all have very different policies on asking customers for reviews and responding to them.
We’ve had several clients who have received a negative one-off, anonymous review that is either quite clearly spam, or in some cases, a bitter competitor or personal enemy. These situations can get a bit sticky, but sadly there isn’t an awful lot you can do.
Generally people won’t be deterred by one bad review, and the best course of action is to encourage other happy customers to get reviewing. This will push the bad review down and push the average star rating back up.
Many review platforms allow you to reply to reviews. This can be a good opportunity to set the record straight but you have to be careful about it. For this reason, sometimes it is best to get someone who is not as emotionally invested in the business to either write the response or edit it before it gets published. Be professional, remain calm, and kill them with kindness.
If you don’t already have location pages on your website, then you could be missing a valuable opportunity to target all the relevant locations. For each key location that your business operates within, create a page dedicated to that location on your website. This is easier if you have a unique physical address in each location, as it is important to include as much location-specific information as possible.
Where there is a physical location, be sure to include an interactive map and images to further enhance the page. If you do not have separate physical addresses, try including testimonials and case studies relevant to each location.
This will help you to avoid duplicating content across your location pages; it’s a fine art to differentiate the copy, but do it right and it can have seriously good effects on your local SEM strategy.
Once you have your location pages set up, the cherry on the cake is schema markup. The whole concept of structured data can sound very daunting to markup newbies, but it’s easier than it sounds. Schema markup simply helps search engines to understand what your website is about.
This is particularly important for local information, as it will help those spiders crawl your location pages and you’ll benefit as a result.
According to a study by Searchmetrics, pages with schema markup rank an average of four positions higher in search results. Now that’s a pretty good incentive. Get your head around schema markup and you’ll have that crucial advantage over your competitors in the local search results.
Ensuring your local search marketing strategy is up to scratch needn’t be difficult or convoluted. Follow the above steps and obey the usual SEO rules. With some hard work and perseverance, you’ll start dominating those coveted top spots and see your conversions skyrocket in no time.