Local SEO proved to be one of the biggest trends throughout 2016 and 2017, and is expected to continue doing so throughout 2018.
Businesses that have been able to optimize their on-page and off-page SEO strategies are already reaping the supreme benefits of local SEO. For others, there are undeniable opportunities to begin their local SEO journeys.
Google suggests that 80% users conduct online searches for local businesses, while 50% of users who do a local search on mobile for a business visit its store within a day. Yet businesses continue to miss the opportunities that local SEO provides.
Don’t be that business. Instead, use the tips and tricks mentioned in this guide to get started with local SEO.
Claim your Google My Business page and optimize it
Google+ might have mostly fizzled out, but Google My Business continues to be a cornerstone for implementing local SEO. If you’ve not claimed a Google My Business listing for your business yet, this is the time to do so. The chances of your business featuring on the front page in a local relevant search improve manifold purely by having a well optimized and filled out My Business Listing.
Go to google.com/business, start the registration and verification process, and wait for Google to send you a postcard to your physical store location.
Make sure you understand that Google only allows real business owners to have their My Business pages; so you need to work out an arrangement with your digital marketing consultants so that you continue to own the My Business listing even if they depart.
Your business name, address, and phone number (abbreviated as NAP) must match what you have been using for digital marketing till now. Also, lay special emphasis on selecting categories, business hours, types of payment accepted, etc.
Then, have top quality photographs of the office front and insides uploaded on to the profile. Digital businesses without a location can hide the address to still be able to claim their My Business listing.
Here’s what a well maintained and optimized Google My Business profile could look like on a search page.
Understand and master the art of citations
Here’s it, put simply – every mention of your business online is a citation. More citations are good for your business’ local SEO. How does Google consider a mention as a citation? Well, your business NAP has to be mentioned for it to be counted as a citation.
Too many businesses have already lost several months of efforts in getting themselves mentioned online, purely because of inconsistent NAP. Though increasingly there’s consensus among digital marketers that Google actually triangulates data and identifies slightly different business names as belonging to the same business using NAP, we’d recommend you play it safe.
Keep on optimizing your website for mobile
Though this is something every website owner must do, local business website owners need to speed up their game particularly well. That’s because a majority of local searches are done on mobile devices, and are intent-backed.
Responsive layouts, intuitive user experience and interface design, etc. are the basics; you need to step past them! Google’s Mobile Friendly testing tool is a great starting point. I did a test on a post I was reading recently, and was impressed with the tool’s validation.
Add business directories to your to do lists
Apart from giving you a valuable citation online, business directory pages for your business also garner more visibility for your business. Here are some action points for you.
- Start with the most notable business review directory websites such as Yelp and CitySearch
- Next, use this list of business directories and create your business profiles on each (target at least 7 complete profiles per week)
- Look for niche specific business directories and create your profiles there
- Look for local business community websites, and grab your listing there
- Check if the state government has a Chamber of Commerce or equivalent website, and look for a way to get a mention there
- Use the services of citation aggregators like Infogroup, Acxiom, and Factual
- Look for an opportunity for a citation via local newspaper websites
- Of course, remember to get your NAP spot on every time.
‘Localize’ your website’s content
You can do a lot to help search engines understand your business’ local appeal by optimizing your website for the same. Local content, for instance, can help search engines contextualize your website’s niche to its local service. Then, you could include an interactive map widget to further enhance the local SEO appeal of your website.
Also, consider creating a separate local news section on your website, wherein you could post content about niche-related local events. This will serve you well in terms of allowing the usage of local SEO relevant keywords.
Businesses such as restaurants, lawyer services, house repairs and interior décor, etc. have a lot to gain by using these basic tactics.
Be very hungry for online reviews
A Moz report attributes 8.4% of ranking value to online reviews. It doesn’t sound much, but considering how 88% users depend on online reviews to form opinions on quality of businesses, brands, and products, the eventual impact of reviews is significant.
Google My Business reviews are the primary source of SEO juice; you need at least 5 reviews for Google to start showing your reviews. Facebook Business reviews must be the next on your radar, because of the trust they inspire among online users.
There are several other review websites you need to take care of, to maximize the local SEO benefit from the same. To get more reviews, try out these tactics:
- Motivate store managers and field sales personnel to get reviews from customers on handy mobile devices, asking them log in to, for instance, Zomato or Yelp, and doing it on the spot (consider giving them a little discount for the same)
- Use email marketing, with a single link that takes users to the reviews page
- Consider using a social listening tool such as HootSuite to be alerted of your business and brand mentions, which you can transform into reviews
- It’s worthwhile seeking services of online reputation management agencies for this.
Invest effort in local SEO relevant rich schema
Schema markup can be added to your website’s code to enhance its readability for search engines. There are several scheme markup tags that specifically focus on local attributes of your website.
Local schema markup tags assists local SEO in two ways:
- First, it allows search engines to understand your business’ local relevance
- Second, it means search engines can show your business page result along with rich snippet info such as phone number, address, business working hours, ratings, reviews, etc.
Here’s an example of how web results with local SEO schema markup appear on SERPs.
Local schema markup is beyond the scope of this guide, but here’s a good tutorial from Schema App.
Don’t forget to run your website through Google Structured Data Testing Tool to understand if the schema markup is done correctly.
As you read this, there are hundreds of potential customers searching for businesses in your neighborhood. Your website could be staring at them through their desktops and mobile phones, as soon as you get started on local SEO with the tips, tricks, tools, and methods described in this guide.
How has Google’s local search changed throughout the years? Columnist Brian Smith shares a timeline of events and their impact on brick-and-mortar businesses.
Deciphering the Google algorithm can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. The search engine giant has made many changes over the years, keeping digital marketers on their toes and continually moving the goalposts on SEO best practices.
Google’s continuous updating can hit local businesses as hard as anyone. Every tweak and modification to its algorithm could adversely impact their search ranking or even prevent them from appearing on the first page of search results for targeted queries. What makes things really tricky is the fact that Google sometimes does not telegraph the changes it makes or how they’ll impact organizations. It’s up to savvy observers to deduce what has been altered and what it means for SEO and digital marketing strategies.
What’s been the evolution of local search, and how did we get here? Let’s take a look at the history of Google’s local algorithm and its effect on brick-and-mortar locations.
2005: Google Maps and Local Business Center become one
After releasing Local Business Center in March 2005, Google took the next logical step and merged it with Maps, creating a one-stop shop for local business info. For users, this move condensed relevant search results into a single location, including driving directions, store hours and contact information.
This was a significant moment in SEO evolution, increasing the importance of up-to-date location information across store sites, business listings and online directories.
2007: Universal Search & blended results
Universal Search signified another landmark moment in local search history, blending traditional search results with various listings from other search engines. Instead of working solely through the more general, horizontal SERPs, Universal Search combined results from Google’s vertical-focused search queries like Images, News and Video.
Google’s OneBox started to show within organic search results, bringing a whole new level of exposure that was not there before. The ramifications on local traffic were profound, as store listings were better positioned to catch the eye of Google users.
2010: Local Business Center becomes Google Places
In 2010, Google rebranded/repurposed Local Business Center and launched Google Places. This was more than a mere name change, as a number of important updates were included, like adding new image features, local advertising options and the availability of geo-specific tags for certain markets. But more importantly, Google attempted to align Places pages with localized search results, where previously information with localized results was coming from Google Maps.
The emergence of Places further cemented Google’s commitment to bringing local search to the forefront. To keep up with these rapidly changing developments, brick-and-mortar businesses needed to make local search a priority in their SEO strategies.
2012: Google goes local with Venice
Prior to Venice, Google’s organic search results defaulted to more general nationwide sites. Only Google Maps would showcase local options. With the Venice update, Google’s algorithm could take into account a user’s stated location and return organic results reflecting that city or state. This was big, because it allowed users to search anchor terms without using local modifiers.
The opportunity for companies operating in multiple territories was incredible. By setting up local page listings, businesses could effectively rank higher on more top-level queries just by virtue of being in the same geographic area as the user. A better ranking with less effort — it was almost too good to be true.
2013: Hummingbird spreads its wings
Hummingbird brought about significant changes to Google’s semantic search capabilities. Most notably, it helped the search engine better understand long-tail queries, allowing it to more closely tie results to specific user questions — a big development in the eyes of main search practitioners.
Hummingbird forced businesses to change their SEO strategies to adapt and survive. Simple one- or two-word phrases would no longer be the lone focal point of a healthy SEO plan, and successful businesses would soon learn to target long-tail keywords and queries — or else see their digital marketing efforts drop like a stone.
2014: Pigeon takes flight
Two years after Venice brought local search to center stage, the Pigeon update further defined how businesses ranked on Google localized SERPs. The goal of Pigeon was to refine local search results by aligning them more directly with Google’s traditional SEO ranking signals, resulting in more accurate returns on user queries.
Pigeon tied local search results more closely with deep-rooted ranking signals like content quality and site architecture. Business listings and store pages needed to account for these criteria to continue ranking well on local searches.
2015: RankBrain adds a robotic touch
In another major breakthrough for Google’s semantic capabilities, the RankBrain update injected artificial intelligence into the search engine. Using RankBrain’s machine learning software, Google’s search engine was able to essentially teach itself how to more effectively process queries and results and more accurately rank web pages.
RankBrain’s ability to more intelligently process page information and discern meaning from complex sentences and phrases further drove the need for quality content. No more gaming the system. If you wanted your business appearing on the first SERP, your site had better have the relevant content to back it up.
2015: Google cuts back on snack packs
A relatively small but important update, in 2015, Google scaled back its “snack pack” of local search results from seven listings to a mere three. While this change didn’t affect the mechanics of SEO much, it limited visibility on page one of search results and further increased the importance of ranking high in local results.
2016: Possum shakes things up
The Possum update was an attempt to level the playing field when it came to businesses in adjoining communities. During the pre-Possum years, local search results were often limited to businesses in a specific geographical area. This meant that a store in a nearby area just outside the city limits of Chicago, for instance, would have difficulty ranking and appearing for queries that explicitly included the word “Chicago.”
Instead of relying solely on search terms, Possum leveraged the user’s location to more accurately determine what businesses were both relevant to their query and nearby.
This shift to user location is understandable given the increasing importance of mobile devices. Letting a particular search phrase dictate which listings are returned doesn’t make much sense when the user’s mobile device provides their precise location.
2017 and beyond
Predicting when the next major change in local search will occur and how it will impact ranking and SEO practices can be pretty difficult, not least because Google rarely announces or fully explains its updates anymore.
That being said, here are some evergreen local SEO tips that never go out of fashion (at least not yet):
- Manage your local listings for NAP (name, address, phone number) accuracy and reviews.
- Be sure to adhere to organic search best practices and cultivate localized content and acquire local links for each store location.
- Mark up your locations with structured data, particularly Location and Hours, and go beyond if you are able to.
When in doubt, look at what your successful competitors are doing, and follow their lead. If it works, it works — that is, until Google makes another ground-shaking algorithm change.
Don’t turn your attention away from the Internet of Things just yet. Contributor Wesley Young contends that the data provided by connected devices could help smaller players better compete with the big guys.
In an age of artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) may seem like yesterday’s news, but, of all the technologies currently developing, it has the greatest potential for near-term changes that affect local search.
While it remains murky how AI will benefit agencies, IoT is reaching a critical point in adoption and maturing to a stage where it provides actionable data. Or, as Brian Buntz with the Internet of Things Institute stated, “The IoT is about to shift into ludicrous mode.”
The growth of the IoT is spurred by decreasing costs of hardware, such as sensors, together with the ease and availability of wireless connectivity. IoT devices already outnumber smartphones by about four times, and growth is expected to accelerate further with Cisco estimates topping 50 billion devices by 2020. The amount of data generated by these devices is enormous.
Annual global IP traffic already exceeds 1 zettabyte of data and will double by 2019, Cisco forecasts. What is a zettabyte? It’s 1 billion terabytes. Or 1,000 exabytes. One exabyte amounts to 36,000 years of HD video, the company says. And Cisco adds, if a small (or a tall, for you Starbucks drinkers) coffee represented 1GB, a zettabyte would equate to a volume of coffee the size of the Great Wall of China. That’s a lot of data.
Back in 2014, Cisco’s CEO pegged the IoT as a $19 trillion market opportunity that will almost certainly change the way consumers do pretty much everything, from working to driving to shopping to exercising, and many other things.
And a subset of IoT, the location of things market — which enables connected devices to monitor and communicate their geographic location — is expected to reach $72 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. With location being the heart of local search, IoT will impact local search and search marketing in profound ways. But it goes beyond location.
According to Goldman Sachs, there are five main IoT verticals of adoption: wearables, connected cars, connected homes, connected cities and industrial internet. The first three are those most relevant to search, as they are related to consumer intent and behavior.
The SMB scale issue
Servicing local businesses with small budgets has always been a challenge for agencies. It’s too much work for too little money. It’s also expensive for SMBs who don’t enjoy the scale that larger businesses benefit from when purchasing search advertising or other marketing services. Both of which lead to the high churn rates at agencies that service SMBs.
Even though search boasts the ability to know the intent of users through keyword searches and display relevant advertising in response, it still has inefficiencies that are magnified for SMBs. Understanding user intent is largely dependent on how accurately the user can express his or her needs in typical keywords.
Let me illustrate with a personal example. I recently replaced an electric cooktop in my kitchen with a gas one. But the electric cooktop used a unique 50 amp plug. Instead of hiring an electrician, I wanted to see if there was an adapter that would convert that 50 amp socket into one that would fit the standard 15 amp plug that my gas cooktop used.
I must have conducted a dozen searches of varying terms describing what I wanted. I was repeatedly served search ads of products that seemed to be what I was looking for. But all the products advertised did just the opposite — converted a 15 amp socket for a 50 amp plug — an issue I discovered was common to RV hookups. I finally found a product conveniently called a gas range adapter. It seems obvious now, but, since I didn’t know the name for it, I wasted a lot of time, and more importantly, clicks on irrelevant search ads.
Consumers with experiences like mine may be why so many SMBs stop buying SEM services. But if search engines and advertisers had had more data about me and about my recent offline behavior, this problem might have been avoided, and I could have been served up information that was relevant to my needs.
Better data — which IoT can deliver — will both improve the consumer experience and result in better returns from marketing for SMBs. With better ROI, SMBs can better justify spending money on hiring agencies, and agencies can spend more time doing the job right. Data will also produce better results with automated processes like programmatic ad buying, reducing time and cost for agencies.
What kind of data are we talking about?
Current data use in targeting and retargeting is just the tip of the iceberg compared to how IoT will change the landscape. It appears nothing is off-limits when it comes to connectivity. Connected products being developed include mascara, contact lenses and ink for tattoos.
Simple applications would already be improvements over former or current uses. For example, location information can be enhanced by real-time data from wearables such as clothing, shoes or smart watches that indicate speed, and thus, whether the user is passing by in a vehicle or walking down the street. And, if the user is walking, it could indicate whether the person is walking for exercise, at a pace to get to a destination or at one that would indicate window shopping. Multiple location devices on a consumer are also more likely to interact with on-site location devices such as beacons and WiFi and help improve location accuracy.
Another area of significant growth for IoT is health care. Devices like contact lenses, implants, wearables or tattoo-like connected ink can track sweat composition and body chemistry, measure blood flow and glucose levels, or even determine whether you’ve taken medication. Lack of adherenceto medical prescriptions is estimated to cause 125,000 deaths and at least 10 percent of hospitalizations, making such devices arguably medically necessary.
Home connected devices — including lights, appliances, thermostats, vacuums, pillows, TVs, lawnmowers, video cams, voice assistants, scales and security systems — capture behavioral data in the home as never before.
But the potential lies in the way data from multiple devices may be integrated to tell a deeper story. Envision knowing the sleep habits of a consumer such as:
- how soundly they sleep.
- what body triggers occur before they wake up.
- how many times they get up at night and turn on the lights.
- whether they turn the TV on.
- how that sleep varies based on the temperature of the room.
- whether the chip-tagged cat climbing onto the bed triggers minor allergies that wake the homeowner.
The potential for insight into consumer behavior and responding with timely information is limited only by imagination. Yet the impending impact is already something agencies and SMBs can plan for. Below I take a look at six ways IoT will boost the ROI of search marketing for SMBs, making it a much broader and viable option.
6 ways that IoT will make local search scalable for SMBs
1.Boost search ads through improved targeting
Good data will make targeting the right person at the right time more accurate. Multiple GPS-connected devices per person provide additional location data for tracking users with greater accuracy and additional IoT data will provide deeper insight into needs and behavior.
For example, your wearable knows you just worked out and are hot and thirsty, based on your sweat readings. Your car knows there is a 7-Eleven two blocks ahead on your right where you can swing in quickly. And your phone can read you a notification on a 99-cent deal for a large cold slushy drink at that location which is good for 10 minutes. You pull in, and the coupon is location-triggered and automatically applied to your credit card when you pay.
2. Customer data becomes the new competitive edge
Large buyers of marketing services gain a competitive edge in scale by spreading costs over a large volume of interactions or leads. That lowers cost per lead. Smaller local businesses often don’t have that luxury, but good IoT data that improves the conversion of leads means that you can get more customers even when buying fewer leads. So the cost per customer goes down.
Ultimately, having the right customer data — rather than scale — is the new competitive edge.
3. Identify real-world offline behavior that drives online action
Knowing more about a person’s habits or preferences isn’t just about being able to target them directly. That data, when aggregated for many other individuals, reveals trends and predictability for targeting strategies. SEL’s sister publication, Marketing Land, recently published an interview with PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall, who explained that offline data on user location and behavior is a better indicator of intent than online signals.
In other words, knowing real-life choices, actions and behavior predicts online decisions better than clicks, search history and page views. Presumably, this is because the offline behavior is a deeper and more complete picture of the real world, at least until we live in a Matrix-like AR universe.
And that type of data is exactly what IoT devices collect and measure. The data can provide some surprising audience insights. Data from targeting platform NinthDecimal revealed that fast-food patrons were not the best targets for a quick-service restaurant campaign. Rather, DIY enthusiasts, moviegoers and leisure travelers were better targets.
4. Boost data sharing and overcome privacy concerns with services consumers want
There’s a great concern, especially with companies that have business in Europe, over evolving privacy laws. Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect in May 2018, limits use of a person’s data unless express consent is given.
The way to overcome that limitation is to provide a product or service that the user values more than the information he or she is releasing. For example, a company called Mimo makes onesies for infants that measure breathing, sleep movements and other sensitive data. But concerned parents gladly turn that information over to the company in return for protection against SIDS or improved sleep routines.
Roomba, the maker of robotic vacuums, uses maps of your home to improve the overall user experience. The inside of your house seems like something most wouldn’t want to share, but consumers routinely choose convenience over privacy. If data sharing will make your vacuum perform better and get your house cleaner, many users will agree to it. Data might be shared with Amazon or Apple to link the device to your Echo or to Siri. It may link to any of a number of smart home devices made by Google (Nest), Samsung (appliances) or a flooring company or a retailer that carries Roomba-friendly furniture.
However, the GDPR prohibits making provision of a service conditional upon release of data if that data is not necessary to the service. While not law in the US, there certainly are discussions over similar privacy concerns. Yet again, providing related benefits in return for the data can solicit “freely given consent.”
For example, I recently installed a Honeywell WiFi connected thermostat in my home. Honeywell has since emailed me to offer a software upgrade that will optimize my thermostat settings to help save me money and states that customers save $71-$117 a year on their energy bills by enrolling in the program. I get customized reports with insights into my energy use, comparison to similar homes and tips to help track and improve energy efficiency. I’m sure those “tips” will include some referrals to vendors such as insulation companies, solar energy vendors and HVAC contractors. But I’ll likely opt in to save a few bucks.
5. Level the playing field in access to big data
One of the complaints about privacy regulations is that they favor the big players that have sufficient leverage to get consumers to consent to handing over their data. Not many opt out of using Google Maps because they don’t want to share their location data, whereas smaller lesser used apps are easier to say “No” to.
Apple is also limiting ad tracking and frustrating ad buyers, but since its revenue is not advertising-dependent, it doesn’t really care. Those restrictions hurt advertiser conversions, make retargeting less effective and reduce reach. Meanwhile, Google is beginning to block “annoying” ads in its Chrome browser, further demonstrating that decisions made by a few big players can have a lot of impact.
The explosion of IoT devices means a lot more players in the data supply chain that provide quality first-party data and widen the narrow funnel controlled by a few major players. With data being the new competitive edge, that’s a great thing for ad buyers.
For example, in my Honeywell thermostat example, ad buyers can target users directly through Honeywell’s communications to its customers, or Honeywell can use its customer data to match and target users within other third-party media outlets such as Facebook or Bing.
6. Overcome ad blocking
Ad blocking occurs because users are tired of being served ad content they don’t want. However, there are repeated studies that show users are receptive to targeted or relevant advertising.
Verve shared a study called “The Rise of Mobile Prodigies” at LSA’s Place Conference that demonstrated that young consumers want ads to be tailored to their interests, hobbies, habits and location. Forty-six percent of them even saved ads they found innovative to revisit at a later time.
InMarket shared a case study at the same event showing a 2.3x lift in purchase intent, as well as 100 percent positive social media reaction to ads they created for ProYo, a protein-rich ice cream product.
Consumers are receptive to advertising when the content and timing are right. IoT data will drive relevant content at the right moment to consumers, reducing the aversion to receiving ads. The end goal is to change the perception of ads from slick sales pitches to helpful information for making decisions at the time when consumers are researching a purchase.
IoT has gotten somewhat lost in the conversation dominated by AI and personal assistants. Yet what some have predicted as the “third wave of the internet” after the fixed internet and mobile devices is cresting towards huge volumes of devices and accompanying data.
It may seem ironic that big data is the solution for scaling small business needs, but it’s the automation, efficiency and effectiveness at small tasks that will make it cost-effective for SMBs. They will still need providers to help them determine the use cases that benefit their businesses and to match products and services with business needs. But those who can leverage the new depth of data will have a marked competitive edge in building profitable small business marketing models.
For local businesses, having a strong presence in the local search results is fundamental to those all-important conversions.
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.
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.
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.
For most businesses, the summer season means a slow-down in industry events — but for digital marketers, there is no rest! My company was out in force at both The Turing Festival and BrightonSEO this year, both of which represent fantastic forums for knowledge-sharing and networking.
Reflecting on what were hugely insightful conferences, I’d like to run over themes that stood out to me — and how digital marketers can put insights drawn from them into practice.
Attendees of both conferences were spoiled for choice: Speakers from the world’s largest and most inspiring companies, including Google, Moz and Skyscanner, headlined stages. Members of our paid search team were particularly wowed by the session delivered by Wil Reynolds, the founder of Seer Interactive.
Breaking down silos
Wil Reynolds’s background commanded the audience’s attention from the get-go with a story that is still relatively unusual in the marketing world. Originally an SEO expert who turned to PPC, Reynolds suggested that the notion of switching between elements of search marketing shouldn’t be unusual in 2017, but that it unfortunately still is.
Typically, search professionals specialize in either paid or organic search and rarely move from one to the other. However, combining these skill sets can strengthen a marketing team and add value to the services it delivers to its clients.
I think that’s an important lesson for marketers, whether agency or client-side. Integrated marketing strategies are more effective than siloed efforts, and we have no shortage of case studies to that effect here at QueryClick.
Describing how he broke out of his own silo and combined SEO with PPC, Reynolds highlighted how the two areas of search complement each other — a message that resonates with me personally as a marketing professional who recognizes that an integrated approach delivers the strongest results.
A holistic approach
In a modern digital marketing world, however, the merging of skills goes far beyond mastering both SEO and PPC. The way people consume content has drastically changed over the last decade. The rise in mobile media consumption has led to a diverse range of content platforms, and marketers now have extensive opportunities to tailor their messaging and reach their target audiences.
To ensure consistency across platforms, today’s brands demand an integrated approach with a cross-skilled team that breaks down silos, produces more meaningful data and offers them more bang for their buck.
Running organic and paid search campaigns simultaneously (with a single point of truth in reporting) allows integrated marketing teams to define the keywords that have the highest conversion rate and therefore determine the themes that will optimize a brand’s overall digital marketing strategy. To work effectively, however, it must be rolled out across SEO, PPC, social media, PR and conversion rate optimization (CRO), with each team working closely together in order to achieve the brand’s end goals.
Bridging the gap
Of course, there are risks to adopting an integrated approach. There can be a huge disconnect between PPC and SEO campaigns, for example, and work must be done to bridge the gap between both disciplines. Ensuring that the work of the SEO and PPC teams complement each other, and that they can yield valuable data and insights for that work, should result in campaigns that are more targeted and relevant to the brand’s audience.
I’ve written before about how you can integrate paid and organic search behaviour in a blended “Halo” report, and I think it’s just one example where integrating channels provides significant insight value to both channels.
Of course, creating an integrated strategy is an art form as much as it is a science, and without the appropriate tools at hand, it’s not always possible. Power BI, a data visualization tool which can pull deeper integrated organic and paid metrics together, can help marketers present a visual representation of PPC and SEO activity live, allowing both teams to move away from working and reporting in silos and allowing an instantly accessible “single point of truth.”
Get the full picture
During the conclusion of his session at The Turing Festival, Reynolds pointed out that it is important to recognize that SEO and PPC look at the world differently. He described PPC professionals as being akin to “creative accountants,” working to meticulous precision, and suggested that SEOs are more like “poker players,” keeping their cards close to their chest.
Although the skills and mindsets of these specialists are very different, combining both organic and paid results shows the full SEM picture and allows digital marketers to deliver stronger results to their clients. This, in turn, informs the strategy for the whole digital marketing team, from PR to social. If mastered, a data-led, integrated approach is the holy grail of modern search marketing.
Search engine optimization isn’t always much fun for small businesses. Aside from having to compete with your closest rivals, you’ve got those industry leaders hogging up page one of results.
To make matters worse, organic results are getting pushed further down the page, leaving less space for the little guy. These are the challenges small business marketers face, but each of these challenges is also an opportunity to get ahead of your competitors. Here are ten things every small business should be doing with their SEO strategy.
#1: Local SEO
We may as well start with the obvious one. Unless you happen to be a small online-only retailer, chances are you have brick-and-mortar stores or offices. Which means local SEO is going to be a core part of your search marketing efforts. Below is an example of a local listing in Google:
There’s more to local SEO than Google Maps, though. First, you have third-party directory and review sites to think about – both of which Google uses for search and Google Maps results. You’ll also want to localise your content strategy and work location names into anchor text, URLs, headings, etc.
#2: Tactical link building
Link building is tricky for every business so don’t let this one get you down. Just keep in mind that quality outweighs quantity when it comes to inbound links – so focus on getting links from sites with a higher domain authority than yourself.
These are some techniques to try:
- Guest blogging: The classic link building technique still works today.
- Syndication: Targeting trusted publishers that syndicate content can increase the number of links, traffic and audience you gain from guest blogging.
- The Skyscraper Technique: Find popular content, publish an improved version and reach out to the sites linking to the original piece.
- Broken link building: Find broken links to popular content and provide these sites with a replacement version.
Of course, your content needs to be good enough to earn those essential links and shares. Until your audience is large enough that link building largely takes care of itself, you’ll have to be tactical with your approach.
#3: Reach out to local/relevant publications
Another good link building strategy is to reach out to local/relevant publications. It’s not only the links you’re after, though. Google likes to see your brand mentioned in publications relevant to your industry or in your local area – so even if you don’t get links, simply being mentioned is beneficial.
The other main benefit with local and relevant publications is their audience. Links mean potential traffic, citations mean brand awareness and regularly featuring in these publications means you can tap into their regular audience.
#4: Exploit your competitors’ weaknesses
Your closest competitors are facing all the same challenges you are. Use this to your advantage. Are they missing out on obvious keyword opportunities? Are they suffering from poor reviews on Google My Business? Is their website painfully slow to load or poorly optimised for mobile?
Every weakness your competitor shows is an opportunity to beat them, show users you’re the better brand and prove to Google you should rank higher than them.
#5: Get a head start with AdWords
While SEO is a long-term process of building an online presence, AdWords is a much faster way of bringing traffic to your site. It’ll take time for your SEO strategy to generate any kind of ROI but advertising on AdWords allows you to generate profit as your organic presence builds up.
AdWords isn’t simply a shortcut to getting traffic on your site, though. It allows you to target users who aren’t looking for content anymore; they’re looking to buy. There’s a reason Google charges to advertise on its search engine – because it generates the kind of high-quality leads you can’t get elsewhere.
#6: Target high-intent users with your SEO strategy
Unlike paid advertising, SEO largely focuses on users who are still looking for content. Generally speaking, these are people who haven’t quite made up their minds yet. They might know they want to buy a new TV, but they’re not sure which model to go for. Essentially, they need help making a buying decision.
It’s important to understand what users look for as they progress along the buying journey. For example, someone who has booked a holiday but needs a hotel is very high-intent. They need a place to stay and it’s simply a case of finding the best place within their price range.
So let’s say you’re a small hotel, here’s your content idea: “Top 10 hotels in [location] for any budget”. Make this an evergreen piece of content that builds search authority over time and is always there for people looking for a room in the area.
#7: Target lower-intent leads as your SEO strategy matures
We all love high-intent leads but they’re sadly the minority of your potential customers. The vast majority are low-intent and end up doing business elsewhere, unless you capture them early enough and bring them closer to the sale.
Instead of looking for hotel rooms in your area, these people are still considering where to go on their holiday. So you’re recommending destinations rather than hotel choices at this earlier stage of the consumer journey.
#8: Website speed, bounce rate, etc.
Websites that offer a poor user experience aren’t much good to Google. The search giant wants to send users to pages that load quickly, are well-optimised for mobile and – above all – provide the content people are looking for.
Make performance a priority (speed, mobile optimisation, etc), refine your content to keep people on your page (reduce bounce rate) and guide users to the next relevant page.
#9: Automate everything you can
One of your biggest challenges as a small business is marketing efficiency. Keyword research, competitor analysis and everything else takes valuable time – all of which adds up very quickly.
The answer? Automate everything you can to cut down the workload of repetitive, time-consuming tasks.
Infusionsoft’s 2017 Small Business Marketing Trends Report reveals that automation is not a priority for most small business owners. Which means this is another one of those competitor weaknesses you can exploit while they’re busy updating their Facebook status.
#10: Build an in-house team or hire an agency
The biggest misconception with small business SEO is that budgets are the main barrier. Whereas the real thing that stops a lot of smaller brands building a solid search presence is resources – i.e. not having the right team on board.
Going back to the Infusionsoft report, small business owners also tend to be the marketing manager for their brand. The problem is most small business owners aren’t marketers and they’re too busy running a business to dedicate the time it takes to build an online presence. Our advice – build a decent in-house marketing team or hire an SEO agency.
We understand SEO can be frustrating for smaller businesses but it doesn’t have to be an uphill struggle. With the right personnel on board, and automation taking care of reports and other technical SEO tasks, you’ll start to see real progress.
Small businesses have a lot to gain from the latest marketing technology. Agility is one of the biggest advantages you have over bigger brands so move quickly to adopt the latest SEO technology and techniques – this is the best chance you’ve got at jumping ahead of your competitors and giving bigger businesses something to think about.