Small businesses can often feel at a disadvantage when competing online. There’s always someone with a better site, greater reach, and deeper pockets. But such a mindset overlooks the one significant advantage your local store has over Amazon.com: locality.
As much as 43% of google search traffic has local intent. That’s 43% of all google traffic searching for physical businesses, services, shops, properties – just like yours. And that’s going to increase. And become more profitable. In this article we’ll take a look at why local search is becoming increasingly important and what you, as a local business owner, should be doing about it.
So, why is local search so important now? The standout factor for me is mobile.
The Rise And Importance Of Mobile Search
Search on mobile devices is on the rise (in 2012, according to a ComScore study, mobile based search grew by 20% compared to a fall of 6% in desktop search), and are more effective at driving business than desktop searches.
As people look for things to do, places to eat, whilst they’re out and about, they’re pulling out their phones and searching for local businesses. The proximity factor is important here … a good search result listing for people on the move is going to drive business directly – and quickly; a good search result listing on a desktop machine is more likely to be acted upon later – mentally saved for compare & review.
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A recent study showed that 75% of mobile searches triggered additional actions. These included open ended actions like ‘further research’ or ‘a website visit’ but also significant, measurable, actions: a store visit (17%), a purchase (17%) or a phone call (7%).
Perhaps most interestingly was the speed with which these actions take place: 55% of actions, following a mobile search, took place within an hour of the search.
We could go on (and the stats are impressive), but the point is this: mobile search is driving people to local businesses and these people take action. So the questions become: what are you doing to target mobile search? What are you doing to boost your business with local SEO?
Google’s Local Search Algorithm
The first thing to consider is this: what does google care about? The answer is: a lot. Moz.com, in their comprehensive listing of local search ranking factors acknowledge that ‘it becomes very clear that there’s no longer a single “Local algorithm” at Google anymore—if, indeed, there ever was one’, and their efforts to provide a comprehensive resource of local search factors come down to a list of how small business owners can best prioritise their local SEO marketing efforts.
The upshot is that there are a number of quick-wins to be had when thinking about local search, and a number of smart steps you can take to ensure you benefit as much as possible from your local listing.
Create and verify your Google+ local page
Your first step should be to create a local business page on google. In Google’s rush to make everything a part of their ‘Google Plus’ network, this now has to happen in conjunction with your Google Plus account. Confused? Don’t be – head to the Google Plus for Business page and claim your business page.
You’ll be asked to verify that this is indeed your business – they’re going to post something to the address you use and you’ll need to enter the PIN that is included with that mailing. But that’s a one off deal – and you are able to create and update your profile whilst that process is taking place.
It’s possible that you have already created a local business page – I know people who had 2 or 3 pages set up for their business that they weren’t aware of (sometimes, when creating gmail accounts they use for business, or whatever). You’re going to want to clear those up – if you have duplicate listings for your business, you should delete the local pages that you no longer maintain.
You can contact google to help with this if your local business listings are not associated with your Google Plus business account.
So, now that you have a local page in google – what should you do with it?
Creating the page is step one … now you have to work it:
- Fully complete your local business profile. You get 300 words – so write a good description that includes keywords and services, provides your contact details and opening hours.
- You also get to upload photos (up to 5) and a video. Definitely upload the photos – they can display in search results – and if you have a video you can upload, do that too. We’ll take a brief look in a minute about the power of video to local seo.
You will also be able to link one web page to your local business. Your natural inclination would be to link your home page – and that may be the best thing to do.
But you may want to include your contact page, or your about page, or a page that has been specifically created for the purpose – a page that has a good, relevant, page title and well written content optimised specifically for local search.
Your profile should also include a local phone number (tempting to list your 800 number if you have one, but I’d advise using your local phone number since your local area code will carry some weight with Google in assessing your locality), and a consistently formatted address (i.e. you should keep your address formatting the same across your google page and your website).
If your business operates in several locations, you should create a page for each location on your website. You might have a single contact page listing all of your details – but that should include links to separate pages that focus on one specific location. It’ll help google identify you as a local business for the different locales you operate in.
Enhancing Your Local Search Results
With the creation of your google local business page, you are already well on your way to standing out amongst your local competitors – but there are a good few ways you can start to enhance your local listing:
i) claim your google authorship
If you haven’t claimed google authorship for your blog, this is something you can do in a few simple steps. It helps because first of all it verifies you as the source of the content – google wants to give more prominence to recognised content producers; ideally it’d skew search results toward authors who have more authority. Associating the content you produce with your Google+ account will help with this authority. Here’s a handy little tutorial on claiming your google authorship.
ii) encourage customer reviews
Positive reviews anywhere online are going to be good for your business. However, only reviews in certain places are going to have a direct impact on your local SEO performance.
Ideally, you’d encourage people to leave reviews on your Google+ Local page. Reviews on secondary sites – such as Yelp, Yell or Scoot … these all help, but if you can push people to leaving reviews on your Google+ Local page, that’s certainly best.
(Google, as you might have guessed, is pushing all businesses to operate within it’s ecosystem of products – whether that’s Google+, YouTube, Adwords, or whatever.)
Reviews are incredibly important – not only do positive business reviews directly influence the decision of purchasers, but a high number of positive reviews will inevitably push you further up the search rankings.
The question is: how do I get reviews of my business? There are a number of ways to try:
- directly ask customers! Use your existing communication efforts (email broadcasts, SMS marketing) to request directly that people leave a review on your Google+ local page
- connect with your Facebook / Twitter followers and ask them to do it as well
- include a ‘leave review’ link in your outgoing email signature – and on your website also
- can you do the same on your sales receipts to customers – leave a URL printed on the material you hand to every customer
- if you want to take it further, why not provide your customers with a handout they can use to understand how best to leave a review? This excellent free tool allows you to print out personalised customer review forms!
… in short: do whatever you can to encourage people to leave reviews of your business. But you can’t afford to be passive about it.
Thinking that ‘people will leave reviews if they continue to be pleased with our service’ is wrong. People won’t. You need to remind them – and the closer to the time of purchase that they’re reminded, the more likely they are to leave that review.
Make it easy for people, and encourage them to do so (although it is against Google’s terms to offer an incentive, positive encouragement is just fine).
In the local context, customer reviews are as important as a good back linking strategy is to more geographically diverse businesses, so don’t underestimate this step.
iii) use video to promote your services
YouTube – another Google product with importance for search engine rankings – can be a great opportunity to provide some more weight to your local SEO campaign. Because relatively few local businesses have created videos, optimising your YouTube presence can have a really strong effect on your campaign.
A few technical points listed below will go a long way to helping your video gain prominence and provide benefit to your local SEO, but it is worth mentioning first that your video should be interesting enough for people to watch all the way through.
- Try and keep it under 2 minutes, and give a good deal of thought as to what you want to cover in it.
- Straight ads for your company probably won’t be that engaging for viewers
- Producing a series of 4 or 5 videos covering different aspects of your industry, of your production process, of how your products / services help people … then that is more likely to be interesting, more likely to be watched, and more likely to be shared.
That said, these technical pointers will also help:
– always geotag your video. An obvious step – but the point here is that we’re trying to associate your video with a location. Adding that basic information will ensure that your video is geographically associated with your business.
N.B. Currently, it’s unclear how Google use this information (previously, there was a contextual layer in Google Maps that showed local videos – that seems to have gone), but the information is collected and there’s likely to be benefit in completing it.
– link to your business in the description. Each video you upload can have a description – make the most of this. Give a full description that includes both relevant keywords that could be used in content discovery, and also a link back to your business website. If you want to be really smart about it, I’d have a page on your website for each YouTube video you upload, and have both the page and the video optimised for the same set of keywords.
YouTube themselves provide an excellent breakdown of the kind of information you can add to both the video description and title.
– associate your video with your Google+ local page. As mentioned earlier, when you create your Google+ local page, you can associate a video with it – this is your opportunity to link your local page with up to five videos. Take it.
Some Tools To Help Out
As with all things SEO, there are tools you can use that will help you out – give you pointers to where you can improve, or tips on things you might have missed. Here’s a few that might come in handy:
Get Listed is a great free tool which details where business listings exist for your company, and where they don’t. Super handy – it provides you with a to-do list of where to start improving the number of your business listings. It also tells you if listings exist for your business that are currently unclaimed, or if there are duplicate listings that you should consolidate.
You should find where your business is listed, verify that the name, address and phone information is correct in each – and go through the places where you’re not currently listed, making sure you add your details to each of these. This tool is so useful, it’s hard to believe that it’s free!
If you enter your basic business information into this tool, you’ll receive back a wealth of information pertaining to both your Google+ local page and your website – it’s a great check for consistency of information (making sure the address in Google+ matches that of your website), taking you through number of business reviews, and some good information from your own website too.
These two great tools will certainly be enough to get you started in your local SEO campaign!
We’ve covered a lot here – starting with the increasing importance of mobile to overall search volume – and what that means to you as a local business. We looked at how best to set up your Google+ local page – the things you can do to help ensure you appear up the rankings.
Also, we looked at some things you can do to enhance your local search presence – good use of video, some tips to attract more customer reviews. And finally, we looked at two great tools for helping you with your local listing.
My advice would be to act now on this. Right now, not all local businesses are taking these steps – but you can bet that with the increase in mobile usage, and as businesses become more aware of the options available to them, they will do soon.
This is a great opportunity to make an early stake to your local area!