It’s been said that all politics are local, and much the same can be said about commerce. The World Wide Web has given even the smallest business owner access to the global marketplace, but brick and mortar enterprises still heavily depend on local search traffic to survive.
This is not to say that the internet cannot be a valuable tool for local businesses. It most definitely is! But as a tool it must be pressed into service to drive real world traffic into local shops and offices.
Local business owners design and publish websites, and make it a point to have their businesses listed in as many online directories as possible. It makes sense, and it’s good business to be in relevant directories.
But, what do you do when your online presence is slipping, and you find yourself losing ground in local searches? A slip in Google’s local SERPs (search engine results pages) not only means less potential traffic for your business, it can signal a loss of brand identity in the local community…and loss in revenue.
So, if you’re a local business owner and you’re losing ground in the local search results, what can you do? Google reviews will always help your local campaign, but let’s focus on the technicals for this article.
That being said, here are a few tired and true troubleshooting tips for local SEO to help you regain your online momentum, and reclaim your place in Google’s local rankings.
Google Places Quality Guidelines
One of the easiest ways to lose ranking in local searches is to violate one of Google’s quality guidelines. If your ranking has been slipping, the first thing to do is review Google Places Quality Guidelines and look for any possible violations that may be affecting your listings.
Google has some definite, and oftentimes idiosyncratic, ideas on how local businesses should be represented online. Like it or not, these don’t always gel with how things are done in the real world.
For example, many businesses have a toll-free number for their customers. Google clearly states that a local number should be used instead.
Take the time to review these guidelines, and make certain that your information (business name, address, phone number, etc) conforms to their best practices.
Check For NAP Inconsistencies
NAP is an acronym for Name, Address, and Phone Number. This is the most important information you can provide on your business’ listings and citations. When someone enters a search for a local business, Google looks at more than just Google Places and your Google+ Local listings – it searches the entire internet.
If your NAP information is inconsistent over a multitude of citations, this will confuse the search engine bots. When Google gets confused, page rankings can suffer. Something as simple as a misspelling, or an inconsistent use of abbreviations, can confuse the search bot and result in a slip in your local ranking.
Review all of your online listings and citations, and make sure your NAP information is identical, and consistent, anywhere it appears on the internet. You could even use tools such as Yext or Moz Local to verfiy consistency.
Beware of Duplicate Listings
With very few exceptions (multi-partner law firms, multi-department hospitals, etc) businesses are only allowed a single Google+ Local Page per location. Duplicate listings violate Google’s guidelines, and can result in penalties or lower page rankings.
A number of scenarios can lead to duplicate listings; your business office may have moved, you may have changed your phone number, or a listing may have been automatically generated.
It is also possible you may have simply misunderstood Google’s guidelines, or you may have been given poor local SEO advice. To search for duplicate listings, go to maps.google.com and search for the following:
- Your business’ name.
- Variations on your business’ name, including any older names you may have operated under.
- A combination of your business’ name and address.
- Your address, and any previously addresses you may have used.
- Your phone number, and any previous phone numbers you may have used.
If you find any duplicate listings, take action to remove them immediately. If you experience trouble, Google has instructions on how to remove duplicate listings.
Review Your Primary Website
Remember, when a local search is performed Google looks at everything, not just citations in directories. Website quality has a definite impact on page ranking, even for smaller local businesses.
Review your website for quality issues that may impact your online performance, such as:
- Is your site properly optimized for local searches? In other words, are you properly using semantic markup?
- Is your website easy to navigate, for both humans and search bots? User experience should be your #1 focus…always.
- Is your content professionally written, ie free of misspellings or grammatical errors that could indicate to Google that it is of an inferior quality?
- Is your website home to duplicate content, either derived from other pages within the site or scraped from other sites?
- Is your website’s backlink profile healthy, and does it conform to Google’s best practices?
- Has your website suffered any recent Google penalties?
Troubleshooting local SEO can be time consuming, and these are just a few key areas that need to be addressed if your business is losing ground in local search results. If you are experiencing a slip in your local rankings, these basics tips should get you well on your way to better rankings.