In our discussions with small business owners, we’ve come across two issues that consistently come up as challenges for these owners when it comes to their Digital presence.
- The local business is run out of their home and they don’t want to share their address for security reasons
- The local business serves a geographic area that extends beyond their single physical location and they want “credit” for serving that larger area
There is no single or simple answer to either of these questions, but there are options that can be considered. Complicating matters is that the things Google looks for or “ranks” in determining what businesses are best suited for local searches changes over time – so what works well today may not work as well tomorrow. But hope is not lost! At the end of the day, doing what comes naturally is almost always the best option, as we’ll explain below.
Your business is run out of your home and you don’t want to share your private home address with the world – This has become more prevalent as we see more entrepreneurs starting businesses. It’s important to keep your startup costs down, and working from a garage or basement is a time-honored way to get started (Hewlett Packard, Apple and Amazon all started this way!) When it comes to local search, an address is absolutely critical. If you want to be found when somebody is searching for your type of business/service in or near your town, you will struggle unless you can show a physical presence.
What are the options? The most obvious is to use your home address. The challenge is many directory sites won’t let you hide it while others will – so you have to reconcile that your address will be easily found. You also want to be consistent – if you change up the address in any way between sites to “throw off the trail”, all you’re doing is hurting your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google, Bing, Yahoo and other leading search engines want to see a consistent NAP (Name/Address/Phone) over all major directories.
Other options include getting an address from your local UPS Store or a virtual office. PO Boxes do not count – no search engine gives them any authority at all. These options will cost a little money, and you’ll have to decide if the marketing costs are worth the result.
Whatever you decide, you need to make sure that whatever NAP you choose that you publish this out to all the major directories as well as Google+. Tools such as Moz Local can automate this for a small annual fee.
You have a single physical location but serve a larger local geography. You’d like to “rank” in the towns that you serve but don’t have a physical presence – This is one of the more frustrating aspects of Local SEO. It’s a challenge for search engines to determine relevance over a geographic area beyond your physical location. If you are a florist (for example) with a single location, it’s highly likely you deliver to dozens of other towns within a 15-20 mile radius of your store. You would certainly like people who live 15 miles away from you to find your business if they search on “Valentines Day Roses” and then type in their city and state.
There is a tendency to want to create “virtual offices” in all the towns that you serve. Please be careful when considering this. I spoke with Brian Gomez who had written this great piece about this issue. Generally speaking, if you cannot confirm that you actually do business at that physical location, it’s not good practice to use those locations as your business. There is clearly blurred lines in this area – as we suggested above, you could get access to a virtual office location and it may be perfectly legal. This is where doing what comes naturally is important. If you would open up these offices for reasons not related to SEO, then it’s likely fine. If the motivation is simply to rank better, you should think hard about this decision.
With this said, there are things you can do. First, Google+ does allow you to specify a “service radius” and/or specific zip codes that you service. There are no indications (yet) that entering this information has a dramatic impact on SEO, but it’s still a relatively new feature of Google+ so the jury is still out how Google will ultimately use this info. Second, getting feedback from your customers in these other towns (and making reference to the towns) will give you some exposure in places where you want to rank – and Google always appreciates attribution from 3rd parties as a source of validity. In other words, if you can get others to talk about you (instead of you talking about yourself) that usually ranks better.
At Bizyhood, we are looking very carefully at this issue and will continue to investigate ways that local business owners can legitimately and effectively rank in Local SEO. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, questions or other tools that have worked, please let us know.