Internet search is most often the starting point in the local consumer's search for products and services nearby.
In fact, 78% use the internet to find information about local businesses in their area more than once a week – and 21% search local every day, according to BrightLocal's latest local consumer survey.
You need to be visible in local organic and Map Pack search results if you want to be found. Then you have the opportunity to convert those searches into store traffic, booked appointments, or some other type of paying customer.
In this column, you'll find the 7 most impressive ways you can build local visibility using SEO.
1. Check For Technical Errors That Could Impact Indexing
This is basic SEO. You can't be found if search engines can't index your site.
First, learn the basics of how search engines crawl and index your website. This fundamental knowledge will help guide your SEO efforts in the future.
You may decide that the technical issues of SEO, such as indexing, are too complex to manage in addition to running your business.
If that's the case, at least you'll understand what you're hiring an SEO agency or consultant to do for you.
On the other hand, you may feel more confident studying indexing issues on your own, in which case these resources may help:
2. Create Exceptional Content
Content is the means by which all messages, offers and calls to action will be delivered to your audience.
But your small business isn't just competing with other businesses like yours in search results.
You're also up against media publications, news websites, big brands, local reviews, and all kinds of other sources that create content relevant to your products and services.
The bar is high, and that means your content needs to be exceptional to stand out.
Before you jump in with both feet and start publishing blog posts, take the time to create a local content strategy that aligns with your business goals.
Make sure you include different types of local content and optimize each section for search using these proven on-page local SEO best practices.
3. Incorporate Local Link Building Into Your SEO Strategy
Links are the currency of the web. They are an important signal of trust for search engines like Google and suggest that others endorse your content.
John McAlpin explains: “Local links are created with the intention of showing that others relevant to the local area trust or support your business.”
His piece “What is Local Connection & How to Find More Local Link Opportunities,” part of our local SEO guide, is a great starting point for your local link building strategy.
From there, I highly recommend you read this column by Kevin Rowe, where he shares the 50 types of relationships and what you need to do to attract each one.
4. Get Your Google Business Profile In Order
No local search strategy is complete without a well-optimized Google Business Profile (GBP).
While Google pulls local business information from a wide variety of websites, directories and networks across the Internet, it views its profiles as the single source of truth about any local business.
Formerly known as the Google My Business program, these profiles have become richer and more interactive over the past few years. And with these updates, they've become more useful for local browsers as well.
Today, GBPs not only provide key business information such as your location and contact information, but also allow you to:
Sherry Bonelli offers an excellent guide to optimizing GBP here.
5. Ensure Local Listings Are Accurate
Google values the browser experience above all else. Incorrect, out-of-date information that negatively impacts the browser experience is therefore a liability and can greatly hinder your local visibility.
Whenever a customer comes across your business online – whether it's on social media, in a local directory, in the yellow pages, on review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor – the information they find there should allow them to convert seamlessly.
Providing an incorrect phone number, address, hours of operation, or other key business information can result in a search engine showing up in a closed store, for example.
Or their GPS system sends them to your former location.
Seeing different versions of key business data around the web makes it difficult for search engines to know what's true.
Since Google wants to give every searcher the best possible answer to their query, you don't want the algorithm to question whether your business information is credible.
Manually tracking listings is time-consuming and incredibly difficult, as data aggregators and directories may be scanning business information and updating their listings.
This is how misinformation or out-of-date ads are spread, and a wrong address, URL or opening hours can spread far and wide.
Small businesses can use a local SEO tool like Moz Local or Semrush to automate the process of scanning business listings and monitoring their accuracy.
6. Monitor & Respond To Local Reviews
Reviews are a very influential part of the local search experience and in 2021, 77% of local consumers said they always or regularly read reviews when searching for local businesses.
Google's local ranking algorithms are less of a mystery than their organic counterparts. Google openly tells us that there are three main local ranking factors: relevance, distance and prominence.
Reviews are part of the prominence factor, and Google states:
“Number of Google reviews and review score factor in local search ranking.” More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business's local ranking.”
Jeff Riddall offers a comprehensive overview of how Google reviews affect organic and local search rankings here.
Check out Matt Southern's ‘Where & How to get the right reviews for your business' to learn more.
7. Use Relevant Local Schema
Although not a ranking factor, schema markup is a type of structured data that makes things easier for search engines and helps the search engine better understand the content of your page.
Anything you can do to help Google match your page more effectively to a relevant query is a win.
Schema markup can help drive rich results that highlight additional information such as breadcrumbs, reviews, FAQs, and links to web pages in search results.
Applying the scheme correctly, then testing and validating your markup, is essential as mistakes can disqualify you from getting those rich results.
Chelsea Alves has written a fantastic guide to local tagging and rich results that can serve as a starting point for adding this tactic to your local SEO strategy.
Bringing It All Together
Taking on local SEO as a small business can seem daunting. You may not have a dedicated marketing department, and it's not uncommon for business owners to feel overwhelmed by the administrative and marketing tasks that come with entrepreneurship.
I hope this guide gives you enough information and resources to determine what you can handle in-house and what you may need to outsource.
Using an agency or consultant to augment your in-house skills is perfectly fine – but it's essential that you have a sound understanding of what you're asking these professionals to do for you.
Remember, local SEO is not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it activity to tick off a listing.
It's an integral part of your marketing and often intersects with customer service.
To learn more, download Search Engine Journal's e-book Local SEO: The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Local Search Rankings.
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