As a small business owner, it’s important to optimize your online presence in order to attract local customers and drive sales. One key aspect of this is local SEO, or search engine optimization specifically targeted at attracting customers in your local area.
Local SEO can help your business show up in search results for keywords related to your location, which can be especially important for small businesses competing with larger, national brands, and/or those businesses that only deal with local customers in a small geographic region (restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.).
With Google’s ever-increasing ability to interpret context from a search, local SEO is becoming increasingly more important and goes well beyond targeting local keywords.
The days of targeting someone searching “long island seo services” or “new york city printing companies” for example are beginning to become a thing of the past. Google is getting much better at interpreting search intent and showing local results even if local keywords are not present.
This means that it’s more critical than ever that Google knows exactly where your business is located, what regions you service, and what your primary services are.
Why Local SEO is Especially Important for Small Businesses
While local SEO is important for all businesses, it’s especially critical for small businesses. Here are just a few reasons why.
Local SEO helps your business show up in search results for keywords related to your business that are likely to be looking for a local option.
For example, woodworking is a hobby of mine. If I were to search Google for the keyword “woodworking,” I’m going to get an array of results from around the world. You can see in the screenshot that even though Google says it’s showing results based on the location of my office, none of the results I receive are from local businesses.
The results include ecommerce retailers that sell woodworking tools, publications and websites dedicated to woodworkers, project images, how-to videos, and online courses.
However, if I search for “long island furniture makers,” I get a completely different set of results of local businesses and craftsmen (the first of which just happens to be an SEO customer of ours!), or directories listing the same.
In the first example, Google understood that I was most likely looking for resources related to my woodworking hobby. While the second search they determined the best results were local businesses that offered furniture making services.
Competition with larger businesses
Local SEO can level the playing field for small businesses competing with larger, national brands. While national brands may have a strong overall online presence, they may not have optimized their websites for specific local areas. By focusing on local SEO, small businesses can stand out in search results and attract customers in their specific location.
This is apparent in the same search example from above. One of my clients that has a relatively small SEO budget showed up as the first organic local result for an extremely important keyword that will drive targeted traffic to their business. However, their ability to compete on a national level (or would even want to) for search results is unlikely.
By focusing exclusively on local SEO, they are able to bring in a steady stream of high-quality leads that would otherwise end up going to the competition.
More and more people are using their smartphones to search for local businesses. In fact, according to Google, 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% of those searches resulted in a purchase.
Because every smartphone is a GPS location device, local SEO helps ensure that your business appears in search results on mobile devices when those devices are in your service area.
Personalized Search Results
With the increasing use of personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, personalized search results are becoming more common. These assistants use location data to provide more relevant search results, so optimizing your local SEO can help your business show up in personalized search results for users in your area.
Tips for Small Businesses Looking to Optimize their Local SEO
So, how can your small businesses optimize your local SEO and ensure you’ll show up high in search results?
Claim Your Google My Business Listing
Google My Business is a free tool that allows businesses to manage their online presence on Google, including search and maps. By claiming and verifying your business listing, you can provide important information about your business, such as your address, phone number, and hours of operation.
Google also folded a small number of features from the now-defunct (and ill-conceived) Google+ into the Google My Business service. This means you can now post regular updates from your business onto your business profile page. Active updates on your business profile are now a ranking signal in the Google search algorithm.
Properly managing your Google My Business listing helps ensure that your business appears in relevant search results and on Google Maps.
Include location-specific keywords
When optimizing your website and other online profiles, be sure to include location-specific keywords. While Google is getting better at interpreting intent and showing local results when appropriate even in the absence of the presence of those terms in the search field (“italian restaurants” vs “italian restaurants near me” for example), there are still plenty of gains to be had by targeting local keywords.
For example, if you are a coffee shop in Long Island, you should include “coffee shop in Long Island” as well as variations of this phrase (“Long Island coffee shops”, “Suffolk coffee shops”, etc.) in your website content and meta tags. This helps search engines understand the relevance of your website to local searches.
Use structured data
Structured data, also known as schema markup, is a way to provide additional information to search engines about your business. By using structured data, you can provide information such as your business name, address, and phone number in a way that is easily understood by search engines.
This can help your business appear in the knowledge panel, a feature that displays information about a business in the search results, as well as in local pack results, a list of local businesses that appears at the top of search results.
Structured data is also how Google can show ratings from ecommerce products which can dramatically increase shopping click-through rates.
Encourage Customer Reviews
Customer reviews are an important factor in local SEO. Positive reviews can help improve your rankings in search results, while negative reviews can hurt your rankings. Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on your Google My Business listing and other review sites, such as Yelp.
Responding to reviews, both positive and negative, can also show potential customers that you value their feedback and are willing to address any concerns they may have.
When responding to negative reviews, avoid negative or antagonistic language. If your company made a mistake, apologize and focus on what you did (or are currently doing) to remedy the situation.
If the customer made a mistake or has an unreasonable complaint, explain your side in a calm tone and provide detail that justifies your side. While you likely won’t get the review removed, at least people who come across it will see that you generally care about serving your customers to the best of your ability.
Use local directories
There are many online directories that list local businesses, such as Yellow Pages and Yelp. By claiming your listing on these directories, you can provide additional information about your business and improve your visibility in search results.
Ensuring all of these directories have accurate, current information about your business, and eliminating duplicate or old information that may exist will help ensure not only your customers but search engines alike can be confident the information they have for your business is correct.
Optimize Your Website for Mobile
This is not new, and hopefully goes without saying these days, but it’s crucial that your website is optimized for mobile devices. Not only does it present a better user experience and drive better conversion rates, but Google’s primary index of your website is now your mobile site.
That means the better your website functions on mobile devices, the higher you’re likely to show up in search results. Optimizing your website for mobile includes (among other things) using a responsive design that adjusts to different screen sizes and ensuring that your website loads quickly on mobile devices.
Utilize social media
Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can be a valuable tool for local businesses. By creating a business page and regularly posting updates, you can connect with potential customers in your local area. Be sure to include your location in your social media profiles and include location-specific hashtags in your posts to make it easier for people in your area to discover your business.
Google and other search engines also crawl social media sites and use that information within their ranking algorithms. That means even if you don’t have a lot of followers on social media, an accurate and active social media presence is still a critical part of your overall SEO strategy.
Using all of these tips will help to make sure you’re not losing highly-qualified potential customers that are actively searching for what your business does. If you’re not sure how to do any of what’s listed above, feel free to reach out to see how we might be able to help improve your local search rankings.