With local search proven to be one of the hottest SEO trends of 2017, it is projected to maintain its standing among make-or-break optimization factors in 2018.
The competition between online and brick-and-mortar stores is heating up, and local search optimization can become a decisive factor in how a site ranks locally and, consequently, in how much traffic and clients it drives from local, on-the-go searches.
Fortunately, major local search tactics are not that hard to master. Follow the six steps below to achieve the best results in terms of SERPs, traffic, and conversions on the local battlefield.
Claim Google My Business
Failure to claim your company’s account at Google My Business may be the reason your website does not show up at the top spot of Google’s local search results. If you are not there (and Bing Places for Business), you are missing out on incredible opportunities to drive local traffic.
With Google’s local three-pack considered to be the coveted spot for every local business, you need to please the Google gods to get listed there:
- Go through the verification process. Google will send you an actual postcard, with a private PIN inside (provided you register at the GMB website and you own a business’s physical address). P.O. boxes are not allowed.
- Fill out all GMB listing elements: logo, photos, description, categories, business hours, payment methods, physical address (if any), phone number, website, etc. This information must be consistent across your website, GMB, and other directories.
- Optimize your GMB listing. Ensure that all text elements are written for humans and feature your top-priority local keywords (e.g. city, neighborhood, type of service, brand name, etc.)
According to Google My Business guidelines, any business can be unlisted if they violate any of the following rules:
- Using a URL redirect instead of a site’s actual URL
- Stuffing a company’s name field with keywords
- Registering multiple GMB listings for one company. If you have a multi-location business, read our guide to how to optimize your Google My Business listing to avoid a penalty
- Using any address that is not your business’s actual physical address.
Register with online directories and listings
According to a Local Search Ranking Factors Study 2017 by Moz, link signals play a key role in how sites rank in local search. However, many website owners pay zero attention to online directories and listings, which are a safe source of relevant, high-quality links.
The process here is simple:
- Find top business directories to get your company listed. Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Yelp, Merchant Circle, Citysearch, Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and Yellow Pages are a must
- Research local business directories. Check out local media and government websites, or simply do a Google search
- Fill out and optimize your directory accounts. Be descriptive, write for humans, and do not forget about keywords. Confirm that all business details are consistent across every directory.
Bonus tip! Like directories and listings, citation data aggregators feed search engines with crucial bits of information about your business, such as your business name, address and phone number (NAP). Ensure that all information you submit to CDAs is consistent. Do not confuse your customers and Google.
Optimize titles and meta descriptions
Titles and meta descriptions are still a biggie in local search. Customizable HTML elements act as ads that define how a page’s content is reflected in search results, and they have to be catchy enough to get clicked.
Since titles and meta descriptions are limited to ~50+ and ~160+ characters, they may pose a challenge. These tips should help:
- Research the local keywords you want to rank for; analyze your competition
- Place local keywords at the beginning of the tag (you might use a formula by Moz: Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name)
- Cut page names from your titles (e.g. Home, Services, Products, etc.)
- Keep your titles relevant to corresponding pages; never duplicate your titles
- Write title tags for humans; avoid keyword stuffing.
What it comes down to is this: Even if your business gets a coveted No.1 position in local search thanks to all of your SEO efforts, you still have to incentivize users to click on your link. Masterfully crafted and meaningful titles and meta descriptions can make a big difference.
Collect and manage online reviews
According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey, 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, with 85% trusting them as much as personal recommendations.
Since reviews can become your ultimate weapon for building trust and a positive reputation among your targeted audience, it makes sense to ask for them. As of 2017, 68% of consumers are willing to leave a review when asked by the business (70% in 2016).
So where do you start? Implement this simple process to manage your reviews:
- Start monitoring reviews. Use one of these tools: Reputation Loop, Get Five Stars, Trust Pilot, Vendata, Awario, Social Mention, Mention, Talkwalker Alerts. You may also rely on Hootsuite and Tiny Porch.
- Respond to each review, whether positive or negative. 30% of consumers consider an answer to their review as a key factor when judging a local business.
- Manage Google My Business reviews for your SEO. According to Google, the amount and score of GMB reviews are calculated into local search ranking.
- Manage Yelp, Facebook, and BBB.org reviews for marketing. These are the most trusted review platforms among consumers.
Bonus tip! Since consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business, develop a strategy for generating ongoing positive reviews. Make sure to contact happy customers and ask for their reviews to mitigate the effect of negative reviews.
Use local structured data markup
Schema markup, a code used for marking up crucial bits of data on a page to assist search engine spiders in determining a page’s contents, is one of the most powerful but least-utilized SEO methods. With ~10 million websites implementing Schema.org markup, you should start using this leverage against your competition.
However, structured data is not simple to master. As of 2017, Schema’s core vocabulary consists of 597 Types, 867 Properties, and 114 Enumeration values.
The good news is that Google has developed several tools to help business owners, marketers, and SEO professionals:
- Structured Data Markup Helper
- Google Data Highlighter
- Structured Data Testing Tool
Bonus tip! Make LocalBusiness schema your top priority. Particularly, discover specific Types for different businesses below the list of properties.
Appear in local publications and media
On the link-building side of things, content is your most powerful weapon. Reach out to local publications, media sites, and bloggers to serve up content that soothes the pain points of local consumers. You will not only get coverage and reach new audiences, but you will also garner relevant backlinks that push your site up in local searches.
Follow this process to amplify your linkbuilding efforts through content marketing:
- Make a list of local publications where you want your business featured or mentioned
- Research the people in charge (e.g. editors, journalists, bloggers, etc.)
- Figure out how to contact them
- Start sending out your individual pitches with content ideas
- Collect responses and find common ground on publication terms
- Analyze feedback if your attempts fail
- Rinse and repeat!
Bonus tip! Consider cooperating with other local businesses to build powerful content. Reach out to your partners to research ideas and create content with meat on its bones. Otherwise, you may fall short of beating out competition from national-level players.
SEO changes all the time, and local search is not much different. However, the six steps above will provide a solid bedrock for your local SEO strategy. Implement these tactics, and you will outperform your competition in local search results.