It’s been a few months since I have written for SEL. I had to take a short ‘sabbatical’ to hunker down and focus on a major phase of development and updates on our own site.
It’s nice to get back to blogging but I have to admit that I feel a bit off the pace. Writing is like exercise; once you are out of practice the first time back takes longer and feels harder to produce content that you’re happy with.
Before I started writing this post I did a sweep through the last few months of Local Search and SEO articles on SEL and on other prominent blogs. I reminded myself of just how much information there is out there and how much new data we churn out each month. SEOs are information junkies! The more insights, research, data and charts we can consume the better; we love this stuff.
But this glut of information is overwhelming for business owners and even for some experienced SEOs to make sense of – myself included.
Information is our greatest asset, but also a potential threat. We can also obsess about the minutiae and lose sight of the value of the key building blocks which make up solid, effective local SEO strategy. We are in danger of making SEO an impenetrable topic which daunts business owners rather than exciting them.
I think a important quality of a good SEO is someone who can think like an expert but talk like a layman.
With this in mind, I decided to peel back the layers of complexity and draw out what I consider to be the most simple yet valuable parts of good local SEO strategy.
I hope that this is useful for business owners by providing them a few fundamentals to focus on, and useful for SEOs by reminding us of the value in doing the simple things well.
Basic Building Blocks For Local SEO
If you tackle SEO yourself or engage someone to do it for you, knowing what’s critical and what’s not will save you time, money and effort.
The 3 rule playbook:
- Get your website up to scratch
- Spread your business details far and wide
- Be social! Promote yourself and get your customers to promote you
1. Get Your Website Up To Scratch
Since Google started to combine its normal search results and local search results, your website plays a big part in getting good rankings in local search results as well as normal search results.
There are several things you need get right on your website:
a) Make the website structure clear and accessible to search engines & users
You need to spend some time making sure that your website has a simple, flat hierarchy of pages with the most important pages linked to directly from the homepage. All the pages which you want Google to view should be accessible; provide clear ‘sign-posts’ by using plenty of internal links between your pages, creating an XML sitemap and placing a robots.txt file on your site.
This ensures that Google’s crawlers go where you want them to go and they know which pages you consider to be the most important.
b) Fill your site with good content and plenty of it!
Having good content on your site has always been important but recent changes to Google’s algorithm have made it even more critical for effective SEO.
You need to make sure that you have plenty of content on your site which describes the services you offer and the locations you serve. Your content says everything about you – to Google and to your site visitors – so take some time to consider the search terms people might use to find your services, and then use these terms within the content of your pages. But don’t overuse them - Google can penalize your site if you repeat phrases too often and stuff search terms into your content. Just make sure it sounds natural when you read it.
Don’t forget the text you can’t see. Be sure add descriptive ‘alt text’ to your photos & images and include your most important search terms in your page titles so they tell Google exactly what each page is about.
Try and add new content to your site every week or 2 through a blog post or company update. This gives search engines a reason to come back to your site and re-crawl it. It can also help to generate backlinks to your site when other site owners & bloggers find it; and it gives you something useful to tweet, share and email your customers with. All of which can be very useful for your SEO and sales.
c) Make it easy for site visitors to contact you
Once someone gets to your site then make it easy for them to contact you. Display your contact details prominently on each page and use a simple contact form to enable users to request a call back.
If you operate from a physical location where your customers can come to you then put your address and link to a Google map on every page. This reinforces your location and leaves Google in no doubt about where you’re located.
If you have multiple locations then have a contact us page which has all your locations as well as 1 page per location. If you have too many locations to do this in a sensible way then just be sure that Google can find each ‘location page’ easily through good internal links and sitemap.
2. Spread Your Business Details Far & Wide
The Internet is all about information. Websites contain information; directories curate information; Google filters information; mobile applications use information.
In your case the most important information is your business details – your business name, postal address, phone number, description of services, photos, working hours etc…
Having your correct business details widely available is positive for local SEO and sets you up nicely to take advantage of the mobile-boom. Many of the same data sources which feed the desktop internet also feed mobile sites and applications so even if your website isn’t mobile enabled your business will appear on popular mobile applications.
There are 3 actions to focus on -
a) Get your information on to as many local directories and sites as possible
There are hundreds of local, niche or national directories you can submit your business information to. You can either submit directly to them or go via ‘data aggregators’ who sell information to directories. Using both direct submissions and submitting to aggregators ensures that your information gets on to as many sites as possible.
b) Fix incorrect information
If your business has changed name, moved location or switched phone numbers then the chances are that somewhere online your old information is hanging about like a bad smell. Having old or incorrect information displayed on directories is confusing for Google and your potential customers. This can hamper your SEO performance so you should update wrong information as quickly as possible.
If you can submit an update directly to a directory then do it. This ensures that your information is updated quickly and gives you control of that information moving forward.
c) Take control of that information
Should you ever move location, change phone number or want to add more detail to your business information, then having control of your directory listings and aggregator profiles is crucial.
You can do this by claiming your listings on directories; it’s pretty time intensive to claim each listing but once you have control then you can update, enhance or even delete your listings at your own discretion.
See below for a list of services & data aggregators which can help with distributing your business information & claiming your profiles.
3. Be Social! Promote Yourself & Get Your Customers To Promote You
Google is putting more and more value in ‘social votes’ for your business (e.g. tweets, likes, shares & check ins) and many SEOs expect these to be more valuable than traditional backlinks in the near future.
Here are 3 things to concentrate on -
a) Register your business on most prominent social sites
It’s surprising how many local businesses still haven’t done this so make sure you’re not one of them! Get yourself a Twitter, Google+ and Facebook page for your business.
If your business has a location which people come to then your should also have a Foursquare profile so customers can ‘check-in’ when they visit.
b) Make it easy for site visitors & bloggers to spread the word about your business
Do the simple stuff well. Make sure you have prominent tweet & share buttons on every page of your site. Encourage your customers to follow you on twitter and ‘friend’ you on Facebook; make it worth their while by offering perks and special deals which are only available to your followers/friends.
As you build your following, use it. Be pro-active and share all your blog posts, updates or special offers on all the social sites you use. Combine your social activity to your content. Every time you write a new blog post then tweet it. Every time you launch a special offer, share it on Facebook & Google Plus.
And think about how you can give those in your network a reason to share and re-tweet your news. Incentivize them with some extra value or prizes for promoting your business for you.
c) Get your customers to leave online reviews on Google+, Yelp & other directories
Getting your customers to leave online reviews for your business has 2 benefits.
Firstly, reviews can help to improve your local SEO ranking. Secondly, and more significantly, they will help to convince potential customers to choose your business over a competitor.
If you have more reviews and a better rating than other businesses listed side by side with you on Google, then which business is a potential customer going to try first?
Google+ & Yelp have the greatest reach of potential customers so you should prioritize reviews on these sites. Everyone knows that Google is the king of local, but did you know that Yelp is the sole provider of reviews to the new Apple Maps service? Think of all those iPhone users wondering around your neighborhood!
However, it’s good practice to have reviews on a mix of directories because they all have their own audiences and value; if you have a strong niche directory for your industry (think TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon) then make sure you include them as part of your review campaigns.
Oh, One More Thing…
It won’t be long before Internet use on mobiles outstrips the desktop so local businesses need to make sure they take advantage of this powerful and targeted opportunity.
As a start, you should make sure that:
- Your website is optimized for mobile or has a mobile version – it’s pretty quick and cheap to do these days
- Your business is listed on Apple Maps (see list of data providers for Apple Maps)
- Your Google+ listings is displayed in Google Maps
- Your business is listed on all prominent local apps (see list of popular Local Apps)
List of US & UK data aggregators:
- Localeze – US data aggregator
- InfoUSA – US data aggregator
- Axciom – US data aggregator
- Thomson – UK data aggregator
- Local Data Company – UK data aggregator
- Market Locations – UK data aggregator
List of data distribution & local listing services:
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.