If you’re looking for a pair of shoes online, you might enter the term “running shoes” into the search bar. You don’t care where they come from (brand or location) as long as they meet your criteria of aesthetics, affordability, and function.
Now let’s say that a pipe bursts and you need to find a plumber fast. Or that you’re looking for a restaurant to take your partner out to an anniversary dinner, or mechanic to fix your car. Location has suddenly become a lot more important, and “near me” is something you start entering into the search bar, too.
While most brands understand the importance of optimizing for traditional organic SEO, many small- and medium-sized businesses don’t always know how they can (or even that they should) optimize specifically for local SEO, too.
In this post, we’re going to discuss why local SEO optimization is so crucial for local businesses and show you exactly how to rank for those searches.
What Is Local SEO and How Is It Different From Organic SEO?
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing your business online presence to be able to rank well in local searches. The idea is to build an online presence around a geographical business (even if you don’t actually have a physical business address, like that self-employed plumber) instead of just a general website that could almost exist outside of space.
Sure, that warehouse or that freelance designer physically lives and does work somewhere, but they can deliver their products to anyone anywhere in the world if they choose.
When it comes to Google, local search results will appear within the general organic search results, often towards the top of the SERPs. Business information will appear near a map, and users can quickly view each Google My Business listing’s info to learn more about each option.
Geographical location obviously takes center stage in local SEO, so location-oriented keywords and “near me” searches are often used in these cases. Someone might search for “Orlando dentist” or “florist near me” to find a local business who can help them with their needs.
Even outside the local search results, you can also rank for localized organic results. This allows you to rank in the normal SERPs for the location-based keywords that you’re targeting, as seen here:
In order to rank well in local SEO, we’re going to go over four crucial steps you should take right away to optimize your business listing along with general best practices to help you beat out your competitors to connect with the clients trying to find you.
1. How To Optimize Your Google My Business Listing
Optimizing your Google My Business listing is going to be one of the most important things you can do to rank well in local SEO.
This will include:
- Choosing a primary category for your business that’s as specific as possible. Sure, you can optimize for “restaurant,” but that’s a much bigger field of competition. Optimizing for “greek restaurant” will give you much more visibility when people are looking for a business exactly like yours.
- Adding a business description. This helps Google pair you up with relevant searches, and by making your profile as complete as possible, you’re likely to get more clicks from relevant users.
- Verify your listing. You can do this by getting a letter in the mail sent to you from Google at the address your listing is at, and then entering in the verification code. It can take a few days to get the postcard, but it’s well worth it. And for that matter, if you haven’t actually claimed your business listing but only already exists, claim it now.
- Monitor your business listing closely. When you view someone else’s business listing, you’ll see that there’s an option to “suggest edits.” Those “suggestions” from random people on the internet can actually change your listing, sometimes without you even being notified. Sometimes incorrect changes come from well-meaning customers who have the wrong info, but I once heard of a case where a business was sending potential leads from a competitor to their own phone number. Keep an eye on your listing to ensure that everything is up to date and correct.
By having a business listing that’s as complete as possible, you increase the likelihood of clicks (which can help you in the SERPs long term because it signals relevance and quality). It also gives you a big local SEO boost, since these listings are essential.
2. Rank for Local Keywords & “Near Me” Searches
If you want to be showing up in localized searches, your website needs to be fully optimized for location-based keywords, which will help you with both location-based and “near me” searches.
With the increase of voice search on mobile, “near me” searches are continuing to become more common. This makes them an important tool to capture your target audience when they’re looking for you right now.
Part 1: Localized Keyword Research
Take some time to dig into keyword research, and look at location-based keywords to see exactly what search phrases your audience is using. Google’s keyword planner is a good option for this as they let you search for popular keywords by location.
Take into account that variations of dialect due to location can impact what someone is searching for. I once worked for a client who struggled to connect with an audience in their second location. It turns out that his audience in the south was using the search phrase “fire cleanup,” but his northern audience was using the phrase “fire damage restoration.” Once we switched up the keywords, he was able to connect with audiences in both branches.
Part 2: Optimizing Your Site
Keep in mind that location-oriented keywords are how most of your audience will find you in Google. If they just search for “shoe store,” they’ll be shown an ad from Nike or DSW, and game over. If they look for “Richmond shoe store,” however, you have your in.
Ensure that your site is prioritizing those location-based keywords. Include different keywords on each key page. Optimize for priority keywords specifically by adding them as your target keywords with tools like Yoast’s SEO WordPress plugin, and by adding them to the text and as alt image text. Include your keyword in meta descriptions, site URL tags, and site page titles.
3. Reviews: They’re Good For More Than Just Social Proof
Reviews are everything. They’re not only powerful reputation builders, but they will absolutely directly influence your results in local SERPs. Research has shown that businesses with larger numbers of high ratings will dominate in local searches.
This isn’t surprising. There are few better indicators of the quality of a business, product, or service that unbiased reviews from customers or peers, and a large number of reviews (instead of just one or two) shows that you’re not only getting a lot of business, but that a lot of people have opinions one way or the other about what you’re doing for them.
While reviews are important for on every platform you can possibly get them on (including social media for social proof and your website for sales), for the purpose of ranking well in the local SERPs you need to have those reviews showing up on your Google business listing.
How to Get Those Local Reviews
While you can’t incentivize users to leave reviews on Google because it goes against their terms and conditions, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that they’ll leave one for you. This includes:
- Emailing satisfied customers directly with a personalized note, asking if they would do you a favor and submit a review. Asking for a favor– and saying that’s what it is, and that it will help you– can go a long way.
- Send automated emails to customers several days to a week after they do business with or purchase from you, encouraging them to share their thoughts with you. You can use tools like ReviewTrigger to help with this.
- Include links that will take users directly your business listing so that it’s as easy as humanly possible for them to leave a review. Having a clickable CTA in those emails that spits them out on your listing will do exactly that.
4. Build Domain Authority Through Link Building
Domain authority is calculated by a number of factors, but it essentially tells Google how trustworthy and relevant to users your website is. Each website has a domain authority score somewhere between 1-100, and unsurprisingly the sites that fall higher on that scale will have priority in the SERPs.
Sites that have been around longer and that have more inbound links are going to have higher domain authority. Many small and medium local businesses have a hard time competing in the SERPs with larger corporations for these reasons, especially since they’re often newer and have less aggressive link building strategies.
You can’t magically make your site ten years older, so the best solution here is to focus on link building. It’s a conventional SEO tactic, but it’s just as important for local SEO, too. In fact, the data below from Moz shows that link signals are the second and first most important factors that affect local pack/finder and localized organic ranking, respectively.
Image source: Moz
Content marketing is often an excellent link building strategy, and it comes with the perks of establishing you as a thought leader, helping you to rank for more keywords, and building stronger relationships with your audience.
As you create more high quality content on your site, both peers and customers alike will have a reason to share what you’re doing and link back to you. Over time, you can also submit guest posts to established publications with high domain authorities, gaining valuable backlinks (and some great traffic) as a result. This will help you increase your domain authority quickly.
In addition to content marketing, look for other opportunities to gain valuable links. Have you made sizable donations to a charity? See if you can appear on their “Sponsors” page. If you can submit your business to local directories, that’s a great option, too. Use your social media profiles to link back to your site, and take every chance possible to get backlinks wherever possible.
5. Check for Site Errors
Did you know that your domain authority can be affected just because there were crawlability issues on your site, and Google wasn’t able to crawl a few high-authority pages on your site?
Site errors are a common issue for local businesses, especially since the technical side of things can be expensive and difficult to maintain and monitor. That being said, they can significantly impact your ability to rank well in local searches, so it’s important to monitor them carefully.
SEMrush and Moz both have excellent site audit tools that will automatically show you any technical errors on your site that could impact your SEO results. This includes crawlability errors, slow site loading speeds, broken links, and more. These programs do everything for you; you just need to enter in the URL to your site, and they’ll flag all the technical errors that need fixing.
Understanding how to best optimize for local SEO and creating an SEO roadmap for implementation will have a massive impact on a large number of small- and medium-sized businesses who could immensely benefit from the advantage of a slightly smaller competitor pool. While a lot of the same general principles are the same for more general SEO, take note of all the specialized best practices that are exclusive to local search. This is what will set you apart and help you connect with those local clients who are excited to find you.
Looking for some help improving your local SEO and finding local clientele? We can help with that. Shoot us a message here to learn more.
What do you think? How do you optimize for local SEO? Which strategies have been most effective for you, and which are you most excited to try? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!