First, I assume you have basic knowledge of how Google works – by that, I mean you aware that you enter a word or query into the box, click search and the engine presents you with pages of search results. Google’s ultimate goal at this point is to show you the most relevant results at an opportune time. Whereas your business’s goal is to get to the ‘top of’ the results page. Or, on the first page of Google’s search results. There are lengths you can go to improve this situation yourself or get your agency or developer to action for you. If you are a business that operates locally and within your community, you will need to delve into the world of local SEO.
What is Local SEO and how does it work?
Google delivers both local and global categories of search results. Local SEO is about providing Google with the right information for it to differentiate which type you would like to be visible.
There are three different types of local searches –
- Contextual local search – where the search query matches the actual location of the search. For example, ‘Wedding Photographer Derbyshire’ is searched for by someone in Derbyshire.
- Inferred local search – where the search query is different to the actual location of the search. For example, ‘Wedding Photographer Derbyshire’ is searched for by someone, not in Derbyshire.
- Intent-based local search – where the search query is searched for and no location information is known (Google tries to decipher this from other data)
When approaching your businesses’ local SEO strategy, it’s good to think of which of these types of search your target audience uses the most.
Understanding Ranking Factors
Google doesn’t of course only take into account your location when you are searching. Many different variables determine a set of search results. These include:
- Search history
- IP address
- Content and structure
- and so many more we may never even begin to understand.
These are known as ranking factors. Although there are many actions you can take to rank higher in the searches, but we stand by the best way is to make your website something your audience wants to use and share.
(Some) Important Local SEO Ranking Factors
If you’re starting out, it’s good to get these best practices in early. It will enable you to reap the rewards and see results as soon as possible. However, it’s never too late to make edits, amends or changes to your marketing strategy to improve your chances of visibility in the search results. It’s worth working your way through the following suggestions and optimising your content appropriately.
Set up a Google My Business Profile
If you don’t already have a Google My Business profile – get one now! It enables your crucial business information to show up on search results pages, maps and Google+. Follow the steps to fill in your essential details like business name, address and telephone number (or NAP to those in the digital marketing know) but make sure it’s an accurate copy of what you have input elsewhere online – we shall discuss the importance of consistency later on. Google will process your profile by asking you to verify your address. This is done by sending an actual letter (yes, post still exists).
One thing that is crucial is to select the most relevant business category for you. This will have a significant effect on whether or not Google presents you in particular search result. Going back to the wedding photographer example, Google has three different categories to choose from in this case; commercial photographer, photographer or wedding photographer. Of course, the best option here is wedding photographer. But the choice might not be as simple as that – the category of restaurant has over 20 subcategories or options. For example, in practice, if you list your business as just restaurant you’re less likely to show up in a search for Indian restaurant despite you being an Indian restaurant. Be as relevant as you can!
Then there’s all the extra bits – your logo, photos and a whole host of advanced information you can choose to provide Google with. There’s also the option in here to state whether you deliver goods or services as at your client’s location. For example, a wedding photographer may have a registered business address but will provide their services on location. The more you give the better you will rank because of it.
Creating a Google My Business profile automatically sets up a Google+ account for your business too. Added bonus or annoying… no concrete evidence having this social media profile will add anything to your local SEO efforts – BUT inevitably being involved with every Google-run platform to gain visibility in Google’s listings can’t hurt right? This area also allows you to write more of a description of your business – something not available on your main Google my Business profile.
All of this won’t take up much of your time at all – it’s simple stuff that can make a huge difference. Having accurate information on your Google My Business profile adds authority and authenticity to your brand or business in the eyes of Google itself.
Relevant On-page Content
You may often hear of ranking factors being broken up into those that are on-page and those that are off-page. Your on-page factors are the efforts you can go to optimise your website and increase its ability to rank. Take a step back, visit your website and try and think like your target audience. How does your website look? Does it feel good? Give off the right vibes? Design elements and general user experience will encourage your audience to spend longer on your website and be engaging with its content.
Is the content geared towards your local SEO goals? Can you precisely what you offer and where? Including your business category and all the areas in which you operate might sound obvious but you would be surprised how many people think that’s something reserved only for the ‘About Us’ pages. Its best practice to include your NAP in your website’s footer, reiterating your business name, physical address and telephone number on every page of your website will only reinforce the message.
Take a look at your website structure, does it make sense? Can you quickly find your way around your site and see everything a potential client could be looking for? Keep it as simple as possible and organise your pages logically. Ultimately your structure should make sense and feel natural to navigate. Technically, your URL structure should reflect this logic with consistent category names and page titles. Consider including a sitemap on your website too – this helps Google to make sense of your content and how you have categorised your pages.
You can gain a lot of information about your site from right-clicking and choose ‘view page source’. This will present the HTML code that your website is generated by. Check and amend technical aspects such as title tags and meta titles (all of which should be using local context). Your site title, will be shown surrounded by H1 tags and be the heading which appears when you show in Google’s search results. You will want to make this, and your meta title (site description) include local context.
It’s also worth finding out if your site has any structured data attached to it. This is referred to as schema (do a quick find ‘schema’ in your page source) Essentially, a schema is a small piece of code which labels up your data to make it easier for Google to decipher what that data is. For example, you can include a local business schema to your website highlighting to Google the locality of your service. Structured data is a whole topic of its own. If you wish to learn more about this, the blog ‘Why Schema Markup is the Future of SEO’ will prove particularly valuable.
Be Consistent with your NAP
We mentioned NAP earlier – or business name, address and phone number. Three basic pieces of information which are your ticket to local business SEO heaven. To make it work for you, you need to be consistent with the format, spelling and order of this information. You might think – of course, my name, address and telephone number are the same everywhere, they are facts. But look closer – are they? Take this example; your business might be called ‘JSDesign’ which is how it appears on your Google My Business profile. However, your Facebook page reads ‘JS Design’ (notice the space) and a directory listing states ‘J S Design’ (another space). Your business name needs to be accurately replicated all around the internet. Citations, mentions and links all need to corroborate. Choose your format and stick to it rigidly.
Why? Think just how many businesses, companies and brands the Google bots have to crawl through on a day to day basis. There is a high possibility that someone may have the same name as you or a very similar phone number. By representing yourself as the same thing over and over, you are confirming and reinforcing who you are and where you operate. Gaining your business credit and authenticity. That is, Google knows you are who you say you are – a genuine local business.
Collect Great Quality Back Links
Naturally, if you have an excellent service and present this service with an easy to navigate website, providing content which encourages engagement your backlinks will generate as people start to talk about you. This will slowly build your website and brand value – think of those links as people giving you a recommendation. The quantity of links is indeed essential – but it’s getting good quality links that take priority. Think, there’s no point in a bunch of people who know nothing about the industry recommending you. You want links from reputable sources and authors.
There are efforts you can go to build your backlink list quicker. Create a link building plan which indicates opportunities to gain. Industry directories, press and like-minded businesses are an excellent place to start. Speak to them, build relationships. You will be surprised what you can get just from having the confidence to ask for it. For local SEO think local guides, local press and community websites – these will assure Google of your genuine interest and integration within a local vicinity.
Research your competitors too, see where and from whom they have gained high-quality backlinks. These websites may be more than happy to recommend you too. A service like SEMrush will be able to give you a quick list of your competitor’s backlinks. It’s worth delving into this and other online tools. Don’t ever get involved with spammy websites or link mines – this will ultimately have a detrimental effect on your SEO, local or otherwise.
Encourage Google Reviews
Collecting reviews should be an integral part of your overall local SEO strategy. Indeed, they are beneficial wherever they sit; on your social media, on your website, review sites or other. But when it comes to SEO, those that will have the most significant impact are those reviews hosted on Google itself. We’re not sure whether or not Google prioritises its reviews over others. But you would, wouldn’t you? They are also the first reviews a person would see if your business was to be a featured on the highlighted card on the right of the search results.
You can’t deny that reviews are an important consideration when making buying decisions. Local SEO is hinged on these tales of previous consumer experiences and the real human thoughts and feelings expressed in Google reviews. Local communities revolve around trust, honesty and providing services or products to each other that are of high quality and value. Online, by providing transparency to potential future customers, you build trust and show Google you intend to be a valued member of the local community.
So, going back to the most common aim stated by businesses of wanting to get to the ‘top of’ the results page or on ‘page one of’ Google’s search results. Perhaps reconsider this goal with a more active mindset. Something along the lines of ‘I will be active and follow SEO best practices to give myself the best possible chance of being visible on Google’s search results’. But we agree this is a bit long winded.
So perhaps get someone to do the work for you? Our SEO team’s experience and knowledge can deliver all of the above and more to increase your business’s visibility.