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Local SEO: A D.I.Y. Guide

Posted 09th May, 2014 by Aliysa

Are you a small business operating in a fixed location? Say, a cafe, hairdressers or florist? If you’re not doing local SEO you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.


Why?

If I plan to go somewhere in a specific area - a restaurant or B&B for example, a great deal of the time I’ll search online beforehand to find the best place to go. I’m not alone either: research suggests 70% of online searchers use local search to find offline businesses. If your business is not coming up on the search results, you’re missing out. And as search technology advances and becomes more and more tailored to us - including our geographical locations - local search is only going to become increasingly vital to small businesses.


Local search factors

All of the familiar ‘national’ SEO practises impact local SEO - we’ve compiled a basic overview of some of these practices before, but they include link building, keyword optimisation and content creation. There are some unique components that affect local search as well, which can greatly improve your visibility if you optimise accordingly.

The significant factors that are of real importance and specific to local search are:

  • Google Places and Google+ local profile and presence
  • Citations
  • Reviews
  • Centricity to location

It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. I’ll quickly cover these factors and what you can do as a local business to influence them.


Google Pages

This can be a little confusing. Google Places and Google+ local are two pages that include information about geographical businesses. Google+ local is the newer of the two services that Google wants to push forward, but by setting up your Google Places account you’re automatically assigned a Google+ local account. You should expect Google to fully merge these services in the future.

This guide walks you through how to setup Google Places for your business. A Google+ local page is automatically created upon verification of your business and everything can be managed through the dashboard.

The information you enter about your business is extremely important, as it shows up on Google search results and can affect your visibility. Be sure to complete your listing until it’s at 100% - this includes your hours, photos, an introduction and your business categories. The categories you select will determine what terms your business will show up for with a local search, so it’s crucial that you get this right and properly research what your categories should be.


Citations

A citation is a reference to your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP). Citations are similar to links for ‘national’ SEO (links are still just as important in terms of local SEO) - they are used by Google to determine the authority of your business. They see it as: the more your business is mentioned, the higher it should be ranked, especially if it’s mentioned on relevant and authoritative sites. To really benefit from citations they need to be fully (NAP, not just NA) and consistently formatted - even down to, for instance, how you write ‘Road’ (e.g. ‘road,’ ‘rd’). This includes for you Google+ local listing, your website (try and include your NAP on each page), your other social pages, directories and all other external mentions (although this is more-or-less out of your hands). For a full low-down on citations, as well as directories to begin entering your business and gaining citations, check out this article.


Reviews

As we’ve discussed before, reviews are incredibly valuable to small businesses in so many ways, and this extends to search rankings. The quality, quantity and diversity of reviews left on certain sites influences local search rankings. Reviews left by customers on your Google+ Local page are the most important, as your overall star rating can be included with rich snippets as an eye-catching part of your local listing. Reviews from authoritative review sites such as Yelp, Foursquare and Trip Advisor also have an impact on search positioning, so it’s a good idea to manage a presence on a few of these sites. You should actively encourage customers to leave reviews about your business, but I should iterate - do not buy reviews or be pushy for them! It’s best to organically build them and gain high quality reviews, from, for instance, highly active Google+ users. It’s additionally beneficial for reviews to mention your products, location and business name etc, but of course these variables are out of your control!


Centricity of location

This is a variable which is ultimately out of your hands, but worth a mention as it’s a notable factor. The geographical proximity of your business to the centre of a city or location influences local search rankings i.e. Google has a bias towards businesses that are closer to the centre of an area. However, this is not an unyielding disadvantage if you’re located on the outskirts of an area - you can still achieve a prominent position in local listings with optimisation. It’s also a factor which will only diminish over time, as Google works to recognise your precise location in relation to a search.


On-page Optimisation

You can do a number of on-page or on-site things to potentially influence local search. These include, but are not limited to:

- Include your keywords and location in your copy and titles on your landing pages, but do not 'keyword stuff'! Your copy needs to make sense and be of use to humans, not just search engines.

- State your location in meta descriptions

- As mentioned before, include your NAP in its consistent structure on each page

- Embed your Google maps location on a contact or about page

- Provide information about how to leave reviews on Google+ and other review sites


It’s worth mentioning another local search feature which we are likely to see implemented fully in the UK this year: Google Local Carousel. This feature has been active in the US for a number of months already, and if you search for certain terms on UK Google, for instance ‘London attractions’ , it’s activated. The carousel will make local search optimisation even more valuable to businesses; heat mapping research in the US has shown carousel entries have high click rates. To prepare for this addition, make sure you have high quality images to represent your business on your Google+ page.


Let me again reiterate, the factors covered are specific to local SEO, and should be considered in conjunction with other SEO factors. Your local search optimisation is of limited value if you completely ignore traditional on-page and off-page techniques, which have significant impact regardless of search type.

Local search remains an untapped marketing opportunity for many small businesses, and with so many people performing searches based on location, local SEO could really dramatically impact upon your business. For something that can largely be performed without financial investment, local search optimisation is really worth it if you’re a fixed location business.

Categories: SEO

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