We get asked pretty often by clients how they can wade through the flood of information Google receives to get their small, local business to the top of the search results. So I hope you’re feeling ready and excited – I’m going to give you the rundown on Local SEO.
Before we get started, I’ll assume you’re familiar with Google (I mean, it’s now a verb!) and Search Engine Results Page (I’ll call them SERPs – it’s the page that shows up after you Google something).
So if you’re not someone who has wondered this before, you might think ‘Why do small businesses care?’. The answer being, of course, that people around the world – even for something local – turn to Google as a first port of call. Remember that flood of information I mentioned? Well Google’s where everyone parks their shiny, client-filled yacht.
Now, this is super important for local businesses because you’ll often be one of a number offering that service to a limited client base, which means any way you can get your name in front of a lead is something worth investing your time and effort into. So let’s dive in:
What is Local SEO
On Google, searches can be local or global. When they’re locally focussed, there are three main types of queries that the monolithic search engine categorises them as:
- Contextual local search: this is a search that matches desire with locale, by someone in that location. Think ‘Accountant in Brighton’.
- Inferred local search: The same as above, but when they’re not actually in that locale. So ‘Accountant in Brighton’ by someone in London (don’t ask me why).
- Intent-based local search: Someone searches for ‘Accountant’, and from a host of other data Google works out that they want one in East Sussex.
This might seem a bit out of context, but keep reading – it’ll all tie in when you get to the bottom!
What factors affect your ranking on SERPs?
So when we talk about boosting your ranking on a SERP, there are a number of things that Google takes into account, and some of these are out of your control. This includes Search history of the user, Cookies on the device, their IP address and what type of device they’re using. However, it also takes into account things you can control, such as the content and structure of your site which we’ll cover in depth below.
But just because you can’t have a say in a user’s search history doesn’t mean that what you do won’t affect that. Your marketing strategy should be all encompassing, and when Local SEO is part of that, how you position your business in the eyes of Google changes the chances that a user’s search history will point to you as their target.
But how does this tell me how to improve Local SEO?
There is a key theme in all this, and we’ll get to the actions in a second. At the end of the day, Google is ‘all about the user’ (and making money, obviously) and I can’t stress that point enough. The company has released a number of statements alongside algorithm changes that put paid to the idea that they’ll help businesses out. Their focus, so they say, is on user experience. If they can help a Google user find exactly what they’re after as quickly as possible, they will.
And it makes sense. If you went to Google and couldn’t find anything, the company wouldn’t be the giant it is.
So all of that is to say that, as well as the above factors, there are a number of things you should be doing as part of a Local SEO strategy, and now we’ll start running through them in detail.
Set up a ‘Google My Business’ profile
This step is a no-brainer. You have to do it if you have a business, a website, and a desire for people to find you online. Correctly filling out your Google My Business account means that your correct and relevant information will show up across places like Google Maps and on SERPs amongst others.
When setting this up, they’ll ask for critical information known as NAP (Name, Address and Phone number). It’s important to fill all of this out, and keep it consistent everywhere (covered more below).
Another thing to bare in mind is how important selecting the right ‘business category’ is. For example, if you’re a Japanese restaurant, you could select ‘restaurant’ as your category. But that’s quite broad, and there are some 20 different options within this category that helps Google tighten the SERP. So you would be better off, from a Local SEO perspective, selecting ‘Japanese restaurant’ as your category. This is still relevant to broad restaurant searches, but is more specific to your business. And when it comes to the category, specificity is key.
You’ll also be able to upload your business logo (so make sure you’re happy with it!) and images that are relevant. All of this might seem like a hassle/not worth it, but the more information you give, the better your rankings will be.
Look at it this way: before Google existed, imagine you wanted an electrician to come round to your house and fix the wiring in the kitchen. You ask a couple of friends for suggestions for a local mortgage broker or even local sparkies. One friend says to you that they know someone, they think his name’s Jeff, and he did some work for someone once. They’re not sure where his shopfront is, but they might be able to find his phone number if you give them a few days. Now, your other friend says they know an electrician called Kate. She runs ‘Kate’s Brighton Electrics’ and she’s at number 7 North Street in Brighton. That friend gives you Kate’s phone number along with a glowing recommendation.
Which electrician are you going to call?
This might seem like an exaggerated situation (and you might be questioning the quality of Friend One), but it’s a good way to look at how you interact with Google as a local business. The more details, the better.
Make your website ultra relevant
So, you’ve clarified your information with Google. You’re in the system. Next you need to have a website that backs that up. As I mentioned, Google’s focus is the user, so if the user is looking for a business like yours, and Google can see that others have found good information on your website when looking for the same thing, then there’s a fair chance they’ll trust you with their latest searcher. In digital terms, we call what you do on the front end of your website ‘on-page factors’.
So, when someone says to you ‘What are you doing on your website to improve your Local SEO?’, you should be channeling The Sound of Music for the following list: “These are a few of my favourite things”:
- What does your target audience want to get from your site?
If you were a user of Google, looking for a business like yours, what sort of information would you be seeking? What content would you like to see on a website of a business that you would consider engaging with?
- How does your website design help the user?
The design of your website could be a degree in itself (in fact, it is!) and there are too many elements to put in this post. However, keep in mind that everything a user does (how long they stay on your site, how many pages they visit, where they go next etc.) is both influenced by your design and influences Google’s view of your business. That’s why getting your website designed and built by a trusted agency is absolutely critical.
- Is your message consistent?
Keeping your message consistent throughout your site may seem obvious, but is your message really consistent? What is the focus of your business, and what is your promise to clients? Does everything from web content to blog articles to links (both out and in) deliver a similar idea to the user?
- Are your critical details (NAP) on every page?
This is something that is usually handled by simply having NAP in your website’s footer. That way, you know that a user (and a bot, eg Google) can find it at any time. We’ll go into this in a bit more detail below.
So, consistency and relevance adds authority. That’s why high quality content and planning on your website is crucial. Website structure (part of web design and search engine optimisation) and UX (user experience) all fall into this category of making your website ‘ultra relevant’ for Local SEO.
A couple of extra tips:
- Have your developer build in a sitemap – this helps Google understand your business and the website easier, which will be reflected in SERPs.
- To check what information Google is seeing, try right-clicking on a page on your site, and selecting ‘view page source’. This shows your the HTML coding where you can check tags and meta titles – all of which have a huge impact on SEO. These, for a local business, should have a Local SEO structure.
- Finally, priorities getting your schema right. That’s another topic in and of itself, which you can learn all about in our upcoming, dedicated ‘schema’ article.
If this all sounds convoluted and daunting, don’t fear. Your developer will be able to talk you through it (and do it for you!).
A few more things before your head explodes
I know we’ve covered a lot here, and I don’t want to scare you away from Local SEO because it’s one of the more critical things to a small business in the modern world. So we’ll just run through a few more things (in one subheading – it’s less scary) that you should have in mind. Of course, there’s always more, but we’ll come to that another day.
- Keep your NAP consistent. Everywhere.
This comes back to our Friend One and Friend Two example. Having your critical business details the same everywhere lends your company authority and authenticity in Google’s eyes – two very important things if you’re asking them to recommend you to their valuable users. This should be gone over with a fine tooth comb, because chances are there is another business out there with a similar name/similar details. Take DV Media as a good example. Their name is DV Media, so everywhere they list their name, they write DV Media. They don’t write D V Media, or Media DV. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies get this wrong. Check our guide for the best Free Business Directories.
- Get quality backlinks.
Backlinks (when a third-party links to your website) are helpful for Google to know that you are part of the industry that you say you’re part of. A project manager of building sites should have links from contractors and materials businesses, not a website that reviews the latest comic book. It all comes back to authority and authenticity.
- Get Google reviews.
If you’ve read down to this part, you probably get the gist of why this is important. But do be aware that online reviews just keep growing in their relevance. Lots of studies show that leads will trust these more than they’ll trust their friends!
That’s it! We’re done, I promise. Now you’re ready to go dominate Local SEO for your business. But if it’s all seeming a bit intense, get in touch. Even if you don’t want us to do all of the above (and more) for you, we’ll be happy to help you understand it all a bit better.