First, the bad news: optimizing your site for Google search is not the same as optimizing it for local search.
Now, the good news: many of the same SEO best practices still apply for local search, just with a few additions.
Even better news: local SEO optimization doesn’t have to be a Sisyphean task (really). Just follow this roadmap to getting started with local SEO in 2016.
Master the Basics: Why Does Local SEO Matter?
Local search works by giving the searcher results based on their location, whether or not they enter a specific city or zip code. For example, let’s say you’re visiting friends in Philadelphia and need a place to grab dinner.
If you search for “restaurants open near me”, you’ll get a list of restaurants that are open close to your current location (as determined by Google). The results will be plotted on a map and include the restaurant’s address, phone number, and opening/closing times.
A similar principle applies to searches that include a specific city. For example, let’s say you were involved in a minor fender-bender on the way to dinner. Now you need to search for a personal injury lawyer. If you search “Philly injury lawyer” you’ll get a listing that looks like this:
The first listing on the map, the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky, also appears much further down the search page, following general directories for Philadelphia lawyers. However, since it enjoys prime position by being listed first on the map (in addition to a phone number and office hours), chances are much higher that searchers will click here to view the website.
In fact, since the local search results map takes up all the space above the fold, most searchers don’t even make it down to the other results that appear organically underneath the map. If your small business is not optimized for local search, you’ll be missing out on all this traffic!
Getting Started with Local SEO: What to Do First
- Claim your listing. Did you know that sites like Google and Yelp auto-generate small business listings? Google automatically pulls information for your website and user reviews to create a listing for your company. Unfortunately, since this information is auto-generated, not all of it may be accurate or up to date. For example, Google’s listing might show your business is closed on Saturdays when in fact it’s open in the afternoons, causing you to lose out on potential traffic. (Or worse, indicate your store is open when it’s not, leading to more customer frustration.)
Ensure all your information is correct by claiming your local listing. Google will mail you a postcard with a unique verification code to your business’s physical address; once you’ve received this code, you’ll be able to access your listing and edit the NAP (name, address, phone number) along with updating opening hours and even adding product photos.
- Publish local content. While Google My Business signals are important for local SEO ranking, on-page local SEO signals like keywords and inbound anchor link text are just as important. Optimize content for local search by using geo-specific keywords, locations, and services that fit your business’s specific niche. Remember, local content doesn’t have to be limited to just written content. Local content tells a story; it can be images, listings, infographics, designs, products tutorials, or videos.
When it comes to local content creation, think around the local calendar: what unique events happen locally that you can capitalize on? Take a look at Google’s keyword planner tool, too: what search terms are most popular based on geo-location? It pays to do your research; a specific phrase may be more common in one city than another!
Be vigilant in keeping your business’s contact information up to date. If your hours change, be sure to change the NAP. Conflicting data will confuse search engines and could adversely impact your ranking. Finally, don’t try to stuff location keywords into your listing.
While you can improve your local SEO by including your location or region in the content, any mentions of your city or state should be natural.
Awkward usage is always a bad move. And no matter what, keep a close eye on your website analytics! These analytics will give you insight into what you need to do to optimize your website’s local search performance.