Would you throw a party and not send invitations? Of course not, but that’s what you do when you ignore local SEO. Alternately, if you use local SEO to invite your community to engage with your business, soon everyone will be having a good time.
Brian Hong, CEO and founder of InfintechDesigns is an expert on SEO and digital marketing based in New Orleans. Recently, Hong shared his insights with me about the subject of local SEO.
Local vs. organic SEO
When people search a business such as a restaurant, garden center or dentist, they often put in a local component such as the name of a city. “Google also recognizes that certain searches, such as for food and services, are local in nature and will automatically present location-specific options to the user,” Hong explained.
Companies with high local SEO rankings are the ones presented to the user, which is why local SEO is so important. Organic SEO applies when the search is not geographic-specific; in that case, your site is ranked against all others of the same type across the country and, in some instances, the world. If you draw a significant portion of your revenue from local customers, you must invest in local SEO.
Google my business
Hong recommends utilizing Google My Business as the base for a local SEO campaign. This is a free listing service, and how you use it will have a direct impact on your local SEO ranking.
Google My Business functions as a master information hub that manages all your Google needs, including Search, Maps or Google+. Begin the process by establishing an account and verify it, because an owner-verified account will rank higher than non-verified ones. Next, complete the profile and include your NAP — name, address, and telephone number.
Other information you will want to include:
- Hours of Operation
- Website address
- Images (with appropriate keywords)
- Business categories
This information must be accurate, to allow people to find your business, and to retain local SEO ratings. Accuracy may seem like an easy thing, but typos happen, and they can’t happen here.
Local SEO rankings
“Several factors impact your local SEO ranking, so you need to know what they are and understand how to maximize them to keep your ranking high,” Hong said. By utilizing data available from several sources, he told me, he discovered that the top SEO local ranking factors for 2016 are:
- Links — this is important for both organic and local SEO
- Website SEO Ranking Signals, which includes keywords and content length
- Google My Business Signals, which includes reviews and photos and an owner-verified profile
The higher a company’s organic SEO, the better its local SEO ranking will be, and the more impactful component its links. “If you want your Google My Business page to rank high in the search engines, you need to invest in SEO for your website and have a strategy that is focused on building links for your website,” Hong explained. “Without an SEO strategy, your Google My Business page will be ranked lower, which puts your business at a competitive disadvantage.”
Local search engines
Once your Google My Business profile is verified and accurate, you can create profiles on other local search engine websites such as:
- Yahoo Local
- Bing Places
- Local pages.com
Select those sites most popular with your target audience and those which fit your business. Some, such as Urban Spoon, focus on restaurants, while others are broader. Find the right fits and create your profiles. Make sure your information is accurate and consistent across all of these sites. For example, your business may have more than one phone number. Pick one and use only that number throughout the listings. Also, check that your hours of operation are consistent, to avoid angry customers.
Social media and local SEO
Part of your local SEO ranking consists of reviews and shared links; and the proper use of social media can help boost those numbers. “I have worked in this field for years, and experience shows that an effective social media campaign must include those platforms most used by your target audience,” Hong said. Your options, he said, should include at least some of the following:
Once you’ve created your profiles, engage your audience and personalize your company. Yes, you should share information about products, services, sales and promotions, but also share stories about how the company was started or how it overcame a recent challenge. Sponsor a local school team or charity, and share information about that. Be sure to share links to your accounts.
Respond to customer reviews and statements, both positive and negative. “Ignoring an online customer complaint will draw negative comments and transform an unfortunate problem or miscommunication into an image-damaging event,” Hong stated. “Keep responses upbeat; apologize if needed; and never, ever blame the customer.”
Don’t be shy, either, about begging for reviews. That is a key component of your local SEO ranking, so don’t hesitate to ask satisfied clientele to share their experience.
If you rely on local business to drive your revenues, you must have an active local SEO campaign. Start with Google My Business and build from there to make sure your company is visible to the people (read: future customers) in your community.