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Here is the hard truth – more times than not, small and medium sized businesses fail at SEO. This is mainly due partly to the highly competitive nature of search and the tactics used. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not a tactic that is extremely easy to put your thumb on and define. It lacks tangibility to most.
The main reason that Search Engine Optimization strategies fail is that it’s easy for a local business to lose focus. SEO has been built up into this mysterious digital strategy that everybody needs, but no one takes time to consider what search engines are really looking for.
Many people and businesses look at SEO as some ambiguous thing you do to make search engines happy – but it is more than that. Don’t get me wrong, you do want to make search engines happy, but as a business owner, search engines aren’t going to be the ones buying anything from you – it’s people. Your end goal must be the user or visitor generated goal.
REMEMBER: Google’s search “Mission” indicates focusing on the user first as the staple of their search algorithms.
High-Quality Tips for Long-Term SEO Value for Local Businesses
So, in light of the subject, let’s take a look at some tips for bringing local businesses real foot traffic, through organic search traffic. And, when looking at these tips, let’s keep in mind the following underlying principles: Relevance, Distance and Prominence.
Relevance, distance, and prominence are 3 key principles to keep in mind for local SEO.
1. Embrace Google’s Local Business Tools
This is the first and foremost consideration for any business to enhance their local search. Embrace Google and all it offers. Google offers so many products focused to helping a website rank better (they are the ones doing most of the ranking after all) and are heavily focused on location based web behavior.
Google has many products that benefit a local business’s search appearance. Here are the big 4 for local businesses:
Google Search Console: Formally known as Webmaster Tools, Google’s search console provides your business with invaluable search information and allows you to not only index your site (making Google aware of you) but also allows for you to crawl your new pages and content changes and check your backlinks – which just furthers your overall SEO efforts!
Google My Business (GMB): Google’s online directory that puts your business listing on search and maps. Get your business on the map!
This is your first impression with most people through search, and gives you access to two of the most highly sought after areas of Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) – potential Map-Pack Listing and in the Local Graph.
These positions stand above the standard text only search result and provide imagery, business details, click-to-call, click-for-directions and various other tools to drive people to your business!
CONSIDER THIS: Consumers are twice as likely to perceive your business to be reputable if it’s Google My Business listing is up-to-date. Make sure your GMB listing is complete and accurate, up to date and full of imagery – simply put make sure it is relevant!
Google Street View 360 Tours: 360 Images that showcase your Local Business in virtual reality. These images become associated with your Google My Business property. You need to contact a Google Street View photographer in your area to have these done.
CONSIDER THIS: Google claims that Google Street View tours increase interest by 2 times! Keep in mind, most small-business’s website are not self-sufficient generators of value – the goal is to bring them into your physical location for that!
2. Un-Confuse Your Directory Listings
Below is a list of some of the most well-known online directories, but this doesn’t even begin to touch the total number of local directories that are actually out there.
- Yellow Pages
- White Pages
- Bing Places
- Google My Business
- Apple Maps locations
- Facebook Business pages
Hundreds, potentially even thousands exist. All of the local directories are out there giving search engines and searchers (potential customers) different signals about where your local business actually exists.
Now, if a carpenter didn’t have to worry about woodworking and could spend all day (and probably night) going directory after directory and making sure each one is consistent then the problem would be solved but when we take a step back to reality, chances are this can’t happen – you need to whittle that list down a bit.
We discussed this in the “Embrace Google’s Local Business Tools” with claiming your Google My Business listing, which is a great start!
Put yourself in your customers shoes and think of how they’re most likely going to find your location. Most likely your popular mapping systems – Apple Maps, Google Maps and Bing Maps.
Then think of how else people will find your business – Google. Try a couple of searches – first try searching your business name and “location” after it, or try your business name in combination with “Address”. This will give you the most important 10 (these are the front page of Google – a more ambitious business owner may conduct a few searches and look on the second and third SERP).
You can see in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for the query “Pizza Moena Address” returns a few directories – Facebook, Yelp, Mapquest, White Pages and Yahoo Local – of course the Google My Business data is what is pulled directly on top. These would be the best directories to start with making sure they match your actual information – Name, Address, Phone number and website (NAPw).
QUICK TIP: For small businesses that would value time more than money, there are resources out there that assist in keeping directories up-to-date. Platforms like Yext and Advice Local assist in feeding local directories your information, taking the hard work out of the picture for a business owner that would prefer focusing on … their business!
Quick Tip: For small businesses that would value time more than money, there are resources out there that assist in keeping directories up-to-date. Platforms like Yext and Advice Local assist in feeding local directories your information, taking the hard work out of the picture for a business owner that would prefer focusing on … their business!
3. Monitor & Promote Your Reputation
According to Search Engine Land, 88% of people find online reputation to be as persuasive as a personal recommendation for a business! Your online reputation is an extremely important part of your business’s image, especially for new business.
Think about when you, as a customer, want to try something new – it’s a Friday night and you want to take your significant other somewhere different.
Where do you start?
You may ask some friends or get some advice from coworkers (sometimes solicited, most times not)! Then you want to confirm these suggestions by reading up online. You take to search and what do you start looking at – reviews. It starts with the stars (most systems go from 1-5), then you dig in and start to look at the actual reviews.
5-stars: “Great seafood restaurant”, “Freshest fish I’ve had in Pittsburgh”
1-star: “All the positive reviews are employees!”, “Way over-priced!”
Make sure you are actively supporting your reputation! Don’t sit by and passively watch your reviews slide one way or another. Walk around your restaurant, talk to customers at your bakery or leave instructions for online feedback after a Pest Removal job, and ask customers with a positive interaction to take to the web! Better yet, lead them to areas that you’re struggling in.
Local Restaurant owner: “I’m glad you’re enjoying your time tonight – would you mind letting others know on Yelp – it would mean so much to us as a local business!” – and most will appease.
And we know – it’s not all positive.
What to Do With a Negative Review?
You can read this in-depth article on handling negative customer reviews, but here are a few quick things you can do:
- Review: “My wife and I had an awful time. Our food was cold and the waiter was more interested in talking to the other employees than waiting on us!” This could possibly be a legitimate negative review (and if you can tell, I’ve had a negative experience when out dining with my wife before). Don’t leave it there, you have the opportunity in most instances to respond in a public forum, and potentially get the opportunity to correct this, turning a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one!
- Response: I’m really sorry you had a bad time. Our end goal is that every person that enters my door has the best meal possible. I’d really like to hear more from you, please call the restaurant at 555-555-5555 and ask for me so we can discuss your experience more – Jordan A., ABC Seafood, Owner”
CAUTION: As a small business owner that’s poured your life and soul into the success of a business, it is easy to get upset when negative reviews come through. Do not take it personally and DO NOT lose your cool in the response. Take a fifteen-minute cooldown if needed!
4. Focus Content for a Local Customer
As the title of this article suggests, this is about driving traffic locally. For many small business owners out there, your reach isn’t national anyways, the market you care about is around the corner from your bakery, a 5-mile radius from your Pizza Shop, county-based for your professional services or limited to the state for your Legal or Financial services.
Whatever your physical limitations are or your geographical focus, make sure your SEO strategy follows suit.
- Local Keywords
- Local Backlinks
- Local User Generated Content (UGC)
- Local URLs
- Local Schema
- and more!
Your location keyword parameters should be as high of a priority as your product or service. “Pest Control” is difficult to compete with on a national scale and that is understood, so you should instead focus on keywords like “Pest Control Pittsburgh”.
Google likes family of keywords so the following search queries would be relevant to Pest Control Pittsburgh – “Pest Control Allegheny County”, “Rodent Control Pittsburgh, “Rodent Control Allegheny County”, etc. Focus on Product/Service Family plus Location families.
QUICK NOTE: According to Google, searches that include “Near Me” have increased nearly 150% since 2014 – making local keywords that much more impactful.
Backlinks from your national buying group are great, but a link back from a local CBS affiliate or a Chamber of Commerce is going to be more relevant to your locality (relevance and distance come into play here). Not only are these local backlinks going to look more favorable on your business in local search, but they are also easier, at times, to obtain. Consider the following avenues for backlinks:
- Local Media Companies
- Local Chambers/Local Business Groups
- Other Local Business (best to not approach your competitors on this though!)
I hear from a number of businesses that think this last point would be too difficult – getting other people to reference them online – but then I think back to when it hails and every home and business gets hail damage. A roofing and siding company comes through fixes a house, asks to leave a flag in their yard and they get advertising space right there. The same thing happens for YOU!
Your Italian Restaurant caters to local businesses event – ask if they’d mind to include you in the credits of the event.
Stepping into User Generated Content – your Italian Restaurant serves amazing looking dishes, encourage people to take pictures and post it online. Most people are taking these pictures anyways and sharing them on Facebook or other social media channels but Google has been increasingly prompting people to post the images on Google Maps.
Encourage people to post pictures there! As a business owner, make sure you submit them as well! This connects back to an early section on reviews, have customers leave a review at the same time!
QUICK NOTE: Reviews are keyword rich so when you’re asking customers about your food, ask them specific questions that lead into the quality of your food, for the area you’re in and encourage them to leave reviews on that – “Best Wedding Soup in Pittsburgh”, “Best Service and conveniently located in the North Shore”, etc..
This is where the “distance” aspect comes into play. Make sure that your local area and prime geography are your real focus for backlinks and geo-based content. Stay focused so that you can break through your prime market first – then focus on expanding that geography.
Conclusion – How Does Optimizing for Users Affect Organic Search Rankings?
Above I mentioned a number of benefits as they relate to your users so you may be confused about how this relates to search. Well, when you think about optimizing for actual customers and take a look at what Google wants – and has openly acknowledged – from business owners to do to optimize for search then you get the same thing!
Google wants your site indexed and they want you on the map. Customers trust companies with a better star rating, and Google does likewise.
Consistent directory listings not only makes your address consistent for visitors, but helps Google sift through the endless amounts of spam companies that is out there to help legitimize your business.
Likewise, Google’s algorithm has always been built off of the notion of backlinks as a means of gauging popularity (the more popular a site, the better it ranks – prominence). Local Search Algorithms are a local popularity contest!
You can see how these relate to the three underlying principles I mentioned before (Relevance, Distance & Prominence), to which Google has explicitly defined as the factors in ranking well in local search.
You’re last tip: The only true way to get lasting SEO value is to focus primarily on making your online presence more suitable for CUSTOMERS – real live people. Google seeks to follow suit.
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