What is local SEO and why do I need it?
Local search drives major business results. Make sure people looking for your business can actually find you
Search Engine Optimisation or “SEO” is ludicrously important nowadays. The Internet has become vast and cutthroat competitive since its humble beginnings. To put the situation into perspective, without strong SEO practices you're effectively holding up a blank sheet of paper (in this case your webpage) and you're shaking it in the air to get attention of one set of eyeballs gazing over a sea of billions of hands jiggling their own bits of paper. If you want to get noticed, you need to play as nice as possible to the all-powerful search engines.
In this article we're going to cover the basic tenets of what's known as local SEO. What it is, why do you need it for your business and how to do it? We'll cover it all. By the end of this journey, our tips will set you on the path from itty bitty piece of paper webpage to a roadside billboard, a skyscraper-sized placard or a plane-written message in the sky.
What is local SEO?
If you want to effectively market your local business online, then you need to learn about local SEO. It essentially helps businesses promote their services and wares to local customers at the exact time they’re searching for them on the web. The techniques designed to achieve this diverge quite a bit from the methods in the usual SEO wheelhouse as we're focussing on what's known as “local searches”.
A local search differs from a standard informational search in a few key ways. The latter style of search might be an Internet user just randomly typing in “what bear is best?”. The results that come back from that fascinating search for knowledge will no doubt be a series of nature-centric webpages that debate each subspecies survival, hunting and hibernation skills. (You might also get some Dwight Schrute or The Office fan-pages thrown your way.) Alternatively, if the user typed the same query with a certain purchase intent behind it, like “pet stores with bears near [your location] in stock', then they'll be served up a whole different set of links.
This is a local search and Google will recognise (often without a geo-qualifier even included, because your location has already been ascertained via other services) that you the searcher want to transact in your neck of the woods. Therefore what's presented to you in your search engine results pages (or SERPs) has been tailored to a reasonable travel distance.
Why do you need it for your business?
You need local SEO to help your business appear in Google’s local 3-pack. What's that when it's at home? A special trifecta of brick-and-mortar business that pop up on Google Maps whenever a potential customer searches for a specific product or service – these three lucky businesses in a suburb are highlighted with bright red pins and are given large descriptive text.
In short, they're much more likely to be clicked on and investigated by bargain hunting users at home on their desktop, or roving window shoppers out and about, doing last minute research on their phones. There is, of course, the option for the user to “load more local results” and broaden their hunt, but statistics show that the likelihood of them doing this over chasing “the top 3” is greatly reduced.
Having good local SEO can entice customers in a few other ways. For example, if said pet store offers free WiFi, especially generous opening hours, or any other additional service, then having that information available in you local SEO can lure in precious trade. Customers are always looking for a business that goes the extra mile over its competitors.
How do you do it?
By now you will have gotten a firm handle on what local SEO is, and why it's so crucial to your success. Now it's time to explore ways to improve the local SEO of your business.
The first and most obvious tip revolves around having a physical address for your place of business. You need to show Google that you're not some fly-by-night operation that operates out of a car boot every other weekend. You should therefore seek out online directories and submit your physical location and other contact details. The big one to cover off is obviously Google My Business, but there are sure to be smaller directories out there, and the more you get listed in the better.
Step two is consistency. If you've picked up this business from a previous owner, or you've had a bunch of different IT folk handling your SEO, you really need to go back through their work and ensure that everything is up to date and in lock step. At a minimum, make sure that your NAP (Name, Address and Phone) are carbon copies of one another. Google does not like variation on these three basic things. Not one little bit.
In order to do the above quickly, you might want to look into using tools that specialise in details and directory management. A tool called Synup is currently the pick of the litter in our book. It takes a lot of the hassle out of wrangling your NAP across potentially dozens of third-party directory services.
Thirdly, anybody looking to seriously maximise their local SEO really ought to wrap their mind around citations. When your business is listed by a third-party website, this is a citation. It isn't a full backlink per se – not a click that will jump a user from a different site to yours – rather somebody has mentioned part of your NAP or even your name as a recommendation.
For example, in a forum or on a blogpost, somebody local drops the name of your pet store because they're delighted by the fact that you sell black bears (which are clearly best). The all-seeing eye that is Google will factor in this positive endorsement as a sign of business trustworthiness. All of sudden you've crept a little closer to becoming one of those three fancy red pins that shine like a beacon on Google Maps.
Over to you
Now that you're equipped with the aforementioned local SEO tips you should be well placed to take the first steps toward making your business burn a little brighter on the radars of local customers. Like anything, there are still advanced tips and tricks that veterans use to maximise local SEO to insane levels. There are also savvy, in-the-know individuals who have decades worth of online directory experience and contacts who can give you the edge in the online marketplace.