Every website needs search engine optimization, but local businesses require a particular style of optimization… they need local SEO. Truthfully, local SEO isn’t drastically different from traditional SEO, yet it does require a slightly different approach. The good news is it’s usually a lot easier to rank highly in local search results because the competition is diluted. Still, it takes a solid plan and good deal of work. Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Keyword Research
Keywords are at the heart of every SEO plan, including a local campaign. If you have the benefit of historical data (as with a preexisting site), you can investigate which words are actually bringing in traffic and which ones you can ditch. Other things you can do are:
- Keyword Research Tools – To help you find more or better keywords you can use a keyword research tool (there are a bunch of programs out there) to put you in the right direction. Don’t forget to locally focus your keyword research as well which Google Adwords tool can do. Just beware, although incredibly useful, these tools aren’t fail-safe since no one knows exactly how your particular audience will respond.
- PPC -If you’re willing to invest some money upfront, an even better way to get insight into keywords, impressions, and how your local audience searches is by signing up for a pay-per-click campaign (PPC). These advertisements get your brand immediate exposure, so you can start collecting data instead of waiting for information to trickle in as organic searchers find you (or not). Even if your budget is small, it’s a smart idea to try and squeak out some money for PPC as it can really jump-start your campaign.
- Local Modifiers – Since you are targeting local searchers, make sure some of your keywords include a geographical modifier. For example, if you have an equipment rental business, you wouldn’t want your keywords to just be “equipment rental” — that’s too broad, doesn’t distinguish who you serve, and has you competing with every equipment rental company on the net (way too much competition). Instead, include your city name (i.e. Dallas equipment rental), zip code, or state.
Step 2: Quality Architecture and Content
Just including local keywords isn’t enough to boost your page rank and traffic; you still have to be search engine-friendly and appeal to human readers. Here are some ways to do both:
- Avoid Duplicate Content – If your business has multiple websites (for different cities, as feeder sites, etc.), be darn sure you aren’t, or even coming close to, duplicating content. Google will recognize the content as unoriginal and the rankings for all your sites will suffer. Don’t just change your geographic modifiers — change everything.
- Have Quality Content – As a local business, your content should explain why people should choose you over other local competition and, possibly, why you’re better than a national chain. Make sure your content tells exactly what you do and what you’re about. Avoid marketing clichés and be genuine — after all, giving the customers a chance to interact with “real” people is one of a small business’ biggest selling points.
- Participate in the Content Writing – Even if you aren’t a writer, you are still an expert in your industry. Feel free to hire the work out to someone else; however, stay involved by making suggestions, supplying manufacturer product descriptions, and informing the writer of industry jargon. After all, no one knows your business better than you.
- Use Good Design Practices – For local sites, use the same SEO-friendly design practices you’d use for any webpage, such as easy navigation, clean code, fast load times, etc. But, also include a local touch by using your geographical modifiers in titles, meta descriptions, and sprinkled throughout your content.
Step 3: Controlling Your Brand and Link Building
Since you’re using local-centered keywords and not trying to making yourself known across the whole internet, your competition is not as stiff. However, you do have to put significant work into making sure people can find you. Here are some ways to do that:
- Secure Your Brand – It’s important to take control of your brand on the internet before someone else does. Register your Google/Yahoo/Yellowpages/etc. business page, grab your name on social media sites, and consider purchasing all similar domain names. As a small (possibly unknown) business, it’s vital you have control over your identity, so consumers know exactly who you are.
- Get Local Citations – Citations are mentions of your business’ name, address, and phone number on another website. They let Google and everyone else know you are in fact a local business (the more Google trusts you, the higher your page rank). There are all types of places to acquire citations; consider asking your vendors for links, registering on directories, signing up for local business association websites, and more.
- Links – Local companies need inbound traffic too, so always keep an eye out for any sources of valuable links. However, since you are targeting mostly a local audience, you may want to ask other area businesses if they would like to set up a link exchange to support community businesses.
Step 4: Tracking and Analytics
No plan is complete without analyzing your efforts, and SEO is something that never ends, which means data analysis is also ongoing. Many like to use Google Analytics because it is free and provides a lot of great information, but there are plenty of other paid and free analytic tools to choose from. Some important things to look for in your analytics are:
- Location of Visitors – Hopefully, if your keywords match the terms local searchers are using then the majority of your traffic should come from your general area. If not, it’s time to reevaluate.
- Time on Page – Are people landing on your page and almost immediately clicking away? This is a definite sign they aren’t finding what they are looking for. In these cases, either your content is unappealing or you’re not using the right keywords.
- Engagement – In addition to time on page, you can also tell if visitors are engaged by their on-site behavior. Are they exploring multiple pages on your site and following internal links? Are they “liking” your content and sharing it via social networks? Are they making comments and posting reviews on your Google business page? If so, these are all good indications your site/brand is engaging.
Step 5: Stick With It!
If you only give a half-hearted attempt at SEO and local marketing, you may find you’ve done more harm than good as you’ll likely end up with a hodgepodge of online information that confuses potential customers. Also, if you don’t keep at it, your data can become quickly out of date, and consumers may wonder if your business is still active, or they may not find you at all.
So, follow the steps above, be patient, and you’ll start to see your business listing rise in the rankings and traffic from local visitors increase.