For many small business owners, the jargon of optimizing for local search rankings can be a daunting journey reminiscent of a Wizard of Oz-esque trek through the unknown.
Often, this can lead to either absolute and utter panic (we have all been there), or shelling out a substantial amount of cash for ‘experts’ to take the wheel completely.
But before you push that red panic button or run into the waiting arms of an SEO shark tank, take a look at this quick and easy 101 on what exactly you need to know about local ranking for your small business. It’s not so scary after all!
How Important is Local Ranking for Your Business?
Your website’s ability to rank for local searches means the difference between your potential customers finding your website or---much worse---your local competitors’ websites. Hence, local rankings can be a boon for your business or an avenue for your competitors to leave you in the dust and negatively affect your bottom line.
The obvious implication: you need to be doing everything you can to rank in your immediate area for the services or products you offer. For that reason, the value of local SEO cannot be understated. The grand majority of people today turn to Google first to find what they’re looking for.
A survey done by HubSpot revealed that, in 2016, over 89% of participants searched for a local business in a search engine at least once a week on their mobile device before venturing out to find the business itself. Even more shocking is that 46% (and growing!) of all Google searches are local searches.
How well are you being seen?
Ranking highly in the local pack not only gets you found quickly, but it also dictates who gets the largest share of the organic search pie (hello coveted free traffic).
The top three results that show in local search end up being the most lucrative. If you’re not familiar with the local pack, it’s the top three results that show information on businesses that Google deems the best suited to answer the question being asked.
An example of a local pack for Northampton Dentists
This is a huge (free) opportunity for local businesses to compete with one another in order to create a valuable experience for the potential customer. By creating a complete digital “picture” of your business with Google, you in turn offer everything a customer would be curious to know. Did we mention it’s free?
>>>SUGGESTED READ: How to Find What Your Audience is Searching For <<<
Why Local SEO Matters
Local SEO, as you can imagine, is a more-specialized form of SEO, although it can be just as complex as “general” SEO in some circumstances. Assets a local SEO manager is responsible for overseeing include the client’s website, business listing sites (Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook, and others), the client’s Google My Business account, Map tools like Google and Apple Maps, and social media. These are all local search ranking factors.
Local SEO 101
Since search engines want to provide their users with the most accurate information available, it’s in their best interest to make sure the businesses they rank actually exist and do what they say they do.
One of the ways search engines do this is by crawling the previously mentioned business listing sites to see if a specific company’s NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) is consistent across each business listing site (does the information listed in Yelp match the information listed on Yellow Pages?).
Consistency between these is key, as Google does not look favorably on differences in addresses, phone numbers, etc. between online mediums, sometimes including social media platforms.
It’s worth noting that your position in the local pack is all relative to your competitors and what they are doing to optimize their local SEO. You are quite literally trying to ‘move ahead of the pack’. This affords a great opportunity to not only rank higher online, but to keep a pulse on your industry within your city.
So What Does Google Want, Anyway?
There are 3 major aspects to Google’s algorithm that pertain to local search ranking factors:
Google works incredibly hard with the end goal of getting the user what they want in a relevant, easily digestible format. It’s main purpose is to determine if your product or service is actually what the searcher had in mind when they typed in their query.
Relevance can depend heavily on what your business puts in the category and subcategory in Google My Business (if you haven’t set this up yet, it’s an absolute must!). This is the champion quarterback of competing in local search rankings: your small business listing should be airtight and accurate. Don’t leave anything up to Google's imagination (that was a joke, robots don’t have imaginations...yet!).
The web page you point to from Google My Business (your website) should have an optimized title, keyword focus, lots of long-tail related keywords and an in-depth talk about your services.
Don’t forget your traditional website SEO! You are “speaking” to Google, who in turn speaks to your potential customers, so treat the search engine as if you were pitching a complete picture of your business.
Another tip to increase your local ranking is to look at what your high-rating competitors say on their websites - are there semantic clues as to what you can include on your site to compete? Google looks for ‘semantic relevance’ - which means local business owners need to figure out which words the machine learning (modeled after human inquiry) might naturally connect. Then use them to your advantage!
Google also determines if your business’s location is physically close enough to the searcher’s present location to be a good answer to the search query. This proximity designation becomes irrelevant, however, if other aspects are not taken care of first, such as proper Google My Business categories and subcategories. So it’s certainly worth completing your accurate and airtight Google My Business profile before worrying too much about proximity.
To gain proximity favorability, it’s worth optimizing your Google My Business pointed page for the city or neighborhood in which you would like to rank - however, this isn’t foolproof as the area is based on radius around the searcher, not city limits. Mentions of the city or neighborhood in which you’re trying to rank included in reviews of your small business is helpful as well. This creates local social proof from customers that you are valued in your neighborhood or area.
It’s worth noting that Google isn’t infallible, though we tend to think of it this way. Proximity can be problematic to both searchers and local businesses alike, as frequently those who are searching for an answer want the “best-of-the-best” service regardless of proximity to their current (like, right this second) location.
Google is looking to present the best local businesses first to its users. Again, Google wants to give the people what they want - gone are the days of spotty results or inaccurate presumptions.
Prominence refers to how well-known your business is around the area for being the best at what it does. Prominence can be said to measure how much your business stands out from those who offer the same products/services in the area.
The most important aspect of prominence is quality. Are you getting a lot of good reviews from customers? This will likely improve your prominence in the search queue.
Another important piece to consider when looking at the prominence factor are citations. Citations are mentions from other places around the web of your business (for example, if a local food guide wrote a feature article on their website about a special event or stellar dish at your restaurant). If your business is mentioned on other reputable sites, Google sees this is being prominent in the industry you serve.
These are the top three factors to consider when optimizing for local ranking for your small business. These top three should be used in a holistic sense, as one without the help of the others is likely to be ineffective in the eyes of Google. It’s like painting a complete picture of your business to Google - don’t leave anything out!
>>>SUGGESTED READ: 6 Key Elements that Influence Your Search Rankings <<<
The most important thing to note when trying to up your local SEO ranking with Google is that nobody really knows it all. This can be a frustrating truth in the world of trying to be seen in the vast expanse of Internet, and what’s worse is that Google is always changing.
This keeps us all on our toes, and whether we like it or not, whatever is working to boost visibility now might not be the same case six months down the road. Thankfully, Google doesn’t tend to choose favorites, and the learning curve evens the playing field.
The best way to increase visibility through local SEO ranking is to be persistent, don’t give up, and when in doubt, shoot us a message! We are always happy to provide a chat on how to get your business to the next level with local ranking advice.