All small businesses should have an online presence. It’s essential for local consumers to be able to find local products and services online. Specialist agency BrightLocal outlines the fundamentals of local SEO.
Having a well optimised website is the first step, but it’s certainly not the last. SEO (search engine optimisation) enables you to put your website in front of hundreds or even thousands of potential customers online.
However, when it comes to search engines like Google, small businesses have to compete against much larger organisations with bigger budgets and more established brands.
So how do you level the playing field and ensure local consumers are able to find you online?
Welcome to local SEO
Local SEO, or local search optimisation, helps small businesses attract local consumers online.
If you search for products or services online, search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo display not only traditional organic results, but also local results, which show businesses and maps in your area.
To do this, search engines will identify your current location via your IP Address and return the most relevant businesses within your immediate area.
Local Search Results
Local search results are probably already familiar to you. Google, Bing and Yahoo all return local results, and all have slight variations on the style and number of results featured. But for now, let’s look at Google:
Google’s local search results are known as the ‘local pack’, and also referred to as the ‘snack pack’ or ‘3-pack’. Although the display is likely to change over time, there are some elements that remain a constant:
- Map – shows the local area with highlighted local businesses
- Local businesses listings – Google shows three but we expect this to become two
- Local business info – address and contact information, reviews, website, directions
- Link to ‘more places’ – This directs to a ‘local finder’ page where more local businesses can be found
Google recently announced that they intend to replace one of the three local business listings with a paid result. This is huge news for local SEO, and with less space in the local pack it means that many local businesses will have to ‘pay to play’ going forward.
However, this doesn’t mean that ranking is impossible – it’s just a little harder. Even if you don’t rank in the pack, you can still feature in the ‘local finder’ page, which lists many more local businesses.
How to feature in local search results
So how do you go about getting your business listed in the local pack?
Luckily for us, every year a bunch of local SEO experts contribute to a study called the Local Search Ranking Factors. From this study we are able to identify the top factors that Google considers when ranking local businesses.
Overall Local Ranking Factors:
- On-page SEO – 20.3%
- Links - 20.0%
- Google My Business – 14.7%
- Citations – 13.6%
- Behavioural signals – 9.5%
- Reviews – 8.4%
- Personalisation – 8.5%
- Social – 5.0%
Let’s take a look at each of these factors and discuss what you can do to optimise and improve each ranking factor for your business.
80% of local SEOs say on-page SEO has a high / very high impact on search rankings. Having great on-page SEO means optimising all the elements on any given web page. This means optimising title and description tags, creating compelling content, having detailed service or product information and providing reviews and testimonials. Only once your own website is well-optimised for search engines should you then start to focus on external factors.
External backlinks are growing in importance for local SEO. Do you have relevant and authoritative websites linking to your content? Whilst the most valuable links are often difficult for small businesses to attract, earning links from your community like local authorities, clubs, associations and events is much easier and can be just as effective.
Google My Business
Google My Business is a free tool for businesses to use to manage their online presence across Google. By verifying, editing and optimising your business information, you can help customers find you online. At the very least you should ensure your basic information (business name and address, opening hours, phone number and business category) is accurate and up to date. However, by going the extra mile with professional photos, an indoor Street View tour, or online reviews, you can really move the needle.
Local citations are mentions of your business online. These can be as simple as a business listing in a directory, or a full business profile with photos and opening hours. At the very least your citations should contain your NAP (business name, address and phone number). Other important information such as opening times, photos and product information are an added bonus. Accuracy is key! According to the 2016 Expert Local Citation Survey, accurate citations are ‘critical’ or ‘very important’ to local search ranking. For small businesses, industry and local relevance are the most important factors, so seek out industry-specific directories as well as websites related to your local area.
Behavioural signals are affected by click-through rates from SERPs (Search Engine Results page), bounce rates and time-on-page metrics. This means it’s all about how users interact with your site. Whilst it’s harder to affect these factors, it is important to make your website as appealing as possible to customers. As a small business you will know what your customers want, so try to make sure your website provides a great user experience.
Reviews are growing in importance: 92% of consumers now read online reviews, and small businesses must have a review strategy in place to take advantage of this. Identify which review sites are more important for your industry and encourage customers to review you on them. A few positive reviews will go a long way, but it’s important to build them in a natural way. Aim to get enough reviews to appear popular and stand shoulder to shoulder with your competitors. The best review strategies involve company-wide goals, so consider incentivising your employees to ensure they buy into the strategy and help you grow your reviews.
Once upon a time, everyone saw the same search results, but now everyone gets a personalised view to some extent. As local search results are tailored to match user location, a lot will depend on how relevant your site is to that town, city or area. In that respect, your physical location will have a lot to do with how well you rank. Additional factors such as which sites a user has recently visited, liked or shared are also relevant.
How much social authority do you have as a business? Although social media is less influential than other ranking factors, it is still important to be active on social media sites. Different industries or types of businesses suit different social networks. Whilst Instagram is ideal for visually appealing businesses, Twitter is better for conversation with customers. As a business you need to identify which social networks work best for you and be as active and engaging as you can on them.
Local SEO in summary
In summary, local SEO gives small businesses a chance to compete against much larger competitors. And for many of the important ranking factors, you don’t need to be a marketing expert to make the most of them. Small businesses should concentrate on ensuring that their business data is accurate (both on their website and on third party websites), providing a great service that customers will want to write positive reviews about, and on keeping their website up to date with content that talks about their company, products and latest news. Covering these basics will ensure that any small business can reap the rewards of local search optimisation.
BrightLocal is a B2B SaaS service providing online tools that help with local SEO & online reputation management. Over 20,000 businesses use BrightLocal to get critical data that helps them track & optimise their online marketing efforts.*