Large businesses seem to have it easy when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO). With huge budgets and entire teams of SEO experts to draw upon, big businesses make sitting at the top of Google search results pages (SERPs) look easy.
Regardless, smaller businesses can (and should) still use SEO to trying to improve their rankings - you just need to take a different, more focused approach.
For many small businesses, local SEO is the key to unlocking high rankings on SERPs.
New to local SEO? We'll show you the ropes.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a branch of SEO that relates to ranking businesses and brands highly in Google and other search engines when searches with 'local intent' are carried out.
For example, let's take a look at the SERP for "restaurants in Leeds". This search engine query has clear local intent - someone who's in Leeds now (or in the future) is searching for a place to eat.
The first section of the SERP is for ads. In this case, Google displays only one advert - for OpenTable.
Below that, we see a map with dozens of restaurant locations marked with red dots - including three larger circles with restaurant names.
These three restaurants also receive a listing directly below the map, including user ratings, descriptions, addresses, and opening times.
Clicking 'More places' takes you to a longer set of listings of restaurants in Leeds.
The final section of the SERP in this screenshot consists of organic search results that aren't necessarily individual local businesses. They might include aggregators or round-up articles.
These websites have hit the SEO jackpot - they've worked hard to build up their authority and rank highly for this competitive keyword.
The goal of local SEO is therefore to rank highly for local search terms, ideally to land you one of those lucrative three places above the organic search results.
Choosing Your Keywords
Although keywords aren't as important in SEO as they used to be, they're still the foundation of almost every SEO strategy.
Before launching your SEO campaign, you need to decide on which keywords to target.
Here's how to start crafting a list of keywords for local SEO:
- List relevant topics. Think of several broad but important topics that are relevant to your business. For example, a hair and beauty salon might use 'hair salon' 'eyebrow threading' and/or 'makeovers' as their topics.
- Consider which locations you want to target. This'll depend on your proximity to the city, city centre, or other locations. For most businesses, they'll want to rank not only for their city, but a particular part of the city or the first half of their postcode.
- Find related search terms. Combine a selection of your keywords and give them a Google. See where you currently rank for keywords (and where your competitors rank), and scroll down to the related searches. These should give you more clues about the types of search terms people use to find businesses like yours.
- Research search volume. Use keyword research tools such as Google's Keyword Planner to find out the number of searches associated with each term over a week or a month. You might also be able to research how competitive each keyword is.
- Decide which keywords to focus on. Now select a couple of shorter keywords and several more 'long-tail' keywords to target. Keep a list of any other keywords that you think are promising but not your first priority, as you can still use these in your wider SEO strategy.
Now that you know your keywords, you're almost ready to forge ahead with local SEO.
Before you dive in, it's important to have another foundation in place: your Google business listing.
Creating and Managing your Google Business Listing
When a potential customer performs a local search they'll see the following '3-pack' of local listings:
The user immediately sees basic information about these three businesses. This information is a summary of each company's Google listing. After clicking through, the full listing is shown:
Now you can see plenty of information about the business, including a photo of the storefront, popular times, snippets from user reviews, the website address and contact details.
When a user is reading this listing, they're seriously considering making a visit.
If your business listing is packed with useful, accurate information then you're well-placed to score new custom through it.
Conversely, if users see an incomplete listing with incorrect contact details on the SERP, they'll look to a competitor. After all, Google helpfully provides a list of alternative businesses right at the end of the business listing.
Where Google finds listing information
Google automatically collects listing information from a variety of sources across the web, including:
- Business aggregators such as 118 Information and Thomson Local.
- Other listing and review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.
- Social media sites including Facebook and Twitter.
- Your company website.
- Other sites including news sites, blogs, and industry-specific directories.
Google will automatically populate your listing based on the data it can find in these sources.
While this can be useful for some businesses, there are many situations where aggregators will hold incorrect or out-of-date information.
Additionally, you may wish to add extra information to your listing so that it contains more than the basics.
To gain more control over your Google listing and improve its quality, you need to claim it.
How to claim and verify your Google listing
The best place to start is by heading to Google My Business.
You'll be prompted to login to your Google account if you haven't already.
Next, search for your business through Google My Business. If you see it on the list (regardless of whether all details are correct), claim it. If not, click the search icon and then add your business.
You'll then want to make any necessary edits to your business details and contact info. At this stage, if it asks you to verify your business, select 'continue and verify later'. This will allow you to make edits - but they won't show up until you've completed the verification process.
Think back to your list of keywords. Devise a way to add one or two to your business introduction without compromising readability.
Once your details are up-to-date, you should verify your business. This process usually involves Google sending a postcard to your provided business address. It'll have a code on it that you then need to plug into Google My Business to gain full management rights over your listing.
Now you'll be able to respond to Google reviews of your business, see your company across Google sites, and check how often Google users view or click on your listing.
A crucial SEO point
Verifying your business listing isn't enough to boost your business in search engine rankings - particularly if you don't provide any extra information to Google.
However, the right business information in your Google My Business profile will boost your position in SERPs. Moz found that top local search ranking factors include:
- Proximity of address to point of search
- Proper category associations in Google My Business
- Product/service keyword in Google My Business title
Managing duplicate listings
When claiming your business listing, you may notice duplicate entries. This could be due to typos in one of the listings, accidentally creating a new listing instead of modifying the current listing, or specific professionals (such as doctors) having their own listings under your business address.
Duplicates interfere with your local SEO efforts and are likely to confuse potential visitors. It's good practice to tidy up duplicates.
There are a number of ways to deal with this issue:
- Claim ownership of both pages then delete the outdated listing.
- Search for your business on Google Maps then 'Report a problem' and explain the situation to Google.
- Investigate duplicate listings on other directories, too. Make changes where you can, or contact the website if you're unable to alter the listing yourself.
It's a messy and tedious process, and your requested changes will take a while to filter through - but the long term benefits certainly mean it's worthwhile.
On-Page Local SEO
Your website forms an important part of local SEO. In fact, Moz estimates that on-page signals are the biggest contributor to local SEO rankings - closely followed by linking signals.
Although on-page SEO is more technical than managing business listings, the basics require very little technical knowledge. You'll be able to make most of these changes yourself, or your website developer could apply most of them in just a couple of hours.
Keywords in the right places
Remember that list of local keywords you created? Now it's time to add them to your website.
Ideally, you'll have some kind of location-specific landing page that you want users to head to when they first visit your site - but if you only operate in one area, your home page will do.
To boost local SEO, aim to include a keyword and a region in the following elements of your web page:
- Title tag
- H1 tag
- Somewhere in the page content
For example, your Title tag might be [Business name] - [business category] in [region].
Including keywords in title tags is perhaps the easiest and most effective way to improve your local rankings, but it's important to include keywords elsewhere on the page too.
Keywords should be inserted into copy naturally. Don't stuff them in - Google will penalise you if you go overboard with keywords and forget to make copy readable for humans!
Name, address, phone number (NAP)
As we've mentioned previously, establishing a consistent format for your business name, address and phone number is crucial if you want your Google listing to display correctly.
It's important that Google can read and understand your NAP data. Many websites use schema markup to ensure that this data is in the right format. You can use Google's Structured Data Markup Helper if you're stuck, or use the Schema.org website to find structures for specific types of data.
Remember to apply the same NAP formatting to every page on your website.
Other basic on-page SEO
General SEO best practice also applies. While its not specific to boosting local rankings, consider the following factors:
- How quickly does the site load?
- Is the site mobile-friendly?
- How many other sites link to yours? What's the quality of these backlinks?
- Is content 100% original and not duplicated across the site or elsewhere on the internet?
We've given you a whistle-stop tour of local SEO basics and hopefully shown you that it's not rocket science: every small business has the capability to carry out these basic SEO steps to rank more highly for specific local searches.
By starting off with solid foundations - keywords, accurate listings and basic on-page SEO - you'll soon start to see improvements.
If your competitors haven't got to grips with local SEO yet, the potential gains for your business are huge.
On the other hand, if your local competitors are already SEO pros, you'll need to up your local SEO game if you want to stand a chance of bridging the gap.
Check out our blog archives for more marketing and SEO tips - or share your own in the comments below.