Local SEO Basics
Local SEO has been a very important part of SEO for many years, simply because businesses need to be found online by local customers. However with the increased use of mobile search in the past few years, a scenario which is only set to increase, it has never been more important to have a good Local SEO strategy.
The search results pages have made significant changes over time, and when somebody does a search Google now decides if there is any local element present in the query. If so it will give additional prominence to local sites in the results pages.
Very importantly, in 2014 Google also updated its search algorithm (the computer code it uses behind the scenes) with an amendment which was nicknamed the “Pigeon” update. Pigeon redesigned the algorithm to match traditional search queries with local search results and local map listings, and this represented the most important update to Local SEO that they’d ever done. In effect it meant that sites which Google felt had more authority and better signals of trust became increasingly more likely to appear both in local search results and in local maps.
Five Key Local SEO Signals
When ranking websites following a local search query Google takes many factors and ranking signals into account. When optimising a site for Local SEO these are five of the most important areas upon which you should concentrate your efforts:
1) On-Page Optimisation
Effective on-page optimisation emphasising your location is one of the most important factors to do if you want to make an impact on your Local SEO efforts. The content of your web pages should enable both search engines and the visitors to your site to easily understand where you’re based and where you operate your business.
When optimising the on-page elements of your site you should consider adding your address or location to the following areas:
- Page titles (the words that appear at the very top of a web page)
- Meta descriptions (used to provide the descriptive words found under a link in the search results)
- Page content
- Site footer
- Contact page
Consistent Address Format
You should try to include your full address and your area in all these places (if both possible and appropriate) but especially to the Contact page and the Site Footer. You should also make sure to keep the format of your address consistent in all cases, and this also applies to entries of your address that you may have placed on external sites such as online directories. This consistent approach gives Google more trust in your site and encourages it to believe in the authenticity of the address, which in turn will lead to more visibility in the search results.
If you operate from more than one business location it makes good sense for each location to have its own page on your site, which should contain its address, the area in which it operates, and some relevant and unique content about it. These individual pages should not be replicas of one another (with the only difference between them being the location) but individual and unique pages designed to inform the reader.
Schema Local Business and Address Markup
When adding your address to any area of your site you should ideally use Schema Local Business and Address mark-up, which is a form of code that tells Google that this represents important information about your physical location and helps it to understand the make-up of your location and address.
2) Local Listings and Profiles
When you have entries on local business listings and profiles these act as signals to increase Google’s understanding and trust of your business, and using a consistent address format as described above will lead to more exposure for your business in the local search results. There are many hundreds of national and international business listings available, catering for every conceivable business type, but it’s important not to over-egg the pudding so try to ensure that you only have entries in relevant and reputable listing sites that specifically cater for your industry or niche – and of course it will be the listings of your own country or city which will have the greatest Local SEO importance in the eyes of Google.
Besides those business listings that are only specific to your industry you should also make sure that you try to secure an entry on some of the most important general business listings. These include (in alphabetical order):
The selection of sites shown above isn’t exhaustive but these do represent some of the most relevant and authoritative UK business listings sources in Google’s eyes and therefore you should definitely be thinking about adding an entry for your own business on as many of these as you can. (A larger selection of UK-specific sites has been put together by the US based SEO expert Phil Rozek which you may find useful to look through for further sources of listings information).
Whichever listings you choose you need to make sure, in addition to the consistency of the address format you use, that each listing is as complete as it can possibly be. The more information you can give in your entry, the more trust you will engender in your business from both users and search engines alike.
You should also ensure that you verify as many of your chosen listings as you can, and this will be achieved either through telephone call, text, email or postcard depending upon the procedures of the website concerned. Once verification of each listing has been achieved its value will be further enhanced in the eyes of the search engines.
A citation is generally defined as a mention of your business name online, and the more mentions you have the more value Google will place on your brand. Citations don’t necessarily have to be accompanied by a link to your website – it’s simply the fact that other sites are acknowledging you that is important to the search engines.
In the early days of the internet a link to a website was the thing that held all the value to search engines as they considered each such backlink to be a “vote” for that site. However so many people abused this system through purchasing links, and using other methods that were not seen as part of natural link building, that Google began to penalise sites that operated in this way and looked instead for other meaningful signals about the importance of a site for ranking purposes. Consequently they are now placing more and more value on citations as a signal of trust.
Although backlinks that come from sites that have relevance to your industry or content are still of tremendous importance and should never be ignored, one of the benefits of having a strong mention of your brand through a citation is that this doesn’t come with the risk of your site possibly attracting a Google penalty through unnatural linking which would then harm your search engine exposure. However any entries you may be able to place in the local listings sites (mentioned above) are also deemed to have citational value purely from the mention of your brand, and the fact that in many cases you will also be able to add a link to them will not incur a penalty as these links would not be viewed by Google as unnatural.
Because citations have increasingly become a signal of trust to the search engines it’s very important that you take this into account whenever you attempt to build a contact or relationship with an external site. Many webmasters are aware of the possibilities of being penalised by Google if it thinks a link looks unnatural, and so it is often much easier to get them to mention your business through a citation than it is to get them to link to it.
You may be able to secure strong local citations from the following places:
- Niche directories
- Local blogs
- Review sites
- News websites
- Press Releases
- Industry publications
However this list isn’t exhaustive and with a bit of research you should be able to uncover sites from other corners of your industry from which to earn a citation.
4) Social Media
In recent years having a social media presence has started to play a very important role in determining how Google and the other search engines view your site, and although being active on social media is not in itself a ranking factor your social profiles need to be optimised for Local SEO in order to give further signals about the relevancy of your location.
The ways in which you do this will be different for each social media site, but the main points for the most influential and popular platforms are as follows:
a) Google My Business
This platform used to be known as Google Places but Google has recently renamed it to reflect its relevance as a point of contact between itself and local businesses. It’s particularly important for any business to be a part of Google My Business because it forms part of Google+ (which is Google’s very own social network) and a verified local listing here will be very helpful to your ability to rank in the local search results.
It can also play a part in allowing your business to appear in the Knowledge Graph (the area on the top right of search listings that displays extra information about the subject of the search) and in address Rich Snippets where your business address actually appears in the search results themselves. It’s important to be aware that just having a completed local listing on Google My Business doesn’t guarantee that you’ll appear in these areas, but it does increase the possibility of this happening, particularly when your website occupies the first place in the result of a search.
When setting up a listing on Google My Business you are presented with three profile options: Shop Front, Service Area or Brand. The first two of these, Shop Front and Service Area, provide benefits in local search whereas the Brand category would be a better choice for those interested in national or global visibility. However it’s perfectly acceptable to have both a brand page and a local page for each of your business locations.
When completing your local listing on Google My Business it is very important that you verify your address (again remembering to use the consistent address format that you’ve been using everywhere else). Google does this by sending you a postcard in the mail to which you reply online, which proves to them that you are a real business operating from the place where you say you are located. As a result you build further trust with them which gives your website more chance of being included in the local search listings.
Make sure that you complete your profile as fully as possible, because every piece of information you provide will help to strengthen it as well as adding to the tally of the online citations of your business details.
When you open a Facebook business page you will see an Address field to complete. Put your main business address or head office address in here and include your address or addresses again in the General Information section.
If your business has a lot of addresses then it would be best to give a list of the areas in which you operate rather than to list all the addresses you have. You could then set up a separate Facebook page for each business address as long as you provide regular updates to each one with posts containing relevant information or items of interest for that outlet.
Although there is less space on a Twitter profile than there is on a Facebook profile you can still include your location in a similar way in both the biography and address fields.
Once again, just as with Facebook, if you have a lot of business locations it’s definitely worth having a separate Twitter profile for each one which you can then optimise for each locality and also use to communicate with local customers of your business and services.
All of the social media profiles you have should be optimised in the same way as in the examples above. Some important social media platforms you should consider using are:
Again make sure always to complete any address sections in the profile with your consistent address format, and if possible also try to use other relevant profile fields to make mention of your address and the geographical areas in which you operate.
Reviews from clients and customers give the search engines one of the best possible indicators of trust in a business and consequently they have become a very important factor in Local SEO. They are now often included on search engine results pages and in some cases may even make up the bulk of the listed information.
It’s therefore a good thing to do as much as you can (without being pushy) to encourage customers and clients to leave you positive reviews online after a sale or positive feedback in the case of an ongoing business relationship.
When considering reviews you should bear the following points in mind:
|Always reply to an online review if possible, even if it’s just a “thank you”. This will give your customers a feeling of inclusivity and will reflect well both on your business and on you.|
|Always answer negative reviews in a positive and constructive manner as your reply can very often mollify the reviewer, and will also be seen by other people reading the reviews which can enhance their trust in you and your business. Of course there will be instances where the original reviewer won’t be satisfied with your reply, but if this happens you can move the conversation offline or into private messaging as delicately as possible. But do always reply positively and helpfully to negative reviews as it’s a great indicator of trust and reliability to potential customers who will view you as being friendly and proactive. Also don’t be annoyed if you ever receive negative reviews, because you can’t please everybody and bad reviews are likely to happen from time to time.|
|It’s quite alright to ask your customers for reviews. Don’t be embarrassed about doing this as satisfied customers are often perfectly happy to agree. However there are some review sites, such as Yelp, where this is against the terms of service so take care not to mention any specific sites by name. Of course reviews can also be left on your Google+ local business page and it would be quite acceptable to direct your customers to that. However they will need to have a Google+ account themselves before they can leave a review of your business and if they don’t have one this may put some people off, so it might be helpful to prepare a sheet to give to them containing simple step-by-step instructions on how to open an account. Sometimes this may be all they’ll need to spur them into making the effort to leave you a review – but make sure you ask them to take action that day while it’s still in their minds as very often people will forget!|
|Don’t offer incentives to your customers to leave a positive review as otherwise their review may not be written in a natural manner and this will often show, both to the human reader and to Google (who may be tempted to penalise your site).|
|Don’t tell customers what they should write, as a review should always be the honest opinion of the writer. Also the danger of doing this is that too many of your online reviews will end up being disconcertingly similar which will raise red flags both to the reader and to Google.|
|Never ever fake reviews as this will ultimately add no value and also has the possibility of destroying search engine and user trust in your business. Once people even begin to suspect that favourable reviews may have been contrived your credibility and reputation will be dealt a blow from which your business may never recover, particularly if it’s talked about on social media.|
In the cases where reviews are shown in local search results a “star” rating is often used. The more five-star reviews you can get the better your chances of attracting new customers as research has shown that most users will gravitate straight to the best reviews and will very often ignore the others. So if you can garner better reviews than your competitors (or more good reviews than they have) you will be doing your business a power of good when it comes to maximising your Local SEO strategy.
What Are Your Competitors Doing?
A comprehensive review of the SEO strategies of your competitors is another important factor to consider for your own Local SEO efforts. For example, why is their site ranking more highly than yours and how are they achieving their local presence? What techniques are they using and can you emulate them?
Some critical areas to look at when reviewing the Local SEO strategies of your competitors include:
- The page titles and Meta descriptions used on their ranking pages
- The use of their localities in the on-page content
- The addition of their address or addresses in the footers of their site and on their contact pages
- Whether they use Local Business Schema markup on their site
- Which business listings they’ve secured
- The number and quality of their third-party reviews
- How they add their addresses and localities on their social profiles
When you carry out a comprehensive analysis of your competitors you will soon see both what they’re doing well and what they’re doing badly, which gives you an opportunity to do better and so begin to outperform them in the local search results.
Remember Mobile Users
As mentioned earlier there has recently been a huge rise in the use of mobile search with a vast number of people accessing the internet from their phones on a regular basis. This trend is only likely to increase and Google has therefore adjusted its algorithms to take account of it, giving a boost in its listings to websites which offer a good mobile experience, and so for your Local SEO strategy to be effective you need to make sure that your website satisfies the needs of mobile users.
Websites which are considered by Google to be “mobile-friendly” will receive a note to this effect next to their listings on mobile search results which may also encourage people to click on that site rather than on one that isn’t as ready to receive mobile users.
Although many other signals are taken into account when ranking websites in the search results having a mobile-friendly site these days is essential.
Therefore it’s very important that you check to see whether you satisfy Google’s criteria for mobile-friendly sites, and you can do this by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool or by going to the Mobile Reports in Google Console (which was formerly known as “Google Webmaster Tools”).
|To find out more please contact us or take a few minutes to fill in our Local SEO Questionnaire to arrange a no-obligation meeting to discuss how we can help you.|