How to make your business visible to local customers.
When someone searches online for the type of service or product you offer, does your company appear in some form on the first page of results? If not, your prospective customers are very likely to get in touch with your competitors rather than you, and it’s even more likely that those competitors are at the top of the page thanks to local SEO.
If you’ve already realized the importance of optimizing your company’s online presence to improve your position on Google but don’t know just what that entails, we’ve created this guide to help. We’ve included some do-it-yourself strategies that can get you started on increasing your company’s visibility. Even if your goal is not to take on local SEO yourself, an understanding of it can be valuable when you’re looking for an agency or other provider to manage your local SEO campaigns.
In this guide to local SEO for small businesses, we’ll cover:
- The benefits of local SEO
- How local SEO differs from general or national SEO
- The most important factors in local SEO
- The pros and cons of doing your own SEO
- Steps you can take immediately to start improving your local SEO
Understanding Local SEO
Some people include their locations when searching for a service or product—”pest control orlando,” for example—but even when they don’t, Google will almost always recognize their locations and return results of companies in the searcher’s geographic area. Local SEO will help you rank higher in both types of searches by giving Google the signals it looks for that tell it your company is in the searcher’s area and offers what the searcher is looking for.
Depending upon how well your site has been optimized for local rankings, your prospective customers may see your company in several places in search results, such as Google maps, People Also Ask questions, and organic listings. These are just some of the advantages that local SEO can give you over your competitors.
Benefits of Local SEO
The most important benefit of local SEO for your small business is attracting targeted traffic and better-qualified leads. This is because local SEO specifically targets prospective customers in your local geographic area as opposed to people nationwide. The goal isn’t just higher traffic numbers to your website—you want your phone to ring or have people share their email addresses for the best returns on your investment in digital marketing and local SEO. At the least, you want your audience to engage with you; ultimately, you want to make sales.
Local SEO is a long-term strategy that will help ensure your company is well-positioned against your competitors. It also helps build brand awareness and enhance your reputation as an authority in your industry niche in your area.
Note that if you have multiple brick-and-mortar locations, you should have separate local SEO campaigns for each location to attract customers to each one.
The competitors you see at the top of rankings are optimizing their websites with local SEO strategies. If you aren’t, it’s unlikely that you can make your way to the top, and the more crowded your marketplace is, the more difficult it will be for your website to rank on even the first few pages of search results.
To take advantage of the power of local SEO to bring you more business, you can work on local SEO yourself or outsource it to someone else. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to improve your SEO, and if you don’t have time to do it, a professional digital marketing service can do it for you. The only wrong decision at this point is to do nothing.
How Local SEO Differs from General/National SEO
As a business owner with a website, you’re probably already familiar with the basic concept of SEO, but it’s important to realize that local SEO has some important differences from general SEO.
Ranking highly in a Google search for keywords is a common goal of both national and local SEO, but one of the ways local SEO differs from general SEO is that it focuses on the signals that tell Google where you are.
Think about what pops up on your phone when you’re looking for a restaurant while traveling and how you can quickly click “get directions.” If you’ve ever found a restaurant that way, they were ranking well for their area. There were, of course, other restaurants in that same location that weren’t displayed, so you never found out about them.
There are ways to make sure your small business appears in those kinds of searches. And it’s all about improving your ranking. Keep reading to find out what the most important ranking factors are for local SEO along with actionable steps you can take to improve the ranking of your business in local searches.
The Most Important Ranking Factors in Local SEO
Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP)
Your name, address, and phone number should be the same across all websites, listings, and social media accounts, because this is one of the ways that Google recognizes the legitimacy of your business. The first place to check for this is in your Google My Business (GMB) listing. Visit Google My Business here if you still need to create or claim your listing and make sure your contact information is correct.
It is also important to select the correct category for your business. There is other information that you’ll want to include in your GMB listing that will be specific to your industry.
When you looked for that restaurant, you probably noticed the star rating as well, especially if it wasn’t a familiar national chain. The social proof that good ratings and reviews provide is not only great for business, but it could also improve your Google ranking. When you know customers are happy with your services, encourage them to rate and review your business online and let them know where to find your pages on social media.
The next thing you’ll need to do is keyword research. Your website needs to have strategically placed keywords in its title tags, meta tags, heading tags, and schema, as well as throughout your website’s content. If you don’t update each of these elements to include your city and state, your local SEO may suffer.
High-quality content is an essential part of any digital marketing program. A visually appealing website is important, but the actual words on your website are at least equally important. When it comes to SEO, content truly is king, so you’ll need plenty of it.
Look up your competitors and copy and paste the words on each page of their website into your word processor or an online counting tool. Whatever their word count is, you’ll want to exceed it. In recent years, long-form content has become a key ranking factor.
Your web content shouldn’t just be fluff, however; search engine algorithms are getting very good at detecting low-quality content that has been artificially stuffed with keywords. Write for people, not computers, and the search engines will reward you.
The ultimate goal of marketing your local business with content is to impress your target audience when they get to your website, which will increase sales. SEO is just one aspect of your business, and you want it to dovetail with your other marketing efforts.
These crossover marketing efforts should include compelling sales copy. If you don’t know how to write good copy for your web pages, consider hiring a professional digital marketing agency that includes content creation services or an experienced (and expert) freelance web copywriter.
Maintain a Blog
Web content doesn’t just refer to the static sales copy on your main web pages. SEO experts recommend that your website includes a blog that gets updated with new content on a regular basis. Adding fresh new content should be an ongoing part of your local SEO strategy.
Above all, your blog content should be highly relevant to your audience and your type of business. You can use it to help your customers solve problems and learn more about your services or products, and boost your rankings at the same time. As part of your research for developing blog content, enter your keywords in Google and check the “People also ask” box on the first page of results. The questions that appear there are some of the most common that are asked about your keywords—consider incorporating questions such as those into some of your blog content.
Next, you’re going to need to “build” some inbound links. In a nutshell, link building is acquiring inbound links from other relevant and authoritative websites. You’ll also want those hyperlinks to include either your business name or keywords relevant to your industry.
The reason that link building is so important is that getting linked to by high-ranking sites shows search engines that your website is also relevant. Think of it as having friends in high places, and the fact that being associated with those entities can open doors for you. When it comes to local SEO, it’s not just about what you know, it’s who you know.
In the same way that it’s good to be associated with reputable sites, it can be harmful to be associated with questionable or low-quality sites. When trying to build your own backlinks, avoid getting them from link farms or other sorts of link building schemes that could get you penalized by Google.
The more relevant a link is, the more beneficial it will be to your ranking. Although irrelevant links can help a little, they aren’t all that helpful for local SEO. For example, if you own a pest control company and your sister who is a hair salon owner in another state puts a link to your website on her salon’s website, that’s not a relevant link.
Link building is one of the more difficult and time-consuming aspects of local SEO, but it’s essential. Never make the mistake of thinking that if you build a website, they will come. You’ll need inbound links, and they need to be relevant ones with appropriate citations.
Don’t be afraid to ask non-competing businesses to link to you. SEO experts who understand the true urgency of link building will immediately pursue links from sites that are both relevant and reputable.
Checking Your SEO
If you do your own SEO, keep monitoring local search results to make sure your ranking hasn’t dropped. That way, you’ll know when you need to step up your game. When checking your own SEO, sign out of Google and use an incognito browser. Otherwise, the results of your search will be targeted just for you, and Google knows you want to see your business in the results. This could cause you to make the mistake of thinking you are ranking higher than you actually are since your results will be based on your previous search history along with other things Google knows about you.
Pros and Cons of Doing Local SEO Yourself
Not all local SEO companies are created equal. Some companies offer an outdated, minimalist approach to SEO that you really could just do yourself. Another pro to doing your own SEO is that you might save money.
That said, comprehensive SEO services will often pay for themselves, so if you can afford the initial outlay, it’s probably worth the money—especially if you are inexperienced with local SEO.
If you do decide to hire a professional to handle your small business SEO services, you need to check out our article here:
The main drawback is time—how much time can you spare from actually running your day-to-day business to run several local SEO campaigns? The best results, the kind that can show improvements month after month, take a great deal of time.
One of the cons of doing your own SEO is that you’ll have to become somewhat of an expert in an ever-changing field. A professional digital marketing company can help you with up-to-the-minute adaptations you probably wouldn’t have thought of such as optimizing your content for mobile devices and voice.
Another potential pitfall of doing your own SEO is unintentionally breaking a rule that might get you blackballed by Google and other search engines. Those quick and dirty SEO tricks you read about probably fall into the category of something called black-hat SEO. Black-hat SEO techniques can get you in big trouble with Google in a hurry. Although no one will come to arrest you, your sentence will be an exile to the lowest possible position in the search results.
If you’ve experienced a sudden drop in your rankings, it may be that you’ve already violated Google’s guidelines. A good digital marketing company will know how to fix this.
Lastly, SEO companies will often continue to monitor your site to make sure it retains its Google ranking.
Local SEO FAQs
How much does local SEO cost?
The price of any type of SEO services varies across the industry. Some agencies have turnkey, off-the-shelf packages at a fixed price, while others charge by the hour. At Dagmar, we develop every local SEO campaign from the ground up, customizing our services to meet our clients’ specific needs. You can learn more about the cost of local SEO on our pricing page, and we’ll be glad to tell you more during a free consultation.
Why do you need local SEO?
If your business depends upon people in your neighborhood or city rather than those across the country, a local search engine optimization strategy is key to making sure your company is more easily discovered online by local customers.
A comprehensive local SEO campaign includes all of the signals that search engines are looking for when it determines which businesses will be displayed to a person searching for a business like yours. Your strongest competitors are almost certainly using local SEO techniques to lead in your local market, but the good news is, you can use the same techniques to rank well against them, no matter the size of your company.
How long does local SEO take?
Local SEO can provide some relatively quick improvements in the first few months of a campaign, but it’s a long-term strategy that delivers its best results over time. In the initial phases, corrections made to existing issues you may have on your website and ensuring your business profile on Google is properly established will likely yield some wins. Down the line, creating a steady flow of high-quality content will offer more sustainable positive local SEO results.
What’s the difference between SEO and local SEO?
Both local SEO and regular (or “organic”) SEO help drive traffic to your website by improving your Google ranking. They have many of the same SEO fundamentals in common, such as keyword research and link building, but local SEO goes several steps further to help ensure that you’re visible to prospective local customers. Tactics unique to local SEO include making sure the online listings of each of your physical business locations is consistent across the web, creating location-specific pages on your website, and creating content with a local focus. If you have more than one location, local SEO techniques should be used for each one.
Prioritize Local SEO for Your Business
If your business isn’t as competitive as you know it should be in your geographic area, consider putting local SEO high on your list of marketing strategies. Building a solid presence online takes time and money, but when it’s done right, it can go a long way toward sustaining your success.
Implementing the DIY techniques we’ve discussed will help you get started. It’s important to note that while it’s certainly possible to do your own local SEO, Google’s algorithms change frequently—keeping up with them and making adjustments to your local SEO campaigns in response is nearly a full-time job in itself, and that’s just part of the reason to look into outsourcing your local SEO. If you do decide to hire an agency or consultant, be sure to do your research first. It’s well worth your time to find one with experience in helping small, local businesses like yours.