There are lots of numbers out there about why your business should be optimized to specifically reach local customers. Indeed, it sounds like something that makes sense if your business is “local.” And according to data from Google, over three-quarters of people who search for something nearby visit the business within a day — and nearly 30 percent of those visitors end up buying something. For businesses interested in staying and becoming more relevant on search, this means that working a smart local SEO strategy into your ongoing overall SEO efforts would be a wise use of your time.

“Local SEO” is often discussed as a stand-alone term. What business owners and marketers should remember, though, is that local SEO for small businesses shouldn’t necessarily be a whole new approach. It should just be worked into the methods you’re already using — or should be using — to increase search awareness. This would include doing things such as picking relevant keywords and including them in copy appropriately, creating quality backlinks, and keeping your site clean from a technical standpoint. So focusing on these on the “local” level can be layered into your processes without too much difficulty.

If you haven’t started working on your SEO strategy, I’d consider starting there, and of course work the “local” part in as you go. For those who have been making search a priority, consider these tips.

3 Angles to Approach Local SEO Strategy

Off-site local SEO for small businesses:

SEO strategy typically tends to start with more of an on-page conversation. Successful local SEO for small businesses is very reliant on off-site items. “Off-site” refers to improving backlinking and other efforts to boost your SEO through…wait for it…things you are doing not directly on your website.

Google My Business: Most notably, setting up a complete Google My Business profile is an absolute must first step if you want to be best optimized for search on the local level. And no, it’s not necessarily because Google My Business is awesome and so fun and exciting.

Integrate a Local SEO Strategy With Your Current Search Efforts
Google “3-pack” designating the top three businesses shown for a search result.

Consider that Google owns nearly 90 percent of America’s search engine market share, and Google Chrome is the browser of choice for nearly half of all Americans. While Google+ might have been a dud, more than plenty of people are still out there searching for businesses and products through the search engine, so it makes sense for Google to prioritize showing businesses that fill out their own sponsored profiles. A study from Moz showed that in 2018, the most important factor for a small business to get into Google’s “3-pack” — the top three organic results that show up when you search for an item — is Google My Business. In the grand scheme of overall organic ranking (3-pack aside), it dropped to fourth.

A few different layers of adding things to your GMB account, depending on how inspired you feel:

  • Basic stuff: Name, address, phone number, hours of operation, link to website, basic images: logo/building
  • Getting there: Reviews, attributes/services, specific photos: interior, staff, products, etc.
  • Killing it: Google Posts (weekly), download the GMB app, videos.

We could — and eventually will — write a whole blog post on GMB, but just know for now that you should make it a priority when considering local SEO for small businesses. Side note: this may sound silly, but make sure your name, address and phone number match on your website and in your GMB profile. Google doesn’t take kindly to being confused.

Citations: Another important off-site “to-do” as part of your local SEO strategy is claiming your business — or including your business — in directories, local and non-local alike. “Citations,” as these are also called, are another legitimate source of backlinks to your site, improving your domain authority. Examples include your local chamber of commerce listing (if you are a member), obvious ones such as Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Apple Maps and Foursquare, and random, sometimes industry-specific directories (HubSpot has a few examples). Not all citations are free, but many are and according to Moz, these inbound link signals make up a part of the largest percentage of organic ranking factors, at 28 percent.

On-site local SEO for small businesses:

Your local SEO efforts should tie in more closely with your regular on-site SEO strategy than your off-site in the fact that both on-site efforts — local and non-local — reward informative, useful content for your end users. If you want to have a strong search program, you have to give people things to search for. And not everything has to be local, but where appropriate, adding local information such as title tags, alt text, meta description and certainly actually creating content that is related to your local community will add more local search authority for your site over time. Using local header tags in your content helps, too. You’ll also want to identify keywords that point to the service you offer in your location (ie, transportation in Raleigh, cheeseburgers in downtown Boston).

Local content for your website might very top-of-funnel, but think about what your audience might be interested in. Are you a local smoothie joint? Which products are in season or will be in season? Are there any local crop shares you could do a round-up post on that your health-focused audience might be interested in? For a photography service: What are your favorite locations to shoot pictures this time of year and why? Lawyers: Have there been any changes to local laws that your audience should be aware of?

Technical local SEO for small businesses:

Just as having a responsive, quick-loading site is important when discussing SEO on a broad scale, in local SEO there are a few items worth noting that can help you reach a local audience through optimizing the back end of your website.

Google Maps: First and foremost, similar to GMB, ensuring your site has a strong visibility on Google Maps should be a priority for your business. Particularly as voice search rises and people ask for “directions to” (remember Rand McNally map books? No?) locations, you’ll want to make sure your business is easily findable. To help from a technical standpoint, this could be as simple as including a Google Map on the contact page of your website with your company pinpointed.

More locations? More pages: If you are a business that has multiple locations, it helps to include individual pages for each location. This will allow you to optimize for the location and service-based keywords mentioned in the “on-site” section, and give you the opportunity to place separate Google maps on each page to crawl — and for your readers to easily find.

Schema: The final component of technical SEO to include in your local SEO strategy would be to include schema markup. Neil Patel called schema — which was created by Google, Bing and Yahoo to help searchers better understand data — “one of the most powerful, but least-utilized forms of SEO available today.” This is because it can be quite onerous. However, that doesn’t mean you still don’t want to see if it works for you.

Particularly with some of the technical components of local SEO for small businesses, it may be best to partner with a local marketing agency to — sometimes literally — get you on the map with local search. While the process as a whole can seem a little like information overload, don’t let it get in the way of working a local SEO strategy into your business so more people can find you organically over time.

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