We all know that 2020 was a year that will go down in the history books. Economically, 2020 was not an easy year for businesses of all sizes and even for whole industries. Here at Anvil Media, a few of the new realities we see for many businesses, especially small businesses, are a lack of resources, time, and focus to put toward marketing. The truth is that now is the perfect time for businesses to hone and refine their strategy and set themselves up for success in the “New Normal.”
From a marketing, and specifically a search engine optimization, perspective one of the most interesting aspects of the new normal is the growth of the buy-local movement. For most consumers, 2020 has seen the closure (both temporary and permanent) of local businesses they know and love. As we move into 2021 and beyond, consumers are looking to support the struggling local businesses in their communities and strengthen their local economies. Now is the time to ensure your business is optimized for local search with Anvil Media’s guide for what to now about local SEO.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the process of optimizing a business website and online presence to maximize its presence in online searches within a geographic area. Much like traditional SEO, there are a number of strategies, tactics, and best practices to accomplish this goal. The strategies include but are not limited to on-page optimization, Google My Business and citation optimization, and reputation management.
On-Page Local SEO
While it may seem obvious, one of the most overlooked areas of local SEO is optimizing the content and design of the website to target local users. Many websites are designed with the idea of brand growth and globalization in mind. The thought seems to be “The internet can reach anyone across the world, so why shouldn’t everyone see my website?” However, for many local businesses, this is not the reality of their product or service. What good is a website for a local landscaping business in Portland, Oregon for someone who is looking for landscaping in Miami, Florida? A sound local strategy does not limit growth or accessibility but rather focuses it those ideas.
A site that is well optimized for local search should adhere to the following guidelines:
- Use a consistent Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) across the website. Traditionally this information should be included as one of the first things the user sees on the homepage a without having to scroll, but should also be present in the footer which is seen across all pages of the website.
- Use locally focused keywords or phrases rather than their generic counterparts. When users are searching locally, they will often include “in city, state” at the end of their search term.
- Create location pages for branches or service areas. These pages should be designed to make it clear to users and search engines where you sell your product or what geographic areas you service (especially if your office or location is not geographically located in that area).
- Add Local Business structured markup to your location pages. Structured markup is code that is added to the respective location page and contains key data elements designed to help search engines more easily and clearly understand your business.
- Create content of interest to your local audience. How long has your business been a part of your community? How does your business help and serve the local community? How is your business giving back to the community? Your goal should be to demonstrate the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) of your business.
Google My Business and Local Citations
Google and other search engines seek to understand and know your business in as clear and unambiguous a manner as possible so it can in-turn provide that information to its users. One way any business can help this process is to create a Google My Business page or pages for its locations. Google My Business is a free and effective way to provide your business’s basic information and affects how your business appears in search results. You should create the Google My Business page with your business’s domain email or claim a listing if one already exists. Make sure that your GMB listing uses the name, address, and phone number consistent with your website. Google will ask you to verify your business, which is traditionally done by mail, however in some situations it can be done by phone or email. Fully optimizing your GMB listing includes adding hours of operation, description, photos, logo, and applicable business categories or attributes. Optimizing hours and accessibility information will be especially important through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Similar to Google, there are a number of citation websites that local businesses can claim, verify, and optimize. Several of the top local citation sources can be found by using a tool like Moz’s Local Listing Checker. Your industry may also have industry specific directories which you should seek to claim and optimize as well. Your local chamber of commerce can often be a free or low-cost way to earn a citation as well. The important part of these listings is to ensure that your name address and phone number are consistent across the web. As mentioned earlier, search engines want to understand your business unambiguously, so having listings with inconstant information is the easiest way for search engines to get confused and, in turn, not trust the data. Citations across the web act as valuable referral sources and trustworthy links to your site.
For better or (more often) worse the internet allows anyone to say pretty much anything at any time. This applies to how customers talk about your business as well. Look no further than the success of Yelp or the fact that the previously discussed Google My Business includes reviews. Online reviews and online reputation live forever on the internet and thus it is vital that any local business be aware of and manage their online reputation.
Every locally focused business should seek to identify where their online reviews are coming from. Top review sites include Yelp, GMB, and Better Business Bureau, however there are many more. When you find these reviews, your business should seek to build trust and authority by responding to reviews where appropriate. Responding to positive reviews helps to demonstrate your dedication to and appreciation of your customers while responding to negative reviews demonstrates your commitment to fixing the issue and getting better. When responding to a negative review always seek to solve the problem, there is nothing to be gained from accusing or blaming the customer as it will usually make your business look petty and unprofessional. Even if the review is rude it will likely never benefit you to sink to their level. Using re-engagement like follow up emails are a great way to prompt customers to leave reviews. With the internet every customer is a potential reviewer and every review matters.
Why is Local SEO Important?
“Think globally, act locally” is a phrase we have all heard this year and the ideas and thought behind that movement are sure to affect how we all think, behave, and interact. How we shop is a large part of how we will move forward. 2021, and beyond, are poised to be watershed moments for our economy and preparing your business to thrive in that new reality is vital. Anvil Media is here to help your local business understand how to optimize your website, your online citations, and our reputation. Contact us today to learn more.