Local search engine optimization (SEO) can be tricky. Not only do you have to do all the customary SEO stuff, but then you have to do a new layer of complex SEO activities. Most tech-savvy local-business owners have a decent idea of how to do local SEO, but diving to a deeper level can get confusing.
For example, most people think that in order to have successful local SEO, you must have directory listings. This is true — to a point. First, though, you have to make sure that several other things are in order. (Directory listings don’t come first in local SEO.)
Then you have to make sure that you’re getting listed with the right local directories. Also, you have to know how and where to find the local directories that are unique to your geographical area. Plus, you have to ensure that you are optimizing for your geospecific hyperlocal neighborhood, not just the general location of your business.
Like I said, things can get confusing.
In order to address some of these major issues, I’ve explained the top five things that most people forget about local SEO. If you want local search traffic, you need to make sure that you go through each of the five issues in this article. What you’re about to read could be a huge boon for your local SEO.
1. Accuracy and consistency in online listings.
The most important component of local SEO is a trinity of information known as the NAP. NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone number. Some people call it the NAP+W, adding in the Website for good measure. Any local optimizer knows this much. So far, so good.
What can get confusing, though, is the accuracy and consistency of this information.
A ConstantContact survey revealed some discouraging trends among SMBs. While 85 percent of small businesses say that it’s important for them to be found on local search apps and directories, only half of these businesses have ever updated their online listings! Fifty percent of these businesses know they have inaccurate listings, but 70 percent say that they just don’t have the time to update them at all!
This is bad news. The No. 1 negative local ranking factor, according to Moz, is a “listing detected at false business location.” The third biggest negative ranking factor is a mismatched NAP. Ouch. Inaccuracies like these will kill your local SEO.
Clearly, small and local businesses are facing a severe challenge when it comes to getting local listings. Let me break this down into two specific areas — accuracy and consistency, and why they matter so much.
Accuracy of NAP
Local search engines use the NAP as a measuring stick of accuracy for a business’s existence. In order for the local search engine or directory to validate the presence of your local business, it must make sure that every point of data aligns perfectly.
So, for example, if your business name is Charlie’s Killer Crepes, and you accidentally type Charlies’ Killer Crepes (a misplaced apostrophe) in your citation, then the directory might register your business inaccurately.
Think about it. If it’s just a matter of creating listings, then there could be a lot of confusion between businesses. How many “cupcake” boutiques are in New York City? Or how many “Financial Services” institutions are in Manhattan? In order for a business to be legitimate, it has to have all three of these pieces of information — name, address, and phone — and they all have to correspond in every citation across the local landscape.
Consistency of NAP
The other issue to keep in mind is consistency.The NAP must be consistent across all the local directories, mentions, citations, and listings.
Moz puts it this way:
Consistent NAP information is essential to getting more citations and improving search engine rankings.
The information on Yelp must be consistent with the information on Google+, which must be consistent with the information on Foursquare, which must be consistent with the Local Small Business Association, and on and on.
This is probably the most challenging feature for a company wanting local rank. Why? Because business information changes. One day, your business might decide to change its name a little bit, or to switch to an 800 number. Or you might move to a different location.
How do you prevent your local SEO from tanking due to lack of consistency?
It’s not easy. In order to make sure that every local citation is consistent, you can either hire someone to track down every citation and change it, or you can do it yourself.
All of local SEO begins here — with the obvious NAP. But it goes further, with the not-so-obvious issues of accuracy and consistency. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Has my business ever changed names? (Name)
- Has my business ever changed locations? (Address)
- Has my business ever changed phone numbers? (Phone)
If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may want to embark on some local SEO citation remediation. Track down every one of your local citations, and make sure they are accurate and consistent.
2. All the other valuable information in directory listings.
It’s easy to get listed in local directories. It’s noteasy to fill out these local directories to their maximum potential.
Creating a local listing is time-consuming and tedious. But that’s exactly what a local business must do if it wants to rank. This is where we get into one of the oft-overlooked features of local SEO. These directories should be filled out with as much information as possible.
A study from the Local Search Association/Burke Inc. revealed that when consumers search for a local listing, they want to see the following information:
This is why it’s important to fill out those directories as completely as possible. Every added citation gives you a little local SEO uptick. The more complete you make that online listing, the better you’ll do for customers who actually look at your entry. They want information — lots of it.
3. Building full-fledged social-media accounts.
A local business can thrive on local SEO without even having a website. It’s true. Local SEO has come so far and has dominated so much of search that having a conventional website is not required for local SEO success.
In the 2013 Local Search Ranking Factor survey by Moz, they placed the importance of a locally-optimized website at 18.8 percent, calling it “on-page signals.” All the other slices of this pie graph do not depend on a website. (I would argue that the power of “link signals,” in the absence of a website, be directed to place pages or other local listings.) In other words, everything but that measly 18 percent is the power of local SEO, sans website.
Does a website help? Sure, of course. I recommend it. But for local SEO, it’s the local factors that matter most.
This leads me to the point that many businesses miss: Your customers are using your place page or social-media page as your de facto website.
Instead of visiting your website, many customers choose instead to check you out on Facebook, UrbanSpoon, Yelp or TripAdvisor. At least on Urbanspoon, they can see a star rating, or a review.
With a simple query, I can find out everything that I want to know:
Where did all that information come from? It did not come from the website, because this particular establishment doesn’t even have a complete website. All they have is locally-optimized accounts on every meaningful local listing.
If I’m checking out Vicoletto, I want a review. Do I want to read about a dreamy buratta? Heck yes.
With the recent rollout of the new Google My Business platform, local search experts are insisting more loudly than ever that it’s important to fill out all your information as completely as possible. As Greg Gifford wrote in Search Engine Land, “The Google My Business update is the biggest merchant-facing update Google has ever released for local businesses.” And now, you need to make sure that your business lives as prominently as ever on this massive local SEO tool.
The good thing about local search is that it’s mostly under your control.
You create your local listings, optimize your Google My Business page, pimp out your Facebook account and do all the other things that bump you to the top of local search results.
There is one thing that you can’t completelycontrol. Reviews. You can’t force users to post their review on Foursquare or Yelp or give you a five-star rating on Google+. But you can encourage them to do it.
There are plenty of ways to motivate users to give reviews. In exchange, you can provide them with free drinks, a shout-out on Facebook, discounts, props — whatever. At the very least remind them to leave a review. Post a sign on the counter or the door so they can leave a review. Put a QR code on the table or menu allowing them to scan and review. Have your service personnel ask for reviews at checkout. Place a kiosk in the lobby for them to leave a review. Sometimes, all people need is a little nudge.
Reviews are so essential for local search optimization that it’s worth it to go the extra effort and beg for these things (in a tasteful way, of course). Why does this matter? Because of local SEO.
Google consistently delivers local results that favor establishments with higher reviews.
In the query above, “restaurant in san francisco,” the first two carousel results feature the restaurants with the highest reviews. Notice that they don’t necessarily have the mostreviews — just the highest.
5. Honing in on hyperlocal SEO.
This final issue is still in its infancy. Google has indicated that they are using or testing a “neighborhood algorithm.”
Local neighborhoods are hard to fit into a search engine algorithm. They lack boundaries and clearly-defined names. Thus, the moniker “informal space” has come to characterize regions. Locals may call an area something different from what appears on a formal map. It can be tricky to rank for local SEO in a neighborhood that has a name different from its official map designation.
This is where the power of a website comes into play. By optimizing your company website with neighborhood terminology, you can make strides in local searches that target the informal space of your neighborhood while also ranking in the official algorithm-selected region.
There are things that you can do to optimize your business for the possible neighborhood algorithm from a strictly local optimization perspective.
Andrew Shotland, in his Search Engine Land article, provides these step-by-step instructions:
- Add your neighborhood name as a descriptor at the end of your business name on your Google My Business page (e.g., “Cabo Grill East Side”).
- Add your neighborhood name to the description on your Google My Business page.
- Add your neighborhood name in text to your website (if you have one).
- Add your neighborhood name to title tags on your website.
- Make sure Google Maps has your neighborhood defined correctly. If not, go into Google MapMaker and submit an update.
- Add your neighborhood to all of your local citation profiles.
As hyperlocal search evolves, it will become more and more important to make the biggest local impact in the smallest geographical area.
All the conventional SEO techniques and enhancements receive a complete makeover when viewed in the light of local SEO. A local business depends on local SEO.
As part of the CTA on my personal website, I use a local-specific subheading. Every user that visits my page will see a message that is customized to their specific geographic region. When I implemented this feature, my conversions shot up. This tells me that local-business owners want to be successful in their geographicarea. The only way to achieve this kind of success is through good local SEO.