Local search is one of the most competitive marketplaces for a business today. This is especially true for retailers, restaurateurs and other organizations that rely on customers in the area rather than ecommerce sites or online companies that can count on customers from anywhere around the world. But with so many factors playing a role in how you appear online, how do you know what to focus on to find success – and visibility – in your area? Let’s take a closer look at some of the major components and explore what it takes to be the king or queen of your neighborhood.
Local SEO 101
First, to make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s a quick recap of local SEO. Essentially, it is all efforts undertaken to optimize a brand’s appearance in local search results – geolocated results, map results and other localized search efforts. Commonly this would cover searches like “pizza near me” or “pizza in Buffalo” that include a specific product or service and localized phrasing, but many searches will also be partially localized to the current area regardless of those tailing phrases. That’s due to the GPS in phones or the localization of an IP address on a desktop or laptop device that can help cue in your location to present results most relevant to you.
This is critically important in the modern market with smartphones in every pocket for consumers to find what they need right where they are. Being well positioned to be the top result when a person searches for the products or services you offer can be the difference between increasing your sales or scheduling a closing sale.
Your Business, Meet My Business
Of course, one of the most central parts of local search is your actual physical location. That’s why, for example, you’ll never show up as a local option for an Italian restaurant in Toronto if your business is in Buffalo – nor should you want to. But with some work on your local presence, you can aim to be the top option for Italian food in your city.
One of the simplest and easiest first steps is your Google My Business (GMB). Even if you’ve never set one up, there’s a decent chance that one already exists thanks to data scraping and searching. It’s the info box that shows up along the right of search results when someone Google searches for your brand, or the results that appear in map results when searching in Google Maps. It collects a lot of your business information and puts it in an easy to display format for consumers. While not all features are available or applicable for all businesses, this can include:
- Business name
- Phone number
- Popular dishes
- Price range
- Popular times, wait times and current crowd volume
- Business classification
- Features and offerings
- Questions and answers from other visitors
So, as you can see, there’s a world of options just within that singular part of local search. Claiming your presence on GMB and working to make sure as much of your information is completed and accurate can help to make your presence more robust in search, allowing you to provide more information to potential customers as they search, increasing the likelihood that they’ll visit your business.
Consistency Is Key
Another big part of your local presence is consistency. This means that whether someone is looking for you on your website, Facebook page, GMB or a third-party directory, they’re finding the same information. That all starts with you and your own information that you directly control.
While many scrapers and auto-generated directory sites will pull from other informational sources, at the core they often come from your own information – what you have on your website or social media. That’s also why it’s important to make sure that your vital details are consistent. Your NAP information – Name, Address and Place – should be consistent in all locations you control. That means if you use “St.” instead of “Street” on your website, it should be like that on your Facebook, GMB and other locations. This consistency reinforces your information accuracy and, if any of these sources get scraped by a directory service, it should pull a consistent bit of information about your business.
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
Local SEO is essentially a more highly focused version of SEO that places the emphasis not just on your keywords or pertinent phrases, but on the localization of those terms. You want to be found in both instances, but with local SEO you want to be found ahead of other competitors in your area. And, depending on where your business is located, this can be a walk in the park or a walk onto the battlefield.
To really succeed, you need to make sure that you are focused on the local experience across the board. That means keeping that consistency we talked about earlier, as well as updating all the relevant information you can on major listings like GMB and Bing’s Places feature. Claiming your listing on other directories like Yelp or Healthgrades is also a bonus, especially as these review sites tend to draw a fair bit of attention from consumers as they search and form initial opinions about the product or service they’re looking for.
Taking advantage of any special localized directories in your area is also a plus. Check with your local chamber of commerce, business association or newspaper to see if they offer a local directory that you can be added to. You may also want to check for any trade-related sites that serve your industry to see if you can be listed as a provider. Helping to make your business easy to find from a number of potential channels is a great way to improve your overall visibility and, in turn, your foot traffic.
Ratings and Reviews – The Other Evaluator
Getting found is one part of the equation, but with so many people now doing their evaluation of a business online rather than by word of mouth or personal recommendation, your online reviews are more important than ever. Having a high volume of positive reviews can show potential customers that you’re well-respected as a business and offer a positive experience for your clients. Having only a few reviews – or a majority of poorly rated reviews – however, can steer a person away before they ever even reach your website or your front door.
Part of succeeding at this is growing your culture around reviews. Have your employees ask people to leave a good review for your business if you know they had a positive experience, or suggest diners tag your business and critique their meal online. Google recently started using machine learning to pull information from your reviews and tagged images to curate a listing of popular dishes for restaurants, so taking advantage of this feature relies on you making an effort to engage with your customers – in person and then again online.
Studies show that many consumers will make a search and buying decision on the go, and if all they see about your business is negative reviews and poor ratings, they’re unlikely to choose your business over others in the area. Make it a priority at your business – include details on how to leave a review on your receipt or business card or place signs on your doors to encourage visitors to find you on Facebook, Google, Yelp or other platforms, and encourage all your customers to leave an opinion online.
Local for Everyone?
Businesses in more rural and outer suburban areas that offer specialized services in limited supply are less impacted by local search than other companies and organizations. A locksmith in a small country town likely doesn’t have competition, but one in the heart of Chicago has to go up against all the other locksmiths in the neighborhood and larger city area.
The most impacted companies and businesses are those that absolutely rely on having a competitive edge or higher volume than competitors. This means service businesses like plumbers and HVAC techs, for example, who need to be the closest, best option for a potential searcher. There are also restaurants, of course, that strive to be the top result for a given cuisine in their area. And don’t forget about professional service providers like doctors, lawyers and accountants, who need to focus on making sure their information and specializations are clear in their local presence so that the person searching for their specific specialization or expertise can find them atop their local results.
It’s important to also keep in mind, however, that as technologies continue to advance and evolve, the value of local search grows. Google in particular has made some notable changes and improvements in the past year to refine the experience for searchers in relation to local restaurants. Users can now search for a specific food or restaurant and in some cases place an order directly through Google’s own Search, Maps and Assistant platforms, meaning orders can be placed without ever getting a visit to your site or your store. Google is also working on other features like Google Duplex, which can call your business using automated voice technology to request an appointment or reservation for a user, or ask about business hours that may be missing on your GMB listing. Who knows how this may even further evolve and grow in the weeks and months to come.
The competition for local customers is far from anything new, but the strategies and approaches to being successful locally continue to change with new technology. Local SEO can help you get a leg up on your competitors. Need help? Call the team at J. Fitzgerald Group. We can assess your needs and discuss options that can help you grow your business. Reach out today to learn more.
Bringing with him more than a decade of experience in traditional and online news media, digital marketing and content production experience, Ryan Yaeger is the copywriter and digital content strategist at J. Fitzgerald Group. When not busy wordsmithing at his proverbial word anvil or working on client SEO, you can find him testing new board games or cheering for the Bills or Sabres.