Before the Internet, people chose where to shop, eat and get their hair cut based on word of mouth from friends and family. Has that really changed in today’s online world? The Internet is still about word of mouth for local businesses, from review sites to social media. Ultimately, SEO comes down to word of mouth too, creating quality content and reaching out to people who will want to link to it.
With Google increasingly using regional results in searches, having a local search strategy in place is crucial. There are even entire blogs dedicated to this topic. To start your business’s plan for local search, here are ten tips.
- Claim your Google+ Local page (formerly Google Places). This ensures your page is connected to your website as well as reviews for your business. If you ever tried to claim your location on Google Places in the past, you know the experience can rank somewhere between getting a tooth extraction and breaking a bone. Now, Google has made the process easier and offers better support. Once you’ve claimed the page, build it out with categories, pictures, videos, business hours and any other relevant info.
- Encourage customers to leave reviews. Your reviews will show along with an average rating, which can make or break whether people choose to visit your business. Note that the previous 5-star rating of Google Places has been replaced with a 30-point scale on Google+ Local.
- Claim profiles on other local business sites like Yelp and MerchantCircle, and be sure to monitor reviews there as well. While third-party reviews no longer display on Google’s location pages, Apple’s integration with Yelp on iOS 6 makes keeping up a profile there more crucial.
- Don’t ignore negative reviews. Respond to them. If people see you making an effort to reconcile problems, that will go a long way in improving your business’s image. You can even turn negative reviews into a publicity opportunity, like the sandwich shop in New York City that put up a sign saying, “Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.” Needless to say, they didn’t let the bad review hurt their business.
- Use Google Insights to see what terms people are searching on a local level related to your specific industry. You can segment search statistics down to a specific metro area. Use these keywords in titles, meta descriptions, image alt tags, and content across your site.
- Regardless of any “SEO advice” you receive, please don’t spam your content with all the locations you want to rank for. For example, “Joe’s Barber Shop offers hair cutting Albany, hair cutting Troy, hair cutting Schenectady, hair cutting Saratoga.” This technique may have worked a few years ago, but Google will now flag this as keyword stuffing. Include keywords within natural text, but represent your brand with content that people want to read. Content that ranks well is content that’s written well.
- Here is the proper way to rank for multiple locations: if your business serves multiple towns, build out separate pages on your site for each individual town. Fill these pages with unique content, such as testimonials from customers in each area.
- Start a blog to develop quality content on your site. Don’t just talk about your business. Highlight community events and appeal to the audience in your area. If you write awesome content, they will link to you and build your link profile from sites connected to local terms.
- Set up a locally targeted PPC campaign. Precise geotargeting allows you to hit only the locations you want to see ads. Google AdWords Express is an excellent place to get started with a low-maintenance campaign. Set a business category and monthly budget and let it run. Once you’ve run a simple campaign, you can see the results and explore the possibility of a more extensive campaign.
- Get involved in social media. Connect with local influencers on Facebook and Twitter, and encourage them to repost your content.
Use these ten tips to get ahead of other businesses in your area. Build your local presence and watch the customers come!