For most digitally educated businesses, it’s no surprise that search engine optimization is essential for any size company, even when it comes to locally owned and operated businesses. Not only does Google make adjustments to its algorithms regularly, but local SEO and non-local SEO has become increasingly complicated. Having an in-house marketing team or agency partnership who understands these effects is crucial to navigating online territory. To figure out which adjustments to make, however, you’ll need to know where you want to be. Once you know where you want to be, you then can make a list of your company goals.
Make a List of Goals
Not all businesses have the same goals. But when it comes to wanting website visits from the same target audience and selling in the same industry, that’s where the competition begins. Setting up basic SEO is pretty much a requirement for launching any website today. The question then becomes, how can you continue to optimize your site to increase viewership? If everyone is doing the minimum, then the standards raise. That’s where the work and the reward of SEO come into play. Even local businesses are now at a point where they need to realize the importance of the effects of local search.
Going for Gold Doesn’t Always Mean Ranking #1
Considering your goals, try not to get caught up in the expectation of ranking #1 on Google for your industry or service. If every consumer based their buying decision on what ranks first in Google search results, there wouldn’t be any other online leads for any of the other number of businesses that follow, and that just isn’t the case. Why not? Because human behavior differs and human behavior evolves. Because consumers are so well adapted to the changes in advertisement online, they then adjust their search process to avoid it. Banner ads and paid search rankings are two significant examples of this. Research shows that online shoppers spend the majority of their time looking away from displayed ads on a page, and skip over the paid search results listed at the top of their browser.
It’s important to understand that there isn’t a “secret formula” anymore for attracting online customers. People respond to genuine company listings because they want the truth about that professional service or product. Even having a 5-star rating on Google reviews can scare away searchers because of their distrust of a perfect score. That’s why a lot of people will check out the reviews on business review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor in the quest for authenticity. The point is there isn’t one way to search, and a lot of users won’t click on the first result that pops up. And that’s why you have to stay focused on your list of goals.
Some Ingredients in a Successful Local Ranking
In a study conducted this past June on Local SEO, several listed ranking factors were identified. The top 5 factors from the study were:
1. Local businesses with more Google reviews tend to rank higher.
2. Higher Google My Business profile views rank higher.
(This is probably correlated because if your site is ranking higher, it’s more likely that you will get more page views.)
3. Sites that obtain a higher Majestic AC Rank are ranked higher in Google.
(Although even Alex Chudnovsky, creator of Majestic.com has admittedly stated AC rank is not as trustworthy as Google’s PageRank (now discontinued)… which is why Majestic is switching their domain check system to “Trust and Citation Flow” scores.) Note that there are several backlink checkers out there for you to use, this particular study only compared Moz and Majestic’s tools.
4. Referring subnets have a higher correlation with local rankings.
Referring subnets are essentially the server a website is hosted on. In other words, if all of the websites linking to your website are hosted on the same server, Google might think you are creating a bunch of websites and just having each of them link to your site, making them not as “high quality” as those on other servers. Large companies that have multiple related business units often host each site on a separate subnet so the links between will have a high-quality rank. (The third set of numbers from an IP address are the C-subnet. Having different websites with varying IP addresses containing different C-subnets are important for determining quality referral sites.)
5. Going off of the above ranking factor, having a higher number of referring IP addresses were correlated with higher rankings.
There are so many other factors that go into ranking local sites, and I suggest you check out the rest of those. The top 5, however, can give you a good indication of what to aim for when setting up your website. But let’s get back to setting up for success without having your top priority as hitting #1 in Google…
Before You Begin
To become a successful local business in the online sphere, there are some things you can do to increase your competitive advantage. Before diving into the “tips” it’s crucial that your business has first created and optimized its Google My Business listing and to have been ranking organically for its targeted keywords. Once those two things are in order – you can move onto the complex stuff. When we talk about ranking organically – we mean that you are ranking organically within the top 20 local search results.
Another thing to note is that you shouldn’t treat your search strategy separately with local and non-local. If you are ranking well in non-local, you are sure to rank well in local. So don’t stress too heavy on that form of optimization and keyword targeting.
If both your keyword strategy and GMB page are optimized, it’s time to focus on other tactics that can increase your online presence for local search. Having online reviews for your company shows the legitimacy of your business. Even if reviews are not in the high marks, it at least indicates that you have been in business long enough to support a healthy customer base. Millennials especially are attracted to and critically analyze online reviews of businesses before making a buyer decision. Again, having a bigger number of reviews on Google for your business page will add to its ranking factor. Reviews will assist you in building trust in your business.
Consider User Experience
So a lot of local and small-sized businesses may look at SEO and think “I don’t need to pop up in the top results of search engines as long as I’m an option.” Well, the other side of this philosophy is that if you do put effort into optimizing your site for listings, you will benefit from it. It’s wrong to assume that buyers will end up choosing you when shopping online compared to another business that does put in the work to make their site look great and be functional.
For instance, let’s say someone does come across your website from a local search and clicks to enter. Once they enter though, they find that the load speed is so slow that they instantly click out and go to another site. If there are other options (and there are more than enough options online), users will gladly see what else is out there. This is why it is important to consider usability when thinking about your customer’s experience while searching online.
If your shopper is coming to your site and immediately bounces out to another, it’s probably for one of these three reasons:
1. The information they were looking for was too difficult to find.
2. The site took too long to load.
3. There were major usability problems like poor site navigation.
The truth is, every one of Google’s famed (and often feared) “algorithm changes” is intended to measure websites closer to how human users intuitively measure them. Which means, even if you show up well in search engines with a less than stellar user experience now, as Google’s algorithm continues to catch up to human behavior, your poor user experience will undoubtedly cause you to lose search presence.
Correcting and Adding Citations
One factor that probably gets overlooked by a lot of businesses new to digital marketing is the influence of citations on their site traffic. Citations (mentions of your business online with a listing of your basic company information) can affect your site in two ways.
1. Citations of your business can affect your ranking.
2. Citations from popular 3rd party sites can refer you traffic.
While I understand that it was already warned not to get too focused on your Google ranking, it is important to remain consistent with your basic business information. Having inconsistencies in address, phone number, business hours, etc. will alert Google and affect your rank negatively. This usually occurs when a company has moved to a new location or has rebranded. On the other hand, adding your business info to third party citation sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. will increase your referral traffic (so making sure people are seeing an up-to-date listing is important). Just don’t spend too much time adding your info to every referral site, focus only on the top citations that your customers are going to.
Get Some Quality Referral Links
At the end of the day, perhaps the most influential thing you can do for your online website (whether local or not) is to obtain quality backlinks. This is also probably the most difficult achievement for any site to obtain, and especially difficult for sites that are just starting out. Some advice for local business websites that want to focus on increasing their referring links:
Get signed up with HRAO
HRAO (short for Help A Reporter Out) is a digital space at HelpAReporter.com for reporters to find or look for stories to cover in their area. Getting connected with these journalists through email and pitching coverage of your business to them is one way to get a link back to your site from a local and credible source.
Sponsor a Local Event in your area
Finding an organization or cause that you believe in and sponsoring an event for it is another way to get your site featured. You will probably get listed on your community’s informational page and the organization’s page as well.
Find Local Business Directories
Again with citations, finding local directories that can point visitors in the right direction may not bring you a ton of traffic, but at least it will build your backlinks up.
Give Back to the Community
Finding a way to give back to your local community through volunteering or creating a community initiative can get backlinks. Even if these sorts of programs are not directly attributed to your business, it shows that you are active in your community and can generate great press and successful marketing both on and offline.
If you make it a priority to stay on top of your website’s maintenance and growth, you will gradually find more success and more leads out of your site.