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5 Local SEO Tips For Small Business Owners

Having a website display at the top of Google’s search results is more then a digital high-five, it is serious business! For small business owners with brick and mortar locations it is also an enormous opportunity.

Before I detail my 5 tips, I thought I’d provide some context and background information on Local SEO, the area of Google’s search results we’ll be reviewing.

Early in 2012 Google announced the launch of an algorithm update known as the Venice Update. Venice reevaluated the way search terms with a local intent appeared in the search result. Before Venice most generic phrases such as Plumber, Pizza, Lawyer and Dentist were dominated by Wikipedia, associations and resource pages; that was all about to change. After the Venice update businesses with brick and mortar locations began appearing in the local search results in what was then known as the 7-Pack.
google-7-pack
The search results have changed over the past 18 months and the 7-Pack has been replaced by a cleaner, blended search result.

blended-search-results
Now that you know what we are working with, lets discuss how you can improve your rankings

1. Verify and Optimize Your Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) Account

Google+ Local is Google’s online business directory. It is connected to the reviews platform, Google Maps, and Google+ Business. Verifying your Google+ Local page confirms that your business operates within the city that it claims to. It also allows you to confirm your business name, address and phones number; select the most appropriate categories for your business; add rich media like images and video; select your hours of operation; and more.

Ultimately, verifying your account is one of many signals Google measures when evaluating where your website appears in the local search results. It is an absolute must for local businesses.

Additional Resources:

2. Ensure Consistency in Your Citations, then Build a Bunch!

The word “citation” can be misleading because it has several meanings/definitions outside of Local SEO. However, when we discuss citations, what we are really discussing is a reference to a business’ Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP). Citations are found across the web. They appear most commonly in directories such as the YellowPages or the BBB. However, they can also appear randomly on websites, at the bottom of published press releases and in association member lists.

When it comes to citations and citation building there are two golden rules. The first, consistency is key! Minute differences between citations can cause confusion for search engines. This can be as subtle as including the suite number of an office vs. the building number. Or, using a 1-800 number in one citation and a local number in another. Keep your citations consistent, it makes a big difference.

Additional Resources:

  • In Canada the YellowPages is the leading citation source for business information. Ensure that your YellowPages listing is accurate, request duplicate listings with incorrect business information be removed, and ensure your NAP is accurate on your phone bill – that’s where YellowPages gets the information in the first place.

Next, you need to build citations. Building citations is the process of researching, finding and requesting inclusion in directories and on websites that publish NAP information. The research can be completed manually using Google or by using one of the leading citation research tools (see additional resources).

Citation building is a process, where quality is key. Start by submitting to the most popular directories for your country. There are several lists that have been produced on this subject, so I won’t go into great detail. Ultimately, in the Local SEO game the website with the highest authority and consistent citations stands a great chance of outranking its competitors.

Additional Resources:

3. Build Great Local Links

Okay, so you’ve optimized your Google+ Local account and started to build citations – great what’s next? Well, now you need to start building your website’s authority – and the only way to do that is through link building.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, link building is the process of acquiring HIGH QUALITY hyperlinks from an external website to your website. Links on the web are almost like a currency, the more hyperlinks you have from quality websites the more authority your website will subsequently have. And, as your authority increases, so does your website’s rankings in the search results.

The big question is, where do I find links? Admittedly this is the most difficult element of an SEO campaign because there isn’t a silver bullet in link building that works for everyone.

Local link building opportunities:

  • Reach out to vendors and request that they link to your website. In some cases you can sweeten the deal for them by offering a testimonial in exchange for the link.
  • Submit your business (ensure a link is published) to the governing associations within your industry. Regardless of the industry there will be several.
  • Sponsor not-for-profit organizations, sports teams or local charities. In most cases a small donation will result in a link or two, plus you can feel good about it.
  • Submit to regional directories. Most cities have a chamber of commerce, an economic development branch or town/city directory. Reach out and request inclusion.
  • Submit to HIGH QUALITY general directories. The web is littered with directories, find a few quality directories (they are usually paid) and submit your business.
  • Create awesome, local content – more discussion on this later.

It doesn’t take much to build your website’s local authority. Even within competitive niches such as real estate, plumbing, and legal, it rarely requires more than 20 high quality links to rank in a top position.

Additional Resources:

4. Build Useful Local Content

We’ve discussed the importance of link building, but now we need to discuss content’s role in SEO.

Content on the web is extremely important, it generates long-tail keyword traffic, establishes you or your company as an expert in its field and it can be used to drive social shares and links – both of which help with SEO rankings.

The problem with most “local” content is that it is over-optimized and useless. The article “10 ways to choose a Calgary plumber” is likely not much different than an article about the “10 ways to choose a Saskatoon plumber.” If you are going to create local content, ensure that it is of real value to the users whom you are creating it for.

The article “10 ways to choose a Calgary plumber” could become “5 resources for finding trades careers in Calgary.” If you are a lawyer “10 ways to choose a Calgary lawyer” becomes “5 weird laws that impact Calgarians.”

The takeaway: don’t create generic content and disguise it as “local” content. People won’t buy it and it certainly won’t generate any social shares or organic links.

Additional Resources:

5. Encourage and Generate Online Reviews

Last, but certainly not least, we have online reviews.

Asking for reviews can be a tough because it is a lot like asking for constructive criticism. Will my customers provide negative feedback? If so, what does that mean?

Asking for reviews makes me think of the famous scene between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.

Can you handle the truth? Of course you can, especially when it will have a dramatic impact on your business. Let’s discuss how we can make the process easier.

In Canada, and in the USA there are review hubs. These hubs act as central points for the online review ecosystems. If you have a review published on one of these hubs, there is a high likelihood that it will trickle down to the other websites that feed on them.

As a small business owner your best bet is to focus on the most popular review websites for your niche. The review leaders will vary greatly from industry to industry. However, regardless of your niche, ensure Google+ Local is given the most attention. Not only is it a review hub but it also has an impact on your website’s snippet appearance in Google search results.

Although not conclusive, the threshold for the star rating to appears to be 5 reviews.

If you’d like more information on creating an online reviews strategy, check out some of the additional resources I’ve provided below:

Additional Resources:

Conclusion

Well, that’s it! The local SEO process is not as complicated as it is often made out to be. With some time, effort and determination you can start reaping the benefits of higher SEO rankings. If all of this still seems like voodoo or mumbo jumbo, feel free to connect with us – we have a great Local SEO service that may be right up your alley.

Calin is the founder and president of Inbound Interactive. A trained web developer and internet marketing professional, Calin had a dream of providing local businesses with a suite of exceptional Internet marketing services. After four years and hundreds of projects, Inbound Interactive has grown into one of Alberta’s most trusted providers of Internet marketing services.

2 Comments

  • Richard Swanson

    January 9, 2014, 7:36 pm

    Hi, this article seems like a very good guide for getting some good local SEO going. However, the article fails to mention the use of title tags and how it can benefit SEO. I am currently having a website built for me by No1WebDesign and they told me that having good title tags is a necessary component for local SEO. Could someone here please confirm or deny this theory? Thanks

    • Calin

      January 12, 2014, 8:29 pm

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, title tags are certainly important. In fact, it is my belief that optimizing your website’s title tag is the most important element of onsite SEO. With that being said, onsite optimization is only part of the SEO puzzle, accounting for roughly 30% of Google’s algorithm. More important are things such as Google Places optimization, local link building and citation building.

      Hope that helps.

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