Although I work with some pretty large organisations, I also consult with small businesses. Sometimes I work with smaller businesses on an on-going bases, other times I consult with them periodically and help them follow a plan of action.
One of the most common questions I get asked at meetings with businesses targeting a local market is how they can get started – get their ‘foot on the ladder’ as it were with ranking in Google for geographically relevant keywords (accountants in Bristol, lawyers in London, etc.).
As I get asked this so often, I thought I’d publish a quick blog post giving what I feel are 3 important steps.
This is NOT meant as a complete guide to local SEO, rather a VERY basic ‘getting started’ guide that small businesses can use themselves, to get the ball rolling and see marked improvements. This often helps as a ‘proof of concept’ so businesses can understand the importance of digital marketing and the benefits it can bring. If you know a little about SEO already, this guide may be too basic for you – I’ll be producing a more in-depth guide covering complex issues soon.
Here are 3 Tips to Get Started With Local SEO.
Most of these can be done by a business owner, as long as they are either a) tech-savvy, or b) have time to learn.
One – Have an error free, optimised website & Include schema.org mark-up
This section could be several blog posts alone, however we’ll just cover the basics.
- Check for HTML and CSS errors
Using tools like http://validator.w3.org/ – Note: You will pretty much always seem some errors or warning reported here, so just fix the major issues.
- Know your audience
What do they type in to Google to find your product/service? Where do they hang out on social networks? Knowing this will help you understand what they need, how you can attract them to your business and how you can help convert them into paying customers or clients.
- Check for on-page optimisation
This should ideally be done with manual checks from an SEO professional, as no tool catches everything!
At a pinch however, they can help correct a few major issues.
- Have unique, concise & relevant tags
This should be covered in the SEO reports you get from the tools, but having unique, concise and relevant title tags on each page and unique, descriptive h1 tags for the main page heading on each pages, along with decent links between your pages to help both visitors and search engines navigate your website (internal links).
- Use schema.org for your address.
Basically how does Google know that BS1 2AW is a post code? Or if it does understand this, how does it know that it’s YOUR post code?
Schema mark-up just gives context to data… By wrapping specific tags around your content, you can tell the search engines and other crawlers “This bit is a postcode – MY postcode”, “this is my phone number”, and even “These are our opening hours”.
Although this may sound complex to the uninitiated, there are several WordPress plugins if you run WordPress, or an online schema generator if you’re not running WordPress.
Wrapping your address in schema local business mark-up can help put context to your content!
How do you know if you’ve got it right? Easy! Ask Google with this tool! – http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets
– If you’d like to know more about Schema mark-up for SEO, there’s a great blog post by Dan Shewan on Wordstream’s blog
Two – Claim Google MyBusiness (old Google Maps) Listing
Okay, so you know the ‘map results’ you see when searching Google sometimes? You know, the ones with the business name & map-pin? That’s Google’s ‘My Business’ listings.
To avoid confusion, it’s worth knowing these listings have been called various things over the years! Google Local Business Centre, Google Places, Google Plus Local – All now merged, de-duplicated and brought together as ‘Google My Business’.
To get started, you need to go here: http://www.google.com/business/ and Google will ask you to search for your business name, to ensure you don’t already have a listing (you may do, even if you haven’t made one yourself!). This will help avoid duplicate listings.
Simply click the link, search for your business, and follow the on-screen instructions.
Uploading as much business info as possible is vital… include photos, videos, text – as much as possible.
Additionally, be 100% certain the address is correct and request help from the Google Local help team if it’s incorrect – this is VERY, very important!
Three – Get local citations, reviews & local involvement
Now you’ve got a basic, optimised website and a Google My Business listing, it’s time to help make the listing stand out, rank higher and get you some customers!
Local SEO involves many things, but the basics are:
- Optimised site – CHECK!
- Google My Business Listing _ CHECK!
- Citations -???
- Reviews -???
- Engagement -???
As we can see, you’ve now got the first two covered! So let’s tackle the rest!
Citations are simply mentions of your business on the web. These do NOT have to actually link to your website! Simply being mentioned on the web helps Google to see that your business is real, legit and active.
A good citation will include a NAP – Name Address Phone match of your business (which is why getting the address correct in your Google My Business listing right away is very important!).
To generate citations, you can submit to the major local business directories for your country/region, create accounts on various social networks and register on review sites.
A handful to of places to get you started:
In addition, industry-specific sites are great – As are sites like the local chambers of commerce, trade bodies etc.
Try to register on a few of these types of site each month.
Reviews not only help with your Google My Business/Maps ranking in organic search, but also help visitors feel more secure about dealing with your business.
If you’re a service industry why not give your clients a small card with a link to leave you’re a review on Google? (Or other review sites – Google sometimes ‘scrapes’ a business’s reviews from other trusted sources!).
If you run a business that delivers goods through the post or via a courier, why not put a similar card in each delivery box?
Some facts about reviews to bust a few myths:
- You do NOT need hundreds of reviews! A few is fine.
- You CANNOT offer rewards for leaving reviews – Google frowns on this as do most other review sites.
- You should NOT BUY reviews! Don’t try to ‘trick’ Google, they have some of the best web coders on the planet, don’t take risks.
- You should NOT ignore bad reviews – Try to calm things down, take criticisms on-board and avoid escalating situations. However if someone becomes abusive, report this abuse to Google.
A business that engages with it’s audience & customers stands a MUCH better chance of creating loyalty with those customers.
Get involved in social media –Tweet, Share, and Like & Pin things you think your customers would find useful, funny, interesting. Be active and find a voice for your business.
This DOES vary depending on your business, but I’d recommend using at least the following:
If you have a business that suits visuals, Pinterest too – a VERY visual platform with a demographic user base of, last time I checked, over 90% female. If that’s your target market, and you have a business that suits visuals, you NEED to be there!
Real World Engagement
Engagement shouldn’t be restricted to the web though! Getting involved in your local community – hosting events if possible OR getting involved with other local events (sponsor/enter staff into charity runs, local fundraisers etc.) can help increase the exposure of your business to local customers.
Real-world engagement CAN also help support online efforts! A mention on a local community website or in the local press (especially with a ‘NAP’ match) can really help your businesses online profile.
That’s the end of this short guide. We’ve just scratched the surface – in fact, just the FIRST LAYER of the surface of what small businesses can do to help themselves get better results from digital channels.
Need Help With Local SEO?
Most of the tactics above can be carried out by owners of small businesses or their staff, however if you’d like to discuss a professional local SEO campaign, you can use the form below.
My rates for small business SEO are very reasonable, starting at £450 per month for on-going local SEO. I’m also available for one-off consultancy if you’d like to do the bulk of the work yourself but need help to get, and stay, on the right track.