Somehow, people have the mistaken impression that local search engine optimization no longer matters. It may be because Google has gotten so good at deriving the intent of searches that it automatically delivers local business results at the top of search pages when it guesses that the user is looking for a nearby business. Here’s the thing that some folks have forgotten – just because you don’t need to stuff your page titles full of longtail local keywords doesn’t mean you don’t have to optimize. Google still needs to figure out where a business is located if it’s going to come up when someone nearby does a search with local intent. It’s not that local SEO no longer matters – it’s that Google has gradually been considering other factors, like local business directory listings, when deciding whether and where to place a business in the search results. What should you know about local SEO? Here are 10 important facts about local business listings and local search for every local business owner.
Quality Is More Important than Quantity
The conventional wisdom used to be the more the better – more keywords, more links, more business directory listings. That’s no longer true – in fact, too much of anything could incur a penalty from Google. When it comes to local business directory listings, for example, a business is better off being listed in half a dozen highly regarded local business directories than in hundreds of them.
Readability Is More Important than Exactly Matching Keywords
Google is more impressed with content that’s easy to read than with whether or not a page has the exact keyword phrase that someone typed into the search engine. User experience is king these days. As long as the Google bots can find the relevant keywords in fairly close proximity on a web page, the page will probably show up in the search results. So, go ahead and throw in modifiers that make content easier for people to read. That’s what Google is looking for.
Local Business Directory Listings Are a Key Factor in Being Found
Despite some mixed messages about local business directories from a few years ago, Google still relies a great deal on local listings when deciding whether a business is close enough to count as local when someone does a search. It’s just not necessary to be listed in hundreds of directories. Instead, businesses should try to be included in the business directories that make the most sense for their business, and those, such as FindUsLocal.com, that will pay off in other ways.
What business directories make sense? That depends a great deal on the particular business and industry. The number one recommendation, of course, is to get listed in Google’s on Google My Business pages. That’s important for just about any local business or professional. Beyond that, a local directory like FindUsLocal.com provides added features and functionality that brings customers directly to their pages and local business listings, making them a good choice for most kinds of business. Finally, there are local business directories that focus on particular industries and professions – law directories for lawyers, for example, and sites like Angie’s List for contractors and other skilled labor professionals. Listings in professional directories should always include the same details that would be listed in any local business directory – correct name, address, telephone, email and hours of operation.
Inconsistencies in Directory Listings Will Hurt a Business
…in more ways than one. Inaccurate information in local business directory listings confuses the search engines – and potential customers. While Google is much better these days at reconciling differences in spelling and typos, inconsistent listings can be a signal that a company is no longer in business, or that other information may be inaccurate. Making sure that the business name, address and contact information is exactly the same across a broad range of business listings helps with branding and identity, as well as ensuring that customers don’t land on the wrong doorstep.
However, that doesn’t mean a business owner should devote lots of resources and money in hunting down every last local business directory. Some search engine optimization companies still try to sell “directory listing management,” promising to get a business listed in hundreds of USA local business directories and maintain the listings. Instead of chasing down obscure directories, business owners are better served by making sure their info is accurate in the databases of large data providers, such as Acxiom, Infogroup , and Localeze.
Customer Reviews Are Vitally Important
Customer reviews used to be a nice thing to have. These days, customer reviews are among the main drivers of new customers. People are more likely to trust a business or product that has good reviews from form customers. If they want a boost in customers walking through the door, small business should do everything they can to encourage existing customers to review their businesses online. Those reviews translate into more exposure and more customers.
While a business wants the majority of its reviews to be good or excellent, research has shown that potential customers actually trust businesses with one or two lukewarm reviews MORE than they do those with 100 percent five-star reviews. After all, no one is perfect. When the reviews are nothing but gold, customers may have a sneaking suspicion that they’re not all genuine – or worse, that the business owner deletes bad reviews.
Genuine Local Businesses Have an Advantage Over Huge National Chains
One of the biggest complaints most people had about using search engines to find local businesses was that those small, locally owned companies were often swept out of the search results by big retail and restaurant chains with equally big budgets. That’s no longer the case. In fact, since about 2014, Google has been working to lift up small businesses with one or just a few locations rather than featuring the local branch of a national big box store. In other words, Bob’s Plumbing is more likely to show up at the top of a search than RotoRooter.
Community Connections Matter
When local businesses band together and boost each other, they all benefit. Joining organizations like the local Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce builds connections that extend to online local search engine optimization. Among other things, many business organizations manage an online local business directory, adding an important local signal to the information that Google collects. In addition, business owners that do good works and interesting things in their communities often end up in the local press – good local publicity, and another Google citation for the business.
Directions Are Important
One sure way to make sure Google knows where a business is located is to include directions and a map on its website. It sounds like a no-brainer, but many websites neglect this single important detail. Google makes it easy to embed a Google map on any web page, but don’t stop with the map. Writing directions allows the website owner to mention local landmarks, neighborhoods and cross streets that are extremely valuable in the growing area of mobile search.
Mobile Optimization Is Growing in Importance
More and more people are using their mobile devices to search for local businesses. In 2015, Google started considering mobile-friendliness when ranking web pages. Websites that are optimized for mobile get about a 5% boost in organic traffic, according to one major online marketing company. Google isn’t the only one that appreciates a website that is easy to navigate on a mobile device, though – customers prefer them, too. And since it’s now incredibly easy to optimize for mobile, there’s really no excuse not to do it.
Social Media Signals Boost Search Engine Ranking AND Customer Engagement
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram changed the face of local business marketing in a huge way. Many smaller local businesses don’t even bother with a website of their own, especially in the early stages. Instead, they focus on building a social media presence, particularly on Facebook. Facebook business pages help Google determine the locale and popularity of small businesses, and often come up fairly high in the search results when people are searching for a business by name. Social media savvy businesses keep customers engaged by posting frequently to their pages on Facebook, tweeting to their customers and posting photos on Instagram. In addition, Facebook encourages user ratings and reviews for businesses, which becomes a handy source of reviews and testimonials that can be transferred to local business directory listings and business websites. Twitter and Facebook both make it easy to link back to business websites, blogs and local business directories, inspiring more traffic and more business.
These 10 tips for local business SEO barely scratch the surface of the research and tactics a business can use when creating a local search marketing strategy, but they do hit the high points. Any business that’s on point with these 10 items will be on target to be found by the customers that matter most – those who are close enough to use their services.