We’re back with the third in our Back To Basics series. With this post we’re going to delve deeper into SEO, but rather than focusing on conquering the world in terms of search, we’re going to look at something that’s much closer to home, local SEO.
In the two previous instalments of Back to Basics, (linked here and here if you missed them) we talked primarily about ‘big picture’ search, but for the vast majority of businesses, they aren’t overly concerned with ranking highly for the sake of it or on a worldwide scale. They often don’t have the time, money or resources to be able to tackle global domination and are much more focussed on ranking highly in more geographically localised searches.
Given the economic and physical impact of the COVID19 pandemic, people are much more likely to be reaching out to you online, than off, for the time being, so ensuring you can be found by your local brethren can only help. With that in mind, let’s first answer the most basic question……
WHAT IS LOCAL SEO?
Local SEO, much like ‘normal’ SEO, is the process of optimising your website to rank higher in search results, but the key difference is that local SEO, as the name suggests, is only focused on doing that within your localised geographical area. Think of local SEO as a sub-discipline from SEO; connected, but requiring a slightly different strategy.
If, for example, you have an independent (i.e. not a chain) restaurant, hairdresser or DIY store, you’re probably only really concerned with getting found in search when it happens in your local area by people who live near you.
Those are the people who will be the ones actually coming to your shop, your place of business or using your local services, not someone halfway around the world. To help achieve this, you need to prioritise local SEO. To do this, there are a few key ranking factors to be aware of when looking to boost your local SEO.
LOCAL RANKING FACTORS?
Yes! Like anything related to the search engine behemoths, to succeed you need to ‘tick’ a number of ranking factor boxes.
Ranking factors, or signals, are the criteria Google et al use to determine how relevant you are to particular search terms. We talked about these in more detail in Back to Basics #1.
To succeed in SEO locally there are another, albeit smaller, set ranking factors that the search engines look for that help them differentiate between users searching with, and without, a local component.
All the search engines, whether it’s Google, Bing or [insert name of another search engine here] can, to some degree, understand whether someone using their service is looking for a local solution to their problem.
If, for example, I want to order some takeaway food, I go to a search engine and type ‘takeaway food’, there really isn’t any point in Google (or whomever) finding me an Indian takeaway 500 miles from where I live. That would be crazy, especially because I want pizza ;-)
Within local SEO, the search engines look at some other ranking factors specifically related to local business. The three main ones being:
Relevance - Your business obviously needs to be relevant to the terms being used in the query. If so, is the information they need found on your website?
Distance - No surprise there, but they take in account how far you are away from the person doing the search. If your business is nearby and relevant to the search terms they’ve used, then that obviously helps your ranking.
Prominence - This looks at how well-known your business is. This might sound a little biased to smaller and newer businesses, and it is to some degree, but the fact is that if Google can provide a search result from a well-known brand or business over an unknown, then they will. Reputation matters in search, but all is not lost. Over time, as you grow your brand, get good reviews and produce quality content, then not only will your customers notice, so too will Google and the like.
Whilst much of your local SEO strategy can obviously be done on your website, there are some other online activities which will help this too.
WHAT ‘OTHER ONLINE ACTIVITIES’?
Woah, we made it sound all mysterious there didn’t we? It’s really not. Let’s go over a few of them to be clear.
1 . RELEVANCE
We touched on it a little earlier, but relevance plays a part when it comes to local SEO. When we talk about relevance, we don’t mean whether you’re cool or trendy enough to speak on issues of the day.
In this context, relevance is simply whether your product or service (on your website) is relevant to the local searches being carried out. It seems really obvious and straightforward, but you’d be amazed on how many websites skirt around what they do with ambiguous copy or images without the necessary tags.
To achieve relevance just be VERY clear about the type of business you are, what you produce or what services you provide. Don’t skirt around it, don’t be cryptic or try to be cool with abstract or clever wording or images.
Use the same language and vocabulary on your website as your customers use. If you don’t know what that is, take a look at our previous Back to Basics on keyword research or speak to your existing customers about how they found your site (e.g. what terms they used when searching or how they landed on your website in the first place).
In SEO terms, schemas are relatively new to the party. Simply put, schemas are a portion of HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language), or computer code, that helps search engines understand the information on your website, not just what it means, but the relationship between those entities on your site.
They help form a common ‘vocabulary’ that gives your data a structure that search engines can then use to deliver better search results. They also help to identify your site, so it can be found particular to the sector you’re in.
Schemas are arranged in a hierarchy, and at the time of writing this in March 2021, there are around 778 different types of schemas with over 1300 properties and 15 datatypes!
In layman’s terms, these schemas are structured around things like events, products, people, reviews, medical conditions and, conveniently enough for this blog, local businesses.
When adding this schema code to your site, it makes clear to search engines that you have a local business and the areas you cover. It also helps search engines understand what your website is about and in that context, that is indeed a local business.
Once done, you can create local landing pages or give customers the option to find your shop/restaurant/whatever with a store locator feature on your website.
Incidentally, if you’ve ever heard the term ‘rich snippet’, then they are made possible because of schemas. These ‘rich snippets’ (now often referred to as ‘rich results’) can not only boost your ranking position but also improve your click-through rate. Both are a great plus for your SEO efforts.
If you’re wondering, a basic search result (as an example, we’ve done one for ‘ice cream’ below) is a ‘snippet’ which will contain a basic title, a description and the URL you click through to.
A ‘rich’ snippet, on the other hand, may contain an image, a rating and more detailed information. These look much more appealing, so get more clicks than the ‘basic’ one.
3. GOOGLE MY BUSINESS
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock, especially when dealing with Google, that they put a lot of weight behind having a Google My Business page. Thankfully it’s also a great (and free) way for local businesses to improve their local SEO efforts.
Using their easy-to-use tool, allows you to manage your online presence across Google’s suite of services including search (obvs) and maps. Especially useful if you have a physical location and want customers to find you (which you do!).
Once verified, you can claim the business and keep it up-to-date to ensure customers always have the best information. They can even add reviews to help the ‘relevance’ we mentioned in #1.
It’s worth noting that if your business has multiple locations, only use your main business name, address and telephone number on Google My Business. This helps the system make the connection between your listing and your website.
Because of this, it might also be worth creating a page on your website that details all the other details for the different sites (if you haven’t already).
Anything Google can do, Facebook can do better about as well. People use Facebook like a search engine when looking for businesses, especially local ones, so having a Facebook Page dedicated to your business can only help that.
Like Google, Facebook pages allow customers to leave reviews (which might be a good thing or not, so keep an eye on them) and to message you about your products and services. It also records the response time, so make sure you respond in good time to stay in good standing.
5. LOCAL DIRECTORIES
In addition to the big sites like Google, there are a number of other sites that act as local directories for businesses. Think of them like electronic versions of the old paper-based telephone directory and the Yellow Pages.
They help because they give you local citations, in other words, multiple, consistent mentions of your business. As with Google My Business, please ensure you add the same name, address and phone number (known as NAP) for each one.
Sites like Yelp, Yell (literally an online version of the Yellow Pages), MyLocalServices and Scoot (and many others) all help in their own right, but Google (and other search engines) also use them to determine your importance and just how ‘local’ you are by acting as a ‘trust’ signal.
6. LOCALISED CONTENT
Finally, another great way to help your local SEO strategy is through content. Content is fantastic for SEO anyway, so it only makes sense to tailor it specifically to your local audience.
Creating content through blogs and social media about your local area will help you enormously. What you can write about will often be governed by the type of business you’re in.
If you’re a restaurant or sell produce, you could write about the local suppliers you use or where it’s grown in the area. If you’re a wedding business, write about local venues you use or areas you can go to capture incredible wedding photos.
Regardless of the business you’re in, you can always write about what you do and how pleased your customers are. Obviously, you need to ensure the posts have a local feel by using words your local community (and search engines) will recognise that.
THE FINAL WORDS
Local SEO, like any form of search engine optimisation, is a long game. Getting found online takes time to be truly effective and it will continue to take time to maintain your success into the future.
Looking at SEO as a big picture can be extremely daunting for smaller, local businesses just trying to make their mark online, but local SEO can help that by focussing in on a much smaller area of the World Wide Web that’s important to you and your customers.
It’s also much more in your control. You don’t need a huge amount of technical know-how to implement a solid local SEO strategy and you will know your local area better than any blog like this will, so embrace what you know and start building a fantastic business serving your local community for many years to come.
We made it through another Back to Basics! [👊]. We hope you enjoyed it and it helped you and your business understand how local SEO can play its part in your own strategy or did we miss something out? Either way, let us know in the comments below to help our community. Next up in the series…..link building!
If you need any help with implementing a local SEO (or SEO in general) strategy on your business, please get in touch with us and we’ll do our very best to help you.
If you have any friends, family or colleagues who you think would benefit from it, please consider sharing it using the links at the very bottom of the page.