Have you optimized your site for local search?
Let me tell you why you should.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- What local search is
- Why local search could be vitally important to your website or business
- Some simple steps to take to get your small business to show up in local search results
- WordPress plugins to help you optimize your website towards local search
What is local search?
“Local search is the use of specialized Internet search engines that allow users to submit geographically constrained searches against a structured database of local business listings. Typical local search queries include not only information about “what” the site visitor is searching for (such as keywords, a business category, or the name of a consumer product) but also “where” information, such as a street address, city name, postal code, or geographic coordinates like latitude and longitude.”
Basically, local search can either be a search that specifies a locality or one that assumes your location and shows results based on it.
An example of the former (one that specifies locality) would be something like “Restaurants in Paris.” An example of the latter in which locality is assumed based on the account your are signed in to or internet geolocation, would be something like searching for “Restaurants” and then being shown results with local restaurants in them.
Why is local search important?
Basically, search engines like Google and Bing are getting smarter and anticipating user meaning more and more. If you are just looking for restaurants in Google, they will assume your looking for somewhere to eat and thus would probably like to look at restaurants you can actually go to locally. This is of course very helpful to the user, but if you are a local business, this can also be helpful to you in getting people locally to find you.
A local restaurant probably wouldn’t be able to compete with every restaurant in the world for the first page of Google. But with local search, they can appear on the first page for everyone locally searching for a restaurant. That example does depend on location, as a large city is much more competitive than a small town that only has a few restaurants, but you get the idea. If you are a small business, you want to appear on the first page of local searches for your topics or categories (stuff like restaurants, mechanics, plumber, construction, lawyer, hospital, etc.).
Local Search Ranking Factors
Before we delve into how to optimize for local search, we should first look at what the ranking factors for local search are.
The above graphic was composed by Moz (a very well regarded SEO website) for their article The 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors. They update that every year, so by 2017 it will be different.
You can see that the order of raking signals is as follows:
- On page (NAP and keywords)
- Google My Business
- Behavior and Mobile
You can see that some of these ranking signals are similar to the overall SEO ranking signals. Content, links, mobile friendliness, user behavior, and social are core to overall SEO and are still super important to local SEO.
In this post, we will focus on the things specific to optimizing for local SEO.
How to optimize towards local search
Now that we have an idea of the things we need to optimize for your small business in order to appear in local search, let’s look at how to accomplish that.
Consistently list your NAP + W
NAP + W stands for:
- Phone Number
That is essentially the core listing information you want to show up about your site in any and all local searches about your company or keywords. The more you list it, the better chances you’ll have of showing up in search results. However, you also have to be super careful to use the exact same information every time as any missteps could result in either duplicate results or your listing could be removed from the Google SERPs.
You wouldn’t want to show up as Dan’s bait shop and also as dan’s bait shop. The difference is just one capital letter. Make sure your small business is listed exactly the same way every time.
Your address should be somewhere people can actually go. I would suggest listing opening hours as well.
Make sure you use a local phone number, not an 800 number.
When listing your website, use the same format every time. That means you have to decide if you want to use the following in front of your domain:
- https:// (if you have HTTPS or SSL, I suggest using it as Google is now giving you a rankings boost based on it and I think having it shows the more internet savy users that your site is a very professional business)
Include your geographical location keywords in your content
Just as you want to include keywords and phrases in your content to show up for other things, such as your businesses niche or category topic, you also should include local keywords to help you show up in local searches.
Some tips I recommend for this are:
- Include your address in your footer. Your city/town name and street keywords then are on every page.
- Include geographical location keywords in your posts. If the chance is there, mention them!
- Include geographical location keywords in your meta data. Your homepage meta description should mention the area you serve (aka your city/town).
- Don’t forget long tail geographical keywords. If you are a business in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there are probably tons of services targeting that geographical location and keyword. As such, you may want to also try for less competitive location keywords, like Edina, Minnetonka, Eden Praire, Bloomington, etc.
- Have a blog category where you write posts about local topics only. This is a great way to grab some local traffic. Maybe you write about a local event that only has a few other websites covering it. That could get you some local traffic, and, who knows, it could turn into a lead or sale. Brenda Barron at Mad Lemmings has an article that includes a section called “Boost SEO With Targeted Blog Content” (scroll down that page to find it) which talks a bit more about this and gives some example ideas.
As always with keywords, don’t keyword stuff! Use the locations naturally and when it makes sense. Don’t just try to list as many as you can without regard to the user experience or in an attempt to trick search engines.
Claim your Google My Business listing
Google My Business, formerly know as Google+ local, is Google’s service in which you can claim your own page for your business. You then will appear on Google + with a page that display some info and your hours (you can heavily customize this), you’ll appear in Google Maps, you can have Google Reviews of your business, and, most importantly, you will appear in local search.
Now, just because you have signed up for this service and are listed, doesn’t mean you are guaranteed the first page for your given business category or topic. There are steps you can take to make that happen.
- Having your website doing well in SEO is probably the most important factor. You should already be working on this constantly.
- You should try to keep your Google + page up to date with recent posts and relevant information. It seems that dormant Google + pages just don’t rank as well as those that have lots of info and are updated constantly. Keep your information relevant, add posts, and try to engage other users.
- Your Google + page followers also seem to matter. They perhaps don’t matter as much as they used to back when Google was really trying to push Google +, but they are a big factor nonetheless. This is presumably because a business with tons of followers is likely a better pick than one with only a handful. If more people like it, Google is banking on their users liking it too. I feel like the best way to get Google followers is first by asking everyone you know and your customers, having a badge on your site, and then just by partaking in Google +. That means posting and engaging with other regularly. Just following others seems to lead to a lot of follow backs.
- Try to get a lot of Google Reviews. If you’ve ever looked at a local Google listing, they show your company name and buttons for directions and your website. Your competitors and you are all put into a list that appears on the left side of a big map that has icons of your locations on it. Below each company listing, there is then a space for stars from reviews. While the stars don’t necessarily help you to get a higher ranking in local search, they do lead to more clicks which can boost your ranking. Think about it, if you needed to find a service locally and had no idea who to call, would you click the business that has a 5 star rating from 100 users or the one with no ratings? People like the social proof that your business is a good one.
- Do SEO on your Google + page just like you do for your website.
Claim your Bing Places for Business listing
Bing Places for Business is very similar to Google My Business, just for the Bing search engine.
Other “citation sources” to claim for your local business
The above image, which comes via whitespark.ca, shows the top 50 places you can and should list your local business. I perhaps don’t agree with this list’s order as Google My Business should be number 1 (it isn’t even close) and Facebook is at least top 3. Facebook now handles the 2nd most daily searches, and thus is too big to ignore. Using Facebook also allows you to interact with customers and have customers like your page which then could lead to them sharing your business with their friends. As personal referrals are much more likely to convert and they are worth more on average than any other type of referral or recommendation, that is a big deal!
Some other tips I ahve are that the better business bureau seems to be one of the best links you can get at the moment (in January 2016), although that requires joining the BBB which is expensive and has some requirements. Yahoo Local is also very good, but it costs $200 so it really is only an option for larger, successful businesses.
Regardless of what I think of the order, this list is a good place to start!
When gathering citations, I recommend adding them slowly over time. Google doesn’t like it when a site suddenly gains 50 new links in a day when they on average gain less than 1. I would spread out your new listings so that you are only gaining 1-3 links per day.
Reviews really help with local SEO
Having reviews really helps with local SEO. I mentioned this in the Google My Business section, and those reviews are probably the most important to you for local SEO, but other reviews are still really important! That is why Moz listed reviews as the 7th most important local ranking signal with an 8.4% weight.
Think about it for a second, if you searched for some sort of local search, let’s say for “restaurants,” the first page would show the Google map box at the top with a list of “places” underneath it. Those places would have reviews with then. That is all from Google My Business, which again is super important.
I think a lot of users will want more than just a map and review, and won’t want to go to your Google My Business page. They will instead scroll down the SERP (search engine results page) to look at actual websites in the results. The first sites that show there will probably be either review or directory type sites like Yelp or they will be the actual restaurant websites.
If any of the websites in question have stars next to them, indicating review scores through meta data, a user is more likely to click on that result. Once they are on the website in question, you of course need to impress them by having a good review score. I mean, who wants to eat at a restaurant that has only 2 or 3 stars out of 5 after several reviews. You also want to have a lot of reviews, as that serves as social proof that your restaurant is good or at least popular.
Getting people to review your business online is kind of tricky, as some sites don’t want you to ask for reviews. Yelp is one that discourages asking for reviews. In the case of Yelp, I would recommend just telling people you are on Yelp by having an icon or badge on your site that goes to your Yelp page. Some people will click that and leave a review, but you haven’t actually asked them to do so. You just made it easy on them.
Google does allow and even encourages that you ask for reviews. As that is the case, I would actually do it! Those reviews are really important.
WordPress plugins to help you optimize towards local search
Almost every WordPress site either already is or should be using one of the two major SEO plugins. These are WordPress SEO by Yoast or All in One SEO Pack. Both plugins are in use on over 1 million sites. Whenever someone makes a list of SEO plugins for WordPress, these seem to be the top two. One such list is by Adam Connell at UK Linkology.
If you are using Yoast, they have a paid plugin addon called “Local SEO Plugin.” The plugin, which costs $69, lets you do the following:
- Insert Google Maps – This extra functionality will make it easier for your customers to (physically) navigate to the location of your company.
- Insert address(es) of your company – Our Local SEO plugin makes it easy to show your company address(es) in a clear and uniform format, while adding all the necessary technical markup for search engines.
- Insert opening hours of your company – Our Local SEO plugin makes it easy to show your opening hours in a clear and uniform format.
- Insert a store locator – The store locator will allow customers to easily find the nearest location of your company. Customers can fill in their home address and a list of the nearest locations of your company will appear.
For more information about using the Yoast Local SEO plugin, check out this guide by Mvestor Media. While that is great and everything, I’m not sure that we all want to pay $69 for that functionality.
For a guide to the using the full Yoast SEO plugin, refer to this guide by WP Beaches.
I went looking for another SEO plugin that does the same thing but for free. Courtney at courtneyengle.com has an article in which she recommended Local Search SEO Contact Page. That plugin, which generates a contact page with a shortcode, seems to do the same thing as the Local SEO by Yoast plugin, yet it is free. It maybe isn’t as nice looking, updated as frequently, or easy to use, but it is free!
Another free local SEO plugin I found is called Local Business SEO. This on was ranked as the number 2 local seo plugin by Maria at mainpath.com. All this plugin does is add the schema to your site, which really is probably all you need.
I have also seen a lot of people recommending the Scribe plugin, such as Jason Bayless at localseocompanies.com, who put it at the top of his list of local SEO plugins. Scribe is a plugin from CopyBlogger that aims to make it easier to write content. Scribe helps you to perform some research, it evaluates your page for SEO, and it helps to connect you with other bloggers that are related to your topic.
I haven’t tested any of the last three plugins yet, but plan to soon. I have used the Local SEO by Yoast plugin and can recommend it.
In this post, I really covered specific local SEO strategies and ranking factors.
- Including your NAP+W (name, address, phone number, and website)
- Including geographical location keywords
- Use Google My Business
- List with other citation websites
- Using a local SEO WordPress plugin
However, the basic SEO practices that I cover across this site also can and do help with local SEO.
This includes stuff like:
- Create quality content
- Keyword research
- Blogger outreach and actively working on getting links naturally
- Using social media and forums
- Using a good permalink structure (possibly the silo site structure otherwise /%postname%)
- Have a mobile friendly website (check your site with Google)
- Have a fast website (use a cache plugin like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache)
I hope this guide to getting traffic from local SEO was helpful to you. If you are a small business, I really don’t think you can afford to overlook local SEO.
For more info about WordPress and SEO, stay tuned to the Simply Compelling blog. If you have any questions, comments, or need help with SEO, please contact us.