What is local search optimization?

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Not sure how local search optimization works? Let me give you some examples: What do you do when you’re out and about and need to locate the best local Chinese food, book store, nail salon or pharmacy? If you’re like most people, you pull out your smartphone and as my wife says “you google that shit”. You type in what you’re looking for, such as “Chinese restaurant” or “used book store,” and you get a list of local candidates, each of which is also plotted on a map.

google local searchIf you happen to be in Kingston, New York, for instance, you’ll get results that are close to you rather than results for Los Angeles or Boston. Why? Local SEO, that’s why.

The apps on your smartphone, tablet or other device assume that you want to find local businesses that you could conveniently visit. This is a safe assumption considering the number of people who routinely carry an Internet-enabled device and also use that device to locate a business in their area.

In fact, a Google study recently revealed that 87 percent of people use their phone while they are out and about as well as the fact that one in three mobile queries in the U.S. is related to local businesses. Moreover, Google estimates that 95 percent of smartphone owners routinely look up information regarding local businesses with the aim of either calling or visiting the location. Clearly, no business can afford to ignore the power of local search engine optimization.

No business can afford to ignore the power of local search engine optimization.

With the necessity of local SEO established, it becomes vital for local business owners to find out how best to capitalize on the movement. A multi-pronged strategy is the ideal approach, especially if it maintains consistency across all efforts.

The first, and perhaps most vital, step is to visit Google My Business to create that one very important citation. Let’s face it: Most people use Google as their primary search engine. The more complete the information is that you provide to Google, the more prominently it will rank in search results. The Google My Business tool makes it easy for business owners to make their presence known in the virtual world.

However, Google My Business is just the start. There are COUNTLESS websites where your business should be listed. Google, which we’ve already mentioned, is the first – but the list is long. Bing, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the next obvious listings, but the number of opportunities is endless. Yelp, Trip Advisor, YellowPages, FourSquare, Merchant Circle, Manta, LocalStack… should I keep going? I’m not kidding, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of sites where your business is possibly already listed, and if not, should be.

Each of these “citations” needs to be consistent with the information that is listed. Specifically the “NAP” (Name, Address and Phone Number) of the business. And as mentioned below, you should have a citation for each physical location.

So with that said, the primary order of business is to decide on and standardize your Name-Address-Phone Number, or NAP, which becomes a fundamental online citation for your business. It is crucial for your NAP to be identical across your entire presence on the web. The NAP on your citation listings should be the same as what is presented on your company website, your Facebook page, any other Internet-based marketing you do. Inconsistency can harm your search engine ranking, making it less likely that potential customers will find you.

If possible, it is best to list a local number instead of a toll-free number, as this reinforces that your business is located in the immediate area. And if your business has more than one location, fill out citation information for each individual location to enhance the opportunities for customers to be able to find you regardless of where they are in town. You should have a 1-to-1 ratio between physical locations and all of your citations.

Often, the website listing you will give the opportunity to select a category for your business. Google suggests being as specific as possible. That would mean selecting “Chinese restaurant” instead of “restaurant” and “used book store” instead of just “book store.” The reason is simple. Most people tend to be very specific when searching for a local business. However, there is no need to fear that this specificity will leave you out of the rankings when people perform a more general search. Google easily recognizes that a “Chinese restaurant” category business should be included in the results for a search for “restaurant.”

It’s also critical for businesses to ensure that their operating hours are complete and accurate – specifically in their Google My Business listing. This is extraordinarily helpful to customers who may be wondering if you’re open for business right now. Just as vital is ensuring that this information is kept up to date. If you’ve recently decided to open your book store on Sundays, your customers need to know about it, otherwise they might visit your competition instead. It is off-page SEO mentions through Google My Business and similar services where customers can find inbound links to your website or pinpoint the information they need to visit your location today.

Reviews are also critical for attracting new customers to your business. Statistics suggest that people trust the reviews of other consumers far more than they do the advertising that a company puts out itself. Accordingly, it is important to encourage customers to leave a positive review at the time of a sale or in regular communications. If you distribute business cards or newsletters, make certain that the URL for your Google+ page is prominently displayed. This makes it much easier for your customers to leave positive feedback that can make you rank higher in Google search results.

Your local listing content on Google My Business and Google+ should also integrate important location keywords in a meaningful way. When a location keyword is included in vital locations like the H1 heading and the title tag, Google recognizes this and places more value on your listing.

Statistics suggest that people trust the reviews of other consumers far more than they do the advertising that a company puts out itself

And of course, it’s not all about the citations and the “off page” stuff. Your website needs to be Search Engine Optimized – which is to say that the “on page” SEO best practices must be implemented. Your own business website should make consistent use of your address and location. In fact – your NAP should be on every single page. It can also be helpful to embed a Google map on your company’s “Contact Us” page.

No entrepreneur can afford to ignore the importance of local search engine optimization. However, the reality is that it can be extremely complicated for a business owner to create and maintain their online presence without assistance. If you really want to make the most of local SEO, citations and inbound links, then you need an expert to handle the job for you.

When you hire an online marketing specialist, you’re taking steps to ensure that your citations will always be consistent and that you’ll have a presence not only on Google, but also on a wide array of secondary search engines, including those that specialize in local listings.

If you really want to see how local SEO can drive traffic to your website and your business’ physical location, contact us today.