By Phil Frost
Have you ever wondered how you could get your business to show up on the first page of Google, along with a map showing your prospective customers exactly where your business is located? The answer is to use local search engine optimization (SEO).
With local SEO, you can get your business in front of prospects at the precise moment when they are literally searching for you. It doesn’t get much better than this. However, due to all the Google algorithm updates, local SEO is not quite as easy as it used to be. Whether you’re an SEO veteran or you’re just getting started, use the top 10 best practices in this article to give your business the best shot at ranking on the first page of Google’s local results.
1. Claim and Complete a Google+ Local Page
Next time you search in Google to find a business, pay close attention to the big map in the upper right corner of the results page. An entire section of the results list is devoted to the businesses that appear on that map. But here’s the catch: Google doesn’t pull the business information from websites. They are pulled from Google+ Local business pages!
Setting up your Google+ Local page is easy and free, but you need to pay attention to what you are doing. The number one rule is to create only a single page per location. Creating duplicate Local pages is forbidden by Google’s Terms of Service, and can hurt your rankings.
In addition, your page must use relevant categories. Think of categories like sections of the Yellow Pages, so the more categories you choose the better—as long as you don’t choose irrelevant categories, which is also against Google’s Terms of Service. Choosing categories can be difficult, so use this list for help.
2. Add Your Service and Geographic Keywords to Page Titles
This is especially critical for your homepage, but is a Best Practice for all your web pages. Title tags are like chapter names in a book—they tell Google what the page is all about. Your homepage title tag is like the book’s cover. It needs to be enticing but accurate, and explain to Google what the website holds. For local SEO, adding both the service and geographic keywords to your title tags lets Google know that your site is relevant to people searching for your particular service in your local area.
3. Make Your NAP Consistent—and Omnipresent
NAP is an acronym for the most important information when it comes to optimizing for local SEO. NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number.
Google strives to provide the most accurate, credible information to its users. Therefore, before displaying your information, the algorithm cross-checks your NAP across not only your Google+ local page, but the entire Internet! To ensure your NAP is consistent, I recommend searching for your business name in the Moz Local search tool.
4. Add Pages for Different Services and Locations
If you provide multiple services, and/or practice in different locations, make sure you create a separate web page for each. Although it may seem redundant, this step is crucial to local SEO. You simply cannot optimize the same page for Houston, Texas, and Deer Park, Texas, and expect it to perform well for either location. Likewise, a page with keywords for both oil changes and collision repair is not truly optimized for either. Make sure that each page is entirely unique, and target each to a core keyword phrase.
5. Install Schema
Schema markup is a type of HTML code that tells Google more about your website. When a human reads a particular page, he or she innately understands certain things about that page, such as exactly what is being discussed. Search engines, however, have a much more limited understanding. Schema bridges that gap by adding machine-understandable explanations. Many webmasters are not yet using this valuable tool, so this is a great opportunity to get a jump on your competition.
Unfortunately, getting customer reviews is one of the most challenging tasks that small business owners face, and there is no magical shortcut. The two keys to success are first to ask, and second to make it as easy as possible for your customers leave an online review. Even when you make things easy for your customers, this will be a slow process, but over time, it will improve your local rankings and create a big barrier for your competitors.
7. Create a Mobile-Optimized Website
Increasingly, consumers are turning to their phones and other mobile devices when searching for products and services. This is even more true for those who are looking for local companies, which means you absolutely must have a mobile-friendly website to compete in the local search results.
If you’re like most businesses, then you have been dragging your feet and putting off investing in a mobile website. Well, the time has finally come to get “mobile friendly” because just a few weeks ago on April 21, 2015 Google launched an algorithm update that drastically changed the mobile search results. In short, if your site is not mobile-optimized, your rankings are now suffering dramatically in any Google search launched on a mobile device — which is approximately 50% of all searches today!
8. Provide High-Quality Website Content
The importance of high quality content is nothing new for SEO. However, until recently this wasn’t a big factor in the local search rankings. Now, failing to create well-written, unique, informative web pages with at least 500 words of content each could mean your business will not show up when prospective customers are searching for you.
9. Build High-Quality Links to Your Website
Again, this is nothing new for SEO, but it’s a fairly new factor for local SEO. Your domain authority, or online reputation, is now a critical factor in your local Google rankings. One of the biggest factors in your domain authority is the quantity and quality of relevant links from other websites.
As you gain more and more high-quality links, then your domain authority will increase, and in turn, your local rankings will also improve.
10. Be Active on Social Media
Exactly how much of an impact social media presence has on local SEO is currently the subject of hot debate. What is not open for debate, however, is the fact that social media is a great way to generate buzz and get exposure for your business. This exposure can lead to more referral traffic, more high-quality links, more reviews, and more online comments about your business, which are all signals that will improve your local Google rankings.
Phil Frost is co-founder and COO of Main Street ROI, a digital marketing agency that specializes in search marketing for small businesses.