SEO for Local Business
If you’re a small business owner/manager looking for resources online to educate yourself about SEO and how to get your website ranking higher in search engine for competitive keywords, it can be both overwhelming and frustrating. It may seem like much of the advice out there doesn’t necessarily apply to you. If you hear experts saying that you should be doing content marketing, infographics, webinars, guest blogging you may just shake your head and say, ‘that’s just not for me’. And the thing is, you’re probably right. For a lot (not all) small businesses, you may either not have the budget necessary to hire a professional to help you execute these types of strategies, or, they just might not be appropriate for your type of business.
So the focus of this article is to highlight what you can and should be focusing on as a small business owner.
For our purposes here, we’ll break all SEO activities into 3 different types – on-page SEO, off-page SEO & Local SEO. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, and there is certainly overlap between each, but we’ll use this model for illustrative purposes.
Page for Every/Product Service
Most businesses have a variety of keywords for which they’re interested in ranking. If you want to rank for a given keyword phrase, you have to send some type of signal to search engines that your website is relevant for that phrase. The most direct way that you can accomplish that on your site is to have a page dedicated to every product/service/keyword theme that you want to target.
The most important on-page SEO element is the title tag. Every page of your website should a unique title tag no longer than 60-70 characters. It is designed to be a concise description of the content found on that page. The choice of keywords here is critical. You’ll see the title tag show up at the very top of your web browser. On a search engine results page the title tag also typically shows us as the clickable blue link for a website.
The Importance of Links
For our purposes here, off-page SEO = links. You may have heard before that links are important for SEO. Think of a link (to your site, not an outbound link from your site) as a ‘vote’ that another website casts for your site. The more ‘votes’ that you can get, the higher your site can rank in search engines. BUT, it’s very important to understand that not all of these ‘votes’ are created equal – not even close. Links from websites that search engines consider authoritative (all other things being equal) are better than links from lower authority websites, and links from relevant websites – relevant either to your industry or geographically – are better (all other things being equal) than links from websites that have absolutely nothing to do with your business.
When a user does a search online, particularly one with local intent, what search engines are ultimately trying to do is to peer into that local market and figure out which businesses are the most well-known, popular, relevant, and authoritative businesses. Links are one major factor that they look at. In the past, prior to some of Google’s more recent algorithm updates, there were all sorts of ways to acquire links that could get your site to rank well, but with Google constantly refining their algorithm, you now have to rely on legitimate ways of link building. Your goal should to actually be, in the real world, a leader in your industry/community and essentially take the offline reputation that you’ve developed and put it online for search engines to see. If you do this, together with sound on-page SEO, you shouldn’t have much to worry about when it comes to local SEO. This may sound strange that I’m recommending looking at your offline activities for benefitting your online presence, but this is the reality of the online world today.
The businesses in your local community that are well-known in the community, regardless of industry, typically will give to charities or sponsor events. Think of things like:
- Local sports teams
- Runs for charity
- Events held by service clubs like Rotary or Lions Club
The list can go on and on. The organizations are typically going to have a website, and oftentimes, they are very authoritative websites in the eyes of search engines. These sites will typically also have a list of their sponsors/donors and link out to their websites.
Whatever industry you’re involved in, there’s a good chance there is some sort of professional association, governing/certification body that’s relevant. As mentioned above, these sites are oftentimes very authoritative websites that list their members and link out to their websites.
Chambers of Commerce
A local chamber of commerce can provide a very high quality link. In addition to these sites oftentimes being authoritative websites, search engines are smart enough to understand that a chamber of commerce website is about a given city/geographic area. Receiving a link from a city-specific/geographically-specific website can help show search engines that your site is related to that specific city/geographic area and potentially rank higher for search queries with local intent.
Better Business Bureau
This is one very specific example. A business’ profile on the BBB site links onto their website providing a high quality link. And there are many non-SEO reasons to consider joining the BBB as well.
This one comes with a big asterisk. Traditional ‘directory submission’ where you’re submitting your site to en masse to ‘web directories’ is absolutely a bad idea. Industry-specific and/or local directories can at times be a good source of links.
Keep in mind my Golden Rule of SEO:
Anything that you’re doing in an effort to increase your organic search rankings needs to have an equal or greater benefit to you which has nothing to do with increasing your organic rankings.
This rule comes in handy when evaluating a variety of opportunities that you might have from an SEO standpoint. But it’s definitely valuable when talking about directories. The types of ‘web directories’ that you could submit your site to for a fee in order to get a link are typically sites that none of your potential customers would ever visit. The link itself may not send any traffic. The only reason someone would think about submitting to a traditional ‘web directory’ would be because they think it’s going to help them from an SEO standpoint. Therefore, it doesn’t follow the Golden Rule.
Google My Business Page
Your Google My Business page (formerly your Google Maps or Google Places page) is what allows your website to show up in the local/map/pack search results in Google. Here are a few basic points:
- Get a Page
If you don’t already have a page as most businesses do, you can easily create a new one for yourself by visiting https://www.google.ca/business/
- Claim your Page
If you already have a listing, make sure that you’ve actually claimed it. You can visit the link above to do that.
- Complete the Listing
The profile is very basic, but make sure you complete the listing. Here are some of the items you should be sure to cover:
- Description of the business
- Categories (choose all applicable categories)
- Profile & cover photo
- Hours of operation
As mentioned above, search engines want to rank businesses that are the most well-known, popular, relevant and authoritative. Reviews are another signal that search engines can look at. Reviews written by users on your Google My Business page certainly help, but reviews on a variety of sites like Yelp, Homestars, Goldbook and Yellow Pages can help.
A cautionary note on reviews… Don’t overdo it! If you go from 0 to 10 reviews in a short period of time (days or even weeks) particularly if your page has existed for a long period of time and/or if businesses in your industry don’t have anything close to 10 reviews on average, those reviews are going to get weeded out, and you could even be penalized if what’s happening is really egregious. The reality is, if you did go from 0 to 10 in such a short period of time under those circumstances, they’re likely not legitimate reviews. It’s generally a good idea to review Google’s review guidelines.
A citation is basically just a mention of your business online. For the most part, we look at ‘structured citations’ – places online that include your name, address & phone number together. You’ll generally find these on directory websites – local directories (Yellow Pages, Goldbook, Yelp, etc…) – not the ‘web directories’ referred to above. The 3 main factors that matter when it comes to citations are: quality, quality & consistency. The last one is arguably the most important. The way that your name, address & phone number appear across the web need to be as consistent as possible. Particularly if you have an established business, through no fault of your own, there’s a very good chance that there can be a good degree of inconsistency with these 3 elements. Small variations of a business’ name creep in, businesses move locations, and business can have multiple phone numbers or they can change. It’s important to stay on top of this and make sure that your citations remain consistent over time.