The Writer’s Guide to Local SEO
If you’re primarily a writer, you’re almost certainly happy with the primacy of on-page content in SEO. There’s one notable exception, though — Local SEO. While your organic results can help your Local SEO results, they’re not the whole story, and there are a lot of factors in Local SEO that have little or no effect on organic SEO results.
What do we mean by Local SEO?
Let’s be clear what I mean by Local SEO. It’s not the process of getting a site to rank well in the standard organic results for ‘japanese restaurant soho’ or ‘cleaner littlehampton’, although these kind of searches ranking well will give the site some valuable local search traffic. Instead, we’re talking about what you need to do to appear in Google’s Local SEO results which appear towards the top of its search engine results pages.
This section of results is often called the ‘three-pack’, because — and this is deep 😉 — Google displays a maximum of three results for each search. That’s just three opportunities for your business to appear in the Local SEO listings.
Recently, Google has been experimenting with a slider instead of the three-pack, but it’s not clear if Google will replace the three-pack.
Why is the three-pack important?
1. It’s prominent on the screen — always at least partially visible when the results page first displays — and above the main organic search results
2. The Local SEO results are richer (contain much more information) than the organic results.
Six steps to ranking your local business
1. Get the details right
2. Set up a Google My Business Page
3. Structured data markup
4. Local reviews
5. Citations, link building and local directories
6. SEO content
Step 1. Get the details right
A Google My Business page supplies information to your results on Google Search, Google Maps or Google+. It’s very important for your Local SEO.
There’s more information at the place where you can set up a Google My Business Page.
But don’t set up the page yet!
Before you start completing your business’ information, you need to do some planning.
Think about the physical nature of your business. Do you have shop, an office, a warehouse or some other kind of place that is manned all through office hours? Or do you work from home and/or deliver your service or products to a customer’s home or place of business?
For the purposes of a My Business page, Google treats these two kinds of businesses very differently, so you need to be clear which type your business is.
Answer these three questions, and you’ll be away.
1. Which address are you going to use?
2. Do you want to hide your address?
3. Is a public address OK elsewhere on line?
In fact, it’s more than just the address and the physical nature of your business that need to be considered. You need to consider, in Local SEO jargon, NAP (name, address and phone number). These should be meaningful and must be used consistently whenever and wherever they appear on the web.
- Name — be sure you’re happy with your business’ name. Set it in stone now, or you’ll find yourself either with underperforming Local SEO, because you have a mixture of names to confuse Google, or a lot of tracking down and changing of entries on websites — can you be sure of catching all of them?
- Address — make sure you’re consistent, and my advice is to include each of the address lines, eg:
98 West Parade
You may think this is a bit long-winded. Indeed, you may normally use a shorter version, such as:
98 West Parade
The shortened version is good enough for the Post Office, and provided you stick to the shortened version everywhere on the Web, it should be fine for Local SEO purposes.
- Phone number — remember, this is Local SEO, so it’s a good idea to use a recognisably local telephone number. People are interested in a local company, so why make them doubt your localness? Hands up those who’ve noticed I’m still using a Brighton telephone number, but I’m based in Littlehampton where the code is different. It’s something I’m probably going to have to tackle.
Which area do you serve?
Write a list of places in your local area. These might be:
- Bognor Regis
- East Preston
and so on.
Then think about your business. How do you think people would be searching for you and/or your business? Suppose you make cakes for special occasions… You may end up with a list like this:
- birthday cakes
- wedding cakes
- christening cakes
- birthday cake
- wedding cake
- christening cake
I like to include singulars and plurals for completeness.
Now do some Google searches and look at the results. I usually make some screen captures and then drag them on to a note in Evernote so I can review them all at once. You may want to keep a series of tabs open in your browser.
Whichever way you choose to keep the results, make sure you’re using an Incognito window when you search so your personalised results don’t interfere.
Inspect the results to see how tough your Local SEO is likely to be:
- Are all the slots in the three-pack filled?
- How many reviews do the businesses in the three-pack have?
- Are any of the businesses in the three-pack significantly further away from the location you’re searching on than your business?
If the three-pack is filled, you’ll have to displace one of the three businesses that are already established there. If the businesses in the three-pack have significant numbers of reviews, they will be difficult to move aside. If they have no reviews, they are not going to be such a challenge, especially if your base is close to place you’ve searched on.
Here are the results of a couple of the searches I made, and some thoughts about how to interpret them:
If you’re really a business based in Chichester and producing wedding cakes, these results are encouraging. Only one of the businesses in the three-pack (Marilyn’s Cakes) is actually in Chichester, plus Google isn’t reporting any reviews at all.
Contrast these results with ‘birthday cake chichester’:
Here we have three businesses in Chichester itself occupying the three-pack, so you have no geographical advantage. If you’re going to displace any of the businesses, you’re going to have to accumulate some reviews.
Check — really check — for duplicate listings on Google
This is important. Duplicate listings are one of the ways to most effectively spike your Local SEO efforts.
Like checking the local searches looking for duplicate listings can take a bit of time, but it’s essential you do it. First off, head over to Google Mapmaker. Now home in on your local area. I used Worthing, United Kingdom as it is where my business was based before we moved just a few miles along the coast to Littlehampton.
As far as Google’s concerned Worthing and Littlehampton are in the same area. You may need to enter Boston, Massachusetts; Paris, France or wherever you are located.
Now I’m going to enter my landline number and then my mobile telephone number.
The search brought up five potential matches. I clicked through each of them and checked their details. None of them matched my business details.
It was a different story when I tried my mobile number:
I found one very old entry, which I edited (see Edit, under the entry on the left), and will have to wait until Google OK’s my changes and removes them permanently from the map.
I also tried my business names, but I found nothing. So no harmful duplicates.
Step 2. Create a Google My Business page
Go to Google My Business. You’ll see a page like this:
Click the big blue Get On To Google button, not the Sign in link.
Check your business details using the search box in the corner.
I used the details for my new davidrosam.com site, and found Google’s matches on the east coast of the United States!
Needless to say, I clicked on ‘Add your business’.
Complete the form, making sure you use the NAP details you decided on earlier. Notice the Check box at the end of the form? If you don’t have a business location that’s manned all the time during business hours, you must tick the box. Google will then not show your address in local search results.
Once you’ve completed entering your data, and verified your information (either by having a text or a postcard sent to you), you’ll then need to wait for Google to approve your page. Recently this hasn’t taken too long, so check back soon.
Step 3. Structured data markup
What is structured data markup? I’ll leave it Google to explain:
“Structured data markup” is a standard way to annotate your content so machines can understand it. When your web pages include structured data markup, Google (and other search engines) can use that data to index your content better, present it more prominently in search results, and surface it in new experiences like voice answers, maps, and Google Now.
– from Google Developers pages.
There are several ways to mark up for Local SEO, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll use Schema.org. If you’ve already clicked on the link, don’t worry, I have an easy way through this stuff 😉
Set up your schema
Schema Creator gives you a simple way of getting the basics of structured data markup right without having your brain addled by code or the obscurity of schema classifications.
Click on the Organization link in the menu on the left hand side — a business is an organisation. Now fill in these fields:
You’ll see the Preview and Code windows fill up as you enter your data — remember to use the address exactly as you planned earlier. No variations!
If the details in the Preview are correct — think business cards and make sure there are no typos at all — then you can use the code. If you use WordPress, then make sure you have a text widget in the footer area of your page. Cut and paste the code in there and save.
If you’re using another platform or you have web designer or developer, hand the code on to someone who can put the code into the right place.
Test your schema code
With the schema live on your site, you should test everything is OK. There are many structured data testers on the web, but as you’re doing this work for the benefit of Google, I strongly suggest that there’s only one you should use — the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.
Just pop your code or URL in and click Validate. If you’ve cut and pasted the schema code correctly into your site, there should be no problems reported at all.
Step 5. Citations, Link Building and Local Directories
Earlier on, I told you about NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) data. You now have it on your Google My Business page in the form you prefer.
You should now check how your NAP data appears on other websites (these occurrences are called citations).
Go through each of the occurrences of your NAP online and do your level best to get them changed if they’re not identical to the NAP you’ve set.
Why is this so important and why should you spend — potentially — a lot of time getting the NAPs right? Simply because if a citation is not precisely the same as on your Google My Business page Google won’t be able to make the match between the company and the information they have about it. And then you’ll be losing the leverage you should be gaining from the citation.
If you want to get into that three-pack, then start getting some reviews. When you’re face-to-face, ask your customers or clients to review you online, or send them a polite e-mail.
Many people are concerned about getting bad reviews. But even the best businesses get one or two. That’s people for you! So don’t be too concerned. Use your Google My Business page to keep track of your reviews, respond to them and report deliberately harmful reviews.
As in regular organic SEO, the more of the right kinds of sites that link to you, the better. The best links are the ones that occur naturally, as a result of your fantastic customer service, competitive pricing or brilliant products. However, you may be able to leverage your off-line business networking to get links from other local businesses (make sure they are the kind of business that would naturally link to you, not just your mates).
And don’t forget to ask suppliers and partner businesses.
Local directory entries
While making directory entries as a mainstream SEO tactic died many years ago, local directories should be part of your strategy for *local* SEO. It’s easy to find your local directories. Just Google ‘[your area] business directory’, like I Googled ‘west sussex business directory’ below:
Now add your company to the relevant ones, not forgetting to make sure your NAP is correct each time.
Step 6. Don’t forget your SEO Content
There’s a lot to do to be successful in Local SEO, but don’t forget you should have a properly strategised organic SEO campaign in place as well. Do your key phrase research and include places that are a bit further away than locations for which you have a chance of ranking in the three-pack.
Write better content than your competitors — you should know all about them if you’ve done the work I’ve covered in this post. You should know where they’re weak SEO-wise and where you’ll have to put in more effort to outrank them. Create great content now, and continue creating it.
Don’t let up until you’ve dominated your local market for your business’ niche.
Originally published at www.writingforseo.org on March 21, 2016.