If you are a small business operating in a fixed location and you are not doing local SEO, you’re missing out big time. The number of localised searches conducted on personal computers has been steadily on the increase for years now, but the rapid spread of mobile technology has now made local search activity universal.
What’s more, search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to make their results more relevant to their users. For example, if a customer located in Covent Garden, London is searching for an accountant and types “accountant Covent Garden” into their smart phone’s search engine, chances are they only want to see results for accountants based in Covent Garden.
So what can an accounting firm in Covent Garden (or any business located anywhere for that matter) do to make sure their business is listed at the top of the local search results and make users want to choose them over all the others? Read on to find out!
Before You Do Anything…Read This
These are the top 20 factors correlated with higher rankings in local search:
Reading this in advance will make the whole local SEO process make sense as you progress.
1. Claim Your Google Profile
If you’ve not yet done this, setting up your Google Places for Business and Google+ Local profiles is unquestionably the place to start. Even if you think you’ve already setup your Google profile properly, it’s best to go back and check. You need to fill out ALL relevant fields 100% (even images, videos etc.) Read on for instructions:
Setup Google Places for Business
Note: it is important to set this up first if possible – you’ll see why below when we come to Google+ Local.
…and follow these instructions:
Once you have verified this listing via postcard (it may take up to a week), please proceed to the next step.
Create a Google+ Local Page
…and follow these instructions:
During the verification process, you will be able to select your business from a drop down menu because you already created the Google Places listing previously. Verifying in this way will allow you to manage both listings from one dashboard by logging in here:
The Difference between Google Places for Business and Google+ Local (and Why You Need Both)
The following article explains this in detail:
2. Local Citation Building
A citation is an online reference to your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP). For example:
83-84 Long Acre
020 7845 9950
The best starting place for building citations is local business directories, most of which will list your site for free. When submitting to these sites, there are a few important considerations you must adhere to:
- Each citation MUST exactly match the NAP on your website and Google Places/Google+ Local listing
- It’s highly advisable to setup a new email address specifically for this activity, as you’ll inevitably get sent spam *ahem* marketing emails afterwards.
- Provide as much detail as possible including a comprehensive description of the service you provide, your opening hours, photos etc.
- Don’t participate in reciprocal linking – if a site will only link to you if you link to them in return, don’t bother. See Google’s stance on this here.
- Consider learning how to build citations at scale to save time (highly advisable if you’re in a competitive industry and need to build a lot of citations to keep up with the competition): http://moz.com/blog/finding-and-building-citations-like-an-agency
Here is a list of places you can get local citations if your business is located in the UK (start with the first 20 in bold):
Additional Citation & Link Building Methods
Contact other relevant local sites and ask them (politely) to link to you. These could include:
- chambers of commerce
- local business groups
- local business directories
- local newspaper sites – complete list here
- partners and vendors
- family & friends
- previous customers
Consider approaching relevant local websites and asking them if you can write a guest post about your industry on their blog (assuming they have one). Content should not be merely an advertisement for your business – it needs to be relevant and useful to the blog’s audience. Be sure to link back to your website!
Competitor Link Analysis
Use free competitor link analysis tools to discover your competitor’s backlinks and find ways to replicate them.
3. Social Media
Whilst social media signals are not yet among the most important ranking factors for local SEO (though watch this space in 2014), getting active on social media can do wonders for your company’s reputation locally. People are already talking about your business on social media whether you like it or not, so it makes sense to at least take part in the conversation. Here are some basic tips for getting started:
- Create Facebook, Twitter & Google+ accounts – the latter you should have already completed when setting up your Google+ Local page.
- Align your social networks with your website information – fill out all fields including business name, phone number, website, location and interlink all your social media accounts.
- Link back to your website – ensure all social media accounts link back to your site’s homepage.
- Post Regular Updates – use Hootsuite to keep these accounts up to date simultaneously. Pick a schedule (even once a month is better than nothing) and stick to it.
- Sign up for LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest – again make sure all link to your website and interlink with each other. Consider actually using them!
- Use Know Em to claim as many other social media accounts as possible – you can chip away at this over time.
- Add social media account and social media sharing buttons to every page of your website.
There are already plenty of guides out there on how to use social media effectively for business, but really it’s not as complicated as you think. Being likable on social media is exactly the same as in real life – be friendly, be funny, be helpful and above all, don’t be a jerk!
You should aim to generate as many genuine, positive reviews on your Google+ Local listing as possible. This is not only very important for search engines, but great for business too. (Note: Don’t fake them. Search engines can tell and so can potential customers. It doesn’t look good).
Here are some ideas on how to achieve this:
- Create a flyer that details how to leave a review on your Google+ Local page. Send this to everyone in your address book and give it to new customers.
- Include your review page on your business card and sales receipts.
- Ask existing and new customers to leave a review (either in person or via phone or email).
- Add a ‘leave a review’ link on a prominent place on your website and in your email signature.
- Put a poster up in your office that shows the Google+ Local review page URL.
It is also worth encouraging your customers to leave reviews on other sites too. Trusted sites for reviews in the UK include:
Important! Try also to get reviews on sites that are relevant to the specific locations/cities your business operates in. Often these off-site geo-signals can help you to rank in secondary areas you service.
5. On Site SEO
Basic onsite optimisation is more than a ranking factor these days – it’s pretty much a prerequisite. If you’re not including relevant keywords and the name of your location in your content and your competitors are, don’t be surprised if they outrank you every time. Here are the essentials:
- Keyword Research – use keyword planner to find out the words and phrases your potential customers are searching with and include these in key places on your website (especially title tags). In general, choose terms that are most relevant to your service, that you think will convert well and have at least some search volume. If you’d like to get more sophisticated with your keyword research, a good starting point is: http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/keyword-research
- Create an individual page for each location you wish to target – if your business services more than one location, this is absolutely essential if you wish to rank for any local searches beyond those related to your physical business address.
- Each page should target a single key phrase – e.g. “Accountant in Covent Garden”. Don’t spread yourself too thin if you want to target multiple phrases/locations. They each need a dedicated page.
- Add your target phrase, city & county name to the page’s title tag, URL, meta description and header tag – this is SEO 101, folks.
- Also add the keyword to the file name and ALT text of the page’s primary image – again, basic onsite SEO.
- Add your name, address and phone number to every page of your site – I shouldn’t have to reiterate by now that these should be consistent with your Google listings and the citations you’ve been building!
- Add Schema.org Markup to Your Site – this will give you an edge over most of your competitors (most still aren’t doing this yet). Start with these two:
- Add Webmaster Tools to Your Site – this will help you diagnose any technical issues on your website and provide you with detailed reports about your site’s visibility in Google.
- Add Google Analytics to Your Site – this will help you find out more about your site’s visitors and where they are coming from.
- Check Cross-Browser/OS Compatibility – make sure your site loads properly on different browsers and mobile phone operating systems.
6. On Page Factors
These expand on the onsite factors mentioned above.
Each page should have its own unique title tag. Each title should:
- Be no longer than 65 characters (otherwise they get “chopped off” in search engines)
- Target one primary keyword e.g. “accountant covent garden”
- Lead with the primary keyword (this is correlated with higher rankings)
- End with a pipe symbol followed by your brand name (branding is important, even in the small business world)
- Include the name of the location the page is targeting
Each page should have at least 250 words (500 is ideal) of unique (non-duplicate), user friendly content regarding the services provided to customers in the area. Mention the geographical location two to three times on the page, including in the primary heading (H1 tag). Each page will serve as a landing page for potential clients in that area only.
Reviews & Testimonials
Add customer testimonials and case studies from work you did in each location to the relevant page targeting that city. Be sure each review/testimonial mentions the location – a good way to do this is to include the location after the customer’s name at the end of each review e.g.
“Great service – Five stars!”
Covent Garden, London
These are what users see in search engines and have a big effect on click through rate.
Each meta description should:
- Be under 155 characters (again, otherwise they get “chopped off” in search engines)
- Include the primary keyword and business location
- Also try and include unique selling points and a call to action if you can
- Try and add one relevant image to each page
- Include the primary keyword and target location in the primary image’s ALT text on each page
- Include the primary keyword and target location in the primary image’s file name
That’s all folks! Now that your business is ruling your local turf like a mighty street gang, there’s only one thing left to say…