High visibility in the local organic search results at search engines is important for small businesses. It always has been, and will be for a long time to come. According to past statements from Google, roughly 20% of desktop search queries have a local intent and that number rises to 40 or 50% for search queries initiated from a smartphone.
By optimizing the company website for search, and promoting the business on external websites like Google+, Yelp and local directories, small businesses can gain visibility in the local organic search results when someone is searching for their product(s) and/or service(s). The rise of smartphone usage and mobile search makes it even more important to optimize the company website and externally promoted the business content.
Local Search Engine Optimization
Local search engine optimization (SEO) has changed since Google rolled out a new local search ranking algorithm in July of last year, but the basics are still focused around on-page optimization, local citations and links, NAP consistency and reviews. For small businesses that have used local SEO in the past and others desiring more visibility in the local search results, this may be a good time to search optimize the company website and externally promoted business content.
Pigeon Update. When Google rolled out the new local search ranking algorithm, now commonly known as Pigeon, it aimed to deliver improved local search results to both Google Maps and Google search. After Pigeon had rolled out many businesses saw their rankings increase while others saw their listings disappear. Many of the local 7-packs had dropped to 3-packs in the search results, pushing small business sites from the packs.
Since this algorithm update ties local search results more closely to general search ranking signals, which favors major directory sites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor and TripAdvisor that have stronger SEO signals, individual small businesses, hotels and restaurants where ranked lower in the local search result. The new algorithm also gives greater weight to company websites and external content that has been optimized with neighborhood-focused keywords. The general consensus is that the Pigeon update has delivered better changes for searchers than for businesses.
Top-10 Local SEO Checklist
There are many local SEO ranking factors. We have highlighted what we believe are the top-10 local SEO factors below.
To reap the full benefits of local SEO it is important to optimize the company website for conversion. This is a first good step to make sure the website converts visitors to actual business leads. Basic things to look for are the existence of a unique value proposition on the home page, clear navigation to other pages, including the service/product description pages, about page, testimonials page and contact page, and a persuasive call-to-action(s). Other site conversion aspects that are important are: visible company name, address and phone number (in text) on every page, original images and graphics and trust marks (for instance BBB and professional association logos). The website audit could be expended to include a backlink audit, review audit and social media audit.
Local Links and Citations
Local citations, preferably with structured NAP data, and links from local directories and websites are still critical signals in the local search engine ranking algorithm. This means that to maintain and increase rankings a continuing outreach effort must be in place acquire links and citations.
Yelp and Local Directory Listings
A proper listing of the business in local directories and Yelp are critically important for local search engine optimization. When listing franchise sites and businesses with multiple locations it is important that the business name that is listed is exactly the same for all locations. Similarly, each online listing must be submitted to the same business categories, but each location should have a unique business description tailored to the specifics of the location. To find the most appropriate directories to get listed in perform a local search and use the directories that rank the highest. Often, these appear right underneath the local pack.
It is also most important for businesses to get listed in Yelp. First claim and verify the business profile and then optimize the business information. Yelp allows businesses to add photos, hours of operation, contact information, website URL, and other information to make the listing robust. Yelp is the most popular consumer review site, and as such, businesses must ensure their business information is accurately listed.
Last year, the local search query volume on smartphones passed desktop, according to BIA/Kelsey data released in May 2015, and the rapid growth of mobile local search is set to continue. Since the Pigeon update it is important not to focus local keyword optimization exclusively on city names, but also include neighborhood names.
Mobile Web Site Design
With the rise of mobile search queries having a mobile-friendly website is most important. Not only are local mobile searches on the rise, many end up in a purchase. And when customers and prospects cannot access a website via a mobile device cannot find basic information or pages are not loading, they are more likely to go back to the search results and search until they find a mobile-friendly site that serves their needs. In addition, last February Google announced they were expanding the use of mobile-friendliness into a ranking signal. This means that for a local website to rank organically in the mobile search results, a site must not only be locally optimized, but also mobile-friendly. The best way to accomplish the latter is through responsive design, a technology that stretches or shrinks Web pages from one set off code to fit differently sized screens. The adoption of responsive design got a boost when Google, in mid-2012, recommended it as the best strategy for multi-screen-optimized websites.
Online local reviews on the Google+ business page, in Yelp, and in other review sites are not only playing an increasingly critical role in influencing consumer purchase decisions, the quantity and quality of these reviews are also impacting the ranking of a business site in the local search results. Especially Google reviews repeatedly show up in Maps. So the best thing a business can do is to encourage customers to write reviews.
Content Marketing and Blogging
Content is one of the most effective search engine optimization tactics ─ but it is also the most difficult to execute, according to a recent survey by Ascend2, among marketing professionals worldwide. There is no doubt that a continuing stream of great, local-focused content contributes to the rise of a site in the local search results.
One way to add a steady stream of content to a local business website and thereby increasing the visibility in the local organic search results is to add a blog to the site. A blog ─ when prominently placed on the home page and in the main navigation of a site and promoted in the business’ social media channels ─ is a great opportunity to provide thought leadership, build credibility and highlight new business offerings.
Local On-Page SEO
On-page local SEO conforms in many ways to traditional SEO tactics. On-page signals, including the presence of the business name, address and phone number (NAP), keyword in the page title, and most important, the presence of on-topic keyword optimized content on each page, plays a huge role in local search engine rankings. Franchises and businesses with multiple locations need to create individual pages for each location with a unique description of that location, as well as descriptions of each unique product or service that is offered at that location. This will raise the visibility of each page in the local search results, making it easier for potential customers to find the products and services they’re looking for.
Google My Business Page
One of the most important actions a business can take when it comes to local SEO is to set up a Google+ profile and business page via Google My Business. The latter offers a single place at Google where businesses can submit business information to Google search, Maps and Google+ from one place. A Google+ business page, and especially its associated reviews, appear regularly in the search results and on Google Maps when people perform local searches on Google. The business information submitted via Google My Business must reflect the exact name of the business and include an accurate address and phone number. It is also important to include a primary business category so that the business appears properly on the search results. Businesses that have been previously submitted and verified through Google Places or Google + Pages should have automatically been moved over to Google My Business.
Consistent NAP data (name, address, phone number) across the business website (for instance on every page) and directory listings are key to successful local SEO. Business name, address and phone number must be accurate and consistent from Yelp and Angie’s List to CitySearch and other credible directories across the web. Businesses that have inconsistent NAP data across directory and data aggregator listings should update those listings. The best approach to take is to address the major data aggregators like Infogroup, Neustar Localeze, D&B Directory, Acxiom and Factual first because it can take up to three months before the updated info shows up in the listings. It is also critically important that duplicate business listings are removed from the directories.
Adding Schema markup to the NAP data on a website not only improves the way snippets are displayed in the search results, but also ensure that the location and contact information of a business is properly crawled and interpreted by the search engines. Google has stated that the inclusion of schema mark is currently not used as a ranking signal, but others have claimed that pages with schema markup consistently rank higher in the local search results.
An interactive version of the expanded 39-point local SEO check list with links to active sources, designed by localseochecklist.org, can be viewed here.