The internet lets you reach billions of people around the globe, but if you're like many small or local businesses, world domination isn't really on your radar (not yet, anyway). What makes your business tick is your local community, whether on the town, city, county, or state level.
So with all the choices consumers have nowadays for where to get their products and services, how do you ensure they find your local business first?
You do everything in your power to get your website in the top search engine ranking positions! And luckily, there’s a lot you can do to tip the scales in your website’s favor. From on-page optimization to inbound link building to social media involvement, here is the ultimate guide for how to optimize your website for local search so you can dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs).
What is local search marketing?
Local search marketing is the process and tactics you use to reach your local audience online. This is the type of marketing that brick-and-mortar businesses use to reach potential customers on the web.
Any type of business with a storefront or service area is a local business, including small, medium, and enterprise level brands.
Local search marketing is all about raising brand awareness in a certain area. This can be done through organic SEO or paid methods.
Why optimize for local search? It's in the numbers.
- Approximately 3 billion search queries contain local terms every month. (Source: comScore)
- 70% of online searchers will use local search to find offline businesses. (Source: Kelsey Group)
- 30% of Google searches are for local information. (Source: HubSpot via Google)
How to Optimize for Local Search on Your Website
1. Invest in content, content, content.
Every new blog post is a new indexed page for your site, a new page on which to target a geographic search phrase, and a new opportunity to get found in the search engine results pages (SERPs). If you're having trouble coming up with geo-targeted content, consider highlighting customer success stories and case studies.
2. Write about complementary local services.
If you sell screwdrivers, talk about someone in your area who sells screws. It lets you write helpful content about your geographic area in a relevant way so you're not faced with awkward keyword stuffing that Google's algorithm punishes. Plus, it builds good will with local businesses that can introduce you to new customers, and possibly result in an inbound link in the future.
3. Optimize the 5 crucial on-page SEO elements.
That means your page title (see image below), URLs, page headers, internal links, and page content should be optimized with keywords. Here's an example of a page that is well optimized for local search.
4. Target long-tail keyword variations.
If you're selling unicorn costumes, you might want to cover unicorn costumes in Detroit, unicorn costumes in metro Detroit, and unicorn costumes in southeastern Michigan.
Cover all the ways people might refer to your city in your keyword research so you can capitalize on all the different ways people find you on the web.
5. Have location pages.
If you are a franchise, for example, it's crucial to tell users you have multiple locations. One way of doing that is to have a unique page for each location.
6. Tell people where you are.
Add your business name, address, and phone number on contact-specific pages like an "About Us" or "Contact Us" page.
7. Write about local and industry news.
Stay up to date on what's happening in your community and in your industry for blog fodder. This will win you big points in the SERPs, as Google freshness update rewards timely content. Even if nothing has happened that directly relates to your industry or location, look for local spins on industry trends, and comment on how local events could affect your industry.
8. Mobile-optimize your site.
Local search and mobile search go hand in hand. Some of the most common ways people will use your site in a mobile environment is looking up reviews, finding directions to your location, and searching for contact information. Make it easy for them by making your site mobile friendly.
How to Optimize for Local Search Off Your Website
1. Register your business with Google My Business.
Google My Business provides a huge opportunity for local businesses to appear in the local search results for a given search term. Here's everything you need to know to do it.
2. Add yourself to other listings.
The more local directories to which you submit your site, the more opportunities to get found and receive additional business citations. Make sure your business name, address, phone number, and website are consistent across all of them. For specific listings/directory types to which you should add your local business, use GetListed.org.
3. Get links online.
The more of a fixture you are in your community (both online and offline), the more people will talk about you. Be a guest blogger, talk to and about (positively, of course!) other people in your industry, and act as a resource provider for the community. If you're an active participant in community conversations, the buzz around you grows in the form of inbound links, social media growth, and media coverage.
4. Get links locally.
Start with your own personal network, which may include the Chamber of Commerce, business improvement districts, licensing bureaus, trade associations, resellers, vendors, and/or manufacturers and other affiliates.
5. Publish your content on social media outlets, especially Google owned business pages.
Google considers content shared on social media more important now than ever before. And now that Google owns YouTube, it's a good idea to show up on that platform. Most importantly for local businesses, Google My Business business posts are starting to show up in local search results.
6. Guest post.
The more places your business gets cited organically the better it is for your SEO. This means bylines or author profiles tied to articles you publish on various relevant blogs can help in addition to just having others write about you.
7. Get reviews.
77% of online shoppers use reviews to make a purchasing decision. If your customers are looking for opinions on you, make it easier for them to find out how awesome you are by embracing your presence on online review sites.
Claim your listings. Ask customers to post about their great experiences with you. Yes, some negative reviews may slip in there, but wouldn't you rather be an active participant in achieving a positive online reputation than take a passive role in maintaining a lackluster one?
8. Check your listings.
Using GetListed.org as an accuracy report provides huge opportunity to see where you could add additional listings, claim listings, and update or add missing content like your website URL. Folks, there’s no point in having a listing if there is no URL.
Local businesses do have the power to have a top presence in the SERPs, but like any effort to gain and maintain organic visibility, it's hard work.
If you can start checking a few of these tactics off your marketing to-do list every month, though, your website will see great improvements in online visibility.
If you'd like to learn more about how to improve local SEO for your business, check out this free, on-demand webinar with David Mihm and me.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2011 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.