Local Search – Strategy Guide for Small Business

How does your business appear when people search for services or products in their area. We share tips and insight into what local search is and what to focus on to improve your local search rankings.

March 1st, 2019
Last Modified: November 14, 2019

local search for small business

Originally posted: February 18, 2018

If your business relies on local customers how your business comes up when people in your area search for what you do or the products you sell is important. That is where local search comes in.

The Small Business Guide to Local Search


What is Local Search

The term “local search” refers to search engine optimization for businesses that work with customers and clients in their local area. You are ranking for the business’s name, address, phone number, as well as the services provided. Both businesses with a physical location and service-area based businesses will benefit from a local search campaign.

Google understands that if you are looking for a restaurant, you want one that is close to you, not 100 or more miles away.
Each search engine has its own way of showing local search results. As with any SEO strategy, give the search engines what they want, and it is a win for both you and the people that are using the search engine.

The main factors of any search engine optimization campaign are:

  • Content
  • Authority
  • Links

Where local search differs is it isn’t just about the website ranking, it is about the business name and address ranking as well.

When Should You Start a Local Search Strategy?

If you have a business, your local search strategy can start right away. Do not wait for your website to launch before you start your local search campaign.

All you need is your official business name, your address, and a phone number. They will use the address or phone number to verify the business.

Google My Business (GMB)

This is step number One! Many other parts of local SEO pull from your Google My Business (GMB) listing. GMB is prominent in the map listings of searches. It features a lot of information about your business.

Business Name – This should be the legal name of your business. You do not need to add LLC, Inc. or other legal terms but keep city names, services, etc. out of this name. Google has recently launched fraud reporting to crack down on businesses following this practice.

Business Address – This is the physical location of where your business. Google does not want virtual offices, UPS Store boxes, etc. If you provide services to your customers at their location, this may be your home address, it can’t be a PO Box. We will cover a few tips for service-based businesses in a bit.

You will need to verify the business either by mail via a postcard or by phone. If you do not verify the business by verifying a pin number.

If your mailing address is different than your business listing, use your physical address when setting up the listing. After a week, we are seeing that they are allowing phone verification.

Phone number and Appointment URL – If you have a link where customers can set an appointment with your business make sure and add it here. If you participate with a reserve or booking provider that Google My Business supports add their link to your listing. They have many booking providers available.

Services and Products – These sections were launched in 2018 and allow you to add the services and products you provide in your business.

Your Hours – Your regular weekly hours as well as holiday hours for your business.

Directions to your business – Make sure that the pin is correct on your GMB listing. This helps people find your business location especially if they are not familiar with the area.

Images and Videos – This section allows you and visitors to upload pictures and videos. User-generated content can be huge for your business. When users upload images and videos that do not pertain to your business you can report the image to get it removed. This is the only way to remove these images.

Questions and Answers – Visitors can ask questions about your business. GMB will send you an email if a visitor asks a question giving you the opportunity to answer them. Other visitors can also answer these questions. The answers are better coming from you.

User Content and Feedback on GMB Listings

You do not have control of who submits changes to your company information on Google my Business.

Google asks regular contributors and users “Do you know this place?” Google asks questions about the business including hours, location, services provided, and more. When mobile and desktop users see search results for businesses, they see this prompt under the business information:

Google user content

In a perfect world, this is a good thing. However, our world is far from perfect.

Competitors and others can suggest changes to your information that isn’t accurate. To prevent changes to your information; it is best to check in at least twice a month and review any suggested changes. If you ignore these suggested changes, Google will apply them. But if you are monitoring suggested changes you can accept or reject them. If you have someone managing local search optimization for your business, make sure this is one of their regular tasks.

Links in Local Search

The quality of any link you have on your website has an impact on the search results. Links that are relevant to the local area, will help you. In smaller areas, it can be challenging to find other websites to link to you. Be creative when working on links coming from other websites.

Where to get local links

  • When you participate in community projects, see if a website exists. If it does, check to as if they can provide a link back to your website.
  • Guest blogging and partnering with other businesses in the area can be a useful source for links. We are a huge believer in establishing relationships with other businesses that cater to the same clients or customers as your business. This partnership involves referring clients to businesses you have built a relationship with. An example would be a personal injury attorney and a chiropractor; they can help one another out in auto and work-related accidents. The key is that it is mutually beneficial and that you both trust the quality of each other’s work.
  • Sponsorship, contests, and memberships in local organizations can also create good local links for your business.
    Local searches replaced the yellow pages years ago. Improving how your business comes up in local searches isn’t hard, but it isn’t fast either.

Businesses must earn the right to have high rankings. These local search rankings are earned by proving you are the best match for what the user is searching for. By providing informative, quality content, local information, proving you are a good company that takes care of your customers, and providing services in the area, you can achieve higher rankings – you just need to do a little more than your competitor.

Local Search Citations

Since a local search campaign is optimizing for the name, address, and phone number for the business you will want to include your business in directories, these are local citations like yp.com, yellowpages.com, yelp.com, etc.

These citations are free to list your business however, some niche directories may charge a small fee for a listing.

NAP (Name, address, and phone number) consistency – Inaccurate online citations have a negative impact on the experience of a user, so you must keep track of your citations and update them when your business information changes. Read more about what to expect if your business name changes or you change locations.

What a content strategy can do for your local rankings

Search engines are like you, a business. Their customers are the people that use the search engine to find things and want to deliver accurate, informative, and trustworthy information to those searchers.

Articles and information that fill the above requirements will help in your local search efforts, add local terms to help increase your relevance in local searches. There are plenty of ways you can create content for your local efforts, always keep your goals in mind and select a strategy that will be easy for you to maintain.

Reviews Matter

Google my Business shows reviews generated from Google as well as reviews from other locations. It is important to make it a regular practice to ask for and acquire reviews from your customers.

Getting reviews isn’t as easy as you think: people don’t take the time to go out of their way and complete a review unless they have a negative experience.

Part of a good local strategy is to make sure you are monitoring and responding to the reviews your business receives.

Negative Reviews can break a business. It is okay to have one or two as it adds a balance, Google knows that we can’t make everyone happy. Consistent negative reviews are a signal that something is wrong with the business and will impact your local search rankings. Take a hard look at the cause and take actions to improve your customer’s experience with your business.

Responding to negative reviews can be tricky but a good rule of thumb is to not take it personally, address their concern and take it offline to resolve the issue. They may come back and change the review to a more positive one.

If you receive a review that doesn’t look familiar, you may be able to get it removed. Keep in mind that Google allows people to leave reviews that have had ANY interaction with the business. They may have called or stopped by without making a purchase. Google will not remove these reviews and it is hard to prove that the review wasn’t legit.

Ranking Outside of Your City Locale (Service Based Business)

This is usually a request we hear from service-based businesses. Some have a physical location for their business some do not. It was always a challenge to get service-based business to come up in the surrounding towns where they provide service.

Google My Business has recently made it easier for these businesses to reach their customers.

If you have a physical location – Add your address but add your service zip codes in the service area section.

If you do not have a physical location – Hide your address and add your service zip codes in the service area section.

Multi-Location Tips in Local Search

If your business has multiple locations, add a separate Google My Business page. Then set a page for each location on your website. This will give each location a unique page link. Once you add the locations to Google my Business, you will use the link to the location page instead of your company’s home page.

Multi-Practitioner Considerations for Local Search

Businesses that have multiple practitioners working out of one location can present a challenge. Think of medical offices with multiple doctors, or a law firm which has multiple attorneys.

You have options. Let’s use the law firm as an example.

The office location – set up Google my Business for the office and choose a primary service the office performs, legal services, or law firm. The exact wording you use will depend on the competition. A citation boost for the office is highly recommended.

The practitioners – set up Google my Business for each practitioner; in our example, each attorney. Choose the area of practice they prefer or specialize in: divorce attorney, personal injury attorney, etc. Each practitioner should have a different area of practice, unique from the other practitioners. Use the practitioner’s page on the website for Google my Business and other citations.

Using the methods outlined above will result in your business appearing in more searches than if the business only listed an individual location or practitioner type. The challenge is keeping your listing up-to-date if practitioners come and go at your office.

Do Websites Still Matter for Local Search?

Yes! You knew I would say that but let me explain.

Your website is the thing you own and control that is on the internet. Google and other search engines look at your website as the foundation of your business online.

Knowing what they look for on your website can give you an advantage when trying to rank above a competitor. Remember, in most cases, doing a little more than they are to have better rankings.

Does your website have good, informative content that will fulfill the need of the searcher? This demand is why businesses utilize blogs and articles to expand the content of their website.

Is your Website user-friendly? Google has seen the rise of users searching on mobile devices and awards higher search rankings to business websites that are mobile-friendly. The time it takes for your website to load is also key, Google knows that users do not want to wait for a web page to load. In fact, the most recent statistics show that the user wants the site to open in 3 seconds or less.

Are you making regular updates to your website? Google keeps an eye out for how often you update your website. A good SEO plan will include regular updates whether through articles, blog posts, adding projects or other means.

When you are updating your website, put in the extra effort to create an update that builds up the internal links of your website. This technique is a little hard to wrap your head around; let me explain further:

A search engine acts like a spider; Google calls it Googlebot. When it comes to your website, it scans your content and any links that may be on that page. As you create content, you will link to other pages of your website whether it be pages, articles, projects, etc. This method refreshes the older content as you post new articles according to Googlebot.

One important detail that many businesses miss is updating older posts to include links to their latest content. This can help maximize your content efforts as it refreshes and increases the search engine authority of older posts that are already ranking in searches and generating traffic.

How your website can influence local search.

Now we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of what elements of your website will result in great SEO and move you up in the Google search rankings.

Keywords

Each page of your website should have a goal and a list of keywords for that product or service. For one page, the keyword saturation should not be above 5% of the content on the page. When you are trying to rank for multiple keyword phrases, this can be challenging.

A best practice is to serve your visitor first and tweak your keyword phrases along the way. It is possible to cater to both, just takes a little more time and effort.

Go for long-tail keywords (multiple word phrases), think of what people type into a search engine when they are looking for something. If they intend to buy in their local area, they are including the city name along with the keyword phrase.
Long-tail keywords are typically easier to rank for if you have a lot of competition in your area.

Before Penguin, a significant Google algorithm update we had in 2011, it was common to stuff pages, images, and links with keywords and phrases. If you follow that practice now, it will hurt your rankings in search. This is proof that one search engine fact never changes: search engine optimization methods change frequently.

We include this here as there are still older articles out there that say this is a regular practice.

Website Structure

The structure of your website matters. This includes how you organize your navigation menu, and how your content flows on the page. Breaking pages up with headers and subheadings to make the page easily skimmed by the reader helps attract the reader and lets them easily find the content they are looking for. It’s important to include the keywords you are trying to rank the page for in your page headers as well.

We have designed websites in the past where the page structure was ideal, satisfying the lovely world of content management (sarcasm intended). The client went in and changed it, unknowingly deleting, and changing structural elements that were maximizing SEO. This change had a negative impact on the website’s search rankings.

Content Marketing

It is proven that a strong content marketing campaign helps strengthen SEO efforts.

Making regular updates to the website, if done correctly with your search engine goals in mind, can speed up the time it takes to move you up the rankings in search engine results.

Schema.org

These tags tell Google what your website is about as well as your hours, address, phone number, and more. There are additional tags available for your website based on your goals. Some of these include articles, person, events, reviews, jobs, reviews, product and more. Link to ALL the distinct types (https://schema.org/docs/full.html)

PPC Options in Local Search

The other side of Google local search is advertising. Google paid search will list your website, location, or products for a fee in the search results.

Most of Google’s ads pricing is on a CPC (cost-per-click) basis, which is performance-based since you only pay if they click on your ad. You also have the option of CPM (cost per displaying an ad 1,000 times, known as cost per impression). Which paid search option you choose will depend on your goals.

First Things First: know your numbers before you dive into Google paid search advertising.

Before you plunge into paid advertising, you need to do a cost-benefit analysis which includes the following details:
• How much is a customer worth to your business? (average profit per sale)
• What is the value of a website visitor? (on average, how many website visitors does it take to generate a lead)
• What is your closing ratio? (on average, how many leads does it take to make a sale)
• How many website visitors (and resulting sales based on the closing ratio above) does the ad need to generate to recoup the ad expenditure?

All the above will play a role in how much you allocate for advertising in your budget, the max cost per click charge you can justify, and when your ads will run.

Where are you sending them?

In our experience, the landing page will make or break a Google paid search campaign. Make sure the pages they click to from these paid ads are quality and will convert a visitor.

We highly recommend testing these pages on a regular basis to make sure they are still effective.

What is in your ad copy?

Just as landing pages require testing, so does your ad copy or graphic. Google paid search will do this for you by giving the ads that perform better higher visibility than the ones that do not.

Your landing page and your ad copy should be about the same service or product. Remember – don’t just link to your website’s homepage.

Quality Matters

Just as in organic searches, quality matters to Google. Even though you are paying for the ad, they want it to be relevant to what the person is searching for. Low-quality ads will not show in results.

Google and Bing Paid Search Options

Google Adwords & Adwords Express

Google Adwords are text and graphical ads based on a bid for keywords. They are based on CPC or CPM; amounts which are configured automatically for comparison.

Google AdWords will give you more power but monitored more frequently than AdWords Express.

AdWords Express is a quick way to set up an ad. Google picks your keywords and you create a text ad for your campaign. You may not want all the keywords it chooses for your ad. Review them when setting up the campaign.

Tracking Results – Analytics, GMB Insights, Bing Places Reporting

Tracking Your Results with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is tracking software and customization is required after installation based on your goals and needs. Analytics straight out of the box will not give you accurate results.

Setting Goals

What do you want to accomplish on your website? Goals help you track the things that matter.

Track the people that filled out a form on your website by setting a goal for the confirmation page.

Wait, you don’t have a confirmation page? You need one.

Set up goals and events for the key elements of your website.

  • Click to Call links throughout your website
  • Key pages or reference links throughout the website
  • Video Views
  • Lead Forms
  • Link Clicks (off-site)
  • and more.

You can set a goal for just about anything you want to track. Google Tag Manager does offer more expensive tracking, but too many can slow down your website. Weigh your options and keep the most important items to track in mind.

The key to setting goals is not only to see how many visitors converted in some way but to track the path they took to convert and where they came from. This information will allow you to recreate what works and change what doesn’t.

Site Visitors

Google Analytics gives us great information about our website’s visitors. Turn on demographics and interests to enable this feature. You learn where they are located and what their interests are, allowing you to make decisions about your marketing efforts.

Regardless of who you are targeting, your website will bring visitors from all over the world. Using filters to focus on just the visitors that are in your target areas, whether it be by city, state, region, or country, will ensure you are focusing on visitors that have sales potential.

Keywords

You can also see the keywords that people use to find your business to help you learn which keywords are bringing traffic. Tying this data in with your goals and the quality of your conversions can allow you to make effective changes to your website which will improve the quality of your website and the conversions it generates.

What sources are driving website visitors to your website?

Google Analytics gives us valuable information on what websites are sending us traffic. We can make better decisions on our advertising and focus our efforts on the areas that help us accomplish our goals.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a number that is based on visitors that 1) visit the website but do not click through to another page, 2) close the page, or 3) click the back button. A high bounce rate is not good.

Google looks at a website’s bounce rate to help determine the relevance of the website based on what the user was searching for. This information helps Google’s algorithm deliver the best results to those searching on Google.

If you have a high bounce rate, you may want to look at your page and determine why visitors are not going further. If your traffic is coming from Google AdWords, expect a little higher bounce rate than what you receive from organic traffic.

THE BOTTOM LINE? What you do not know will hurt you.

Google is always changing

Google makes updates to its algorithm on a regular basis. It is hard to keep up with the changes if you are busy running your business. If you do want to go it alone, stay up to date with reputable experts in search engine optimization.

If you do not have time, it is best to outsource this part. A good SEO company will get you where you need to be and then keep up to provide updates as needed based on changes in Google’s algorithm.

A local search engine audit can reveal where you are and what needs to improve rankings. Keep in mind, SEO isn’t quick, and nobody can guarantee results.

Have a question about SEO? Let us know; we can review your website and your competitors in a website audit and provide a checklist of items to help you rank better in local searches.

Expert Help is Available!

Lighthouse works with many small businesses to optimize their company for local search. Give us a call (662) 553-4777 or request a quote. We will review what you are currently doing and offer recommendations based on best practices. We can also help you manage your paid search advertising.

Filed In: Search Engine Optimization


Richelle Anderson

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Since 2006, the Lighthouse web design and marketing team has been creating custom websites and strategic marketing strategies. Each marketing campaign is built around the goals and needs of our clients and backed by solid marketing strategy.

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