If you are just starting out as a brick and mortar business (this is very important for local SEO) it can feel like you are going head to head with Titans of your industry that got there before you, or you simply don’t know where to start. Don’t get discouraged, because there are certainly ways that you can rise to the occasion and dominate your area. But you need to approach it with real expectations and understand how search engine optimization (SEO) is set up based on what product or service you offer. Regardless, let’s define the two main types of SEO.
There is a huge difference between local SEO and national SEO. National relies on broad or general searches for a product, service, or an interest that isn’t bound by geography. This can include searches like “best hair cream”, “how to sew”, or “Kim Kardashian”. It is a search query that is potentially applicable to many individuals across the entire country and will not engage the maps function of Google.
Local SEO, on the other hand, is mostly governed by the locality of your search and the density of those businesses that offer that same service or product in a given area. This includes searches like “barber near me”, “mexican food”, or “grocery store”, regardless of you using a desktop (if you have location tracking turned on) or a mobile device. This will leverage the Google maps function and it has a different set of rules than national search, but we will cover that a bit later in the article.
The main factors to consider for local SEO are: Do you have Google My Business set up correctly, what industry you are in, how many competitors have the same service/product offering in your area, and what is on your website. These are sweeping generalizations and can be a bit overwhelming at first so let’s break them down to help you become a local SEO wizard!
Let’s go through a punch list of things that are a must for local SEO:
- Have an address that can receive paper mail and is located at a physical location (P.O. boxes do not work), this qualifies you for brick and mortar status. This is a verification step that is required by Google to qualify for local searches. This can even be a virtual address that you can purchase from a coworking space like WeWork, or Regus, and is a standard service offering from most of these types of businesses.
- Create your Google My Business. It is as simple as typing in the name and it will ask you to register your business and the walkthrough is pretty straightforward. You will be mailed a verification code, and occasionally you might be asked to do a virtual verification with the Google team as well. Then enter it into your Google My Business.
- Get a URL (e.g. www.mysite.com): You don’t necessarily need a very professional website. If you are a landscaper just starting out (or a similar service industry), Google does offer an easy website builder just so you can have a placeholder website until you get around to creating a professional one, though it is recommended to have a decent website set up as this is the modern equivalent of a business card.
This is basically all you need to get started and get your business on the map! But, if you want to really stand out there are additional steps that you will need to take.
Reviews, reviews, reviews. This is a major aspect of how often you will show up in a local search. The amount of reviews you have does matter, but what carries more weight is how consistently you are getting them over time. Having one or two reviews every month shows Google that people are engaging with your business vs a business that has more than you but hasn’t had a new one in a long time, it will simply take some time to overtake them.
The other factor is actually responding to your customers, which is a very important option that is in your Google My Business. If it is as simple as saying thank you for a good review, then do it. If it is to respond to a complaint, which can be common, then address it. If a customer is wrong and being spiteful then be honest and lay out your case, if you were wrong then see what you can do to rectify the situation.
Showing potential customers how you do business is important when they are vetting your product or service. Most individuals are discerning enough when they see a plain negative review without context or one that is being constructive. How YOU, as a business owner, handle it is most important.
A technical thing to make note of:
If you are sending the review link to someone that has an iPhone and they do not have Google Maps installed, they will not be able to leave you a review on Google. The work around is having them use a desktop device or they will need to install Google Maps on their iPhone.
Bet you didn’t think that Google My Business is also a social media platform. This does depend on the industry you are in on how effective it can be, but for a good example let’s do a “night club” search.
Images matter. Showing your products, environment, or services as applicable and so on, matters when individuals are engaging with your business profile. This is true of any social media platform. The more you can show, the more potential customers are likely to engage, and the better off you are going to be.
The next point of social engagement is updates, with the same profile we can see what those look like:
If your industry relies on social engagement, or you have a new product offering, or a special event, it is wise to utilize this function to its fullest. If you are a business that can benefit from this type of engagement do not neglect it!
What other consideration should be taken into account when you are looking to dominate local SEO? Why, your competitors of course.
If you are the only service/product offering in a large area then lucky you, your business will be number one every time in the listing section of Google Maps and you will be the only red dot on the map. But what if there are 15 of them in a two mile radius of you? For contrast let’s use the same night club search to get an idea of how this works, when I search “night club” there is an invisible ring that will show me the top results within a given area that I am located based on how many potential matches there are.
This ends up being a large radius of 15 miles from where the search is located (Chandler, AZ) which stretches all the way up into Tempe and Mesa due to the fact there are not that many nightclubs located “near me”, which is the blue dot. But if we change it to a Scottsdale location search you are going to get much tighter results due to the higher density of that business type in that area.
Which presents options within less than a one mile radius. As you can see, business type density matters. If you have many competitors within a given area, your area of influence or visibility will be affected. It will shrink your circle of influence and the competition becomes that much more fierce.
The previous points in this article will help set you apart, but what about advanced tactics that will help you gain the edge? There is a warning here because it gets deep into the backend of how most of these platforms work and they might work against you if you are not sure how to use them, but also there are some things that you cannot control.
The Listing Rotator (Google 3-Pack)
To give you an idea of what I am talking about, the listing section only contains three places (more if you expand the window) that you can occupy in any given search, with an ad that can appear above. Which looks like this.
This space rotates based on all of the aspects that we listed before, with more minor variables, and depending on what type of company you have. The objective is to occupy it as much as possible in the average sense. If you occupy it 50% of the time then you are doing quite well based on the services/products you provide, though this also depends on how many competitors you have. It is not uncommon to disappear and come back to being in the top three spots depending on the density of competitors that also have your same service offering.
Google will rotate in new competitors when they come up, though your job is to maintain a high average visibility, as being number one all of the time is impossible in a competitive environment.
A keyword is a data point that is used to help guide any search application you are using, this can be as simple as typing in something like “tacos” or as complex as “what lawyer do I need for a business transaction”. Then you receive potential matches based on what you wrote. Keywords serve as the bedrock of how most of the searchable internet works.
Keywords are everywhere in the digital world. It doesn’t matter if you are using any social media app, Google, YouTube, Google My Business, and many more. This is how we find things on the internet and also how most platforms recommend products and services to the user. But for your purposes of optimizing for local SEO there are two things you need to be aware of; what keywords/services/products are on your website, and what keywords/services/products are present on your GMB.
This is important because, as of this writing, GMB will auto-update your keywords/service/product offerings based on what is present on your website. This can and does disregard what you desire to set it to. It will auto-update and add anything it “thinks” is relevant based on what it finds on your website as a keyword which translates to a service or product, or if there is a gap in the search market that it thinks can help you be found.
To give you an idea, here is an example of an IT company that offers managed IT support and solutions, but they have a tremendous amount of keywords that GMB “decides” are their service offerings and will be highlighted in blue as the main keywords/services.
That doesn’t look like an IT company profile does it? What their actual services are, that can be manually added, look more like this.
But guess which one Google will favor. A caveat is that this is still an evolving update and will likely be changed in the future but this is how GMB is functioning presently, and it has been notoriously slow for updates to occur.
The reason why this is important is that you need to have your website set up properly for it to auto grab keywords for what your service/product is. You can still add the keywords in GMB but it is likely that it will be overridden or not observed as often as you like, especially if you have a more complex service or product offering. You shouldn’t be too worried if your business has an easy to understand product or service like tacos or burgers. But if you offer something more complex then this it is likely going to affect your visibility when others are trying to find you.
Hopefully this will help shed some light on what you can do as a business owner to help you stand out. Unfortunately every business is a bit different on what strategy needs to be taken to gain a dominant visibility in their neighborhood or potential area of influence. The challenges are many but with persistence you can dominate your area. If you want help with this then absolutely give us a call!