Being visible online is an essential part of winning new business. Regardless of what industry you’re in, the average customer’s journey often starts online with a humble Google search, with the dialogue gradually migrating offline.
Local SEO marries our reliance on search with our need for offline business associations quite nicely. So let’s explore local SEO in depth and look at 9 ways you can start increasing your local online visibility today.
What is Local SEO?
Local search engine optimisation is a subcategory of SEO that focuses on being visible to people in a specific geographical area through search. It’s especially important for businesses who rely on passing foot traffic (e.g., retailers, hairdressers, etc.) or those who only serve a particular area (e.g., tradespeople); but companies who don’t fall into these two categories can benefit too.
Regardless of what you do, it’s likely that potential clients may be searching for companies like yours using terms like “[what you do] + near me” or “[what you do] + [your town/city]. Local SEO practices give you the best possible chance of appearing competitively for searches like these.
Though many companies find some level of local search optimisation useful, it may not be appropriate for everyone. If you’re an online-only ecommerce retailer, you won’t necessarily want people knocking on your door – especially if you operate from home. If you’re an author or some other kind of popular content creator, it’s equally unlikely that you want avid fans turning up out of the blue.
What Does Local Search Visibility Look Like?
Google provides two highly visible ways that businesses can appear in search: the “map pack” or “local 3 pack” and the “knowledge panel”.
If we search for “cafe solihull” the following map pack appears – understandably excellent search visibility for all of the establishments listed:
However if we search for a specific company (let’s use one of the above cafes as an example) it’s likely that the company listing will appear beside the search results in a knowledge panel:
9 First Steps Towards Great Local SEO
1. Set Up Your Google My Business Profile
87.65% of UK search engine users use Google (source: Statista), making “googling it” the nation’s favourite way of finding things online. Google My Business is Google’s own business listing platform, making it arguably the most search-savvy listing site to be present on.
In order to set up a Google My Business profile, head to the Google My Business page and click “Manage Now”. You’ll be asked to sign in with a Google account, after which you’ll be guided through a simple application process.
Using informative map pointers, images, and the relatively new “posts” feature all help make your knowledge panel as eye-catching and informative as possible.
2. Set Up Business Profiles on Other Listing Sites
Google isn’t the only place customers look for businesses online. Bing may only be favoured by 8.16% of the British online populace (source: Statista), but that’s still a statistically sizeable group. Head over to Bing Places and get signed up – the process is very similar to Google’s above.
People also look for businesses through general business listing sites like Cylex, Yell, and TrustPilot, so you may also want to list your business there too. Depending on what your business does and for whom, you may also want to look at other, more industry specific listings like TripAdvisor or Checkatrade.
3. Aim for Consistency Across All Your Listings
In order to provide reliable business information in the map pack and knowledge panel, Google cross references numerous business listing sites for accuracy and completeness. If Google’s algorithm finds an inconsistent or out of date listing, there is a chance that it may display this inaccurate information in the knowledge panel or map pack instead.
With this in mind, make sure that your contact details are consistent across all of your listings (including Facebook if you have a page there). Your business name, phone numbers, physical address, website URL, and opening times should be the same wherever your company is present online to help maximise visibility and provide a coordinated appearance.
4. Optimise Your Website for Local Search
If you’re trying to appeal to a given geographic area, then optimise your website’s page titles and H1 header tags to incorporate the names of the locations you’d like to rank for. However you do need to exercise caution here – though H1 headers are important from an SEO perspective, they also tend to be the most visible header on a webpage. Therefore filling each of your pages’ H1s with “[what you do] + [your location]” might seem like SEO best practice, but is likely to look awkward or spammy to your site’s visitors.
The SEO importance of meta descriptions seems to be waning, but Google often uses meta descriptions in the search results page as the grey preview text under each link. This means that creating an attractive, keyword-rich meta description is still an essential part of persuading searchers to click.
5. Optimise Your Website Images
We’ve discussed the benefits of general image optimisation before on our blog; optimising your website’s images may seem minor, but if your images refer to a particular location or premises, then absolutely mention it in the image’s title and alt description. It’s an easy, subtle way to semantically tie a webpage closer to a location. For example, an image called “our-stafford-office.jpg” gives Google more specific information than just “our-office.jpg”.
6. Monitor Your Site’s Backlinks
In their 2018 local search report, Moz found that inbound link signals played an important part in local search visibility. A well-thought-out backlinking campaign can be instrumental in improving overall SEO, but you can also incorporate a local twist by strengthening bonds with businesses and professional bodies within your local area. Check out our backlinking for beginners guide to get started.
7. Be Careful With Localised Web Content
If your company serves a large geographical area, you may benefit from creating separate localised web pages within your site designed to appeal to specific locations. The aim here is to compete in search for areas that may be geographically distant, but still perfectly servable by your organisation. So when someone searches for “[what you do] + London” they’ll hopefully see your specially optimised London page, even if your company is actually based elsewhere.
The locations you choose may simply be your region’s largest towns or cities, a carefully selected melange of large metropolitan areas, or indeed everywhere from Caithness to Cornwall!
This is smart SEO practice, but some organisations implement it poorly. When setting up localised pages, some companies merely copy/paste the same content within all of the pages, changing the locations and the odd word here and there. Even with these minimal alterations, Google may see it as low-quality, duplicate content and may disregard many of these pages in search. Google doesn’t technically “penalise” sites for duplicate content, but too much “samey” content does have its downsides.
8. Don’t Forget Social Media!
Though Moz found that social media signals don’t carry much weight from a local SEO perspective, it’s still well worth being visible on relevant social media platforms. Facebook Pages allow for both reviews and business listing functions, so Google considers it alongside review sites when showing your business’s overall star rating. If you rely on Facebook or have received reviews through it, optimise your business’s Facebook Page with the same coordinating information as your other listings above.
If you’re a B2B, it may be worthwhile to create a company page on LinkedIn. LinkedIn recently published guidance on how to best optimise your company page which is well worth a read. To hugely summarise, they suggest publishing client-focused, keyword rich content in your about section and encourage regularly updating your company’s feed.
9. Monitor Your Company’s Overall Online Reputation
It’s important to keep an eye on what people are saying about you online. If someone tags you on social media or leaves a review on a listing site, you are notified almost immediately. But these may not be the only conversations people are having about your brand online.
If a disgruntled customer of yours airs their frustration in a blog post, on a forum, or doesn’t tag you on social media, you won’t be immediately aware of their remarks. And left unchecked, particularly damning testimony can wreak untold havoc on your overall reputation.
There are numerous social listening tools available on the market, but our favourite by far is Google Alerts. With this free tool, you can set up email notifications which fire every time Google indexes a page that mentions your company, brand, or product names. This should help you locate any comments being made about you online, so you can respond in a timely, professional manner and hopefully put things right for the client.
No two businesses will ever need exactly the same kind of digital marketing support. At OLCO Design, we provide a totally tailored range of support that spans digital design, SEO, social media strategy, pay-per-click – the list goes on! To book your free, no-obligation consultation, get in touch with the team today!