Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.
I’ve helped hundreds of local business owners bolster their SEO. In many instances, entrepreneurs have solicited my business after unsuccessfully trying to boost their own SEO for years. The issue isn’t that they are lacking effort, it is that they don’t know the best place to focus their effort.
I’m going to teach all local business owners how to crush it on their own local SEO, taking just five hours to do it. What entrepreneurs don’t realize is that if you have a physical location, you have a huge benefit in your local market. You need to make sure that you use that to your advantage.
Related: Your SEO Checklist: 4 Steps to Optimizing Your Website
What is local SEO?
I’m sure you have done a Google search and seen the results populate at the top of the page with the map, star ratings, address and phone number. This is what I’m referring to when I say local SEO. This is Google’s Local Snack Pack. Depending on the industry, it has the potential to be the very first result on Google and can make a big difference when it comes to bringing new leads into your business.
Step 1: Create a Google My Business page.
It is free to create a Google My Business page and shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to cross this step off your checklist. This will get your business hours, phone number and directions onto Google Search and Maps. Make sure you add pictures of your business and add a great description so people can familiarize themselves with your local brand directly from your Google My Business page. To verify this process, Google will manually send you a postcard with a pin so make sure to check your mail!
Related: 17 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Website Traffic
Step 2: Submit your business to local directories.
After you enter your PIN and verify your Google My Business page, you still have a lot of work left! There are hundreds of local directories across the internet where your business needs to be submitted to.
Since you are a busy entrepreneur and we only have five hours to bolster your local SEO, we are going to automate this process. Fortunately, there are services that will take care of this for you. Through Moz Local, Aabaco or Yext, you can get your business submitted to hundreds of directories. The cost associated with this is approximately $89 per quarter. This will be one of the most worthwhile investments you can make from a marketing standpoint.
After submitting your business to one of the aforementioned services, you will appear on sites like MapQuest, FourSquare and Yahoo Local (to name a few). This process will take you 30 minutes and it will help align your local presence.
Tip: If you have moved businesses or are not confident that all of your local listings are consistent, run this test on Moz to check your listings. It is vital that you have consistency with your brand name, address, phone number and other local indicators.
Related: How Real Marketers Create Backlinks That Matter
Step 3: Get reviews.
I’m frequently asked if reviews on a Google My Business page will help increase rank. The answer, unfortunately, is somewhat wish-washy. Just because you have more reviews than someone else doesn’t necessarily mean that this will help you surpass them in rank. What reviews will help you do is increase your click-through rate, an important indicator to Google.
If you Google “Columbus SEO Company,” you should see my company populate towards the top of the page, in maps and organically. What I started to notice was that once I focused on getting reviews from customers, I started to get more high quality leads. It makes perfect sense. Reviews help establish credibility for your brand. When people are deciding between SEO firms, they are likely going to read reviews. If they like what they read from The Media Captain, they are going to click on to my site. Google likes it when you have a high click-through on the search results because it means you are clearly providing value to the user (otherwise, they wouldn’t click on your site).
Business owners should spend at least one hour coming up with a list of 50 customers or clients. Create a customized email for each brand advocate and tell them how important a review would be to your business. It is also important to train your staff to ask customers for reviews. Starting with reviews on your Google My Business page is a good start. But, don’t forget about Yelp, Facebook and the Better Business Bureau.
Every Friday afternoon, before closing up shop at your office, make sure you’ve gotten some new reviews!
Tip: Don’t send a massive email out at once to all of your customers seeking reviews. This could raise a red flag to Google if you suddenly go from 0 reviews to 30. Be sure to stagger this out in an organic fashion so the reviews are naturally coming in. I always tell my clients, if you aren’t proactively getting reviews, you’ll only get bad reviews! If you have a massive list of customers, signing up for a service like Get 5 Stars or ReviewBuzz.
Related: Why You ‘Get What You Pay For’ in SEO
Step 4: Acquire local backlinks.
How exactly is Google determining which local business to populate in the “snack pack” results? There is a lot of correlation between the domain authority of your website and the local SEO results.
If you are unfamiliar with domain authority, it is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. I wrote an article about this if you want to learn more about domain authority. To make a long story short, to increase domain authority, you need quality backlinks pointing back to your site from external websites.
For a local company, it is imperative that you have local links pointing back to your site. If you are an extermination company, for example, make sure all of your vendors link back to your site on the “partners” section of their sites. If you have a lot of corporate clients, see if they’ll link back to you. Get involved in the local community and sponsor a youth baseball team and they should link back to you on their “sponsor” page. All of these backlinks are indicators to Google that you are a local business.
If you are having a hard time coming up with local clients to link back to your site, revert back to my playbook on knocking on local business owners’ doors! (watch this video on how to acquire local links). Within 60 minutes, you can get at least five local businesses to link back to your site, regardless of whether or not the relationship is already forged.
Related: SEO Strategy in 2017: What Matters Most?
Step 5: Improve your on-site SEO.
Google is not going to know you are a lawyer in Little Rock unless you make this clear on your website. Make sure to include your business name, address and phone number on your website. In the title tag of your site, reference your local market. On your contact page, make sure to list out directions to your office and include local landmarks so people can easily find your location.
Your local search results tie back to your website. Your website needs to be a true local indicator. Don’t go overboard though; there is no need to mention Little Rock on your homepage 48 times. Google will get the point if it is naturally worked into the verbiage throughout the site.
For a local business, you can optimize your site in 45 minutes to improve its on-site SEO.
Tip: You can sign-up for a 30-day free trial of Moz and use its on-page grader to determine how well your site is optimized for local keywords. For example, if you are curious how your homepage is doing for “Little Rock Divorce Lawyer,” this page will tell you your score and give you tips to improve it.
Related: Ask the Expert: Does Your Company Really Need to Focus on SEO?
Open for business
If you haven’t taken the steps above to improve your local SEO, it is the equivalent of having a sign on your front door that says, “We’re Closed.” You want to make it known to Google that you are open for business.
A common question I receive is what entrepreneurs should do if they don’t have a local business and work out of their home. This is more of a complex issue that I would have to analyze on a case-by-case basis. What I will say is don’t try and game the system. Many businesses in the past have signed up for a Regus Virtual Office Space to improve their local SEO. Google is smart. It was able to pick up on the fact that 15 businesses shared the same suite number. It rolled out an algorithm called Possum and penalized those businesses.
If you have a local office and spend five hours in a smart and efficient manner on your local SEO, you will reap the benefits for years to come. Don’t be discouraged if your business isn’t ranking in the top three results within a week, though. Like anything in life, it can take time and continued work for Google to recognize your efforts.