April 25, 2013
Local SEO is a daunting and intimidating task to tackle for any small business. Google’s algorithms seem all the more mysterious in the local realm, and competition is fierce in almost any market. It used to be that the goal for a local business was to land in the “10-pack”, or the top 10 businesses for a set of local keywords. Google would then show a map charting the location of the top 10 rankings, with subsequent information listings. A few years back, Google changed this to the “7-pack”, thereby limiting top ranking opportunities even more. It goes without saying that your goal as a small business owner is to land in the top 7 for your targeted keywords. So how do you achieve this lofty vision? Through the cornerstones of great SEO: Fantastic content, smart citations and link shares, great customer service, and crafty social media. It’s a tricky task for sure, but it’s a mountain you absolutely can conquer.
Tip #1: Write a Fabulous About Me Page
It’s important to tackle the task of defining yourself out of the gate. A well-written About Me section is not just an asset for your site’s SEO efforts, it can also be the foundation of all further strategies for your content marketing. Address the needs of your customers, tell the story of your creation (briefly), and don’t be afraid to include some random but intriguing truths as well. Play to your strengths and make it crystal clear what you offer, and why you rise above your competition. For other expert tips on crafting a killer About Me page, see this excellent article from ProBlogger.
Tip #2: Choose Keywords Carefully
If your site is already live, you should be testing your top keywords regularly to see A) how you’re ranking and B) how many users are actually searching with your selected terms. There is no frontier more dynamic than the digital space, so use that to your advantage. This means you can change what’s not working anytime you need to; it also means you need to stay on top of how your site is performing on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
For local SEO, your keywords should trigger the local algorithm. You’ll know this is the case if you see the telltale Google map with the top 7 rankings noted. If your keywords don’t launch the 7-pack, it’s definitely time to make sure your site’s content pages, social media pages, and all related content reference your targeted keywords and location.
Tip #3: Geographic Know-How
Whenever Google has more than 7 top ranking sites for any search, those closest to the downtown center of their geographic region often take precedence (referred to as the “centroid bias”). It is therefore critical that if you are closer to one city-center over another, that you target searches according. Likewise, if you’re on the outskirts of town, local SEO is going to be more challenging, so you may be wiser in sticking to the exact town(s) you service and not waste efforts on reaching the closest metro.
Tip #4: Be Thorough and Consistent
You probably already have profiles on the major social media outlets, but are you sure that your key NAP data (name, address, and phone number) is consistent on every one? This is a commonly flubbed and critical SEO task. If you choose to spell out avenue, as an example, do so every time you note your address. If your data is not an exact match everywhere on the web, Google may not know to lump all your profiles and content together.
Tip #5: Size Up the Competition
If you want to know what it takes to get top rankings in your demographic, study the business that currently lands at #1. See how they format their NAP data, and uncover what’s working on the respective website. You can even copy their NAP information, throw quotes around it, and Google it – the results will help indicate how many (and which) directories and citations you need to get top billing. As a comparison, do this for one of the lower ranking sites too. This shows you the bare minimum you need to surpass #7. Make sure to do the same search for your own business, so you know exactly where you rank as well.
Tip #6: Citations, Reviews, and Outreach
Once you’re certain your social profiles and site content are complete, keyword-rich, and consistent, it’s time to make your link sharing and testimonials more robust as well. Link sharing requires a balance of like-minded niches that are not hardcore competitors, combined with high Google credibility and user value. You don’t want incoming and outbound links to just any site, of course – these need to be thoughtfully pursued, and regularly checked.
If any of your link partners lapse into spammy habits or create partnerships with folks with bad habits, your citation score will diminish in the eyes of Google. The same thing goes with customer reviews. You absolutely must do customer outreach and ensure folks are talking about your brand. It’s not the end of the world to have a few bad reviews, as long as they are heavily balanced by positive experiences. If you’re receiving a slew of negative testimonials, you obviously have some core business issues to resolve as well. But no reviews at all will hurt you just as much, if not more. Please don’t fake these – if your customers find out, you’ll have to deal with that outrage and lack of credibility, and you may truthfully never recover.
Likewise, make sure you are listed on the big directories, like Google Places and Yelp. Research local directories specific to your area; don’t just hit the obvious big players. This is where it’s critical to intimately know your audience – who they are, where they can find you, and exactly how they are looking for your services. Consider local neighborhood guides and websites, Chamber of Commerce sites, and city guides. Find groups on ‘Meetup that fall into your target niche, and ask if you can sponsor their group. Community outreach, if well-executed, can be a huge boost to customer acquisition and retention.
Local SEO is a dicey and competitive landscape, but quality and consistency are your friends. Be methodical about your changes and improvements, and don’t do them all at once. Make tweaks to your strategy, monitor the results, then improve upon the areas that most need it. Keep your eyes on the 7-pack prize – it IS attainable. Ask yourself “Why not my company?”, and you, too, might find yourself on top.
Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.