For years, SEO focused on attracting the biggest possible audience of targeted visitors possible, meaning that your website attracted visitors from all over the Internet. While that approach works great for businesses that sell products or services online or those with stores across the nation, it’s not so effective for the local small business.
You don’t need visitors from five states away. You need visitors from the 10-20 miles around your store. The good news is that a focus on SEO for small local business has gained ground in recent years. Keep reading for a breakdown of local SEO, how it works, and what it can do for you.
What Is SEO for Local Businesses?
Local search engine optimization doesn’t look to cast the widest possible net. Instead, it looks for ways to attract the most visitors in a tightly controlled geographic area. For example, local SEO may focus on a specific town, neighborhood, or zip code. By focusing on that tightly controlled area, your marketing efforts get in front of the eyes of the people most likely to buy from your business.
Of course, local SEO does more than simply attract more visitors. When deployed correctly, it can help you with important tasks like building repeat business, finding warm leads, and reducing overall marketing costs.
How Does Local SEO Work?
There is a fair amount of overlap between local SEO and traditional SEO. For example, you must still optimize your site according to the accepted SEO guidelines from Google. There are technical and non-technical aspects of that, which are covered below. As an example of non-technical SEO, you’ll need a steady stream of fresh content. On the technical side, you need to watch for things like page load speed and image sizes.
Local SEO also diverges from traditional SEO in a few meaningful ways. You’ll need to claim your business on Google My Business. You’ll need a different keyword selection process that focuses on local terms. You may also want to give some attention to directories.
The technical side of SEO is often the most troubling for small local businesses because it often goes beyond the average skill set of the business owner. Some of the key things to keep an eye on include:
- Site structure – flatter is better
- Consistent URL structure, such as mybizwebsite.com/blog/blogtitle
- Load speeds – Google AMP can help on this front for mobile websites
- Image sizes
- Includes an XML sitemap
- Uses SSL
- Internal linking
- Headers, tags, and meta descriptions
On the subject of mobile-friendliness, content management systems often bake some degree of mobile-friendliness right into the code. Alternatively, themes for a CMS are often built with responsive design or a similar coding approach. If you have a custom site, you will typically need to ask the site to include a mobile-friendly design approach.
The non-technical front of SEO is largely about content. Search engines reward sites that provide new content on a regular basis, which is why so many business websites employ blogs. Creating video content and including it on your site can boost SEO if you think you have the chops for it. Visitors like video content, and so do search engines.
The catch with content is that it must be relevant and authoritative. Relevance mostly boils down to staying in your lane. Is your content about a topic closely related to your business? For example, a florist might post a blog about picking the right Mother’s Day bouquet.
For local SEO, though, you need to take it a step further. Your content must include local keywords in some way. So, let’s say that your shop is in Dayton, Ohio. While you don’t want Dayton, Ohio in the content title, you want it to appear at least a few times in the body of the blog. You might throw it into a call-to-action at the end of the blog like this:
“XYZ florist specializes in Mother’s Day bouquets in the Dayton, Ohio area. Place your order for delivery today.”
Other kinds of content may also help to boost your SEO results, such as reports, white papers, and social media posts.
One thing that will hurt you is duplicate content. That doesn’t just mean content that is the same as content elsewhere on the web. It also means the same content appearing in multiple places on your site. Go through your website and ensure you don’t have duplicate content. For example, you don’t want an identical paragraph on your homepage and the About Us page.
Keyword selection is always tricky, but it’s not always quite as bad with SEO for small local businesses. You should consider keyword selection as a marriage between long-tail and broad-based keywords. Broad-based keywords are the things that naturally spring to mind when you think of your business. If you’re a woodworker, then you’ll think of things like “woodworking” or “custom woodwork.” If you specialize in some way, you might think of “kitchen cabinets” or “furniture.”
Of course, you’re not catering to all of America or even your entire state. Your main customers live where you live, so you’ll want to pair up a broad-based keyword with things like a town or county name. If you live in Atlanta, Georgia, you might end up with something like “Best custom kitchen cabinets in Atlanta” or “Atlanta’s best custom wood furniture.” Like it or not, though, you should block out several hours to dig into keyword research.
There are many keyword research tools out there. Some of the more popular options include:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
- Moz Keyword Explorer
You should try out a few of them to see which ones you like best and which give you the best results.
Something easy to overlook is NAP citations. Those are Name, Address, and Phone number citations. All of those should appear on your website. Minimally, you need them on your contact page. Ideally, they’ll show up on all of your pages. Most businesses put them at the bottom of the page in the footer. Putting your NAP citations on every page ensures that web crawlers can find them.
Google My Business
You should not underestimate how valuable your Google Profile (formerly Google My Business) is for local SEO. Google Profiles is the single most comprehensive and powerful business directory online. Equally important, when you claim your Google Profile, it lets you add details about your business, such as the website address, business hours, and email address. Fleshing out those details doesn’t guarantee you’ll turn up at the top of the results page for a query, but it goes a long way toward it.
There are other business directories that you might consider, such as:
- Facebook Pages
- Instagram for Business
- Bing Places
The upside with business directories is that they’re typically one-and-done in terms of setup. Unless your business moves, gets a new website URL, or changes phone numbers, you shouldn’t need to update these very often.
The link between SEO and social media isn’t always easy to define, but the relationship exists. Google, at least, considers the popularity of business when it decides which businesses turn up on the first page of results. An active social media presence and buzz on social media sites can help tip the balance between showing up on that first page in the local businesses section or not showing up at all.
Don’t rush into social media and create profiles on every platform. Maintaining a social media presence is work. Instead, look at the available sites, pick one or two that favor your kind of business, and create profiles there. Facebook is still the biggest kid on the block, so it’s hard to go wrong there. If your business is photo-friendly, you might consider an Instagram account. If you foresee a lot of video content in your future, YouTube is a solid choice.
Be smart with your social media and use it to promote your content in other places. For example, you can link to new blog posts on Facebook. You can include a link to your website or blog on YouTube.
There are two main elements when it comes to links: internal links and external links. Internal linking is one of the things search engines look for when they crawl your site. If your content consistently covers topics related to your business, there should be links between closely related pieces of content. For example, a bakery might include an internal link to a chocolate cake recipe post in a post about cake baking best practices.
External links are trickier. Those are links on other websites that lead back to your site. Ideally, other places will link to your content independently if you create great content. When this happens, it’s almost always a real boon for your page ranking. Unfortunately, you can’t always count on other sites to find or link to your content. That means taking things into your own hands.
Some ways you can get external links include:
- Guest blogging
- Influencer outreach
- Hosting local events
- Link outreaches
Just remember, a few links from sites with high domain authority will do more for you than a lot of links from low-quality websites.
Who Needs Local SEO?
A burning question for many business owners is: Who needs local SEO? The answer is that pretty much every local brick-and-mortar business needs at least some SEO. Local SEO helps you get around competition from huge brands in the same industry. Beyond that, “near me” searches have seen explosive growth in the last few years, largely due to voice searches on the phone. People who want pizza ask their phones for things like “Pizza near me now,” often while driving.
Just some of the businesses that can benefit from local SEO include:
- Real estate
- Medical practices
- Law practices
- Pet services
In essence, any business that provides goods or services primarily to a local market can see a boost in both web traffic and sales from a well-executed local SEO effort.
Local SEO and Your Business
SEO for small local business is an important tool in your marketing arsenal. It helps you focus your SEO efforts on the area where your customers live. That limiting factor helps keep costs down while simultaneously boosting the number of relevant visitors. Remember, though, that a local SEO strategy includes both technical and non-technical SEO elements. While great content optimized with local keywords will do a lot, you still need to optimize your site and engage on social media as well.
For more articles and tips on how to help you manage and grow your business, subscribe to our small business newsletter today!