Local Business SEO Basics
For many local business owners, the world of search engines feels a bit unclear and a bit daunting – how does Google decide what listings to show, and what not to show? How does a local business with limited resources compete with national brands that have seemingly unlimited budgets, marketing teams and brand presence?
Getting started with SEO is a lot like going to the gym – when you’re first getting started it’s tiring, frustrating, and confusing – but it’s something you have to do. Then you develop a routine and it’s not so bad – you start seeing results and feel a lot better!
At Digital Third Coast, we work with companies of all sizes – but we particularly enjoy working with local businesses. We love Chicago and our neighborhood in Wicker Park, and we want to help other Chicago companies succeed. Here’s a quick, simply playbook for Wicker Park business owners to getting started in the world of Chicago SEO.
Local Listing Management
One of the biggest factors in local search is what Google refers to as local citations. These are listings on sites like Yellowpages, Yelp!, Facebook and other data sources that help Google to determine the credibility of a local businesses. If your business is listed on a wide variety of these citation sources with consistent name, address and phone number information; then Google will see that your business is established and credible. If there are only a few listings, and the information is inconsistent between these listings, then that gives Google doubt as to how legitimate your business actually is.
Part of the struggle with this is that the Local Search Ecosystem is so complex that it can be hard to consistently update information. See the graphic below from Moz – there are a lot of moving parts in Google’s engine!
The Local Search Ecosystem, According to Moz
So, where do you start as a local business entering this messy foray?
- Consistency is key: The biggest thing you can do is ensure listings are consistent. This means, deciding on one name and one format for street address and using that everywhere. For example:
- Digital Third Coast | 2035 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago IL 60647
- Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing | 2035 West Wabansia Avenue, Chicago IL
- They seem the same, but the lack of consistency leaves the opportunity for search engines to be confused as to your actual name and address, leading to lower local search rankings.
- Check Existing Listings: You can check which listings already exist for your business with Moz Local - https://moz.com/local - which shows your business’ listings on the majority citation sources that Google uses in it’s evaluation of your business. These sources include:
- Primary: Google+, Facebook
- Direct Network: Yelp!, Foursquare, Bing, Superpages, Citysearch, Infogroup, Best of The Web, Insiderpages
- Data Aggregators: Neustar, Axicom, Factual
- Secondary Sources: Yelp!, Yellowpages, Hotfrog
- Improve Major Sources: The definitions above are according to Moz. If you’re a local business owner with limited time and resources, I’d focus on the following networks:
- Google+: This is step 1. Claim your Google+ local listing, add photos, ensure address is correct, get your customers to review you on Google+, add a unique description.
- Yelp!: Moz defines Yelp! as a secondary source based purely on weight to local SEO ranking – however this fails to account for the fact one of the first results when you search for a business will be their Yelp! listing. Ensure your name, address and phone number on Yelp! is correct, and most importantly, respond to every review. Show that you’re active – nothing is worse than a bad review that the business owner refuses to address.
- Facebook: Facebook not only serves as a citation source but another channel for customers to interact with your business. Much like Yelp!, you want to ensure consistent information here and interact with people who review your business. Add a unique description and post to your page on a regular basis.
- Other Sources: In an ideal world, you’d be adding lots of information, reviews and more to every citation source. But in reality, there’s no time for that – however, we highly recommend going through all the citation sources listed above, claiming your listings, and then updating the name, address and phone number to be consistent across all listings.
Focus on Your Neighborhood
If you’re targeting a national market, there’s a very big audience – but also a very high level of competition. On the local level, there’s a smaller audience, but less competition. You can go to Google and test this yourself by running the following queries:
- “pizza” – 658 million results
- “pizza Chicago” – 73 million results
- “pizza bucktown” 399,000 results
So, there’s definitely a lot less volume and competition for “pizza bucktown” then “pizza Chicago”. Also consider that someone searching for ‘pizza bucktown’ has likely already made the decision to get a pizza in Bucktown, where someone searching ‘pizza Chicago” might be a tourist coming in from out of town, or looking to see all the pizza places in Chicago. It’s less likely that person is going to convert to a customer. It’s all about intent.
The nature of local search means that if I search ‘pizza’ from my computer at my office – I’m going to see Wicker Park results first. Use this to your advantage. In addition to claiming your local listings, you should create local content on your website. Become the authority for pizza, SEO, real estate, whatever in Wicker Park by creating content that speaks both to your expertise and neighborhood.
There are two components to this – your landing pages, i.e. the pages that list your services; and blogging strategy. Creating local landing pages is about being relevant to broad terms – and you can learn about local landing pages on my recent blog – and blogging gives you a chance to show expertise on a regular basis that wouldn’t fall in the scope of a landing page. The blog is where you want to talk about what you’re doing in the neighborhood, what’s new with your business, what’s new in Wicker Park – show off that expertise, answer questions your customers have. Doing this consistently leads to you becoming the leader of your industry in WPB – and if you do it well enough, you could come to dominate all of Chicago!
Finally, you want to make sure that your website has the basic technical requirements to be indexed by Google and be user-friendly. Even if you have your citations in order and are creating great, locally-focused content, it’s tough to pull in traffic if Google can’t access your website properly. The main steps to this part of the process:
Design Requirements: Ensure the following prerequisites for your website:
- Website utilizes responsive design and works well on mobile phones and tablets.
- Your website should load fairly quickly, within 2 seconds. You can use GTmetrix.com to test your website’s speed and see any issues that are slowing your website down.
Install Google Search Console: Google Search Console shows you how Google is crawling and indexing your site, from the pages being indexed to how it views your sitemaps. Easy to install – just add a line of code to your homepage! Visit google.com/webmasters to get started!
robots.txt file: A robots.txt file allows you to exclude certain pages from being indexed by Google. It’s a set of directions for Google’s crawling robots. On the basic level you want to exclude:
- Shopping cart pages
- Pages behind a contact form (whitepapers, thank you pages, etc.)
- Development directories
- Admin/pages behind login walls
XML Sitemap: An XML sitemap is a roadmap to your website that makes it easier for search engine robots to crawl and index pages on your website. You can create this easily with the help of a free sitemap generator and upload it to the directory yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.
The world of local search can be daunting as a local business owner, particularly if you’re up against national companies – however, you can use your local presence and nimbleness as an advantage.
- Start with ensuring listings on Yelp!, Google+ and other sources are accurate
- Build a website that provides value, create blogs about new happenings at your business, in your industry, and in your city/neighborhood
- Make sure the technical basics are in order – robots.txt, sitemaps, a responsive website are all important.