If you’ve been working on an online marketing strategy as a way to grow your business, there’s little doubt you’ve heard the term “SEO.”
But maybe you’re not quite sure exactly what it means or how it can help your business. Or maybe you’ve heard some horror stories about dodgy SEO Techniques and you’re questioning whether you should give it a go or not.
But the uncertainty stops here..
I’m going to give you a quick “crash course” into SEO and why you absolutely should invest in it if you are running a local business. When I say invest I mean either do it yourself and invest your own time, or invest in an experienced and reputable SEO firm who can demonstrate previous results they have achieved.
Ready to get started? OK, let’s go…
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization.
It sounds complex, but it’s actually a lot simpler than you think.
In the very basic sense, optimizing your website leads to higher search engine rankings. These higher search engine rankings mean that your brand is easier to find online through searches, thus giving you the potential to reach more customers.
Google (and other search engines) use a complex algorithm to create their rankings. Generally, this is a closely kept secret, but over time SEO experts have been able to figure out what types of things you can do to your website in order to increase your search engine results.
Here are a few of the things you can do to help optimize your site:
- Create a blog that has great content which includes your target keywords
- Be sure to check your name, address, and phone (also known as NAP) citations
- Claim your business page on the big search engine sites like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
- Make sure your website is fully optimized for keywords throughout
So, it’s a lot more than just creating your business website and tossing up a blog in order to get a good ranking. There are tons of things you can do, especially as a local business to improve your local SEO results.
Why Search Engine Results Matter
In an ideal world, when a potential consumer types your brand, or business keywords into a search engine like Google, your business is the very first result.
Why does this matter?
Because the higher up a keyword is to being the #1 result on a search engine, the more often it is clicked.
Now this seems like common sense, but there’s a lot of data to back it up.
Studies have shown again and again that the first search engine result gets not only by far the most clicks of all the results, but also a dramatically higher percentage of total search engine results page clicks as well.
Look at the chart below, it’s very easy here to visualize just how important it is to be at the very top of search engine results.
Now, when you see something like that, is it any wonder that research has found that 75% of people never even go past the first page of search engine results?
Here’s the big problem (potentially) for you now.
If your site is not on that first page, you’re losing a ton of search engine traffic and potential customers.
How About Local SEO?
When you break down SEO into smaller categories, most local businesses will find one that should be really important to them: local SEO.
While local SEO is still all about optimizing search engine rankings, it has some important distinctions from “regular” SEO that you need to pay attention to. The fact of the matter is, unless you’re a giant brand or have an incredibly small niche, local SEO is going to be much more important to your overall business.
Local SEO Example
Now, when we say local SEO. Here’s a quick example for you.
Let’s say your business is a comic book shop in Liverpool.
You’re going to have a few categories of customers, mostly divided into those that know the name of your shop and will just type in your website’s URL, and those who are looking for comic books and thus need to take to a search engine like Google to find you.
When people do that, the vast majority of the time they aren’t going to just type in your main keyword to find your business (in this case they could be “comic books,” “comic book shop,” “comic book store”), they are also going to type in the location.
So the keyword would be something like this: “comic books liverpool”
A keyword like this is going to alert Google that the consumer want to find a business that is specifically in their local area. It’s all great to give them results for comic book shops in London or New York, but if they don’t live there, it doesn’t matter.
Here’s what the results look like:
Now, the odds of a potential customer clicking on one of those three local businesses is incredibly high, so much so that they probably won’t look much further than what’s listed.
These top 3 local listings are often referred to as the ‘Google 3 Pack’.
That means if your brand isn’t one of these, you’ve just lost a potential customer.
This is just one (very realistic) example of how a local brand can lose out if they aren’t paying attention to local SEO.
How Do You Get Started?
First and foremost you need to prioritise your actions. We recently studied over 540 UK B2B (Business to Business, e.g. Accountants, Printers) websites to see what separated the top ranking businesses from lower ranking ones.
We determined that there were four main factors separating the best from the rest. These were:
- Use of location and industry in Page Title Element Metatag (e.g. Printer Birmingham)
- Number of backlinks – specifically the number of referring domains (44 vs 17 on average for best in class vs lower ranking sites)
- Number of Google Reviews – top ranking sites average one review whilst low ranking sites averaged 0.4
- Number of pages – high ranked sites had double the number of pages that low ranked sites had (104 vs 48)
How Much Would It Cost?
Certainly getting more Google reviews and fixing metatags are pretty straightforward whilst getting backlinks and adding content would take a bit longer.
But with some effort any local business could address all of these in a matter of weeks.
Let’s look at them in turn.
Fixing metatags is something that you can do yourself or if you’re not confident with that type of thing then an SEO freelancer or local web designer could do this for you very quickly.
You would need to create the metatags first – the most important ones are the Page Title Element and the Meta Description. There are strict limits to the number of characters you can use (67 for the Page Title and 180 for the Meta Description) and you should use different ones for every page to make them specific to the content on that page.
The important point is to include your industry and location wherever possible.
These changes are really easy, but obviously it depends on whether you’re using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress in which case it’s super easy or you have pure html when it will take a bit longer, but not for an experienced web professional.
Getting More Backlinks
Here you just need to focus on the easy ones. Obviously make sure you get links from your Google, Bing and Yahoo accounts and your social media profiles.
Then just focus on getting Name, Address and Phone (NAP) Citations from reputable business listings and directories. Things like Yelp, 118, ThomsonLocal, etc.. NAP Citations are a listing of your company, the address and phone number. They need to be consistent across all of your listings. These signals are trusted by Google.
Some will be free and some will be chargeable. There’s no need to go for an expensive listing or anything like that. Just focus on getting the backlinks.
Another option is to get some backlinks from local suppliers by offering a testimonial. Just send them a personalised testimonial and let them know you’re happy for them to use it on their website and link back to you to show it’s genuine. You can even send a photo of yourself with it if you like. Not everyone will give you a link but some will.
Getting More Google Reviews
This is super easy. You know your best customers. You’re probably on first name terms with some of them. Just send them a short email with a link to your Google account and just politely ask if they wouldn’t mind giving you a review.
Don’t go crazy here. Just aim for one review per week. Just make it a habit to ask for them. Imagine after 3 months you would have 12 or so reviews.
A word of warning though. Don’t go crazy getting 500 reviews in a week. Google may think you’re gaming the system and penalize you, or even possibly remove your account. You have been warned!
Add More Pages
This one’s probably going to take you a bit longer. The thing is that Google doesn’t seem to like thin websites with very little content. Or rather it prefers websites that have plenty of content and ideally are adding more content on a regular basis.
The two best ways to address this issue are to add more service pages and to create a blog. Let’s look at each.
With service pages, many small businesses will have a generic ‘Services’ page that lists all the services they do. That’s just spreading themselves too thinly. Google wants to send people to pages that match exactly what they’re looking for and a single page listing half a dozen services just doesn’t cut it.
Far better to create individual pages for every service you offer. As we mentioned above customise the metatags to reflect the service and the location, e.g. Litho Printing Dunfermline.
In terms of a blog this is an absolute necessity these days. Creating content is increasingly important. Don’t get confused about your blog. It’s not for selling – leave that to your service pages. Your blog is about answering questions and demonstrating your knowledge.
Just think of all the questions you get asked by customers and potential customers. Start with these. In fact you’ve probably got most of them written down somewhere in your hard drive or in your outbox. Just convert them into blog posts.
Be creative too. A taxi company might find it hard to come up with content for their blog until they start to write about local places and local events – a what’s on guide. Then they’ve got a never ending source of content.
Setting up a WordPress blog is so easy – you can do it with one click in your hosting control panel. Then just commit to creating one or two pieces of content a week. As with the example above, after 12 weeks you’d have maybe 20 or so extra pages for your website.
So is it Worth it?
The answer is a resounding yes.
It’s always worth it to get your site and brand optimized for search engine results, especially since the majority of people go to the internet first when looking for information on products and brands.
But for local businesses, investing the time, money, and energy into improving local SEO is incredibly important. For many local brands, there is a limited number of customers in the area, and by not appearing on that first page of search engine results, they are unknowingly reducing that amount even further.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Creating an actionable plan for improving your local search engine results is going to expand your customer base and reach out to those new idea consumers who didn’t even know you existed.
Remember, happy customers are those who will spread the news about your brand. And, if you’re a great local business, those kinds of referrals are invaluable. They can all come through the power of search engine rankings!