What is SEO?
SEO = Search Engine Optimization. The goal is for your pages to rank higher than your competitors in keyword searches, preferably in position #1 or at least the top 3, and certainly above your competitors. The benefits are free website traffic and thereby free customers. A frequent side benefit is better page usability and site navigation, leading to increased visitor retention and conversion.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO is the same as regular SEO, with an additional emphasis on data about your and your customers’ location. It is vital for brick-and-mortar businesses, especially for mobile users. You should always be in position #1 for your business name plus location, and in the top 5 for most of the important keywords in your business sector and area.
Local SEO Factors
This chart is a bit dated and an extreme simplification of hundreds of factors involved in full-on SEO. However it does show the relationship between SEO factors that you can influence.
Citations, Reviews and Links are factors you can improve with only basic research and editing skills, thus you can improve up to 75% of your SEO without engaging expensive professionals… but with a significant time investment.
Local SEO Factor 1 - Citations, aka NAP (Name/Address/Phone):
Citations are links from external authoritative websites, and the more authoritative the better. Those website listings should contain accurate and consistent NAP data across the Web. Examples of inconsistencies: Smith Co. LLC vs. Smith Co., Charlie’s Killer Crepes vs. Charlies’ Killer Crepes, 1-800-555-1212 vs. 800.555.1212 vs. 800-555-1212. Descriptions may need to vary slightly due to allowed lengths, but should still be very similar and highly brand and keyword relevant. Address listings may vary slightly depending on the search engine data: 1234 Main St. Northeast vs. 1234 Main Street NE. If you enter your address and the data provider suggests an alternate format, use their format. Double check that the map marker is correct and suggest corrections if needed. Business categories can and will vary amongst directories – be prepared with a number of options.
Almost all NAP data will be in directory listings, e.g. Google My Business, Bing Business Portal, ExpressUpdate, Acxiom, BBB, Yelp, Angies’ List, etc. There is no need to pay for any services at any level. For instance: Yahoo will charge you $30/month to place a listing and replicate it to other websites. However, they receive data from InfoGroup, where you can add your data for free.
You will spend a lot of time creating and/or updating your business data. Fortunately this task can occur at your pace. But the sooner you control and correct your information, the faster the SEO results and the less customer confusion. Once you’ve claimed and cleaned up a large portion of your information, you will find less and less to update, and that correct listings are propagating far beyond your initial reach.
Note: there is an important difference between a Local Business and a Service Area Business (SAB). A local business is a location that customers will visit - salon, bank, etc. An area business may be a locsksmith, contractor, etc. If you are a SAB, you should hide your address on your website and listings, but make sure to add your service area to your website and listings. There is a helpful article explaining the differences.
One very important and often overlooked detail is to make sure your domain registration is correct. You can use various online tools to check your data. They generally are a 'whois' lookup on your domain name. Those records will show your domain registrar, registrant, administrative contact, billing contact, and sometimes a technical contact. The information via whois may be masked for privacy, in which case you'll need to login to your domain registrar account and check the data. The registrant, admin & billing should always be in your name and/or your companies name. The tech contact could be your webmaster or web host. In no circumstances should you have the owner/admin/billing in the name of your contractor! If they are, and you do not have a login for the registrar, you do not 'own' your domain name!!
Action: Complete NAP Tasks #1-4 below.
NAP Task #1
Copy the following list to a new text only document and fill out all the information (you do not want any non plain text characters or hidden editor code for pasting into directories). Prepare graphics and photos as needed. Store all the documents with clear file names ('my-biz-dir-info.txt', 'my-biz-logo.jpg', etc) in a separate well-named folder for easy access. This information and images will be used to review, update, or add consistent information to your website and in many, many business directories.
- Business Name
- Address (optional for some listings if you do not have physical storefront; some listings may allow an address plus a service radius, or a list of cities/zip/county)
- Mailing address (optional)
- Phone (dashes only, maybe space then Ext.)
- Toll-free, Fax, Mobile, Text phones
- Website address (note: www.company.com & company.com are different websites to the search engines; work with your developer and website host to use only one)
- Motto (~50-75 characters; trade keyword rich*)
- Description, short (varies, <140 characters; trade keyword rich*)
- Description, long (varies, ~1K characters; trade keyword rich*)
- Motto should and descriptions must use a prominent sampling of your industry keywords
- Days & Hours of operation
- Primary email address
- Alt. emails (sales, support, etc)
- Social Media links/accounts
- Company logo (various formats/sizes may be needed)
- 3-10 ‘business’ photos (store front, team, equipment, projects, etc)
- Business categories (these may vary for different directories)
- Service area
- Payment methods
- Brands carried
- DUNS number
* you can find your trade relevant keywords using Google's keyword tool. Note that what you expect for keyword/phrases may well not be what the public is searching for.
NAP Task #2
Check that the following websites contain accurate and consistent NAP data for your business. Login to each if you have an account (you may need to recover a login from a previous administrator). If not, create and validate an account, then add, claim, and update your listing. This covers a majority of the primary listings. Some of these websites are not directories, but data warehouses that provide information to other websites. Additional local and/or trade specific listing possibilities can be found via Whitespark, and may be worth their fee.
(make sure your NAP is correct; difficult to update later)
Secondary & Local Directories:
- Angie's List (mostly service sector)
- Hot Frog
- Merchant Circle
- TripAdvisor (travel & travel services)
- Yellow Pages
- LinkedIn (both the company & key employees)
- Pinterest (if your business is image oriented; see also Place Pins)
- Tumblr (if you have a blog)
- Instagram (if you have photos)
- YouTube (if you have videos)
NAP Task #3
- Use all of the search parameters below to search for your business in:
- Click through to check the top 50-100 search results. Yes, you will be reviewing up to 500-1500+ search results!
- If the result is a listing – as opposed to news, etc - try to find something similar to ‘Claim Listing’ on the page.
- If the listing is already Claimed, hopefully you either have the login information and have already updated the data in NAP Task #2, or know whom to contact to release the page to your authorization. You may need to do a ‘forget login’ or ‘forgot password’.
- Some low authority directories or websites that receive their data from other sites – including paid listings - do not have Claim or even Contact information. Ignore them.
- If the listing is not Claimed, create an account. Different directories will have different authorization schemes: auto-call or text with PIN, email validation, etc.
- Once you have logged into each directory and claimed the listing, edit the business information using the data created in NAP Task #1. Use Copy/Paste to ensure accuracy.
- Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseum.
- Business name(s), including variations and old
- Address(es), including old
- Phone(s), including old
- Current & past principal employees
NAP Task #4
- 2-3 months after completing NAP Task #1-3, go to Yext.
- Enter your business name and primary phone number and Scan Now for listings.
- Ignore the Special Offers, Not Verified, and all other paid service offers from Yext.
- Check for inconsistent or missing listings.
- Use the ‘view listing’ link to see the actual listing page for each entry, whether or not it looks consistent.
- Check each listing for accuracy and consistency with the data from NAP Task #1.
- Correct listings as needed.
- Links are not provided by Yext where there are no listings. Go to the named website, and create/claim your listing.
- Repeat NAP Task #3 every 6-12 months and take action as required.
- Moz.com is another site you can use to verify listing accuracy and consistency.
Local SEO Factor 2 - Reviews:
Top Review Websites:
- Google My Business
- Bing Local
- Merchant Circle
Reviews are the hidden gem of Local SEO: underutilized, quite influential for both users – especially mobile - and search engines, and simple to put in motion. However they may take a while to accumulate, since they are voluntary.
- Every (appropriate) time you contact your clients, you should politely request reviews, as soon as possible.
- This is especially true for an order Thank You page, customer service emails, follow up surveys, etc.
- You can make a small article requesting reviews to include in your newsletter 3-4 times/year.
- Ask your clients to post natural reviews of your service or products. Provide them with link(s) to your business listing(s) from the Primary Directories, and optionally your social account(s).
- Do not offer a trade, a free latte, a tchotchke, etc, for positive reviews. If there’s even a hint of stacking the deck, each service will start heavily penalizing your listing or even remove it all together, and their rules vary widely. You also may disenfranchise your existing customers.
- Always reply promptly and professionally to negative reviews.
- Reviews on the Primary Directory listings are very effective.
- Reviews on your social sites are only moderately effective.
- Reviews or Testimonials on your own site are useless for SEO (except for ecommerce product microdata, see #4 below), but can be a strong 'feel-good' factor for your clients.
- Check each listing in NAP Task #2 above to see if it allows reviews. If so, save the URL of your listing.
- Decide which 2-4 of the listings that are the most beneficial to your business and that you’ll be most interactive with.
- Link to those listings from your website; thank you pages & emails, contact page, your email sig, etc.
- Determine which channels you will use to contact your customers.
- Develop method(s), template(s) and a schedule for requesting reviews.
- Perhaps rotate sites for requesting reviews, send Google+ request only to Gmail users, etc.
Local SEO Factor 3 – In Bound Links:
The gold standard for a high quality inbound link is your business name or a vital keyword phrase, used as the anchor text or alt text for an image on a high ranking website, above the fold, freshly linked to a page on your website that contains the same keyword(s) and has few but authoritative outbound links. So anchor text, 3rd party domain rank, location and age are the primary 3rd party website factors, and page rank, inbound link rank, inbound/outbound link ratio, age and keyword relevance are your primary on-page factors.
After your page SEO is up to snuff, you ‘merely’ need to get relevant links to that page. Stay away from any paid link-building services, reciprocal/exchange links*, link directories, etc. We’ve already covered links to your home page using citations above, so inbound links should target pages elsewhere on your site. The following are some of the ways you can gain inbound links.
*Reciprocal links in the Other category below are highly valuable and relevant – however your industry may have standards prohibiting such affiliations.
Social networks: Likes, Shares, Tweets, Follows, Pins ,+1’s are all valuable SEO signals; comments not so much. A social media plan is helpful for coordinating your content, especially links back to your pages. A regular schedule is important to maintain your social SEO growth. The biggest benefit will come from compelling content that goes viral, but you can only research, plan, and write, not guarantee virality.
Onsite blog or articles: the benefits of a blog are that the search engines see continually new and deep content, thereby expanding your SEO foot print, gaining you more search engine results, and more importantly, create compelling content for other sites to link to. Links other than from search engines do not occur automatically, so you will have to do some marketing of your content. If you have a blog, make sure you push each new entry to all your social accounts, and to Reddit, Tumblr, StumbledUpon, etc. Depending on your website platform, there are components that can automate this, or at least make it easy. An aggressive blog schedule is two 400-500 word articles and one 1000-1500+ per week.
Offsite blogs: you may gain a slight SEO advantage by starting a blog with Blogger, Wordpress, Weebly, etc. However, depending on their Terms & Conditions, you may not be able to own or control your content.
3rd party blogs: if you can get somebody – especially an expert in your field writing on an high ranked site – to write a blog and link to your page(s), you gain much SEO goodness. Example: you have a home decorating business, and Martha Stewart writes an article about you and uses your business name to link to your website.
Newsletter archives: if you have a newsletter and are using a 3rd party mailer like Constant Contact or MailChimp, archives of your newsletters that contain links to your onsite articles are moderately beneficial for SEO. Make sure your articles are using good keyword anchors and links. Onsite archives are not much help other than internal link factors.
Checkins: if you have a physical location, customer check-ins via Foursquare, Facebook and Google My Business are moderately valuable for Local SEO, as are Twitter Follows. You’ll need to enable check-ins in your social account, and remind visitors that they can check-in. You can create QR codes for each of these networks that make it easy for your customer to act. Post a QR code in your reception area, on your service desk, or by the front door or exit.
Subject Matter Expert (SME): Certain websites allow you to create an account, and then post answers to users questions. Almost invariably you won’t be able to link to your website in your answers, but the answer is linked to your profile which will have a link to your home page. The more you answer and the more users vote up your answers, the more authoritative your 2nd level link is. Examples: Reddit, Answers.com, Quora, Google Groups. There also may be trade specific forums that you can participate in. Again they probably won’t allow direct links in answers or signatures, but will link from your profile.
Press Releases, Squidoo & EZineArticles: no SEO weight and possibly even penalties. You’re better off creating news and information articles on your website.
Other: (handle via email, not accounts & listings; link to home page):
- Any trade or professional organizations or memberships, Chambers of Commerce, BBB, etc.
- Business network partners, especially trade related
- Your suppliers, manufacturers, clients, etc.
- Local publications
- Check/correct/ask for (reciprocal) links from all of your Other websites; use consistent NAP data.
- Create a plan and posting schedule for your social media networks.
- Research methods for creating viral content in your field.
- Start a blog and push its' articles to other sites. Ask for reviews of and links to your articles.
- Ask for customer reviews of your company, service, etc.
- Enable customer check-ins for Facebook, Google, Yelp, etc., and post visual reminders in your lobby.
- Find 5+ SME in your trade that publish blogs, articles, etc. Link to them via your social networks, start liking & sharing their posts.
- Research the answers websites to see if there are questions you can answer. If so, create accounts, answer politely & promptly (no flame wars!), and monitor frequently.
Local SEO Factor 4 - Website:
On-Site SEO Factors:
- Industry keywords
- City/State keywords
- Domain name
- SEO/SEF URL’s
- Mobile/responsive design
- Header keywords
- Text content
- Image names & alt text
- Keyword location
- Keyword density
- Internal links
- Outbound links
- Host & site speed
- Duplicate pages
- Site map
For a small to medium size business, your basic NAP should be on every page, not just your contact and/or home page. You do not know where your visitors will land on your website, and you want them to have the information immediately available, not a click away, especially for mobile users. This is more UI than SEO, and is critical for a brick and mortar business. Headers, sidebars and footers are all logical locations.
Again for UI, an embedded interactive map linked to your Google/Bing business listing, and hours of operation should be prominent, perhaps on your Home or Contact page, or a sidebar.
Note: Adding JSON/microdata to your website is a critical factor for SEO. You will need to work with your developer to implement these changes.
Action: work with your website developer to improve your website UI and SEO.
Local SEO Factor 5 - Miscellaneous:
Other SEO Factors:
- Domain authority
- Page rank
- Website volume
- Click through rate
- Visit duration
These factors are mostly not under your direct control, and are not overly relevant. However, in working on your SEO, you can improve factors like page rank, traffic volume, and visitor duration.
A absolutely critical factor is maintaining website security and not having your website hacked. If a search engine finds spam or malware actions or links, they will immediately remove your search results and cut off all SEO traffic! Even after the website is repaired, it may take up to one year to recover your SEO prominence. Work with your website designer and host to ensure best practices for passwords, firewalls, etc.
- Ensure you’ve gained control of and corrected your NAP data.
- Ask for reviews across many listings, and respond positively to negative reviews.
- Continue to build inbound links.
- Work with your website designer to improve onsite SEO.
- Improving your local SEO results is a long-term marketing strategy incorporating diverse strategies.
- SEO is a spiraling process: as your page SEO improves, so does your page rank and authority, which improves your link relevance, which improves your SEO…
- You can see decent results within a couple of months, but it may be up to a year for the full affect to take hold.
- Don’t rest on your laurels – your competitors are always trying to catch up. Get new citations, reviews, social actions and links each and every month.
- Use NAP Task #3 to check for your competitors’ citations and add your own along side their listing.
- Ask for more reviews.
- Grow your blog for more SEO recognition.
- Make a viral Pinterest infographic.