Local SEO, or the process of optimising your web presence within your immediate local area has become a tremendously important step for small business marketing. This is partly down to Google’s initiative to favour small businesses and provide their search users with results relevant to their geographical situation. It is estimated that at least 43% of Internet searches are seeking local products and services (SearchEngineLand). This represents a tremendous opportunity for small business.

At the same time, out of all local searches a whopping 74% are conducted on mobile devices (SearchEngineLand). Smartphones and tablets are providing consumers with a hyper connected personalised web experience, and their usage and distribution is increasing steadily with each year. You need only look at how different apps, like facebook, twitter, foursquare and google maps are being seamlessly integrated together. The setup of this mobile infrastructure is perfectly designed to spotlight small businesses within close proximity of the user.

So how do we approach local SEO? How is it different to normal SEO? Over recent years, Google has been recognised as empowering smaller businesses within their local areas. This requires a slightly different approach than standard SEO. Currently these trends are mainly localised within the US. Already in the US, SEO aficionados Moz have purchased Get Listed tool and repurposed it as Moz Local as a way to find the best listing sites. As with all of Google changes, local SEO is already gaining traction in the US. It won’t be long until the influence spreads East to the UK, Europe and beyond!

The UK is smaller than the US, are internet connections are of generally, a higher standard. It remains to be seen whether the same processes apply. For now, we have summarised the following points to bolster your local presence digitally.

Proper category associations

When Moz surveyed local SEO across the world as part of its annual survey, the number one rule was to define the correct category of your business when setting up a Google+ local page. Google has a large roster of businesses to choose from and you should. It is recommended to use the Business Category Tool for Google Places to add further nuance to the nature of your field and service. For example if your primary category was ‘doctor’ you can add further description by including ‘general practitioner’ or ‘family practice physician’.

A physical address in the city being searched

Location, location, location is what is important. There are two ways Google will come up with a list of local results – firstly the search query contains the name of the business in question or secondly, the location is already broadcast through your device, as in smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

This can pose a problem for businesses not so specifically located in urban centres. If you are based on the periphery of Birmingham for example, Google is still going to list those within the city centre over you. It is advisable therefore, to create a landing page specifically for the correct region. So if you are based in the the west midlands but want to cater towards Birmingham or Staffordshire, your website should include pages that direct to Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire etc. Similarly in the South East, companies want to be building landing pages to both London City Centre and the surrounding areas, such as Kent and Guilford.

Consistent high-quality citations

Approaching listings is a good way of building links but also making your business visible within your local area. In the US, Moz Local provides a good way of determining the best websites for listing citations. In the UK we don’t yet have the infrastructure, though Marcus Miller from Bowler Hat has made a list of some of the more reputable listing websites which includes yell.com, and yelp.co.uk. Foursquare is becoming increasing popular on mobile devices, since it allows you to search a certain product within a specific area and it will mark them on a map and allows users to leave reviews to gauge popularity and quality of service.

When approaching citations you must ensure that they are consistent with your information as listed on your website and Google+ Local profile. For instance, you must ensure that the information is correct containing no human errors such as typos that will exacerbate your listing.

If you are moving premises, make sure you have a record of all your listings and make the changes to your contact details appropriately. You don’t want to miss that one customer who is eager to do business with you but ends up at the old address because of the first listing they came across. Inconsistencies in your citations will lead to your overall authority being skewered and therefore weaker. It’s an easy step to amend, but you’d be surprised at how many businesses are doing it obliviously.

Your NAP information featured clearly on your website

Most websites will have a Contact Us tab, reserved for your name, address, and phone number, (NAP for short) bit also fax, and email address. In addition, you may include your official NAP details on the footer of each of your page templates. This will further boost the location of your business to the search engine as it crawls through your website.

Implementing location into onsite SEO.

You should always take care when implementing your onsite SEO, this is boosting the keywords, phrases and meta tags with words associated with your business and what people are searching for. A clearly structured website with headings and meta tags can be optimised to include your location as one of the dominant keywords.

Gaining user reviews

Over the last couple of years, an array of websites have appeared that allow you to set up a profile and let user’s review your service. These include foursquare, trip advisor, UrbanSpoon and switchboard to name a few and it should be stated that Google aggregates all of these reviews to determine its own five star rating.

This is both a blessing and a curse. So long as you’re providing a decent service, then you will have nothing to worry about as you receive more and more glowing appraisals. Customers will always be looking for the best quality service, and nothing illustrates this more than five gold stars.

On the other hand, if there is an issue in your service, or even a one time problem with a certain client, you will almost certainly hear about it through reviews, which can lower your overall ranking. This applies to your reputation in the area. This is becoming increasingly important for local restaurants, as one bad review can be enough to dissuade potential customers. These forums are places where free speech can prevail and one inconsistency relating to one specific person could spell a four star review instead of a five star review.

For instance, our favourite place to eat in Nottingham is Annie’s Burger Shack, which has been something of a local success story and cuisine phenomenon. The business used to operate out of a pub on weekends but became so popular that it had to move into its own premises so it could accommodate for more people. The only issue with this move has been a lack of a electronic booking system, which has caused a backlog of over 800 emails and long waiting lists, which Annie herself has been apologising via the restaurant’s facebook page. Since the restaurant actively encourages customers to write reviews on trip advisor this has caused some customers to write inflammatory reviews based on their negative experiences waiting for a booking to come through.

You must be mindful therefore when encouraging your customers to review you, since their review might not reflect the product or endgame, but the overall service. On the plus side, this can highlight areas you may need to improve on in your business.

A handful of high-quality inbound links

Think of Alton Towers, one of the UK’s premier tourist destinations. Based in the Staffordshire countryside, the resort is signposted from miles away as far away as the outskirts of London. It’s popularity, is reflected by the sheer area in which travellers are directed towards it.  If we apply the common metaphor of the internet as being a map, the number of external links you have effectively increases the signposting to your site. In reality it’s more than that however, effectively opening up a street that takes you directly to the destination.

It is useful to source high quality websites to refer to yours through a link. For example, if you had a highly innovative product, you could get it featured on the Guardian, or even the r/shutupandtakemymoney thread on Reddit. Both these sites have large traffic and high domain authorities, and by having a link on these sites, you will stand to increase your own authority. Google will read these links and associate it with the high levels of authority and illuminate your site as a similarly high principled website.

These are just seven areas to consider when approaching local SEO. Rest assured, as Google continues to tinker with finding the perfect algorithm to provide the quickest, most relevant results to its user’s searches, it will undoubtedly be taking into account the local context. With mobile devices destined to outgrow conventional computers as a means for interacting with the internet, local businesses stand to reap the benefits of being highlighted. Just make sure you are doing your utmost to standout.

Charlie

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