A Small Business Guide to Local SEO
One of the most common misconceptions of SEO is the presumption that Google is consistent in how it ranks websites in its search engine results pages (SERPs). For some searches, this might be all but true, but for a lot of competitive business search terms out there, the sites you’ll see in the SERPs will depend on whereabouts you are when you conducted that search. This is where Local SEO comes into play.
For example, when someone is looking for a hairdresser, café or plumber, they may narrow their search to where they live or plan to visit (so ‘hairdressers Bristol’ for example). A lot of the time the searcher won’t even specify a location (ie ‘hairdresser’ or ‘hairdressers near me’) but Google will still understand that the user is looking for local hairdressers and so will serve up Bristol related results (presuming that the search takes place in the Bristol area).
Local SEO is based around helping a site rank for these types of keywords helping the business secure potential customers in their locality. This seems obvious, but, as a business, you need to understand this concept and tailor your SEO strategy accordingly.
Local SEO employs different tactics from national or internationally focused SEO, but the principles are the same. In this article, we’re going to look at some of some of the fundamentals to ranking your site for local search.
Credit: Gleb Tagirov
The Importance of Link Building
This is an area with some potential pitfalls, but it is also an area that you really need to understand and invest in if you want to maximise your local SEO strategy. There are two types of links, internal and external. Internal linking can be thought more of good onsite optimisation practice and take your site visitors from one page on your site to a related page. For example, if you’re a restaurant, you might write a blog post about your latest menu with a link that goes to your menu page. Internal links help spread authority around your site by linking deep pages to service pages, about us, case studies, homepage, etc. This also helps Google better index and understand what your site is about, helping it rank better overall.
External links are a vital ranking signal whether ranking locally, nationally or internationally. It’s important to understand that this is about quality over quantity though. The days of just going out and getting as many links as possible are well and truly over (thank goodness) so the links pointing to your site should be natural looking and high-quality.
A common mistake from businesses trying to rank locally is to point links at their key service pages but a good local SEO strategy will attempt to build links to deep pages like cornerstone content and locally focused blog posts (which in turn will internally link to your core service/product pages).
It’s important to source high-quality sites to link to your site. There are several ways to go about building good quality links, such as by guest posting on well-regarded websites within your niche.
Credit: Gleb Tagirov
The Importance of Content
Onsite content is all too often an afterthought when it comes to putting together a local business website. But without content, your site won’t rank for the local search terms you want it to, no matter how many awesome backlinks you pepper it with.
It’s important that your onsite content is high-quality, relevant and useful for your customers. It should be a decent length as well. 200-word service pages are always going to be outperformed in the SERPs by 1200 word service pages, so go into as much detail as you can and really break down what it is you do or sell.
In terms of blog content, it should also be shareable and interesting but also of local relevance. Don’t scrimp on word count as well. Google prefers long form (1,000+ words), so 2 big blog posts per month will serve you better than 6 or 7 really short posts.
If you don’t have the time or skills to generate and publish quality content, think about outsourcing this task to an SEO company that uses high-quality copywriters. Don’t forget to promote your content on your social media channels, too.
Credit: Gleb Tagirov
Of course, we can’t talk about content without talking about those all-important keywords. Keyword research is worthy of an article all of itself but suffice to say, when it comes to researching keywords, there are a ton of free tools out there. As we’re focused on local SEO, you will want to target terms that include your nearest city or town. For blog ideation, try to focus in on relevant local news and topics.
When you have your keywords mapped out, the most important thing is to avoid stuffing them all over your website. Not only can this lead to keyword cannibalisation but it can cause your webpages to sink rather than rise in the SERPs. It’s amazing how many small business websites I come across that are still strewn with keyword stuffed copy, as if inserting the term ‘Bristol hairdresser’ (to stick with our previous example) throughout all the copy at random intervals will help it rank. It won’t.
Once you have a list of suitable keywords, you need to incorporate them into your web pages. However, a word of caution is needed as there is always a temptation to overuse keywords. Several years ago, the trend was to pack keywords into content with the hopes it would improve the page ranking. However, nowadays, it is more important to use keywords naturally so they do not impede the readability of the content or the professional nature of your website.
Let’s look at some other important local SEO considerations:
Google My Business
Google My Business is an absolute must when it comes to SEO but it’s doubly important when it comes to local SEO. GMB is essentially a mini-profile of your business that can come up in brand search results (so people searching on your exact company name) and also on Google Maps. In addition to your name and location, you can add items such as photos, contact details and opening hours. Whilst it won’t help you rank locally for keywords directly, there are a host of local SEO related benefits like better visibility on other platforms and consistency of information across these platforms.
Measuring your performance
SEO is a fluid process and so getting to number one on page one for those all important local keywords doesn’t mean you’ll stay there. It’s important to measure the effect of what you’re doing and to make adjustments if things aren’t working. Add into the mix the fact that Google’s algorithm is constantly changing then those hallowed top rankings can all too easily slip away. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are absolute musts when it comes to understanding your performance and keyword rankings but understanding and interpreting this data will often require the services of a professional SEO expert.
Consider your Rivals
While it is easy to remain focused on your own business, it’s important to be aware of what your competitors are doing. SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s likely if you are putting money and time into it then so is the competition. It’s not enough to know who your competition is. You should be keeping an eye on what they’re doing and if possible reverse engineer it to your own advantage.
About the Author: Joe Cox is Content Director at Bristol-based SEO and digital marketing agency, Superb Digital.