If you’re looking online for a restaurant that delivers pizza, are you more likely to order from a pizza maker based in your city or one based in, say, Kazakhstan? The answer to this question is, of course, hilariously obvious. That’s why search engines such as Google take into account the searcher’s location when serving up results for products and services for which it makes sense that users would prefer to buy from somewhere nearby. In fact, U.S. census data shows that 75% of consumer spending happens within 15 miles of home.
The search engines started doing this just a couple years ago. Yet a huge proportion of companies seem not to have noticed this. That’s an opportunity for your firm to get a leg up on the competition. If you have one or more physical locations, you can leverage local search marketing to attract more business. And the fact that so many businesses aren’t doing this opens up an even greater opportunity for yours.
Google and its key rivals such as Bing and Yahoo! don’t require users to include their location in their search terms. Instead, the search engines automatically list businesses with local locations in categories where users are likely to prefer that. For example, because I live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), if I search for the generic term “plumber” I’ll get these results for plumbers in the GTA (results will differ slightly depending on various factors):
These are blended local search results. Within these results, the user is provided with options to visit the business’s website, see its location on a map or visit the business’s Google+Local page.
As you’d expect, search engine optimization (SEO) is key to getting your firm’s locations to rank highly in a local search. But local-rankings optimization requires tactics that are distinct from those in traditional SEO. Here are eight steps you should take in order to get your business noticed by local searchers.
Claim Your Google+Local Page
Google+Local is Google’s own business directory. If you have an established business—that is, it you’re in the phone book—you’re probably already in the directory. However, in order to rank highly in searches, it’s crucial that you claim your company’s Google+Local page.
To do so, go to Google+Local and click “Get started now.” Then enter your business phone number to see if your site already exists in the database. If it does, you can edit this data and then ask for a verification call or postcard from Google. If it doesn’t exist, you can create the listing yourself. For step-by-step assistance, watch this video about how to add a Google business listing.
Use Your Local Area Code for Your Primary Phone Number
One important, but not always obvious, way to improve local search rankings is to ensure that the area code of your business phone number for each location matches the area code used for that location’s business address. So don’t use your out-of-town cellphone number or a toll-free number as your primary business phone on Google+Local or other local search directories. You can add those phone numbers as secondary contact numbers.
List a Consistent Address and Phone Number
Consistency on the Internet is important. Remember that Google and the other local search engines are just software programs that are easily confused and base rankings on trust. The more consistently Google sees your address and phone number information, the more it will tend to trust it and therefore give you a higher ranking.
The best way to ensure that your information is consistent across the Internet is to create a “Master Business Listing” (MBL) that has all the key information about your business, including business name, address, phone numbers, description, website URL, etc.. You then use this MBL as the template for your company’s/location’s listings on all sites they’re listed on ¦ showing consistency.
Also, it is very important that the information on your own website matches the information you add to Google+Local or other local search engines.
List Your Address and Phone Number on Your Website
If you have a website for your local business, it is imperative to list your business address and phone number on that site. Not only does this improve the trustworthiness of your site while improving usability, it also helps improve local search rankings.
For businesses with one location, I recommend putting your address and phone number in your website’s footer so it appears on every page. At a minimum, make sure the address and phone number are on your home page and your “Contact Us” page.
Create a Page for Each Location
If your business has multiple locations, make certain that each location has a separate web page. Doing so permits you to optimize each page to a specific location, and as a result increases the chances of those pages ranking well in the local search results for those locations.
Optimize Your Home Page for Location
Again, if you have a website, it is important to optimize your home page—or, for businesses with multiple locations, each of your location pages—for your given location(s). As well as using the same address and contact information for each location, you should optimize your meta description, content, headings, images and the other elements of a page that you would optimize in traditional SEO.
Ask for Online Reviews
Online reviews have quickly become one of the most relied-upon sources of purchase-decision information. Most people trust online reviews, especially if there are a significant number of them. Another benefit of reviews is that they can boost your local search rankings. In the example above, only one plumber without any reviews shows up among the top seven matches.
I don’t want to overstate the importance of reviews. The top-ranking listing has only seven reviews, while the listing beneath it has 23. So reviews are clearly not a dominant ranking criteria for local search engines.
However, search engines do give some weight to online reviews, so it’s OK to ask for them. A good way to target clients for Google+Local reviews is to find out which of your customers have a Gmail account (because they need one in order to leave a Google review) and ask them to document their experience with your business on Google+Local.
Get Your Site Listed in Online Directories
There are hundreds of online business directories in which you can list your business. In the world of local SEO, these listings are called “citations.” The more citations, the better. The most comprehensive resource of these Canadian citation sources is listed here in a remarkable graphic called The Canadian Local Search Ecosystem.
Following all eight steps above isn’t guaranteed to get your web pages ranking in local searches. But it will dramatically increase the likelihood of your local search rankings driving some business for you. Enjoy¦and happy rankings!
Jeff Quipp is an expert on search and social media marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada’s largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies for the past four consecutive years.
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