It’s early 2021, and the arms race shows no signs of stopping. Fierce as ever, the jostling for places in Google’s holy search ladder goes on, as local businesses scramble to keep ahead of the digital curb.
46% of all Google searches are seeking local information. Nowadays, if a business offering a face-to-face (mask-to-mask) service wants to survive and be competitive, they have no choice but submit to the will of Google and follow its commandments to ascend the visibility ladder. While there are perhaps some members of the older generation that still use word of mouth exclusively to locate services, the vast majority of clientele now punch in a few key words to Google and pick from the selection presented to them. This is the new arena for local commerce.
A staggering 97% of users search online to find local businesses. You could even argue that SEO is more important for smaller, local businesses than for large-scale corporations, who are already well-established in commercial networks. So, with the pile of SEO guides amassing to greater heights than the Pacific island of plastic, may I present to you the 104,076th guide on how to hack local SEO.
1. Google My Business
The most important factor in SEO is the main behind-the-scenes location where the battle for digital real-estate is waged. A study by Moz found that Google My Business is one of the top factors Google considers when ranking businesses in local search. Simply head over to the Google My Business website and create or claim your listing.
You’ll need the following details to do so:
- Your full, correct business name
- Your physical store/office address
- Your exact map location
- Your business category
- Your phone number and website (if applicable)
Having made your listing, there are a few ways to optimise Google My Business. They include:
- Uploading photos of your business
- Noting your business hours
- Providing any additional categories that are relevant to your business
- Stating any additional phone numbers (if applicable)
With your page set up, the best thing to do is encourage customer reviews and respond to them. Responses should include the service you provided and the location in which you provided it. But equally, don’t make them too dry — the more authentic and human they sound, the more likely others are to read them and leave comments of their own.
2. Local link building
As is the case for SEO at large, linking plays a crucial role in determining search rankings. For local SEO, the focus should first be on building a network of links specific to your location. For example, establishing links with directories and information providers such as — universities, trade associations, tourist guides and blogs — will all cause the algorithm to look more favourably upon you. They can be local and specific to your location, or they can be national — national directories will often have a selection of subcategories for users to sort through, including information that is region-specific. Try to form partnerships or contact authorities that may be overlooked by your competitors and affirm your position within the digital matrix. The central controlling algorithm spider will then spin you a better, tighter spot in the web.
3. Third-party citation consistency
Google also considers factors such as citation volume and consistency in NAP (name, address, phone number) across citation sites. Your details across these services should always be consistent. Look out for misspellings, address discrepancies and duplicate listings to avoid being penalised by Google. The main platforms to focus on are Bing Places, Yelp, BBB (Better Business Bureau), Angi, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
4. Engage social media
Google puts a high degree of importance on content shared via social media. Once you’ve created your Google My Business page, share it on your social media platforms and make posts to generate interest. If you can find some way to engage people’s interest with relevant, informative or interesting content, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting an online reaction.
5. Local SEO audit
Once you’ve completed these various tasks, it’s not a case of putting your feet up and watching the money come in — unfortunately, you should be constantly tinkering and tweaking to improve your SEO positioning. CEO Alan Jenkins of web design agency Koreti, remarks, ‘SEO should be viewed as a new, foreign language. It’s always unpleasant in the early stages, muddling through a new set of grammatical rules, but once you gain fluency, the process itself becomes highly rewarding.’ One of the best ways to practice your grammar is by performing an SEO audit.
Whether you do it yourself or have friends and family do it, an audit involves manual testing to see where your business comes up in the search engine results page (SERPs), how it looks from a customer perspective and how it stacks up against the competition.
In the time that it’s taken me to write this article, I’m sure another 108 SEO guides have been published online. However, the reason why so many people are jumping on writing guides and how-to’s is that SEO is a new, complex and ever-changing field of digital commerce. Many people do not fully grasp it, or at least have not figured out how to ‘win’ at its rules, and so there is a huge B2B market for advice and assistance. Those attempting to stay relevant and competitive in the 21st century have their work cut out for them, but you can also rest easy in the knowledge that most of your competition is having the same issues. SEO may be a challenge, but it’s a challenge for all, and one that anyone can succeed at if they learn the rules of play.