As small business owners, we’ve heard all about local SEO (‘search engine optimization’) and how it can help us stand out on the web.
Understand what SEO for local business actually is, what it isn’t and how it can help your biz.
I’ve prepared this short guide to help photographers and other business owners who are not SEO / content marketing experts, navigate the ever-changing waters of local SEO. Taking your first steps can be daunting. Likewise, auditing your local business SEO efforts to date in-house can be intimidating.
That’s why I’ve kept this guide as easy to understand as possible. If you’re totally new, start with my glossary of local SEO terms. This helps lay the foundation for much of what we’ll cover on this here blog!
Wanna watch a super awkward video of me explaining what local SEO is all about, and trying to make myself feel comfortable filming myself? Yes, this incredibly meta experience can be yours, by clicking the video below!
Local SEO means optimizing your web presence so that Google trusts your website and rewards it with higher visibility. What does that mean for you? More conversions, more sales!
So let’s start with this simple guide to starting your SEO journey – so you can confidently look under the hood of your local business website!
It is critical for businesses to rank for local search terms when customers are searching for them. If you are not in front of your potential customers, your competition will be.Integrated Digital Marketing – What is Local SEO
Defining what SEO actually is
Let’s think about this for a second. Say you want to prove to Google that your business’ website is a high-quality a trustworthy one. How would you do that? By making high-quality, trustworthy content – that people actually want to consume!SEO is the ongoing process of optimizing the content on your website so it’s appealing to both human visitors and Google. Notice I used the word ‘ongoing’. That’s right, SEO is rarely something that’s ‘completed’. It’s part of a workflow and a strategy that will have certain goals in mind.
Simply put, SEO is a practice of optimizing your website. This optimization will let the search engines know that your website is worth showing in the top positions of search results.Hostinger, What is SEO?
The aim of SEO is to reach the top ranking in Google for your desired search term. No website is ‘the top result on Google’, but different pages (or posts) may be created with the goal of appearing on page one for particular targeted search terms.
For example, when a user types in ‘best hardware store in philadelphia pa’, you want your hardware store in that area to pop up! Those sites that appear on the first page? They’ve used SEO techniques to ensure their prominent visibility, which will ultimately lead to more conversions. That’s a local search term.
When I first started out on this journey, I knew nothing at all about SEO. It was baffling and I was susceptible to massive amounts of irrelevant and garbage information. Read about my journey, maybe this will resonate with you, too.
How is local SEO different?
Local SEO isn’t that much different from any normal Google search. But the work that Google does on the back end takes into account a variety of unique ranking signals. tailored to finding something local. It must match search intent as closely as possible and even the exact location of the searcher!
Some of the SEO signals specific to local search include:
- Where the searcher is standing (particularly for mobile searches which become increasingly more popular). In crowded cities, the effect of hyper local searches can be very pronounced.
- Name, address and phone number citations. This means, does your business’ ‘NAP’ appear on a lot of trusted local directories, or is it nowhere to be found? Does it match from one citation to the next, or is it confusing to customers?
- Backlinks from relevant domains that also cover the same geographical area, or are related to the field of expertise. These are typically local business directories or aggregators.
- Having a Google My Business listing – and making sure it’s well- optimized and complete.
- Words used in Google My Business listing. Without using keyword stuffing, you should have the words that searchers are looking for appear naturally in the wording of the business description.
- What online reviews are saying. On your GMB listing, you have a review section. Google uses AI to draw attention to particular phrases, especially if they are echoed by different reviewers.
- Star ratings and check-ins on Google Maps (and maybe even check-ins on other platforms, such as Yelp, Facebook and Foursquare).
- Shares on social media – Google can’t ignore it if you have lots of users sharing your content across their social media channels. In fact, they treat that as a sign you’re legit!
Though it’s not officially a ‘ranking signal’, YouTube videos are considered an increasingly important part of local SEO (and any website’s SEO, really!) if you want to go the extra mile and really stand out.
It’s not for everyone, and I am very, very new to creating video content for my businesses. However, this is more of a prediction that in the future, video will be crucial. Currently it’s an easy way to stand out, so use it before every coffee shop owner and plumber is making videos!
What SEO is NOT
An awesome thing about the results on the SERPs page is that they’re not ads. That means you as the business owner are not paying the search engine every time someone clicks on your business’ website. That makes SEO a more sustainable strategy long-term.
So SEO is not PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. Read more about that on Search Engine Land’s SEO vs PPC article here. What else?
SEO is not using spammy, unethical or outdated ‘hacks’ to try to trick Google. These techniques include:
- Keyword stuffing – when you repeat the same keyword over and over again in an unnatural and annoying way. In reality, this offers nothing to a user and does not answer their query.
- Cloaking – the practice of presenting one type of content to the search engine, while showing something completely different to a human user. It’s again tricking the search engine.
- Using private blog networks (PBNs) – this is when a network of websites are either owned by one person or are in cahoots, to all link to each other (or to one target website). The aim of this is to manipulate Google into looking at the backlinks as credible, when they are in fact not genuine.
These techniques are commonly referred to as ‘black hat SEO’ and you can see why. Apparently, the term originated from Western movies in which the bad guys wore black hats and the good guys wore white ones! I also think there’s a touch of the magician’s black hat – being out to deceive.
Black hat methods are the tactics some employ in an attempt to “cheat the system” and boost their search engine rank with minimal effort.Double Up Digital, Black Hat SEO Strategies That Can Tank Your Google Rankings
The main issue with these practices is that they’re outdated. Sure, even in 2020 you may find some good results using spammy techniques, but its days are severely numbered.
How would you like to wake up one day after Google’s done a core update, and find that your #1 ranked site is now not even indexed, and has been slapped with a manual penalty? Yikes.
Slow and steady is the name of the game for SEO. There are no real shortcuts except doing the work (or outsourcing it!). Anything else promising you a get-rich-quick way to success is lying, or the success will be short lived.
What goes into an SEO strategy for local business?
You as the business owner want to make your website as appealing, trustworthy and useful as possible for the people out there who are looking for what you sell.
An SEO strategy today consists of a content strategy, together with off-page techniques like genuine link-building. There are also optimizations to your site you can make, to help Google understand what your business is.
Here are a few pointers for now – I will outline more about SEO strategy in a future post!
Map out your plan
It’s hard to get anywhere when you don’t know where you want to go. To develop a strategy, you’ll need to look at the big-picture view before diving into the specifics and creating the content etc. You’ll need to do keyword research, competitor analysis and brainstorm what you’d like to create.
Figure out your strengths
Don’t blindly follow – let your specific, unique talents guide you. Hate writing but love how quick and easy it is to film a video? Start a YouTube channel, and you can even embed some of your best content on your site! Don’t have the time (or budget) to edit videos, but addicted to Instagram? Then use Instagram as a tool to drive traffic to your business!
Staying at the top in SEO terms means continually proving your relevance with a steady flow of awesome content. Come up with a posting schedule and stick to it. Can’t manage once a week? That’s OK – how about once a month? The important thing is to stick to it. Google loves content – and consistency!. It wants to see lots of fresh content on your site, so it can serve more of that to searchers looking for it.
Consistency does not mean sacrificing quality! Having both is an absolute must. You don’t have to write a novel, but make content at least 1,500 words as a minimum. Inject your own personality, or your brand’s voice, into your videos, posts and sales pages. No-one wants bland and generic anymore – savvy web users see right through it.
Bear in mind though, that as with everything SEO, it’s not all cut and dried.
Depending on your industry, content with local focus, depth, breadth, and knowledge tends to do well. However, just writing long-form content won’t necessarily always produce the best results.Search Engine Journal, What is Local SEO
Increase dwell time
When people spend time on your site, this signals to Google that ‘hey, this must be a great site!’ Sounds pretty simple, right? Ways you can do this is creating content that’s on the longer side (1,500 words is a great minimum), and linking to other posts that are related topics. Embedded videos also help, as users stay on your site to watch them!
Take care of the technical and UX side
It’s always amazing to me how many of my fellow business owners (in the incredibly tech-forward market of San Francisco) have incredibly outdated sites! These days, everyone can tell in one second flat if a site looks modern and trustworthy or outdated, spammy and sloppy. This is an easy area to shine! And if the website looks good, the business must be pretty awesome, too because people are sticking around.
Leverage your local community!
You might use user-generated-content (or ‘UGC’) to personalize and give back. You could run a campaign on social media and then use that content for a blog post and send the post to those that were featured.
Another way of utilizing your community is to build genuine, reciprocal relationships with others in the same field, and collaborate on content that then earns you both backlinks.
User-generated content also comes in the form of blog comments and forum posts. If people are talking about your brand or mentioning their pain points with others online, this creates valuable content.
Hopefully, you’ll see how these factors work hand-in-hand. Once that clicks, as it did for me one day, it really is a magical feeling!
More tips to get started with your own SEO strategy linked below:
Setting expectations right
The idea is to create a sustainable, realistic strategy. Otherwise, burnout is inevitable. After all, you’re not a content marketer – you’ve got a real-world business to run and customers to serve.
In my opinion, it takes something of a mindset shift to stop seeing SEO as another boring task to do. In time, you’ll see it more like an exciting and fulfilling way of connecting with local customers and providing value to them.
Every blog post, every social media post is a doorway into your business. (This is even more the case when you’re providing services and you don’t have a physical brick and mortar that customers actually walk into!).
Each city and town has its own network and community of independent business owners. Chances are, they’re also wrestling with local SEO.Nextdoor, How to do local SEO for your business
It will however take quite a bit of effort but the good news is, as your content is centered around your industry and your area, you (and your team) are the experts on that!
You’re also benefiting from the personal connection that immediately comes from being part of the same community as your customers. National, international and online marketers don’t have that advantage, so leverage it!
Another great way of being found for FREE is leaning into the power & potential of Google Discover – a new form of queryless search. I’ve used this in my business and it’s been a game-changer that currently accounts for 10% of my website’s traffic! Check it out:
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