Local SEO for Small Businesses: How Much Effort is Enough?
A question I am frequently asked is: "Why should I go through the effort of doing local SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?” I generally get peoples' attention with a few statistics. Specifically:
- 97% of American Internet users also use the Internet to shop
- Of those, 57% characterize their behavior as "shop online, purchase offline"
- 80% of budgets are spent within 50 miles of the home
- 61% of local Internet searches result in purchases
- 54% of Americans use the Internet for phone numbers instead of the local phone books
For more statistics, go to How a Search Engine Might Determine Whether a Search Involves a Geographical Intent.
So given how important websites are to local businesses, one of the first questions to answer is "how much more business will I generate with a website?" My answer is usually, "How much effort do you want to put into it?"
The first step is to claim your local listing in the search engines. This requires a little effort.
Before you start filling out forms online, take a few minutes and read the following posts on what the important factors are in ranking at the top.
Shagun Vat gives a short but thorough review of key factors. For more in-depth detail on how to rank well, read the report on Local Search ranking factors. Doing a little keywords research will help you understand the best way to use keywords.
You should also download the following preparation guide. It’s a concise, one-page overview to ensure you have all the info you need handy.
Preparation guide for local seo.doc
Next, go to Google.
Sign in and complete all the important information asked and make sure to use your keywords where needed, particularly in your company name, the description of your company and the categories.
Also, take a picture of the outside of your business (your entrance or building) and list it in the Photos section. It will help people find your business easier as well as get a listing in Google maps.
You may also want to review the guide at Google local.
It is important when you sign up to get your own PIN number for verification (genrally a phone call). Google will try and verify that you are indeed the businesses owner and not somebody trying to hijack the site, so the phone number and address on the website need to be the same as the info you give them. If Google suspects there is a problem, they will mail you a postcard for verification. It may look like junk mail, so be sure to look for it.
Update: Mike B Has a great post on how to get a 100% listing
Make sure to follow the same rules for Yahoo, using your keywords and appropriate categories. Yahoo also has a couple options for you to spend some money on. I suggest using the free section first to see if you are getting enough traffic before actually spending any money.
Bing, Microsoft's latest version of a search engine, is trying to break away from the crowd. But it’s basically the old MSN search engine with some new features. It is still important to use because there are many people who won't change their default search in Internet Explorer, and will use Bing automatically. Same rules apply as on the others.
That takes care of the big 3. So let’s move on to some lesser known but still very important local listing directories. This is where time and effort on your part are important.
Update: Bing now lets you confirm by phone.
Over at Stone Temple , Eric Enge interviewed Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management for Google Local, who said they look for the same info from multiple sources. "A big part of what we do in search quality is try to figure out what the right representation of a business is from a lot of different sources of good information." In other words, Google wants to see your business listed in a lot of different places. It goes back to the philosophy of how Google ranks pages. They don't believe anything that they see only once.
The following is a list of local directory sources search engines use to confirm your listing. Take the time and go through the ones that apply to your business. Don't try and do this all at once though. It’s important that you get this info correct or it will confuse the search engines and keep you from receiving hits… which, after all, is your reason for doing all of this!
Best of the Web
USA Local Search
(If you don't want to do this by hand UBL will do this for you)
The next step requires a little more effort.
Website Citations for SEO
Citations play a big part in how the search engines rank a website in local search. At getlisted.org they define a citation as "mentions of your business name and address on other web pages, even if there are no links to your website."
So how does a business get citations? One of the easier ways is through reviews given on the websites below
You can login to those sites and give yourself a review. However, most people can spot a business owner reviewing his own business. Therefore, my advice would be to encourage feedback from your customers. Put a link on your site to the local listings section and ask them to give an honest review. Even a couple of bad reviews can help you out on the local listings. Remember, it’s about getting mentioned with your business name and address confirming that you are who you say you are. This takes time and patience, but eventually (all other things being equal) the citations will give you an edge over the competition.
And now for the real effort.
Citations and link building. Lets go back and review the keywords you generated. When you do a search on Google, some of those keywords won't give a local result. So how do you get listed for those terms? First, take a look at how Google determines which pages it will list first.
What it really comes down to is what people say about your site and on what site they say it. Do they provide a link to your site? What do they say in the link?
How To Find Local Links
If you belong to the Better Business Bureau, is your website listed there with your address?
Do a search of the following and find out if they have a local website. Then find out what it takes to get your business listed there and see if your business would be a good fit.
Chamber of commerce
Local foundation for business
If you have a newsworthy event, make sure to tell people about it. Generate a contact list for the following so when the event is within a month or sooner, you can easily contact them.
local TV stations
local news websites
If your business doesn't generate a lot of news, host an event, sports team or fundraiser.
Not only will you get some great links and citations, but you will be helping out your community.
To make sure you are submitted to the search engines, here is a great list of search engine submit pages. Take your time, and do a couple a day.
Submit to directory's strongestlinks.com. Some of these cost money, but at least take the time to submit to the free ones
Start a Blog
No, I’m not kidding.
It’s easy to get started and make sure to host the blog on your company's domain so the links point to your website. Go to BlogbuildingU to get started. It’s a great place to get all the info you need to get a blog going.
And if you don’t like to write, make a video blog!
A Few More Thoughts
Do a search for your keywords and copy the URL of the top result. Go over to Link Diagnosis and run a report. This will show you all the websites that have linked to your competitors’ websites.
Take the time to look through the links and consider if those websites would be a good fit for you. If so, send each website an email asking how to get listed.
There is some great advice on what a good link looks like, and a list of link building strategies that will provide more than enough information for you get started.
If you have alot of info to keep track off, a tool from Buzzstream has a good service that helps you keep it all straight.
You can literally spend weeks trying to get links on other sites, but the most important thing by far in the whole process is GREAT CONTENT!
Don't spend lots of time trying to get links to an awful website nobody wants to link to. Work on the content so people will link to you without asking.
I have 30 plus links in this article because somebody took the time to make great content on their site. Do the same.