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Local search is crucial for small businesses. Nearly four out of every five customers in an area find products and services they want to shop locally by searching them online. If a small business isn’t optimized for local search, they could be as well be invisible, losing out over 80% of customers. Here is a comprehensive guide on what you can do to make your small business stay relevant.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO for small business helps small business owners publicize their products and services to local customers and prospects. To deliver the most relevant local search results to the user, search engines rely on data collected from sources like social media pages, local content, links, and citations. By tweaking these sources and keeping them in good condition, you can make your business show up more and more, attracting more sales. The process of local SEO optimization usually starts with the biggest fish, Google; you’ll also have to tweak and optimize your sources for the smaller fishes like Yelp, Bing, or Apple Maps. Let’s look at what it takes to rank on top in the Google local business SEO race.

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How Google’s Map Results Or Snack Pack Different From Organic Results?

Google owns a whopping 87% of market share for searches, shows a survey conducted in the US. If you can play by Google’s rule book and assure it that your business is authentic, Google will reward your business with one of the three coveted boxed spaces under the maps, the crème de la crème of local searches. For example, let’s say you are a pet store in Avenue City playing by the rules, with a fully optimized Google My Business Page and excellent customer reviews. When someone in your city searches for a pet store, or when someone searches for ‘a pet store in Avenue City’, Google will show your pet store right on top of the page as one of three top results, under a small map. This ‘3 business results under a small map’ section has now become a permanent feature in both desktop and mobile versions, affectionately nicknamed, ‘The Snack Pack’ by the SEO world.

The Snack Pack is particularly important because, it is the first section that the users see, even before the regular organic search results. When the search results are displayed in a smartphone, the Snack Pack pretty much covers the entire screen, attracting 33% more clicks. If you are trying to better your local business optimization, then focus on claiming a place in the snack pack, and then optimize your business for the Google Maps app and for Google Assistant. Here is how you can get started.

Want to know where your local website lacks?

There are a lot of aspects present in SEO, not only in standard SEO but in local SEO as well. The dynamics of SEO are ever changing and evolving. It can take a lot of effort as well as time to get expected outcomes. This is the reason that most local businesses rely on local search engine optimization services and local SEO companies, instead of investing in broader SEO.

How to do keyword research for Local business SEO?

Researching keywords for local business SEO isn’t rocket science. The basic and the most obvious template to begin drafting keywords is with ‘Service in Locations’, which means if you are a locksmith, start with Locksmith in Xyz; if you are a plumber, go Plumber in Abc, etc., Do this for all your services and all your locations. Then, go back and add variations. For example, if we consider ‘Locksmith in Xyz’, the variations could be:

  • Locksmiths in Xyz
  • Locksmithing in Xyz
  • Xyz locksmiths
  • Locksmiths Xyz and so on.

The next step is to get into the shoes of the customer and add even more keywords. How would somebody wanting your services search for you? For the above example, you could add:

  • Emergency locksmiths in Xyz
  • Residential locksmiths in Xyz
  • Residential Xyz locksmiths
  • Vehicle locksmiths in Xyz
  • 24/7 locksmiths in Xyz
  • Professional locksmiths in Xyz
  • Broken keys extractions in Xyz and so on.

The key is to keep it simple and include as many variations as possible. Remember, the users might not know the industry jargon for different types of locks or doors, so use commonly used terms. Use this carefully prepared list of keywords modestly sprinkled throughout your website. There are also online tools that can help you gauge the search volumes for these keywords so you can filter out the best ones with the most traffic.

To expand your keywords list even further, simply type your services in Google and look at the autocomplete suggestions. This will help you gather long tail keywords.

For pros, you can mine your competitors’ websites to identify all the keywords they have been emphasising and get some fresh ideas off their work! And, if you serve a small area with sparse population, you might not have enough search volume to calculate metrics to find out which keywords might be best for you. In that case, switch your location to a big city, for example, go from Pet store in Avenue City to Pet Store in Big City to collect ideas. Find interesting ones that you could grab and add them to your list.

Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple Maps Listings

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that is the key to manage your business’ online presence. GMB is one of the main factors that can shoot up your organic, map and ‘snack pack’ results. The only requirement for setting up your business on GMB is that you should have at least some sort of real-world interaction with your customers – you cannot use it for entirely online operations.

What are the steps to create a Google my business for your own business:

STEP 1

  • Create or login to the Google account you want to associate with the business.
  • Visit Google.com/business and click on start now.
  • Type your business name. If it pops up in the results, claim it, or proceed with creating a new business under the name.
  • You are not supposed to use anything other than the business name here. Do not use keywords in your business name.

STEP 2

  • If your business is already in the system and you are claiming it, your address will already be there. If you are adding a new business, enter your address.

For local businesses with a brick and mortar storefront, this is simple. But your business might not exactly be that. You could be working from home; or you could be two people working from each other’s homes. You could own a mobile business, like a corn cart. You could also have a physical store, but you may be majorly serving the customers in their places. In these circumstances,

  • For work from home, use the home address closest to the region you want to be associated with.
  • If you only have a virtual office and no physical one, simply use your home address and then you can hide the address later. Do not pick something in the area you want to serve so you can get higher listing – that is against GMB guidelines.
  • You also have check boxes that you can tick if you deliver your services or goods.
  • You can also hide your address and just display the business if it is not a store and you are using your room or home address.
  • In the select delivery area option, enter the right options for you.
  • When the screen pops up with your location pin, if it is not exact, drag and move it around to pin the exact location.

STEP 3

  • Pick your business category.
  • If you have trouble picking one, try saying My business is a ___ , rather than my business has a ___. This will help you pick a holistic term that denotes what your business stands for rather than listing out just a part of its features or services.
  • If you are still unsure what to pick, try searching for similar business on Google maps. Looking at the category your competitors have picked might light a bulb in your brain.

STEP 4
Before you begin filling out your address, phone number or email address, we would strongly recommend that you create a Word Document with all the bits spelled out the way you want it to look. All search engines love consistency. We all know that 098401 12345 is the same as +91 9840112345, but the search engines will pick up those little extra spaces and even that extra zeroes and push you far far back. Always copy paste from this document whenever you are filling out anything for your business.

STEP 5
You can verify your GMB Listing through phone, email, postcard, bulk verification, or instant verification. Follow the instructions and enter the code received via post card, phone, or email to verify your business.

STEP 6
Yay! Now you are successfully hitched on Google My Business. The optimization part begins now. To optimize and really hone your business account like a seasoned professional, you have to:

  • Add business categories.
  • Upload photos of the store outside, menu and the interiors or any other relevant picture.
  • List your opening and closing hours, holidays and working days.
  • List out all the services you provide.
  • List all your amenities and other features.
  • Politely nag your customers and everyone you know to review your business on Google.

How to set up your business on Bing Places?

Next up, set up your Bing Places. It is not nearly as important as its above said counterpart, but why would you want to give up that 7% market search? Besides, it only takes minutes.

To set your Bing Places up, first make sure that your business isn’t already listed. Search for your business and if it pops up, click on ‘is this your business?’. If its not there, continue filling out details.

In Bing, businesses are broadly categorized into

  • Small to medium – 1 to 10 locations
  • Chains – more than 10 locations
  • Online – no physical location
  • I’m the manager on somebody’s behalf.

We are focusing on local small business SEO here, so let’s hit up #1. You will then see a magical button that lets you import data from Google My Business! Click on it and voila, you are done! Fill up any other extra parts like the description, sprinkled with our prepared keywords. Add your Twitter, TripAdvisor, yelp, websites, Facebook, and import pictures to finish the deal.

How to set up your business on Apple Maps?

Next comes the Apple Maps, which has a decent share of the search market. Even though Apple Maps usually sucks, the data from Apple Maps is used as the base for Siri and Spotlight, which have millions of users worldwide. So, spend a few minutes to repeat the same process as above and copy paste all needed details from the Word Document you created earlier to ensure your business looks the same everywhere. This is very important – any mistakes or misspellings can cause your business to be flagged as duplicate.

Local Citations

To begin working on your citations, you have to get your NAP right – Name, Address and Phone number. On your website, your NAP details should be crawlable, mentioned in text form somewhere. Search engines cannot crawl images, so image NAPs are a big no-no.

Citations are places on the internet where your business has been mentioned. Your citation can be in the form of NAP, UNAP / NAPU (URL Name Address Phone) or NAPW (Name Address Phone Website). Also, Citations can be structured or unstructured. Examples of structured citation can be an online phone book where your NAP is mentioned in proper order. Unstructured citations are instances where your business is mentioned, but not in the exact NAP order. Blog reviews of your services, reports on newspapers about events in your business, public social media posts, mentions in comments are some examples of unstructured citations.

Citations are an important ranking factor in Google, for both the organic and snack pack results. Consistent NAP that matches your GMB data, signals Google that you are a reliable business. Inconsistent NAP that does not match your GMB details can mislead and misdirect users, so Google will probably punish you for it by sentencing you to its dark kingdom that lies beyond 25+ pages. You should match your NAP to the GMB details even in places like Facebook or Instagram accounts.

Sometimes you might have lots of mentions, but in different spellings or formats. Some blogs might mention you as ABC Pvt. Ltd., while others may mention you as ABC Private Limited. This can hurt your rankings. You’ll need a citation audit to clean up every one of these mentions to boost your placement. There are lots of paid tools that can conduct a citation audit for you.

After you’ve got all your citations in order, it is time to create more. Find as many directories as possible that will host your NAP and register there. You can also use Citation Finder Tools to generate citation opportunities for you based on your keywords and location.

On-page SEO

Now that we’ve discussed optimizing GMB, we must now go back to old school basics of SEO to tune up your website. There are some general rules of SEO that help improve your rankings and then there are some specific techniques you can use to rank your local business website higher.

What are the good general SEO practices?

  • Optimize content: Every new content you add to your website is a fresh opportunity for you to get higher rankings. Optimize all of your content by using high volume important keywords in the title, URL, header, body and meta description.
  • Work on the internal links: Internal links that hold your website up together are as important as external links that lead others to your site. Your internal links must support easy navigation, feature a clean hierarchy, and distribute ranking power to direct pages throughout the website.
  • Mobile friendly website: Nine out of ten local searches originate from a smartphone. Take extra measures to redesign your website so it looks perfect on mobile devices and is easy to use. Users should be able to find your details, services, and reviews without much hassle.

What Specific Local Business SEO techniques you need to follow for your website?

  • If your business serves multiple locations, set up landing pages for each location. Your local landing pages should look like
    – Yourbusiness.com/area-1
    – Yourbsuiness.com/area-2
    – Yourbusiness.com/area-3
  • You should only create multiple landing pages if you have physical offices / stores in those locations. If you are, maybe, say a wedding photographer who travels to client wedding destinations to click pictures, it makes no sense for you to make local landing pages for each of the location you want to serve. In these circumstances, just stick to your main webpage.
  • You should also not create multiple landing pages for the same location. For example, you should not use:
    – Yourbusiness.com/area-1-photographer
    – Yourbusiness.com/photographer-area-1
    – Yourbusiness.com/area-1-photography
    Because, then your location landing pages are competing with each other and fragmenting traffic that could instead be funnelled into a single stronger landing page where you can rank higher.
  • If you are actually present somewhere and you do really specialize in serving one or two locations far away, then you could go ahead and create specific landing pages for those locations. Going by our previous example if you are a wedding photographer in Area 1, but you truly specialize in wedding photography in Area 2, you can create landing pages for both.
  • Some people may skip mentioning location altogether thinking this will allow them to attract boundless clients from all over the world. That is wrong too, because, even if you don’t specify a location modifier, Google can still infer your location from GPS or your IP. So, it is better to go ahead and scribe your complete NAP yourself.
  • You are excused from the rule of optimizing your website for each location if you are a truly huge business with over say 20 or more real physical presence. For example, if you are a car rental service that serves half the nation, you might easily have over 100 physical locations. In this case, you don’t have to concentrate on optimizing for each location; rather, strengthen and optimize your main homepage.
  • For other small businesses, say with one or two locations, specify the following in each location landing page.
    – Include your opening and closing hours for that specific location.
    – Full local NAP for that specific location if you have a physical presence.
    – Important keywords for that specific location, used moderately throughout.

Schema Mark-up

Like HTML, schema is another layer of additional code that helps search engines understand your content. Google itself has a structured mark-up helper that can do the weight lifting for you. Select the local business checkbox in the tool, paste the URL of the specific webpage and you will get options to mark-up the different elements present in your webpage. After you are done, you can click create HTML in JSON-LD format to generate your very own code snippet. To double check, put the code snippet in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to find errors. Clear the errors and copy paste the cleaned code into your website header. There are also other apps available that let you edit or add mark-ups without using codes – they integrate the code automatically with your website.

Link Building for Local Sites

Links play a very important factor in ranking your local business website higher, organically. They are also the second most important factor looked upon to decide if your business should show up on the Snack Pack. Here are some ways you can increase the links that link back to your website:

  • When we started working on our NAP citations, some directories might have included your website links already, but many of these links are usually no follow.
  • Create and share articles in social media group with your website link.
  • Guest blog for various relevant sites with high quality content to increase exposure to your business and to include links.
  • Use online tools to find where your competitors link themselves. You could discover lots of new directories and forums that you did not know before.

Reviews and other ongoing activities

You can’t win SEO with a ‘be done and move on’ attitude, especially not local business SEO. You’ll need to maintain a few tiny follow up schedule to keep things looking good.

In Google My Business, the simplest local business SEO service begins with responding to reviews, both good and bad. Just acknowledging somebody’s feedback will increase your engagement and ratings. Google also seemingly allows just about anyone to suggest edits to any Google business listing with the ‘suggest an edit’ feature. Your business might be morphing right now with incorrect details; so, keep an eye out and check your GMB every week so it’s the same. Also, GMB has a Google posts feature where you can share text of around 30 words with a call to action button of your choice. It also lets you upload images. Playing around with feature shoots up your snack pack chances to a rocket high, so keep posting on Google posts regularly.

With regards to your website, adding a blog section and updating it regularly shows Google that you are ‘current’ and ‘on’. Posting something once every month could be good for small businesses provided you pick your keywords wisely.

What are the Top local SEO tips to improve rankings?

Everything said above can be a bit too much to do in one sitting. Here are some quick action bites for you to improve your local business SEO:

  • Establish a face to your place with pictures in GMB.
  • Let customers peek inside your business with a virtual tour. Upload this to GMB as well.
  • Build rapport with the local online media parties to get some coverage and quality backlinks.
  • Get to know other small businesses in your area to exchange backlinks. It’s a win – win.
  • RankBrain, the new AI algorithm from Google also takes into consideration the time users spend on your site. So, add some interesting one- or two-minute introduction videos instead of text to retain users longer.
  • In the GMB About Me section, you can add tags. Use all your important keywords there.
  • Sponsor some local meetups through online websites which will link back to your site as the sponsor.
  • Everyone’s in a hurry. So, Google also punishes you if your site takes too much time to load. Optimize your loading speed.
  • If you have run out of topics to blog, publish case studies after every project. This will help build your reputation and also keep your website updated.
  • Look into optimizing for Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google voice searches.

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