Each year, search engine optimisation changes, in part thanks to what companies like Google define as ‘good’, partly thanks to a year’s worth of data on things that are working/not working given search ranking algorithm changes, and partly thanks to a rapidly changing technology world.
With the growth of mobile phone usage and an advertiser’s ability to target users via geographic location, local search is more important than ever before.
Here’s our list of things you can do to increase your chances of ranking locally.
1. Setup a Google+ account for your business
If you’re not already using Google+, you should be. Not only does this platform have more general SEO benefits if you can get people to add you to their circles, but it offers a host of features that will make appearing for a specific location that much easier.
2. Choose the Right Place Page Categories
When you initially setup your business page on Google+, you will be asked to choose which categories your business fits into. For example, our company – a digital marketing agency – falls under any number of categories including: ‘internet marketing service’, ‘marketing agency’, ‘website designer’, etc. What you pick will define whether or not your page displays when people perform a search related to this category.
3. Create a Google+ Local Page
If you want to be included in Google’s index of ‘local places’, we strongly recommend creating a Google+ Local page. You will need a Google+ profile in order to do this. Once you’ve setup your Place Page, you can also link your Local Page to it, making for a more joined-up approach and allowing Google to attribute reviews and data from your Local Page to your Place Page.
4. Link your Place Page to a Page on your website that includes your business location
Typically you might include this in your Title Tag (in the meta data of your site). According to Moz:
“For many local businesses, the landing page will simply be the homepage of the website. However, for multi-location or multi-practitioner business models, specific landing pages may have been developed on the website to reflect this diversity, and the Google+ Local pages created for these locations or practitioners will often link to these landing pages instead of the homepage.”
Thus, if you have multiple locations (and multiple Google+ Local Pages), you can link each of these Pages to the appropriate page on your website that includes the geographic information to suit.
5. Use location-related keywords in your meta data and on your website
There are two reasons to do this. Number one, keywords are still important as they help search engines figure out what your data is about and who it may be important to, and two, they’re user friendly indicators that someone has stumbled upon a site that serves their local area. Make sure to also use the keywords related to your services or products. These are still important.
6. Maximise your Local Citation Opportunities
Basically, these citations are links back to your website from relevant directories. It’s easy enough to figure out what the appropriate directories are by doing a simple Google search. In the example below I performed a search for Cambridge dentists. As you can see, the first two websites that come up are the NHS Location Search Service and the Yellow Pages. Immediately this tells me that these two directories are places I might want to include a listing for my own business (providing I’m a dentist).
The more of these listings that link back to your website, the better. Naturally, quality counts too, but quantity is definitely a big part of it. There are many free directories out there as well as paid directories where you can submit a listing. Before you jump into paying though, I strongly suggest doing a search for businesses within your category and location.
Here’s another example. Trying to find which directories will be relevant for my fictitious architecture business based in Cambridge, I searched ‘architects in east england’. From this search I learned that I should probably ensure I have a listing on architecture.com and on the Yellow Pages. These were the two directories that showed on page 1. When I tweaked the search to ‘find an architect’, I also found the Architects Register. And again, when I broadened my search even further I found another two sites: World-Architects and Houzz. Already that simple search gives me 5 directories I should probably add my business information to.
Depending on the locations you want to serve, make use of Google to find the best listings for you. After all listing on a directory that does nothing for you are probably a waste of time and a waste of money if you have to pay for them.
7. Do everything you can to improve your website’s backlink profile
For this section, I’m not just talking about creating content that will make people want to link back to you, I’m talking about getting your website listed on other high-quality websites in order to give your backlink profile credibility. Typically these will be directories.
Some of the best known general directories that you can use include:
- Best of the Web
- The Yellow Pages
- Yelp (particularly if you’ve got a US-based office)
- Manta (again primarily for US-based companies)
- UK Directory (if you’re UK-based)
When it comes to improving your backlink profile organically, there are a number of things you can do. The first centres about creating quality content that people will want to share and link back to. This is why content marketing has become a fundamental part of SEO.
- Do a competitor backlink analysis to determine where your competitors are getting their links from and how good their backlink profile is. One of the tools you can use to do this is Majestic SEO. The point here is to find more opportunities for yourself. If you find that your competitor is getting a lot of links from a specific news site, why not think of contacting this site or similar sites, perhaps offering to post something of your own?
- Create a glossary of terms for your niche. This is a great way to earn backlinks as people will likely reference you whenever they need to link to a place where there’s a definition.
- Write How-To Guides. This is the stuff that will have people linking back to you time and time again. And, if you can use Schema Article markup, you may even get one of these guides ranking well in Google, perhaps as an ‘In-Depth Article’.
- Write up a ‘Top 10’ post as Egobait. This is a brilliant idea, though you’ll have to be careful to mention only those people that aren’t your direct competitors. For Xanthos such a post might be: ‘Top 10 Web Analytics Tools’. In this post we might mention Moz, KISSmetrics, Google Analytics, Crazy Egg, etc. The point being to get those companies to link back to us. Of course, you may want to go for slightly smaller players that will actually link back to you and appreciate the ego boost. Each of those sites I mention are already big and not as likely to appreciate the kudos.
- Hold a Twitter chat and summarise the content in a blog post. This will give your readers a reason to share your post.
8. If your business has a physical address, use it to your advantage
List it on your website, in your directory listings and on your Google Local and Plus Page. Google will give preference to those businesses that actually have an office in a city when a location-based search query is performed.
Again, looking for dentists in Cambridge I type ‘Cambridge Dentists’. It’s pretty easy to see that those businesses with a local listing are benefiting. Even when their websites do not rank on the first page, their listing, location and telephone number appear in the local search section only 4 spaces down on the search result page.
Obviously this is not such great news if you’re a business/consultant on the move as you won’t be featured. It’s also bad news for those based just outside a major city in a smaller town. For example, on the above map, no dentists show up for the very nearby town of Waterbeach, which, providing the care is right, I’d be more than willing to travel to.
If this is the case for your business (if you’re not based in a major city), you need to work hard on alternative approaches. One thing you could do is develop landing pages related to the city(s) you want to do more business in. Your aim here is to rank in the organic search results for this term as at the moment, you’re not going to show up in the physical location results
If you want to find out more about creating a great city landing page, I highly recommend reading this article.
9. Get some good Google Local reviews
How these affect rank is still up for debate, though it’s not that much of a push to assume that Google would give its own review platform preference over another (say Yelp’s). Your goal is to encourage your clients/customers to leave a good review on your Google+ Local Page. Obviously it’s going to make you look good but it’s also going to make it easier for your customers to choose you over someone else and to get an idea of how you operate or work. I certainly pay attention to reviews when it comes to choosing accommodation, or when I’m looking to hire a company to come into my house to do work.
Here’s an example from the Cambridge-based Waitrose Google+ Local Page. Scroll down past the map and the company information (including opening hours) and you’ll see they’ve got 4 reviews.
This also shows up on Google Maps so it’s pretty important than you get at least a few if you’re a service business.
10. Local links matter – build them
If you can get what Moz refers to as ‘locally relevant citations’ on websites of local businesses, you increase your credibility in Google’s eyes. Basic information you would want to include should at least cover your business name, your business address and your business phone number – whatever you have on your site. Consistency is key here.
Some local businesses you might consider:
- The local newspaper or magazine
- The tourist information centre (if this applies)
- Local groups or clubs relevant to your business
- The post office
- The library
- The town/city council
- The local chamber of commerce
Another great way to get kudos from your local community is to sponsor a local business for something. In 2012 Xanthos participated in a 5k charity fun run. One year later we were on the cover of the pamphlet for the next 5k run! This was a great way for us to build links with the Ely community and also gave us the chance to work toward something good – raising funny for the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity.
There’s always more
This was by no means a comprehensive list. There are so many factors to take into account when considering how your website will rank in local search. If you want an overview of other factors to take into account, Moz has a very broad outline that I recommend taking a look at. Don’t feel overwhelmed though. Start with what you can manage and work up from there!