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Local SEO Playbook

The Local SEO Playbook – Your Guide to Local Rankings

Look, if you’re a local business, meaning most or all of your business comes from customers living in your community, you must get very serious about local SEO.

Don’t worry, ranking locally for the kinds of things your prospects are looking for isn’t rocket science, but it does take a serious commitment to a handful of things.

In case you’re wondering if it’s worth the investment in such a commitment, let me share a few survey tidbits.

  • 98% of searchers choose a business that is on page 1 of the results they get.
  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 77% of smartphone users contact a business after looking for local Information

And, I could go on, but I’m guessing you see the point – if you don’t rank well locally for the things people are searching for marketing will be a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

Here’s the good news – focus on these five elements and you can expect great results from local SEO and search. (The competitiveness of your industry may dictate your ultimate results.)

Optimize Google My Business

If you’re a local business hoping to get found online you must pay attention to, claim, and optimize your Google My Business Listing.

Google My Business Listing

If this is news to you go immediately to Google’s Free Business Listing page and find out if you can claim your current listing.

Many people created or had created Google+ listings and Google made a mess of how this became Google My Business so you may have some cleanup to do to make sure that you only have one listing for your business and it’s the one Google thinks is your business.

Google 3 pack

Once you claim the right listing you need to make sure you take full advantage of all of the real estate and linking options available to you. This, by the way, is essential if your business is to ever show up in the coveted Google 3-pack for local searches shown above.

Make sure you have the right business category and subcategories chosen for your business.

Make note of the exact way your business name, address and phone number (NAP) appear. Exact meaning is is Street or St., is it Heating & Cooling or Heating and Cooling. Whatever you show listed as the NAP on your Google My Business Page, you’ll want to use consistently on your own website and across all directories. (More on this in a bit.)

Get markup right

Search engines are busy trying to adopt a consistent markup protocol to help use HTML code to properly identify things like businesses, reviews, addresses, books, movies and the like.

You can learn about the current popular markup for local businesses by visiting Schema.org.

Using proper markup for your address is kind of like handing Google your business card on a silver platter. It doesn’t look like anything to the naked eye, but Google spiders can be 100% certain what they are looking at when it comes to identifying an address on your web pages.

The good news is that you don’t really need to know anything about the underlying code to get this part right. Simply visit Schema.org’s Local Business NAP generator and fill in the blanks – The tool will produce the HTML code you need to add to your site in place of your current address.

There are other things you can do with structured markup and you can read all about it here.

Clean up citations

So, you might very well be familiar with a few directories like Yelp!, or maybe even an industry specific directory or two like Homestars or Angie’s List, but you probably didn’t realize that Google relies on hundreds of data aggregators and directories to help them sort out and keep straight all of the local businesses out.

So, getting your listing straight on Google is essential, but if you’ve moved, or changed your phone, or just listed your details in all sorts of ways in business filings or Chamber directories, there’s a good chance Google isn’t sure which listing is correct and that’s not a good thing.

Local Search Ecosystem in Canada

Google use many data sources to try to get the most accurate picture. The image above from MOZLocal shows the interrelation of information sourced between data agrregators, directories, and search engines in Canada.

The last thing Google wants to do is send someone to the wrong address when they search for a local business.

directory citations Local SEO Playbook

Above is an example of a local business that has multiple inconsistent citations online. The name is spelled out differently, there are three different phone numbers and at least two different addresses.

I’m certainly not picking on this business – In my experience, some sort of inaccurate data is out there for most businesses.

Use a tool like MozLocal and see just how bad this problem is for your business.

Once you determine there are a few inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete listings use MozLocal, BrightLocalWhiteSpark or Yext to clean listings and suppress inaccurate duplicates that often occur.

You might also want to check out this list of industry specific directories.

This step alone can do more for your local listings than any other aspect of local SEO.

Create local SEO content

This one should be obvious but it kind of isn’t.

If you think about it, when you create a brochure and hand it to a prospect that pretty much know that you work in their city. But, when you create content online, you need to go over and above to spell out where you do your work.

Now, it’s easy to get spammy listing lots of local content and that can hurt you as much as help you, but you certainly should talk about where you work and in some cases have specific pages with case studies for specific trade areas, suburbs, and neighborhoods.

Don’t forget to blog and post about local events and happenings. Using your blog to take about community, customer, and employee related local news is a great way to spice up your local content in very authentic ways.

If you have multiple locations you may want to learn about and adopt what many SEO folks refer to as content silos for each location – here’s a great primer on local content silos.

Focus on reviews

Reviews have become an incredibly important form of content. As the statistic cited at the beginning of this post suggests, people increasingly rely on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase.

So, while you need positive reviews for social proof, you also need them as a pillar of your local SEO efforts.

Google factors review activity as one of the elements that helps determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack.

No, it’s not the only factor, but it’s an important one.

The image above from a BrightLocal survey demonstrates just how important reviews have become in the purchase journey for local businesses. Fully 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and a growing number are reading them them regularly.

Take a look at the businesses in the image earlier in this article. Reviews are displayed and play a large role in what businesses are shown – and for the consumer, what businesses are clicked.

Reviews are harder to get than they should be. Even a business with raving fans must work to get those reviews from happy customers.

The key is to ask often and make it as easy as possible for your happy customers to log in to the sites that matter and leave a review. Sure you’ll take a glowing email testimonial from a customer, but far better to push for a Google, Yelp, Facebook or industry review. (Check out this list of important industry review sites.)

You can always repurpose these reviews in email newsletters, on your site, or even hanging up in the store.

Many businesses are finding that they need to make review collection a process rather than leaving it to chance. Tools like GatherUp and Grade.us can help automate the process of review collection.

Take some time and make each of the five steps above a priority for your local business and you may find that local leads drawn from organic search can become your most potent lead generation channel.

Local-SEO-CTA

Local SEO

Page One on Google Is Your New Business Card

How to manage your online reputations

How to Manage Your Online Reputation

As a business owner, you need to know how to manage your online reputation. Your business’ reputation is everything. If you have a good one, people will hear and customers will come. If you have a bad one, people will hear that, too, and stay away – and worse, tell others as well. And if you have none at all, well, no one will hear about you and you’ll struggle to attract new customers.

In the online world your reputation is very much the sum of the reviews your customers leave on sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, and the many, many niche business review sites. And these reviews are becoming more and more important.

Consumers are less and less moved by advertising and more and more influenced by recommendations from their peers. A recent study in the UK found that 8 out of 10 Millennials will not buy anything without first reading an online review.

There is also evidence to suggest that your reviews impact your SEO. Even if they don’t have a direct impact on how high you appear in search results, seeing those five little stars next to your business’ or product’s name in Google is definitely going to impact consumer decisions about whether or not to purchase from you.

So, how do you manage your online reviews and reputation?

It’s a three-step process to get started. You have determine which review sites are important to you, ask your customers to post reviews on those sites, and manage your negative reviews.

Complete online presence audit

Choosing the Review Sites That Matter to You

There are thousands of places your customers could leave a review about you. Which ones matter to you will depend on what business you’re in and where your customers go for advice. The most important sites are the ones where your business is already receiving reviews. If you’re not sure if you have any, try Googling “reviews for [your business name]” and see what comes up.

There are a few sites that are important to all businesses just because of the volume of traffic they receive:

  • Google My Business
  • Facebook

If you’re in the hospitality or entertainment industry some important ones are:

  • Yelp
  • TripAdvisor
  • Foursquare

If you offer local services, look into sites like Homestars, Trustpilot, and,  again, Yelp.

If you Google “reviews for” and insert your business type you’ll get a list of some of the more popular ones in your industry.

Another key place to be capturing and publishing your reviews is your own website. You want people who visit your site to see what others are saying about you. As I’ve stated earlier, this is what more and more consumers are looking for when making a buying decision, so make it easy for them to find.

Get Positive Reviews

Once you know where you’re getting reviews, or identified the review sites where you want to get reviews, the next question to answer is how do you get positive reviews. Step one is to deliver a great product, service, or customer experience. Assuming you are already doing that, the next step is simple: ask for them.

You should have a process in place to ask your customers to give you a review. When you’ve made a sale, delivered a service, finished a project. Have a mechanism for asking that customer how you did. And, if the answer is positive, ask if they’d provide an online review for you.

The more specific you can be about the ask, the better the review you stand to get. A review that provides detail about their experience (and your product or service) is better than a generic “They’re great.”

There are online tools that can help you do this for a cost. But you can also manage it yourself with a short email template, a printed 3×5 card with a few questions on it, or even a phone call.

The other business advantage to asking how you did is that you’re going to find out when customers were unhappy about your product or service. This is hugely valuable. When this happens you have a chance to salvage that relationship and make things right. You can also prevent some of those unhappy customers from posting negative reviews of your company online.

Still, even with this process, you will still get negative reviews.

What to Do When You Get Negative Reviews

You will get negative reviews. It happens to everyone. The important thing is how you deal with it. Here are some tips to effectively manage those reviews so they don’t hurt your business.

Never, ever argue with the reviewer. Always take the high ground. If you get into an online debate with someone, you make the issue seem like a big deal and you, inevitably, end up looking petty. What you want to do is demonstrate that you are listening and you are a professional.

If there is merit to the complaint, acknowledge it, apologize and try to move the conversation offline. Never offer any compensation for a bad experience in your response. This will just signal to other readers that they can get free stuff if they complain. Just move the conversation offline.

If there is no merit, or you can’t do anything to make it better, simply acknowledge their feelings and move on. It will demonstrate to prospective customers that you take your customers’ feelings seriously and are a true professional.

If you take these steps towards managing your online reviews, it will form the cornerstone for how to manage your online reputation and turn it into a business advantage that your competitors just can’t compete with.