If you own a small business with a physical location such as a store or office, local search engine optimization (SEO) is an extremely important factor for your success. Your potential customers are walking and driving around, usually with their smartphones, searching for businesses like yours. The question is, will they select you or your competitors?
It’s up to you to provide great products and services. However, local SEO often determines whether or not people even step into your business in the first place.
Working in the local marketing space, specifically text-based marketing, I’ve observed some major local SEO trends along with best practices on how to benefit from them.
Google continues to dominate local SEO.
Google is the most important factor for optimizing your site for local search engine traffic. Google My Business and Google Maps provide local customers with guidance and directions when they’re searching for a business. Make sure you have an accurate and up-to-date listing with Google My Business. Upload photos as well as information about your location, phone number, hours and a description of your business.
Google creates what are known as Knowledge Panels. These are highly visible boxes that summarize people, businesses and other organizations. You can’t apply to be featured, as Google chooses which businesses to favor with knowledge panels. However, the more information you provide about your business, the more likely it is that you’ll be featured.
Voice search is growing.
Voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri have gotten people comfortable with talking to their devices rather than just typing on them. Over time, I believe voice search will be the most common type of search. It’s easier and more convenient to speak a command than to have to use a keyboard. You can do it while driving, cooking, exercising or anything else.
That’s why businesses need to understand how voice search affects SEO. Get into the mindset of someone looking for your business. When people are talking into their phones or voice search assistants, they will talk in a natural way rather than typing in traditional keywords.
Another trick is to optimize your content for featured snippets, which Google uses for voice search. Creating a list of features or a FAQ section is ideal for snippets.
Keep local keywords in mind.
In order to optimize your content for local search, think of the most common keywords customers use when seeking your type of business. This includes keywords related to your city or town, region and neighborhood.
Suppose, for example, you have a salon in downtown Austin, Texas, near the capital building. Whereas a typed search might be “salon Austin,” someone driving around is more likely to ask, “Where’s a salon near the capital?”
Putting in local landmarks and neighborhoods, in addition to your city, is a good way to meet the needs of voice searchers.
Local search ads are becoming increasingly prevalent.
Google Ads are increasingly used to promote local businesses. Ads that appear under local search and Maps put businesses that don’t use paid advertising at a disadvantage.
If you rely strictly on organic SEO, you’re not only competing against other business’s SEO, but against those who use paid ads. You may want to consider investing in your own local ads to stay competitive.
Reviews are more important than ever.
There’s been a major shift in the role of online reviews in the last few years. When sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List became popular, customers began to look up businesses and check out their reviews. Now, however, with the growth of local SEO, people no longer have to even search for reviews. Google Reviews simply appear when someone does a search. This makes online reviews more important than ever.
Online reviews are essential for social proof. Studies show that many people value a positive review as much as a personal recommendation. That’s why small businesses need to do everything possible to encourage their customers to leave reviews.
Don’t ask specifically for positive reviews as this is against most sites’ terms of service. However, you can leave gentle reminders in the form of stickers and requests on your website and in your emails.
Cater to your mobile customers.
The explosion of mobile devices is closely connected to the rising importance of local SEO. It’s convenient for people to look for a business from their smartphones. If you have a brick-and-mortar storefront or office, you need to pay special attention to your mobile customers.
• Use responsive design for your website. Test your website’s loading speed. Make sure pages load quickly on mobile devices.
• Keep your images mobile-friendly by reducing file sizes.
• Use mobile-friendly fonts and layouts. Make sure fonts are large enough to be easily read on small screens. Single column layouts are easiest to read on mobile screens.
Every small business has to be aware of local SEO factors in order to attract more customers. Emerging trends such as voice search and the growth of mobile technology are making it more crucial than ever to optimize your business website for local search.