Fight the Google Ocean and You Will Drown: Why Local Search Matters to Everyone with a Physical Location

Join me on a trip to visit two very different yet very disappointed eCommerce Site owners:

Scenario 1:

I’m Bob Momnpopowner. I have a little T-Shirt shop in Any Town, USA. It’s not doing too great and I’m not getting the traction or sales that I’d like. I’ve got it! I’ll get an eCommerce website! Great idea! More audience, more conversions, more money, amirite? So here’s my site, I’ll throw some shirts on there and some standard generic content about how my store is so great and here we go! Wait…why am I not ranking for anything? Not even my own business name! What’s going on here?!

Scenario 2:

I’m Mr. Bigtime. I’ve got a store or two in town but really, I don’t care about them because the money’s just rollin’ in from my eCommerce site. I get okay foot traffic in my locations but, eh, that’s secondary to my plan for world domination. At least it was. It isn’t fair, I say! I used to rank pretty high organically but next thing you know, Google changed everything around! They have a bunch of ads at the top of the page, then there’s this huge map thing below that followed by a pack of three listings I’m not even in! Now people have to nearly scroll down the whole page to see my business and sometimes I’m not even there depending on how far away the searcher is. Now my organic traffic is crashing! A pox on Google and their changes!

Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ve just seen what happens when merchants with a physical storefront ignore local SEO. Sad, isn’t it?

They’re doing something I like to think of as ‘fighting the ocean’. In the first scenario, Bob tried to cross the ocean in a raft while in the second one, Mr. Big has a very…let’s say ‘inflated’..vision of himself. While HE thinks he’s a big shot, Google currently sees him as a local store owner trying to do the same thing as Bob and having a similar issue. You see, there are two things Google loves when it comes to search and they are big brands (think Pepsi, Nestle, Ford, etc.) and local businesses. I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, you’re not a big brand so use what you’ve got! Go local!

 

So what exactly is ‘Local SEO’?

Local SEO is exactly what it sounds like. It’s optimizing your site or certain pages on your site for your general area. It specializes in making your site show up in ‘near me’ searches, ‘business type + city’ searches and other location based search queries.

Here’s a few examples of local SEO in action: I’m hungry and I want pasta but I don’t know where to get any near me. So, I go to Google and say “Italian restaurants near me” and Google finds a ton of Italian places complete with a map. So now I’m driving to the restaurant and some guy clips my fender on the way. So I pull out my phone and type in “Car accident lawyers in Raleigh” and Google has a ton of attorney listings right near me. But it turns out someone’s hurt so I Google “Hospitals in 27560” which happens to be my zip code and Google’s got a full list of nearby hospitals.

All of the sites: The Italian restaurant, the lawyer and the hospital, are showing up in the local pack, the map and even the Organic results due to, you guessed it local SEO. As you can probably guess, Service area businesses like chiropractors, restaurants and locksmiths live and die by local SEO due to the nature of their industry.

 

So that’s Great and All but I Sell Things, Not Services!

Yes. Yes, you do. So let’s revisit the first two scenarios and see how these techniques can help merchants. We’ll take them in order.

Scenario 1:

Poor Bob. He’s got a problem here. The problem is that he sells T-Shirts online. While I personally love a good tee, Bob didn’t stop to consider the sheer number of websites selling tee shirts online if he thought he could just ‘eCom’ his way to glory and riches.

Almost everyone on the planet with a website sells T-Shirts online and that’s not even considering the big guys like Amazon, Macy’s and Nordstrom’s. Well, maybe Bob thinks gag shirts are his ‘can’t fail’ niche. You sell novelty tees? Great. So do big guys like 6 Dollar Shirts, Busted Tees and Snorg Tees and I haven’t even mentioned places like Cafepress, Redbubble and Zazzle that let you make your own custom T-Shirts.

Yes, technically you can optimize your site for straight organic search so much that you can scratch and claw your way to the top of the organic listings but the amount of work and time building backlinks, doing paid social, writing content for every single URL on the site and making sure every single aspect of technical SEO is absolutely perfect, that will take is mind boggling and you still may never beat the big guys like Macy’s (remember the whole ‘Prominence’ thing?)  So what can Bob do?

Take over your block before you take on the world. Yes, there might be a million stores online doing what you do, but maybe there’s only 10 or 20 in your town. You can try focusing on T-Shirts featuring your town, neighborhood or local groups and organizations. While you might never show up for ‘T-Shirts’ across the globe, you have a really good chance with local search tactics for showing up for ‘Minnesota T-Shirts’ or ‘Miami T-Shirts’.

Scenario 2:

Now we turn to Mr. Big Shot. The guy who, for some reason, values out of town money more than down the block money. I get it. If I could turn to my friends with my thumbs firmly placed under my suspender straps while chomping a cigar and say ‘I’m a really important businessman!’ I’d do it too, but realistically, Waldorf, organic search is changing and Google is leading the way so put your monocle back in and listen up.

Google loves to give people the most relevant response to their query and therefore, they love to personalize results. And they know everything. EVERYTHING. They know where you are and as they continue to personalize your search results, you’re going to see more businesses near your local area. So the people from out of state that used to find Mr. Big’s site in organic now aren’t seeing it so much as businesses in their area have taken over positions on the page. Speaking of the Search results page, have you noticed how the first page of the SERP isn’t what it used to be? You have Adwords ads taking over the top 3 positions and with a lot of queries you have a 3 pack of businesses (called the local pack) and a huge map. Those seem like good places to have your business listed to me!

So we have a great eCommerce site that’s known to convert if he gets traffic but his lunch is being eaten out of state by localized competitors and now his in town position is tanking because he neglected the importance of his city. What can we do here? Simple. Take a step back and, as they say, think locally. First shake off the traffic leeches in your city with a solid local SEO campaign and then let’s worry about everything else out there in the world.

Be careful though! Don’t optimize your entire site for local search or you might never rank outside your area but creating a localized, city-specific and useful landing page for your store locations might be just the thing to get your business back up and running in your own town. Also, don’t make spammy, useless doorway pages or that will get you penalized but a high-value local landing page will get you some good traction.

 

Wait! Hold on there! A Guy told me about Local search once…

And I bet he told you that Local SEO is only for Ambulance Chasers (lawyers), Door Breakers (locksmiths) Food Slingers (restaurants) and Bug Punchers (pest control companies), right? Not for you, though, right? I mean, you’re a big guy that sells great products all over the world!

Well, I hate to tell you this but your ‘guy’ is wrong!

While it’s true that Local SEO is absolutely critical for locksmiths, chiropractors and other service area businesses, there isn’t a business that has a physical location that doesn’t benefit from local search optimization techniques. In fact, even online only eCommerce businesses can see benefits from cleaning up your citations, which is a key piece of local SEO. Think about it. If Yelp says the name of your business is ‘XYZ company on 123 Main St.’, and Yellowbook has you listed at ‘ZYX Company’ on ‘213 Main Blvd.’ but you’re really ‘YZX Company on 321 Main Ave.’, you can imagine the confusion. Your customers will be confused and Google will be confused too. As Google gets all these signals in, they won’t know what’s legit and what isn’t and that’s going to cause you all kinds of problems whether you’re a local business or eCommerce. Also, forget search for a second, wouldn’t you just rather have all of your information on the web accurate as possible to begin with just because it will help people give you money easier?  It just makes sense to clean these up.

 

Not Good Enough! Why Else Should I Care About Local SEO?

Ok, fine. If the scenarios above didn’t convince you to optimize for local search, maybe these facts will.

 

TL,DR: Sum all those Words up for Me!

The bottom line is this: No one is ‘too big’ to worry about local search and you usually can’t take over the world if you don’t own your block. If you have a storefront, you have the potential for an edge that is too good to overlook. If you have multiple locations, you have an even bigger advantage. Use it. Get in that local 3-pack! Get your pin on that Map! Between paid ads, the organic local pack, the upcoming paid local search listings and the map snippet, the real estate on the first page of the Google search results is getting slimmer and slimmer for Organic search results so be everywhere you can! I mean with great backlinks, content, relevance, a clean NAP, a good paid AdWords campaign and other techniques, you could be theoretically first on the Paid ad results, first in the local pack, first in the map results and first organically all on the first page of the search results! Why wouldn’t you want that?

There’s a lot more to local SEO than we’ve discussed here and there are lots of great articles and forums online to help you get started optimizing so what are you waiting for? Stop drowning and learn to swim!

 

 

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