Whether you’re a service area business, a small brick and mortar store or a clicks & bricks eCommerce store that has recently come to terms with the fact that you’re a local business, you need to know how to get your site seen. I mean, that’s the goal, right? The whole ‘If you build it, they will come’ thing might apply to thirty-year-old movies but not to Google.
I talk a lot about the importance of local search and why everyone with a physical location needs to be optimizing to be seen in their area but I don’t think I’ve ever really given an actionable plan to do so short of ‘clean your citations’ and ‘write some content’. This week’s post is a five-step action plan to get your site seen and ranking for your local area.
Note: This post assumes that you’ve already figured out all of the steps in for your business to get started in digital marketing overall. If you haven’t, check out my previous post and then come back to this one.
Ready? Let’s go:
Step 1: Make Your Site Not Awful
Out of all the steps I’m going to talk about, this is the first and most important one so listen up:
If your site is a technical nightmare, the rest of what I am about to tell you in this article will not matter.
You heard me? Good.
This one is easy, especially if you are not a web developer or an SEO because then all you have to do is contract out. This is one of the few steps where you can ‘give a guy a few bucks’ and have it work if you don’t want to do this yourself.
It comes down to this: If you have a ton of pages 404’ing, a really weird and completely pointless redirect chain, a bunch of dynamically created category level pages with zero things on them, subcategories within subcategories nested inside of other subcategories branching off from your main categories, a bunch of junk HTML or other technical issues, you need to fix that first.
Don’t wait. Don’t ‘get around to it’. Don’t ‘worry about it later’. Fix that first.
Also, don’t rely on cheap or freebie ‘SEO Auditing tools’ you can find literally everywhere online these days. Those audits are run by bots and by companies that are trying to sell you their services and they’re usually completely wrong. Even if they’re not wrong, you probably don’t know how to interpret the results it will come back with, making the whole thing pointless anyway. Find someone who knows how to run a good SEO (Organic and local) technical audit and do what they say.
Step 2: Create Good, Useful Location and Service-based On Page Content
Once you’ve got your tech cleaned up and your page is loading like it should be and the bots are able to crawl you and index you like they should, now we come to the on-page content creation.
The best thing to do here is to tell you what not to do. Don’t start writing a bunch of doorway page, useless crap. You’ve seen it. Those pages where the guy just stars spamming the ol’ “City” + “Keyword” combination on every single page of the site, they cram it in the footer and the title tags and maybe even in the meta description if they are feeling extra nifty that day.
Yeah, don’t do that.
The days of needing to do that are long gone and it really might end up getting you penalized.
Does it still work? Yes. Should you actually do it? No.
Instead, make sure the content you write is relevant to that particular page. For example, if you’re making content for your ‘About Us’ page then write content about your business that people would actually want to read. If you’re writing for your ‘Services’ page, then actually describe the services you provide in detail – not just a bullet pointed list. Save all that other stuff. Write for readers and don’t look like a spam farm.
That being said, two areas you’ll really want to pay attention to are your ‘Contact Us’ page and the NAP – Name, Address & Phone Number profile – in the footer of your page.
I tell all businesses focusing on local search to really go all out on the contact us page. I say give driving directions from major highways, add names of local parks and other landmarks everyone knows (if you know no one will mind it appearing on your site!) and even add a Google Maps code snippet. These are strong local signals that Google will pick up on to give you a little more local presence in search.
Treat your NAP like you’d treat your social security number:
You only have ONE. ONE IS ALL YOU HAVE. THE END.
Mark that up with JSON-LD or Schema.org and push that out in your footer so it appears on all the pages of your site.
Boom. Step 2 down.
Step 3: Start Claiming those Citations and Google My Business
I already wrote an entire article about how and why to do this so I’ll refer you to that.
Also, for local search, claiming citations really is literally important enough to warrant its own entire article so don’t skip this!
No matter how much you may want to once you see how much work is involved.
Also, another step in the process is to claim your Google My Business listing. This is something that you’ll want to consider carefully before you do it. The reason is that once you claim your listing on Google My Business, that is how Google will see you, as a local area business. This means that if you are, for example, an eCommerce store that sells products nationwide, your chance of ranking organically outside of your area is lower than it would be if you did not have this listing.
My advice is that if you are a service area business or a mom and pop that really only focuses on sales in your area, get your listing but if you’re a clicks and bricks store that focuses on selling your products nationally or worldwide, skip the listing. Also, make sure you review the rules for getting a listing before you do.
Step 4: Claim & Clean your Social Profiles
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.
If you’re nowhere else on social, be there.
Claim those listings, fill out those profiles completely with good data and be active on them.
Google swears up and down that they don’t take social into account in terms of ranking but I’m telling you they do and I’ve seen it happen first-hand.
I don’t know or care WHY they do, they just do and so you need to be aware of that.
Also, even though it’s not technically SEO, you can usually get some pretty quick wins with locally targeted paid social media ads, boosted posts and campaigns. I’ve seen this happen for clients who couldn’t get wins with any other channel.
Step 5: Get Your Local Area Backlinks
If you read this blog, you probably know by now that I’m one of those SEOs that hates backlinks. They’re so easy to mess up thanks to the strict guidelines set up for them but you know what, you need them…so here we are.
My advice to local businesses looking to earn backlinks is to have a really good site and sponsor events in your local area. Whether its like a 5k race, a community service event, a little league team or something else, you need to get involved in your local community and then get yourself some brand mentions online and some backlinks going to your site.
Google loves backlinks and they can be super hard to get in the way they want you to (read: so you don’t get yourself a nice Penguin problem) but if you’re active in the community, usually the backlinks will come.
Yeah. Good luck.
The Bottom Line
And there you have it. Five steps to local SEO ranking. Sure, I made it sound a lot easier than it actually will be to implement these but trust me, it will be worth it in the end.
Keep in mind, your success rate will vary depending on your actual physical location, brand prominence and other ranking factors thanks to the good ol’ Possum Algorithm but this should get you going in the right direction…at least until they update Possum again.