Search Engine Optimisation - you may have heard of it; you may also understand the importance of it. But are you aware of Local SEO, and how it differs from standard SEO?
Standard SEO vs Local SEO
Search engine algorithms are constantly being refined and nowadays they are incredibly intuitive. In Google's quest to provide optimal experiences for its users, it aims to serve up only the best and most relevant results for search queries.
For instance a search query like "what does an accountant do" will display a very different SERP (Search Engine Results Page) from the search query "accountant whangarei", because Google understands the second query has more immediate purchase intent behind it. The searcher is actively looking for a service or product nearby.
Check out the two SERP differences below:
The information SERP shows:
an answer box
"People also ask" box (to help refine a search query)
a website link to a business school
The local SERP provides:
paid links to local websites
blended "local pack" results, which mixes Google Maps data with relevant local listings
While anyone in the world with good SEO knowledge and an authorative website could potentially rank for a general search query, only businesses who have local SEO in place would appear in local searches.
Why is local SEO important?
As you can imagine, small businesses are working hard to get customers though the door on a limited advertising budget. With local SEO in place it means their NAPW information (Name, Address, Phone number, Website) is being served up to engaged shoppers who are looking for the services or products they offer. These searchers are in active purchase mode and they are in close proximity - what could be better than that?
In fact, there is something better than that: you can set up basic local SEO yourself easily and, even better, for free. And yes, SEO in general is highly complex and involved, which is why there are agencies and consultants who specialise in this area. However you can reserve yourself a "seat at the local SEO table" by actioning the following steps:
Google My Business
Given the immense popularity of Google's search engine (when did you last hear someone say "I'll just Bing it"?), it makes sense that the first step is claiming your Google My Business (GMB) listing.
A GMB listing feeds information to a range of places, including "local pack" and Google Maps search results. But the place you'll be most familiar with seeing it is on the right-hand-side of a SERP when searching for a business by name - see EBP's GMB information panel below.
Claiming your listing includes a verification process so Google can confirm you are the legitimate owner of the business. This step is to prevent others, such as competitors, from claiming your listing and potentially damaging your business's visibility or credibility in local search.
Once you're the owner of your business profile you will be able to:
correct false or obsolete information (eg if the industry category is wrong, or an old phone number is listed)
add missing information (eg standard hours of business, days you are closed eg public holidays, a business description, etc)
add extra locations, if you have multiple branches or stores
Add photos of your team, the interior and exterior of your business, videos, etc
You can even add a Google website! Check out ours here
From within the GMB dashboard you can also set user permissions, post content and special offers, create Google ads, and manage reviews.
There is also the handy 'Insights' section which provides stats on how customers search for your business, the search queries they use, if they are viewing your listing on Search or Maps, and the types of actions they are taking on your listing.
Having a free GMB listing to help your business rank in local search just makes good sense. Google wants businesses to claim their listings and keep them up-to-date, as it helps Google to serve up accurate information to its users. So this is a win-win-win for Google, your business, and the users.
GMB is an example of a structured citation - that is, a place where your business's NAPW details appears online. Other examples of structured citation sites are business listing websites and online directories.
Your presence on reputable directories which perform well in search results is another easy way to help boost your local search rankings and build your brand's trustworthiness.
There are many citation websites out there so it pays to do some research (including industry-specific and location-specific) to find which ones are worthwhile listing your business on. You could perform a Google search on your local competitors to see which directories they appear on, as you will want be visible on those too.
Some directories you may be familiar with are YellowPages (paid directory), Chamber of Commerce (membership required), TripAdvisor, Finda and Neighbourly.
First check to see if your business is already listed (some directories pull information from other sites) and then claim it, or else create a new listing.
Keep it comprehensive and current
When it comes to listing your business online, make use of as many relevant fields the platform has to offer. The more information you make available to potential customers, the more likely they will want to interact with your brand. In GMB it's worth mentioning that some of the features visible on your SERP information panel, such as Attributes, Q&As, and Google reviews, are almost entirely generated by consumers, and are therefore not fields you can complete in the GMB dashboard.
And finally, like your website, listings should never be a set-and-forget exercise. Stagnant online information does not instill confidence in your audience, and without regular reviews it may result in obsolete details being pushed out to your potential customers.