Local SEO is exactly what you think it is – a process that optimizes your website to help it rank higher in local searches. Your goal should be for your page to show up as often and as near to the top as possible when people search for terms related to your business.  After all, the more people who see your business, the more likely they will become your customers.

How do you know if your business can benefit from local SEO? It’s simple: if your business has a physical address and can deal directly with customers in the local area, then local SEO can help you.

If you’re unfamiliar with how a local search works, its magic lies in what are referred to as “geo-targeted terms.” For instance, if someone is looking for “SEO in San Jose,” and your business is both located in the area and is relevant to the search term, then your business should pop up in those search results.

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Ideally, you want your page to appear in Google’s carousel results. Carousel results are those hits that appear at the top of a search page – you’ve seen the ones – they’re framed by a black border and are the most relevant matches for the geo-targeted term(s) that you have entered into Google.

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Over time, the practice of SEO has become more nuanced, including mobile search tools, voice-enabled results, and, appropriate to the present topic of discussion, localized results, which became more accessible via search engine results pages (SERPs) that organize localized results. Localized results paved an exciting new path for advertising, as customers and businesses could connect with each other on a more intimate level than ever before.

Accordingly, small businesses often benefit from localized results, as someone who conducts a search and finds a particular small business might never have known that business existed before and yet has now become an active customer of theirs.

Even better, localized search results are typically accompanied by a Google map of the area, which shows where that particular business is located. In addition to helping potential customers find this business, they can also see who is located nearby that may also be able to fulfill one of their needs.

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Sure, it’s hard work to land on that coveted “first page” of Google’s search results, but that work pays off in spades. Remember that everyone is vying for one of those top spots, so it’s crucial that you go above and beyond to keep your web page exceptional at all times. If your hard work finally pays off and you land on that first page, you need to do everything possible to keep yourself there.

Here are some tips to help you effectuate localized SEO practices that will aid your business in maintaining a more powerful presence on the web:

  • Claim and Customize a Google+ Page

When you search for a business on Google, and that big map appears to the right of the list of search results, guess where Google finds the information that appears on that map? That’s right – from those businesses’ Google+ web pages. Having and maintaining a Google+ presence is incredibly important, since Google can’t pull your information if it isn’t there to pull. Creating a Google+ page is, of course, free, so be sure to create a separate page for every one of your business’ separate locations.

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While optimizing multiple pages for different locations is no bueno, you also don’t want to have all of your services laid out on each of the pages either.  In other words, you don’t want to show your whole hand.

For example, a hairdresser who lists his up-do and waxing services on the same page is not optimizing that particular page. He should discuss his up-do talents on his Chicago page, while saving his waxing skills for his Deerfield location’s page. You want each page to be as unique as possible, focusing on one core keyword phrase on each page to ensure the best possible SEO ranking.

Choosing relevant categories for your page is also important, the key word here being “relevant.” Think about when you go to search for a business. Putting in terms like “hairdresser,” “salon,” and “barber” can all get you results for the same business, but using a term like “diner” to describe a fast-food restaurant is not only inaccurate but also goes against Google’s Terms of Service. Use as many terms as you want, as long as they are relevant to your business.

  • Make Your Website Mobile-Optimized

We’ve all been there; we finally find the page of a business we were searching for, and it won’t load properly – how frustrating!

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It goes without saying that everyone does everything via their phones nowadays, and that includes searching for business’ web pages. Don’t be that company whose website is not optimized for mobile viewing. Life is a lot easier when potential clients are trying to look you up on their phones and find that your page is mobile-friendly. That right there can mean the difference between keeping and losing a customer.

  • Create High-Quality Content…and Lots of It

Everyone knows that you have to have killer quality in order to make the most of SEO, but in addition to your page being well-written, informative, and unique, you also must make sure that it contains a minimum of 500 words of original content. Anything less means that your listing may not show up when people are searching for you and your SEO content becomes pointless, no matter how exquisite it is.

The same applies when inserting links from other websites into your material. If the links you use don’t point to high-quality relevant material, your page will suffer. The more relevant reference links you can add to your page, the better.

  • Use the Heck Out of Social Media

Not a fan of Twitter or Instagram? Well tough cookies, because the more of a presence you can have on social media, the better. Make a Pinterest page and pin articles and images to it that are relevant to your business. For example, if your business is a barber shop, pin different hairstyles to one of your Pinterest pages, labeling it with something confident like “You Want It? We Can Do It,” or something to that effect.

While the jury’s still out on how well social media actually impacts SEO, in today’s world it is essential to use the internet to gain as much exposure to your business as possible. Hashtags are especially important when using Twitter, as you can track who is sharing your posts and how many people those posts reach by following the hashtags you use.  For example, a landscaping business can use hashtags like #localSEO, #brushremoval, or #lawnmaintenance to promote shares and to also keep abreast of what competitors in the field are offering.

For instance, fans of Empire would certainly get a kick out of a hair salon tweeting about how they could give you the Cookie weave you’ve always wanted.  Similarly, Mad Men fans would remember a menswear company’s Instagram post that advertises styles they carry that are close to the suit Don Draper wore in “The Suitcase.”  You get the picture.

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Your social media presence doesn’t have to be boring, sticking to updates about landscaping if your company specializes in tree services (though definitely don’t refrain from the occasional tweet regarding same), but it is important that you maintain an active presence on social media. What this means is that you don’t want your page to go stale. Update as often as possible, keeping your page fun, informative, and exciting to encourage both views and shares.

Plus, crafting non-conventional posts encourages your customers to interact with you on topics that they care about, and if they find that you and they are like-minded, that can earn their loyalty as well.

Neil Patel of Entrepreneur.com has written a comprehensive list of five things most people forget when using local SEO in their listings.  Here is a brief synopsis of his pointers:

Be Both Accurate and Consistent

There are three things to always keep in mind when creating your SEO content, a trinity of sorts, as Patel puts it: Name, Address, and Phone Number – NAP (some also include “Website” [NAP+W]). These elements must ALWAYS appear in local searches, which is why it is imperative that businesses stay up-to-date on their listings. You may be surprised to learn that this is something that businesses, more often than not, do not do.

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A mismatched NAP is the third most significant factor in having a negative local ranking. You want to make sure that your listing is impeccable. This means having zero spelling or grammatical errors, else your page will be deemed a “false business location” and will not be registered appropriately. In layman’s terms? No one will find your page.

Patel explains that with the number of financial institutions in Manhattan, or the number of cupcake boutiques present in New York City, it is easy to see why it is absolutely crucial that every detail of your business’ information is clear, correct, and unambiguous. Something as simple as a misplaced comma can mean the death of your page.

As far as consistency is concerned, Patel explains that the information presented on your page on Google+ must be consistent with that which is displayed on Yelp, which must be consistent with that which is displayed on Foursquare, and so on.

This may sound like an absolute nightmare if you need to do something as small as update your business’ address or phone number, and it certainly can be. There are experts that you can hire who can help fix inconsistencies across the board, or you can save the cash and do it yourself. Though be warned that this involves tracking down every single local citation to double-check its accuracy. This may be a daunting task, but one that is well worth the trouble.

Fill Out Local Directory Listings Completely

Like hunting down your own local citation, it can also be daunting to fill out local directory listings as completely as possible, but this too is worth its weight in gold. Neglecting to leave out information like your general proximity to a customer’s location, or your company’s hours of operation, can mean – yes, you guessed it – the death of your page.

This is especially true when discussing Google’s My Business tool, which is massive enough to warrant your company having correct information – and an abundance of it.

Forgo a Website in Favor of Social Media

Here it is again, that social media – see how you can’t get away from it? Patel says that social media is so important that you don’t even need to have a conventional website for your business anymore – you can do just fine by having an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, and the like.

Of course, having a website is not going to hurt your company at all, but it’s not the make-or-break aspect of the business model that it used to be. Taking its place in today’s world are listings for your page on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook, to name a select few.

From your page’s listing on Google, a customer can find out everything she wants to know, from your business’ price range to your hours of operations, and (something else that’s going to come back to haunt you) reviews posted from prior and present customers – reviews that are infinitely more helpful to them than the reviews they would find posted to a company’s website that may or may not be paid testimonials.

Speaking of reviews…

Encourage Past and Present Customers to Post a Review

Told ya these would come back to haunt you.

When it comes to customers posting reviews of their experience with you, never has the adage been more accurate that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it. There is just no way to control who leaves a review, especially if they’ve had a good experience with your business.

SEO-San-jose-reviewsSome folks will go above and beyond to leave a nice review if they’re pleased with the service they receive, but most of the time customers only leave reviews to warn others to beware of a business when they have had a less than satisfactory experience.

Satisfied customers are often silent customers, and while this may be fine in theory (the “no news is good news” approach), when potential customers come to your page and see that you have never been reviewed, they are more likely to go to one of your competitors who has. But fear not; you can encourage your customers in a myriad of ways to post positive reviews that will shoot your page to the top of a local SEO search.

First, don’t be afraid – just come right out and ask them if they could leave a review on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. You can also make it as convenient as possible for them to leave the review by offering them coupons, free products (like a free drink or appetizer if you own a restaurant), or even a shout-out on your company’s Facebook page in exchange for the review. Many folks would jump at the chance to leave positive feedback in exchange for some free loot or an honorable mention.

Some other, more creative suggestions include handing out cards with your web page’s address on them and a request for a review to be posted directly to your company’s website, or installing a kiosk by the front door where they can leave a review on their way out the door. However you choose to follow up is up to you, but the more positive reviews people write up of your business on Google+ Local, the better chances you have of ranking higher on Google.

Remember the “Neighborhood Algorithm”

Terms of endearment that locals use to refer to their neighborhood may not directly correlate with how that location is displayed on a map (Hell’s Kitchen comes to mind). Therefore, trying to rank a local neighborhood using a search engine algorithm can get kind of tricky. This is where you can customize your business’ page even further…while making it fun in the process.

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Be sure to include the neighborhood’s informal name in everything from your website’s title tags to the business’ description on Google’s My Business platform. And don’t be afraid to splash the name of the neighborhood across your website’s landing page, or in the “About” sections on Facebook and Twitter.

Try to include as much of the neighborhood’s lingo into your page as you can think of – you can even ask around via social media or do some quick research to cover even more ground. Saying that it’s no wonder your restaurant is located in Hell’s Kitchen because of its hot and spicy wings will make your page memorable and, ultimately, share-worthy.

Conclusion,

So to make sure that your page is the be-all, end-all when it comes to local SEO, keep in mind that it must be relevant, current, and easily accessible via social media and mobile devices. Having an active, user-friendly, and enjoyable page for your business can mean the difference between a “maybe” and a sale.