Boost Your Online Marketing with Local SEO

Terence Gray, Onestop Webshop

If you are considering how best to spend your marketing budget, online advertising is most likely near the top of your agenda.  Increasingly, people go online to search for products and services. They use online resources to gather information, to find businesses and to search for the best price and deals.  We are moving to a world where more information is available at the touch of a button, and traditional forms of advertising such as newspaper advertising and paper-based Directories such as Yellow Pages are proving less effective for bringing in new customers.

Getting to the top of Google or Bing's organic search results (SERPS) can be difficult, especially if you are in a competitive business space. The good news if your business operates 'locally' serving customers in a specific geographic area, such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth or Kings Lynn is that Google and Bing want to help you.

In this article we want to highlight the Importance of local SEO for business and show you how small businesses, typically those with limited marketing budgets, can make the most of Local SEO for marketing and improving their search engine visibility with Google and Bing Places for Business.

Search Engines and Your Business

Local search results enable people to find relevant information about local businesses and organisations (charities, for example) based on location data.  With One in Five searches now related to location the importance of local SEO should not be underestimated. Local Search is a highly effective and cost effecient way to get your business see by customers. After all, if you are looking for a locksmith or accountant you are going to want to find one near to you, right?

Local SEO also provides opportunities for small businesses to appear higher in search results because the competition is smaller than for standard search. You are only competing for search engine position with other businesses in the same geographic area. For cities such as Norwich, and indeed across Norfolk, the low business density compared with larger cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester make Local SEO that little bit easier for you to rank nearer - or at - the top of the Local Search results when people are searching for local services or products.

If you are wondering how do Search Engines recognise local searches searches the good news is that you do not need to take this factor into account.  Search phrases involving words such as 'in' and 'near' are clear examples.  Search engines are constantly getting better at understanding user queries (search semantics) and both Google and Bing apply sophisticated algorithms to detect User intent. Simply optimise your local SEO and allow Google and Bing to interpret user's intent when searching for local business services.

Improving Your Online Marketing With Local Search

So how do you improve your local search listing with Google and Bing ?  Any location where you physically serve or meet customers can be used to establish a presence on Google or Bing Places for Business, which in turn will help boost your online marketing. Here are our top tips for improving your Local SEO and ensuring you appear in  Google and Bing Local Listings:

1. Claim Your Google Places Business Listing

As a business you do not need a website in order to appear in Local Search results.  Google Places for Business is Google's tool to help businesses provide the search engine with information on your location, the type of service(s) you offer your customers, areas you serve and your opening hours.  Simply register for a Google account (registration is free), visit Google Places for Business and complete your business profile.

2. Ensure Your Location Details are Consistent Across the Web

One of the critical listing factors for ensuring your details appear in any Search Results is consistency of your Name, Address and Phone Number, or NAP details as they are known in local search parlance. Google and other search engines access and store data on businesses from a number of sources across the web.  Your NAP details act as one means for search engines to verifying the accuracy and legitimacy of your business and any discrepancy may adversely affect your local search ranking.

It is important to bear in mind that a company, even a local one, can have up to multiple business locations.  If you are a local estate agency for example, you may have offices in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Kings Lynn, Dereham, Holt, etc.  Google Places for Business allows you to add up to 100 physical locations manually. If you do need to add more than 10 locations for your business then check out the User Guide for Local Business Listings on Google Places.

3. Optimise Your Listing for Your Product or Service

Search Engines rely on words to categorise web pages, including information on your business.  Google Places provides a ‘Category’ system which identifies business to help ensure the most relevant results are returned in Local Listings when people search for suppliers or business services.  You should ensure your business information on Google Places is complete and correctly categorised, adding as many categories as necessary to describe the range of services your company offers.

While not a major factor for improving your local SEO with Google and Bing, it will improve your visibility in search results by adding photographs of your business, services or products. Not only does this add visual interest to attract customers attention when viewing search results in Google SERPs results but correctly optimised images (with descriptive, keyword focused descriptions) can also help identify your products and services, improving the likelihood that your business will appear in the search results compared to other, non-optimised, listings.

4. Encourage Reviews

Customer Reviews are included in the Local Listing results for both Google and Bing.  Google relies on native reviews provided by customers through Google Local.  Bing, on the other hand, relies on external reviews and the likelihood of customer reviews appearing next to your listing will depend on the nature of your business.  For example, if you search for ‘Fish & Chip Shops in Norwich’ Bing will display reviews from Trip Advisor.

There is not much you can do to control external reviews but just promoting more reviews in general should give you a good ratio of accurate appraisals, which in turn will improve your ability to attract more customers. To improve the number of reviews you receive establish whether your customers are more likely to search for you on Google or Bing and then implement a plan to encourage customers to leave reviews where they will be detected by Google or Bing.  For example, when writing to customers you might ask customers to review your business on Trip Advisor if you are in the hotel / restaurant sector.  If you are targeting Google, let people know your Google Local webpage address and ask people to leave reviews there (this does require customers to have a Google account).

Generally, more detailed customer reviews will result in better performance for your Local Search listing as Search Engines can extract more information from the reviews but the important thing is that such reviews are genuine and natural.  People will spot fake reviews a mile off, and you can be sure the Search Engines are becoming increasingly better at distinguishing between genuine reviews and sock puppet reviews (ie fake feedback created solely for the purpose of influencing people / search engines).

5. Build Links and Citations

If you already have a website and have investigated search engine optimisation you will know the importance in establishing high quality backlinks to your company website.  Local Search relies on a related concept known as Citations.  Any time your company is mentioned on the web, this is known as a citation.  So, if your business is listed in a business directory, such as Yelp or Yell, or local Chamber of Commerce, this is a citation.  Similarly, if your company is mentioned in an article online or press release this is also a citation.

The good news for businesses that operate in a defined geographic area such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth, or any recognised locality, is that citations can help improve your Local Search results.  They work on the basis that Google and Bing can determine that a certain business is active within a particular city or location which, in turn, links your business with that area.  These in turn improve your visibility in local search results as the citations provide 'signals' to the search engines linking your business to a geographic area, such as a city or postcode.

Local directory citations and online listings also strengthen your business credentials by verifying the consistency of your NAP details (Name, Address, and Phone Number as mentioned above) as well as providing a means for linking product and service related keywords to your business listing, all of which are used by search engines when determining whether to display your business in Local Search SERPs results.

Final Comments

Hopefully this article above provides some insights on ways you can improve your local SEO.  If conducting your own SEO plan, remember that results can take several months to filter through to search engine listings, especially for more competitive lines of business.  Instigate a strategy for improving your local search listing using regular updates, reviews and online citations will yield results but it may be a matter of months before the effects are visible.

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