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August 1, 2011

Small Business Guide to Using Local SEO to Get New Customers

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This is a submission to the Small Biz Local Discovery Contest and part of our commitment to serve the small business community with quality Internet marketing resources. This article answers the question: “How would you advise a small business owner on how best to use SEO, PPC or Social Media to drive conversions to a local business?”

Vote for your favorite contest entry from August 1-10.

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Beginning in October 2010, Google began making changes which have allowed small businesses to be more easily found in search results based on geography. This shift in local search visibility, is easily, the greatest change in search geared toward small businesses since the advent of the search engine. Yes, it’s that good!

All it takes is a little bit of elbow grease and knowledge of a few key factors to help a small business with a physical location rank for searches with local intent.

What is local intent?

In short, local intent is identified by Google’s understanding of an online search with the intent to purchase offline; this is also defined as “local search”.

Google understands that if a searcher needs to locate a plumber within a small town in California, they don’t need information on plumbers in New York. So, for example, a search for “plumber” would very likely reveal a list of nearby plumbers within the first page of Google’s search results.

Google has several ways of understanding where people are located when they perform a search. So a search with local intent means that they can use the searchers location to show relevant results in their area.

What local search means to small businesses

Google’s work to understand what searchers want to see when they search with local intent has allowed small businesses the ability to appear in search results that are very highly targeted based on location. More importance is placed on the business’s physical location vs. how large its marketing budget is. This is great news for small businesses, as they now have far more ability to compete with companies much larger than them.

Places listed in Google search results

Before the changes in 2010, searches with local intent were very hit-and-miss and could show some pretty irrelevant results. However, as Google’s search results have become more accurate, searchers have begun relying more heavily on the search engine to locate local businesses. According to Google, 20% of all computer based searches are identified to have local intent and on mobile phones the percentage of local searches skyrockets to as much as 90% of all searches!

Recent studies show that local searchers actually visit local businesses more than 40% of the time. In comparison, non-local search conversion rates may only be in the single digits. In other words, people searching with local intent are more likely to be ready to buy.

If you’re a small business, local search could be sending you traffic from the web right to your register. Are you cashing in or are your competitors?

Ranking in local search starts with your business’s website

It’s extremely important that your website display the most accurate and current information about your business. Specifically, your website should have listed (in text, not in a graphic):

  • Your business name
  • Products and services offered
  • Full address and local phone number with area code

Whether it’s on your homepage, interior page or your contact page (or a combination of all of these), this information should be extremely easy to find on your website.

If you are using a toll free number, make sure to list your local business number as well. Avoid using call tracking numbers on your website, as this can cause confusion as Google attempts to understand where your business is located and can actually hurt your efforts to rank in search results.

Multi-location tip: If you have multiple locations, create a separate contact page for each physical location. Fill each page with the business name (modified if necessary to clarify the different branch or office), full address and local phone number with area code. Also consider adding some additional information to each page which will be helpful to searchers wanting to contact that specific location. For example you could include specific services, areas served by that office, staff listings or anything else that a searcher would find useful when looking to contact your place of business.

Give Google accurate information about your business

It’s very likely, if you’ve been in business for a period of time that Google already has a business listing established for you. It’s important that you claim your listing, as this keeps others from manipulating your business information. In addition, this will allow you to provide Google with accurate data, straight from the source. Start a new listing or claim ownership of your existing Google Places listing by following the steps provided here: http://www.google.com/places/

Once you’ve claimed your listing and are able to edit it, the next step is to make sure that your listing is accurate and complete. Pay close attention to each field and enter accurate details for each. Be sure to fill in your business description with unique information; do not copy and paste your description text from your website or anywhere else. Also, if you have a toll-free phone number, enter your local number as your main phone number and the toll-free number as the alternate.

Select your business description categories carefully, as it is extremely important to choose the categories that match your business’s products and services that you want to be found for. Don’t attempt to stuff keywords into your business name, listing details or categories – Google knows very well how to detect keyword spam and will penalize you for it.

Categories for Google Local Search

Categories work essentially the same as keywords that you may be found by, which is why selecting highly relevant categories is very important.

Multi-location tip: If you have multiple physical locations, you will want to have one Google Places listing for each physical location. Complete each location individually, including only information that is relevant to that location. For instance if that location only services a small area, include only those cities that are served for that particular listing. It may be tempting to copy and paste descriptions from one listing to the next, especially in the case of multiple locations. Do your best to be as original as possible.

External web references also provide Google with information about your business. These external sources include your local chamber of commerce, online directories such as Yelp! and trade websites. It’s worth noting that you should check and make sure that the information listed about your business on external websites is up-to-date; doing this, will help avoid causing any confusion as Google crawls external sources to learn about your business.

Putting your best foot forward means you’re one step closer to a new customer

Often times, searchers are presented with the option to visit your Google Places listing right beside the option to visit your website in local search results. Supplying them with a feature rich listing that includes photos and video, can help move searchers a bit closer to becoming customers by showing them what they will get and the type of experience you will provide them with.

Create videos that tour your shop, photos that display merchandise, video demonstrations, location photos and anything else the shows your business’s best side and upload them into your Google Places listing. This adds value to the listing and can give you a competitive edge against those listings that are plain and non-compelling.

If you’ve got reviews online, your business listing may show some of your ratings and reviews from around the web right next to your business name in search results. If you have ratings and reviews on your Google Place page, searchers will even see rating stars and the number of reviews in-line with your business name in search results.

ratings displayed in local search results

Naturally, ratings and reviews make searchers more likely to view your Google Places listing before clicking on your homepage, as people want to see what others have to say about your business – good or bad. So, if your listing is showing negative reviews, be sure that you respond appropriately so that onlookers will see that you care about keeping your customers happy. Also, consider soliciting positive reviews from happy customers to keep your listing showing your business’s best side.

When people feel that they can trust your business, they are far more likely to become customers. Building trust online is a big factor when it comes to making your phone ring and bringing people through your front door.

Convert local traffic into customers via your website

Searchers that may be on the fence about contacting you or visiting your business will likely visit your website before making a decision. Be sure that when visitors reach your homepage that they are presented with clearly defined reasons as to why they should choose your business vs. your competitors.

Develop trust by showcasing the logos of organizations you are affiliated with, certifications and business ratings. If you have a blog which showcases your expertise, make it easy to locate from your homepage as well.

Define clear, calls-to-action on your website which encourage visitors to take action in a manner you prefer. Whether it be a special offer or banners that enable visitors to easily get in touch; make them easy to find on your pages.

Using the aforementioned Local SEO and conversion tips to grow traffic, trust and customers is a relatively easy way to impact your sales volume. Remember, as your products or services grow, return to some of the websites mentioned, Google Places, Yelp!, etc. and keep things up to date. Your soon-to-be customers will thank you for it!

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17 responses to “Small Business Guide to Using Local SEO to Get New Customers”

  1. Wasim Ismail writes:

    Optimising your website for local traffic has many benefits, which many new website owners miss, as they want to target the larger areas, they forget about their local visitors and revenue that they can earn from the local business.
    You have mentioned some great points here. Especially the reviews one, which is always a plus point, and shows searchers how reliable your business is, and it keeps your local places profile fresh, if you encourage regular reviews on it.

  2. Nyagoslav writes:

    I personally liked the last part of the article as there are many people – SEOs and business owners alike, that really miss the part with the conversion, as they are too focused on getting the highest possible organic local search ranking. I personally know of a few cases, where the actual revenue of the businesses ranking on positions 2, 3 and 4 is much higher than the one of the business ranking on position 1, just because the focused more on getting the leads converted. I like the review responding part too. Interesting article overall, covering the majority of the basics.

  3. Samara Hart writes:

    Hello Wasim.

    Getting traffic is important, but what people see once they find your business could be the difference between a you getting the sale or your competitor getting the sale. Reviews are great for keeping things fresh and building trust as well.

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  4. Samara Hart writes:

    Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

    When I wrote this, I had more than one business in mind where I have seen similar results as you’ve mentioned. Having top rankings and bad reviews with no business response or a website that does nothing to convert traffic is a wasted opportunity!

    There is so much more to LocalSEO than just ranking a business website – showing increases to the bottom line means taking into account what happens after the traffic sees the listing in search results.

  5. Eryn from 3-60 writes:

    I run a small web design business and I feel that most of my solid leads come from targeting local business, it is defiantly the most effective SEO technique for my services . As you mentioned they are more ready to buy and I feel potential customers are more secure having a local company for design and web hosting services that a remote company. I really try to aid my clients by using as much of local SEO as I can.

  6. Samara Hart writes:

    Hi Eryn,

    As a web designer are you able to rank within the local pack or are you strictly targeting geo+ service keyphrases? I’ve yet to see any web designers or internet marketing services rank for those terms at least within the local pack. But as you know, things change every day! :)

  7. graphic design gallery writes:

    I am pretty amazed with this article. I think having an online business is also a good thing since most of the people nowadays would go online to look for stuff. I see how important optimizing and integrating in the website to create traffic and to increase “searchability” features.

  8. Steve writes:

    This is excellent information on local search. I’m currently helping my brother set up his plumbing company so i will be putting this into practice.

  9. Samara Hart writes:

    That’s awesome! Glad you found the article helpful in your endeavor!

  10. Web Designer, London writes:

    Google Map is certainly very valuable for targeting local market. In addition it is often much easier to get listed that in standard organic results.

  11. Aussie Internet Marketer writes:

    Hi Samara,
    Adding my business to Google Places is something that I’ve tackled recently, and I think your right about taking the time to choose your categories wisely is well worth the effort.

    Thanks for the tips of adding photos, video and any endorsements/ accreditations to help build credibility and customer confidence. I think I’ll review my listing to make it more comprehensive.

    Cheers,
    Cade

  12. Samara Hart writes:

    Those elements you mentioned really do make a difference when it comes to converting click-throughs (or even walk-ins).

    Best of luck to you – sounds like your listing is going to be great :)

  13. John Minter writes:

    Thanks for the posting! You bring up some great points and in general it’s always a good idea to reinforce the idea of how essential it is to put a local emphasis on most businesses.

  14. Chicago SEO writes:

    Thank you for these awesome tips. I am always irritated when I search online for a local business and am still unable to find their contact info. even though I know they exist!

  15. seo philippines writes:

    Google Places is really revolutionizing geo-targeted SEM with its advanced algorithms that are less tolerant of spam and more focused on giving consumers the information they want, which is what businesses want to be doing anyway.

  16. search engine optimisation services writes:

    “Google Places is really revolutionizing geo-targeted SEM” I agree. What’s great about Google Places is that it doesn’t take months of SEO for your business to be listed there and start attracting relevant traffic.

  17. raleigh internet marketing writes:

    Great advice! I agree it is very useful to create multiple pages for each business location. Having a keyword rich domain definitely helps rankings for each location, and gives potential customers in each location at specific, targeted landing page. Thanks, and keep up the good work!



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