Ranking on Google Local Search is a matter of survival in 2019.
The Snackpack (Local Search Results has a Three-Pack of the top results called the Google SnackPack) has been whittled down to three local results from five. Your chances of being seen on the first page for the local results have been cut in half right there.
Not ranking in the top three does not mean that your business is completely invisible. But it still has a negative impact on your local web traffic.
So, the question is:
How can I boost my local search visibility?
First, you need to understand the main ranking factors on Google Local Search:
- Relevance: Being hyper-focused on a shoulder niche is the best option for local rankings. If you are spread too thin, then you are probably going to get squashed by people who are more niche-oriented. In simple terms, you need to target search intent to get more traffic.
- Distance:Every time someone searches for your services or products, Google will show them the best results nearby. Now, there is no way to control this search distance. But you can focus on hyper-local on-page and off-page tactics for better rankings.
- Prominence: Being relevant and close by only helps if you have a prominent business. That is how Google decides if you are the best choice nearby. It helps to have high Domain Trust, but that is not the only factor that plays into making your local business stand out.
11 Actionable Tips to Get Your Local Search Rankings Higher
Most people will tell you what to optimize instead of how you can get it done. This list of simple, effective, and actionable tips will allow you to start observing the changes right away.
All these tips are based on at least one of the three main local ranking factors – relevance, distance, and prominence.
So, let’s break up each tip in terms of not just ‘How can I do it?’ but also in terms of these ranking factors.
Use Responsive Web Design to Capture a Wider Audience
This statement in Google AdWords Blog should be enough to explain why you need responsive design:
“In fact, more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan”
If you want to hit the top positions on Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for mobile searches, you need to provide your users with a decent UX for mobile platforms.
Mobile searches usually come from people looking for immediate results. 78% of mobile searches for local businesses convert into sales .
Any business location can be leveraged for a huge boost in local sales. But that is only going to happen if your local visitors like your website.
What You Can Do:
- Run a test on Google’s Mobile Friendliness Checker.
- Upgrade to a responsive theme if you are using a CMS.
- Optimize your entire site for mobile devices using HTML and CSS if you have a static website.
- Create an AMP version for your static website instead of a responsive web design. AMP targets speed and functionality over flexibility.
Use Google My Business Optimization Tactics to Start Ranking Locally
Google My Business is one of the most crucial elements of Local Search Optimization.
Claiming your free listing on Google can increase your search visibility. There is no doubt that your Google Local Listing operates on relevance, distance, and prominence.
So, without further ado, let us jump right into optimizing your Google My Business Page.
- Claim your business listing if you have not already. This guide by Google My Business Help will get you rolling.
- Verify your Google My Business Page and start optimizing each segment of your local listing. You need to verify your address, mobile phone, and email before you can start using your Google My Business.
- Update your business category. You can update your Google Local Listing to cater to as many categories as you want. The Knowledge Panel will show only one category, but the other will help define your shoulder niche. A good idea is to check out your competitors on Google Maps and view the full list of categories that they are targeting.
- Update your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) and be sure to include the exact business hours as well. It pays to use actual information unless you want to end up with horrible customer reviews. Also, you may want to periodically update this information to accommodate for holidays, special occasions, and such.
- Include your website URL to monitor real-time traffic. Every time you make some updates on your local listing, you can see what changes occur in your traffic. Depending on your booking software, you can even include an appointment booking link to direct your traffic to a specific Call to Action!
- Add all your services to the local listing. There is really nothing else to do here – just be honest about what services you provide.
- Create a proper business description that fully defines your business. There is no point in stuffing your description with keywords. Talk about your business in ways that only you can. When did you set up your business? Who is your target audience? Why do your clients love your business? What sets you apart from the rest?
- Liven up your listing with photos and videos. Offer a complete insight to your business location. You can upload employee photos, building photos, product photos, and much more. The best part is that you can offer a virtual tour video as well! Uploading only high-resolution pictures and videos is a smart way to go.
- Set up your SMS service if your business queries need urgent replies. You can use Allo to manage messaging from Android and iOS devices as well.
- Set up Google My Business Posts as often as you can. GLL posts last about a week and the Knowledge Panel shows only the two latest posts. The idea behind these posts is to promote your business by including offers and CTAs. Images appear in 4:3 ratio and they need to be optimized before uploading.
- Control your own Q&A section. This is a good place to incorporate LSI Keywords. Ask and answer your own questions. If your customers ask any questions, get on top of it immediately.
- Go through all Updates and Comments regularly to optimize your online reputation.
- Go to the ‘Insights’ section of your Google My Business Page to get updates about your traffic. Every time you tweak your Listing, remember to check what effect it has on your traffic.
Use Content Optimization Tactics to Target Lucrative Keywords
It makes absolutely no sense to try ranking for Local Search Results if you do not have web pages that have content optimized for local searches.
There is a lot more to creating Local SEO Content than choosing Local Keywords. You need to have at least five hundred words of Local SEO web copy before anything else.
Content that targets Local SEO can win you a spot on Position Zero on the SERPs – the Featured Snippet. Of course, content is not the only factor that plays into Rich Snippet Rankings.
The biggest challenge with creating content is that you really have to write for the users and not the machines.
Content can hit all the check marks for optimization straight away – relevance, distance, and prominence. Here are some of the best ways to use content for Local Search Rankings:
- Hit up local blogs with Guest Posts. This will not only create a superb backlink profile but also cultivate connections with local bloggers.
- Start posting Classifieds and claiming local listings for hyper-local backlinks.
- Use clear content to describe multiple business locations and optimize for each of them.
- Include location in web copy as much as possible.
Embed Google Maps on Your Website to be Informative and Transparent
Embedding a Google Map on your website gives you a lot of mileage on Local Optimization.
Your visitors get instant access to your business address and can get directions to your location quite easily. If you have more than one business location, you can include that in the embedded Google Maps as well.
So, how can you make the most of the embedded Map?
- Do not embed your Map in any random place. Your map needs to be in the ‘Contact’ section of your website along with other NAP details.
- Use CSS to customize the Map design and make it blend in with your existing web design and theme.
- If you have multiple business locations, set up an embedded Map on each landing page for best use. On your website’s ‘Contact’ page, set up one Map that lists all the business locations.
- If you are using a CMS, make sure that you have activated all the required Map APIs on Google’s Developer Console from the API Library.
Optimize Your Meta Titles to Improve your SERP Display
Every page on your website needs to have a proper Meta Title.
The title tells Search Engines about the focus of the page and the niche markets that it taps into. At the same time, it also tells the Search Engine what to display when users come across your website on the SERPs.
The title has to be sixty characters or less. Keeping it at exactly sixty makes the most sense – occupy as much SERP real estate as you can.
Lots of people are also under the misconception that copying the Meta titles of their competitors is acceptable.
It is not!
The point of a Meta Title is to grab your visitor’s attention. Plagiarizing even that content can have serious consequences. Be completely original and describe your business the best you can.
So, how do we leverage this for Local Search Results?
- Include a Geo-modifier to the focus keyword in your Meta Title. This will help Search Engines understand what locations you serve.
- Keep your grammar and punctuation intact. If the first thing that your visitors see about your webpage is an error, then not a lot of people will click on your site links.
- Stay away from keyword stuffing to stay away from Penalties.
Optimize Your Meta Description to Tell Your Customers What your Page is about
The Meta Description is the other half of your SERP display.
Just like the Meta Title, the Meta Description needs to be on every page of your website. The Meta Description targets your viewers and users. So, you need to create appropriate descriptions for human readers and not machine readers.
A spammy description is going to severely impact your click-through rate. You need to keep it within a hundred and fifty characters for best results and still be informative and unique.
So, what can we do to optimize it for Local Search Results?
- Include keywords and location without looking spammy. Stuffing random bits of information into the description will make your web traffic cringe instantly.
- Try incorporating your exact address as part of a conversational description.
- Be consistent about the location. If you build a NAP Citation that flags differently, your rankings are going straight down the drain.
- Incorporate a definite call to action in the description. This will tell your viewers not just what they are going to find on your webpage but also what they need to do.
- Be unique. Ripping off someone else’s description is never a good idea. At most, you can take inspiration from your competition and think about how you can personalize it and make it better.
- Never stuff in keywords. Select a maximum of two keywords and focus entirely on them.
Set Up Structured Data Markup – More is less with Search Engines
There is no better way to let Search Engines know about the website’s data than Structured Data. Sometimes Search Engines find it difficult to make sense of things that immediately make sense to humans. Structured Data Markup tells the Search Engines what kind of data they are looking at.
So, what IS Structured Data?
In simple, non-technical terms, structured data is organized and categorized data about your website that will be helpful to your web visitors and to Search Engines at the same time.
Imagine if your assistant left you sticky notes of every appointment all across your soft board. There is a high chance that you would be very confused about your schedule. Using unstructured data on your website leaves Search Engines just as confused and your customers completely lost.
Now, imagine that your assistant has left you a complete time chart in a detailed spreadsheet. You know instantly what you need to do and when you need to get it done. Congratulate your assistant. They know how to use Structured Data!
What does it include?
To be perfectly honest, Google is still updating and creating fields for Structured Data.
Right now, you can include reviews, ratings, site links, the last date of modification, site search boxes, and author name.
There are lots of other important data that your Structured Data Markup can organize. Right now, Google most prefers JSON-LD Schema Markup. Check out the full list of Schema types.
What Other Types of Structured Data Markup is there?
To fully understand Structured Data Markup, you need to first understand that it is broken into two topics of discussion – the format and the vocabulary. The format tells the Search Engine about standard protocols applied in the markup. The vocabulary defines the classifications of concepts and terms associated with the format.
The most commonly accepted Structured Data Markup formats are:
The commonly accepted vocabularies are:
- org: Goes only with Microformats.
- org: Goes with JSON-LD, RDFa, and Microdata.
Why does anyone care about Structured Data Markup?
Short answer – Search Engines use it to create rich snippets that hold Rank Zero on SERPs! So, your SEM efforts are going to get a huge boost. Using Structured Data Markup, you get the following:
- Rich Search Results
- Knowledge Graph
- Rich Snippets
- Rich Results for AMP
How can we incorporate Structured Data for better Local Search Rankings?
- One of the primary things that you need to include is NAP details.
- Reviews inspire a lot of confidence in your web visitors to buy from you. So, you need to include reviews right away.
- If you have events, you can create specialized Structured Data for that as well.
- Once you know exactly what data you want to be marked up, include it on your web content.
- After you have included the data in your web copy, head over to Google Structured Data Markup Helper
- Generate the Schema code for your property and paste it on to your website’s source code.
Enable Online Reputation Management to Establish a Brand
Online Reputation Management is not essential only for Local Search Engine Optimization. Having a good online reputation goes a long way towards improving trust signals for your brand.
Reviews are a major part of SEO (both Local and Global). 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. One of the first steps to maintaining a healthy online reputation is to understand the negative reviews and address them publicly and tactfully.
Here are the three most important points to remember for Online Reputation Management:
- Staying silent is not an option. If you ignore public opinion, you are setting yourself up for hate sites, bad reviews, and a permanently damaged reputation. Monitor your social feeds and business listings regularly and act accordingly.
- Be transparent; customers love a pro-active brand. It is alright to make mistakes but you need to publicly accept the mistakes and resolve them quickly. Most often, this can convert a bad review into a good one.
- There is such a thing as bad press – especially if you are a local business. If your local clients don’t trust you, no one else ever will. Addressing these issues with a proper Press Statement can turn a bad situation around.
Want to listen to your customers and improve but don’t know how?
Here are some of the ways you can set up for Online Reputation Management:
- Create business listings that have high Trust Metrics. Setting up in a listing directory that no one has heard of or in one that has a high spam score makes zero sense. If your customer does not trust the directory, then they are definitely not going to trust your listing.
- Create business listings and profiles only on the websites that have review sections and comment sections. This is a great way to understand consumer mentality.
- Incentivize your customers to speak up. Set up a survey with a prize at the end and reward your customers for participating. A little goodwill goes a long way for your brand. Also, publish these results and inform your customers that you are acting on them.
Need to recover a damaged reputation? Here is how you can start:
- Be aggressive in your SEO strategies. If your website ranks higher than the negative review sites on the SERPs, people will trust your site more.
- Set up a direct channel of communication with the end consumer. Figure out what is exactly wrong with your company and why you keep getting bad reviews.
- Set up an ad campaign to get in front of your consumers with a branding message before they get to the negativity.
- Gather more positive reviews. Ask legitimate customers to leave a positive review on the websites where people have left negative comments.
- If you suspect fraudulent comments, notify Google and ask them to take it down.
- Consult a lawyer if needed. If someone is deliberately defaming, maligning, or harassing your business, then you can take up a legal recourse as well.
- Hire a professional PR and an ORM if you cannot handle it alone.
Gather Hyper-Local Citations to Tell Search Engines where you are Located
Local Citations tell Search Engines more about your location, contact information, and services. The best part is that they tell your customers the exact same thing as well.
The important thing to remember about Local Citations is that they only make sense if they are localized. If your business is located in Rio and you are busy gathering citations from New York, then that makes absolutely no sense for Local SEO.
Remember these critical points while building your citations:
- Create a separate business listing for each location and include the individual phone numbers and addresses.
- Find local niche directories for the best impact on Local Search Results.
- Do not duplicate your listings across the same directory or you will get penalized as a spammer.
- Submit your business information to data aggregators.
- Keep your listings consistent. If at any point, you find inconsistencies in your business details, fix them or delete them immediately. Standardize abbreviations in your address across all listings.
If you fail to follow any of these points, you will definitely get penalized by Search Engines.
Submit your NAP Consistently to Stay on the Map Consistently
Submit your business listings to as many relevant local directories as possible but be sure to maintain the NAP consistency throughout. NAP consistency is one of the most critical ranking factors on Local Search Results.
If you have multiple business locations, create a separate landing page for each and leave the NAP details in the footer section of each page. You also need to create separate listings for each location.
NAP inconsistencies can seriously hamper your Trust metrics. Here’s why:
If you keep getting wrong information about business locations and their contact information on Google, you are going to stop using Google altogether. Losing users is Google’s biggest fear and NAP variations on your business listings, even small ones will get you penalized.
But if you have NAP inaccuracies on your business listings, you need to find and fix them right away. Fixing the bad listings can not only remove the penalties but also build new points of data that never even existed.
Build your trust metrics on Google by verifying and fixing NAP inconsistencies today.
Start Local Link Building to Improve your Local Search Rank
Lots of people think that going for hundreds of links from across the world can get you to the top of the SERPs. In the case of Local Rankings, you need local backlinks to improve your backlink profile.
Here are some of the tried and tested ways to rank higher locally:
- Interact with local blog posts to connect with local bloggers and influencers.
- Work with local blogs for guest blogging and collaboration projects.
- Partner up with local businesses and collaborate with them to gather local backlinks.
- Reach out to local media outlets for quality local PR.
- Attend local events as a speaker for mentions and promos.
- Sponsor local events to get better local traction.
- Sign up with your Local Chamber of Commerce to extend your reach further.
It can be tempting to try Black-Hat techniques to buy backlinks. But going for spammy backlinks can get you banned or filtered out by Search Engines.
The local link building tactics mentioned above work because they build on your community presence and improve your local trust signals. The more Search Engines start to trust your business listing, the more they start treating you like a brand and move you up the chain of SERP listings.
Wrapping Things Up
Local SEO is meaningless if you are not prepared to keep maintaining it. Sooner or later, Search Engines start to notice that your site has no activities and they start treating your business like it is dead.
Just like Global SEO, Local SEO is a long-term investment. However, dominating the Local Search Results can drive in a lot of local business and establish your company as a local authority figure in your niche.
Please do share your thoughts and comments below. Did I miss an important factor? Please let me know in the comments section. If you liked this blog, share it with other Local SEO enthusiasts and professionals.