When consumers are in the process of choosing a local business to support, Google’s search engine results pages, and more specifically, the local pack of results, are where a lot of those final purchase decisions are made.
Google has over 92% of the market share for search engines, so customers look to Google for up-to-date, accurate information to help them navigate the world. To stay competitive, business owners need an understanding of the strategies to get those customers from a Google search to their front door.
When a consumer looks to Google for goods and services “near me,” it’s because they have a high purchase intent and are looking to become a paying customer. To ensure that your business is the one that wins the sale, you must rank high enough on Google to be visible. This requires an understanding of local SEO.
Local SEO, or the practice of optimizing your online presence for visibility in local search, can even help your business gain a competitive advantage over larger competitors.
However, to achieve a coveted spot in the local “map” pack or the top of the results page, there are 4 critical steps every business owner should take to improve local SEO.
Understand Customers’ Needs with Keyword Analysis
The first step in improving your local SEO, and SEO in general, is understanding what your customer base is searching for. Then, you can optimize your keywords to direct traffic to your website and ultimately, your business.
For example, most people start searching for a service by typing “haircuts + location” or “haircuts near me” into the search bar. At this comparison shopping stage, they are more likely to perform a local search rather than search for a particular business by name.
That’s why it’s so important for a business owner to understand what people are searching for in order to appear under a non-specific query on Google and capture one of the top 3 spots in the local pack.
Below is the search result for “haircuts Atlanta, GA.” You can see that the top 3 businesses are shown with their locations from Google Maps. This is the local pack, and this is where every business owner should strive to land when a potential customer is doing a local search for related services.
Keep in mind, the results can vary drastically based on the physical location of the user. The local pack can be different when the same search is performed just a few blocks away.
Research Keywords to Drive Local Search Traffic
There are many tools and strategies for finding the common search terms used by potential customers as well as the physical location where those searches come from.
Keyword Analytic Tools
Specialized keyword analytic tools, like SEMRush, are designed to find out what users are searching for and can do a lot of the legwork of keyword research for you. However, these tools cost money.
If you’re just looking for something to point you in the right direction, there are options that don’t come with all the bells and whistles of a paid tool. Google Analytics is a great place to start because it will show you the top keywords and phrases already associated with any website. From there, you can expand to capture a wider audience.
Google’s “Related Searches”
When typing in a search query, Google will return a list of related searches that are also popular for the same keywords. This is valuable (free) information to help you better understand what people are looking for.
Many times, you can use these related searches to help determine local queries and how actual consumers are searching for the local services you provide. A quick search for “haircut near me,” for example, will return these related searches:
Gaining inspiration from Google search, you can identify potential long-tail keywords to target highly-specific local queries.
Use Keyword Targeting Strategies to Improve Local Pack Ranking
Once you understand the popular keywords and search queries associated with your industry, you can start targeting those keywords. Once you know what keywords to target, you can start using them in your website’s titles and meta descriptions, blog posts, social media posts, ad campaigns, and so on.
Note that there is a big difference between keyword targeting and keyword stuffing. Focusing on strategic keywords makes it possible for searchers to find relevant content, which Google rewards.
Keyword stuffing, on the other hand, involves haphazardly placing keywords into the content, often resulting in awkward sentence structure and uninformative content. Google’s algorithm is trained to recognize this artificial attempt to inflate ranking, and so keyword stuffing can actually hurt your rankings more than it helps.
Claim and Maintain Your Google My Business Profile
This is, by far, the most important component to your local SEO efforts. If you only do one thing from this list, make it claiming, regularly updating, and managing your Google My Business profile.
What is Google My Business?
GMB is a free tool that acts as your official business listing for Google searches. It contains your business website and location for Google Maps. Using your GMB account, you can interact with your customers and update your page with relevant, interesting details to help searchers learn more about your business.
The more complete your GMB profile is, the better it will perform for ranking. Your GMB profile helps tell Google that your business is trustworthy, legitimate, and relevant to local searchers.
How to Claim Your Google My Business Profile
Claiming your GMB profile is an easy task that you can do yourself, but keeping it updated will be an ongoing effort. While managing your profile does require time and focus, the benefits far outweigh any time investment.
Keep these considerations in mind when claiming and completing your GMB profile:
- Consistency is key.
Any information on your GMB profile should match your listings elsewhere on the web (social media, website, business listings, etc).
Inconsistencies in your profile are a red flag to Google. They make it difficult for the search engine to tell what information is correct, and because Google wants to give users the best experience possible, it will favor businesses with more consistent information.
- Be as detailed as possible.
For each area that you complete, get as detailed as you can to improve rankings. For example, Google will force you to choose a high-level category to describe your business, which will directly impact where you show up for certain search queries. However, many businesses neglect to choose secondary categories.
Taking the extra step to better define your business will help you rank under more queries/keywords while also boosting your profile in Google’s eyes.
- Update often.
It’s important to remember that Google My Business is not like the phone books of the past. The expediency of the internet means that people expect live, up-to-the-minute information at all times. Outdated information can not only cause a customer relationship to sour, it can also hurt your ranking efforts.
That’s why it’s so important to set aside time regularly to check and update your GMB profile. Review user suggestions for accuracy, and always update your hours of operation if there is a change.
Maintain NAP Citation Consistency
NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone Number. This basic information is extremely important as it allows searchers to find and contact your business.
The quantity and consistency of NAPs on the web plays a crucial role in your Google ranking. After all, Google wants to avoid providing its users with untrustworthy results or inaccurate information. Accurate, up to date, and consistent NAP citations signal to Google that a business is legitimate and trustworthy.
How to Find your NAPs
To ensure that you’re adhering to Google’s standards in managing your NAPs, you need to find all the places your business information is mentioned on the web, including your GMB profile, website, review sites, and business listing directories. There are tools available to do this for you, like Moz Local.
Another (more time-consuming) option is to manually scour the web for all of your business listings. You may have to search different keywords to find them all, but it’s well worth the time investment. If you find inconsistencies, you need to correct them or contact the website owner to request for the information to be updated.
Remember, this isn’t a one-time process, you’ll need to periodically check for change. Many business listings will accept “user submitted updates,” meaning anyone (not you) can add inaccurate information to your listing and create inconsistencies in your NAP citations.
Manage Your Online Reviews
Online reviews play a massive role in comparison shopping, with 62.7% of consumers believing that online reviews are “important” or “very important” when choosing a local business. That’s why it’s no surprise that Google uses local review scores and star ratings as a crucial ranking metric in local search queries.
That said, obtaining more positive reviews isn’t always easy, but it needs to be a core focus for improving ranking on local searches. Plus, while it does take time and attention, it also offers you an opportunity to focus on building more positive customer relationships both online and off.
Here are a few strategies and considerations to get started managing your online reviews:
- Incentivize customers to leave reviews by offering discounts or special offers in exchange for a review.
- Be prepared to respond to negative reviews constructively. Don’t ignore it or respond in a negative or passive-aggressive way. Responding to negative reviews shows customers (and Google) that you’re willing to address any concerns or issues that occur.
- Take the opportunity to personalize your business by putting a name and a face (yours) to the business name. People tend to trust and respond more positively when they can connect with a real person (not just a faceless business) to resolve their complaints.
The Power of Local Search
Local SEO is essential for business success in today’s market. People are performing web searches every single day for goods and services in their local area, but many businesses fail to realize the impact of these factors on their ranking, and ultimately, their bottom line.
Even a smaller business that may not have the advantage on Main Street, you can get ahead by optimizing your online presence for local search. Comparing options before heading out the door is the new normal for a growing number of customers, so it’s more important than ever to understand local SEO and optimize your business for key ranking factors.
At the end of the day, providing accurate, useful information about your business will not only help you secure one of those coveted spots in the local pack, it will also improve your customer relationships. When a customer gets inaccurate information from Google, they don’t blame the search engine. They blame the business.
While online traffic may seem disconnected from real customers walking through your door, the reality is that taking control of your online presence and optimizing for local SEO can be the key factor in winning sales from your competitors.