For businesses with physical locations - hotels, restaurants, retail, tourist destinations, etc. - local search engine optimization (SEO) is absolutely necessary for getting noticed online. With ever-increasing competition and frequent search engine algorithm updates, it's important to utilize as many channels and techniques as possible to stay viable. Let's look at some major local search factors outlined in Moz's 2014 local search ranking survey:
It's interesting that the top three negative factors occur offsite on local business directories like Google My Business, which emphasizes the fact that getting listed in local directories and maintaining correct data is key to local search visibility.
Top 3 Negative Local SEO Factors
- Listing detected at false business location
Your business needs a real brick-and-mortar location for local search results. Adding a profile with a made-up or erroneous address won't get you listed.
- Incorrect business category
"Select categories that complete the statement: 'This business IS a' rather than 'this business HAS a .'" - from Google's My Business guidelines.
- Mis-match NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem
NAP stands for "name, address and phone number." The "Data Ecosystem" refers to the the multiple platforms across the Internet that collect local business data, e.g., Facebook, TripAdvisor, etc. So if you have multiple business listings with names, addresses and/or phone numbers that don't match, you will likely get penalized. They should all match the NAP on your website.
The Moz survey also illustrated the importance of on-page SEO like the NAP on your website - make it obvious and make it match your directory profiles - and keywords in titles of landing pages. In fact, on-page SEO was the most important factor in determining local search rank.
Here are a few readily accessible techniques to help your business gain local search exposure.
City and State Keywords in Titles and Content
This is simple and can make a big difference. Your city and state should be included in the title tag of the landing page, in the h1 tag (heading of the page) and in the paragraph text. It's also helpful to put it in the alt text of images and in the url itself if you have the ability to do that. So you may have something like this: example.com/atlanta-georgia-restaurant. Consistent city and state keywords show relevance to search engines.
Google My Business
Google My Business is a valuable resource for helping drive local search traffic to your site or your business. Even if potential customers don't click through to your website, a Google profile gives them everything they need to find you: maps, contact info, hours of operation, reviews, etc.
It's also a great way to start a dialog with your customers and instill trust in your brand. Encouraging reviews and responding to them will help keep your Google profile fresh and potentially boost your rankings, since reviews are factored into search results.
Local Business Directories
In addition to Google, there are several other online outlets you can use to get your brand out. Here are a few examples:
Take advantage of as many channels as possible and encourage reviews just like you would with your Google profile.
And again, make sure your business name, address and phone number on all online directories are consistent with what's listed on your website.
Schema markup is a special type of code that describes your content to search engines. The markup helps search engines determine exactly what the content IS rather than just what it says. If, for example, Google knows it's looking at an event and not just a blog post with a date, it can present the content clearly as an event on the search engine results page (SERP).
According to Google, schema markup does not affect search rank. Why use it then? Anything that helps you stand out among your competition may help drive traffic to your site. The user can easily scan the SERP and quickly find a date and summary, which might garner a click. This gives an obvious edge to websites that promote live music, special dinners, conferences and any other types of events.
In addition to events, schema markup can be applied to a number of content types including organizations, places, restaurants, products, reviews, recipes and several others. Adding markup may seem daunting, but for anyone who has a fundamental understanding of HTML, it's a simple task. For those who are less comfortable with code, Google offers a Structured Data Markup Helper tool.
Keep in mind that Google may eventually decide to consider schema in its ranking algorithm and it's best to be ready for it if that happens.
These are just a few things that can help boost local search rankings. SEO is a holistic effort and there's no one magic bullet that will improve search visibility. Focus on basic on-page SEO techniques as well as off-site social media and directories and you'll give your site its best chance for organic search exposure.