5 Essential SEO Tips for Local Businesses

You can be sure that your competitors are competing for search results, and if you aren’t trying just as hard, you’re giving business away. As a small business, you have to do everything you can to expose your brand to as many local potential customers as possible. The thing is, these days consumers spend more time online than they do watching TV.


The best way to reach Internet-savvy customers is to position yourself highly on Google and other major search engines. To sell your prospects on your product or service from the top of the SERPs, you’ll have to set up a plan to optimize social media presence, reviews and on-page elements.

Optimize On-Page Data

Optimizing your on-page data is the crucial first step. You must ensure that your on-page elements align with what Google wants to see. Here are a few tips to get you headed in the right direction:

  • Create an appropriate domain name. Your domain should speak to what you do and where you’re located. The simplest way to do this is to literally combine your business name with the city you’re in. For instance, if you’re “Cici’s Cuts,” and you’re located in NYC, www.ciciscutsnyc.com would be a nice domain for you.
  • Use relevant keywords. Place keywords in your titles and in your pages that are relevant to your business, your product and your location. Use keywords naturally. Another good idea is to go for long-tail keywords.
  • Spread your NAP data far and wide. You should add your name, address and phone number to every page of your site.
  • Share the love. Your content shouldn’t be all about you. Make sure that your copy reflects the fact that you’re part of a vibrant community. A great way to do this is to partner with other local businesses or to co-sponsor a local charity. Then blog about it! Also, mention what part of town you’re in and the landmarks in your immediate vicinity.

Encourage User Reviews

Reviews give you immediate social proof, and they increase your visibility in local search results. Importantly, the way in which you engage with reviews also affects your visibility. Here are a few tips to help you engage positively with reviews:

  • Never, ever buy reviews. It can be tempting. Hiring people to post reviews for you can backfire spectacularly. If you lose the public’s trust, you might have to fork over money you don’t have to a PR firm.
  • Encourage organic reviews. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging satisfied customers to leave a review. Checkout flyers, website callouts and email followups are great ways to do this. The more authentic reviews you generate, the more you’ll stand out in local search results. Yes, this means that you will get the odd negative review, but that comes with the territory. There isn’t a credible business in existence that doesn’t have any bad reviews.
  • Encourage reviews across the Web. As part of your outreach, encourage customers to post reviews to as many sites as possible. Your reviews are at their least effective on your own site. Sites like Yelp! and Epinions have huge influence.
  • Respond to reviews. If you’re a hot-head, you might want to have someone else handle this. You want to respond to reviews proactively, but if you’re hostile, you can cause a bad review to go viral. If you come across a negative review, thank the author for their feedback and ask them to get in touch with you so you can go over their issue in more detail.

Assess Local Business Listings

For maximum results, you’ll want to get your site listed on as many directories as possible. These sites comprise a major ranking signal for Google and the other major search engines. If your site isn’t listed in them, or if the information in your listings is incomplete or inaccurate, your competition will generally rank better than you by default. Here are some tips to assess local business listings:

  • Start with the big sites and work your way down. It takes time for listings to get approved and gain traction, so start with the big sites first. These include Dexknows, Facebook, Google, Yahoo! Places, Yelp! and Yellowbook. Many of these sites require you to “claim” your listing. This involves proving that you are, in fact, the owner. During this process, you’ll be able to check your listing info for any inaccuracies. It’ll take some time to go through each listing, but it’s well-worth it.
  • Enhance your listings. Add as much relevant content as you can. This includes photos, video, articles and any other content that the directories will allow you to add. Your goal is to stand out as much as possible from the competition. Remember, this listing represents you!
  • Check your categories and keywords.  If your business is listed in the wrong category, it isn’t going to do you much good. Similarly, if your keywords are inaccurate, your listing isn’t going to draw traffic that converts. At the same time, only add keywords that accurately describe your business.
  • Create a listing for each location. Yes, this means lots more work. The thing is, listing every location gives you a legitimate reason to feed the search engines more data about your business.
  • Outsource all of this. If you’ve got room in the budget, you might consider hiring a listings provider, such as Acxiom or Neustar Localeze. These companies specialize in getting your business listed accurately, and they can save you a lot of time.

Assess Your Link Strategy

Google and other major search engines want to see that you’re an active contributor to the online landscape. You should link to other businesses and online resources from your site whenever possible. Links help you build authority, authenticity and credibility. At the same time, you want to avoid black hat activities like purchasing inbound links. Here are a few link strategy tips:

  • Share links from your social media sites to your website. Social media for business has come a long way in the past years. For instance, with a free Pinterest for Business account, you have access to powerful analytics that help you see what type of content your fans are sharing. Taking advantage of this information can translate directly into increased site traffic.
  • Link to your site and other online resources from within your newsletter. While it’s important to provide valuable information in your newsletter, don’t forget what you’re getting out of the proposition: A bump in site traffic.
  • Participate in local charitable events or programs, and then encourage people to promote the event via their social media accounts. This way, you can promote the charity and your business at the same time.
  • Create a space on your site that’s dedicated to local resources. For instance, this can include a list of your favorite restaurants, grocery stores or dry cleaners. This way, you’ll always have a great reason to link out to other businesses. This looks great to the search engines. Another great way to go about this is to start a blog that’s centered on business in your community.
  • Avoid spammy links. Don’t post your URL to blog comments and forums unless you have a great reason to do so. These backlinks aren’t very valuable, and having too many of them can get you in trouble with Google. On that note, be wary of any SEO who says they can improve your rank by securing backlinks for your site. These SEO service providers probably can bump your rank, but can it survive the next Google update.

Embrace Social Media

Social media is a double-edged sword in that you can interact with your customers in real time. That also means you can’t take anything back. What you say online remains online. Still, a robust social media presence with high engagement signals to Google that you’re a thriving business, and therefore are relevant to their users. Here are the networks that you’ll want to focus on as of 2014: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Generally, the more followers you amass on these networks, the higher you’ll rank in search. To drive engagement you can post updates on your product or service, release images and videos of satisfied customers, hold contests, and tweet relevant industry news.

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