A Beginner’s Guide to Local SEO for Small Businesses

By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of local SEO and how to improve your local search rankings. In this era of smartphones and mobile Internet usage, local SEO may be your greatest ally in expanding your reach online.

Local information is growing in importance when it comes to ranking highly in Google results.Just how critical is local SEO? Every second of the day, more than 40,000 people are making search queries on Google. Many are shopping for goods and services — where to get drinks with coworkers, where to drop off their dry-cleaning or where to pick up a new set of headphones. And half of those consumers who searched using their smartphones became customers of businesses they found online within a single day.

Clearly, ranking high in local search results is vital for small businesses with walk-in customers. And boosting the effectiveness of your local SEO isn’t even that hard! Unfortunately, many small business owners are behind the eight ball. Even business owners who’ve invested in general SEO over the past several years may not be up to speed on optimizing local SEO. Many of the tenants of national and local SEO are the same — you still need great content, a user-friendly website, solid performance and exposure to establish authority in your field — but local SEO requires signals and testimonials that solidify your business as a reputable local asset.

By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of local SEO and how to improve your local search rankings. In this era of smartphones and mobile Internet usage, local SEO may be your greatest ally in expanding your reach online.

Start a Google My Business Profile

First things first — create a Google My Business profile for your business.

Your Google My Business profile is the foundation of your local SEO efforts. For starters, you can define exactly how your contact information should ideally appear throughout the Web and social media. Second, a your profile allows your business to be shown on Google Maps, and that alone can bring many customers through your doors.

Google My Business is also associated with online citations and reviews, both of which can heavily influence the success of your local SEO efforts. We’ll go into greater detail on these in the next two sections.

Starting your Google My Business profile is easy. Go to https://www.google.com/business/ and set up an account. You’ll be asked for information about your business such as contact information, hours of operation, available payment options and more. You can even provide pictures and video clips to accompany your listing. Then all you have to do is verify your profile via mail or phone. That’s it. The service is free and ultimately helpful to your bottom line.

Check Your Citations

Citations are one of the most important factors in your local SEO ranking. A citation is any listing of your business name, address and phone number on other webpages or social media pages.

A general rule is more citations leads to a higher local search ranking. Google’s algorithms place even greater weight on citations listed on popular business portals such as Yelp and Angie’s List, so be sure to claim profiles on those sites, too. You can also check out inexpensive services like WhiteSpark and BrightLocal that can help you find sources for new citations.

One thing about citations — it’s critical that your citations exactly match your Google My Business listing. Make sure you keep your name, address, and phone number consistent across every single online citation.

Encourage Your Customers to Write Reviews

Google’s algorithms have evolved over the years to reward websites that provide great user experiences. That’s why positive reviews — both in quality and quantity — are so important for your local SEO efforts.

Positive reviews can be the difference in ranking on the first page or being invisible in the search results, especially in more competitive fields where consumers have more choices. That’s why you should always follow up on good customer experiences by asking for favorable reviews.

The most impactful reviews are those attached to your Google My Business profile. However, reviews on sites such as Yelp are also helpful.

Optimize Your Website for Local SEO

By now, you probably understand the importance of contact information in local SEO. To optimize your website for local SEO, make sure your contact info (again, exactly as it’s listed in Google My Business) is listed on your website. You should also add the city, state and/or zip code of your business to your website’s title tags. Also reference the city and state in your website content wherever it makes sense.

Top 10 SEO Trends for 2016

How people use the Internet is changing, and SEO experts must evolve to stay relevant. Last year was defined by the rising importance of mobile website optimization — and while that trend will continue, expect social media, apps and Google advancements to make increasingly large impacts on the SEO industry.

Google WordleHow people use the Internet is changing, and SEO experts must evolve to stay relevant. Last year was defined by the rising importance of mobile website optimization — and while that trend will continue, expect social media, apps and Google advancements to make increasingly large impacts on the SEO industry. Technology is moving at breakneck speed. That’s great news for ambitious businesses, but bad news for folks who’d prefer to maintain the status quo.

Looking ahead, we predict these 10 SEO trends will set the tone through 2016:

1. Quality video content will become more valuable than written content.
Content is king, right? Until now, written content has been the gold standard. Going forward, though, video content will become increasingly important, and 2016 may be the year it surpasses written content. That’s because video content — which can take the form of videos, animations, dynamic infographics and more — is much more engaging and shareable than text.

Not only are videos taking over social media and many of the most popular apps, but Google is also experimenting with embedding video ads within search results. The bottom line is that social media and mobile devices are the driving force in online interaction, and social media prioritizes user experience over traditional SEO signals. That’s why video may get a leg up.

2. Search queries will change as more people search the Web by speaking into their phones.
When searching Google for running shoes, a person might type “running shoes men” or “trail running shoes” into the search bar. But that same person would likely make a completely different query if speaking it aloud: “Find running shoes for men in Seattle.” Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Now — the digital assistants that are built into new smartphones — are changing the nature of online search queries. As a result, content that contains more colloquial and conversational long-tail keywords are more likely to be rewarded by Google’s ever-evolving algorithms.

3. Social media posts will be indexed by Google.
If you didn’t already believe that social media would profoundly impact search results, then you should believe it now. Google has already started to display Twitter and Facebook content in mobile search results. More social media platforms are expected to be similarly indexed throughout the next year, highlighting the importance of strong social media marketing to go hand-in-hand with SEO optimization efforts.

4. Deep links on apps will become as important as deep links on the Web.
Apps are tailor-made to thrive on mobile devices, and it’s not hard to believe that people may eventually use apps more than they visit websites. This is why Google started indexing apps, and it’s why more apps will be indexed throughout 2016. App developers can take advantage of this trend by creating sharable deep links that can be easily viewed and shared. Deep links are highly valuable for website SEO, and deep links on apps could soon be just as meaningful.

5. Local search results will become even more focused.
The proliferation of smartphones with GPS apps is driving search results to be increasingly local. Now, people have smart watches and other wearable gear equipped with that same technology. That’s why local searches are expected to become even more hyper-local as the year goes on. Want to find the best Italian restaurant near you? Coming soon, search results won’t be optimized by just city and state — they’ll be optimized by your street, neighborhood or district.

6. Real-time updates to Google’s search algorithms will keep webmasters and SEO experts on their toes.
Google usually rolls out its algorithm updates in large chunks. However, Google may start launching real-time updates to its Panda and Penguin algorithms, which were implemented to weed out thin and black-hat websites from the search rankings. Webmasters and SEO experts who already go the extra mile to stay ahead of the curve may not be significantly impacted by real-time updates, but nobody will be able to rest on their laurels if Google ups the frequency of its algorithm adjustments.

7. Top organic search positions may have diminishing returns.
Until now, a top ranking in organic search results guaranteed hefty amounts of traffic — but that was before standard results competed with video ads and social media posts for clicks. As Google places more dynamic and engaging content along with its top-ranked results — and as other search engines eventually follow suit — then those once formidable rankings may experience diminishing returns. This highlights the need to diversify SEO and social media efforts heading into 2016.

8. Google’s rich answers will make websites with unique or proprietary information more valuable.
Did you know that Google responds to more than one-in-three search queries with a rich answer? These automatic answers to people’s search queries appear to the right of the organic results, and they can completely negate any need to visit actual websites. Not only is this bad news for websites with content that’s readily available anywhere, but Google is working hard to make rich answers even more thorough. That said, websites containing unique or proprietary content could benefit greatly from rich answers, which typically include links to their sources of information. This is one more way for quality content producers to create success in SEO campaigns.

9. Page load optimization will matter more than ever.
Pages that load faster rank better in Google — that’s a known fact. In addition, large websites that load slowly may not be completely indexed by Google’s bots, effectively wasting your SEO efforts. But there’s more. Snappy, properly performing landing pages are more likely to gain traction on social media, while under-performing websites are more likely to have high bounce rates. Advertisers will also find that slow-loading landing pages are also prone to higher costs in Facebook because of the platform’s emphasis on quality user experiences.

10. Mobile website optimization will surpass desktop optimization.
Mobile Internet usage outpaced desktop Internet usage more than two years ago, and since then search algorithms have been shifting to reflect users’ priorities. We predict 2016 will be the year that mobile website optimization in certain industries will matter more than desktop optimization for overall SEO strategies. It’s not just website presentation that’s driving this seismic shift — it’s also the rising importance of apps and social media. Expect mobile optimization to not only surpass desktop, but to eventually leave it in the dust.

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