Top 10 Local SEO Best Practices for Small Businesses

Have you ever wondered how you could get your business to show up on the first page of Google, along with a map showing your prospective customers exactly where your business is located? The answer is to use local search engine optimization (SEO).

Have you ever wondered how you could get your business to show up on the first page of Google, along with a map showing your prospective customers exactly where your business is located? The answer is to use local search engine optimization (SEO).

With local SEO, you can get your business in front of prospects at the precise moment when they are literally searching for you. It doesn’t get much better than this. However, due to all the Google algorithm updates, local SEO is not quite as easy as it used to be. Whether you’re an SEO veteran or you’re just getting started, use the top 10 best practices in this article to give your business the best shot at ranking on the first page of Google’s local results.

  1. Claim and Complete a Google+ Local Page
    Next time you search in Google to find a business, pay close attention to the big map in the upper right corner of the results page. An entire section of the results list is devoted to the businesses that appear on that map. But here’s the catch: Google doesn’t pull the business information from websites. They are pulled from Google+ Local business pages!

    Setting up your Google+ Local page is easy and free, but you need to pay attention to what you are doing. The number one rule is to create only a single page per location. Creating duplicate Local pages is forbidden by Google’s Terms of Service, and can hurt your rankings.

    In addition, your page must use relevant categories. Think of categories like sections of the Yellow Pages, so the more categories you choose the better—as long as you don’t choose irrelevant categories, which is also against Google’s Terms of Service. Choosing categories can be difficult, so use this list for help.

  2. Add Your Service and Geographic Keywords to Page Titles
    This is especially critical for your homepage, but is a Best Practice for all your web pages. Title tags are like chapter names in a book—they tell Google what the page is all about. Your homepage title tag is like the book’s cover. It needs to be enticing but accurate, and explain to Google what the website holds. For local SEO, adding both the service and geographic keywords to your title tags lets Google know that your site is relevant to people searching for your particular service in your local area.
  3. Make Your NAP Consistent—and Omnipresent
    NAP is an acronym for the most important information when it comes to optimizing for local SEO. NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number.

    Google strives to provide the most accurate, credible information to its users. Therefore, before displaying your information, the algorithm cross-checks your NAP across not only your Google+ local page, but the entire Internet! To ensure your NAP is consistent, I recommend searching for your business name in the Moz Local search tool.

  4. Add Pages for Different Services and Locations
    If you provide multiple services, and/or practice in different locations, make sure you create a separate web page for each. Although it may seem redundant, this step is crucial to local SEO. You simply cannot optimize the same page for Houston, Texas, and Deer Park, Texas, and expect it to perform well for either location. Likewise, a page with keywords for both oil changes and collision repair is not truly optimized for either. Make sure that each page is entirely unique, and target each to a core keyword phrase.
  5. Install Schema
    Schema markup is a type of HTML code that tells Google more about your website. When a human reads a particular page, he or she innately understands certain things about that page, such as exactly what is being discussed. Search engines, however, have a much more limited understanding. Schema bridges that gap by adding machine-understandable explanations. Many webmasters are not yet using this valuable tool, so this is a great opportunity to get a jump on your competition.
  6. Get Customer Reviews on Google+ Local
    Unfortunately, getting customer reviews is one of the most challenging tasks that small business owners face, and there is no magical shortcut. The two keys to success are first to ask, and second to make it as easy as possible for your customers leave an online review. Even when you make things easy for your customers, this will be a slow process, but over time, it will improve your local rankings and create a big barrier for your competitors.
  7. Create a Mobile-Optimized Website
    Increasingly, consumers are turning to their phones and other mobile devices when searching for products and services. This is even more true for those who are looking for local companies, which means you absolutely must have a mobile-friendly website to compete in the local search results.

    If you’re like most businesses, then you have been dragging your feet and putting off investing in a mobile website. Well, the time has finally come because on April 21, 2015 Google will launch an algorithm update that will drastically change the mobile search results. In short, if your site is not mobile-optimized at that time, your rankings will suffer dramatically in any Google search launched on a mobile device-which is approximately 50% of all searches today!

  8. Provide High-Quality Website Content
    The importance of high quality content is nothing new for SEO. However, until recently this wasn’t a big factor in the local search rankings. Now, failing to create well-written, unique, informative web pages with at least 500 words of content each could mean your business will not show up when prospective customers are searching for you.
  9. Build High-Quality Links to Your Website
    Again, this is nothing new for SEO, but it’s a fairly new factor for local SEO. Your domain authority, or online reputation, is now a critical factor in your local Google rankings. One of the biggest factors in your domain authority is the quantity and quality of relevant links from other websites.

    As you gain more and more high-quality links, then your domain authority will increase, and in turn, your local rankings will also improve.

  10. Be Active on Social Media
    Exactly how much of an impact social media presence has on local SEO is currently the subject of hot debate. What is not open for debate, however, is the fact that social media is a great way to generate buzz and get exposure for your business. This exposure can lead to more referral traffic, more high-quality links, more reviews, and more online comments about your business, which are all signals that will improve your local Google rankings.

Want more Local SEO Tips? Click here to get my Ultimate Local SEO Checklist

Money Loves Speed

“Money loves speed.” This phrase has been quoted so often that it’s difficult to know who should be credited for coining it. In an “always-on” digital world, it’s a saying that reminds us that we need to encourage fast action to make a sale, and to act fast when a customer needs help. Today, I contrast the customer service of two digital companies—both household names and both who serve direct marketers—and suggest four money-attracting recommendations

“Money loves speed.” This phrase has been quoted so often that it’s difficult to know who should be credited for coining it. In an “always-on” digital world, it’s a saying that reminds us that we need to encourage fast action to make a sale, and to act fast when a customer needs help. Today, I contrast the customer service of two digital companies—both household names and both who serve direct marketers—and suggest four money-attracting recommendations.

One of the many aggravations for any customer is the inability to get fast answers from a company when help is needed. It’s especially a problem with online merchants. In the digital age, it’s too easy to hide behind an online form.

The contrast of service and responsiveness from Facebook and Google, in my experience, is significant. Both are digital mega-corporations, both provide advertising platforms for marketers, and both are tremendous resources of online metrics for direct marketers.

Facebook is a content marketer’s dream. Gain a fan following at little or no cost, share news, videos, how-to information and much more to your audience. In social media, your audience does your work of sharing and evangelizing for you. Facebook has evolved and requires “pay-to-play” if you want your fans to see your posts. In my view, it’s completely acceptable for Facebook to say that if you want your post to float toward the top of a newsfeed for a day that you’ll need to spend a few bucks.

I pay for posts often for an organization with a vibrant social media presence. The Facebook promoted post budget isn’t huge, but over a year’s time it runs into the thousands of dollars.

The rules for including an image with a promoted post allows up to 20 percent of the image to contain text. Recently, one of my promoted posts was rejected because Facebook technology image scanners thought there was more than the 20 percent amount allowed. But with the human eye, it was apparent looking at the photo and text that we were not over the allowed amount of text. Surely Facebook would reconsider, I thought. My credit card was ready to be charged.

The only way I’ve found to contact Facebook is via an online form. So I filled one out, asking them to reconsider the image for my promoted post expecting a quick response. After all, it took them only about 15 minutes to reject the ad, so surely as an “always-on” social media platform with thousands of employees, someone will respond quickly. Well, it took nearly 24 hours to get a reply to my request. They agreed with me and approved it. But by that point, the timeliness of the news item had passed and myself, and our followers, had moved on.

But then another rejection happened a few days ago. This time, a photo of sheet music didn’t fly. The culprit? Apparently treble clefs, staffs and rests. Once again the rejection was in minutes. I immediately asked Facebook to reevaluate it, thinking that my prior experience of 24 hours for a reply may have been a fluke. It wasn’t. The reply to this second request came in at 1:51 AM the next day, more than 24 hours later, with an approval. But again, the news cycle for this event had ended.

Bottom line: Facebook customer service is pokey. They are leaving advertising money on the table with an apparently cumbersome internal review process.

Contrast Facebook with Google. I manage Google Adwords for another client with a respectable budget. Google has assigned a representative to me. We talk. They rotate representatives every few months so I get different points of view and ideas. And if I need to contact Google, they offer a phone number for me to call where I can actually talk with someone in just minutes, enabling the ads to continue without delay.

Facebook repels money. Google attracts money.

Bottom line points for marketers:

  1. Give the customer options, such as phone, online forms, chat and more to contact you.
  2. Don’t hide behind an online form. Sure, a call center may be more expensive to operate, but it’s surely less expensive than losing sales.
  3. Be responsive. If you decide an online form is less expensive than a call center, fine. But then make sure you have a customer service representative available 24/7 who can quickly answer customer questions.
  4. Remove internal bureaucracy. Sometimes movement is brought to a halt because the internal process is too cumbersome.

In an “always-on” digital age, customers can be impatient. And for goodness sakes, if your business is in technology, act fast! It’s expected.

Money loves speed.

5 Steps for Putting Twitter to Work for Your Brand

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Coming on the heels of a recent $200 million investment and $3.7 billion valuation, Twitter has firmly cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with. A critical communication tool for leading brands, marketers are flocking to this burgeoning social media platform, adding more than 65 million tweets each day. However, establishing and building an effective presence on Twitter takes more than grabbing a name and sending a tweet. It requires work, just like any other channel. With that in mind, here’s a checklist to get you started:

1. Establish your Twitter objectives and do your homework. Spend the necessary time up-front to identify areas of your business that can be served by Twitter — e.g., customer service, tech support, marketing, PR. Define your objectives and metrics for success. Do your homework by conducting a competitive analysis. Read case studies and learn from industry experts and your peers by attending Twitter industry events.

2. Build your presence. Create and complete your bio. Include a clear description of your brand and your stream. Create an avatar and custom background to help reinforce and distinguish your brand. Include a URL to your website or other official brand communities in your bio. Check out @twelpforce if you need help.

3. Develop compelling content and dialogues. Start by listening before speaking. Investigate how your brand/products are organically mentioned and look for opportunities to establish a conversational feed with brand advocates. To engage users, share relevant content and look for opportunities to provide unique value on Twitter, such as offers or photos not found anywhere else. Test content themes such as trivia, historical facts or challenges, and reward your loyal followers with prizes.

Over time, consider establishing multiple accounts to streamline content or interest areas. For example, the NBA uses its primary Twitter account for game updates, offers and breaking news. However, it launched a separate Twitter feed dedicated to historical facts: @NBAHistory.

Also, remember to listen and respond to customer inquiries quickly. Weave conversations across communities. Many brands, such as @CastrolUSA, share news on Twitter and invite followers to join the discussion on their Facebook page.

4. Grow your audience. Promote your communities using all touchpoints — e.g., TV commercial tags, call centers, email. Consider integrating your Twitter feed into your existing website, and experiment with Twitter feeds and advertising units in contextual environments to peak interest and increase followers. Find people already tweeting about your subject and follow them. Identify key influencers, showcase them and encourage them to retweet or @mention you.

Publish Twitter lists to further extend your content and attract followers. List your Twitter account in directories and test sponsored tweets and/or promoted accounts.

5. Manage and measure. A recent study by R2integrated found dedicating time and resources to be the No. 1 issue for marketers when managing their social media presence. Create a team micro-blogging strategy to help keep your social operations nimble and responsive.

The good news is that many people and groups across your organization are interested in learning more about Twitter, and they’ll all benefit from a successful Twitter presence. Get them involved and consider investing in a social media campaign management tool to streamline the process of creating, implementing and analyzing tweets and Facebook posts.

Campaign management tools also enable organizations to manage multiple users. Create benchmarks around key metrics such as customer satisfaction and service levels. Leverage the real-time nature of Twitter to solicit feedback. Be a stickler about channel attribution by using unique coupon codes or tracking URLs tied to shortened URLs.

Finally, take the time to understand the difference and dynamics between public and private tweets, and use direct messages to handle private or sensitive one-to-one conversations.

Twitter isn’t only a new ecosystem, but a constantly evolving one. While a great deal of its evolution is driven by its users, the recent influx of $200 million and focus on making money is certain to increase the opportunities for marketers — advertising and beyond. For marketers to effectively embrace this channel, however, they need to galvanize their internal teams, build a compelling strategy aligned to corporate goals and customer needs, stay current on industry best practices, and maintain and grow their followers by building an engaging dialogue. In the end, some things never change: same marketing fundamentals, different channel.