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Andy Williams

Mastering Local SEO – A Complete Guide (#EdgeBristol)

11th Jun 2013 SEO, Local Search | 12 Comments


Mastering Local SEOThis morning I am speaking at the On the Edge conference in Bristol on the subject of Mastering Local SEO. This post contains my slides and a summary of the presentation.

Local SEO has evolved over the last year. Now more than ever online businesses need a local search strategy, regardless of whether they are targeting a nationwide, international or local audience.

Google+, the Venice update and Google’s desire to provide searchers with a more personalised experience now make local SEO an element you can’t afford to ignore.

Google Venice Update

Compared to the huge number of recent Google updates, Venice is a relatively old update but is often hugely overlooked. In fact Venice was and still is a big game changer.

Now whenever you search for a term that may have local intent you will be provided with local results regardless of whether you have entered a location or not. Usually this only happened when you were logged in. Now you don’t even need to be logged in. Google can detect your IP and based on this information will determine your location and supply you with local results.

This may be great for the searcher, however this now creates a real danger that long standing rankings could now be pushed down several places as more localised listings are given priority. The fall out of this is, you could be missing out on traffic simply because that first page ranking you once had has now been pushed down onto page two to make way for local listings.

Whether we like it or not Google is watching its users and is hell bent on providing them with what Google’s believes to be the most relevant local information related to the search they have carried out. Now of course not every search query has a local intent but you can’t afford to assume that the terms you believe you should be found for won’t trigger local results.

Local SEO

Local SEO can be broken down into four main areas:

  • On Page Optimisation
  • Local Listings and Profiles
  • Social Media
  • Reviews
  • Citations

By working on all of these elements you will give your site a better chance of being found locally.

On Page Optimisation

As with any SEO campaign, the starting point is always going to be with your site. Making the correct on page changes will ensure that Google registers the relevance of your site to the locations you are situated in.

Title Tags are of course a hugely important factor in SEO. This is no different when it comes to Local SEO. Including the location in your Title tag will give Google a big signal straight away.

If you cover a number of areas locally then look to include the county over listing individual towns or cities (which will simply look spammy and take away valuable character space needed to other information). There are going to be online businesses where adding the location simply isn’t in keeping with the business model. Use at your discretion. There are other elements that will allow you to include local information. However it is strongly recommended that you utilise the Title tag if possible. This is a big SEO signal.

Meta Descriptions, while no longer classed as a ranking factor should include your location(s). Here you have 155 characters to play with, so including your location shouldn’t be an issue.

On the page itself include your full address and local phone number. This is hugely important and if you are unable to do anything else – include this information. A popular area for this information to be included is within the footer of a site. This also allows this information to be included on every page.

Headers: If you are carrying out good SEO practices already you will no doubt be using Heading tags. Make sure you include your location in these, especially the main heading.

As with the Title tag, this may not fit with the business model of the site and adding a location to the main heading may not fit. However fitting it into lesser headings may be a better fit.

Content: Treat your location as you would a key term. You would always include your important terms in your site copy, so include your location.

Blog: With content now such a huge focus in online marketing, sites should have a blog. Not only are they a great way to provide both your audience and Google with fresh and engaging content on a regular basis but blogs are also local search gold. A rough rule of thumb suggests that you should think about splitting your posts in the following way:

  • 50% Industry Related posts
  • 25% Company promotion
  • 25% Company publicity

Company promotion and publicity give you to chance to write more locally. Maybe you have sponsored a local event, there may be local events going on that you can also comment on. Are members of your team doing something locally?

Authorship: Don’t forget to get your authorship in place. This will build authority which will give your posts more strength.

Rich Snippets: Rich Snippets are markup code that provides search engines with more information about the content on your site.

By placing the correct code around the relevant information you can give yourself a head start on the competition. This is becoming more widely used; however using this now will give you a better advantage.

Possible information that can be marked up includes:

  • Places
  • Products
  • Reviews
  • Aggregated Reviews
  • Events

You can test you have implemented the code correctly by using Google’s testing tool: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

If coding isn’t your area of expertise or you don’t have access to a web developer, you can use the Google Data Highlighter tool within Webmaster Tools. This allows you to highlight sections of your content and apply the relevant tag to it.

Local Sites and Profiles

Making sure you have a presence on sites that have local intent, such as Yellow Pages, is essential. These not only create links back to your site (from locally relevant profiles) but they also put you in front of a whole new audience. Sites such as Yelp even have their own communities who use the site to find the best local places, making them a great place to be featured.

When creating these profiles it is highly important that you use the same address you have used on your site. Don’t use a shorter version. This information needs to match.

Verify all your profiles: Not only will this highlight to Google that the information can be trusted and is owned but it will also ensure you have control of the profile. Companies have in the past found their accounts verified by hijackers and are then unable to gain control of the information being used.

Make sure you fill in your profile as much as possible. This is something that will become a common theme. The more information you provide the more this becomes more than just a profile. It becomes a hub of information about your company and the products you provide. It also builds interest on sites such as Yelp.

Look to have a presence on local sites and think about these kinds of areas:

  • Newspapers
  • Local Press
  • Local Charities
  • Local TV Stations
  • Local Radio
  • Your County Council

Some of the above may have a local business section on their sites.

Social Media

Social Media is of course the current buzz. Everyone is supposed to be social these days. Well this also applies to Local SEO. Having a presence on the main authoritive social platforms is also essential.

As with the local profiles sites, these provide the search engines with important information, as well as putting your business in front of yet another new audience. Be sure you include the address of your location – again exactly as you have it on your website.

Facebook: Include your locations in the “General Information” and “About” sections of your profile.

Twitter: Include your location in the main bio

LinkedIn: Include your location in your company profile description

Facebook Graph Search has also recently been launched. Facebook’s own search option with local intent. It’s too early to say what kind of impact this will have but you only have to look at the type of information that is being included to guess that these are also potentially important citations.

Google Local

Having a Local SEO campaign without having a presence within Google’s Local platforms is a huge missed opportunity. These are Google platforms, this is your chance to feed Google directly with all the information about your online business.

Not having a presence on the likes of Google+ Local for example will eventually also affect your chance to rank. Although Google haven’t officially said as such, enough noise has been made to suggest this is a strong possibility.

Add your business to Google Maps: Fill in every single option available; provide as much information as possible. Make sure the address you use is in keeping with the one used on your site. Above everything – don’t forget to verify the listing. Google will send you a postcard (or you can verify via a phone call) that will contain a code that verifies the profile.

Google+ is Google’s “social” platform. You need a presence on here so create a profile. Make sure you choose the category carefully as adding yourself to the right category provides relevance to your entire profile. Again provide as much information as you can.

Make sure the address you use is identical to the one you use on your site and verify your site on your Google+ profile. Google will provide you with a line of code required to do this.

Something to be aware of when setting up Google+ Local; Google as a rule don’t tend to display both a Google local result (usually seen in the local “7 pack”) and an organic listing from the same company on the same page.

FREE TIP

The workaround: when asked for the URL of your site when setting up your Google+ Local profile, enter your “About Us” URL or even your “Contact Us” page URL.

If the organic URL is different to the local URL – both can rank.

Other social profiles you should think about working with:

  • Pinterest
  • FourSquare
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • Trip Advisor

Reviews

Reviews are possibly the hardest element to crack. You can’t force people to leave reviews and you can’t police what is said. However you should never be embarrassed about asking for reviews.

Reach out to your clients, ask them for their feedback, there is nothing wrong in saying this is part of you also looking to improve customer experience.

Review Do’s

  • Be prompt – reach out to them soon after their custom
  • Make it easy for them to leave a review. Include a link to your Google profile
  • If you don’t hear back, follow up with another email – however don’t harass
  • Be creative – think of ways you can prompt people to add a review

Review Don’ts

  • Don’t offer an incentive – this simply leads you down a path of always having to offer something
  • Don’t ask for reviews on Yelp – this platform is constantly on high alert for “spammy” or “fake” reviews. A sudden influx of reviews could trigger the wrong reaction from Yelp and damage your profile
  • Don’t dictate what should be written.
  • Don’t send a link to your Google profile to someone unless they have a Gmail account

In slide 53 (above) is a fantastic flow chart on how a company in America help guide their clients through the review process. This is a great example of being creative when asking for reviews.

Two quick warnings:

  1. Never pose as a happy client. You will be found out. You don’t want the backlash that comes with that.
  2. Don’t get angry if you receive a bad review. Turn it into something positive.

Citations

Citations are mentions of your business name and/or address on other websites that don’t include a physical link. These are gold. To find them research where your competition are gaining citations – you may be able to also gain one.

What To Search For:

  • Search for your Competitions Domain plus elements of their address
  • Your domain: however use “-site:yourdomain.com” at the start of your search query. This will remove all listings from your own site
  • The competition on Google+: Look to see where they are gaining reviews from
  • Your targeted terms: search for the generic versions as well to give you more places to look

Search beyond the 2nd page. There are some very good citation opportunities as deep as page 6, 10 even.

Mobile

Mobile search shouldn’t be ignored. Roughly 40% of all mobile searches on Google have local intent. This doesn’t even take into account apps with local intent.

Did you know:

  • Andriod users are always logged into Google, automatically generating personalised local results
  • Google Now is available on iPhones and iPads. This is Google’s new local information product that provides up to the minute local information

Don’t ignore mobile. In fact mobile just made Local SEO even more important.

In Summary

By covering everything in this post you will be well on your way to being found locally. As we started with, even if local isn’t your target audience, personalised search and the Venice update means you need to add Local to your online strategy. If you have any questions please leave them below.

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About the author

Andy Williams

Andy Williams, our DADI award winning Digital Marketing Manager will be giving you useful insights into local search and the overall SEO landscape. Andy has over 9 years experience in the SEO industry including 2 years as the in-house SEO consultant with a leading Web Design company.

Mastering Local Search

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