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The Complete Guide to Local SEO

Andy Williams

by Andy Williams on 31st July 2013

Video Transcript

Hi. Today I’m going to be looking at local SEO. Now this is one of those subjects that a lot of people continue to overlook, and they don’t realise how important local SEO is. Even if you haven’t gotten an audience that you feel is local and you’re targeting a more national or international audience, local SEO is still something that you should look into. It’s still something that you should optimise for.

Now the reason for this is the Venice update, which is something I’ve gone into in previous videos, and this is an update that came out from Google around about I’d say 18 months ago. Now the update itself meant that it changed the information that you are going to see when you are searching online. So if you were searching for something that had local intent behind it, you are going to see local results.

Now the big change was that you didn’t need to be logged into your Google profile in order for this to happen. So this was based on your IP and not your account. So regardless of whether you’re logged in or not, the chances are if you search for something that Google feels has got local intent behind it, you’re going to see local results.

Now knock-on effect of this, of course, is if you hold the top one or the top two rankings for a term and Google deems this to have local intent behind it, the local information that is suddenly displayed instead could actually knock you down to page one or even page two in the rankings. So you could effectively lose traffic, you could lose customers, you could lose visibility online that you didn’t even realise that had gone, all because of this update.

So regardless of the sort of audience you’re targeting, local SEO is really, really important. Obviously, if you’re going for a local audience, then local SEO is extremely important.

So today I’m going to look at five sections that I feel cover local SEO. We’re going to look at the top level information for each one to give you some pointers to where you should be looking and the sort of things you should be setting up and ways you’ll be working to make sure that you’ve got all your local SEO sections covered.

Obviously, these should all be done in more depth than we’re going to go into, but hopefully these will give you some starters, and it will start to get you looking and thinking about local SEO and become a bit smarter about the subject.

So we’re going to start with on-page SEO. Now this is a section that might already be optimised for local SEO. You might have all the relevant local information in there without even thinking about local. But the sort of places that you’re looking for are the key areas that Google are going to be looking for this type of information. So the title text, for example, obviously one of the most important elements of SEO and one of the first starting points as well.

If you can get the location of your business within the title tag, then that’s obviously going to be a big thumbs up. But it doesn’t always fit with every single business. It could well be because you’re going for a national or international audience that having the location of your head office might give it too much for local feel, and you might actually be losing out on customers. So if you can’t fit it in or you don’t feel that it fits naturally, then don’t add it, which is of course the same with all SEO. Don’t force information in and hopefully the rest of the areas that you cover will give enough information to Google.

Meta description tag, of course, is no longer deemed to have that much of an influence on rankings. Whether that’s 100% true or not, no one really knows. There have been lots of experiments and online blogs about it, but at the end of the day this is your sales point. This is your 155 characters which could entice people in.

But having the location included within this tag is also going to give a citation or a heads up to Google as to, again, where you’re based. If you’ve got numerous locations, then, you know, these could be listed here, but make sure it’s natural. Don’t try and [add] loads of locations in there. The idea isn’t to spam it. It’s to give Google relevant information.

And, of course, there’s on-page content. You’re looking at your heading tags or any sub-heading tags. Again, if it fits naturally, then add your location. And if [in] all of these sections you feel that, you know, adding a location to still doesn’t feel right, then look at your content. Including your location here is going to be a bit more natural. You can write more in this. You’re got more room to flow more, and you could mention it there.

If you’ve got multiple locations, so if you’re a shop or a restaurant owner and you’ve got a chain of restaurants or a chain of shops, then including every single location in your body content is not realistic, and it’s not going to read naturally. So that’s something you need to avoid.

But what you can do is you can create pages for each individual location and give local information regarding those locations. Don’t use duplicate or generic content for this information. Make sure that every single page is unique and optimised for that location or for that individual store or restaurant, etc.

Again, the idea isn’t that you’re just cramming your site full of loads of local information just for the sake of it and just for getting these rankings. It’s got to be valuable to the end users at the same time, and, again, that’s something Google want to see anyway.

But make sure you’ve also got your address and, if possible, a local phone number, ideally on every single page just so that you’ve got that local information running through. An ideal place is in the footer of every single page. That way you can have that in the script, and it can naturally appear on every single page. If you can get the address or even the phone number somewhere a bit more prominently towards the top, then that just gives the end user, the visitor a bit more understanding, and it makes them trust your site a bit more if they can see that there’s contact information and they know they’re dealing with real people.

Sometimes you go to sites and you don’t see this information. From a user point of view, if you’re looking to buy something online and you can’t see a contact number, then I personally tend to walk away. So not only from a local point of view it’s important to have that information on there, but also from a user point of view as well.

And if you’ve got a blog, it might well be that the services or the products that you’re offering may well have kind of local intent attached to them. Is there something going on locally that your audience would be interested in? So you could write about that. Again, that’s a bit more information within your site that has local intent about it.

If you sponsored a local event, if you have, write about it. Get the interaction from local people. And of course, there’s also rich snippets or markups, which can be largely done by looking at Shcema.org. You can find the code there. Now the idea of this code is that you wrap it around certain information, and it gives a heads up to Google as to what that information is. So the obvious one for local, of course, would be your address. So if you go across to Schema.org, you can find the relevant coding and add it to your addresses. There are also things for reviews, as well, which we’ll come on to later on.

But it might well be that you don’t have access to a web developer or someone who has the knowledge to be able to actually add that code, and you might not have that knowledge yourself. So if this is the case, then you need to go across to Webmaster Tools and go to a section that’s been up and running for a bit now, called Data Highlighter. Now what this does is it brings up a picture of the page that you want to be working on, and it allows you to highlight areas of the page that you feel are important, so again, for example, the address. So if you highlight the address, Google will then ask ‘which section does this come under’, click on Address, and there you go. You’ve given that data information to Google, and that kind of acts as a markup. So if you haven’t got the relevant code and skill, all is not lost. Go across to Webmaster Tools.

So that’s the on-page stuff covered, and hopefully all of that is done and you’ve naturally done that, and that’s kind of like the basic steps for local SEO.

So the other four sections that we’re going to look at today are all more off-page, and although I don’t like to class working on SEOs like ticking boxes or looking at certain areas and that’s a given that that’s going to help your rankings, because that’s not what SEO is about anymore. People certainly shouldn’t be ticking boxes when they’re doing it. They should be doing what is relevant to the end user and helping out their audience. But with local SEO we know that these areas are important. So although you’re not ticking boxes as such, it’s important that you do cover these areas.

Now the first one we’re going to look at is local listings. Now by local listings I’m talking about things like online yellow page sites, like Yell or Thompson Local or 192. But you’re looking for local sites that have local intent about them. A good example is Yelp, which everyone knows about. It’s more of an online review site, but again, if you can create a profile on there, you can give a lot of information that creates a lot of citations that will back up your local information. Of course, Yelp has got its own community in its own rights. So if you’ve got a really, really good presence on Yelp, then chances are you’re going to bring up customers from a different area other than your site.

But by adding your information to sites that have local intent about them, so local directories as well [are] something you should look at. Again, you’re just giving that heads up to Google. You’re indicating you’re in a certain location, and that information becomes very valuable.

So as I’ve touched on with Yelp, make sure you fill in the profiles as much as you can. The general rule of thumb that I go with is if there’s a field that can be filled in, make sure you fill it in. So include product information, opening hours, prices, store location, absolutely everything fill it in. If it gives you a chance to upload images, do that. The more information you have on your profile, the more information you’re giving to Google, and the more information you’re giving to the end users and the visitors.

And, of course, you can also get links from the back of these listings as well. So that’s going to be largely important to you. But make sure if you’ve got the option, and, again, Yelp is a good example of this, if you can claim that profile or verify that profile, then make sure you do. Not only does that mean you’re then in complete control of that profile and all that information, but it also gives again a heads up to Google that this information can be trusted. It’s actually owned by somebody. If you’ve got special discounts or special offers or anything like that, you can update these profiles and give that information across.

So again, even if from a local SEO point of view you don’t feel that’s beneficial, you’re getting the citations, you’re getting that information, you’re reaching out to an audience that you possibly didn’t know existed before. So there are other benefits other than it just being about local.

Of course, we’ve got social media, which moves on quite nicely from the likes of Yelp. The obvious sites, of course, are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+. They’re the main four that people usually talk about, and, again, it’s important that you have a presence on those sites.

A lot of the companies think that they shouldn’t get involved in social. It’s not really for them. We don’t really want to create a platform where people can contact us or give bad reviews for everyone to see. But regardless of whether you think that you should be doing social or not, it’s important that you own the profiles that should be related to you, if only so that you have then got complete control over these brands, these handles, so no one else can start acting on your behalf and start saying things about your brand that you don’t want them to.

But from a local point of view, what you’re looking at is being able to include the location within descriptions, in about us sections, and general content within these profiles that, again, act as citations. They give a heads up to Google. That’s another location section that you’ve covered. Google+ is, of course, the big one with Google. Whether you like it or not, Google+ is now here, and if you’re not using it, then you’re going to be largely missing out.

There are certain different sections of Google that are relevant to local, like Google Maps. A lot of people are starting to sort of forget about that because of Google+ Local. But it’s important that you still have your profile within Google Maps. So if your information isn’t there, make sure you add it. If you go to Google Maps, there’s a section, a link down on the left-hand side that says, “Place your business on Google Maps.” Click on there, and, again, fill out every single box. Give as much information as you can to Google so that they can work with it and they’ve got that information about you.

Verify your listing again, as well. Google will send you either a postcard, or you can verify over the phone or by text. But make sure you own it, because, again, if you don’t, somebody else might and start acting on your behalf, and then you’ve got other problems that you don’t really want to be dealing with.

Google+ Local is kind of like the news section, and this is largely where the rankings are getting affected. So if you were to carry out a search with local intent, the listings that you’re seeing should have links to the Google+ page that’s relevant to them. So this is where you definitely need to be listed. So make sure you add yourself to the correct category, and, again, fill out every single bit of information that you can and verify it by linking it to your website. The reason this is so important, the reason why Google Maps remains so important is because if rumours are to be believed and chat is to be believed, all of these profiles are going to be merged into one eventually, including your Google+ business page, into one big profile. If you haven’t got these profiles, you could be missing out, and no one quite knows what impact that’s going to have, or even if it’s going to go ahead. But if it does, you want to make sure that you’re involved.

Of course, you know, these are Google platforms. Why wouldn’t you want to be giving this information directly to Google? So make sure you do. Make sure you’ve got the presence there. Even if you’re not going to be social on any of those platforms, make sure that you’ve got at least a presence, just so those signals are going to Google.

Of course, there are other areas as well, like Foursquare, that you can actually create profiles on, and if you’ve got a physical location that people can walk into, people can then check into it, and it just adds to that brand awareness as well as giving those local citations across.

Reviews, this is quite a tricky one, because a lot of people sort of think that they shouldn’t be asking for reviews, that if they don’t come in, then it’s not something [they] should go after. But don’t be scared to actually ask for reviews. There’s no reason at all why you wouldn’t want a review. If you feel uneasy about just sort of contacting people and saying, “Look, give us a review. Give us a review,” change it. Change the way you’re asking. The reason you want a review is because you want to improve your customer service, so you need people to comment on it. Without their feedback, you’re not able to do that.

So there are different ways you in which you can outreach to people. Also make it easy for people as well. So if you’re following up a client visiting you or staying at your hotel or eating at a restaurant, or whatever it is, buying a product online, if you’re then outreaching them via email, make it easy for them so that they don’t have to do too much in order to leave a review. If they’ve got too many steps to go through, the chances are they’re not going to leave one.

So start to think a bit creatively as well. Think about how you’re going to do this. Some really good examples are emails that I’ve received in the past where people have changed the wording a bit, and they’ve kind of sort of said, “It was great to have you visit. You’re an awesome customer. Let’s do business again,” etc., etc. But it was more personal, and I was more willing to give a review because they’d done something a little bit different. They’d reached out to me. It felt like they were talking to me, and I’m sure it was a completely generic email, but it was different from “thanks for buying our product, click this link and leave a review”. More thought had gone into it.

Also be aware who you’re actually reaching out to. Have a look at their email address. If they haven’t got a Gmail account, they might not have a Google account. If they haven’t, then they’re going to have to create one in order for them to leave a review on your Google+ page. If that’s the case, it’s not happening. They’re not going to do it. So be aware of who you’re actually reaching out to.

A good example is something I saw from an American company was they sent out like a flow chart of how to create a Google account and where to go in order to leave a review. But it was done in step-by-step sections, so it was easy, and they sort of highlighted the fact that this can all be done in three minutes. So they probably got a good return on that, whereas if you just send out a link to leave a review on Google+ page, you’ll need to create a Google account, people aren’t going to do it. So again, try and be clever. Be aware of who you’re reaching out to.

Yelp, again, as we keep talking about, is a really good review site, and a lot of people say, “Leave us a review on Yelp.” But this is something I would actually go against. Don’t ask them to leave a review on Yelp. If this happens naturally, brilliant. That’s not something you’re trying to stop people from actually reviewing you on Yelp. What you’re trying to do is stopping a lot of people reviewing you on Yelp quickly. The reason for this is Yelp are trying to clear up older, what they class as bogus reviews. So if they see you’ve suddenly got ten reviews overnight or over a week, they might well think that you’re trying to game it. You’re trying to create fake reviews in order to give you more prominence and a stronger profile. So avoid sending people to Yelp, because if you get a lot of reviews overnight, it could actually backfire, even if they’re genuine. So just be aware of that.

Make sure you follow the rules as well with reviews. Not from a local SEO point of view, by any stretch, but make sure you don’t pose as a happy customer. If that ever gets found out, you’ll be taken to pieces online, and that could be damage that you just don’t want to deal with. Don’t get angry about reviews as well. You’ve asked for reviews. If people want to give a bad review, then that’s their right. Don’t react angrily. Remember this is online for everyone to see. So this is one of those sections that goes beyond the local SEO citations and information that we’re trying to create. You’ve got to manage it as well. If someone gives you a bad review, then turn it into a good experience. Give them good customer service online. If you do that, then other people can actually see what you’re doing, and that could bring in more customers, because they think you’re being proactive.

The last section we’re going to look at is citations. Now, citations are links that don’t actually have a physical link. They’re mentions of either your name, your brand, your address, even your phone number, something about you that is relevant to you and your site, something where a genuine link can be made between that information and your website by Google. So this is where a bit of research needs to come in and a little bit of hard work on your account. But it’s completely worthwhile, and these are the types of areas that a lot of your competition probably aren’t looking into because they’re not aware of citations and how strong they can be.

They’ll be doing all their link building. They’ll be building up all their link profiles and carrying out local listings and doing everything socially, but citations is probably the area they’re not going to be doing. So this is a good heads up and something that you really need to throw time at.

Now in order to find these citations, start by carrying out searches for generic versions of your terms in Google. This will give you loads and loads of results of where people are talking about your products or generic versions of your products or even your competition. It could well be that you’re missing a chance for being mentioned somewhere on someone’s site, not necessarily getting that physical link that most people think they should always be going for, but this just gives you that chance to be able to start getting mentioned on other places.

Look where your competition are getting citations from as well. Do a search for your competition plus an element of their address. See where they’re getting mentioned. See where people are talking about them. And again, the same with your domain. Have a search for your domain with an element of your address. It could well be that you’re getting citations from somewhere you didn’t realise you had a citation from. It could well be that you’ve got a profile you didn’t realise you had. You might be able to then step in and optimise it and use it to your advantage a bit more.

Look beyond the first two pages as well. Remember you’re looking for citations now. You’re not actually looking for the most relevant listings. There could well be some really, really good sites that you need to engage with, and they’re on page 10 or 20. So look beyond the first two.

Also have a look on Google+ as well. See where people are talking about your competition, where people are talking about you. It gives you that chance to, again, find this information, find these sites where you could start to engage, you could start to build up your citations and create them.

So there are the main five areas to look at. If you want more information or more in-depth information, we’ve got a white paper on our site called “Mastering Local SEO. So download that and have a look through that as well, as well as other white papers across loads of other subjects as well.

Hopefully you’ve found that useful. Make sure you carry out all of these. Even, like I say, if you haven’t got a local strategy, it’s important that you have one just to safeguard rankings.

So make sure you check us out on all of our social profiles as well that are coming up after this video. Have a look on our blog and especially on YouTube, where we’ve got loads more videos like this. Thanks for watching.

Andy Williams

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.

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