Ohio Local SEOIf you own a brick and mortar small business you may have heard of SEO (search engine optimization) or even the more specific form of SEO, “Local SEO“. Maybe you have been wondering what these two terms mean or if you should care at all. You should!

SEO is the process of influencing the factors that make your website appear higher in search engine results. Local SEO is a sub speciality of general SEO that tries to make your website perform better in search with a location component. For example, say you are a plumber in Cleveland Ohio. You probably don’t really care if your site shows up in searches by users in other states. You do care if you show up in other communities that make up the Cleveland metro area. That is where Local SEO comes in.

The good news is that Local SEO can produce results faster then normal SEO. After all, our Cleveland area plumber is only competing against other local plumbers and not everyone else providing a similar service around the world.

Local SEO Can Level The Playing Field For Small Business

In my opinion Local SEO can be the great equalizer. With the introduction of blended search results, small businesses can now show up next to large national chains instead of being buried on page 10. That being said, lets get started.

Who needs Local SEO?

Every business that gets some or all of its customers or clients locally should consider local SEO. You could own a local restaurant, retail store, be a doctor, dentist, lawyer or have any other type of business that serves the local community. If you own a physical location you expect customers to visit, you should be doing local SEO for that location.

How is Local SEO different from general SEO?

Local SEO and general SEO share all the same elements and techniques. Things like On Page SEO, Off Page SEO and other Search Engine Ranking Factors, such as links, social bookmarking and keywords apply to both forms of SEO.

The difference between the two should be obvious. Local SEO includes location signals as part of all those search engine ranking factors that are used in general SEO. These location signals are your address, latitude / longitude and keywords, when combined with your location, that describe your product or service.

Step One: Claim all your local profiles

The first part of your Local SEO campaign should be claiming your local business profiles on all the major services that your customers may be using to find your business. Seeing Google is the largest of these services, you should start there.

Visit Google Places for Business to claim your profile. The information you enter here is what will show up for localized search results on Google.

Tips for Google Places for Business:

  • If you visit your customers location instead of having them come to you, fill out the service area option.
    Google Places Service Area for Local SEO
  • If you have a local phone number, use it instead of a 1-800 number. Area codes can be a location signal.

You should also claim your profiles on these local services:

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s just to get your started.

I should point out that Apple has recently replaced the the point of interest database on the iPhone with Yelp!. What this means is, when an iPhone user asks Siri (the voice assistant on the iPhone) for the nearest business of a particular type, only those with Yelp! profiles will be returned. Best to fill that local business profile out.

Step 2: Verify all your citations are correct

A citation is any place online that uses your company NAP (name, address, phone number) all on the same page. A citation could be compared to a link for general SEO. The same way a link to your website signals to the search engine that a web page is important, a citation signals the location of a business. You should do a search and find all the websites that mention your address and make sure the information is correct and in the same format.

The format is pretty important. The search engines are good at sorting things out, but it’s best to leave as little as possible to chance. Make sure that each citation you create uses the same exact information. Don’t abbreviate in one and not the other (St. vs Street, (800) vs 1-800, etc.)

Step 3: Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

All the services you just created or updated profiles on offer reviews. The best way to promote your business on these services is good reviews. Google doesn’t want to return fly by night operations in their results so they factor in reviews.

Setup a process for soliciting reviews (preferably good ones) from your customers. Include this in any communications; invoices, email, back of recepits, etc. Quantity and quality of reviews left for your business on your Google Places page is one of the most important local ranking factors.

Step4: Optimize your website for Local SEO

First, as I stated above, Local SEO and general SEO use all the same methods so you may have already optimized your web design and content to target specific keywords. Our plumber, from above, probably mentions “plumbing” all over their website. If they didn’t, then what would be the point? What they may be missing is geographical keyword modifiers like “Cleveland plumber” or “Northeast Ohio plumber”. Both of these long tail key phrases signal your location and still contain the general keyword.

To take this idea even further, I have had some success creating individual landing pages for each suburb of the Cleveland metro area to improve my client’s chances of showing up in local searches conducted in nearby communities. Just remember that there is a duplicate content penalty so, make sure each page is unique.

Second, include your address and phone number on every page of your site, in the same format as your Google local listing. I suggest putting in the footer, like at the bottom of this site.

Three, use your City and State in your Title tags and Meta descriptions. Meta descriptions don’t help your Local SEO, but they do have an impact on click thru. There isn’t much point in being #1 if no actually clicks on your listing.

Four, make use of miro-formats and local schema markup to better help search engines identify and show your location.

For example, the hCard micro-format:

   <span>Joe The Plumber</span> 
   Located at 
        <span>123 Main St</span>, 
           <span title="41.499495" />
           <span title="-81.695409" />
   Phone: <span>440-555-1234</span>
   <a href="http://joetheplumber.com/">Joe the Plumber</a> 

Five, include a KML file on your site (Keyhole Markup Language). While this may seem excessive, it never hurts to send as many legitimate signals as you can.

What signals have the greatest impact on Local SEO rankings?

The general consensus among Local SEO professionals seems to be that citations, quality and number of reviews and inbound links with anchor text including your location are the three biggest factors affecting your Local SEO efforts.

Of course Google is looking at its own services first (although it does look at others), so make sure your house is in order there first. Of the three, I believe reviews and their quality have the greatest impact. Although they have no impact if Google can’t tie them back to a physical location. So again, create a Google Places profile and ask your customers to leave positive reviews.

Unfortunately, some other factors that affect your Local SEO efforts are out of your control. The biggest of these is your business’s proximity to the city center.

Why does the distance to the city center matter for Local SEO?

Google local searches are influenced by something we have decided to call “centroid bias”. When a user searches for something like “Cleveland Steak House”, Google will tend to bias its results to restaurants closest to the center of the city. This bias comes from the fact that Google can not precisely locate the user performing the search so they only have one data point to go off of. Where you want to go. Ideally, to produce the best results they need two data points, where you want to go and where you are now. For mobile search this isn’t a problem seeing you have a GPS, but for traditional searches the “where are you?” data point gets a little fuzzy. The good news is that Google is working on this and it’s less of a factor then it used to be.

Just be aware, that for now, if you are trying to compete in a large metro area and your business address is in a suburb, you are currently at a disadvantage. This is why I suggested filing out the service area on your Google Place Profile and creating city specific landing pages in step 1.

What are some other ways a small business owner can create local citations?

There are some tools you can use to locate placse to submit your local citations, such as WhiteSpark local citation finder, but I recommend Guest Blogging. By submitting content to local blogs in your area you get two benefits  One, a link to your site which helps general SEO. Two, if you include a geographical keyword or your NAP in the anchor text you get the added benefit of a citation. Most blogs will allow you to include this type of link in the author bio text.

How can I get my customers to review my local business?

Get the message out that your customers can rate their experience with you on line. Focus your efforts on Google Places and Yelp. Put signs up, include links to your profile in all electronic communications. Post instructions on your website. Whatever your can think of to get in front of you customers eyes. Of course, if you want positive reviews, you need to provide a product and/or service that warrants them.

Whatever you do DON’T BUY REVIEWS! This is a violation of Googles terms of service and while it is true that you may not get caught, the consequences aren’t worth the risk. Yelp on the other hand errs on the site of extreme caution, and often removes overly positive reviews.

Should I do local SEO in-house or out-source SEO?

That depends. What is you budget and how fast do you expect results? The basic idea of Local SEO isn’t hard to grasp. I hope this article has given you a place to start your Local SEO efforts so you could attempt it yourself.  The flip side is, if you make a mistake it could take more time and effort to fix it then doing it right in the first place.

The problem I see most often with in house Local SEO is incorrect citations. May be your business changed its address or phone number in the past. It can take a great deal of time and effort to find/correct every citation across the internet and a Local SEO professional will be able to find the originating sources faster.

As with anything else, you tend to get what you pay for. A SEO professional will almost certainly be able to do the things listed above much, much faster. The upfront cost of out-sourcing your Local SEO campaign might be greater, but the speed and accuracy could be worth it in the end.

What tools are available to help with my Local SEO efforts?

I already mentioned WhiteSpark. It’s the best tool available for finding citation sources. Other then that you should use tools like Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO to monitor your Local SEO efforts over time. Those two sites offer limted functionality for free but if startup cost is a concern, be sure to signup for Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools so that you can track what keywords are driving search impressions and traffic to your site.

What should a typical small business expect to pay for Local SEO?

Your local SEO budget should be based on your goals. Remember that the further away from your physical location and the number of locations you are trying to influence the search results for, the more expensive it is going to be. At Wi-Phye we typically try to keep what we charge for Local SEO competitive with a direct mail campaign.

The theory goes that a successful Local SEO campaign should deliver vistiors to your site that are actively looking for your product/service thus, this should lead to higher conversion rates then a direct mail marketing. With direct mail, T.V./radio or print ads, how many of the eyeballs are paying attention and interested in your business at that particular moment vs the cost of reaching them? At least with Local SEO marketing you know those eyeballs were actively seeking you out.

Other SEO companies could range from $100/mo for the most basic work all the way up to tens of thousands of dollars per month for a competitive space with hundreds or thousands of locations. Everyone’s prices, including ours, will be based on the competitiveness of your business niche and the number of locations you have. You could pay peanuts to someone in India to build citations, all the way up to $100,000+ for the best in-house SEO. When it comes to SEO, local or otherwise, you typically get what you pay for.

Is Local SEO a one time expense or an on going part of a marketing budget?

There is a start-up cost involved  Mostly involving finding and correcting all your existing citations, but Local SEO has to be an ongoing part of your marketing budget. The Internet is a fluid place and your competitors certainly aren’t standing still. You should be getting new citations, reviews and links every month to keep or improve you search engine rankings.

Local SEO in summary

First, claim and completely fill out your local listing on Google Places. Include images and videos. DO NOT use any keywords or location names in your business title or business description that aren’t a part of your official business name or absolutely critical to accurately describing your business. Trying to keyword stuff is a violation of Google’s terms of service.

Second, claim your profiles on all the other local services. Start with Yelp, Yahoo Local and Bing Local. Also be sure to setup a listing at Merchant Circle. A lot or other websites pull their business listings from them. Also, Merchant Circle listings seem to perform well in organic search results.

Third, create social networking profiles for your business on the major social networks like FaceBook, LinkedIn and Google+. Hit the major location based social networks like Foursquare.

Forth, optimize your website for Local SEO. Include your name, address and phone number on every page. Include your city in the page titles.

Fifth, start guest blogging to build links and citations on other sites in your local area.

Finally, do everything in your power to get your customers to leave positive reviews for you on Google Places. Obviously start by providing outstanding customer service but, when you do, be sure to mention you have a Google Place and Yelp profile.

Thanks for visting and good luck.