It’s becoming the drill for local businesses: another day, another marketing effort to connect with your audience.
You churn out social media update after social media update, blog post after blog post – trying to attract customers and prospects who go online in any way possible.
But your efforts continue to bring mere results.
Granted, there are no shortcuts, your efforts on the web needs to place your business in a particular kind of role relative to your audience.
Enter Local SEO
This is where local SEO (search engine optimization) tops the list of what you should be doing as a business owner trying to attract customers.
Let’s face it, search engine optimization matters — especially for local businesses that want to generate more leads or sales. However, traditional SEO isn’t enough if you are a small business that’s targeting a localized audience.
For a more tailored approach, it is important to go beyond the basics and tap into the power of local SEO. By geo-targeting keywords and applying other local SEO strategies, your business can rank on the first page of Google for your preferred location.
Now, what if your business is spread across a city, state or a country? For example, you could be an Interior Designer providing services to various cities in a large metropolitan area such as Los Angeles.
Chances are that your site’s already ranking well for local searches in the area where your physical office is located. The problem? The results may not be the same for the surrounding cities.
Ranking for more than one location isn’t rocket science. But it can quickly become a challenge if you’re not focusing in the right direction.
Let’s see what you can do to get higher search engine rankings in geographical areas of your choice.
Following Matt Cutts’s advice doesn’t mean you have to buy a standalone domain name for each branch, office or store’s location. Doing so would only make things confusing and unmanageable.
Instead, use a single domain name that allows you to…
Send a Clear Message
By having a single site you create a stronger, more legitimate brand… a brand that customers can trust. Having multiple versions of a website will only confuse visitors. People familiar with your main site may even start having questions about your local sites, which can ultimately affect your brand image and lead to a loss of business.
Save Time & Money
It doesn’t take genius to understand that managing many different websites can be time consuming and incur additional expense. Whether it’s individually logging into 20 sites to make a small change or registering multiple domains for every city — it doesn’t make business sense. Imagine if Pizza Hut or Starbucks decided to do that!
Compound SEO Efforts
Creating SEO content is only one part of the equation. The other part is making it work. By putting all content on one domain name, your SEO efforts are compounded. Use subfolders (recommended) or subdomains for every location. Remember, when content is spread thinly across different local sites, it gets diluted and loses muscle. Also, since each domain is indexed separately, getting the most out of your SEO efforts becomes difficult.
2. Create Location Specific Pages
Regardless of your target location, you need locally optimized content to rank well. As we discussed above, each location needs to have a unique URL and an individual page. These pages can then be grouped by metro area or state.
Each URL also has to be added to the sitemap so that the search engines can find and index the content.
Creating pages with “geo specific” content allows you to make the most of onpage elements such as:
Keep in mind that content on each page has to be unique in itself. Simply changing the location name doesn’t count. Creating original content not only helps avoid duplicate penalties, but also gives visitors a great user experience.
You can vary the content on your website by using photos, videos, testimonials, case studies, etc. The more unique the site’s content is, the better results you will see.
3. Perform an Overall SEO Audit
A location based SEO audit helps you determine the areas that need improvement. It’s like an SEO health checkup for your site to see what your position is and how you can do better.
Start by conducting some basic local searches for your target keyword phrases. For instance, let’s say that you’re a real estate agent operating in New Jersey, with physical offices across the state. You’ll have to make a list of geo-targeted keywords that you want to rank for. Here, the keywords could be, “Newark real estate agent” or “Trenton real estate agency”.
The idea of doing this exercise is to find out if your website (and your Google Place map listing) appears in the first two to three pages of search results.
Besides learning more about your site’s organic ranking for each location, it’s also a good idea to do an analysis of its onpage elements.
When performing an SEO audit, these are some additional things to check for your homepage, since it’s the most important page of your website:
If possible, avoid having a redirecting homepage. It’s not ideal for SEO purposes.
Make sure the business name, type, city name, street address and the phone number are clearly visible on the homepage.
Don’t neglect the logo image like many local businesses do; see to it that the logo is well-optimized with the right ALT text in place.
The phone number on the main page has to be formatted correctly so that search engines can identify it. Use a standard punctuation format and write it in visible text.
Is your site mobile friendly? If not, get it mobile optimized at the earliest. Google has already stated that bad mobile design can affect search engine rankings on mobile devices, so why take the risk?
Ensure that the navigation links on the homepage can be easily crawled by search engine spiders.
4. Leverage Google+ Local
Once the off-site optimization is done, move towards Google+ Local. It is a powerful way to get a local business noticed by its target audience.
Google+ Local allows you to create a unique listing using a phone number. However, if your office has multiple locations, consider getting a unique phone number for each local listing.
Your listing details need to comply with Google’s local business information guidelines. Once each listing is created, expect to get higher visibility in front of your local audience. This also helps you get a higher clickthrough rate.
One of the key areas that you need to focus on is your “online presence”. Make each location’s individual online presence stronger. With your location listings synced with their main Google+ account, achieving this goal becomes easier. What’s more, every time you post something on Google+, it gets a unique URL, which can potentially rank on its own and get additional search traffic.
While Google+ Local is a must for any local business that wants better local search visibility, it’s not the only option. Use other directories such as Yelp, FourSquare and Facebook Pages in conjunction with Google+ Local to increase the chances of your small business ranking for multiple locations.
Crucial Local SEO Tips from Experts
Brian Gomez on Moz
“As a rule of thumb, treat city subdomains or subdirectories like their own self contained web site even if you’re managing them all with a single CMS. This includes posting city specific content in the proper place.”
“You will have a very good chance of ranking under the many city+category/product search combinations if you create pages about doing your type of business for each of those localities. However, you should not attempt to merely create a single template and write a script which spits out dozens of virtually identical pages but with differing city names.”
Race for the top Search Engine placement ranking position – but only if it’s worth it!
According to a 2013 study by Jessica Lee, the #1 position in Google gets 33% of the traffic. Of course, the nature of local SEO for Small Businesses is substantially different. There are much less local web pages competing for the same keywords. However, it makes sense to “chase” that “lucrative” position only if the benefits outweigh the cost of getting there.
Local search engine optimization can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to manage multiple locations.
However, the key to succeeding with it is to give equal attention to each location. Instead of looking at all target locations as a collective entity — see each one as a separate entity.
Depending on the location, some of the local markets may need more attention than others. By keeping track of the performance of each location individually, you’ll be able to understand their problem areas more clearly. This analysis will ultimately help you work on these problems, so that your site can rank higher and achieve stronger results.
Article by Dan Virgillito
Dan Virgillito is a professional blogger and content strategy consultant who loves working with startups, companies and nonprofits and help them tell their story better, engage fans and find new ways to drive business through content. You can learn more about his work and get in touch with him via his website. Connect with Dan on Google+ / Dan Virgillito and Twitter / @danvirgillito