You have decided you want to open your own local business, but cannot figure out the technical side of getting it visible online?
What do you do?
One of the things you could do is getting your cousin do your SEO for free. But is that a good choice? If you’re tight with money, as everyone starting a business is, I guess that one way to go. However, if you are serious about setting up a legitimately successful company, you have to get it done by a professional. We have asked Aleksandar Mitic, one of our account managers with plenty of actionable experience on the subject, to walk you through the steps of Search Engine Optimization for a local business website.
Step 1: Local on-page optimization
Q: In your opinion, what is the first thing to do after building a website?
A: Implement keyword SEO for your local business. The keywords you want your website to rank for should refer to the location which your small business operates on as well as the industry it belongs to. Be as specific as possible on both accounts because it will help you in the long run when it comes to attracting the right kind of customers for your business. For example, if you are in the business of repairing ONLY vehicle glass surfaces in Hamilton, Ontario, then it does you no good to label your business as doing vehicle repair in general with no defined location, right?
Furthermore, this approach needs to be reflected throughout your entire website – your meta-titles, title tags, even pictures, should be adjusted to your content – to make it easier on all those Search Engine algorithms to see what it is that you do and want customers to find you by. Again, your location needs to be referred to in your meta-titles and title tags. Make sure your content type allows such implementation because there are cases in which local title tags cannot be implemented. Don’t make it too crowded with keywords, since Google algorithm doesn’t allow too much repetition of the phrases and words used as keywords. It’s best practice to mix and match a few combinations (for instance, 3 different phrases/words) and spread them throughout the copy on the page. Insert those key phrases organically into the text on your website – you don’t need to have a phrase like “small business” or “vehicle glass repair” in your every sentence.
Think like a human to attract a human.
Also, make sure you implement the Schema Markup code. What it does is signaling basic information about your business to Google spiders – name, address, contact phone number or email address, working hours, etc. which makes it more visible to Search Engine algorithms as well as people looking for a company exactly like yours.
Step 2: Set up your Google My Business account
Q: How important is it to create a Google My Business account?
A: A Google My Business account is comprised of a Google+ profile and a Google Maps location for your local business. When creating a Google+ profile and Google Maps location, it is very important to add all the information relevant to your local business: company name, business category, relevant keywords, address, phone number, working hours, etc.
Also, embed Google Mars location on your website. It needs to be emphasized that Google Maps location cannot be published before verifying through the phone call or Google PostCard. If you decide to verify through Google PostCard, bear in mind it will be around 2 weeks before it arrives.
All the information needs to be to the point and as fresh as possible.
Feel free to emphasize that your local business offers access for the disabled, comfortable waiting room, great coffee…
While creating your GMB profile, you will notice that you need to enter the category or industry your business belongs to and this is something that often poses as an obstacle. Your particular type of business might not fit into any of the offered categories, and there is no “custom” option, but that is nothing to get discouraged or frustrated about. The best course of action here is to find the most similar category that describes what it is that you do. The good thing is also the fact that Google My Business often makes changes, so it’s important to keep up with the updates.
You can also create a Bing Places for a Business account – the process is pretty much the same as for Google My Business.
Don’t forget to embed review on your website, too!
Step 3: Implement reviews
Q: In what way can reviews help potential customers get to know your products/services?
A: Customer reviews are significant because they tell the true story about your products/services. At the same time, they can help you develop even better product/services by listening to what your customers have to say about your business. I think that they have a big role to play in ranking a local business and not just in the eyes of a Search Engine, so to speak, but also – and more importantly – when it comes to building the right image to a customer.
That is why it is important to not dismiss the power of customers influencing other potential customers through shared experience. If you are searching for a company that sells golf equipment and apparel, and you have found one online, but haven’t bought anything from them before, wouldn’t you be curious to see what the people who have had previous experiences with them have to say?
Q: But what about negative reviews? Wouldn’t a potential customer be discouraged from purchasing anything from such a company if there are also negative reviews in connection with it?
A: No product/service or company is perfect, so it’s perfectly normal to have a negative review. If a company has 1 or 2 negative reviews and 10 positive ones, that is a good thing for its online reputation. However, if your business gets a lot of negative reviews, that suggests what you need to change in the way you do business. I believe that is why reviews are valuable.
Q: Is there any particular way to deal with those negative opinions about your business?
A: In my experience, the best way to counteract any consequences negative reviews might have on your business is to act on them. Show that you care. Respond to a bad review as soon as possible – I recommend doing so within maximum 40 minutes after receiving it – and with good arguments about not only the reasoning behind your company process but also the way you will improve it. That way you will show the person leaving the negative review that you are willing and prepared to do everything you can to truly better your product/service and their customer experience.
Q: Is it wise to wait for customers to leave reviews on their own or should you ask for them?
A: I like to invite people to leave reviews about the experience they have had with my clients and while the purchase is still fresh in their minds.
The way I go about it is simple – through a personalized email. For example, when a customer comes to a vehicle glass repair shop, they register in the shop’s customer database where they leave their email. Within 48 hours after providing the service, the shop sends an email (as part of the email campaign) where the customer gets a chance to honestly review the received service. When I say personalized email, that means that the email contains information specific to the services rendered aside from their name. Here is an example:
We wanted to send a quick note to say thank you for your coming into our shop. Would you mind taking a few minutes to write a review for us, please? Your comments help others know what to expect when they’re buying the products/services we offer.”
By getting in direct contact with every single client and using text they can easily recognize themselves in, you are being an active salesperson, but one who cares about customers and their opinion.
One side note – NEVER encourage leaving a review, let alone a positive one, in exchange for a coupon, discount or some other form of compensation! Not only is that unethical, but it is also illegal in Canada and the US.
Step 4: Work on link building
Q: Is on-page SEO enough or do you need to do more? What about off-page SEO?
A: Once you take care of on-page SEO, move onto link building and website promotion. Content marketing is still the king, so a blog is a must when appropriate. Your blog shouldn’t contain articles only about your products or services, but also about local activities and your contribution to the local community. You create a backstory to humanize your brand image and tell your customers why whatever it is you are selling is the perfect solution to their problem. A blog is an excellent tool for content outreach because you broaden the audience you want to reach and you position yourself in the back of their minds for when they do need your company.
Moreover, make connections through link building with local portals or even your competitors, but also give back to the community. Don’t focus on tooting your own horn, let others have their say about you as well. What is more, if you are running a local business in a small town that is not laden with bloggers, influencers or local portals benefitting to the business community, play the part yourself! May the success of your local business be synonymous with the town’s good name.
Guest blogging is also quite important for local businesses – it is a great opportunity to leave a backlink on one of the local blogs and portals. That way your blog brings value to the niche as well as builds its own credibility as an up-and-comer. At the same time, it signals to the Search Engine algorithms that your website is trustworthy.
Make sure that you get in touch with the webmasters of local websites that may mention your business in some way – you need to request they put a link to your website in the mention.
Step 5: Local directories
Q: What about putting your business in Yellow Pages?
A: A business directory is an online list of businesses within a particular niche, location or category. One way local businesses can get found by online searchers is through inclusion in business directories such as Yelp, FourSquare, WhitePages, Manta, ShowMeLocal, HotFrog, etc. This way potential customers will find you more easily online.
Step 6: Social signals
Q: How important are Social signals for a local business?
A: They are super important for a local business because creating a Facebook page for your company, opens you to the possibility of people hearing about your business on this – most popular Social network through Facebook reviews. Moreover, these reviews are also shown in the Search Engine results page. It’s also important to mention that your company Twitter profile, as well as your tweets, appear in the Search engine results page.
So, create profiles on Social Media platforms best suitable to exceptionally showcase your business and get in touch with people interested in what you have to say because it’s a two-way type of communication.
And there you go! By following Aleksandar’s advice, you have taken the first steps in making your local business visible online. What you do with it is a whole different story.