Being recognized for Local consistently by Google is a great way to generate new customers. In an increasingly mobile world, it is more critical everyday to optimize for local search.
Why? The majority of searches, especially with the growth of mobile, have local intent – but most companies are not optimizing for local. Local is a huge opportunity that is underutilized – a place your business can really shine.
When your customers and potential customers start a search that makes Google (or the other search engines) think that they have local intent, Google will give preference to returning local results.
In other words, if Google thinks that your potential customer was trying to find local results – the search engine will return geographically relevant results BEFORE returning any other results. Google will give priority to local results both in organic results and in what are called “Pack Results.”
If you searched for Pizza on your mobile phone, for example, Google would assume you want that pizza from a restaurant close enough that when the Pizza is delivered it is still hot. Google would, as a result, put geographically closer Pizza places in your results page before Pizza places farther away.
Each search engine results page is like a neighborhood including many different kinds of real estate. A neighborhood might have houses, condos, and apartments. A search-results page might have paid ads, the local pack (including a new mobile space called the 3-pack), and organic results (organic results are the results generated using the basic Google Algorithm). Sometimes, when it really thinks it has your intent nailed, Google even returns local map results. In a perfect world, your company would place in a high position in each area of each unique search results page (neighborhood).
The truth is that as mobile searches take up more and more of the search landscape – Google’s algorithms assume that a higher and higher percentage of all searches have local intent while any search that includes any geographic cues will automatically prefer local results first. If you were a real estate agent – you might be able to specialize in a particular kind of real estate, but, unless you are running an international mail order business – it is probably a good idea to try to optimize for local, organic local, and organic results.
You have probably already wrestled with the general concept of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – the process by which you make your website appealing to both potential customers and search engine algorithms and robots. Local optimization is a sub-set of SEO.
Google believes its main job is to make sure that people doing searches get results that are actually useful to them. Google wants the people searching to always be pleased and to never be annoyed by search results.
SEO is a collection of techniques useful to ensuring that your website does the things that Google thinks are most important to pleasing searchers looking for what your business provides.
Local optimization is a way to ensure that your site does the things that Google thinks are most important to pleasing searchers looking for what your business provides to them in your area.
In short, it is a way to ensure that your business registers in all of the different kinds of real estate available to you on each returned search results page.
What Are You Optimizing?
All your different online locations – websites, social media sites, advertisements etc. – as coherent, consistent, and connected. Each entity works with the other entities to bring new clients to your business or reenergize old clients. Your universe of online entities are a leads engine.
When you choose to do local optimization – you are making sure all of these entities communicate not just your business, but also, the location of your business. Even more exciting is that you are also using these entities to broadcast your connections to that location.
The First Three Steps
Local optimization can seem as complicated at first as the universe of Westeros in Game of Thrones – It is important to start with the basics. Do not worry, we will address everything you can do in future issues, but, lets start with a solid base.
The first steps could not be more simple:
1. Make sure your business has an actual physical address – not a P.O Box or virtual address. Virtually all of the online entities critical to effective local SEO require a real physical address. There is a commercial running where an employee at a UPS Store ‘helps’ a small business owner by getting them a Post-Office box….The commercial sounds great but they are pushing a terrible idea. If your address is a virtual address, do the work to change it.
2. Get a local phone number for your business. Search engines and many of the other online entities critical to local SEO prefer local numbers – a local area code tells bots and algorithms (and customers) you are actually in a specific locality.
3. Make sure your information is consistent across everything you do. We will talk more about what is called NAP consistency next time. But, as an easy starting point – make sure the address and phone number on your website, social media pages, business cards, stationery and anything else you can think of is standardized and consistent.
Getting in the habit – in every instance – of presenting consistent information about your business is the most important single factor in local optimization.
One More Basic Step
Before we move to more advanced local optimization techniques, we can take a critical, but easy step now:
Claim your business on Google My Business. Even a few years ago, Google’s efforts at encouraging local optimization were split over several sites. Finally, Google has settled on this one central home for their local.
Google My Business is the home for Google’s local optimization efforts.
Go to https://www.google.com/business/ and follow the easy step-by-step instructions. Make sure all of the business information that you enter is the same consistent business footprint we discussed above (your goal from now on is to ALWAYS consistently present your business location information – no matter where you are presenting it).
Virtually everything else we will talk about requires completion of these four basic steps. We will start moving to more advanced concepts in the next page.