13 Jun 2015
Search engines have been working hard on fine-tuning their algorithms to provide high quality search results based on location.
Google is the best covered in the industry, with its Pigeon update launching in July 2014 and rolling out to UK, Canada and Australia in December. Use the links if you want to learn more about the update.
It’s one thing to know that local search is important and can affect your SERPs presence but it’s another entirely to know how to ‘do’ local SEO effectively.
Having spent some time researching, then actually implementing most of the core local SEO tactics for a few websites, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the top 10 things you can and should be doing, in order of priority (please note – my priority order, I’m not claiming it as a definitive best practice statement).
You’ll notice that this blog is geared towards organisations with local offices/stores, rather than pureplay online stores servicing a local area.
This is because a significant chunk of local search is people looking for places near to them, whether that’s to buy products or enjoy local services, and many of the effective online SEO tactics are focused on physical stores.
The search engines have also invested in tools to allow you to set-up local business listings to improve search visibility for stores.
Here’s my top 10…..
1. Create a unique landing page for each store
A unique store page can be optimised to provide content that is relevant to local customers and targeted at local keyword searches.
Start by thinking about your customers; what information are they likely to need for your store? A good store page should include:
- Address and phone number (in a standardised NAP format).
- Additional contact details e.g. email, contact form, social media icons.
- Map and directions (embedding a Google Map is a popular option).
- Opening times.
- High quality photos of the store.
- Store services provided.
- Calendar of events (if relevant).
- In-store promotions and offers.
From a pure SEO point of view, each page needs an optimised:
- URL e.g. /stores/store-name rather than just a numerical store code like /stores/1234
- Page title
- Meta description
- Schema.org markup
- Canonical tag (in case there are any filters that could generated duplicate content)
Please note this list isn’t exhaustive as there are lots of SEO considerations but the above is the minimum to cater for. Below is a good example from Selfridges, although the meta data could be better optimised e.g. the H1 for each store page is ‘Our Stores’ which has no reference to location.
2. Add a business listing for each store
You can add your business to Google and Bing free of charge using the simple online set-up forms. Make sure you verify each listing, a small but important detail.
It’s advisable to create a business Google and Microsoft account to do this rather than creating the listing from a personal account. This is especially important for Google when you start linking other Google properties like Google+ pages and YouTube channels.
It’s important to add optimised content for the store listing, so think carefully about the business name, category and description.
You want the business page to be found for relevant searches but you also want the business listing to appeal to potential customers.
The advantage of a verified business listing is greater SERPs dominance for brand searches, which can increase CTR. Below is an example of a startup I helped to build out its local SEO, showing Google results for a brand search.
You’ll notice the reviews showing in the knowledge graph area, see 4. below for more info on the benefits. This is really important for SMEs where the business isn’t established enough to have the fuller knowledge graph data showing like a Wikipedia entry and social media icons (run a search on ASOS to see what I mean).
3. Build citations in relevant directories
This isn’t about link building per se; it’s about making sure your business is registered with well-known business directories.
If you focus on high quality domains and directories with a relevant audience, you will benefit from the domain association and potentially get direct referral traffic. Citations must use a consistent NAP format (name, address, phone number).
This is important as it provides validation to search engines that the same business is being listed in multiple authoritative places on the web, a good quality signal. So if your registered business name is Consulting Ltd but you trade as Consulting, then pick one and use it consistently, don’t switch between the two.
I recommend focusing on the free directories first. Create your business listing and use the same copy wherever possible for consistency and speed of set-up.
Then use a small budget to test paid for directories (often this is simply an enhanced service from the same service providers, for example an enhanced listing that is better promoted on the site).
A good example is Touchlocal, part of the Scoot network. You can create a free simple listing with company name, address and basic contact details. However, to get your web address shown and an active link, you need to upgrade to a paid subscription (I haven’t yet for my own business in case you ask!).
The most commonly used directories for UK businesses are:
- Central Index
4. Add Google Reviews to your local business page
I’ve tested this on a few sites and spoken to a couple of trusted SEO friends. Google reviews can have a positive effect on ranking based on recency; if you are continuously getting new, positive reviews and your competitors aren’t, this will benefit your local SEO.
However, recency is the key factor here, so if you have a short-term boost of reviews and then nothing for months, it’s likely the SERPs boost will be short-lived.
It may also look suspicious to search engines if you get a sudden spike of 5 star reviews and then absolutely nothing.
I ran a simple test on my own website for six weeks. I did nothing else to my site apart from driving Google reviews by encouraging Clients to leave a review after a successful project (note – not paid for, which is a no go.
Read this on how Yelp labels reviews with a warning if they think they’re paid for). I did no industry PR or blogging and kept my social activity relatively muted.
For my top three keywords, where I was regularly between positions two and five on Google, I was boosted up to the top slot for three weeks before my rank started to fluctuate again, though I’m still seeing more time at #1 six weeks later.
I’d caveat this with the fact it’s only a simple test and not a detailed study but the findings are enough to convince me that growing reviews isn’t just a ‘nice to have’, it should be an integral part of local SEO.
5. Provide a user-friendly store locator
Make it easy for customers to find your store information. This is incredibly important on mobile where a poor UI design and page performance (e.g. slow page load speed) has a significant impact on exits/bounce rate.
I like the Starbucks store finder; it works well on mobile and desktop [note – since writing this, I’ve found the mobile version not working on iPhone 5s, perfect timing!].
The UX is clean with predictive search to help you find stores quickly and provides local store information.
The local store pages are indexed for relevant searches, although there’s an issue to clear up with both the .co.uk and .com page versions appearing in the search results with no evidence of hreflang usage:
Please note that a high bounce rate on a store page isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the user might have found what they were looking for quickly and left, a natural exit.
What’s important to measure is the interactions on the page with different content elements, such as maps, store activity, calling the store etc. By measuring what is most popular, you can optimise the page layout to help customers and also work out if people are accessing information or just leaving.
6. Link your Google+ page to the local business page
That’s assuming you have a Google+ page, which I’d expect most businesses to even if it’s only being used to push blog updates and repurpose other social content like Facebook posts.
Tying everything together is important so you don’t have duplicate properties, which is surprisingly easy to achieve!
From experience, I know that Google accounts can get messy when you’re trying to setup a local business listing having previously created a Google+ page. If you find yourself in the situation where you have both, you can move the local features to the brand page so it’s all together.
Here’s a great write-up from Susan Hallam on her blog.
Google is by far the most frustrating from a UX point of view. Before linking properties like Google+ and YouTube, make sure you’ve got your brand and business listing pages sorted and any duplicates removed. It can be mind-bogglingly complicated to unpick a linked YouTube channel.
7. Invest in local PR
Although this isn’t SEO, it’s closely linked and can have a clear impact on your local SEO. Local PR should target raising the profile of the business with relevant local influencers, both in press and through online channels like social media and blogger outreach.
A good local PR strategy will gain coverage from respected influencers with existing audiences, getting your story out there from people who will be listened to.
The SEO benefit is the likelihood of:
- Direct traffic to the website from the PR buzz.
- Referral traffic from domains featuring links in their stories.
- Increased social conversation on your brand and shared links.
- More Google review for the store.
PR activity can be measured, though it’s harder to tie to conversion outcomes than channels like paid media.
For example, when working with bloggers, you can track referral sessions from their domains and measure the performance of this traffic against conversion events and other KPIs.
8. Use referral traffic to pinpoint conversations
There are likely to be conversations happening online about your brand that you’re unaware of. The referral traffic report can be a useful friend, highlighting which domains are send people to your website. Keep an eye out for new domains that are sending a significant volume of traffic (at least 1% of all sessions).
Do you know these domains? Are they related to your marketing? If not, then visit the source pages and work out why you’re getting traffic.
I’ve done this before for a retailer and found a few discussion forums where the company and its products were being talked about by a small but highly vocal audience.
We decided to join the conversation, being transparent about representing the company and asking if we could help answer any questions/provide useful information. The response was encouraging – we ended up converting more of the people coming from that domain by providing content and customised offers, including local store coupons.
They also started sharing more of our blog links and that in turn increased traffic to the site.
This isn’t unique to local SEO but it is one way of finding local conversations and encouraging them to grow.
9. Set KPIs to measure/drive activity
What does success look like for local SEO? If you don’t know the answer, you can’t measure performance.
Make sure you define your target outcomes and set the KPIs that you will measure this against.
- % of store page sessions leading to event conversion e.g. calling the store
- # customers redeeming in-store promotions downloaded from the website
- # new Google reviews per month (ideally as % of footfall – if you don’t have that data, as a % of store page sessions)
- # local keywords referring traffic to the website
10. Monitor competitor performance
It’s important to know what your competitors are up to in terms of local SEO. I recommend a simple benchmarking exercise, aligned to your KPIs. For example, monitor their Google reviews.
If they have social media profiles for the local stores, monitor the activity e.g. regularity of Google+ posts, number of comments, number of +1 shares etc.
If a competitor is doing something well, what can you learn? Apply this to your business. However, if you think the effort (time and cost) to play catch up outweighs the benefits, focus on other local SEO tactics. It’s hard to be the best at everything, so sometimes it pays to pick off competitor weaknesses and make yourselves the #1 in that capability.