The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way that we interact with local businesses in 2020. We are spending $709.78 billion on e-commerce, representing an increase of 18.0% compared to last year - ordering everything from food to very basic essentials - and are checking for safety information on listings of businesses of all kinds. But what do these new trends mean for the way that businesses should market themselves in 2021?
According to SearchEngineJournal, it means local SEO has never been more critical. To get found, you need more than good content. You need local SEO and, ideally, you want to be included in Google’s Local Pack. So what is local SEO? Local SEO refers to the process of optimizing your online presence to attract more business from relevant local searches.
Because we’re convinced that local search will continue to play a large role in SEO strategies next year, here are 5 easy ways that you can improve your local presence:
1. Dedicate Time to Reviews
It should come as no surprise that focusing on reviews, not only for the reputation of your business but also as a direct ranking factor for GMB, is extremely important. According to Moz, 90% of respondents agree that the impact of reviews on local pack rankings is real. So if you don’t already have a review strategy in place, it’s time to work on that ASAP.
Figure out what method works best for you to earn reviews by testing your ask in email, text, and in-person requests. Try each technique for a few months and record the results before moving on to the next strategy to figure out which method works best for your customers.
Pro tip: to help your customers write better reviews, provide questions that your customers could answer when you reach out.
2. Identify and Report Google My Business Spam/Violations
With Google My Business now such a critical part of the consumer’s journey, it’s essential that you’re ranking in local search. But have you ever noticed fake listings on GMB with a bogus name, no website, or no photos? These are spam listings that are hurting local businesses. How so? If you’re ranking #6 for a keyword in your target market but four of the listings above you are violating Google My Business guidelines, getting those listings removed would move you up four spots. That is HUGE.
Below is an example of an “auto repair shop” near me. When I clicked on the repair shop name “Mirandas Shopping” I see this image of their street view. There’s no phone number, no website, and no reviews. Clearly, this isn’t an auto repair shop. So if you are a local mechanic listed below “Mirandas Shopping” on GMB, you’re potentially missing out on local business because of this spam listing.
3. Pay Attention to Google My Business (GMB) Categories
Moz’s recent State of the Local SEO Industry 2020 survey found that, out of all factors, GMB elements (which include categories) have the greatest impact on local pack rankings. Optimizing your Google listing is perhaps the most effective way to rank higher on Google Maps as well as gain visibility in Google Search local results. You are allowed to select up to 10 categories. Your primary category is believed to have the greatest influence on your local rankings and must be chosen with extra care. Note that Google currently has over 4,000 categories and they add and occasionally remove categories so this is something to keep an eye on.
It’s also helpful to regularly review what categories your competitors are listing to ensure that you’re not missing out on any relevant search phrases. A super-easy way to do this in a Chrome browser is to use the free plugin GMBspy. Turning this extension enables you to go to Google Maps, search for your market competitors, and see their categories. You can look up competitors one by one or just look around on the map to see the GMBspy extension data pop up. Google doesn’t automatically reveal all the categories a business is using and so this little tool saves so much time!
4. Localize Content on Your Website
Adapting content to your regional audience is important when you’re trying to appeal to the local audience. Google’s own Keyword Planner lets you filter keyword searches based on specific locations so you can gain an understanding of popular search terms for any given region. After you’ve created a list of locally relevant keywords to target, make sure that you incorporate them into your site’s meta content, copy, and URLs.
To help get you started, here’s a quick local content checklist to incorporate into your site at the very minimum:
Phone #’s with international codes
ZIP or equivalent
Hours of operation in local format, if applicable
Schema.org local business mark-up
Embedded Google map
5. Focus on Link Signals
Link signals are backlinks pointing to your site. While it’s vital to get links to boost your local SEO, their quality is equally important. Your goal is to obtain links from locally trusted sources in order for search engines to see you as a local authority.
Here are a few examples of how to gain local backlinks:
Partner with local businesses: If it makes sense for you, collaborations with other local businesses could be extremely beneficial. You’ll be able to tap into their customer base and create more buzz than you normally would on your own.
Local press: Start by researching online publications in your local area and review the type of content that they cover. Do you have any news that would interest their audience? Possibly a new local sponsorship or partnership? When you’re pitching to their editor, just make sure that it’s relevant.
Get Contest Nomination Links: A great tip from Moz: Almost every city whether big or small has some type of local business awards. The awards might be run by a small local newspaper with a website, the chamber of commerce, or even another organization. In addition to these "Best Of" type awards, there are also awards based on age like Top 40 Under 40 or by type of business including Best Restaurant or Best Law Firm. Your job is to find the opportunities that would be a good fit for your business. After you’ve created a list of awards that you want to try to apply for you can send your pitch to each of the websites directly. Most publications typically have a nomination form that you can fill out.
Local SEO will continue to be a driving force in the future, translating into increased engagement, traffic & conversions. I hope that these strategies will help with your efforts!
About the Author: Optimist. Risk Taker. Snail Mail Enthusiast. Carolyn started out in big business at a company of 350K+, moved her way to a privately owned company of 300+, and then eventually found herself at Rolling Hills Media on a team of two. Carolyn thrives on change and is stimulated by the ever-changing SERP landscape. Bringing over seven years of digital marketing experience to the team, she believes that patience, coffee, and a heavy dose of creativity can drive quality traffic to sites of all shapes and sizes. Meet Carolyn.