In Maine, we pride ourselves on the abundance of local businesses that make their living here, and the support our communities show for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a thriving local company, especially when it comes to competing for organic search traffic.
In this article, I’ll give you the breakdown of why SEO is important for local businesses and how your company can begin to tackle it.
The Local SEO Algorithm (and How it’s Different than the Organic SEO Algorithm)
Just as the organic search algorithm determines which webpage ranks highest in the search results, the local algorithm determines which business ranks highest in the local search results.
How your business ranks in the Local SEO Algorithm comes down to three main focal points:
This aspect of the algorithm is very self-explanatory: your business must be relevant to show up in local Google search. Hair salons will not show up if you’re searching for a trading card store. Google tries to match your on-site content with your Google Business Profile with your website. If the stars are all in alignment, you will be showing up for all relevant searches.
You’re always looking to be number one. To quote Nelly “Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers.”
You need to assert your dominance and prominence with your local positioning. How do you do that? Generating reviews, building citations, and increasing backlinks. We’ll get into more detail as we continue through this blog. It’s a simple formula that you can remember and once you’ve laid the groundwork, it starts to pay big dividends.
You have less control over this variable than the other two. It’d be cool if our business could pick itself up and move from city to city as different people are searching for web design and development! Sadly, that will never happen in our lifetime.
Regardless, how close you are to the person searching has a direct impact on how well you rank in the local results.
Local SEO is different because you’re taking into consideration your local audience who will be stopping by your storefront or calling you for immediate service. Your keyword strategy shifts to localized keywords as well as broad subjects.
If you’re a plumber, customers in your service area aren’t looking for pipe cleaning products for Christmas, they’re looking for someone to come unclog their drain right now! They’re going to a quick local search and choose the one with the best reviews, closest to them, or a good user experience on their website with excellent customer response times.
More than likely, Google will perform the “Plumbers Near Me” search when you’re searching frantically in your basement full of water. Unfortunately, there is no way for your website to optimize for a “Near Me” search. This is a prime example of Google knowing where you are located and takes that information over everything else. It doesn’t matter how well your website or Google Business Profile is optimized. If your plumbing business is located in Boston, Massachusetts and you’ve optimized for “Near Me” searches, get ready for traffic and form fills from other states.
Near Me searches are strictly location based. Nothing else.
Want to see these local ranking factors in action? Check out this Local SEO video where I drive around the Portland, Maine area to demonstrate how search results change according to proximity and other factors.
Why is it important for businesses to prioritize their Local SEO efforts?
Here in Maine, we are a state that touts small business and entrepreneurship, and with that comes increased competition. If you want to show up for local searches you need to make sure your Local SEO is better than your competitor down the street and around the corner. If I were starting a new business in Maine (or any other state/country) tomorrow, I would build out my Google Business Profile immediately. Google even offers an “Opening Soon” option that will help create buzz if you haven’t opened your doors yet.
Your website will carry most of the weight with all the SEO basics; title tags, meta descriptions, headers, keywords, images, etc. However, all of that should be brought over into your Local SEO efforts. That includes optimizing your Google Business Profile, creating listings on popular review sites, and building local links to your website.
What are some of the basics of Local SEO that all businesses should be following?
- Create product and service pages for all products and services. The more pages on your website,the more chances you have to rank on Google both organically and locally.
- Attain quality reviews on Google and other popular review sites your customers are using. Reviews are king in Google’s algorithms.
Create region pages if you are a service based business doing work in different regions, states, counties, or cities to rank well for each area. Google likes to see pages that are specific to a topic. In this example, you want to make sure that if you service Cumberland and York counties that you have individual pages discussing each.Pro tip: As long as you have a mailing address in these different areas, you will also want to create separate Google Business Profiles as well.
Why is it so difficult to rank in Local Search?
Competition. There’s nothing worse than being a chiropractor when there are six other practices all within a 5 mile radius of your office. With the newest algorithm update, Google heavily relies on proximity to a business when serving results to users.
If you’re in competition with an “industry giant” they likely can throw more resources at their Local SEO to keep it updated and optimized, which is also be a big hurdle to overcome.
However, there are plenty of ways defeat your personal Goliath.. Instead of lacing up the gloves and beating them with your fists, you beat them with your faces. Yes, I’m absolutely serious!
If you’re struggling to stand out in your industry due to lack of ad budget or full marketing team, the best way to gain new customers is to be as human and real as possible. Here are just a few ideas:
- Stop using stock photography on your website,
- Bring in real customer testimonials,
- Use local attractions for photo shoots or promotions,
- Sponsor the local little league team, and
- Create a local brand that people can’t stop talking about.
The industry giants typically have a very generic website and a bland digital presence. The more “real” you can be with your prospects and customers, the better reaction you will get.
We work with a local water sports retailer here in Maine. It’s very difficult for them to stand out on their own when they’re competing with RaveX, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Evo, Amazon…the list goes on. However, they have found ways to overcome the big box retailers and plant their flag as a leading retailer for Maine residents and tourists visiting the Naples / Sebago Lake area during the summer months! What specifically has Sun Sports done to stand out?
- Utilizing their knowledge of watersports, they have their very own “Wake Wizard.” He not only teaches lessons but he provides specific tips, tricks, and feedback on all things watersports.
- Generating more than 20 5 Star Reviews which is outperforming Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabelas, and Target.
- Utilizing their staff, customers, and pets as images for the website and social media.
- Continue to be a strong force in their local community.
How does Local SEO go beyond just your business’s website? Where else should businesses be showing up?
I challenge you to do a branded search for yourself. (A search on your company name or the products you’ve created.)What shows up on the first two pages of Google besides your website? There will be two types of websites that you will find: social media sites and review/directory websites.
Social media is becoming a bigger and bigger vehicle for local search. Make sure that your profile is set up on Facebook and LinkedIn to assist in your local search visibility. You don’t need to recreate the wheel for each social platform either; just copy and paste everything from your Google Business Profile.
Niche review/directory sites are also critical. In your branded search many of these sites will appear on page one. That means that Google has deemed these important and you should at least have a profile on these sites.
Check your Google Analytics to see what your referral traffic looks like. Do you have any sites that are continuously sending traffic your way?
Here are some popular review sites by industry:
- Wedding Vendors: WeddingWire, The Knot, Thumbtack, Zola
- Nursing Homes: A Place for Mom, Senior Living, Caring.com, Elder Care Directory
- Car Dealerships: Dealerworld, Kelly Blue Book, Dealerrater, Carsforsale
- Home Renovations: Houzz, Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor
- Private Schools: Private School Review, Niche.com
As you can see, there are niche review/directory sites for almost every industry, including yours. Because every user searches differently, this is where your Google Analytics becomes very valuable to show you where to spend your time and effort.
How does mobile search impact the importance of local search?
Having a mobile-friendly and responsive website will make a huge difference in your website’s position on Google. Google has moved to a “mobile-first indexing” method where it looks at how your website and keywords perform on mobile rather than desktop regardless of the device type of the user.
Google’s SERP’s have also (for the most part) gotten rid of pages of results. It’s an endless scroll where you can “load more results.” This doesn’t bode well if you’re on the second page or greater, so optimizing for local search is key to getting seen on mobile devices.
How can businesses measure the success (or shortcomings) of their local SEO efforts?
Outside of the obvious answer of Google Analytics there are two free Google tools that can help you measure your success and failures. Google Business Profile (formally Google My Business) has an entire reporting dashboard where it shows you how many users called, requested directions, and clicked on your website. Those numbers are important to measure on a monthly basis because your business listing is showing up either in search or on the maps during a search.
Google Search Console is the other tool which can show you all the keywords that users are searching for to find your website. This will give you insight into how the users are searching. For example, if you’re a marketing agency that lists “PPC Services” but you find that users are searching for “Google Ads Agency” then you should think about changing your Local SEO strategy to include that new keyword.
What are some of the best strategies to evaluate your local competitors?
There’s nothing crazy or expensive that I’m going to suggest. The best way to understand your local competitors would be to do a search for your product/service and see who shows up in the local map pack and in the organic rankings.
Is your business in that pack? If not, is it because of your searching proximity? Is it because their website has a better keyword strategy? Is it because they are getting more quality reviews than you? Almost all of the key indicators are on the surface and you won’t have to dig deep to understand why you’re not ranking.
This is one of the first steps I take when working with a local business trying to improve their visibility at Google. We generate keywords together, look at the competition, and do some reverse engineering.
Is it worthwhile to run search ads as a local business?
Absolutely! If you’re running Google or Microsoft search ads, you can target specific areas down to the exact zip code, as well as target local keywords like:
- “Nail salons near me”
- “Car dealerships in Portland, ME”
The great thing about running local ads, generally speaking, is that the smaller your target location area is, the lower your competition tends to be…which translates to lower cost-per-click bids.
You can also connect your Google Business Profile to your paid search campaigns. By doing this, you’re able to pull in the nearest location’s contact information and users can click a phone number or address right from your ads.
So, yes––paid search is absolutely worthwhile for your small business!
Final Thoughts & Next Steps
If your head is spinning with Local SEO jargon and you’re still not sure where to start, here are some important next steps for you:
- Google your own product/service. If you see others above you (or don’t see yourself at all) check out what your competitors may be doing that you aren’t.
- Create product and service pages for all your products and services.
- Focus on attaining quality reviews on Google and similar sites.
- For service-based businesses that serve in different regions/cities/counties/states, create regional pages to show up for each area.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, don’t have time to dedicate to your Local SEO, or just don’t feel like dealing with it at all (no shame) flyte is here to help! Our SEO experts would love to coach you, assist you, or take everything on ourselves.
Leave us a comment below or contact us directly––we’d love to hear from you!
John comes to the flyte new media team with a motivation to help clients grow their business and online presence. He brings a lot of enthusiasm and a positive attitude to flyte’s marketing department. He is Google Analytics and Google Ads certified which is where his true work passion lies, SEO, Local SEO, and paid search. He can be kind of a data nerd but that’s never a bad thing.
An avid sports fan, a day doesn’t go by where John doesn’t catch that game, that score, or that highlight play. He continuously joins way too many fantasy sports leagues but don’t worry, his win percentage is still very high. John can also be found adventuring with his wife, their daughter, and Goldendoodle, Harper Lee.