In our final part of our 'How to SEO' we look at 'off page' items such as the importance of local SEO, backlinks, submitting your sitemap to Google through Google Search Console and creating a Google My Business (now called Google Business Profile) and Bing Places profile.
'How to' guide to 'local' SEO
Welcome back to part three of the SME Marketeers ‘how to guide to SEO’. In the first part we looked at what SEO is, why it’s important, how to select your keywords and why that is so fundamental to your SEO activity. In the second part we looked at your on-page SEO and how to write your website copy. In this article, we look specifically at local SEO. Since we work specifically with small local businesses, we felt that covering this was most appropriate for our audience. In fact, we actually gave the following presentation at one of the Somerset Marketing Hub’s networking sessions for all its local small business members.
What is local SEO?
When you do a Google search you may notice that for certain searches, Google returns a map of your local area with three businesses listed and an option to ‘view more’. This map is known as the Google ‘map pack’ or ‘local pack’. If your business serves the local community getting into the top three of the ‘map pack’ is going to be one of your SEO goals.
So how do you rank locally?
There is a company called Moz, who does an annual survey to try to determine what are the key factors Google looks at for ranking in that map pack group and also for local search. In our presentation to the Marketing Crew, we used Rod’s Funeral Company as an example [shown alongside the listing criteria provided by Moz]
1) Google My Business 25%
The first thing Google will look at is its own Google My Business profiles. It will look at the information in those profiles. It will first determine the proximity of your business to the searcher (returning the nearest results), but it will also note the categories you have listed, the keywords you use in your profile (for a match to the search query) whether you cover the searchers area and whether you are open or not. In order to decide which companies to display in those top three, Google ‘weights’ the importance of you GMB information as 25% of all the data it gathers. So, if your business is local, you can see the significance of having a Google My Business (GMB) profile. The listing is free, so if you haven’t claimed your already you should be looking to do that now. It used to be called Google Places, so if you recall signing up to that you may already have a GMB listing, but it may need updating. If you are unsure or need to sign up, the best thing to do is go to business.google.com, and register/claim your business. You will need to enter in all the information about where you’re based - your opening hours, a little bit of a blurb about you. We have created a little worksheet so you can see what you need to enter if you want to do this and then create your GMB profile in one go.
2) Inbound links 16.5%
As you can imagine, even going through all the GMB profiles, there can still be many many more than 3 results to show, so after the GMB profile data, the next criteria Google will use to determine the results order is the ‘inbound links’. An ‘inbound link’ is a link from another site to yours. Why does Google like them? Well, I always liken this to a situation where you are looking for a plumber. Imagine, you went to your local pub and asked “does anyone know a good plumber?” If a friend who you knew well replied with “Yes, I used this chap, he was really good. Or if he is busy, this lady was also really good” and gave you the details, it’s very likely you’d trust that recommendation and contact those two people. But if someone you didn't know suddenly piped up that they knew ‘this bloke’ who’d just set up trading but otherwise didn't know much about him, you’d probably skip over that recommendation. And that is what Google is trying to do. It’s trying to replicate this human behaviour and knowledge in an online way. So every inbound link your receive, everyone who links to your site is basically putting their hand up to Google and saying, “these people are good, I'm voting for this company”. But there are things you have to be mindful of. These votes/inbound links have to be genuine inbound links. They have to also actually work for someone on the referring site who was looking for your services. It has to be what they call ‘natural’ and grow ‘organically’. So in our example of Rod’s funeral services, he links to associated business, such as the florist that he recommends, local celebrants etc. As a person organising a funeral, I am likely to also want to know what flower arrangements I can have, and perhaps choose a celebrant if I’m not having a religious service. These links are ‘natural’ and serve me as a website user, as well as telling Google information.
Why is it important that the links are natural and organic?
There was a big 'thing' many, many years ago where people were buying inbound links to get this ranking higher up in Google. Google spotted that people were trying to ‘hoodwink’ their way up the rankings and so changed its algorithm to penalise people who had bought links. So they do have to be a genuine inbound links to your site.
3) Reviews 15.5%
The next factor Google is looking at to decide how to rank the relevant results (and it’s something our Guinea Pig - Rod - does really well) is to look at the reviews. It considers the ratings, the amount you get, the frequency they come in. And it's also looking at whether you've got them across Google, Facebook, Yell, TripAdvisor, or whatever platform is appropriate for your business.
I don’t have any scientific evidence to support my next statement, but I think Google Reviews probably weigh in slightly higher than reviews from other sites when it comes to Google bots determining ranking.
4) Content 14%
We talked about page content in part two of our “how to SEO” video. But here Google is looking at the content on your site. It’s looking at what the person has searched and how your page/website matches that search criteria. A little handy tip for you if you are targeting local business, particularly if your business has a physical address that people need to go to, is to include your address and tel number (especially a local area code number) in the footer of your website. Google likes this for two reasons – Not only does this tell Google that you really are local because it can ‘see’ where you are and it recognises the ‘area code’ as one fitting the local area, but Google also likes this from a user experience point of view (as does the user!) If a person is looking for somewhere local, having quick easy access to your address means they can get directions to your address via Google Maps or call you and THEY know you are local.
5) Citations 11%
If you are listed in directories – like the BT phonebook, 118, Touch Local etc, Google scans to make sure that the address and phone number you give you on your site and your GMB profile is the same as that across all these sites. If there are discrepancies, e.g. different company names at one address, or different telephone numbers etc, it starts to question (as you would as a human!) whether the company is legit and trustworthy. So if all your local listings have the same information, it can see that you’re less likely to be a fraudulent website and company. So its worth checking your listings to make sure everything is consistent – particularly if you’ve moved premises or changed a number in your history. It is even worth Googling your company as some listings are there from computer ‘scrapes’ so you haven’t listed it yourself and they may be incorrect. The more Google sees the information is correct, the more it's confirming you are a genuine, trustworthy company.
6) Engagement 9.5%
Google has presented its list to you as the user. If lots of people click on your company listing then Google takes this in to consideration and may re-order the list it presents. Again, it also takes a note of people who ‘check-in’ or make a call from their presented map pack listings. Customers actual behaviour and engagement, all just prove to Google that you are a company that's trustworthy, people are engaging with it, your reconfirming that you are at that physical address. But again, it’s not just Google that registers these. As a ‘human’ not a bot, we are also making similar judgements when we see e.g. 1000 check-ins to a pub with 5 stars and lots of great pics of their food, we probably click that link to find out more or make a call. Then when we find the pub is great (or awful) we like to ‘check-in’, give it our own review and perhaps share our own pics.
7&8) Device history and social
The final elements Google considers when presenting your results is your device history – have you been here before, looked at the site, checked in etc and have you done this search before, what did you click on last time. The very interesting fact for the local map pack is that social weighting is only three percent. I think social traffic to the site has more of an impact on the national searches rather than the local searches, local is really trying to help local. When you do create your Google Business Profile, you can post to it just as you would to e.g. Facebook or Twitter etc. Again, Google will see how people engage with those and also alert you to any clicks received on it. When you post to Google Business Profile, those posts come up in the search results, so I encourage you to keep posting to GBP as part of your ‘social’ mix.
To put things back in context for our Guinea Pig - Rod - and his funeral services who rank number one:
GMB - Rod has a GMB profile.
Inbound links - Has a good level of inbound links from suppliers and directories, but if there are more perhaps from related suppliers, continually building would help maintain position 1.
Reviews - Rod spends a lot of time getting reviews, and he’s doing a great job. He does this continually so there will be a good level of new frequent highly rated reviews coming in.
Content on site - As for the content on his site, we have seen that he has worked hard to make sure his keyword ‘funeral services’ is in the meta information and the page content.
Just focusing on these top four will really help. Not just because of the ‘80/20’ rule, but because if you look at outside of the map pack when you get to the actual local listings [see below], whilst the importance of these top four to Google is ranked differently, it is still the same four, albeit ‘reviews’ is now replaced by ‘engagement’.
Question: What you're saying also that is if, for instance, Jo's got a blog and she's putting it on LinkedIn or Facebook or I'm putting videos on YouTube. Are you saying that I could upload a video to my GMB profile if I had it?
Yes, Google My Business only allows a 30 second video, so I would pull out the key 30 seconds or use a thumbnail image with an enticing description and a link to the full YouTube video or LI blog. GMB has a button that allows you to select a Call To Action such as ‘learn more’, ‘buy now’, ‘sign up’ and you can set where this goes to. But it’s good to have all of these elements. You may notice that when you do a search, Google will also display videos or photographs that also match your search criteria. There’s no ‘set’ position for these to return on the page, but often they are in your search results. If you’re image/video is relevant to the search keyword then make sure you’re tagging it so Google can consider your content in that selection too.
What do I do? What actions can I take?
1. Claim your GMB listing
Firstly, have you claimed your Google my business listing. You might find that your business is there. Google does find them, but it's not been claimed.
Once you have claimed it, Google will ask you what categories you fit into. It's important when you are setting your categories that you choose which you want to be known as first and foremost, because it will weight the primary (first) category you select to 50 percent. For example, we've got a client who's a pub and a restaurant and a B&B. If they choose to say ‘pub’ first, Google will put 50% weighting to that category and 25/25% to the other two. So, it's really important that your primary category is the one that you think you want to rank for. For me, I’ve got marketing consultancy as primary and web design, secondary. I put marketing consultancy first because that's what we do first and foremost.
Again, asking customers to leave reviews. We all really hate it. But if they can review on Google it helps you, it helps other customers and it helps Google. We’ve created a ‘sharable’ post if you don’t want to ask. [Follow the link and share to your FB page, or if you are using LinkedIn, use this link]
3. Inbound links from local clubs, suppliers, communities etc
Going back to the inbound links, think of related suppliers or other local businesses that could link to you. For example, I run the local riding club web site, so I've got a link back from the site. The riding club members are from all walks of life, some run charities, their own businesses etc and may be interested to know who can produce their website – as well as other clubs in the area. It not only helps them but it shows Google that I’m local, and active in the local community. So, if you're involved with local groups or sponsor the local football of cricket club, or you get involved in any charity fund raisers, it helps if when they promote their activities online that they include a link to you. Google ranks local and links in a different way to national links. So it actually is just recognizing that the link is local and it doesn't need to have what it calls the “domain authority” that you would need to have if you are trying to rank nationally. I mentioned also local directories, such as the Somerset Live Directory. This directory always shows up on page one for local searches. A link from there will generate not just a high domain back link but genuine human traffic. But heed the warning and don’t overdo the free directory links. Pick the ones with a good reputation. If you go to all of them and add yourself, Google will notice that you're just trying to get free links and will either not recognise them or penalise you. It's a fine balance of making sure that you've got genuine, natural links. It's trying to create those natural votes for your company that actually prove that you are worth recommending.
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