What Businesses Need to Know About Local SEOHow to Build A Better Digital Presence Melinda Aiken If your business has a physical storefront, there’s a huge opportunity to get in front of more buyers by leveraging your digital presence and properties. You’ve probably noticed that Google’s algorithm and its approach to search have changed dramatically over the years.It’s gotten smarter and a lot more sophisticated.For local businesses, that means being able to be found more often by local users and visitors, but only if positioned properly.That’s why it’s important to consider your business’s approach to local search engine optimization (SEO) and how you can be found more often for relevant search terms.BackgroundRemember Google My Business, Google Places, and Google+? Google has undergone many changes, tweaks, and updates before it finally got it right with the current Google Maps and Google Business Profile products.Google can now better understand and better serve users who perform geo-focused (location-based) searches.Specifically, it looks at the search term, the users’ location (if enabled), and uses signals from the web and its own system to create its ranking order. Naturally, it also distinguishes between the local pack, ads, map listings, and organic rankings.Because consumers and buyers search on Google regularly for local information, there are a ton of searches performed each day that your business might be missing out on.What’s The Potential?One of our clients – a local car care company – has focused on local SEO for years now. Why? Because they get more traction on their Google Business Profile page than on their website. In one month, they had 16,500 Google listing views (6,000 on search and 10,500 on maps) compared to just 800 website visitors.Why such a difference? Users are satisfied with the information they find directly in search via Google Business Profile listings.Name, address, phone, reviews, photos, recent posts, etc. It’s what consumers need to help make a decision if they want to do business with them. In this case, the website is less important. The discrepancy in stats proves it. Here’s another case.Our local listing partner software, Yext, which we use to help carry out local SEO, provided us with these stats.In the equipment dealer space alone, there were:4.6 million impressions in Google Maps and 2.66 million impressions in Google Search Among those business listings: 77,600 “Get Directions” clicks205,000 phone calls189,000 website clicksThose stats are shared among 668 dealer locations in just a 30-day period.The potential exposure and traffic can’t be overlooked. It’s time to get things right.5 Steps Towards Building a Stronger Local PresencePretend it’s 1985.The market landscape was very different then. As a business, your formula for success was purely analog. A typical go-to-market strategy would have consisted of: Storefront signageSigns pointing folks to the right placeLocal radio and TV adsCommunity events and sponsorshipsAnd last but certainly not least, yellow page listingsToday, the Yellow Pages have been replaced by digital marketing. In particular, local SEO.Local search is a wonderful tactic because – although it comes at a cost in terms of time and labor – there are no direct advertising fees, it’s appropriate for any local business regardless of size, and it’s measurable.If you want to improve your local search presence, get more visibility among buyers, drive more relevant local traffic, and get more conversions, focus on these five areas.Google Business ProfileFirst, set up and optimize your Google Business Profile page(s). As one might expect, Google gives its own Google Business Profile listings preferential treatment in the index, serving those listings higher than other listing sites like Facebook or Yelp. Claim your profile and complete it with all the necessary information. Address, photos, services, website URLs, etc.You should set up individual pages for each storefront with a physical address (and manage them all under the same parent brand account). If you have more than a few, consider using a tool like Yext or the import tool, which allows for bulk changes or updates. In recent years, Google has built out its Insights area, too. Keep tabs on how many impressions your listings get and how many convert into phone calls and website clicks.Citations (Listings)How does Google’s algorithm rank its organic listings? Well, that’s been a mystery for decades now, but most SEO professionals have a decent understanding – based on research, testing, and the recommended best practices from Google’s search team over the years.For global/general searches, we know that a website’s metadata, content, backlinks, and domain authority are just a few of the factors that play into the rankings.At the local level, those same rules apply, but it also considers a few additional elements. That includes the users’ location, Google Business Profile information, and how well the business is optimized across the web for NAP (name, address, phone number). Google scours the web for this information, so it’s best to be present and accurate. There are more than 60 citation sites out there that it looks at. Amazon Alexa, MapQuest, EZLocal, Citysearch, and 123local are just a few. One could manage these listings and this information manually (which would take a while!) or use a third-party tool – like Yext – to manage in bulk from a central spot. Not only that, but Yext can help suppress inaccurate information that’s been submitted to the sites from users and remove duplicate listings to keep your web presence accurate at all times.How does your business measure up? Do a quick citation scan and get immediate results now.Optimized Local PagesLocal listings feature great information about your business. They can provide – directly in search – the info that users are looking for without the need to click through to your website. But that doesn’t make your website any less important.Not only does your website provide MORE information and the ability for users to convert in different ways (watch videos, download PDFs, review spec sheets and other product info, fill out a form, etc.), but local listing sites are LINKED to your website. They don’t compete against each other, but rather, they complement each other.It’s best to have a well-optimized website to go along with your local listing efforts. Make sure you have local pages built out for your individual locations – featuring photos, address, phone – and ensure your site is optimized around your local areas and local searches.ReviewsReviews play a dual role.First, there’s certainly an argument to be made about reviews being used as a Google ranking signal. How much weight do they carry? It’s hard to say exactly, considering sometimes a business with 20 reviews outranks a business with 40. However, marketers are confident that they do act as a search signal, so it’s important to have reviews and ensure they are positive. Second, and more importantly, reviews help provide wonderful credibility and allow users to read about your business before they buy. If you’re a great organization, those reviews will be positive and only do you favors in generating referral business. Set up a review program.Ensure auto emails or texts are sent to customers immediately after doing business with you, asking for a review, with direct links to your Google Business Profile or Facebook pages.Also, make sure your sales or customer service reps are asking for reviews following a positive experience. This can go a long way.BacklinksFinally, just like a global search, Google will look at a website’s backlink profile. This is made up of links that are directed to your website. Larger, more well-known sites typically have more backlinks, which indicates a richer presence.Build your backlink profile and keep other local websites in mind as ones that should link to you.Use tactics like direct outreach (i.e ASK!), public and media relations, sponsorships, and content marketing to help generate links.Remember that it’s more about quality than quantity. If you’re actively seeking links, focus on trusted, reputable websites rather than cheap, spammy ones. A link from an area college (.edu) or a local news site will carry much more weight than a random, irrelevant blog. Finally, don’t pay for backlinks. This could have a negative effect on your site, and you’ll even run the risk of Google pulling your site out of the index completely.SummaryLocal SEO isn’t a new game. But the rules have certainly changed in recent years.Google Business Profile, local pages, and local reviews all need to work together to help your prospects more easily find your digital properties when they are in the midst of their buying journey. Consider these and decide whether a third-party citation tool would be in your best interest. If you need any support, make sure to reach out to our team.