Boost Your Business through Local Search Optimization

For a local business, a great location is important — but being easy to find online is just as critical.
A few tweaks to local SEO strategies can make your small business just as easy to find online as it is on a map. (Photo: Bloomicon/Shutterstock)

“People prefer to shop at small businesses over big boxes or chains. Search is used by well over 90 percent of internet users, so showing up in search results is very desirable for obvious reasons.” -Greg Sterling (Photo: Greg Sterling)

As a local business owner, you know how critical it is for consumers to be able to find your store or restaurant. One way to do this is by making sure you show up in local online searches.

Consider your own search habits. When you’re looking for a nearby bike shop, bakery, salon or pet groomer, do you add phrases like “near me” to your search query? If so, you expect the results will provide a list of matching businesses within a certain radius of your location.

When other people conduct a local search like this, you want your business to be among the results.

Greg Sterling is vice president of strategy and insights at the Local Search Association (LSA), a not-for-profit industry association assisting businesses in marketing to local consumers. Sterling sat down with NCR Silver for a Q&A about the power of local search and how to create a successful local search strategy.

Q: What exactly is local search?

Local search is a search that carries an intent to do or buy something in the physical/real world. Google has estimated that 56 percent of on-the-go searches carry local intent. However, the number is actually much higher given that the majority of transactions occur offline.

The majority of searches in high-consideration categories such as automotive or healthcare, or in lower-consideration categories such as restaurants or movies, are “local” because people will fulfill their objectives in a store, doctor’s office, restaurant, theatre or other business location.

Q: Why should local search optimization matter to small businesses?

The vast majority of businesses in the United States qualify as small businesses. People prefer to shop at small businesses over big boxes or chains. Search is used by well over 90 percent of internet users, so showing up in search results is very desirable for obvious reasons. On mobile devices, conversions often happen quickly after a search (depending on the category) and visibility in search results will drive foot traffic to local stores.

Q: Is local SEO something small business owners can do on their own, or should they get help from an agency?

There are a number of things that business owners can do on their own to improve their ranking position. However, beyond some of these basics it becomes very challenging for business owners to do on their own.

Q: What are a few must-have SEO strategies for local businesses?

They must make sure sure that their information is consistent and accurate across sites. They should offer enhanced content on key sites such as Google, Facebook, Yelp and others. If relevant, post videos on YouTube, and also have reviews on Yelp and other relevant sites.

Local SEO is really now about local data optimization across sites and apps.

It is also important to have a fast-loading, mobile-friendly or responsive website for visibility and ranking in mobile results.

Q: If a small business owner is ready to invest in local search optimization, what would be their first step?

The first step should be to find a reputable firm or consultant to do an audit to find out where the weaknesses are and what changes need to be made to clean up their presence and listings data. This is a process that business owners should be diligent about because there’s so much false information and “snake oil” being paddled out in the market.

There are a ton of tools out there available for local search optimization. Among several popular ones are the Local Search Rank Tracker from BrightLocal, Google Places Category Tool from Mike Blumenthal, Whitespark Local Citation Finder by Darren Shaw and Places Scout. There are many more, however.

Q: Any additional thoughts that would help small businesses with local SEO?

The foundation of online visibility is a complete and accurate presence on critical sites including Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp and whatever vertical sites are relevant. A rich profile that gives the consumer a sense of the business, their products and services and answers basic questions is essential to giving the consumer confidence to contact or visit the business.

Increasingly, online booking options are important. And reviews are a must. A business without reviews simply won’t be considered.

Business owners should search for themselves on all these sites and places their customers are likely to seek them out. More fundamentally, try to see the business from the perspective of a potential customer. Ultimately the user experience is your brand.

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