The Local Business SEO Challenge
Google makes changes to its search algorithm and ad platform at a pace impossible for any business to keep up with.
Listen to SEO geeks talk about their own gyrations of staying ahead of Google’s constantly changing algorithm. They’ll throw around terms like “Google stacks”, “map embeds”, “backlinks”, “iframes”, “tiered networks”, on page optimization”, etc. Most business owners don’t have the slightest clue what any of that stuff means to their bottom line results.
In an expert’s hands, SEO techniques work well but it requires lots of testing, tech knowledge, and sometimes months to see results. And by the way, it isn’t cheap (or free, as many people believe).
But as you’ll see, in order to have a solid online presence, it’s not necessary to be an SEO Jedi. What’s most important is to create an online marketing plan that balances a few simple strategies done well, with the available resources.
Create A Winning Local Business Online Presence Formula
Our experience is that Most local businesses can create more traffic and sales by implementing a combination of these simple elements:
- A moderate digital ad budget – Optimized Google ads can quickly get a business to page one of the search results – unlike the months of work sometimes involved in SEO. A good ad campaign gets your business message in front of people who are looking for, or interested in your products and services, at the time they’re looking for them – right away. Retargeting is also often an effective approach, as well as Facebook ads.
- Basic On page/website search optimization using value-added content, keyworded page titles and descriptions, schema markup language, and map embeds.
- Brand Journalism – aka properly keyworded press releases – syndicated to authority media sites, provide the kind of backlinks that Google loves. It’s a myth that a business needs spectacular news in order to write a press release. Simple articles containing links back to the website, and the right keywords in articles useful to customers, patients or clients, is a powerful online presence builder.
- Numerous citations with an accurate and consistent business name, address, and phone numbers (NAP). Variations in any part of the NAP in websites, blog mentions, directories, Google maps, etc., anywhere on the web is a sure way to lose search engine ranking.
- Get plenty of positive online reviews. Reviews are an increasingly important factor in local rankings and are trusted by people. Your star rating and the number of reviews show up in search results. Positive reviews help offset the occasional unavoidable negative review. Another tip is to use the newly released hashtag feature in your response to online reviews.
- Verify and optimize the GMB listing. SEO experts now view the GMB listing to be the biggest single ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. It works in combination with Google Maps, and every other piece of web information for Google’s knowledge graph.
It’s not necessary to work on all of these factors at one time, but, the more that can be implemented, the faster you’ll progress. Within the space of a year, it’s best to have made progress in all of these areas. Google sees everything you do online (scary, I know) and will reward your efforts with higher search engine
rankings, and the possibility of appearing in their knowledge graph panel (Google’s collection of all your business information they’ve collected across the web since 2012) for important keywords.
Because it has emerged as one of the most powerful marketing tools for local business, we’ll focus on GMB in the remainder of this article.
What is GMB?
Google My Business is a free and easy-to-use tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. By verifying and optimizing your business information, you can both help customers find you, and tell them the story of your business.
Because of the emergence and growth of GMB as the powerhouse of local business SEO, we recommend optimizing the GMB listing to every client, without exception. Here’s what new research says about its power to create an online presence:
The impact of Google My Business on local search rankings has seen significant growth in 2018, according to Moz’ 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey.
Results of the survey are largely similar to last year’s, with one exception.
Google My Business signals now make up 25% of the top ranking factors for Google’s local pack. That’s up from 19% in 2017.
Features such as Google Posts, Google Q&A, and image/video updates are frequently mentioned throughout the survey as top ranking signals.
Darren Shaw, founder at Whitespark, emphasizes there’s still an opportunity to jump on those features before others do:
“Many businesses are not yet investing in these aspects of local search, so these features are currently a competitive advantage. You should get on these before everyone is doing it.”
Utilizing those features more frequently shows Google that your business is actively engaging with its customers.
Moreover, it creates content for searchers to click around on which sends important user behavior signals to Google.
Other Key Findings from the Survey
In addition to the rise of Google My Business signals, here are some other notable highlights from the survey:
- Review signals are up 17% year-over-year, and up 43% compared to 2015.
- The importance of keywords in reviews is on the rise.
- Links are still working as well as ever.
- Citation signals are down 37% but considered no less important to local search.
- The top negative local ranking factors include incorrect information in a GMB listing.
Results of the 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey are based on the expert opinions of local search authorities.
Optimizing the GMB listing increases a business’ online presence by providing valuable information to customers and interacting with fans of the business. Once known as Google Places, GMB is the best single place on the web to list all of your business information, and post images and videos.
It’s not the flashy posting platform that the now almost-shut-down G+ is, but it’s a more focused and practical marketing tool for every online business.
8 Ideas For Optimizing A GMB Listing:
According to Google, at least 50% of cell phone users searching for local businesses will visit that business within a day of their search; and of those, 18% will actually make a purchase.
So a good GMB listing is really about getting found by local searchers looking for your products and services.
In the example to the left, there were 140 competing businesses for the search term “dayton nursing home”. How much additional business do the three listings in the 3 pack get over the other 137 nursing homes? The precise number is unknown, but Advanced Web Ranking’s 2017 statistics show that the first, second and third listings receive 24.48%, 13.81% and 9.5% of clicks respectively, for a combined total of 47.79% of clicks.
We can conclude that these listings will also get a much larger share of traffic and sales, particularly if the business has a 4.0 star rating or better.
The GMB combination of social network, directory, and business information helps to elevate the business in the search rankings, where it can be found easily.
So how do you optimize the GMB listing to increase your chances of being listed in the 3 pack? These are the things that work:
- First the basics – open and verify a free GMB account. If you’re a new business, Google will likely want to send you a verification code via snail mail. It seems quaint, but the reason is so that they can verify you actually have a real physical address. If you have a home-based business, Google makes it easy during setup to choose a classification that you deliver products and services outside of your address. That way, your home address will not be listed publicly.
- Next, you’ll want to fill out all of your basic info including choosing the most representative categories from Google’s drop-down selections. Here’s an SEO tip – once you’ve chosen the categories, be sure and use the category names somewhere in the home page content of your website.
- List your service areas and enter your open and close times for each day. Also, include holiday and special hours. What you’re doing is giving Google what it wants – the best user experience. A user who arrives at your listing and can’t find what kind of business you are, where you’re located, or when you’re open and closed will not have a good experience. Therefore Google won’t show that listing high in the search results page, and maybe not at all. They reward businesses that help them create this experience.
- Take a look at the screenshot below of a GMB dashboard showing some of the recommended things to do.
- Post frequently. You can add your own images, videos, deals, promotional activities, news and events that get displayed on your GMB listing. One oddity is that the posts are only displayed on your GMB listing for 7 days. It’s Google’s way of encouraging you to be active, and it keeps your information current and creates more of a dynamic feel. Finally, use the share buttons on the post to instantly share them directly with your Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
- Use their website option to create a simple one page Google website, even if you have a great website of your own. Why? because Google loves it when you use their properties. And when they love what you’re doing, they reward your efforts with better search rankings. It’s simple to set up, and it will reflect your GMB posts, images, and business information.
- Pay attention to the Insights tab. Periodically review it. You’ll find out how many people are seeing your GMB listing, and importantly, what search terms people are using to find your listing. This is also useful for finding keywords for your Google Ad campaigns, and in website copy.
- I don’t recommend using the “Advertise in minutes” option. Doing so takes you into the Google Ads Express platform. And although it’s easy to set up, it doesn’t give you access to much of the functionality that allows you to get more clicks at lower costs. Translation: you’ll not do much more than waste your ad spend with Google Express – and get limited results. I recommend going through the regular Google Ads platform. You’ll get better results at lower cost.
There’s more GMB functionality, but these are the high priority ones. Jump in and start using its features, Just remember the three basic principles that keep your online presence relevant and provides the best chance of getting into the 3 Pack:
- Google is all about creating the best customer experience possible. The more your website, GMB listings, and any other of your web content contributes to that goal, the more they will see you as relevant to their users, and put your information in front of customers.
- Use all their tools and functions where possible – and make sure they are fully optimized.
- Become and stay patiently, consistently active updating your GMB listings. It can take time to achieve and sustain results. But if you stick with it, you’ll be ahead of your competition.
Six months or a year from now, you’ll be glad you took action on these strategies. If you don’t take action on them, you’ll be wondering why you’re not easily found online by people looking for your products and services.
What Grows Business is a marketing and advertising blog owned by the B2B Resource Team LLC, dedicated to helping clients achieve an online presence that fits their goals. Contact us if you’d like to discuss your online presence challenges at 941 256 2468.
Photo By Thomas Hawk