Search engines dominate our lives.
We use tools like Google to learn about everything from searching for a local handyman to deciding on this weekend’s restaurant.
That’s why, for local businesses, attracting audiences through search engines is a must.
But optimizing your web presence to appear in local-specific search results isn’t just for small businesses.
Local SEO is a great way to show your organization’s local side and connect with audiences on a more one-to-one level.
In this post we’ll delve into how larger businesses, not-for-profit organizations and even government entities can leverage local SEO to reach key audiences.
What is local SEO
Think back to the last time you were looking for a restaurant.
Chances are, you did at least one online search before dining.
Maybe you were looking for a recommendation from an online review site.
Maybe you wanted to know if the place you had already decided on was actually open.
Maybe you were already on your way there and wanted to confirm the location.
Whatever it was, you probably consulted Google (or the equivalent) in one form or another. And, if the restaurant you were patronizing did its job right, you properly got a quick and accurate answer.
This, in a word, is what local SEO is: Optimizing your online presence so that potential audiences who are nearby are more likely to patronize your business.
Local SEO usually consists of optimizing:
- Your organization’s website
- Local business listings (i.e. Yahoo!, the Better Business Bureau)
- Review sites (i.e. Yelp)
- Google My Business
- Websites related to your business (i.e. reviews in local newspapers)
I’m not planning a trip to Halifax any time soon. But if I were, I’d know where to go to get burgers – thanks to Yelp.
Why local SEO matters
Search plays a huge role in audiences’ decision-making.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with local purchase decisions.
Consider these stats from Hubspot:
- 50 per cent of consumers visited a store within a day after conducting a search on their smartphone
- 18 per cent of local searches resulted in a sale within one day
- 50 per cent of local-mobile searchers are looking for business information like a local address
- Influences consumer decisions: If you can get your website or social media to appear in search results, you’ll have the opportunity to make your “pitch” for why they should eat at your restaurant, drink at your coffee shop or visit your museum.
- Advertises basic information about your business: This is a pretty basic – but nonetheless essential – component for local businesses. If you run a restaurant, patrons need to know where your address is. If you run a roofing company, audiences need to know what number they need to call for a quote. If you operate a museum, visitors will want to know when your opening hours are. It might sound pretty fundamental (and it is). But if you don’t do it, then who will?
- Confirms the fact that, yes, you do exist: Businesses come and businesses go. How many times have you heard a restaurant described not by its name but by its general location and the type of food it serves? Articulating a local SEO strategy allows you to catch audiences who have heard about you, but don’t know exactly where to find you.
The principles of local SEO
Familiar with “standard” SEO?
A lot of the same principles apply to building a local SEO strategy.
However there are some tactics unique to local SEO you’ll need to consider.
Optimize your website
There’s a lot you can do to optimize your website for local SEO.
But, at a bare minimum, you need to ensure your site has three things:
- Phone number
Ideally, this would go on a dedicated “contact” page. That will allow Google (and other search engines) to more easily show results if users are searching for your contact info.
If you want to take it a step further, consider embedding a map or offering step-by-step instructions on how to reach your location.
Really keen on local SEO?
Develop a local content strategy (more on that below).
Claim your online profiles
Local SEO’ers love to talk about the “Google 3-pack”.
This is a search engine results page (SERP) feature that regularly shows up when people conduct local searches.
For example: Searching for “Ottawa restaurants” yields the following result.
There are a lot of strategies for getting a business into one of those top three results.
But an absolute must is claiming your organization’s Google My Business profile.
Filling out your organization’s Google My Business profile also helps to display important contact information for when users search specifically for your organization.
An example of a Google My Business profile.
Google My Business is just the most prevalent example.
There are tons of online directories that your business should claim and maintain.
Word-of-mouth is an integral component of local SEO.
Getting lots of positive reviews does two things:
- It signals to the end user that your business is worth patronizing
- It increases the chances your business will rank higher in search results. For example: Many businesses that get to the Google 3-pack have lots of positive reviews.
Reviews include the following:
- Receiving reviews on dedicated review sites such as Yelp and Google My Business
- Including testimonials from audiences, which Google considers to be a “trust signal” that will determine how high you rank in search results
How larger organizations can make use of local SEO principles
Sure, I hear you saying.
This is all well and good for the local roofer or coffee shop.
But how does it apply to me?
In lots of ways!
Local SEO is an untapped resource for many medium and large-sized organizations.
Promote local outposts
Even organizations that are national or international in scope can benefit from local SEO.
For example: A government department is as far away from “small business” as you can possibly get.
But maybe that government department is also responsible for marketing a local museum or park.
Local SEO, in this instance, would be a major priority.
Or say you’re a national non-profit organization.
You have one main headquarters. But, in addition, you also local offices all across the country.
That’s where having some sort of online presence for each individual office would be useful.
Advertise brands and products to a local market
Even multinational brands offer products that have a local bent.
Maybe a clothing company is selling t-shirts that have a local saying or landmark on it.
Maybe a particular product or service is going to be particularly relevant in a particular market.
That’s where it would be helpful to have a strategy for targeting keywords and other search activities in those markets would help.
Let’s say (to take a completely random example) you identify a dearth of professionals who know about local SEO in Edmonton, Alberta.
In this instance you might want to develop a strategy for ranking content that’s specific to that city.
Make it easy for clients to find you
You have clients, right? Visitors? People who, for one reason or another, end up visiting your office?
If they’re visiting your office for the first time, they probably don’t know your exact suite or even building number.
And – if they’re anything like most of us – they probably aren’t organized enough to have noted these details down in their calendar in advance.
In many cases they’d probably prefer to track you down with a simple Google search rather than digging up an old email or reaching out to you directly.
That’s where having a local SEO strategy can help you.
Even if you don’t want people dropping by randomly the way a coffee shop would, you still want to make it as simple as possible for clients and visitors to find you.
Local SEO: Tactics for large organizations
Local content is about more than stuffing your blog posts with the words Lethbridge, Alberta.
Ranking in local search results takes lots of time and effort.
Here’s how you can develop a local SEO content strategy that will help you rank in local results.
Do your market research
Succeeding with local SEO in a particular market is, in many ways, the same as entering a market with a new product or service.
You need to understand the needs and particularities of that place.
Who is already operating there?
How good of a job are they doing?
Is there a need for your service?
To do local SEO you need to scan the landscape to see what your competition is going to look like.
Low levels of content for important keywords suggest you’ll have an easier time finding success.
Highly-competitive search results aren’t a deal-breaker. They just mean you’ll need to work that much harder – and, probably, spend that much more time – to see results.
Research local keywords
Like with “regular” SEO, keyword research is integral to local SEO.
What are the particular keywords people are searching for in your local market?
Which keywords do you want to rank for?
This will help give you a sense for the unique SEO landscape to the particular market you’re trying to reach.
Develop content that will be valuable to people in the market you’re trying to reach
This is the foundational element of any local SEO strategy.
Audiences in your target market need to care for what you’re writing.
Otherwise, all your efforts will have been for naught.
Local SEO for everyone
Local SEO isn’t just for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Organizations of nearly any size or mission can make use of local SEO principles to better connect with audiences.
Mark Brownlee is a Digital Marketing Strategist with Banfield.