Having a substantial online presence can do wonders for a small business during its early stages of growth. It doesn't matter if it is retail, hospitality, or anything else – a significant percentage of your potential customers are likely Googling for what it is you are selling.
Indeed, just because your customer base is restricted to your local area, it doesn't mean that you should ignore the potential of your online reach. The search terms "mechanics in Cardiff", or "best bakeries in Birmingham" may not be huge, but they are highly targeted and are extremely likely to result in direct conversions – that is, if you are actually found for those terms.
Therefore, mastering the art of local search engine optimisation (SEO) is essential. How do you know where to start, though?
Tips for Local SEO
With a judicious mix of the right tactics, you can make a huge difference to your reputation, your exposure and, most importantly, your bottom line.
If you are brand new to the concept of SEO, or you want to know how to adapt your existing knowledge, here are seven essential tips to guide you in the right direction:
1. Register for 'Google My Business'
If you haven't already, then this first step should be a no-brainer. It is entirely free and offers a myriad of benefits, such as:
- The ability to manage how your business is viewed online. This is vital for your reputation, as customers are proven to trust listed companies more.
- An opportunity to display your key information, including opening hours, photos of your store, your exact location and your company website.
- Integration with other critical Google services, such as Google Maps.
- The ability to interact with customers and have them leave reviews.
- Access to crucial insights and analytics, including how your business is being found and who is searching for it.
The process of registering for Google My Business is straightforward and easy, too. As local SEO goes, this should be the very first thing that you do and can have arguably the single most significant effect on your results.
2. Improve Your Online Ratings and Reviews on Other Local Listings
Google My Business allows customers to leave reviews of your business, and you should encourage them to do so. However, it is also essential to build up your reputation on other key review platforms, such as Trustpilot, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, as well as any other serious local platforms that exist in your region. Google search results are heavily impacted by your presence (or lack of it) on these platforms.
The first thing you need to do is create listings on all these platforms and populate it with authentic images, vital information, and other useful content. You can then ask your existing clients to leave positive reviews, and entice new customers to follow suit by offering small discounts or rewards.
Whatever you do, though, do not try to create fake reviews. In the vast majority of cases, these are easily discovered and can seriously harm your credibility. Continue to monitor your reviews on these websites, and take action accordingly. For instance, if you receive an unusually harsh criticism that you feel is unfair, you can open a dispute with the platform in question which may result in it being removed.
3. Understand the Importance of Local Keywords
While SEO involving the common keywords associated with your business is important, they pale in comparison to the impact that local keywords can have. These days, Google is focusing more and more on common search terms used by users to find local businesses.
Indeed, according to Neil Patel, this new trend works in favour of small local businesses. In the past, it was hugely challenging to compete with bigger enterprises using broad search terms and keywords; for example, if you run a local bakery, you would not have much chance of success using broad keywords such as "cakes", "cookies", or "pastries".
However, the playing field is now more level. Your business can implement local keywords, such as "cakes Tampines" or "pastries Stockton", which utilises the location of your company alongside general keywords to improve your visibility when a user searches for those terms in those locations.
Check the content on your business website and online listings to ensure that you are making full use of local keywords relevant to your location and business. Google Analytics and Search Console are essential tools that you can easily use to improve your SEO in this context.
4. Leverage Backlinks With Patience and Care
In any level of SEO, backlinks are a valuable tool that can help create online authority and credibility for your website. A backlink is created when one site links to your website on its pages; when someone adds a link to your business site on their website, they are essentially giving you their approval or vote of confidence.
If the site or person in question providing this approval has a sizeable online authority, then these backlinks can drive a lot of traffic to your site. While this may or may not be of use to you in terms of direct sales, it will definitely increase your visibility, ensuring that you appear higher in the search engine results for your main keywords.
Unfortunately, though, gaining such high-quality backlinks can be tough, especially for a small business. The critical thing to remember here is that there are no shortcuts – using paid backlinks or other similar black hat tactics will only hurt your credibility and authority in the long term. Instead, be creative. If you are an artisan baker, for instance, engage with food bloggers and local "what's on" websites, and attract links organically.
5. Improve Your Local Brand Authority Online
Your online activities shouldn't just be restricted to maintaining your website and review profiles. These days, many users ask important questions related to your business on social media and local directories. Be proactive on these platforms and try to answer as many of these questions as possible.
By constructively interacting with potential customers, not only do you create a positive impression in their minds about your brand, but you also improve your visibility on Google. Leverage your social media profiles on the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to deliver useful content and promotional material to your audience.
6. Pay Special Attention to Long-Tailed Keywords
Increasingly, more and more customers are utilising questions instead of short keywords, a trend being supported by the rise of voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri.
Indeed, Google estimates that roughly one-fifth of all search queries involve question-based queries, which, in turn, means that you should be taking advantage of long-tailed keywords. These are common phrases that are directly linked to your business, its location, and the products or services you offer in that area.
An example of a long-tail keyword for a mattress business would be "king-size coir mattress in Kowloon" or something along those lines. Alternatively, if you run a coffee shop in Camden, an excellent long-tail keyword to target might be "best coffee shop in Camden Town". There can be several such keywords that are closely associated with your business, so take the time to do some research.
You should focus on incorporating these keywords on your website, your landing page, and any other content that you publish online on different platforms. Long-tailed keywords are here to stay, and their impact on SEO will only grow in future.
7. Consider Hiring Freelancers
As crucial as it is, SEO can be a very time-consuming activity. It is understandable if you cannot handle it on your own as a new business owner, especially if you have no prior experience in this field. Assigning a full-time employee to manage this task can also be quite expensive.
Therefore, as a solution, you might want to tap into the gig economy and hire talented and reliable SEO experts that can transform your fortunes on a freelance basis. Paying SEO specialists by the hour to periodically monitor and update your online presence can be economical, and give you one less thing to worry about.
The importance of local SEO cannot be overstated, especially given the tendency of Generation Z and millennials to rely on search engines as a guide. By ignoring it, you could be losing out on a huge segment of potential business, especially if your competitors are leveraging this technology in a way that you are not. While there many techniques and methods that you can implement in your strategy, these seven steps are a great place to start.
Was this article helpful? What other local SEO tips would you recommend for a productive and effective strategy? Let us know your thoughts, experiences and ideas in the comment section below!