We are frequently asked what a small business owner can do to improve their search ranking; aka SEO. Our first response is to ask if they know how they are performing in their local market. Typically few, if any, can tell how they rank among their peers. To assist them we take them through a very basic but essential list of questions.
Here is the list of questions that should help you develop a local SEO strategy that positions your business competitively in local search.
- Have you created 'Local Places' pages?
The first step in securing your business presence is simply to claim your business on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yelp. The most important of which is Google since they own approximately 65% of all searches. To do this you'll need to visit Google My Business. Upon visiting the site you will be asked to register your business, however, before Google will actually activate your business listing they will require that you verify your existence. To do so Google will send you a postcard (yes, in the mail) to physically confirm your local business. The postcard will feature a code and instructions to activate your business - this could take 7 - 10 days. As for Bing, which owns about 33% of search online, it's a bit less informal. Visit Bing Places to claim and set up your business listing.
- Have you optimized your business pages?
Now that you've activated your business listings it's time to optimize them. To optimize them make sure you categorize your business accordingly, add compelling photos representing your business; i.e. if you're a restaurant upload some quality photos of your food and pictures of your location (inside and outside), and provide a list of sample services and/or products that you offer (include a menu). Add hours of operation, contact information, and location. And by all means, link these listings to your website!
- Have you claimed your business listings and are they correct?
Where have the good 'ole Yellow Pages gone...they're online and there are dozens of listing services; a whole lot more than there were yellow page publications. Unfortunately, many of the listings that are out there are dated and inaccurate and it's virtually impossible to track them. To make things a bit more manageable there are some services that can assist you to correct your listing. MOZ is a great resource to check your local business listings - CHECK YOUR LISTING NOW.
- Are you soliciting and encouraging online reviews?
Reviews are a major factor for ranking your business (good and bad). We recommend that you work hard to solicit reviews from your customers. However, we recommend directing them to one platform (Google or Yelp depending on your business) and respond to every comment if at all possible, specifically those nasty ones. If you do get one of those nasty reviews offer to make amends - especially if the issue is easily resolved don't ignore them!
- Finally, is your website optimized?
There are a number of things that need to happen in order for your site to be optimized, here is a list of some of the more essential items:
- Keep your navigation simple and clearly defined.
- Make sure your page titles are optimized by providing a brief description of the page. Include your business name on every page title. Sample: Our Services | XYZ Company
- Provide a meta description of the page. Each page should include a brief description of what the page represents with added keywords (make sure to include your business name). Sample 'Menu' Page: Carlos' Bistro menu features a great selection of appetizers, entrees, desserts, and cocktails. Carlos' Bistro specializes in French cuisine and hand-selected wines from Burgundy.
- Optimize your photos by including a meta description of each photo. Tag each photo with a brief description, business name, and location before you upload it to your site. This is a great way to utilize your keywords without creating a visual distraction. Be warned, do not keyword stuff - you will be penalized by search engines.
- Optimize your site's URLs. This is as simple as including your name and a brief description of your business at the end of each page URL. Sample Optimized URL: www.carlosbistro.com/menu-carlos-french-bistro
Note: If you don't own the URL that is your businesses name, this little trick will come in very handy.
- Another word on URL's. Search for and buy all variations of your business's URL. Sample URL Variations: carlosbistro.com; carlosfrenchbistro.com; carlosnewyorkbistro; carlosnewyorkfrenchbistro...you get the idea. There are two reasons for this; 1) you do not want someone to own the rights to your business' URL and hold them for ransom; 2) each URL acts as a descriptor of your business and should be pointing to your website.
- Keep your navigation simple and clearly defined.
- Have you submitted your site to Google Search?
The last item on this list is the most essential and frequently the most forgotten. You must submit your website and your website's sitemap to Google's Search Console. Here is a link to set up your Google Search Console.
SEO can be very frustrating and confusing. Keeping up with the constant changes to the rules can be unwieldy. However, if you focus your efforts on what you can control you will be far better off than your local competition.