Local SEO for the complete beginner: 6 tips for beating your competition

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Contributor, Sell to Win

When implemented correctly, local SEO can generate droves of new leads and search-driven traffic simply by existing.

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your website, web content, and third-party listings so that your company ranks well in local search engine results. For example, a chiropractor located in Nashville, TN can use a local SEO strategy to appear in search engine results relating to phrases like “best chiropractor in Nashville” or “best chiropractor in my area.”

And it works, too. Since local SEO searches typically have high purchase intent, roughly 80% of them convert into web visits, according to WebFX. Furthermore, an estimated 50% of users visit a store within a day of conducting a local search, and 28% of local searches result in a purchase.

Keep reading to learn how to develop a successful local SEO strategy in a few easy steps.

^ Opening your business’s doors after tightening your local SEO.

The case for local SEO

A local SEO strategy can be incredibly beneficial to companies that serve a specific geographic region. Here are three reasons why:

Customer habits

In decades past, people found local businesses via the Yellow Pages. Remember those? These days, 86% of people rely on the internet to help them find local businesses and the only time you’ll see a Yellow Pages directory is in a classic ’80s or ’90s film.

In other words, customer habits have changed. When we need a plumber to fix our leaky faucets, we scour Google for the professional with the highest reviews. When our kids need new soccer cleats, we ask Bing for the nearest sports equipment store.

But here’s the thing, your business will only appear in search engine results and earn new customers if you have a solid local SEO strategy in place. Otherwise, your competitors will show up first and take your business.

Quality traffic

Website traffic, in and of itself, doesn’t create revenue. What you want is quality website traffic, i.e. traffic from visitors who actually care about the products and/or services you sell and will consider buying them from you now or in the future.

A local SEO strategy can help you drive this kind of traffic by making your business visible to potential customers who are already searching online for the things you offer.

Think about it: If a user searches for “best CPA in Sacramento,” they’re probably looking for a qualified accountant in the Sacramento area who can do their taxes or advise them on other financial matters. By appearing in search engine results for this query, a CPA can easily connect with potential clients who’re ready to invest in their services—and local SEO drives this kind of quality traffic for free.

Less competition

Finally, it’s much easier to rank in local searches than global ones, which means your local business has the chance to compete with mega-brands and win. Just because there’s a Walmart or Best Buy in your town doesn’t mean you can’t compete with them.

Believe it or not, only 56% of local businesses have claimed their Google My Business listing—a key aspect of local SEO which we’ll cover more in a moment. Because of this, a local SEO strategy will also give you a leg up on other SMBs in your area that cater to a similar audience.

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How to optimize for SEO

Local SEO often seems wild and mysterious. Is it really possible to tame the great Google beast? Tame is a strong word (in this context), but there are definitely proven ways to bend the mighty search engine to your will and outrank your competitors, which we’ll explore below.

1. Set up your Google My Business page

Google is the largest and most important search engine in the world—and it’s not even close. (Sorry Bing!) Because of this, we recommend using ALL of the tools at your disposal to make sure your company appears in Google search results.

Google My Business is a free tool that allows local businesses to be included in Google Maps, display photos of their storefronts and products; and easily connect with a wide range of potential buyers within a specific geographical location.

To set up your Google My Business profile, simply follow the directions Google provides, which will get you pretty far. But keep these tips in mind as well:

  1. Make sure your name, address, and phone number (i.e., your “NAP”) are accurate and exactly the same across all of your online listings.
  2. Choose three to five categories that focus on the services you provide rather than the results you help your customers achieve.
  3. Keep your description between 100 and 200 words—long enough to share important company details, but short enough to cater to miniscule attention spans.

For a deeper dive into GMB, read Whitespark’s Super Fantastic Guide to Optimizing Google My Business

2. Choose your keywords

The next step is to choose (and use!) strategic keywords. A keyword is a specific word or phrase that an internet user will type into a search engine. For example, when looking for ice cream parlors in Boise, ID, someone might type “top ice cream shop in my city” into Google.

Your job as a local business owner and/or manager is to discover the keywords that your unique customers use, then optimize for them.

There are plenty of ways to discover relevant keywords. First, brainstorm all the words and phrases your customers could use to describe your business. If you sell pet supplies, keywords like “dog food,” and “pet store,” and “Desert Iguana” might apply.

After you’ve done a huge keyword brain dump, it’s time to bring in the big guns: keyword software. Google Keyword Planner is a free option to get you started. If you want a more powerful tool, try something like SEMrush.

These solutions will reveal important keywords you might not have thought about, as well as give you volume and competition data regarding your list of phrases.

The final piece of step one is to choose the actual keywords you’ll optimize for. We suggest choosing keywords that get a decent amount of traffic (70+ searches a month) but aren’t so competitive that it will take a miracle to rank for them.

3. Secure citations and links

Now that you have your keywords locked down, it’s time to secure citations and links back to your site.

So we’re on the same page, a citation is earned when your business’ NAP details are added to an online directory. Sites like Houzz, Yelp, and AngiesList, as well as your local chamber of commerce, are good examples of online directories.

When securing citations, make sure your NAP is identical across all directories.

A link is earned anytime an outside website links to yours. Links can be acquired via online directories, blog posts, web pages, etc.

When growing your site’s link profile, contact other companies in your area, your suppliers, and your business partners to try and create legitimate link swaps. Then use a tool like Moz Link Explorer or Ahrefs to discover where your competitors are earning links. Finally, contact these same websites with a compelling reason for them to link to your site as well (or instead).

4. Create great content

Your local SEO strategy is really cooking! Now it’s time to create great content so that you can rank well in search engine results, drive traffic to your site, and turn casual visitors into paying customers who trust your brand. Easier said than done, BUT we do have a few tips for you:

  • Keyword optimize your content: Remember all those keywords you came up with in step one? You’re not done with them! Create content—blogs, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, etc.—using these topics and phrases.
  • Create for humans, not robots: Keywords are important, but they’re not the end-all, be-all. In fact, keyword stuffing will actually hurt your local SEO strategy. Instead, create content that’s easy to consume, then sprinkle in keywords when appropriate.
  • Aim for internal and external links: By linking to relevant content on both other websites and your own, you’ll signal to search engines that your site can be trusted. Just make sure that your anchor text is relevant to whatever you’re linking to.
  • Share your content: Once your blog, video, or podcast is created, share it with your email list, social media followings, your mom… Just get as many eyes on it as possible. That way you can prove to search engines that your stuff is legit.

All the local SEO tricks in the world won’t help you if your content sucks. Put in the time to create great pieces and you’ll be rewarded with higher search engine rankings.

5. Encourage customer reviews

Customer reviews are a big deal when it comes to your local SEO strategy for two reasons:

  1. They prove to search engines that your business actually exists.
  2. They help potential customers trust your company enough to do business with it.

The question is, how do you actually get reviews? And how do you make sure those reviews are good? Oh, and what platform should you try to get reviews on? Sorry, that was three questions…We’ll tackle each of them in the order asked:

First, how do you get reviews? The easiest way is to simply ask your customers for them. Then make it as easy as possible for them to follow through by sending a direct link to the platform you’d like them to review your business on.

Scared of bad reviews? If you treat your customers right and strive to create amazing experiences for them, you shouldn’t be. To make sure your reviews are stellar, go above and beyond for your customers so that they have nothing but good things to say about you.

Lastly, what review platform is best? It really depends on your goals, but if we had to choose, it’d be Google. Why? It’s simple, Google is the largest search engine, by far, accounting for 86.86% of the global search market

6. Optimize your approach

The final step to an effective local SEO strategy is to monitor and analyze your approach. Are your efforts moving the needle? If not, why?

When you understand what’s not working, you can make necessary adjustments. Conversely, when you know what is working, you can double down on winning tactics. The only way to discover what works and what doesn’t is to dig into the data.

We also suggest keeping an eye on your competitors so that you can learn from their mistakes and successes and how you can differentiate your brand in a positive way.

Reach your local audience

An optimized local SEO strategy will help you reach more customers in your area, while lowering your marketing costs. Win! But to realize the benefits of SEO, you have to follow the six-step system we outlined in this article:

  1. Set Up Your Google My Business Page
  2. Choose your keywords
  3. Secure citations and links
  4. Create great content
  5. Encourage customer reviews
  6. Optimize your approach

97% of consumers investigate a company’s online presence before visiting them. If you follow these local SEO tips, you’ll be able to boost your company’s online profile, connect with more potential customers, and grow your business. Good luck!

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