With 2018 fast approaching us we reflect back on search engine optimization in 2017 and what we have learned to give us the competitive edge in the ever challenging landscape of the search. Online marketing is no longer something to ignore its a necessity.
Local search has and always been the first solid base a business can take in an SEO strategy even for businesses that don’t sell or provide services locally. Every opportunity you can take to make a digital footprint you must do so because these footprints are on a path that is the road to your website and just like great content marketing the more roads that lead to you the greater the potential for organic and direct traffic.
I have seen the major quakes of algorithm changes in the past few years from Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and a few other updates rolled out and as an Organic SEO professional rolled with the punches and reminded SEO isn’t dead far from it.
What I reflect back on most of 2017 is the search engines constant drive to improve your experience within search results and how your website affects not only your target audience but their business as well and how as webmasters we can find the opportunities to make our site visitors experience ten times better and get rewarded by search engine traction and organic traffic.
So how can we learn from 2017 and apply new and old search optimization techniques to dominate local search results?
Off Page Optimization
List Your Business Information In The Directories
Directories are websites that list your business in their own private search portals such as Google My Business, Yelp, Manta, Yp.com, Linkedin, Whitepages, Showmelocal, Better Business Bureau, and they also include the big search engines Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Social sites such as Facebook. There are simply tons of them available and here is The Ultimate List: 50 Online Local Business Directories from Hubspot for reference.
What you need to know is that you do not need to list your business in every directory available and devote hundreds of hours to do it! For a couple reasons. One you should pick the directory that most people use in your local and more importantly the relevant ones for example if your a local dry cleaning service there is no need to list your business in a medical directory. Second what most people don’t know is that some of these directories such as Google My Business, Bing Local, and Yelp are aggregates which the smaller directory sites scrape info from and use to list on their site.
So to start hit the big ones Google My Business, Yahoo some are paid and some are free if you are on a budget then hit the free ones first then decide to use the paid premium local packs or you can use services from Moz Local or BrightLocal all of them are great valuable ways to improve your local presence but nothing is more important then what we call NAPW (Name-Address-Phone-Website). This is where the work comes in its all manual if you are doing site by site. Your business name, address, phone number, and website must be consistent and accurate across the board this is critical and must be done right manually throughout all the directory websites.
Pro Tip: Enter your business name in a search and see what comes up first and optimize those first.
Motivate Customers To Leave Reviews
Social proof is a big deciding factor when it comes to a potential lead. According to the latest stats, 77% of online shoppers use reviews to make a purchasing to make a purchasing decision. Offer clients discounts on future services if they are happy with the service or reach out to them, send thank you letters or postcards with links to relevant rating sites and motivate customers to leave positive reviews via value-added services. The best marketing you can get is a happy customer! So ask customers to leave reviews if they are happy to encourage them to leave feedback and reviews it is a game changer when it comes to deciding on who will sell or provide a service.
Now we all know these ratings and review sites can also be a great place for people to vent or complain and if you have a low or bad reputation all is not lost. As they say in media is there is no such thing as bad press, if you have a sub standard review or a complaint you can turn a negative into a positive by responding publically in a reply and apologize for their experience, talk a bit how you strive for the best customer experience and offer to remedy their complaint. Even if you cannot fix the situation as sometimes people just cannot be satisfied an active response and reply from a business owner shows care and can turn things around so be vigilant on the review sites like Yelp and correspond and manage your reputation.
Optimize Locally For Voice Search
With the advent of Siri, Cortana and Google home 2018 is the year to optimize your website for local search! In one of my recent posts titled Voice Search Queries Is Your Website Ready? I talked about how voice search is changing online content and how search engines are gearing up for the forward uptick in using digital voice assistants.
Today more than ever people will use a mobile device or home assistant to ask questions such as “what is the nearest Chinese restaurant near me?” or “Where is the closest….to me?”
So to optimize your website to answer these questions it all comes back to your listings and citations and reviews the more reviews and the bigger your local presence the chances of your business coming up as the answer are higher. So in addition to tidying up your presence in directories make sure your website has an address and other relevant information on it especially in the footer and within the microdata markup which I will discuss next.
Optimize For Local Structured MicroData Markup
Schema Structured Data Markup for some reason or another most businesses online dont take advantage of and should! Structured data or Microdata is also known as “Schema markup” installs an HTML code of your business information into each page, or post relevant towards your business that search engine crawlers use to gain insight into what your business, product or services are about and reviews by what is called rich snippets. We do know that rich snippets don’t have an effect on rankings it will have an effect on click through rate and is an important component of voice search.
Microdata will as I mentioned will be featured in a rich snippet below any page in a search result, you might have seen these showing ratings that is what structured data does and more!
This is a fantastic opportunity to let Google know where you are at and what you do. Microdata is a key component of on page local SEO and one of the first things I do in my natural organic SEO local search optimizations. If you are running a WordPress website it is as simple as adding a plugin and going through each of your pages and posts and filling out the right info, Yoast local SEO a premium plugin extension to Yoast will also add structured data to your website or you can do it manually through Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
Great Tools and References To Check Out:
Write Content Related To Your Local Area
Writing great content is the key to any great SEO strategy especially in regards to local SEO, you cant just launch a website and pray people will find you. The more content you put out there on relevant topics and distribute them through social media is the best way to gain traffic organically the more content you get indexed by search engines, especially with geographically related content.
So in 2018 make sure your content marketing is strong and write about topics local to you and often. When you do this you increase your local authority and can gain natural backlinks from local sites which further enforces your local presence, even doing this for a national company is a great strategy as having a strong local presence is a launching pad for all national SEO campaigns.
With Google My Business adding post sharing its an opportunity not to miss in 2018 and something you got to leverage. If you simply don’t have the time to blog hire someone local like a student, or if you are in a restaurant business blog about different local ingredients, or if you are in the pest control business talk about local issues during different season whatever you do write great content here is link to a post a wrote that can help you understand the importance of blogging and you can apply that to local SEO. Content Marketing What You Give Is What You Get
Optimize and Write Great Meta Titles & Descriptions
You need to think of Meta Titles and Descriptions like a mini ad or a menu item if you can entice someone in 150 characters or less to make a decision then you have a great meta description. Meta titles are not a ranking factor but they do directly influence click through rate and you should invest some time in creating them. Challenging as it may be with a limit of 50 to 60 characters in a Title and 160 to 200 in a description you should always optimize that small amount of real estate for local SEO with great info.
Often times I see people waste valuable meta title real estate on branding especially when they have a long business name after the title of the page, product or service. So don’t waste the precious space you have with the page title such as Home-Dynamic Exterminating NY rather use descriptive geo targeted keywords.
For local businesses include information such as a phone number, name of the city, or the geographic location you serve i.e. Kelly’s Wedding Specialty Bake Shop In Seattle (555) 123-4567 and then use the branded term in the description.
Optimize Your Website Mobile First
I have talked extensively about mobile optimization features such as AMP and optimizing for voice search and for 2018 mobile optimization is king. So to dominate mobile search you should implement AMP to your site as well as voice search.
So how can you optimize the design of your website for mobile for local search?
First, you must optimize for load speed having a fast website will prevent potential customers from abandoning your site and calling someone else because they lost patience.
Second take advantage of a top bar on your website, here you can add relevant links such as click to call, or click for directions that directly open google maps for directions or any mobile GPS application. Here is an example of a website I optimized for local search:
Notice how the first thing you see is a clickable element for a call or an email or directions. This is the information people are looking for when it comes to local services. Adding a top bar is easy and if you are using WordPress your theme might already have this feature so ask your web developer to add this important information and make it clickable.
The Wrap Up And Final Thoughts
As we near the end of 2017 the only major changes we have seen although significant is the ability for search engines to learn in real time what is called “rankbrain” and the rise of popularity of voice search and the introduction of AMP mobile pages in search results. We can take what we learned in SEO from the past year and use that information to make predictions for 2018.
It is not difficult to see that gaining traffic share is becoming more and more challenging and requires a ton of work, especially when it comes to local businesses who have little resources or time. But if we can implement and use the new features we saw emerge in 2017 and a quality geo targeted content marketing we can accurately predict a competitive edge in the coming year for local search.
Local SEO is nothing new but what was once just local listings and citations has expanded more and more to the end user experience. As I have said before if you think like a visitor then you think like a search engine, optimize and leverage the emerging trends to your advantage and you can dominate local SEO in 2018.