How to Improve Local SEO in 2020
Local SEO and improving Google rankings certainly should be on the forefront for any smart business owner. We’ve got five topics on how to improve local SEO rankings.
Competition’s fierce, especially for new and local businesses. You’re competing against other local businesses, national businesses, and franchises. It’s certainly a huge challenge to the business owner when everyone’s fighting for the same customer.
Now, Google has a responsibility to both parties — business owners and consumers. Google has to help consumers who are looking for a specific business by matching them to the correct business. And that consumer needs to have enough trust in Google that when they search for a plumber, a locksmith, or an attorney, they’re going to get the correct results.
So, as a business owner, you need to take the steps to understand at a high level what the customer journey looks like. Let’s say you’re a dentist. What happens when a dentist acquires a new customer through online search?
In more than 95% of cases, the customer is going to open Google. They’re going to search for “dentist near me,” or something similar. This is not even taking into account any sort of paid advertising, just the general flow through Google, whether it’s organic or paid.
Then the customer’s going to look up some of the top results. They’re going to click on something, and they’re going to make a call. Maybe they’ll go back, maybe click on a few more results, but they’re not going to go much farther than that.
They won’t need to keep looking because Google is going to provide them the right results the first time. That customer is going to be able to at least reach out and start the process of engaging with the business.
Let’s say you’re a tax advisor. You’re probably going to find keywords that are similar within the field. They don’t necessarily have to be exact, but you need to ask, “What’s the customer going to look for?” Even if that’s not the exact term — tax advisor, accountant, CPA, etc. — all of the similar keywords could essentially be lumped into one, on the basis that it’s going to have some intent of what the customer’s looking for.
Oftentimes we’ll talk with a client who says something like, “Well, I’m ranking number one for ‘tax advisor in Las Vegas, Nevada’ for so-and-so.” It’s often just some search query that has, at most, one search total per month. This is absolutely not helpful.
When we talk about selecting keywords, you have to perform the correct research. This process is vital before trying to optimize your site. You should ask, “What are the keywords that are truly being typed into Google at a level of volume that matters?” There is plainly no benefit of ranking for a keyword or phrase with no search traffic.
Oftentimes, whether it’s agencies or some of these free tools online, they’ll show you your rankings. Most of them are irrelevant. Just because you rank on the first page of Google for some random search, doesn’t really mean anything. It only matters if that’s what the volume or the bulk of the customers are actually typing in the search bar.
It’s a huge misconception. You see these scenarios where someone says, “Pay us $299 a month and we’ll take care of your SEO.” In almost all cases, what could they possibly be doing for that price? You’re not getting anything for $299. You might as well throw your cash out the window as you drive down the freeway. It’s pointless.
We see bad advertising with very low numbers for handling supposedly, “This mysterious search engine optimization” without a list of deliverables, without a list of really what the plan is. We see it quite frequently.
Now, in the process of selecting keywords, you can take anywhere from five to 15. We wouldn’t go more than 20, because at that point they’re not going to be as relevant as they should be. This is for the initial phase you can always redo the process and then expand upon what we’re going to outline in these steps.
You take the list of keywords that you have. Now, these keywords are going to be multifaceted. They’re going to be used in your organic efforts. They’re going to be used in any paid advertising, and on your website for what’s called, “onsite optimization.” This is where you’re optimizing content on your website for the search engines and ultimately the customer.
Let’s take these keywords and break them up into two groups. You have something that we could call “research intent.” And then you have “buying intent.” Both sets of these keywords are very important. They’re just used very differently.
There are certain keywords that you’re going to want to rank for, and/or segment out for the customer who’s doing research. So, those are the how to, the what? The how much does it cost? Those keywords will have the intent that someone’s looking to do research, but they might not be ready to buy.
Now, the education process can be long and tedious in some industries. Other industries, it’s a great opportunity to be able to attract and build trust with the customer, and then ultimately be able to convert them.
If you’re applying these principles to paid search efforts, you have your research and then you have your buying intent. Let’s say it’s, “dentists near me.” That’s not really a research intent. That’s definitely more of someone ready to get their teeth cleaned. “I have an issue. I have a need. I’m looking for it right now.”
Now, the important part is what you do with these keywords, how you optimize, and what’s shown front and center on your website. You should be using whatever you believe as the most important “buying intent” keywords on your homepage. In other words, the content of your website should be optimized properly for the keyword research you’ve already done.
That’s really number two of our discussion point right now, is, we’ve done the research, we know what our intent keywords are, let’s say, the dozen or so that they are, and that is the headings that need to populate our site, and the way that we need to optimize the site for search around those keywords.
These steps, this process, is what’s going to not only help your site come together and make sure you have a clear message to the customer. It’s also really going to help when it comes to optimizing for Google.
Now, even people that want to do a paid Ads, there are many factors that come into how much you actually pay for a click. Someone could pay $5 a click, and someone else could pay $3.50 cents for the click, for the exact same search term.
Google assesses the website, they assess the relevancy, they assess the risk of how often is someone going to click, what does that user do? There are over 200 factors that come into play as far as how much you pay for a click.
But again, I don’t want to go down to turn this into a paid search conversation, but optimizing for these buying intent keywords, and putting it on your, let’s just use a homepage as an example.
So, let’s say you do helicopter tours, and you’re doing Vegas helicopter tours, putting that front and center and trying to optimize for helicopter tours off Las Vegas on your website, is certainly going to give the user the intent and a clear understanding of exactly what you offer. It’s going to give Google an understanding of what your site’s about. And for the customers that are ready to buy, they’re going to have that extra boost of confidence, that this is what they want.
So, it’s not some random content that they’re landing on. It’s something that’s specific to the search or similar to what they’re looking for in the first place.
Exactly, so the website is very important. Whether you put it on the homepage, if you’re a dentist, you can have dentists and then whether it’s dynamic or static, you could have the city, and then the name of the practice. That’s one use. That also goes into your title tag. The title tag is what the search engines use. It’s what most people see, the consumer sees, even if they don’t understand exactly what it is. You use these keywords to optimize.
Now, this list that I mentioned before though, the five to 15, you can use that in your meta description. A decent meta description is around 150 characters or so. So, you need to fill that in with exactly what you want Google to understand your website’s about. Again, if you’re a dentist, you could have these keywords and put them into your meta-description where you could say the name of the dental practice.
You offer a quality teeth cleaning in Las Vegas. And then you could optimize for a free consultation, or free teeth cleaning or whatever the case may be. That’s one use. You optimize the website with these keywords in your title tag, so your H1, your H2, your H3, now I know that could be a little more technical, but again, that outlines the hierarchy of the website. You can use these keywords on services pages. You can use them on your location pages, you can use them on contact pages. There are many places to use these keywords.
It’s important to make a statement too that says, we want it to be in natural language. We’re not proposing to go nuts and add this particular keyword 73 times on the page, but what we are saying is that, there’s best practices that we follow in order to ensure that it’s very obvious to the search engines and to the consumer what the website or the page on the site is about.
Right, and I’m actually really glad that you said that. Because there’s two sides that I often see people try to optimize for, but both done incorrectly, not using enough keywords is what’s called thin content. If your contents thin, Google’s going to see your website, they’re going to see that there’s not enough on there, and they’re going to decide to rank someone else above it that’s going to give the user more information.
On the other end of the spectrum. What used to work 15 years ago of just overloading your website with keywords, that’s not going to work either. Google came out with what was the biggest algorithm update in the last 10 years, and that’s really on natural language. They understand that a lawyer and an attorney are the same thing. They also understand the difference between some words where it could have a different type of meaning. So, they’ve become too smart in order to trick them with simple, basic stuff that worked a decade ago.
You can say too smart. They understand what the user’s looking for, and that’s really what’s important. And that’s one side of keyword optimization. Now, the other part that’s important is optimizing for Google. And again, this is specifically targeted for primarily local businesses. Google, you have your Google business listing, that’s a mini website. It helps Google understand what your business is, what you do, shows up on the local map listings. First of all, if you don’t already have one, you can find someone to help you validate your business and get it approved.
Or go through the verification process yourself, it’s pretty simple. But in order to optimize, you have to have an approved and verified Google business account. They’ll send you a postcard. Once you register your business, and you validate it with the six digit code that they give you, and then you’re eligible to show for Google local businesses. The next part of that is a acronym which is, NAP. N-A-P for Name, Address and Phone number. This is probably the single most important aspect that a local business can have. And it’s also one of the easiest things that they can do.
However, with that being said, it’s so important that the name, address and phone number are consistent across anywhere. You use an ampersand sign. You need to use an ampersand sign in all the texts. You need to have that on your Yelp profile. You need to have that on any other guest blogs that you do. It needs to be consistent all the way across. If your company is Acme Roofing Company. Having that on your website and then using Acme Roofing Co, is going to confuse Google. It is smart enough to understand that those two, they could be the same, but they also might not be the same. And Google is not going to take the chance that one business is the same as the other.
So, that’s certainly very important. Understanding what categories you have is a great place to use some of these keywords. And whether it’s services or products that you have to be able to optimize your Google business listing. If you’re a deli, you can put the, you serve breakfast, you serve brunch you serve lunch and dinner, whatever you serve. Great opportunity to be able to optimize for some of these keywords. And again, obviously the description, having an accurate description of business and what they do is key. Having your hours of operation, including for the holidays accurate is important. Last thing you want is a customer showing up and they find you closed.
And then lastly, making sure that you have images. Now, images both for the website and they can be repurposed on social channels. I really think that it’s so important to have a fine line of professional images that showcase your business, and some of the products you have. And then also, photos and images that are real, that people can associate and see that this is actually from the business. I certainly do not advise using stock images. I don’t think that there’s anything worse from a customer experience, seeing some generic guy in the office with a headset with two thumbs up. That’s not going to do anyone any good. Especially if you’re a restaurant, having professional photos of your food, it’s very important.
And then, at the same time, if you’re a house painter, having pictures that people can see that a camera man took this. Everyone’s phone is good enough to produce high quality photos. Take a photo of the before and after, and that’s great content to use. It’s great to be able to showcase. And people can see results and they can see that you’re real. And people want to do business with people. Even with all the technology and everything else, people still are making the decisions for themselves. Having good images that will let people connect. Certainly I’ve seen higher conversion rates because of that.
Tracking the Right Metrics
Acquiring Reviews on Google My Business
Being able to acquire reviews, shows customers that you’re a legitimate business. And getting the first set of reviews is often a very difficult process, but once you start getting some, you’ll quickly find that they’re much easier to acquire. All reviews are important, good ones and bad ones. Consumers are smart, they know about fake reviews, and they hear all the time about people buying fake reviews and companies getting shut down.
I think if you’re worried that you have too many negative reviews, you’d even consider buying fake reviews. I think that there’s an internal problem that should probably be addressed from a business level on. Why the product’s coming in and it’s receiving negative reviews, is it a service issue? Whatever it is. That’s completely separate. But letting customers see that not everyone has a picture-perfect experience is valuable, because it gives the business and the business owner an opportunity to respond to that.
Yes. I say often that, many times, maybe in most cases if not all, some negative feedback might be the best for growth for a business, than everybody saying how great you are all the time.
Right. I mean, if you’re a restaurant, someone’s going to respond about the food. Or they’re going to say that the food came out cold, or they waited an hour, it’s great opportunity to use it. To one, address the customer. Maybe you can win them back. Unlikely, but possible. But it also shows other potential customers, how you treat them, what business means to you, how you react, what the situation was like. I mean look, if someone gets a negative review because they came in at 7:00 O’clock, and they had to wait an extra 15 minutes for a table, or 30 minutes, or an hour for a table, it shows customers that it’s busy. Why was it busy? Maybe there was, someone was sick or- Or it’s busy because the food’s great.
Exactly. It really lets the business owners be able to connect, try to offer something to get them back in, or at least an explanation, because there’s always three sides to each story. And it’s important for the customer to see how businesses interact. And it also makes for great content. You’re going to end up using your keywords in those reviews.
Backlinks and Citations
So, the citations and backlinks builds off the second point actually. But the citations are again, your name, your address, your phone number. It can go into these local directories, whether it’s your chamber of commerce, or Yelp, or directories that are specific for an industry. Some of them matter more than others. A lot of these online directories like Foursquare and a handful of these other directories that are used, most of them are not relevant, because they’re just aggregated from another data source. There’s a few data aggregators that push the data and syndicate it across. These are the ones that are important, because it makes sure that if your name is incorrect, or your phone number, or you have an old address, this is what makes sure it’s consistent across. The last thing you want to do is have a customer find you, research you, and then call the wrong number, and then go to a competitor.
We got a prominent attorney as a client, and he asked me, why have I not gotten a lead on, literally it’s like 20 years I’ve been associated with this organization and voila, we look at the listing, the telephone number’s wrong. Shocking.
Obviously, local SEO is something that we spend a lot of time on. Essentially free traffic. It just takes a little bit of work.
It takes work, it takes a plan, it takes effort. It takes insight. Keen insight. So, this is actually, it’s a good way to go into our fifth point is, how do we track results? How do we know what we’re doing is actually working? And that it’s not another situation of, “Hey, I’m ranking for this keyword that has absolutely no volume.”
Certainly. If you use any legitimate marketing agency, they’re going to have reporting, and to be able to track the metrics of your rankings, and you can look at your site traffic. You can look at how many page views you have. You can look at time on site looking at the pages, what pages people come into your site on, help see where you’re ranking. If you have more traffic that enters into to your site on one specific URL, typically that’s going to be a page that’s ranking higher in Google. You can look at the page, evaluate why?
You can see how valuable that is to your traffic. Looking at your actual website traffic and seeing how does this compare to the previous month, or the previous week, or last year. Now again, so many things change that. Comparing January of 2020 to January of 2019 or 2018, there can be a lot of variables. And again, it should be used as a benchmark. One important thing to consider when looking and evaluating your metrics is to make sure that all things are equal. Seasonality can come into play heavily if you sell Halloween costumes. Comparing your September traffic and October traffic to two months prior, isn’t really necessarily a fair comparison.
At the same time, if you sell Hurricane windows and you’re in Miami, comparing your traffic from May, when people are preparing for Hurricane season, to October, it’s going to be very different traffic. We see that often with eCommerce brands where the dates of holidays can have a big impact on the metrics. You looked at why is your site traffic down? While it’s not down, the holiday was on a different day than your prior traffic. Certainly a good place to start. Now again, traffic and views and clicks, those are great. They’re important. They’re certainly a metric to measure. But for most businesses that at least that we deal with, the business owners are concerned about the leads and how those leads turn into revenue. So, just because someone clicks on an Ad doesn’t make them a lead. It really makes them a visitor, it’s a click.
Let’s just say a company that has current rankings, let’s say they’re ranking on page three, page four, things are improving over time. At the end of the day, that page three or page four ranking is going to have probably absolutely zero benefit to them when we’re talking about lead generation or bringing people to the table. You agree?
Typically, yes. I mean, obviously you can self-inflate it through Google Ads if you so desired. But being on the second or third page of Google is most likely useless. I think it’s important that business owners, especially with local businesses, understand why local SEO is so valuable. Obviously Google is the first place people turn to when they’re doing research. Again, your social media channels are important for branding and building awareness, but people don’t go on Instagram looking for a hamburger restaurant. They’re going to go to Google, they’re going to type, hamburgers near me, or something to that extent, and some restaurants are going to show. Google is the phone book. It’s the new Yellow Pages. So, for businesses that want to get in front of the customers, they need to be where the customers are searching. Google is by far the most popular option. They account for 98% of searches for local businesses. That’s, I mean, certainly making sure, again, your name, address, phone number are consistent. Be one of the easiest keys to be able to get higher rankings in Google.
We have to understand ranking for a million keywords on page three, page five, page 10, page whatever, I think is not the point. The point is, let’s find the ones that are specific to your industry. Like you said, a dozen, 15, 20 of the max, and let’s hyper focus on those, and let’s work to get you on page one for that particular result for local search.
Another fact about it, is it’s free traffic. Anyone can go do Google ads. It’s going to cost money. Some businesses it’s more expensive than others. But local SEO, it’s free traffic. It does take time. There is a cost for the time, and someone has to maintain it or manage it or you pay to have it managed, but it’s free traffic. And on top of the free traffic, I think the aspect that I value most out of it, is it really levels the field for everyone. It allows any local mom and pop restaurant or new business, to be able to compete with established businesses.
All things being equal. If you’re a new bar, or you’re a new hotel, and you just opened up or you’re a new lawyer to a city, you can compete on a local level and any of the players in the space.