Let’s be real. Growing a small business is no easy endeavor. The same holds true for local SEO and ranking a business in Google’s search results. Increased competition, dynamic algorithm changes, and ever-evolving SEO best practices can make search engine marketing for SMBs a part-time job in itself.
Fortunately, there are several ways in which small businesses can generate big momentum with focused SEO strategies that require little-to-no expertise. Certain strategies can help increase a business’s visibility in the Google 3-pack (shown below) as well as the organic search results that appear just below. As a result of heightened search visibility, a business can drive more qualified traffic to its site, which in turn, can help grow its bottom line.
To help get you started, below are 3 simple local SEO tips that can help grow your small business in 2020 and the years to come.
1. Verify & Optimize Your Google My Business Listing
Verifying and optimizing the GMB page for your business is essential to appear in the 3-pack. The first step is to make sure that you have claimed and verified a GMB page. Google will prompt you with options to verify via postcard submission, or in some cases, phone verification. The former option takes several days, as Google will send a postcard to your business’s location with a 4-digit verification PIN.
- Fully-populate your page to 100% completion and be as detail-oriented as possible in regards to hours of operation, location, contact information, etc.
- Write a compelling introduction, description, and tagline.
- Upload high-quality images (ideally at least one logo image, as well as specific images for each section of a storefront, in-office images, etc., if applicable.)
- Choose the single most relevant option as your primary business category. Contrary to popular belief, having fewer sub-categories is actually better for SEO, as each sub-category can dilute the authority and relevance pertaining to your primary category.
- Define your business’s service areas, such as the names of nearby cities or towns, or a defined radius from your business’s location.
- Link to your business’s website, as well as its social media profiles and any notable content you’ve published.
- Parallel to the last point, link from your business’s website to your GMB page, ideally in the header or footer of your site.
- Generate reviews. Be creative and strategize ways to generate positive reviews on your GMB page. A high volume of positive reviews can help with both SEO and CRO (conversion rate optimization,) giving customers greater trust in your business.
Applying these GMB strategies can help boost your business’s potential to rank in both the 3-pack as well as Google Maps search results. Consider this the first step to optimizing web properties outside of your site.
2. Build Citations on Other Sites
While we’re on the topic of the Google 3-pack, it’s critical we underscore the importance of citations. The definition of a “citation” is simply the mention or reference of a business’s Name, Address, and Phone Number (often referred to as “NAP”). Citations are commonly found on local and industry directories, social media profiles, chamber of commerce sites, press releases, and other publications.
Citations are important variables in determining the ranking of a location in the 3-pack as well as Google Maps search results. Google bots crawl NAP information wherever it may be found, and they use this data to assess the validity and credibility of a business. Further, Google considers the NAP information mentioned on your business’s website and GMB listing as a primary point of reference.
In a nutshell, Google compares your GMB and website NAP information with that of surrounding sources throughout the web. In doing so, it assesses the legitimacy of a business’ location. If there are major discrepancies in a location’s citation data (i.e. inconsistent business name or address information), it sends mixed signals to Google and a business’s rankings can suffer as a result.
Having a plethora of perfectly accurate citations, and from many sources, has become huge for local SEO. In turn, the process of NAP clean-up and citation building has become an integral component to attaining top placement in the 3-pack.
Some of the most popular and authoritative sources are Bing.com, Foursquare.com, Facebook.com, Local.com, MerchantCircle.com, Yelp.com, Yellowpages.com, Citysearch.com, Superpages.com, Manta.com, and Yahoo.com. While many of the citation scanning tools out there have services to help you fix and build citations, much of this effort can be done manually. Simply visit these sites and build a new listing for your business. Anyone can do it.
3. Develop a PR Strategy
The interesting thing about SEO today is that a lot of what moves the needle takes place outside of your website. In fact, the latest Google ranking factors study by SEMrush1 highlights “direct website traffic” as the most influential ranking factor for SEO.
Yes, you read that correctly. Direct traffic is the most powerful ranking signal in Google Search. That is users who type a domain directly in the browser bar to actively visit a website. Unlike backlinks and other ranking signals that can be manually manipulated, direct website traffic is one of the most natural ways for Google to determine the credibility, popularity, and authority of a website, and therefore its rankings.
Sure, there are a number of other ranking signals at play, but generating direct traffic is one of the most overlooked. It’s also one of the most powerful for local small businesses. The challenge is coming up with the right strategies to prompt individuals to visit your site directly. Much hinges on cultivating brand awareness through public relations (PR) strategies and various marketing and advertising initiatives. Here’s food for thought to help get you started, both online and offline:
- Conduct outreach to find opportunities for guest blogging and sharing publications on other platforms other than your own website. This effort can also help you build backlinks to your site, which is also an important ranking factor for SEO.
- Have an active social media presence and regularly share content related to your business and its target audience. Experiment with social media ads, like boosted Facebook posts, promoted tweets on Twitter, or promoted pins on Pinterest.
- Recruit local influencers to use, share, and promote your products or services.
- Collaborate with other businesses in your area, and develop co-marketing programs to help supplement each other’s objectives.
- Become a member of your local chamber of commerce or other community organizations.
- Sponsor local events or donate to particular causes of interest.
- Buy ad space in local publications or other media outlets like local televisions and radio networks.
- Create contests, polls, surveys, and giveaways via your social media presence.
These are just a few PR strategies to help get your creative juices flowing. While it may be hard to measure the impact of such strategies, you can use tools like Google Analytics to track both direct traffic and organic search traffic coming to your site. Sometimes these metrics alone are enough to justify investing in certain outlets, whether online or offline.
Notice how all three of these local SEO tips have almost nothing to do with your actual website. That is because a vast majority of Google ranking signals involve off-site factors, such as backlinks, citations, direct traffic, etc.
That’s not to discredit the importance of having a well-optimized, user-friendly website. But if you’re actively engaged in SEO, then you probably understand the fundamental basics of keywords, Meta tags, and other basic SEO knowledge that already proliferates the web. Hopefully, these local SEO tips deliver novel insight into new ways to grow your small business via Google Search.
About the Author: This article was contributed by Tyler Tafelsky, the Senior SEO Specialist at Atlanta’s Captivate Search Marketing. Tyler has worked in the search marketing profession since 2008 and offers a wealth of insight surrounding local and organic SEO, Google Ads pay per click (PPC) advertising, content marketing, and social media marketing.