Just how critical is local SEO? Every second of the day, more than 40,000 people are making search queries on Google. Many are shopping for goods and services — where to get drinks with coworkers, where to drop off their dry-cleaning or where to pick up a new set of headphones. And half of those consumers who searched using their smartphones became customers of businesses they found online within a single day.

Clearly, ranking high in local search results is vital for small businesses with walk-in customers. And boosting the effectiveness of your local SEO isn’t even that hard! Unfortunately, many small business owners are behind the eight ball. Even business owners who’ve invested in general SEO over the past several years may not be up to speed on optimizing local SEO. Many of the tenants of national and local SEO are the same — you still need great content, a user-friendly website, solid performance and exposure to establish authority in your field — but local SEO requires signals and testimonials that solidify your business as a reputable local asset.

By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of local SEO and how to improve your local search rankings. In this era of smartphones and mobile Internet usage, local SEO may be your greatest ally in expanding your reach online.

Start a Google My Business Profile

First things first — create a Google My Business profile for your business.

Your Google My Business profile is the foundation of your local SEO efforts. For starters, you can define exactly how your contact information should ideally appear throughout the Web and social media. Second, a your profile allows your business to be shown on Google Maps, and that alone can bring many customers through your doors.

Google My Business is also associated with online citations and reviews, both of which can heavily influence the success of your local SEO efforts. We’ll go into greater detail on these in the next two sections.

Starting your Google My Business profile is easy. Go to https://www.google.com/business/ and set up an account. You’ll be asked for information about your business such as contact information, hours of operation, available payment options and more. You can even provide pictures and video clips to accompany your listing. Then all you have to do is verify your profile via mail or phone. That’s it. The service is free and ultimately helpful to your bottom line.

Check Your Citations

Citations are one of the most important factors in your local SEO ranking. A citation is any listing of your business name, address and phone number on other webpages or social media pages.

A general rule is more citations leads to a higher local search ranking. Google’s algorithms place even greater weight on citations listed on popular business portals such as Yelp and Angie’s List, so be sure to claim profiles on those sites, too. You can also check out inexpensive services like WhiteSpark and BrightLocal that can help you find sources for new citations.

One thing about citations — it’s critical that your citations exactly match your Google My Business listing. Make sure you keep your name, address, and phone number consistent across every single online citation.

Encourage Your Customers to Write Reviews

Google’s algorithms have evolved over the years to reward websites that provide great user experiences. That’s why positive reviews — both in quality and quantity — are so important for your local SEO efforts.

Positive reviews can be the difference in ranking on the first page or being invisible in the search results, especially in more competitive fields where consumers have more choices. That’s why you should always follow up on good customer experiences by asking for favorable reviews.

The most impactful reviews are those attached to your Google My Business profile. However, reviews on sites such as Yelp are also helpful.

Optimize Your Website for Local SEO

By now, you probably understand the importance of contact information in local SEO. To optimize your website for local SEO, make sure your contact info (again, exactly as it’s listed in Google My Business) is listed on your website. You should also add the city, state and/or zip code of your business to your website’s title tags. Also reference the city and state in your website content wherever it makes sense.

You may need help from a Web developer for this next part, but I recommend you use schema local markup and a KML file. The schema local markup provides search engines with more specific information that can help index your site more appropriately (which means the people who see your site will more likely become customers), and the KML file displays geographic data in apps such as Google Earth.

Claim Profiles on Social Media

Get started on social media. Claim profiles on as many platforms as you can to increase your number of free citations.

You’ll also want to get active on social media as you ramp up your SEO efforts. Focus your efforts where most of your customers are. For B-to-C businesses, that probably means Facebook and Twitter. For B-to-B businesses, you might be more interested in platforms such as LinkedIn. Research shows that Google values social media signals in its search rankings so don’t pass this up.

Start a Blog

Engage your prospective customers with a blog. Write about local issues involving your neighborhood, your city and your state. Write about new products or offer helpful advice. And be sure to include citations on each blog page. Share your blog on social media; it’s a great way to reach new customers and expand your citation network.

Conclusion

If you want customers to walk through your doors, then make local SEO a top priority.

While hiring an SEO expert can jumpstart the process, most of the above steps can be handled without outside help. Just remember that improving your local SEO is a process. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Keep at it, though, and your efforts will pay off.

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