Local_CoverHere’s your quick Internet history lesson for the day: SEO used to be pretty darn difficult for small businesses. You had to compete against all of the big players in your industry for a slim collection of placements on keywords specific to your brand. Due to small budgets and stretched resources, most companies decided digital marketing wasn’t worth the effort.

Luckily, Google heard the complaints and has spent most of the last decade improving their search engine for the benefit of local businesses and local searchers. Small businesses are more likely to show up for local searchers. Reviews of local establishments rank at the top of the lists.

With new-found tools like the Google Places “Six-Packs” and business “Carousel,” we now have the tools to grab bigger audiences by understanding and improving local SEO.

Google Loves Reviews

Reviews are what’s new in the Google universe when it comes to marketing your business. The “Pigeon” algorithm update- new as of July 24 – gives more weight in search rankings to review sites for services and local businesses, meaning sites like Yelp.com and AngiesList.com need to be your focus. Start encouraging your clientele to leave reviews (good or bad) on these websites to prove to Google you’re real and worth a visit!

A quick note: Reviews on an individual service provider page still rank higher after the Pigeon update. In Google’s eyes, personal care and service providers such as dentists and accountants can prove their worth without the help of peer review sites.

Verify Your Address

Google wants to know you’re a real business with a physical address, plain and simple. To get started with this process, you need t0 create a Gmail account and a G+ page. You must then verify you’re real by accepting a location tracking post card in the mail from the Google Headquarter.

Once you’ve completed verification, check to make sure you’re showing up in the “local six pack.” This is the listing of 6 G+ business pages with location pins which show up right below Google Ads in search results.

Citations Are Key

Citations are the latest flavor of the month in the land of search optimization. A citation is any reference to your brand or business which is not contained within a link. Citations include information tidbits like your business name, address and phone number. To do well in local SEO, this information MUST be consistent across the web.

Start by adding citations somewhere in header section of your page. This should be the information you match all of your other citations to across the web. Here’s a quick tip: Google wants to know your phone is linked to a real location, and you’ll be penalized if you provide an off-site or cloud based phone number. Invest in a land line before moving ahead with local SEO.

There are other ways you can build citations on your domain. Talk about local initiatives or events on your blog and include event information like zip codes and streets. Share relevant press releases for your business partners. Your blog is a great place to house this sort of information on a regular basis.

Once you’ve started rolling out a citation plan, use whitespark.ca/local-citation-finder to grab up to three free reports profiling your local citations. Use this gauge to see if you need to either produce more citations across the web or if your citations are in need of a good cleaning. Both of these processes can be lengthy and expensive, so you have to weigh how important local SEO is to your overall marketing goals before investing.

I want to give a BIG “Thank You” to our friend Erin Sparks, owner of Site Strategics– a digital marketing and SEO strategy firm in Indianapolis- for compiling and presenting this data and tackling this exciting new topic in his presentation at Mixwest.

Listen In on Local SEO

We talked about this on a recent episode of More than a Few Words. You can listen now, or subscribe from iTunes and listen on the go.