Wow, I was gobsmacked.
Did you know that there are nearly 30 million Small Businesses in the US alone employing nearly 60 million people?
60 million that’s about the population of the United Kingdom. And we don’t do too bad either this side of the pond with over 5.4 million Small Businesses in the UK.
In a nutshell - people love setting up and running small businesses.
A big round of applause - hurray!!
Fortunately, if you run a small, local business you’re not up against all of them. Just the ones on your patch.
Now that’s really good news for you because that means that with a little patience and application you can become one of the top ranked websites in your area.
Notice I didn’t say with a little bit of luck. Or a little bit of ca$h.
Just patience and application is all you need.
Well, that and a system. A step by step system.
And here it is, in glorious technicolour…
Now don’t be fooled by appearances. It looks like there are a lot of moving parts but really it’s just a step by step sequence of events that you need to follow.
Some are one-offs, others are regular events. But the outcome is simple - if you apply this system you’re going to become top dawg in your town.
OK, let’s get started.
Getting the basics right - Google My Business, Bing Places (& Yahoo)
You’ll need to take care to optimize every section of your account. That means name, address, contact info, category, hours of business, map, photos and video and an introduction to your business (which should include some keyword terms).
You’ll also need to validate your account. At the time of writing Google uses a postcard and Bing gives several options including postcard or text message.
Start getting reviews
See that wasn’t too difficult was it!
OK, now you need to start getting some reviews - especially in Google.
Why? Well, run a quick check on your service in your area. You should see a map with three businesses listed under it.
That’s the Google 3 Pack. You want to be there.
But take a closer look. Can you notice something?
Yup you got it. The top ranking sites tend to have more reviews. Now it’s not an exact science but we actually did some Local SEO research on this in the UK and we noticed that one of the top 4 factors that set the top ranking sites apart from lower ranking ones was the number of Google reviews.
So in short, you need to start asking for reviews.
Now if you’ve got some negative voices in your head telling you that you don’t want to hit up on your customers or they’ll be thinking you're abusing your relationship with them, relax.
Getting feedback and reviews is completely normal, it’s ethical and it’s all above board. Apart from that, people love to give feedback when they’ve had a great service.
So my recommendation is always to start with your best customers first. You’re probably on first name terms with them already.
Now don’t go crazy here. Check your competitors. Some types of businesses like restaurants are much more aggressive about collecting reviews so they’ll usually have a lot.
But other types of businesses will have fewer. So check out your competitors and have a target in mind, and just gradually build up your reviews over the coming weeks and months.
Apart from anything, if you suddenly pitch up with 150 reviews in a week that’s going to set the alarm bells ringing at Google.
Last point on this note - make it easy to give reviews. Send them the link to your Google My Business profile. This post explains how to create your GMB link.
NAP just stands for Name, Address and Phone number. Citation just means a mention or listing on a local listing website.
There are loads of highly respected websites that Google refers to in order to validate its own data. Sites like Yelp or Yext in the US, or Yell and 118 in the UK.
Here’s a great list of NAP resources by country.
Basically the idea here is to build up a consistent NAP profile across all of these sites. Google picks up on this and ultimately it helps your ranking.
Now some will have free listings and others will have paid searches. Don’t stress too much about getting a premium listing. The main thing is to get a listing and get your website address featured.
Industry Directories & Trade Associations
Another important signal that Google looks for is for links from relevant authority websites. A good example of this would be an industry directory that lists businesses operating in the same field.
Just run a search in Google to see whether there are industry specific directories.
Also, are you a member of a professional association? Or do you have a particular type of certification? If so, getting links from these kinds of respected organizations is like gold dust.
Service specific pages
OK, do me a quick favour. Head over to your website and tell me, do you have a page called ‘Services’?
Does it list all of the services you offer?
OK, have you got a page for each of these services?
If the answer to the last question is no, then we need to fix that as a priority.
Why’s that? Well, in a nutshell you’re just spreading yourself too thinly.
The thing is that Google wants to send people to the exact content they’re looking for. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you’re a builder. Someone’s thinking of getting a new basement installed. They could just search for builder and your area. But they’re probably more likely to type in something like basement specialist and your area.
Now if your basement service is just a bullet point in your services page then Google’s not going to give that too much importance.
But imagine you had a lovely page that talks about the entire process of basement construction from planning to handover with hints, tips, photos and loads of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), along with testimonials from happy customers and a map showing the areas you cover.
Well what do you think Google’s going to do then?
Of course - they’re going to put that slap bang at the top of their listings.
So map out every service you offer and create a specific page for each one.
And then you need to…
Create longer pages
Once you’ve got those extra pages you need to fill them up with some great content.
I’d recommend a minimum of 500 words, but ideally 1000.
Now hold on, I know what you’re thinking: “500 words Tony - are you kidding me?”.
But really, it is doable. But first, the reasoning behind this.
Basically, all the evidence points to the fact that Google prefers longer pages.
But also think about your potential customers. If they walk into your shop, call you or invite you into their home for a chat, what do you do?
Well, let’s start with what you DON’T do. You don’t just sit there and say about three or four sentences, do you?
What you do is to answer their questions, show them examples of your work maybe and generally reassure them that you’re a safe pair of hands.
So do the same on your website. Answer all of these questions
You’ve probably got the answers all written down somewhere anyway. They’re either on your hard drive or in your outbox. Failing that they’re up in your head.
You just need to get them from ‘up there’ to ‘out there’.
If you’re totally stuck, just write down a few frequently asked questions about each service. Then answer them with 2 or 3 sentences each and voila - you’ve got a few hundred words of great text for Google to index.
Optimize ALL pages (especially Industry & Location)
I’m sure that most of you reading this will be familiar with on-page optimization. If you’re not then it’s really just a term that means you’re applying Best Practice when you create your website pages.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about a step by step approach to identifying keywords, optimizing metatags, URLs, headings, etc. - we’d be here all day.
But what I would do is to draw your attention to that research we did on Local SEO and again, one of the top factors that set the top ranking sites (i.e position 1 to 3 in Google 3 Pack) apart from the low ranking websites (i.e. page 2 or 3) was to include industry AND location in their metatags.
We noticed that 61% of the Best In Class used their industry and location (e.g. Printer Birmingham) in the most important metatag (the Page Title Element) whereas the average for the lower ranking sites was 21%.
OK, I admit that it takes more than just one well optimised metatag to give a high ranking, but I would argue that this demonstrates that in general the higher ranking sites were just paying more attention to getting these things right.
In short though, here are the on-page elements you must be aware of:
- Optimize ALL pages - not just your home page
- Customize your metatags for EVERY page - don’t just cut and paste
- Page Title - include industry and location - up to 65 characters, put the industry (e.g. Printer) first and make it read naturally
- Page Description - up to 170(ish) characters - include industry and location and make it read naturally and sound appealing to improve Click Through Rate in Google results
- Keyword Friendly URLs - include your keywords where possible in your URLs - instead of www.domain.com/page1 use www.domain.com/service-location eg: www.domain.com/digital-printing-birmingham
- Headings - Google uses Headings to understand the layout and content of a web page. A bit like when you write a document in Google Drive or in Word you should use Headings throughout. The most important is the H1 then the H2 and H3. Use the H1 only once at the top of the page and include your service and location there where feasible
- Use your keywords throughout your text in a natural way and link to other pages from within the text - don’t overdo it though, just make it all read naturally
Check the Wordtracker on-page optimization guide for more information.
Quick win backlinks
If you’re not familiar with backlinks these are just links from other websites to yours.
Now some people get obsessed with backlinks but that’s usually for really competitive markets.
If you’re a local business you don’t need to go crazy though.
To illustrate this, when we looked at top ranking factors amongst UK B2B websites we found that the top ranking sites had backlinks from 44 websites on average whilst low ranking websites averaged at 17.
In fact probably a lot of these would have been their NAP Citations (see above).
But there are also some other easy wins for you. Here are some ideas:
- Link back to your site from your social media profiles.
- Are you a member of a recognised trade organization? Get listed there.
- Do you have an professional training body that you’re regulated by? Get listed there.
- Can you find any recognised industry related business directories? Get listed there.
- Do your suppliers have a testimonials page? If they do, get listed there.
- Identify where your competitors are listed and copy their strategy.
Speed up and secure your mobile website
Whilst Google normally keeps its cards close to its chest, there are three areas which they have admitted form part of their ranking algorithm so it’s worth making a note of them. They are:
There are loads of factors that determine a website’s loadspeed, but many of them are aimed at optimizing extremely busy, high traffic ecommerce websites.
For a local business probably the fastest, cheapest return would be to just switch to SSD hosting which is much faster than traditional hosting.
For Website Security there are all sorts of ways to protect your site. The basic price of entry is to switch your website to HTTPS which will require an SSL Certificate.
When it comes to mobile friendliness, at some point you’ll need to bite the bullet and go a for a Responsive Website. Responsive Design is a technique which enables your website to appear perfectly on any device - desktop, laptop, tablet or phone.
It might not be top of your list of priorities now, but when the time’s right for a redesign it’s worth investing in a mobile friendly site.
Blogging for business
One thing you definitely do want to set up is a company blog.
There are so many positives that blogging gives you. For a start blogging and social media are a match made in heaven.
Our Local B2B research showed that top ranking websites had more than 4 times the amount of pages that lower ranking websites had. And that’s one advantage of a blog - you have a great way to loads of great content.
Having a blog also means you become a recognised authority in your field as well as increasing the amount of traffic you get from Google, and being the bedrock of your social media plan.
Just focus on being a problem solver. Think of all the questions you answer every day. These are the basis of your blog content.
Think of Frequently Asked Questions - things like ‘How to’ or ‘How do I’ or ‘What’s the best way to’.
And always remember who your audience is. If you’re a local accountant your audience is local business owners and contractors - not other accountants. So avoid the temptation to ‘talk shop’ about subjects that mean little or nothing to your main audience.
Before we wrap up there’s one last point I want you to consider and that’s video.
Cisco estimate that 82% of all consumer related internet traffic will be video by 2021.
Isn’t that staggering?
Can you see an opportunity for your business there?
The simple truth is that video has a higher barrier to entry than other types of content. It’s perceived to be more expensive to create and edit for one thing.
But it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. There are loads of ways that smaller businesses can use video in their marketing without spending a ton of cash.
For those of you who jump at the chance to get on video here are some ideas:
- Video Buyer’s Guides
- How To Tutorials
- Whiteboard Videos
- Unboxing Videos
- Talking Blog Posts
Or for the camera shy, why not try these:
- Screen Capture
- Team Videos
- User Generated Content from your customers
Becoming the top ranked business in your area is a realistic target if you follow a few simple steps.
- Start with your local listings and get some reviews.
- Start building NAP Citations and also pick up some quick backlinks.
- Create service specific pages and make them longer as well as correctly optimized.
- Consider Speed, Security and Mobile Friendliness - all are known Google ranking factors.
- Finally, think about setting up a blog and consider using video as part of your strategy.
So are you a local business? Are you using any of these strategies or are you planning to start on Local SEO? Let us know in the comments below.