Local business owners we talk to love to embrace the do-it-yourself attitude, so we thought it would be a good post to present the basics for do-it-yourself online marketing for local businesses. We often here: “Why should I pay someone if I can do it myself?” Of course, that’s usually if we had all the time in the world. Unfortunately, Local SEO can become time consuming very quickly, especially due to the complexity of the fragmented local search market.
However, it is possible for owners to work on a little bit each month to improve their rankings on Google Maps for Local SEO, or improve their Yelp profile (Online Reputation Management) to reach new traffic, or add fresh content or a blog to their website (Search Engine Optimization) in order to improve their Google Search Rankings. Part of the do-it-yourself marketing strategy is to prioritize your efforts based on what you’re trying to achieve and the amount of work that goes into each effort. Many of our customers seem to ask a lot of the same questions, so we wanted to put together this list and prioritize it for those that are just getting started.
Local SEO in the context of this article is the activity of updating your company’s business listings and content (on both local search sites and your website) in order to improve your rankings on sites like Google Maps, Yelp, and other local sites and search engines. After you have mastered, Local SEO, then you can start tackling Social Media Optimization (SMO), but that’s for another time. Here we go, hope you’ve had your coffee today!
CLAIM YOUR LISTING
Everything starts with this. Claiming your listing can have an immediate impact on improving your rankings on Google Maps and others. Also, you need to have control of your listings for effective online reputation management. In addition, you don’t want anyone (especially a competitor) to hijack your listings. Be sure to perform a vanity search on Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Bing Maps, Yelp, Citysearch and Yellowpages.com. Add listings where you’re not listed and claim all the listings you found. You will need to go through a simple verification process.
DETERMINE YOUR RANKINGS
Where do you rank when you search for your primary category and local city? Are you in the first couple pages? Start by getting a good understanding of where you rank today in order to set some goals and track your performance. If you have a website, check your web search rankings for your category/keywords. If you don’t have a site, get one! Even if you don’t really need a site to drive business, it will help with validating your business and listings for local search optimization (Local SEO). You can get a very basic site up and running pretty cheap these days.
Update your listings. Be sure your information is accurate and consistent. Consistency of your business details is important throughout the web. Avoid using call tracking numbers if possible. Add photos and videos. Create/add a video on YouTube and link to it on your Google Place Page. This content can help improve your rankings, but will also differentiate you from others and provide with control over your online reputation. This content improves how a potential customer sees you, hopefully motivating them to take the next step (call or stop by). Be sure to update your categories as well. Mike Blumenthal has a great tool to help you before you login and update your Google listing. You should try to add as many categories that are still relevant to your products/services. Complete as much info as you feel comfortable and maintain accuracy (Hours, Payment Types, Menus, Email). This will help you with both improving rankings as well as online reputation management.
ACHIEVE BUSINESS LISTING NIRVANA
Consistency is vital across the web when it comes to business details. However, there are so many sites with your listings today, it can become overwhelming. If you’ve ever moved or changed your business name, then you’re old data could still be moving around the web. However, you can start at the source. Most business listings come from 3 primary listing databases. This is a great way to add your listings and clean up old data. Consistency will help search engines aggregate all references to your business (establishing “trust” for your location and listing, which can help improve your rankings for your local business). If a site has conflicting information it can’t be tagged to your business properly as a citation, losing the value of that reference from an SEO perspective. Only with true consistency everywhere can you achieve business listing nirvana! Add/update listings on these top 2 databases. Axciom is the third, but they don’t allow self-provisioning.
UPDATE YOUR WEBSITE’S CONTACT PAGE
Be sure that search engines can find your location data. At a minimum, your contact information should be in clear HTML (not an image or flash). To really comply and ensure that search engines can find you accurately, provide your contact information in an hCard or add a KML to the site. You can create a KML file (like a sitemap) to Google directly via the Google Webmaster Tools. For those of you that now have a blank stare on your face-ask your webmaster, local seo consultant, or your nephew to look into it. Here are some easy to follow blogs explaining each along with links to the tools.
UPDATE YOUR WEBSITE PAGE TITLE TAGS
On your home page and throughout your site, be sure to include targeted keywords (your categories and services) in the title tags along with your most targeted geolocation keywords (cities, neighborhoods, etc). This is very important if you are trying to improve your rankings and for General Web Search Results and optimize for your website. You may also want to have your internal site links/URLs updated to have some of these keywords integrated there as well. This will let search engines better understand what you do and what locations you serve, resulting in a greater relevance for these keywords. This greater relevance will results in higher rankings for the keywords you are targeting. Once these steps are completed and picked up by the search engines, go back and check your rankings again. For your contact page, be sure to have your business name in your title tag and listed on your page near your business details. This will provide greater validation and authority that you are the owner of these business details. If you have multiple locations, consider creating a separate page, URL and title tag for each location. (For example: http://www.tamaleheaven.com/contact/sanfranciscomexican) That way when a user searches for your services in that city, you’ll be highly optimized for that specific location.
GET CITATIONS/INBOUND LINKS
It’s time for you to tune your PR skills. If you’ve made it this far, then it’s likely you really are really intent on SEO. Citations are references to your business including your address or phone number and they can have a big impact on improving rankings on Google Maps. Inbound links are other sites that link to your site and this can tell search engines how important/respected your site is by others. This, in turn, can impact your rankings on general web search results. At this point, you have likely received inbound links by accident. Hopefully you’ve had some articles written about you or joined your local BBB. But for SEO, you need to kick in the PR machine. Effective SEO strategy today is often more about what is going on “offsite”. This means that search engines use content found throughout the web about your site/business to help validate it and increase the value of your site/service. For web search, this is called Page Rank. The other important thing to understand is that different sites that point to yours have different values. So if you have a New York Times review linking to your site or business listing, this is much more valuable than Mary’s Family Blog who just loves your Butter Cream Pie. The Times article is exponentially more valuable. But quantity is important too, so don’t spend all your time hounding the New York Times food editors. There are much easier ways to get started. For building inbound links and citations, take any of your competitor’s sites and see where they have links and ask for coverage. Yahoo’s Site Explorer is free and one of the most comprehensive. A well known paid tool is available from MOZ called Linkscape.
If you don’t have any reviews, get some. If you already have some, get some more! Drive a review campaign either quarterly or monthly. If you have a customer database, send out an email. Or print some business cards with reminders on them for people to review when they get home. Put it on the back of your appointment reminder cards. Make it easy. You can try to offer an incentive, but this can be a delicate line, so be careful with this approach. I suggest you just give great customer service and just ask nicely! Be sure to have your reviews posted spread across various sites, including Yelp, Google, Bing, Citysearch, etc. Not only do reviews do have an effect on local search rankings, but more importantly, they create a positive online reputation for prospective customers looking for your services. Be sure to address any negative reviews immediately by reaching out to customer and try to turn that negative into a positive. If they have an iPhone or smartphone, get them to do it before they leave!
SCOUT THE COMPETITION
Once you’ve done some of the basic blocking and tackling mentioned above, you can start to scope out the competition in order to get some clues on what’s working for them. For mapping sites, review what competitors are in the top 3 on Google Maps. Things to look at include:
- # of citations (Quantity and Quality, such as BBB)
- Review quantity and quality (Overall Rating)
- Content (Photos, Videos, Hours of Operation, Email, Categories)
- User Content (# of times an end user has tagged the listing)
For general web search, you’ll want to look at some of the following. Keep in mind; this is just a place to start. There is a lot more analysis that can be done once you’ve mastered this.
- Page Titles (Do they include keywords for services and localities.
- Page Description (Do they have a brief, but effective description of the site so searches are inclined to click when they see it in the search results page)
- URLs (Do they have keywords included in any urls)
- Keyword Density (Are they repeating keywords evenly throughout the copy)
- Fresh Content (Do they have a blog and/or regularly post new articles)
TRACKING AND ANALYTICS
One of the most important aspects to any effecting marketing plan is to measure results along the way. We are big believer in the value of analytics to measure performance and learn what is most effective for your business. That is why we built chatmeter, so please sign up today if you have not already. The chatmeter will report your monthly rankings on both local and web search sites, measure customer feedback across multiple review sites, and indicate the amount of chatter you’re getting from blogs and social media sites. In addition, be sure to check your Local Business Center for reports on your Google listings. A great tool for your website is Google Analytics. It’s free, easy to use, and very comprehensive. If you are driving traffic to your site at all, then you must have a measurement tool in place. These tools can be great ways to measure the effectiveness of your do-it-yourself marketing strategy. If you’ve made it through this whole post, congratulations! Either now, you’re well on your way to a do-it yourself online marketing strategy, or your ready to call for backup.
If you’re interested in a FREE Consultation with an Local SEO Professional, then please contact us.