What do you do when you cannot afford to hire an SEO expert, in-house employee or software for your business’s local presence on Google, Bing, and Yahoo? Simple, read this article and follow these basic recommendations. This is a do it yourself local SEO article for the business owner who doesn’t have a clue what they are doing. This guide will help any business that is trying to rank on Google maps. From attorneys, b2b, and local small businesses this guide is perfect for the DIY business owner. I will keep it simple, and highlight the most important tactics, so you can easily follow a few steps and get your business ranking on Google, Yahoo & Bing.
How do you rank on Google Maps and what exactly does Google look at in order to rank a business? Well it’s pretty simple and complicated at the same time. The basic explanation is that Google looks at many signals to decipher whether they trust your business enough to show it to their customers. Some of those signals are as simple as positieve reviews, your website, listings on citations like Yellow Pages or social signals like Facebook and so much more. Your job is to send signals and give Google reason to trust your business.
I will go over the major signals below and reference several authoritative sites with more detailed information. I see no reason to recreate the wheel, when so many folks have put so much effort into creating detailed articles and research. Think of this DIY put together by many sources. Here is a page by Moz going over some research on what Local SEO signals are the most important. Google also gives some info on how to improve your local rankings.
For this article we will focus on how to optimize your Google Business listing so that it ranks in Google. The same tactics apply to Apple Maps (Yelp), Bing and Yahoo. This will also help you rank organically in the map pack, and not just Google Maps.
Create a Google Business listing
Head on over to Google My Business and create an account and create your listing. Use a Google account that you are familiar with and regularly use. You don’t want to lose this, it’s a pain to re-claim your listing if the original account is somehow forgotten or lost.
After the account is created, Google will ask you to find your business in their database. Yes your business might already be listed, but not verified, and all you have to do is verify the listing. More on that later.
If your business is already available in search, you will be given the opportunity to verify the listing and start filling out missing information that will help Google connect your services with the people searching for them. If it isn’t, you will be able to fill out your business information to get a listing created. Fill these out fully and as accurately as possible. Don’t skimp! A listing with a fully filled out profile is the first step to ranking locally on maps.
Here is an article by bright local (a local SEO tool we use) that goes into detail on how to create a listing properly.
Important points to remember when filling out your listing.
Choose the most relevant business category as the main category. If you are not sure, I suggest going to Google and looking at competitors and what their main category is. Just go to Google maps and click on a competitor and it will show you which category they chose at the very top of their listing. Look at a few more and see if there are all using the same. If not, choose the most relevant and you can add sub categories later.
NAP – Name, address and phone number. Make sure you choose the exact business name, the exact address and phone number and stick to it. If you have a website, make sure these match. Your address should be consistent across the board. For example, if you spell out “Maple Drive” as your address in your listing, make sure you are spelling it out anywhere else you use it. Something as simple as using “Maple Dr.” instead can potentially negatively impact your listing, although google seems to not care as much anymore. Your NAP is a signal Google references to develop trust in your business. They verify this information against the top sources on the internet (yellowpages, whitepages, and etc.) Incorrect or irrelevant information can cause Google’s algorithm to neglect your business when it considers you for search results. Tip: Local businesses with keywords in them rank better and always have since the start. If you have a new business going online, we at Inbound suggest modifying the business name so it is relevant to search terms potential customers will use to find your business. Just make sure your business is registered with the same name at the local, state and federal level.
Fill everything out to the best of your ability. Example: don’t skimp on photos or your business description. When you fill out the description, do not spam it with keywords. This is your brand. Write a description that explains who and what you do.
Reviews. Get reviews from your customers as soon as your listing is verified and starts showing up. Google does not want you to ask for reviews, but there are ways to get reviews without specifically asking someone to leave a positive review. A couple examples are as follows: With every purchase you can hand out a card or some type of documentation that mentions Google and your reviews. You can even print out a short URL to your listing (Create your short name & url for your business here). You can add this short url to your email signature. When customers say thank you for an awesome service or product, ask them to leave their experience on Google and send them the link. Use Google to find many more examples. There are companies and software that can help you automate this process. Here is our favorite
Optimize Your Website. On-page SEO Signals.
Having a website is important, but not vital. It depends on the industry, competition and location. For cities with less competition and population you can rank without a website, we’ve even seen this happen in bigger cities, but it’s rare. For those of you who have a website, here are a few suggestions you can follow to help your business grow on local search and improve your Google business listing’s reach.
Google will analyze the website and look for signals relating to usability, content quality, speed, mobile friendliness, and other signals like comparing your address on Google Business versus the address on the website. They want to show their customers businesses they trust. They also use your website to identify your services and ultimately which keywords you can show up for.
Meta Tags: Update your title tags and put your main keywords within these title tags. For example this article’s title tag would be “DIY Local SEO for the small business owner.” We won’t go into detail on how to update this on every platform out there. We will stick to WordPress. The best way to update title tags is to use the Yoast SEO plugin. It’s free and easy to install and configure. Follow these instructions for installation and follow these directions on how to optimize and add your title tag to a WordPress website using yoast. Tip: start with the most important pages like your service or product and home pages and move onto your blog and other pages last. Do not target the same keyword on multiple pages, it will make it harder to rank and potentially confuse Google’s algorithm. The meta description is another important meta tag you should update. Make this your your sales pitch. The same plugin above allows you to update this field as well and use the exact same instructions at the link above.
Nap/Citation: Make sure your address, phone number and business name (NAP) are exactly the same as your google business listing. This is another signal that Google uses to verify whether it can trust your business enough to show it to their customers. Tip: Put your NAP on the footer of every page and embed your Google map on the contact page for directions and reviews.
Content: Use variations of your main and sub categories (search terms customers would use to find you) from your business listing within your content. Start with the content page title. This should contain keywords that represent the page’s topic. For example the title above is descriptive and tells Google and the user exactly what this page’s content is about. Do the same for your homepage by choosing keywords that represent your business. If you are a mechanic it should read “Auto Repair & Mechanic Houston TX…” Feel free to include your brand modifier into this main title as well. Tip: Every page should have unique content. Do not create similar content that will compete with other pages on your site.Tip: Use only one H1 tag for the main title of every page. Instructions here
Local Intent: Content should have local intent and contain the city and other geographic information like city name or areas of interest. You can even go into a little bit of history or why this location is important and more. Tip: Be specific with your main keywords. Our Houston BBQ restaurant has served over 1 million briskets to Houstonians over the last 20 years. Tip: Analyze competitors’ content and come up with a plan. Here are a couple of great articles for more direction:Moz content planning for local seo and getting started with local content.
Google will look at authoritative websites like Yellow Pages, Bing Local, or Avvo and Zocdoc for doctors and attorneys with a goal of generating trust and collecting data on your business. Your job is to make sure this information is consistent, and complete. That means get rid of any duplicate listings and make sure you get some review on the high traffic listings like your Bing listing or Yelp.
The easiest way to do this is by subscribing to citation management tools like Yext or Moz Local. There are many more, but these two offer the best bang for your buck. These two citation tools will distribute your business across thousands of websites and allow you to manage listings on their networks within minutes. Trust me this is so much easier than going through 100 listings and manually creating logins and updating them one by one.
What is a data aggregator?
These are large data bases that mine and gather information like your NAP or citation. They are used by sites like Yellow Pages to gather new business listings and import them into their website. This allows them to keep their listings up to date and add new businesses that have recently joined the economy. When you use a service like Yext or Moz Local, you are sending these data aggregators your NAP and making sure they distribute that across the globe’s citation sources, ensuring everything is accurate, and up to date. This includes getting rid of duplicates or incomplete listings, which may affect your trust with Google. The major data aggregators are Acxiom, Neustar / Localeze, InfoGroup, and Factual.
Niche Directories for local businesses
Don’t stop at the major directories! Find your major niche directories for your industry. Here is a list of top local citations organized by business category. Here is another indepth list at Moz’s directory of citations. Not only will potential customers find you at these directories, they allow you to build citations with industry relevance showing Google you have links coming from websites in your industry. I will save you the details, because this is supposed to be a simple DIY for business owners, not someone who is learning how to become an SEO expert.
Go to that site above and choose your industry. Now click on the D.A. (Domain Authority) column and start with the highest DA website. Next start with the free listings and simply register an account and fill out your information. Create a file on your computer that contains your business description, hours and other information you will use over and over again to create these citations. This includes photos and any other information like certifications, accolades and awards. You want to fill these out 100%. These directories have their own mini search engines and you want to make sure potential customers are shown a strong profile and not a partially filled out profile. Tip: Higher domain authority websites are more trusted by Google, and industry specific directories carry more credibility in Google’s eyes when they compare you to your competitors. Your competitors are probably in this directory, and you should be as well.
Paid Directories & Citations.
Paid links are valuable and separate you from the competition who do not spend money on their SEO. A website that charges per listing is more accurate because they usually have a human editor ensuring the listings on their directory are accurate. You also get listed on a website where some competitors might not be listed and this increases the value of your website. That’s because every link pointing to your website is like a vote. Keep in mind quality links matter more than the quantity. It’s better to have 10 high-quality links than 100 free low quality links. When you use the list above to filter for free listings, choose the best paid listings in your industry and get listed. Play within your budget and create a game plan to acquire more of those listings in the months and years to come. Tip: Use Google and see which directories show up when you look for your business in your city. For example an attorney might want to show up on Avvo, because they show up for terms that you want to optimize your local business for. For example if we are doing SEO for a personal injury lawyer, we would type in “personal injury lawyer near me” and get listed on any of the directories that show up on page 1 and 2. This should help you generate traffic from the directories and create a new source of revenue for your business. For attorneys (we specialize in law firm seo), we always list our clients on FindLaw, Avvo, NOLO, Lawyers.com and Expertise.com. Some are free and some are paid, but all of them have been known to rank well organically for terms that represent law firm seo.
Types of paid local citations and directories
Chambers of commerce
Here are a few guides on how to research and build links. It can be as simple as typing in “Law firm directories” or “lawyers near me” and looking for directories that rank well. Tip: Focus on quality and a simple rule of thumb is to avoid websites that are built for seo, talk about seo or offer seo benefit.
Obviously this is not a signal, but it is a tool that will come in handy and help you track the performance of your SEO campaign. This tracks every source that sends traffic to your website down to the user level. You might not ever look at the details, but you might need this data in the future. Maybe you hire an SEO agency, or you decide to learn more about SEO. You might even find that your business is suffering and need to do some fact finding and figure out which traffic sources have stopped sending you traffic. Read this guide on installing Google Analytics in WordPress for beginners. Here is a course on Google Analytics for beginners by Google.
Final Suggestions on Managing Your Local SEO.
Don’t set and forget your campaign. Continue managing your local seo. Stay on top of your work. Stay organized and keep detailed notes. Go back every so often and regularly visit your properties,
Check your GMB, yahoo, bing listings often. This can easily become unverified or suggested edits can hurt your rankings. Always keep an eye out for emails and do not ignore emails coming in. For example watch out for this scam.
Update your website’s content regularly. If you are an attorney, add updated information for your legal content. Add new content or simply make edits with a goal of making the content easier to read and understand.
Stay on top of Google updates. Google it [SEO Google ALgorithm updates] and figure out what has changed, what the SEO community is doing about it and what to expect.
Stay on top of your rankings using tools like semrush.com or ahrefs.com and whitespark.ca.
Keep an eye on your Google business analytics , insights and search term report. You can look at the keywords users are typing in to find your business, and implement them into your content. You can also use this report to identify keywords to be tracked in the tools I listed out above.
If you ever get stuck or don’t know what to do next, check out the references below. You can also find SEO experts that work on an hourly basis or simply Google it.
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