A Google search is often the catalyst that brings local people to your business. Rachel Miller explains how to use local SEO to boost your Google ranking and attract more customers
If you’ve got a local bricks and mortar business, your customers will want to know what you offer, where you are based and when you are open. And the first thing they’ll do to find out is search on Google. If they can’t find your business online or locate you on Google Maps, they will probably go to a competitor.
What is local SEO?
Local search engine optimisation (SEO) is about maximising visits to your website from people in your area who are looking for a business like yours. The most important tool in local SEO is a Google Business Profile and a presence on Google Maps but there are other key steps you can take to spread the word about your business online.
What happens when someone searches for your business on Google?
There are lots of things you don’t want to see when you Google your own business. Worst of all is … nothing. If your business doesn't appear on Google then you might as well not exist. Perhaps your business is not featured on Google Maps so people can’t get directions to your location. Or perhaps you have a Google listing but your details are out of date or incomplete. Basic information including a description of your business, your opening hours, an address and telephone number are essential. A complete lack of customer reviews - or a few bad reviews and a low star rating - will also raise red flags.
How to create a Google Business Profile
A free Google Business Profile puts your business information on Google Search and Google Maps, so that customers can find you when they look for a business like yours in their area. Google also allows customers to leave reviews which gives you a star rating. A good star rating can be the reassurance that customers need to choose your business over others.
To create a Google Business Profile, you'll need to provide some key information, including your business name, sector, opening times, address, phone number, a link to your website and photos.
Just like a website, a Google Business Profile must have a relevant, SEO-friendly profile of your company using appropriate keywords and tags. It’s not complicated - just think about the words and phrases a customer might use to search for your products or services. Try to be specific - if you are a plumber in London, for example, use specific keywords to highlight what you offer (boiler servicing) and to narrow down where you operate (East London or Hackney).
Anyone can set up a Google Business Profile for a business. If your business is already listed, you can claim the Profile and then edit the information to ensure all the details are correct. Over time, consumer trends and search terms can change so check your profile on a regular basis to ensure it remains up-to-date and relevant.
How to get your business on Google Maps
The good news is that having a Google Business Profile automatically gets your business on Google Maps. This means users can see your business on the map and can easily get directions to your premises from wherever they are.
How to boost your Google ranking
Simply signing up for a Google Business Profile is not enough to guarantee a top spot in the Google search rankings. There are a few key things you can do as a part of your local SEO strategy to make sure your business features prominently on Google:
- Make sure your Google Business Profile is engaging so that customers click through to your website. Google sees user engagement as an indication of relevance and will reward websites accordingly.
- Optimise the user experience on your website with clear information and intuitive navigation. Use bullet point and headings to make content easier to read.
- Check engagement rates on Google Analytics to find out which web pages are performing badly - core landing pages should have an engagement rate of more than 70%.
- Improve the loading speed of your website by using smaller, lower resolution images. Also consider image compression and a decent caching system.
- Make sure your website looks good and works well on mobile phones and tablets.
How to get customer reviews on Google
Customer reviews have a big impact on your local rankings so it’s worth encouraging your customers to leave a positive review either by asking them in person or by following up with an email. The best way to avoid bad reviews is to deal with customer complaints effectively. If you do get a bad review, always respond to it and explain your side of the story without blaming the customer. Businesses that respond to reviews are seen as more trustworthy than those that don't.
Where else can you list your business online?
Google may dominate the online world but there are many other free online directories that can help bring in local customers including Bing, Yell, Yelp, 192 and FreeIndex. If you operate in the hospitality sector, you'll also need to be on TripAdvisor. If you’re a professional tradesperson, you may want to register on a site like Rated People, Checkatrade or My Builder.
Local SEO - like any search engine optimisation - is not a job that you can do once and forget about; it’s an ongoing process. Setting up a Google Business Profile is a great first step but don’t forget to update your information, respond to reviews and keep optimising your website in order to get the best results.