Advice from the Experts: Enhancing Your Website’s Local SEO

July 5, 2023  | 

This blog post contains the transcription of a free virtual Lunch & Learn we hosted in June 2023 titled, “Enhancing Your Website’s Local SEO.” You can view all of our upcoming webinars here.

How to Improve Your Website’s Local SEO

Who Are the Top Experts to Know?

Jessica Ponyrko is the owner of Anchor Watch Marketing, which she started after getting burnt out from years of working in corporate as a sales training specialist and brand launch manager and realizing she could take those same skills and use them to help small business owners in her own community. Jess and her team specialize in brand strategy, website design, and management and consulting, helping her clients to not only create memorable brands and spectacular websites, but to find a balance of their own.

Dale Shadbegian is the CEO of Cape & Plymouth Business Media, the region’s only business-focused media and marketing consulting company. Dale is a 25+ year Marketing Veteran and SEO Specialist with a B.S. in Information Systems from Fitchburg State College. He has dedicated his career to helping businesses grow with digital marketing.

What Is Local SEO, and How Does It Differ from National SEO?

Let’s start with national SEO. That’s easy, right? If you’re looking for an answer to a question or you want to learn more about a particular topic, you have the regular search results and you have the things that Google will show you the common questions for. You can click on those and expand them. Those are results that come from anywhere in the world, and usually, they’ll come from the country where you’re originating from. They’re more broad-based.

Local SEO can be focused on local products, but it’s mostly local services. We’re talking about maps here — local meaning you’re gonna see some type of map result. And even within local, when we say local SEO, you can have paid and unpaid. You’re searching for something nearby. A map result comes up, and it’s organic. The way you get there is so completely different. You’re focused on reviews, pictures, tours, and profiles. It’s completely different from the way you would be found for national SEO. Local SEO is really measurable. It’s one of the best ROIs for a small local business in marketing. It’s also easy to track and measure how people are using it.

Google gives us a lot of good tools, but Bing and Yahoo also apply here. A lot of these results come from a phone, too. People are on the go, they’re asking Siri, or they’re asking Google questions. There’s a lot more going into it.

It’s important to realize how thinking about the way as we, consumers first and foremost, get information now. We Google things, and we look at those local results that pop up in the local pack right at the top. Google shows you those even before it shows you the national SEO results. Those things are human nature. We just look at the first thing that comes up, check the reviews, and see how the business is showing up online. That’s how we judge businesses now.

There is probably the greatest opportunity for local businesses to leverage that to reach the people that they’re trying to reach.

Can Any Business Benefit from Local SEO?

For local SEO, you have to be physically located somewhere and service people within a certain geography. If you’re a pizza place, for example, you know you’re really going to be hyper-focusing on your local area. Nationally, it’s not gonna work because there are so many pizza places between you and someone in another state. It’s really important that you’re thinking about your customer.

However, you might be a business located in a specific area that sells a national product. That means there may be some overlap. If you optimize that business and someone searches for a term that relates to your business, and they’re local, they can then go down the street to your store.

It’s also important to say that even if you are selling something that anybody in the country could buy, if there’s a local business that’s closer to the customer and very optimized for local search, they’re going to show up higher than you on a search engine.

What Can Every Business Do to Improve Their Local SEO?

The thing about local SEO is that it’s both on your website and off your website. You have to be really consistent about how you’re showing up. One of the things that is not only important but also free that all small businesses could do is to really leverage their Google Business profile. It holds so much value when it comes up to showing up in these local searches. It almost involves using it like a social media feed, between posting updates, offers, contact information, and reviews.

When all of that information is filled out, Google then knows right away what it is that you’re offering and who the right people are to show those results to. It might seem like a lot of people assume SEO is optimizing your website, but a lot of local SEO is things that are done completely off your website.

People often wonder why someone might be outranking them, especially when you run an SEO tool on their website and realize it’s not optimized at all. In that case, you want to think like Google, because Google’s a matchmaker. They make money by paid ads. For a local business, even if you’re ranking well, there’s always an opportunity to do some local SEO and some paid ads. Google makes money on people clicking ads.

When someone goes to Google and types in a search, they need the results to be really good. They need people to always come back. It’s your job as a business owner to train Google on what you do, where you do it, and who you do it for. In that case, you want to start with a keyword research tool.

Google Keyword Planner, for example, is free. You have to kind of set up an ad account, but you don’t really have to start the ads. You just want to see what people are searching for, phrases that we don’t even think about. Start to bucket those phrases related to your business that people are actually looking for, and make sure that’s on your website, on your business profile, on your social media, and on other profiles you have around the Internet. You want to make sure that you’re mentioning those phrases over and over

Google starts to trust that you actually do that because what’s to stop me from opening a pizza place online and saying I’ve got $4.99 pizzas and have a place for a credit card, and start to optimize that? It’s really easy to start scamming people. So, they really want you to put yourself out there in as many places as you can.

Focus on verified listings, like chambers of commerce, schools, newspapers, wherever you can appear. After that happens, you’re going to get another checkbox from Google that says, “I trust that this person does this thing.”

There are actually a lot of tools out there if you’re not sure of how you’re ranking. All of these things contribute to your overall authority, which is when Google grades you on how trustworthy your website is.

There are sites out there where you can find your domain authority, like Moz. This helps you get an idea of how the Internet algorithm rates your overall website on trustworthiness. If there are spammy links that link back to your website, or it’s not consistent how you’re showing up in different listings, those can affect your ranking.

All of those things all kind of work together. It may seem like they’re not all cohesive, but they really do all contribute.

Another thing to look at is local schema, which helps Google to know exactly what it is that you do.

As you’re doing keyword research and you’re seeing the search terms that are coming up, you’ll see common questions. It’s almost like a backend FAQ page you can put on there that’ll show up on those sort of rich snippets that come up on a search. Adding those local, focused schemas onto websites helps to also improve how Google and other search engines understand what you do, whether it’s services or products or whatever it is, so that they know how to properly show you in search results.

Speaking of keywords, people might be tempted to keyword stuff. Keyword stuffing is taking keywords and almost forcing it into your content and making it sound super unnatural just because you have the hope of then showing up for that specific keyword.

An example would be the $4.99 pizza. That would be like someone writing a blog post that’s like, “This $4.99 pizza is so great because it’s a $4.99 pizza and I love $4.99 pizzas.” And it just gets to the point where Google ends up probably not trusting you because of all of that injecting you’ve done with the keywords.

Another thing you can incorporate into your website is backlinks.

Getting a link to your website and particular pages of your website, especially services that you feel strongly about, in addition to linking to other websites. When your website is linking to other authority websites, it makes you look good in the eyes of Google because it makes you look like you actually want to help the reader. And remember, always go back to what Google wants.

Google always wants to help the searcher. One way you could do that is link to resources that might be off your website. That doesn’t mean linking to competitors, but it does mean linking to your social media profiles, organizations you’re a member of, licenses you have, and more.

Additionally, you should definitely do keyword research, and you should optimize your website for keywords, but also keep in mind that those things change. Human nature changes, search volume changes, so please don’t ever approach SEO as like a “one and done.” A lot of people think we do some keyword research, we throw some keywords on the website, and now our SEO should be just perfect.

It’s an ever evolving thing. The Google algorithms change the way people searching on Google changes. More people are turning to voice to text to search for things, so consider that. When you’re doing your keyword research, these things are very subject to change. As far as on page things, you should be optimizing your headers by properly tagging them as headers.

Use keywords in those headers and in your title tags, and make sure that those are all optimized. Also, use alt text on your images so that Google knows what the pictures are. You can put keywords in those. There are a lot of things you can do to teach Google about what it is that you’re doing.

Always think about what people are asking about your product or service, and make an FAQ. If one person’s asking you, the chances are other people might have the same question. Put those on your homepage. It looks authentic, it helps the reader, and it also tells Google a little bit more about what you do. If you’re struggling with the content, an FAQ section is an easy way to just blow out your content, with anywhere from 500-1,000 words. The rule is you want to start somewhere and then think about how you can expand that. Put your marketing stuff at the top, and put your Google fluff at the bottom right, such as the FAQ.

How Do You Know If Your Local SEO Strategy Isn’t Working?

SEO is like having 10 children. At one moment, they might be perfectly fine, and then you turn your back, and three of them are off doing something. You’re constantly corralling them.

SEO is the same way.

Two tools you can use are SE Ranking and Moz.

You put in your keywords, and it will perform that search as a new person that Google doesn’t know about. It’ll give you unfiltered results.

Google makes assumptions about us as people, and it might give us different results based on our browsing history. With those tools, it runs once a week and it’ll tell us where we are showing up. And that tool’s kind of cool. You can actually click a button and it will show you what the results look like for them.

Additionally, you want to look at the analytics for your Google My Business Profile because you want to see what actions people are taking directly from your profile, such as if they’re clicking over. Sometimes they’re asking questions right on the profile,calling, or asking for directions. Then you want to tie that information into all of the analytics that Google offers.If you go into your Google Analytics profile and look routinely, you should be checking where your visitor acquisition is coming from, what sort of behaviors people are taking when they hit the page, and what search terms are actually driving traffic to the website.

Those things should be in line with the strategy you’re working on, and if you’re seeing a lot of traffic come through and it’s not necessarily in line with what you’re trying to do, you’ll want to tailor that a little bit more. That way you’ll hit the search terms that you actually want to hit.

Train your staff and team to ask leads how they found your business when they answer the phone or an email, too.

If you see that a lot of traffic is going to your website, but no one is buying, that’s when you have to do a deeper dive. Although it’s a computer that’s deciding what to show in search results, it’s a human that’s clicking over and going over to your website and deciding whether or not to submit a form or make a call or make a purchase. You have to merge these things together and marry them and look at the human behavior and the psychology of why someone may not take the next step into becoming a customer and, and bring those things together in order to really be successful at SEO.

What Are Your Favorite Tools to Use for SEO?

Moz gives some good insight. Ubersuggest can show how websites compare to direct competitors.

SEMrush is a good one if you want to make sure your directory listings are consistent across all of the different directories on the Internet.

SERanking will give you rankings based on locations, and you can add various locations to see how you rank compared to them.

BrightLocal, which is similar to YellowPages, can be used to build citations and directory listings.

Linkodly tracks backlinks to figure out who’s linking to you, who your competitors are, and who’s linking to them. It will make suggestions so that you can even the playing field with another company.

Google Analytics, of course, is another tool to use.

Why Should Businesses Hire Experts Instead of Going the DIY Route?

They focus on the overall strategy. They help define what your marketing strategy and your branding strategy is, and what your goals are for your marketing, because your marketing should always be working to help you reach your business goals.

With them, you can figure out which marketing tactics are going to have the best ROI for you as you work to reach your business goals. And those should always be number one.

Additionally, these experts have your best interest at heart. They love knowing what the end results are and prioritizing making money for their clients.

These experts also have a process. They don’t attack everything at once but rather have a system that they follow each month. Month one might be cleaning up your reviews and your online presence, cleaning up your profiles, and cleaning up your Google Business listing. And then they watch things improve as they make these changes.

As they start to drive traffic to your site, they start to work on that. Once they go through everything, they only change one or two things at a time, as changing too many things at once could actually harm the business. They take really detailed notes. They’re very methodical about what they change and how they track it.

When you are that close to the business yourself, you are looking at it from the point of view of knowing that you’re selling something and people should want it. Sometimes you almost need someone who’s removed enough from it to say, “Okay, we need to look at this as a consumer, not the person who’s selling the goods or the service.”

You need to look at this from a psychological standpoint of what problem you’re trying to solve for people. If you are doing all of that yourself, you’re kind of like blinders a little bit. Bringing someone from outside gives you a different perspective that might make a huge difference and how you’re reaching your customers.

They can help you focus on sustainable steps you can take to bring in quality leads into your business and target the right people. You could make way more money hiring a professional to help you with organic and local SEO than if you just throw a ton of money at Google to pay for ads and don’t really specialize who those ads get targeted to.

As with anything in marketing, SEO is a long-term game and it’s focused on being consistent. It’s not one thing you can just do like “a one and done” type of deal and boom, you’re showing up for all these different search results and people are going to your website because of it. It’s something that you need to do on a month after month basis, and it’s something that will take some time before you start getting to see the results that you would like to see.

So if you’re thinking about hiring a professional, but are expecting that within one week of working with them, you will then be found through the work that they’re doing on search engines, then it’s likely not a good fit for you.

What Other Tips Do You Have for Business Owners Focusing on Local SEO?

If you’re not leveraging your Google Business profile consistently all the time, please start because it’s a free resource and it makes a huge difference.

It’s a great place to start if you’re really just starting to dip your toes in. It’s something that is manageable for most people. Make sure every box on that listing is checked and filled out.

Education is huge. Take courses, watch YouTube videos, read blogs, and consume content. If this is important to you, immerse yourself in the world a little bit and start to think a little bit like that.

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