Posted by Julia Wisniewski, SEO Associate Account Manager
As I practice local landscape optimization, I am always delighted to see how its principles closely mirror the SEO field as a whole. So let me start out by saying: if your brand needs to optimize its local presence, never fear. The basic principles of SEO apply to local optimization.
The unique aspect of local optimization is that many factors combine to total the entire local experience for a company. You are not just trying to optimize for Google. You have to account for local information on your own website as well as the ratings and reviews of local publishers, like Yelp and Foursquare. The result of your efforts will show that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Local landscape optimization can be very intimidating for SEO professionals because of the expectation of multiple publishers and algorithms. To make it all manageable, I will walk through the many local players here and the basic principles of optimizing for each. You’ll soon find that local optimization is not as intimidating as it seems.
Tips from an SEO Expert
1. Think about Reviews
Now that Yelp reviews are incorporated in Yahoo search, local reviews are becoming more and more prominent to searchers. For many of the brands that we service at Performics, this can be on a huge scale. I would suggest taking a look at your average rating to get a basic baseline and you can start working toward increasing the number and quality of reviews from there. Next, specifically look at your locations that are performing poorly. Are they consistent from month to month? Is there something you can do to create a better experience while customers are in the brick and mortar store to influence how they talk about the store online?
2. Optimize for the User
Remember that the principles of local SEO echo the principles SEO as a whole. Don’t try to game the system by creating unnatural content made for search engines that ignores user experience. Most of all, don’t overthink it. If you over-optimize, you are more likely to be penalized for “spammy” tactics.
3. Incorporate Images
Just like you want to optimize images to show up in universal search results, you want images on your local listings. Engaging high quality images can entice users to click, contribute to SEO rank when named properly and be optimized per location to further customize local user experience.
Google looks at your listings across all different platforms to determine the “correct” NAP (name, address, phone number) for each location. Before doing anything else, take all the steps you can to ensure that your local listings are accurate. Using a partner that ensures accuracy across multiple platforms is a great way to make sure that your local listings are filtered through one central checkpoint to avoid any confusion or inaccuracies.
84% of smartphone owners regularly use map applications and 87% of users regularly use social media applications. 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience. 36% of shoppers search for other store locations on their phones while shopping in store. Meaning, mobile traffic is growing and it has a natural connection to local SEO. Keep mobile optimization in mind when designing the local pages on your site.
Google Local (And Google Places, but soon to be just Google Local)
1. Don’t merge Google+ Places with Google+ Local
Google is in the process of moving its local product from Google+ Places to Google+ Local. Resist the urge to merge the two for your company. Google is still developing the Google+ Local product and wants you to wait until it tells you it’s time. Patience is a virtue.
2. Location Description
Just like the META description on a page on your site, the location description does not have any effect on your rankings. However, it can inspire users to click through to your local page and start down the path to purchase (or whatever conversion metric you are trying to inspire).
3. Use descriptive words
Google is now allowing you to use descriptive words in your listings. However, it doesn’t mean adjectives like “The best pizza in town | Lou Malnati’s.” Although I firmly believe this is true (Even New Yorkers are trying Chicago Style Pizza). Google means location descriptive words like “Lou Malnati’s Downtown.”
Your Website’s Local Pages
1. Use local information in all of the traditional on-page elements
Just as you would optimize the <TITLE> tag, META description, <H1> tag and URL of a page on your site for the most unique content on that page, do the same for your local pages. Use the NAP prominently in all of these elements.
Mark up the name, address, phone number and any other unique information a user might need to find that location on your local pages with schema.org to allow Google to pull out this data in the SERP and strengthen the signals you are sending to Google.
3. Community and Local Content
If you are involved in local philanthropy, write about it on your store pages. As a matter of fact, if you are doing anything unique at all at a specific location, put it on the page!
Other Publishers to Think About
In most instances, Yelp generates the most reviews for restaurants, retail spaces, etc. On top of that, Yelp reviews tend to be very in-depth and provide direct information that could be used to make logical business decisions.
2. Bing Local & Superpages
Both Bing Local and SuperPages are easy to optimize for and have decent traffic compared to the majority of local publishers. They are a good first start for tackling your company’s local optimization.
The second highest generator of reviews from my personal experience is Foursquare. While they tend to be shorter than reviews written on Yelp, they can still provide good information that can be used to make all kinds of business choices.
The inspiration from this article is from a recent SMX Local Optimization discussion and my own personal experience. If you have some cool tips and tricks regarding local landscape optimization, please share them with me! Performics is always looking for more participants!