Google has basically been shouting at us all year about three major ranking factors heading into 2021 if you want to improve where your business appears on Google Maps and Search results: make your site secure with an HTTPS certificate, prioritize mobile-first experiences, and a hyper-focus on local search engine optimization (SEO).
The focus on local SEO and mobile experiences is for a good reason: it’s how most of us are using Google.
- Half of users searching from their phone visit a physical location within one day.
- 18% of local mobile searches become a sale within a day.
- Over 70% use local search to confirm a company’s existence before visiting it the first time.
But what actions should you take? Let’s get into where I believe businesses need to focus their efforts for quick and long-lasting wins to rank in search in 2021.
First things first: set up Google Search Console and Google Analytics
I have stopped being shocked at the volume of local businesses that are not using web analytics tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. These are your two most powerful free resources to understand how people are coming to your site, from what source, and what they do once they land. Since we’re focusing on improving local search results for your business, let’s talk about Google Search Console.
After you create your Search Console account and verify your domain, head over to the sitemap and submit the link to Google so GoogleBot can begin indexing your site. Google doesn’t have to crawl your site immediately, but they usually do once it’s submitted. Search Console will also tell you if you have any errors in your sitemap.
After your sitemap has been submitted and GoogleBot has crawled your site, Google Search Console is an incredible and free resource full of useful insights about your site’s search performance indicators. This is the technical site of search engine optimization (SEO) and it is a critical component.
Ensure your site is mobile optimized
There are severe penalties to your ranking if your site is not mobile-friendly. In fact, Google’s latest Web Vitals announcement says sites that don’t prioritize mobile-first optimizations will lose rank. There are a lot of great tools out there to check the overall health of your website, but since you’re trying to impress GoogleBot, use Google’s tool. If the results are beyond your capabilities, simply copy the full URL of your results page and send that link to your website administrator so they can get to work on bringing your site up to best practices.
Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing to rank higher on Google Maps
Optimizing your Google Maps / Google My Business listing increases your chances of appearing in the coveted “Local 3 Pack” at the top of page one in Google Search results. You know – that Maps card with the company listings under the map.
You absolutely must claim your business listing. Google your company. If the listing appears, find the little blue text link that says, “Own This Business?” and go through the claim wizard and be meticulous with your contact information. It is essential to keep your Name, Address, & Phone (NAP) exactly the same as it’s listed everywhere else (your website, social accounts, YouTube video descriptions, etc.). Think “street” vs. “st.” or “company” vs. “co.”
Complete your profile listing with as much information and media as you possibly can. The more information your profile has, the higher your listing will rank. Go through every single section to see if any of them could potentially apply to you and fill it out.
Pay special attention to these sections in your Google My Business Dashboard:
- Primary and secondary categories
- Applicable attributes
- “From the Business” description
- All essential info and relevant keywords in the first 250 characters. Use all 750 characters! Don’t duplicate information covered in other sections. No links.
- Questions – remember to respond! Consider creating some basic FAQs and turn on alerts to get notified when new questions hit.
- Reviews – respond (professionally) to these as well
- Set up messaging if you can be responsive
Drastically increase your Google Reviews after claiming your listing
More reviews = more leads. Period.
Google knows nothing influences consumer buying more than reviews and has made them a key ranking factor in its algorithm. Businesses with more reviews will almost always outrank others. Google will also search those reviews to bold keywords and phrases that further validate or assist the user in their search.
62% of customers will leave a review when asked. Here are some tips for collecting those valuable reviews:
- Send your customers an email, text, social media, and/or in-person request asking for their review. You should be sending a thank you email or text after the sale anyway. Include the review ask in that communication. You can also send a standalone message.
If you’re not sure how to create an automated post-sale customer engagement workflow, I can help you create a program to delight your customers after the sale.
- Create a short and sweet “leave us a review” card if you have the pleasure of an in-person transaction.
- Take the work out of it for your customers by creating a Google review shortcut. Make it as easy as possible for customers by creating a review shortcut link using either Google’s instructions or Whitespark’s free shortcut link generator.
- Create a specific page on your site highlighting happy customers that also pulls in Google reviews. Add a prominent call to action at the top for people to click and leave a google review right away.
- Consider adding a review call to action in your footer or adding the link you created to your signature.
- Reach out to recent happy customers via email campaign and ask them to leave a review. Avoid saying “write” since that can feel like too much of a time ask. Instead, try phrases like, “drop us a review or rating” or “leave us a quick review.” You should focus on satisfied customers, but don’t be afraid of bad reviews – they’re also good for business (within reason!).
Don’t stop with Google reviews – encourage customers to review you on relevant industry sites.
Google is the no-brainer, but they are pretty late to the review game (although I’d wager they will soon be overtaking all others). Many other niche review sites might make sense for you to prioritize in addition to Google reviews.
Here are a few examples of some industry-specific review sites to consider. I strongly recommend you check out Moz’s excellent list of local citations by industry.
- Builders: Houzz and Angie’s ListBars: Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and Facebook
- Healthcare: Healthgrades and Vitals
- Car Dealerships: Autotrader and Cars.com
A quick note: Google is okay with encouraging people to leave reviews, but Yelp is strictly against it. It’s critical that you familiarize yourself with the terms of each review site, so you don’t accidentally get shut down (which they WILL do).
Enrich your Contact Us page
I know it can be tempting to slap your contact info on an empty page and call it a day, but that’s not doing you any favors.
At a minimum, your Contact page should include:
- Name, Address, Phone (NAP) in the same format (st. vs. street) Google and every other place it appears
- Store hours
- Parking information
- Google map embed
- Testimonials that link to your reviews page (see above)
- Company information specific to the services provided in the local area. It should be more than history and mission (should go on your About page anyway!)
Note: You need to create a dedicated contact page for each location with hyper-local copy for each page.
Publish Google posts and upload new photos weekly
Users are 42% more likely to request driving directions to a business if its Google profile has photos, and 35% are more likely to click through to your website. Use your logo as your thumbnail photo. All other photos, including the cover photo, will be selected by Google depending on the user’s search query. Do not use stock photos or photos with special effects. Google wants to display real, accurate pictures of staff, customers, the interior, and the exterior. Don’t forget to be exceedingly descriptive of each photo so Google will know to rank you for key terms and phrases. Don’t keyword stuff; write naturally.
Posts expire after seven days, so get in the habit of making a weekly post to your GMB profile to increase the number of actions taken by users who see your listing. GMB posts show up on your profile’s listing result on the traditional search results page and the Google maps page. Profiles with posts stand out among the rest since they take up more real estate. Use photos. Promote specials. Celebrate milestones. Treat it like any other social channel, and remember to include clear calls to action in every post.
Add location-based keywords to your website
This no-brainer is often overlooked. Take another look at critical pages and consider how you can add location identifiers to boost your rank. The pages that make sense will vary depending on your business offerings. Typically, you’ll want to consider the home, about, contact, product, services, and relevant blog posts. How can you include your location in the title, heading, body text, image tags, captions, and URL anchor text?
Embed a Google map on your website
Google loves Google, and they will always give preferential treatment to sites that play by their rules and use their ecosystem. An embedded map sends the signal to Google that your business listing is legit and consistently displayed on your site.
It’s super easy to embed your map:
- Pull up your listing in Google maps and hit the “Share” button
- Select “Embed a map,” and then copy/paste it to your business’ contact page
Optimize your site for long-tail voice search
Voice search is when a person speaks to their device rather than typing it into a traditional search bar. People ask these questions the way they naturally talk, which means they are likely using long-tail keywords.
Think about how you ask your phone assistant or smart speaker questions about local businesses you’re interested in checking out. Like you, your customers expect these voice answers to be quick and meaningful. You need to ensure your Google listing is optimized so they can get basic info like what time your business closes or how far away it is from them.
At the same time, they may ask a question related to your products or services. These questions are typically very specific and telling as to where they are in the top, middle, or bottom of your funnel.
Ask your customer service reps, sales team, or person at the front desk about common questions they field. Ask them to capture them in a cloud doc. Use these questions to either write blog posts, enrich your existing site content, or add to your Google My Business questions.
Newsjack the local news to grab their attention (and game the algorithm)
You can’t newsjack all the time, but it’s great when you can. How can you leverage a relevant news story, event, or cause on your site? Can you create a video about the local chapter of a national charity you support? What about sponsoring fundraising efforts for a local person who is trying to accomplish something impossible without help? Newsjacking is really part of a broader content & PR strategy, but short 350+ word articles on your site are low-hanging fruit.
Make it secure by implementing an SSL certificate on your site
Converting your site into a secure site is not nearly as intimidating as it sounds, I promise! It may not even cost you any money depending on the industry you are in. Head to SSL Labs to quickly check if you already have a security certificate installed. You’ll need to obtain your SSL certificate as soon as possible and launching with a free SSL service is a worthy option. Check with your legal advisor and the compliance requirements within your industry to determine what passes muster.
Bottom Line: Local search engine optimization is more critical than ever
The harsh reality is that most local businesses don’t put the effort necessary into optimizing their presence – many of whom are likely your direct competitors. Take a day and collaborate with your team to talk through how you’ll measure the success of your local SEO efforts and how you can work together to execute against those goals. Any time spent optimizing local SEO is time well-spent and will undoubtedly produce real gains in your rev cycle.