An overwhelming 78 percent of consumers research products and services on the Internet before buying locally, statistics show.
The message consumers are sending local business owners is therefore clear: be visible online or get ready to close shop.
A lot of business owners have responded to this message by getting a website. They also pay for search engine optimization services to ensure they appear on Google when prospects look for products they offer.
But is this strategy good enough to keep your cash register ringing every day? Or is there a better way to ensure your business dominates locally?
Optimizing your online presence is a necessity. Ninety percent of buyers use search engines such as Google to look for products and services.
If you do not appear on search results, even your neighbors might not purchase from your shop, and it’s because you are “invisible” on Google. So, business owners employ agencies and professionals to conduct SEO services for their website.
That is the solution. Ironically, that also is the problem: Business owners tend to focus all of their attention on SEO, and nothing more.
Traditional SEO works if you want to rank on Google. But if you own a local business and you want to appeal locally, you need to implement optimization efforts that are geographically focused.
This goes beyond targeting keywords that include your geographic location. It means creating a “buzz” that:
(1) Enables your business to dominate local search results.
(2) Makes people actually visit your physical store and buy.
Local search factors differ from general search factors. According to a 2013 local search ranking factors study by Moz, a marketing company, some of the things you must consider for local search optimization are:
• Place page signals – Proper categorization of business, etc. (19.6 percent).
• On-page signals – Name, address, phone number, etc. (18.8 percent).
• External location signals – Name, address and phone number consistency across listings, etc. (16 percent).
• Review signals – Review quantity and diversity, etc. (10.3 percent).
• Social signals – Google+ authority, Facebook likes, etc. (6.1 percent).
The items above are signals that surveyed industry experts believe help websites rank in local searches. The ranking factors tell us how we can better rankings on local search results.
But to dominate locally is another thing. You need to rank high for your website and get more search results from external sites, too. This way, your business will have more chances of being found by users.
Therefore, you need to optimize your local online presence in other Web properties, such as social media, maps, review sites and local listings. They not only help improve your website’s overall rankings, they also ensure your local business shows up for more search results on Google.
To create local buzz for your business, you need to reinforce your typical SEO work with these location-targeted approaches:
• Ensure name, address and phone number presence and consistency – According to the research firm MarketingSherpa, only 58 percent of businesses list their local business address on their website.
This has two major negative consequences: first, a missing or inconsistent name, address or phone number can lead to a poor local search ranking, as Moz ranking factors above tell us. Secondly, it will prevent prospects – particularly mobile users – from taking further action.
A study by Google and Nielsen showed that users who searched via a mobile device also called a business phone (7 percent), visited a store (17 percent) and made a purchase (17 percent).
• Check for duplicate places listings – Be sure there’s only one listing for your business at Google+ Local, Foursquare, Facebook Places and Bing Local. You want everyone to check in only at the right account – your account. Plus, you don’t want to confuse both people and search engines.
• Get published on review/rating sites – According to BrightLocal’s 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey, more than 80 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business.
What’s interesting is that around 65 percent of consumers say positive reviews make them more likely to use a local business – significantly up from 50 percent from two years ago.
• Encourage social media reviews – Fifty-eight percent of searchers are more likely to use a local business if a social network connection recommended it, says local search usage research. The study, conducted by comScore for 15miles/Neustar Localeze, also found that consumers who actively search for local businesses on social networks use (50 percent) and submit (41 percent) consumer reviews.
• Facilitate Web check-ins – When a customer checks in on your shop using services such as Foursquare, that activity is published and seen by his or her network.
You can use promotions to attract check-ins. Some of the most popular promos are the friend deal (reward is given when a group of people check in together) and the loyalty deal (reward is given after a number of check-ins).
Why? Research by Pew Internet shows more smartphone owners are now using check-in or geosocial services. The percentage is at 18 percent as of 2012, significantly up from 4 percent in 2010.
These are only some of the methods you can use to create a local buzz for your local business.
Yes, traditional SEO will help your website rank well on Google search. But if you want to dominate your competition, you need to dominate local search with results.
You must give prospects more links to click when search results are served.
More importantly, you need to encourage them to go beyond searching and to visit your store to buy. You can do this through local buzz.