Going Local: SEO 101 for Small Businesses

Posted by ImageWorks Creative Team July 17, 2012

Pretty much everyone today knows that building your business’ online presence is essential to running a good business in today’s tech-savvy world. Think about it: what did you do the last time you needed a good dry cleaner or dentist? If you’re like the majority of people today, you probably whipped out your smartphone, laptop, or tablet and did an internet search. You pulled up the results page on Google, Yahoo, or Bing, and you selected the best option from the first page. You may have even utilized the map results to find the dry cleaner or dentist that was closest to you.

In order for businesses to succeed today, they must maintain a strong, visible online presence, and they must be ranked on the first page of Google for any relevant search. This is easy for larger businesses, as these businesses are often well-established, already have a following, and have a larger budget to spend on their online marketing efforts. But what about the little guys? How can a small business with a small marketing budget possibly hope to compete with their giant competitors for that top rank on the results page? The answer is local internet marketing.

Local SEO has gone through some big changes in the past few years. It used to be that Google’s algorithm for ranking local businesses was completely different from Google’s algorithm for national businesses. While the Google algorithms for ranking national and local sites are now much more similar, there are still some significant differences between how one performs SEO for a small business and how one markets for a larger, national business.

Geo-Targeted Keywords

The first difference between the campaign of a local business and the campaign of a national business is that the local business must focus more on getting local results. That sounds like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, many local businesses neglect the importance of including their location in their keyword.

Let’s think about a dentist’s office, for example. A dentist who owns his own business may think that a keyword like “dentist” adequately sums up his business. But if you search for “dentist” in a search engine, some of the top ranking results are a Wikipedia page about dentistry, a lot of websites to help you find a dentist, and a number of videos and images related to “dentist.” Depending on which search engine you use, you will probably find a list of local businesses related to “dentist,” based on the IP address that you are using; these may or may not be relevant, however, especially if you are using a proxy IP or are searching for a dentist in another town. Not only are the organic results for this search not really relevant to your business, but the chance of your small business being able to compete with 1-800-Dentists, for example, is slim to none.

Fortunately for small businesses, people who are looking for a dentist typically don’t search for something as general as “dentist.” If you think about the last time you searched for a service near you, you probably typed in the name of the town in which you wanted to find the service. A potential customer who is looking for a dentist’s office in Dallas will probably search for something like “Dentist, Dallas TX.” Local businesses must make sure that they are focusing their attention on ranking for more geo-targeted terms like these if they want to start seeing their search engine rankings jump.

Optimized Google Places Listing

It used to be that this step was practically the only step for small, local businesses. Google’s algorithm for local searches focused mostly on sites that had optimized their listing in Google Places. While Google has progressed and required local businesses to step up their game in other areas of SEO, optimizing your site, citations, and listing in Google Places is still an essential step in getting your local site ranking higher on search engines.

There are three parts to getting your site’s Google Places listing optimized:

  • Google Places: The first thing that you must do is submit a listing of your site to Google Places. The great thing about submitting your site to Google Places is that it will also generate a listing in the new Google+ Local, making it that much easier for your site to be found online. Make sure that when you fill out the form for your business, you provide as much information as possible, as this will make you look better to search engines.
  • Your Site: Once your business is listed in Google Places, it is important that you optimize your site for your Google Places listing. Specifically, this means that you must list your business’ phone number, address, fax number, and any other relevant information in a visible area of your site. Most experts agree that placing this information in the footer of your site is best, but a Contact page works well too.
  • Keep in mind that your site’s contact information must match the information found in your Google Places profile. Local businesses that see the best results are consistent in the information that they list on their site and in their Places listing. If your company uses tracking phone numbers, this will limit the effectiveness of your SEO campaign, as your site will list multiple phone numbers instead of the local number provided in your Google Places listing.
  • Citations: Citations are an essential element of optimizing your Google Places listing. Find websites that offer business profile listings, and get your business listed. As with your Google Places listing, you want to be sure that you provide as much information as possible. You also want to make sure the information found in your citations matches the information found in your Google Places listing. The more a search engine can find your business (along with the same, consistent contact information), the more relevant and trustworthy your site will appear.

Quality Links

As with national businesses, local businesses must ensure that they are accumulating quality backlinks. This step is especially important for local businesses, however. Compared to national businesses, local businesses have a comparatively small number of backlinks, meaning that one low quality link can set a local business much further back than a larger business. In order to rank high on a local search, a small business must be extra diligent in making sure that the links coming back to their website are high-quality and diverse.

It may seem difficult to keep your local business afloat in such a fast-paced, technology-based world, but it is possible. If you adopt SEO practices that are specific to small, local business, you will be able to market to the right audience and see significant results.

is the founder and current editor of Monday’s Orchids, a site devoted to informative content on a variety of topics. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing, and her work has been featured on a number of prominent business websites.

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