Is it easy for customers to find you? The answer to that question may rely heavily on how your small business ranks in local search results.
Local search gives priority to neighborhood pages in the results that show up on Google, Bing, and other search engines. Searchers may include locally oriented keywords (such as a city, neighborhood, or street name) in their request, or search engines may use geolocation data to tweak results based on where the search originated.
Local search can prove lucrative to small enterprises. Six out of 10 people who browse the web for information consider local search results to be more relevant than other data, a 2012 study conducted by comScore shows. Thus, merchants and other businesses may attract more customers in their communities simply by working to make sure their company ranks highly in local search results.
That’s good news. The better news is: You can do this without spending any money.
Here are some tips for boosting your local search ranking.
1. Follow addressing standards. List your business’s name and address — along with your main telephone number, website and other social media contact information, as appropriate — in the correct format, everywhere you can. For example, you might normally give your address as: Intuit, 2632 Marine, Mt. View, Calif. 94043. But the U.S. Post Office mandates the standard format for that address to be: Intuit, 2632 Marine Way, Mountain View CA 94043-1126. Use the exact same, correct physical address everywhere you list it online, so search engines will make no mistake about your location.
2. Put yourself on the map. Google offers a free, useful service called Google Map Maker that lets anyone annotate and correct Google Maps directly. Make sure your business appears on your community’s map, with completely accurate information. If you find multiple listings of your business in the same location, keep the best one and delete the others.
3. Keep up with the competition. If your competitors rank higher than you in your geographic area, do some research. Search for their names and other identifying keywords like “down home chilidogs” to find all the places online where their names, addresses, and phone numbers turn up prominently. Then, browse those sites. Look for simple — in most cases cost-free — steps you can take to get your information listed on those sites, too.
4. Expand your reach. Over a period of months, visit websites that provide local listings for your area, such as the chamber of commerce, merchant associations, and so forth. Make sure the relevant ones contain your business’s name, address, and telephone number, with a brief description of what you offer. Beyond these general local directories, you’ll want to get listed as a regional provider in any national directories that are specific to your industry, too.
4. Post photos. Put up pictures of anything that might be of interest to your potential customers. This may include shots of your storefront or office, your products, your services, happy customers, your delivery or service van, and you, the owner, on various sites, including Google Earth, Flickr, and Pinterest. Be sure to “geo-tag” each photo with your location, as well as your business’s name, address, phone, and a brief description (where possible).
5. Solicit favorable reviews. It’s good to post a dozen or so endorsements of your business on your website. Pepper your homepage with these favorable mentions, or collect them on a separate What Our Customers Say About Us page. Beyond that, link to positive comments on popular review websites, such as Yelp, where people may look for recommendations before they buy from you. Ask friends, family, business associates, vendors, and suppliers to post honest comments about your business. It’s helpful to get these reviews posted over a period of several months, rather than all on the same day, to avoid the appearance that reviews are phony.
6. Update your website regularly. The search engines value fresh data, so move things around and change the way you write about your business from time to time. Think you have nothing new to say? Think again. Consider offering tidbits about products and services, sales and discounts, upcoming special events, and your recent accomplishments, such as earning a new professional certification or cracking a “tough nut” for a customer. Customers like to hear personal stories from vendors — and feel more loyalty to them after they do. You can also post favorable experiences and feedback from your customers, like Mike Valentine has done effectively. (See #5.) Basically, updates of any kind helps to boost your search results.
7. Work the social media. The more active your social media presence is, the more prominently you will rank when someone searches locally. Post regularly and respond promptly to mentions of your business on some or all of the top social media sites, and your ranking in local search results will climb.
8. Consider doing even more. If you’re ambitious, consider spending a little money to hire specialists who can create a tour of your premises for Google Maps’ Street View feature or who can use Keyhole Markup Language to make your business show up prominently when people look at online maps of your area.