Understanding how to evaluate and plan for local SEO services is an important part of digital marketing strategy for companies with both B2B and B2C products and services. Local search has become a big opportunity for any business that can define where their target customers live and work.
What is local SEO?
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is continuing to change as the primary search engine providers (Google, Bing, Yahoo) make changes to their search results, which are all based in complex algorithms. SEO is really the art and science of presenting your product or services, while helping people who are searching for what you offer. One of the most important recent developments is the shift to localizing search results—the search engines now prioritize information that is geographically closest to the searcher.
In its simplest form, if someone searches in Richmond, VA, they are unlikely to get many of the results that are based in Washington, DC, even though they are within the same region with frequent commutes to and from both areas. Areas that are even closer together, such as the suburbs around a major metro, will have many segregated local searches. Companies that want consumers or businesses to find them have to understand how to be visible to the customers they are seeking based on where they live and where they search.
Local search now functions as if the search engine has drawn a circle around the searcher, prioritizing the results that originate from within that local geography.
Since all people are searching from a specific location (the place where they connect to Wi-Fi or an office LAN), a large percentage of the search results that they see will be restricted to offerings from within their local area, even if other results may have been available in the past. Local SEO is the process of ensuring that your results are available from the location in which your customers are most likely to search. Since it is a complex and time-consuming process, many businesses need to consider how local SEO services can effectively help them stay on top of this important part of inbound marketing.
Consider your customer’s multiple search locations.
Consider not only the places where you offer services, but areas where decision makers are located when they search.
While you may offer products or services in key metro areas, decision makers may be searching from other predictable locations—such as their home office. Many people split time between the office and another location that may not show up in the search as you intended. The suburbs can be outside the search circle, resulting in the companies who do business in your target zone missing what you offer, even though they’re a good fit. Most people don’t know that they need to change their search focus if they’re not in the office when they search. If they fail to enter a location in their search, the result will be local.
In order to appear in the search results for key decision makers, you need to know more than just an office address. You’ll want to know where they are most likely to be doing internet research, strategic planning, and business development. It might be from a home office or other location. One key is to examine your analytics reports and talk with your sales staff to identify the target zip codes.
Getting help with local SEO.
Local SEO services come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some have a do-it-yourself approach; others offer registration on your behalf. Two worth knowing about are Moz Local and Yext. Yext charges an annual fee starting at about $400, and offers a fully automated listing in a specific set of directories. Moz offers assistance with the top ten directories in a partially self-serve approach. You can run a report for free to discover where you stand in ten common directories at Moz. If you choose to do this work yourself, you will discover pretty quickly how time-consuming it can be, as you register, respond to confirmations, set up accounts, and enter your information.
Truckloads of local directories.
Local search directories—the newest versions of the yellow pages—are some of the places from which search engines draw their authority for the most important local providers. Each directory has its own requirements for registration, most requiring manual entry of business details, and an annual or even monthly fee. A manual approach can be very time-consuming, prompting the need for local SEO service support.
Your NAP is key.
While the challenge may prompt you to want a nap, that’s not the kind of nap you need with local search. Your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP) must be listed identically on every local listing. Even the smallest variation in how you list this information will result in reductions in search ranking. Uniform listings must include even the same abbreviations, periods, and symbols. Otherwise the search engines will get confused, and so will those who are searching for what you offer.
Three things effective local search services should include:
- Connection to the rest of your marketing plan.
Local directory listings alone won’t address the entire local search challenge; you have to build credible search authority with the search engines beyond just the directories that list your business. This means a search-ready website based on location, a strategic approach to building web properties, and lead capture methods that will fuel business growth. Local links with search authority are also important for making your business rise in local searches.
This kind of planning should occur before you start a local SEO plan, since you will have to consider the target communities, and how to present credible websites and locations for search.
- Content that has value.
It’s vital that you have content on your website that offers real value to your target audience. Part of local SEO is creating content that people who are searching and working locally will share with others. Valuable content helps create the kind of authority that search engines see as important because it is being shared. This is one of the best ways to create authoritative local links.
- Mobile-ready websites.
Local and mobile go together. Mobile search is most often local. The results that people discover when they find you via search must be easy to view on every mobile device they use. Local SEO should lead to mobile-friendly content.