In my previous article, I listed four key elements of a successful local SEO strategy:
- On-Page Optimization
- Google Local Listings
- Citations on Local Search Directories
This may be enough for a computer repair shop in Newark, Ohio to do well. But a Los Angeles personal injury attorney will need to go to the next level. The four remaining components of local SEO are:
- Review Signals
- Social Signals
- Off-Page Optimization & Blogging
According to MOZ’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors, social signals and review signals make up roughly 16% of how well you’ll rank in the search results. While that may not seem like much in the scheme of things, it can mean the difference between ranking above or below your competition. Here’s how each of these four components work:
Consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on reviews to make purchase decisions, so Google factors this into its algorithms. The attributes assessed are quantity, velocity, diversity, and freshness.
Local SEO experts feel that reviews on a Google+ Local page have a more positive influence than those on other review sites. Indeed, there appears to be a correlation between the number of reviews on a business’s Google+ Local page and how well it ranks.
Whether that’s true or not, businesses with more reviews tend to rank higher than those who have none.
How fast you get reviews is another micro-factor. If the number of reviews posted each month suddenly jumps from 2 to 20, Google will question their legitimacy. Natural reviews are acquired slowly over time, not all at once.
Reviews that sound similar in tone and content also raise suspicion, as does having all 5-star ratings. Naturally occurring reviews will be diverse in both content and feedback.
Recent reviews are more heavily weighted than older ones. New reviews obtained on a steady basis send positive signals to the search engines.
Reputation marketing ought to be an ongoing process. Yet getting customers to write reviews is both challenging and an article in itself. Here are four ways that you should not solicit reviews:
- Never offer money or an incentive in exchange for reviews.
- Never post fake reviews.
- Don’t place a computer at your location and encourage customers to use it to post reviews (reviews from the same IP address are a red flag).
- Don’t swap positive reviews with other business owners.
- Don’t attempt to discourage bad reviews to get more good ones, like this hotel did.
Social signals have a significant impact on how well a web page does in the search results. Social signals go beyond having a Facebook Page. It’s activity and interaction, such as:
- Number of Facebook fans.
- Number of Facebook likes, shares and comments.
- Number of Twitter followers.
- Number of tweets that mention your brand name or include a link to your website.
- Number of people that “have you in their circles” (Google+).
The belief that “social shares are the new backlink” may be overstated. But there’s a definite correlation between social shares and search rankings. The more times content is shared, liked, re-tweeted and posted, the more valuable it becomes. The gap between social media, content marketing, and SEO is closing fast.
Small Business Social Media Overload
The 2012 study reported that small business owners are pouring more time and money into social media but are buckling under the added workload.
- Nearly half spend over 6 hours a week at it.
- 1/4 spend 6 – 10 hours.
- 1/3 want to spend less time on it.
- Finding good content to share is the biggest time commitment.
In spite of this, more small businesses are increasing their social media marketing budget than are spending less.
This gives SEO firms the opportunity to offer additional services. Indeed, many are already integrating SEO efforts with social media marketing. As I said, the gap between social media, content marketing, and SEO is closing fast.
Personalization isn’t a factor in itself. It’s the convergence of social, local, and mobile. Rather than anonymous searching of the web, users now have both an identity and a location. Google “personalizes” each person’s search results based on these factors.
Personalization reinforces the need for a holistic approach that includes on-page signals (for localization), social visibility, and mobile. Paying attention to all three will help increase your visibility in personalized search results.
We all know that local searches are tailored to the city of the user’s search query. For a website to be relevant to that local query, on-page signals like business name, address, and phone number (NAP) must be present on every page of the site. This is especially important now that mobile devices use geolocation to deliver relevant results to mobile users.
Your social connections can influence what you see on Google. That’s because search engines view these connections as word-of-mouth recommendations. So if Linda is connected to her co-worker Cindy on Facebook, and Cindy has reviewed or followed her favorite local Thai restaurant, then that restaurant may rank higher for Linda when she’s craving Thai food.
Likewise for Cindy. That Thai restaurant is more likely to show up in her search results for “restaurant” than for someone who isn’t following them on social media.
It’s important to provide the best mobile experience, because how mobile users interact with your business is an important SEO factor. Offering click-to-call, check-ins and directions encourages interaction. Providing a poor mobile experience will cause 61% of consumers to abandon your site.
Off-Page Optimization & Blogging
Although it’s not always necessary, traditional search engine optimization and link-building still works for local SEO.
In case I haven’t made my point, the gap between social media, content marketing and SEO is closing fast (I think you get the idea now). Creating unique content that’s shared on social media is another means to attract backlinks.
You may have heard that “Google loves fresh content”. In reality, Google loves unique, useful and informative content — the kind you can put on a blog. An article I wrote in 2005 currently shows on page 2 of Google for search terms like “web design contracts” and “how to write a web design contract”. Adding useful content on a regular basis is a marketing investment that pays dividends for months and years to come.
Local SEO: More Difficult… but Easier
Local SEO is both harder and easier than national SEO. Easier, because getting good local ranking is less competitive than ranking nationally. And more difficult because there are more areas to focus on to obtain local listings and citations that aren’t necessary for national non-location based campaigns. As smartphone usage continues to grow, local SEO will become a more important skill-set for firms offering search engine optimization services.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.