Search engine optimization (SEO) is appealing in theory, but there's a problem; there are thousands of businesses, some of them massive in size with budgets to match, already competing for a fixed number of slots at the top of Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
There's an entirely separate realm of SEO-local SEO-that could give you a visibility advantage even if you don't have access to virtually unlimited resources.
The Advantages of Local SEO
Local SEO actually functions using a separate algorithm from national SEO. If you're curious about how this plays out, try running a local search on your current device-search for something like "bagel shop near me" or "dentist near me." Above the fold of regular organic results, you should see what's known as the local "3-pack," three local business entries complete with links to their websites, phone numbers, and navigation.
Local SEO has been a different animal ever since the Pigeon update was released, and you can now enjoy the following benefits:
- Highly relevant visibility and traffic. Because you'll be catering specifically to local audiences with your local business, the type of traffic that will be seeing your entries and potentially clicking through to your site will be more relevant to your brand.
- Lower competition. Since you'll be working on a local level rather than a national one, you'll be facing far less competition.
- Alternative ranking strategies. As you'll see below, ranking in local search results isn't the same as ranking for national results; you can rely on qualitative tactics like fostering better reviews to boost your visibility and reputation.
How to Defeat the Competition
Still, to see these benefits, you need to be able to get ahead of your local competition. So how can you do that?
1. Optimize your site for local keywords.
First, you'll need to include some local keywords throughout your site, potentially including your city, region or state. If your address is accurate on your site and in your local listings (particularly "Google My Business," Google should be able to tell where you're located, but it doesn't hurt to optimize for your general area and surrounding locations. One caveat here; don't stuff local keywords into your text. When you include them, make sure they sound natural in the context of your content. Some of the best places to include them are in the titles and descriptions of your pages.
2. See your listings like your customers do.
It's important to keep a check on your local search rankings like your customers do. For instance, are they search "incognito mode" or are they signed out of all of their accounts? Both of those elements will impact the search results they get. There are ways to see what they see, however.
3. Build local links.
Wherever you can, earn links from local sources that point back to your site. This will strengthen your domain authority and also increase your perceived relevance to the community. For example, you could earn links from a local newspaper by getting featured in a local news segment, or you could post in a community forum with a link to one of your blog posts-provided it's helpful and relevant. The more active you are in your community, the easier and more natural this is going to be.
4. Earn citations from third-party directories.
Local citations are a big part of what will drive your local rankings higher; these are entries in third-party directories like Yelp that describe and provide information on your business. You'll get some of these by default as directories glean information about your business-but you'll need to run a check to make sure this information is all accurate. Beyond that, you can build new local citations in new locations and expand your presence outward. The more you have, and the more consistently accurate they are, the higher you're going to rank.
5. Earn more positive reviews.
Google also incorporates the number and quality of reviews your business has into its local search rankings. Put simply, if you have more positive reviews, your rankings are going to go up. The challenge here is that you can't simply ask for or pay for reviews; instead, you need to pay close attention to how people are reviewing your site currently, and make adjustments to optimize your incoming reviews accordingly.
6. Keep a wary eye on your competition.
Check your competitors' websites for keyword suggestions. Find out where they have reviews and ask your customers write their feedback there too. Read their blog to find new content opportunities. This will help you bring additional targeted traffic to your website.
7. Practice general SEO.
Even though local SEO operates separately from national SEO, there are some threads of commonality. Most general SEO best practices, like developing high-quality onsite content on an ongoing basis, syndicating that content through social media channels, and building backlinks through guest posts, will all help you here.
If you can put these seven tactics to use in a consistent and high-quality campaign, you should have no trouble eventually building enough of a reputation to take down your fiercest competitors. It will take some time, and certainly some effort, but you'll still rise to the top much faster than you would competing on a national level.
Give it a shot-you don't have much to lose, other than a basic investment of time.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he's also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.