Directories feed search engines the data that justifies your business’ inclusion in the local results. Social networks get the word out to your customers and let you connect with them online.
But, before all of that, there are two things that need to be in place: an actual business and an actual website. Here’s the foundation you need to have down before you get started on your online strategy, based on some of the most frequent issues I’ve encountered with small businesses.
Preparing Your Business for Local SEO
Before you get listed in directories and before your customers like/follow/plus/pin you on their favorite social network, you need to be consistent with the information you’re putting out there.
- Know what your business name is going to be. Are you an LLC? A PLLC? An Inc? A TLDR? If you’re a firm or a medical practice, are you going by a business name or by single professional’s name? Are you going to use an ampersand or write out the word “and”? These small decisions can mean the difference between having a consistent, trusted online presence and having a dozen duplicate map markers pointing to different social and directory sites.
- Know what phone number you’re going to use. If you have multiple phone lines, you need to pick one. The phone number is the most consistent identifier for a local business, so having multiple ones out there can cause some of the biggest headaches in local search. Ideally, you should use a local phone number instead of a toll free number. Search engines understand area codes and use this to determine how local your business is.
- Know your address as it’s written in Google Maps. Start by doing a search for your actual street address in Google Maps. Google will likely spit out a variation on how you typed it – use Google’s version. Now, if you have a suite number, add it to the address and write down. This is the exact address you want to use – always. If you’re located on a highway, you’ll especially want to follow these steps since highways are frequently listed in several different ways.
Using Your Website for Local SEO
While there are businesses that occasionally show up in local results simply from their Bing or Google listings, it’s pretty rare and generally inconsistent. Your website is your home base online, and search engines will look to it to help define your local listings. Mark sure your website shows the search engines what they need to see.
- Have one website. Singular. Nothing will confuse the search engines more than having a dozen microsites floating around claiming to be the official website for “Your Business, Inc” located at 123 Bob Villa Blvd. Especially in local, there seem to be a lot of companies that set up these microsites claiming it will allow a small business to dominate the search results. Don’t listen to these people. These small websites have no authority, send mixed messages to the search engines about your business and can create a ton of duplicate content concerns.
- Mind the basics of SEO. Chances are you’re already targeting a specific town, community or neighborhood. So be sure to mention that area on your website. Name your city in the title tag and homepage content. And if you’re targeting multiple cities, know your limits. Google and Bing both go out of their way to only deliver search results within a few miles of the searcher. So if you’re targeting a city that’s 30 minutes away, you may want to instead focus on an area that’s a bit more realistic. To touch up on the other basics of SEO, you can start with this recent post.
- List your NAP. Remember that stuff I mentioned a few lines up about choosing your name, address and phone number? This is commonly referred to as your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) and you’ll want to be sure to use it exactly as you wrote it down earlier. Google and Bing pay attention to how often your business is mentioned online. And the most important mention is on your actual website. Mention your full NAP on every page, especially the contact page. If you have multiple locations, give each location their own contact page so you can have one page devoted to each address individually. To be even more thorough, you can use semantic markup to specifically call out your business contact information. Schema.org is a great, nitpicky little markup that allows you to add some code to your website and label different parts of your content for the search engines. So by adding code like:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">
<span itemprop="name">Portent, Inc.</span>
<span itemprop="description">An Internet marketing company in Seattle.</span>
<div itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
<span itemprop="streetAddress">506 2nd Ave, Suite 1700</span>,
Phone: <span itemprop="telephone">206-575-3740</span>
You can tell the search engines exactly where to find your contact information. You can read more about schema.org for local businesses here.
Everything I’ve mentioned here is based on issues I’ve seen multiple times with small businesses. Even though some of this might seem basic, problems at this level can take months to resolve. By simply spending the time to make sure these fundamentals are in place, you’re giving your business a distinct advantage over countless other small businesses online.
If you have any lingering questions about local search, take advantage of our Local SEO Q&A and post your question in the comments below. Remember, we’ll be compiling all of the questions and responses on October 2nd in a special blog post!