You have a growing local business. You’ve built a great website. But sometimes it can be tough to get seen.
How do you build your online presence so that when customers in your area search for your services, you show up in the top results?
There are a lot of experts out there who tell you that you “must” do this or “must not” do that. But some “best practices” are essential while others are just suggestions that can take up a lot of time for a minimal return on investment.
In this post, we’ll cut through the local SEO clutter and tell you the difference between what you must do, what you should do and what you must not do.
Especially in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Qualbe is located, we work with businesses that serve locations from Fort Worth to Arlington to Irving and everywhere in between. If your business has multiple locations, or you travel to multiple areas, how do you rank highly for the city of Plano while also capturing your audience in Saginaw?
In fact, there are over 240 different cities, towns and unincorporated places in DFW! Some might even include cities “outside” of the metroplex like Granbury or Cleburne. All told, it’s a HUGE place with a ton of business opportunities.
So how do you get your local business seen online by all those different areas, and how important is such visibility anyway?
The answer depends on a few different factors, and we’ll go over all of them in this post.
- Is your business multi-site, or do you travel to multiple locations?
- What about media? Do you have photography and video of your work, services or products in different cities?
- Are all of the locations near you equal priority, or are there a few that provide the majority of your company’s revenue and therefore require more attention?
Now that we’ve got you thinking, let’s get your business seen.
Must Do: Google My Business
Before Google looks at anything else for accurate information about your business, it looks at Google My Business. Make sure you have your profile completely and accurately filled out. Even a small tweak can pay huge dividends for your search results.
When you search for something like “burgers near me,” there are three results that show up at the top underneath the Google map. Here’s what came up when I did the search:
This is called the “Local Pack,” and these spots are highly coveted! By filling out your Google My Business information and keeping it updated, you greatly increase your business’s chance of appearing in those local search results.
Let’s try something a little less location-specific. How about “house cleaning services near me”?
My company is located in Haltom City, but as you can see, the search results include Fort Worth, Richland Hills and Bedford. So my local search brought up highly-rated companies that are not necessarily right at my doorstep.
“Best practices” are great, but they’re no guarantee. Generally, the more great reviews, the better, but the top listing of Merry Maids only has one 5-star review and yet they are at the very top. Why is this? Google prioritizes proximity, so unless Merry Maids has absolutely horrible reviews, it is likely to be listed at the top. Another, less important, factor is that even though they just have one review, 5 stars is still better than 4.7 or 4.4.
Here’s another cool finding. I went back just three weeks after the screenshot above and did the same search. Notice anything different?
A different business with only one 5-star review is at the top, purely because it specifically advertises “Haltom City,” rather than Fort Worth. On top of that, this particular business doesn’t even have a brick-and-mortar location! It looks like this person simply travels around and probably operates out of his home.
Considering he made it to the top of the Local Pack in such a short amount of time without a physical address or a website, he gives multi-site or traveling local businesses a lot of hope for getting seen online.
Next actionable steps:
- Make sure you have a complete, accurate Google My Business profile.
- Work on getting reviews! Create a system to obtain those reviews. You can send customers a follow-up email or text, or you can have your employees ask customers in-person to leave a Google review if they enjoyed your services.
Must Do: Local Business Listings
Source: Doctors Internet
Related to Google My Business are your general local business listings.
These are databases like Yelp and YellowPages that help your customers find your reviews, information and location. It’s important that your NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) is consistent across all local listings. You want your customers to be able to find you!
Local listings increase the trust factor for your company. These third parties help verify that what you say about yourself is accurate.
Local listings also prove that other people know who you are and are talking about you. You don’t want anything interfering with the message that you are trying to project.
Recently, we had to shut down an old Facebook page that had been generated for us. Qualbe started out as “Quality Benefits Inc,” and a Facebook page had been created under that name with an old office address that has been inaccurate for years. We ended up having to submit an old document to prove that we were, in fact, the same company as the former Quality Benefits, but we finally succeeded. We don’t want customers who are searching for us to be confused about our name, location and the services we now provide.
Marcus Hill at Bowler Hat has an excellent article about the importance of local listings in generating trust, as well as how to fix local listings.
Must Not Do: Make This Common Mistake in Local Listings
Many businesses change locations, phone numbers or even their business names and think that the local listings will just magically pick up on it.
When you make even the slightest change to your NAP, you must make sure this change is reflected across all your local listings.
Yes, it can be time-consuming, but you don’t want to lose customers because they’re frustrated by not being able to reach you by phone or find your brick-and-mortar location.
Particularly if you’re a larger, multi-site or regional business, you’ll want to consider using a local listings distributor like Moz or Yext to help keep your NAP consistent. Because it costs extra money, using a local listings distributor is a “should do,” not a “must do.” If you’re a smaller business, you might be able to just personally keep track of all the local listings sites and update everything manually, but it will be very time-consuming. If you’re not sure if a local listings distributor will be useful but just want to check to see if you have mismatches or duplicates, check out the free Moz Scan Tool or the Yext Scan Tool.
We’ve used both Moz and Yext and had positive experiences with both. It’s just a matter of how much you want to spend and what features you need. They’ll actually consolidate all the listings and show you where your listings do not match, contain inaccuracies or are incomplete. In some cases, they can even update the listings for you.
Facebook and Google often require manual suggestions in order to update their listings. You usually cannot update them through a tool like Moz or Yext, but Facebook and Google are typically very responsive and will respond to your request to change something within a week or two.
If you would like to suggest edits to a Facebook page, simply go to the page, locate the “…” button and click “Suggest Edits”:
Similarly, if you wish to update something on Google, find the business on Google Maps and click “Suggest Edits.” You’ll first receive an email saying your edit is under review, and you’ll receive a second email when your revision is accepted.
Next actionable steps:
- Register your business on sites like Yelp, YellowPages and other business directories.
- If your business has multiple locations or you cannot devote the time to personally manage each local listing, consider signing up for a service like Moz or Yext.
- Search for old NAP information. Look up old locations or names for your business on websites like Facebook and Google. Claim the pages if you’re able, or suggest updates.
Must Do: Optimize Your Website
If you’re targeting an area, make sure you have information about that area on your website! Your footer should show your address and the best way to contact you.
To further localize your website, you can post local news as appropriate, like one of our partners MagnaPro does on their pest control page:
We’ve only been working on MagnaPro’s new site for a couple of months now, but look at the traction it’s already gaining because it’s optimized for local visibility:
Another one of our partners, Displays Fine Art Services, is located in Arlington. Look what happens when I search for “Arlington fine art storage”:
Wow! Number 1 listing and also a nice visual to the side that shows the logo, a map and an outside picture of their building. Very helpful for customers needing fine art storage.
Important note: Gone are the days when you could sprinkle “Arlington fine art storage Arlington fine art storage Arlington fine art storage” all over your website and expect Google to rank you. That’s what we call a “black-hat” SEO tactic, and it’s highly frowned upon. Google’s current algorithm will demote sites like that.
So what ranks now? Useful content. If you go to the webpage, we have placed the contact information unobtrusively yet conveniently in the footer of each page. However, the focus of each page is on their services and offerings – information that is useful to a potential customer.
This is a good thing for you! You don’t have to know weird “hidden tricks” in order to obtain a decent ranking on Google. You just need to structure your website in a way that is most helpful to your local customers.
Even when I search for a national term like “fine art transportation,” Displays shows up in the local pack AND the top 3 organic results:
Remember: Local SEO is a “tortoise-and-the-hare” game. No matter how much useful content you create, you can’t expect to be at the top of Google for “best burger in Arlington” in a day, or even a week. We have been working with Displays for a couple of years now.
Why does slow and steady win the race? Again, the trust factor. Search engines need time to see that you are a trustworthy company. If your competitor has an old “tortoise” website that has been building up trust for years, you can’t expect to outrank them immediately. (If you get an email that says, “Greetings, I represent an SEO company that gets you to the top of Google in 1 day!” you should trash it. Seriously. Scam alert).
In the meantime, keep building up your local listings and posting useful content on your webpage. If you stay at the top of your game while your competitors get lazy, you’ll gain traction in the search results.
While you’re waiting for your local SEO to build up, you’ll want to look into doing targeted local ads through Facebook or Google.
Next actionable steps:
- Make sure to include a “Contact Us” page in your header navigation, and include your contact information in the footer of each page.
- Include local information on your homepage and on pages that directly link to the homepage. For example, post local news stories that relate to your business. Do you own an outdoor business? Maybe get a local weather report widget on there. Do everything you can to make your website useful to the people in your local area.
- Consider implementing some sort of ad campaign while waiting for your website to gain organic visibility.
Great, but What About That Whole Multiple Location Problem?
So glad you asked! If your business operates in multiple areas, you don’t want to only rank for one city. How do you let people know all the locations you serve without looking spammy or resorting to black-hat tactics?
First of all, you’ll want to include all the locations you serve on your homepage. We usually like to include this in the footer, as with our friends at Pawn King:
Because we’ve included the locations in the footer, Pawn King ranks highly for phrases such as “pawn shop Peoria IL,” “pawn shops in Decatur” and “Davenport pawn”:
Displays actually has another office in Albuquerque, so we made sure to include that location beside the contact form:
As you can see, their Albuquerque location features prominently in a Google search for “New Mexico fine art transportation”:
Next actionable steps:
- Make sure you include all locations you serve on the homepage. You can place them in the main content section and/or in the footer.
- Make sure your website lists all relevant contact information. Don’t include just the contact information for your main location, but for each place you serve.
Should Do: City Pages
City pages are a great way to have your site show up in searches by potential customers in multiple locations near you.
In addition to your homepage, create a page targeted to that specific city that talks about your services for them. Feature unique content that is specifically tailored to people from that city or area. You can turn all the places you list in your footer into hyperlinks that take your user to a page designed specifically for their city.
These individual pages also might rank highly in search results when your home page would not. For example, if I search for “bounce house rentals southlake,” our friends Plum Fun Party Rentals show up on the front page of the search results. However, their homepage does not:
As ever, you want to make your city pages as useful and unique as possible. People are on your website because they want information, so give it to them!
Some ideas to spice up your city pages content (Although you don’t have to do all these things, you should do as many as possible if you really want your city pages to rank):
- Local Roots. Do you have ties to that city? Does the president of your company live there? Did you grow up there? Talk about it! Even your old elementary school or the old corner bakery. People in that town will feel like you’re one of them and have their best interest at heart.
- Testimonials. Have you done work in that city before? Are there families who just rave about your house cleaning services? You can get quotes to put on your website, or if they are willing, you can even record audio to attach to a video, take a photo of them to put next to their quote or take a video of their testimonial to use on your website.
- Media. Do you have pictures from a recent carnival that your bounce house company put on at the local church? How about videos of the kids having fun? Post them!
- Reviews. Reviews on websites like Google, Yelp and Facebook are extremely important for your business. Brag about that 5-star rating! There are widgets you can install on your website that will show reviews. If you don’t have such a great rating on one of those websites or if you have a horror story from a disgruntled customer, you’ll want to deal with that first. It helps to publicly post an apology on the relevant page and try to contact the person to make it better. 1-star reviews have been turned into 5-star reviews when the company showed excellent follow-up service! Even if the person doesn’t reply or wish to do further business with you, it helps ease the minds of your potential customers when they see that you’ve done everything you can to make the situation right.
- Map. Especially if your business is tucked away or difficult to locate, it can really help to have a Google Map widget installed on your website! The user can pan around the map and see how to get to you from where they are. This further adds validity and credibility to your business.
- Structured Data Markup. This is a little technical and requires some time, but you use a tool called Schema to make your page more accessible to search engines. By adding structured code into your page, search engines have an easier time understanding your content. Schema also contributes to your Knowledge Panel data that displays in Google. Have you ever searched for a recipe and seen results that look like this?
That’s structured data at work! Behind the scenes, the code is telling Google how to understand the content of the page.
If you don’t have the ability to implement all of these options, just take it one step at a time. What can you do right now?
You can at least change the descriptions of your services to customize them to each area. For example, on your Fort Worth city page you might mention something about your business having a booth at Mayfest, but on your Dallas page you might talk about the Texas State Fair. Think about what differentiates your business offering at each location, and start there.
If you need more ideas, we recommend checking out Local Visibility System’s comprehensive list.
Note: A lot of experts will tell you that you absolutely must put the above types of content on your city pages for them to rank. That’s not necessarily true. It all depends on how much of a niche market you are serving and what your competitors are doing.
Must Do: Avoid Doorway Pages
Source: Video Blocks
Many people confuse “city pages” with “doorway pages.” For the record, city pages = good. Doorway pages = bad. What’s the difference?
Doorway pages contain very little useful information, are usually nearly identical to each other and only serve to funnel users to the main portion of the site. They exist for the sole purpose of capturing search engine traffic, not to offer any unique, targeted information to the customer.
Google imposes a “doorway page penalty” to demote these kinds of pages in its rankings. The algorithm gets smarter and smarter all the time, which is why you should continually update your city pages and post as much unique content as possible.
Hallmarks of Doorway Pages:
- Identical text on each page
- “Keyword Stuffing” such as “Cigarette shops in Sydney,” “Cigarette shops in Melbourne,” etc. all being littered throughout the page – usually enough to be annoying
- The same images on each page
- No useful or unique content; you have to click a link on the city page to visit the homepage to find useful content
How Do I Avoid a Doorway Page Penalty?
First of all, make sure you’re only targeting cities where you have an established presence. If you serve the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area, you probably don’t need a separate page for every single one of the 200-something cities and towns in the area.
Focus on creating pages for your largest target markets. If your painting business primarily serves Aledo, Granbury, Cleburne and Fort Worth, but you have a client every now and then in Glen Rose, you should probably just create city pages for your top four locations.
Make sure each city page has all the information the user needs. Your customer in Granbury shouldn’t need to go to the home page to know how to order services for his or her home.
Also, do not hide your city pages. Feature them prominently. Make sure that a user can easily access your Fort Worth page from your homepage. We often display links to city pages in the footer, but you can even place them in a header menu – whatever works best for your website.
Next actionable steps to get your local business seen online:
- Turn your list of locations you serve into individual city pages.
- Remember – don’t create too many. Focus on your most profitable locations.
- Personalize your city pages with whatever features make sense for your business.
- Avoid having the same content and images on each page.
- Start slow. It’s better to build one city page at a time and put effort into really optimizing them and making them unique than to suddenly build 10 and risk being slapped with a doorway page penalty.
Should Do: Social MediaSocial media is another key tool in your local SEO arsenal. But you have to use it right, or you might as well not have it.
Just creating a social media account or posting a lot of hodgepodge content on your pages will not have a huge impact on your SEO. Treat your social media posts the same as your web page: Quality content will help you, not always quantity.
Matt Cutts of Google specifically explained that social media posts are not given any special treatment in search engine rankings. While some people take this to mean that social media doesn’t matter, the data show that social media channels are powerful search engines by themselves. In fact, many social media channels field billions of search queries each month.
Also, public social media pages can still rank individually on Google. Post about things your users search for, care about and are likely to share, and your social media accounts will rank more highly! To illustrate this, we’ll take another look at Displays. Further down on the first page of the search results for “fine art storage in Arlington,” we find both their LinkedIn main page and their LinkedIn Showcase page:
Choose a social media channel that makes sense for your industry and your target demographic. While it’s true that Snapchat and Instagram increasingly steal the youngest generation away from Facebook, is that who you’re targeting? Or are you targeting baby boomers, who are still actively using Facebook?
Does your business lend itself to visual expression? You might want to consider Instagram and Pinterest as primary channels. For example, if you’re a hair salon or an art gallery, these channels are great for your industry.
Also, make sure your social media profiles are optimized. If you’ve got certain keywords on your website, make sure you also have them on your Twitter or Facebook profile. Make sure to use hashtags, especially on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Hashtags are how people find you. Are you at the #TexasStateFair? Does your business have a booth at #DigitalSummitDallas? Be sure to include that hashtag in your photo.
You may even want to consider separate social media accounts for each of your locations.
For example, the Displays Facebook page for its Arlington location tends to focus on the Dallas/Fort Worth area:
Whereas their New Mexico page features information about Native American art and Santa Fe art venues:
Don’t neglect social media in your strategy for getting your local business seen online. Just make sure you choose appropriate channels and post good content.
Next actionable steps:
- Figure out which social media channels are best for your business. For example, if it’s more informative or B2B, you might want to go with LinkedIn or Twitter. If it’s more visual, artistic and B2C, consider Instagram and Pinterest.
- Don’t spread yourself too thin. You want your social media accounts to stay local, current and relevant. The whole point of social media is to strengthen your online presence, not diminish it through being out-of-date or posting poor-quality content. Don’t be afraid to kill old accounts that you haven’t updated and that don’t seem useful for your current business goals.
- Include keywords and phrases in your social media handles and descriptions. Make sure your content matches your branding and ties in well with your website. You can even install a social media widget on your website. For an example, check out our Instagram posts on our About page at Qualbe.com:
The Musts, the Shoulds, and the Don’ts
We hope this post has helped cut through some of the clutter about what you truly need to do to get your local business seen online. We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.
Every company really is its own special little snowflake. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another, and we believe in customized SEO strategies. Hopefully this is enough to get you started, but leave a comment if you have any specific questions or suggestions.
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