Editor’s note: This article is part of a featured series that tackles the basics of reputation management. In our Reputation Management 101 series, you’ll learn about basic (but important) concepts, tasks, and tips for reputation management. Each post will include actionable advice and realistic ideas that you can use — today — to improve your online reputation. Join us as we explore reputation management resources that everyone should know!
Decades ago, consumers would find their dentist, plumber, or photographer the old fashioned way: by asking a friend, or opening up the yellow pages to check out the listings. Today, local search is the new yellow pages. And while consumers still turn to friends and family for recommendations, the circle of friends any given consumer has to call on has now grown by billions — as in, the entire Internet. Now, instead of calling a friend or opening up the yellow pages, consumers are able to search for a business online, read reviews, and find out more information before actually visiting than ever before.
This availability of information is great for consumers, and it can be great for businesses, too — but you’ll have to play along if you want to reap the benefits. That means it’s more important now than ever before to pay attention to your local search reputation. This includes not just ranking well in local search results, but looking good, too. Your business should be present at the top of local search results, plus have great reviews and extensive, detailed information to back up your authority and instill trust in a potential customer. A few facts that illustrate just how important local search reputation has become for businesses, particularly local, small businesses:
- 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information. In fact, 15% of consumers use the Internet to find a local business every day, and 57% of consumers search online for a local business more than six times a year.
- 59% of consumers use Google every month to locate a good business.
- Local searches lead to more purchases than non-local searches, with 18% of mobile local searches leading to a purchase within a day compared to only 7% of non-local searches.
- Local search is especially important for certain business types, particularly brick and mortar businesses with a high level of service. Nearly 60% of consumers search for restaurants and cafes in local search, followed by doctors and dentists, retail, hair and beauty salons, and hotels.
If you want your local business to grow, the bottom line is that you’ll have to improve your local search reputation. And while doing so may sound intimidating, it’s really not that difficult, though you’ll have to be thorough and persistent. We’ve outlined more than 20 important ways small local businesses should take action to improve local search reputation today:
- Have a local presence: In order to be found, you’ll need to have something to find. While listings on local directories are important, it’s not enough to just have a Facebook or Twitter page anymore. More than half of small business don’t have websites — and that’s a big mistake. You’re missing out on being able to personally develop and control the information that customers find out about you. Develop a website for your business that you can submit to Google for inclusion, and pay attention to details like using local keywords, using trust building design, and sharing effective information that customers want to see.
- Use local keywords: Tell Google and other search engines where you are by adding local keywords and titles. When you build or edit your website, page titles should have your city and state in them, and so should titles within your content. Consider adding your neighborhood, too, if relevant. In your website copy, make sure you’ve added your location as well. Phrases like “restaurant in New York City,” or “Denver, Colorado photographer” work well. You may also want to go for niche keywords that get more specific, like “Italian restaurant in New York,” or “Denver, Colorado 80220 newborn photographer.” Of course, be careful not to stuff your website with keywords. While you should be paying attention to the keywords and carefully adding them to your website, your language should still sound natural and be easy for visitors to read.
- List important information on your website: Every local business should have certain basic information listed online. While your city and state are the most important information for local search results, don’t forget details like your business name, business address, business phone number, business hours, and email. Be sure that you’re consistent with this information across all channels. For example, if your address is Main Street on one page, but Main St. on another, you’re inconsistent — and it can hurt with local rankings. Consumers say it’s important to have information including store address and phone number available.
- Make your website easy for local users to enjoy: Google values a positive user experience, so making your website usable is essential to encouraging Google to give you good placement in search results. A big part of making your website usable is sharing essential information incluing your name, address, and phone number, but anything else you can do to improve the user experience is great. Inserting Google maps, interactive store hours, and a store locator is even better. Consider using tools like the Yoast Local SEO plugin to be sure you’re getting all of the details taken care of.
- Develop local landing pages: If your business has a presence in more than one location, you should have pages that are specifically designed for that location. This allows you to optimize for the local area where the business is, sharing the aforementioned information including address, phone number, hours, and other important details. Offer a rich experience on each local page with unique content, relevant information, and interactive opportunities like store locators.
- Use schema markup: Schema markup is one of the most powerful search tools available to local businesses today. Schema allows you to directly tell search engines the most important information about your business: where you’re located, menus, events, products, and more. Sharing this information not only helps your website rank better for certain content types, it also offers a different looking search result that can help you stand out. For example, a local concert venue using schema for events may have a listing of upcoming concerts directly below the main link. This can help direct local search users to tickets much more efficiently. Schema can be used for all kinds of local businesses, including restaurants, hotels, and more. Visit the KISSmetrics guide to schema to learn more.
- Offer fresh content: While Google loves high quality, unique content that stands the test of time, the search engine loves new content as well. The freshness factor can help drive more traffic and links to your website and improve its ranking as a whole. That means keeping up with a blog for your small business is a great idea — and it can help not only regular search engine results, but local search results as well.
- Add more information about your business: Make your website a little deeper and more useful by adding pages like staff profiles, company history, frequently asked questions, menus, product availability, pricing, and more. The more information you can provide, the more local search engines will want to link to you.
- Send your data out: Data aggregators including Factual, Acxiom, InfoUSA, and Neustar Localeze provide listing information to consumers and businesses. Be sure that your business data is a part of their database, and that it is accurate. You can submit your information to local directories (and you should), but starting with these data aggregators is a shortcut to getting your information shared widely.
- Get on local directories: If you do nothing else, do this. It’s essential that you set up business listings with major local directories. By far, the most important is Google. Using Google My Business, you can set up a listing that will show up in local search results: the unique, mapped listings that appear before any other search engine results. This is where you want to be on local search. Do not neglect it. Other important local directories include Yelp, Bing Places, Citysearch, and Insiderpages. Hubspot maintains a list of the top local business directories you should consider listing with. Remember to follow through on every step to complete your listing, with details like verifying your local business on Google after you’ve added or claimed your listing. You should also be sure to properly categorize your business so that your website will be displayed properly in search results. You can use the Moz Local tool to manage local listings and add information. You’ll also be able to easily update listings and close duplicate listings that may be incorrect.
- Create an appealing listing: First and foremost, use quality photos, including photos of your business both inside and out. Visuals are key to attracting visitors and making your listing stand out in search results. It’s also important to fill out as much information as you can on your listing. Include menu photos, or even better, and interactive menu listing. Share price ranges, business hours, and any other details the listing asks for as completely as you can.
- Seek out niche websites: Listing websites within your industry may be helpful, as well. Car dealers, for example, can add listings on Cars.com, DealerRater, and Edmunds.
- Go beyond local: While a local presence is important to improving your local search reputation, other websites will help, too. Developing a presence on social media including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn will encourage better placement in local results, especially if you’re linked socially through the person who is performing the local search. It’s also smart to use a tool like KnowEm to set up all of your social profiles. Plus, it’s always helpful to have more links with your name on them — and links pointing to your business domain. Be sure to add your business address and website URL to optimize your accounts and get listed as a local business. It’s also important to develop strong activity and interaction, as social signals will have an influence on how well a page does in search results. More Facebook fans, comments, and shares mean more eyeballs on your page, and not just originating from Facebook itself.
- Offer a coupon: Attact shoppers looking for a deal by offering a coupon through local listing websites. This can help you stand out among a sea of other listings in your category.
- Encourage positive reviews: 88% of consumers read reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and 72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more. 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, more than ever before. Plus, research has shown that Google uses reviews as a ranking factor for local search. That’s why it’s more important now than ever before to ask your customers to give you reviews. Ask for them on your website, on receipts, and in person. And of course, earn them by working on improving reputation traits that really matter to consumers, like reliability, expertise, professionalism, value, accreditations, and friendliness. Of course, you should never post fake reviews. Earn real ones! View our guide to getting great reviews to learn more.
- Manage negative reviews: Negative reviews happen even to the most trustworthy businesses, and consumers understand that one bad review doesn’t necessarily mean a business is bad news. But left unchecked, bad reviews can damage your business, and especially your local search reputation. Respond (professionally and politely) to negative reviews, work to remove fake reviews left by competitors and others, and try to negotiate with dissatisfied customers to edit negative reviews after you’ve made things right. Learn more about handling bad reviews in our guide to responding to bad reviews.
- Link to local pages and reviews: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Your website should show off your local listings presence. Link to your most prominent listings, such as Google or Yelp, and then take it a step farther by highlighting some of your favorite reviews on each page. Let customers know you’re doing well and making customers happy — and send a signal that other satisfied customers should visit the page to leave their positive reviews as well.
- Optimize for mobile devices: In 2012, more than 113 million people searched for local business information on a mobile device, and more than half of them said they used a mobile device for research because they were on the go and needed immediate local information. Further research backs up this claim, as 88% of consumers who search for local businesses on a mobile device will call or visit the business within 24 hours. You can find useful guides for mobile optimization from Google and Moz.
- Encourage mobile interaction: Make your mobile website stick more effectively with interactive features that drive business to your door. Tools like click to call, app integrated directions, and easy check ins encourage interaction and make it easy for customers to take the next step and do business with you.
- Get links from local businesses and local news: Get other local businesses talking about you and earn valuable links. Reach out to business partners, visit local networking events, and ask for links. Consider seeking out local blogs as well. Remember that often, the best way to earn a link is to do something linkworthy. Offer a local sponsorship, scholarship, or event that others will want to talk about. In addition to links from other local businesses, get links from local news. You may not be able to land the New York Times as a small local business, but you may be able to make the local paper. Do a press release for newsworthy events and developments and submit it to the local paper. Another great way to get featured? Offer your advice as an expert to local journalists.
- Track and monitor what you’re doing: Ready to pull it all together? See how your work in local search is paying off by tracking your results. See how you rank against competitors, get reports, and monitor your search rankings with BrightLocal.
Have you worked on improving your local search reputation? Let us know about methods that have paid off for your small, local business in local search results!