While the internet has the power to connect people with goods and services across the globe, there is still a great demand for local search.
Whether a person is searching for a product or a service, the chances are that they are looking for a business to cater to their needs within their local area.
In fact, 72% of consumers who perform a local search end up visiting a business within five miles of their location. Furthermore, 62% of mobile users are more likely to contact a company if they have a mobile-friendly site.
In this guide, I will discuss why local search should be of interest to every small business, as well as how they can harness that power to attract more customers.
What is local SEO?
While many branches of SEO deal with national and international search optimisation, local SEO focuses on local search results.
Local search results are often triggered when users search for goods and services in their area, and will typically use search phrases such as:
- [goods] near me
- [services] near me
- [food] near me
- [goods] in [local town/city]
- [services] in [local town/city]
- [food] in [local town/city]
With the vast majority of people now taking to the internet to search for local businesses, it is integral that brick-and-mortar establishments make the most out of opportunities within local search.
How to get a Google My Business listing
Your first step should be to create a Google My Business (GMB) account. Signing up is not only easy and straightforward, but it is also swift.
- Create a Google Account or login if you already have one
- Go to google.com/business and select “start now”
- Enter the address of your business
- Choose how you want to display your business name
- Search and select a business category
- Enter a phone number or business URL
- Select a verification option
Once completed, you can then review your business information to ensure that everything is correct.
It’s also worth mentioning that at the time of writing, GMB is completely free.
Besides Google, there are also other local business profiles you can set up with digital platforms, including:
This article, however, shall primarily focus on GMB and local search within Google Search.
You can read more about local SEO and Bing in my earlier article.
How to optimise your GMB listing
Once that you have completed these critical steps, you can start optimising your listing, which will help it appear more often when people search for a business like yours.
Optimise your description
To ensure that your GMB is properly optimised, ensure that you also fill out your opening hours and public telephone number, alongside other important considerations, such as:
- Ensuring your GMB business name is identical to that on signage and digital assets.
- Ensuring your GMB business address matches across other listings and digital assets.
- Ensuring any holiday days or new opening times are updated across listings and assets.
When it comes to writing your business description, you need to write a clear, useful, and honest portrayal of what you offer. Google provides clear guidelines for writing a description, and there are a few points worth mentioning:
- Make sure your description is well written and does not contain spelling mistakes
- A GMB description must not be misleading
- You cannot focus on promotions or special offers
- Your description cannot contain a link of any kind
- Your description cannot contain hateful or harmful content
With that in mind, think about what your business does, what its USP is, and how you could make your business stand out from competitors.
Remember, however, you only have 750 characters to write your description, so every character counts. What’s more, only 250 characters will be displayed in the knowledge panel – people have to click to see the full description.
Pack your most important information upfront and entice people to read your full work. It’s also worth noting that unlike links, you can place an email address within the description. This, however, would be better left towards the end.
Once you submit your description, Google will take around three days to approve it. If it is not published after three working days, check with the guidelines to ensure that you have not broken them.
Interact with customers
Another great way to show your business’ dedication is to answer questions from customers within your GMB listing. This is particularly important, as, like images, anyone can interact with one another, which could lead to inaccurate information being displayed to users.
Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off the Q&A feature within a GMB profile, but you can set up alerts so that you are notified when a question is posed to or about your business.
You can also make a list of most frequently asked questions that your business receives and upvote your answers to those specific questions on your profile.
Although this might sound strange, Google actually encourages this tactic to ensure that the most useful and essential information is conveyed to customers at all times.
Please bear in mind, that if you are reading this article during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google has temporarily disabled the Q&A sections for most GMB listings.
To replace Q&As for now, you could also set up messaging, which allows customers to get in touch with you directly. You can enable messaging by selecting the “Messaging” tab in your Google My Business dashboard.
Upload regular images
Adding photographs to your profile is a great way to help optimise your GMB listing.
It’s important to remember that anyone can add photos of your business, so by regularly adding high-quality and useful photographs, you can manage the visual quality of your profile.
What’s more, by adding photographs every ten days or so, you signal to Google that your account is active and up-to-date.
Quite possibly the most important reason for adding pictures is the fact that doing so increases engagement with customers. According to Google, customers are 42% more likely to request directions to a business if that business includes images in its GMB profile.
All photos should be at least 720×720 and be uploaded as a JPG or PNG.
Google also suggests uploading your business logo, a cover photo, and other additional photos that highlight the features you provide to customers.
Look after your reviews and your reviews will look after you
While all the above represents the finer and most integral parts of GMB, it is the customer reviews that offer the most power in a listing.
In fact, 64% of consumers say that they check reviews on Google before visiting a business, and 21% agree that GMB reviews are one of the most important factors in their search for local companies.
I always recommend that business owners create alerts for reviews so that they can themselves check the reviews. When an alert is created, an email is sent, and you can view:
- The name of the user
- Star rating
- Portion of text
- Link to review
Google may also send an email if a particular review is attracting likes and views, which can encourage users to leave further reviews when they visit other businesses.
It’s important to keep track of your reviews as they also appear within other Google platforms and apps, including Search, Maps, and Google carousels.
When do reviews appear in search results?
You need at least four to five ratings before they begin appearing for your business. Occasionally, however, ratings can mysteriously disappear from the results, and if this happens, you’ll need to take action within your GMB account.
Check out this article to see why your ratings and reviews might not be appearing.
How do the stars work?
Although your business might have only five-star reviews, this does not mean that your business will have a five-star rating.
This is because Google uses a variety of signals to calculate your rating – not just ratings submitted by users.
Although Google hasn’t explained which signals are incorporated into the ratings, it should be assumed that businesses that keep their profiles fresh and adhere to its best practice guidelines will attain higher marks.
Should I respond to GMB reviews?
Yes, 53% of customers expect a review response within seven days and doing so could help protect and bolster your online reputation.
When it comes to positive reviews, be sure to thank reviewers and wish them well with the product or service that they received.
Negative reviews, however, need time and thought put into them so that a quick and clean resolution can take place. It is always advised to:
- Acknowledge the issue
- Apologise to the reviewer
- Provide an explanation (if required)
- Compensate the reviewer appropriately
- Invite the review to discuss the issue offline
It is not recommended that you ask a reviewer to remove their submission, as this could make the situation worse. It is more important that you resolve the situation than try to hide it.
Can I ask people to leave GMB reviews?
According to research, businesses that request reviews from customers receive higher ratings than those that don’t actively seek out feedback. You can request reviews in several ways, including:
- Through emails and via monthly newsletters
- Through SMS campaigns
- Through Marketing Kit via Google
- Through a unique link for customers to write reviews
It’s important to note that Facebook prohibits “review gating” which is when customers provide feedback to companies via emails or SMS, before being asked to provide a GMB review if their initial response was positive.
Why social media matters to local businesses
As with GMB, social media is also crucial for small and local business. A recent survey of digital consumers found that 40% of them use social networks to research new brands and products.
If you’re looking to expand your digital reach with social media accounts, it is best to start with a plan and consider what your goals and objectives are. Most objectives for small businesses include:
- Increase brand awareness
- Increase engagement
- Increase web traffic
- Generate sales or leads
- Distribute original content
- Increase brand advocacy
- Support customers
Your personal goals will depend entirely on the kind of business you run, how large it is, and what sector it is in.
It’s also important to research the competition and view and analyse what your closest competitors are doing.
Look at what they are doing right as well as what they are doing wrong.
Learn more about conducting a competitor analysis in this article I wrote a couple of years ago.
Know your audience
As well as researching your competition, it’s also important to know who your audience is and what platforms they use.
For instance, if your audience is in their late 20s and above, you might want to consider Facebook, LinkedIn (if you’re B2B), and Twitter. If your audience is in their late teens and early twenties, you should consider new apps and platforms such as Tumblr, Ticktock, Live.me, YouTube, or Snapchat.
Only a very few apps are generally used by people of all ages, such as Instagram.
Once you have the platforms you need, ensure to keep your brand honest, in-character, and useful to your customers. People can be put off entire brands from just a few uninspired posts. Some of the reasons are quite common and include:
- Abundance of promotional messages
- Messages not relevant
- Use of slang or jargon not befitting brand
- Brand too quiet or unresponsive
Hitting the right balance, therefore, is key to any social media campaign.
To help you along, there are also social media tools that can help you plan, publish, and analyse your posts.
Social media tools to help local businesses
Although not all social media tools are free, there a great range of useful tools. Let’s go through some of the most valuable and prominent social media tools for small businesses.
This tool lets you find the most shared content across influences while also allowing you analyse which content performs best across topics and platforms.
BuzzSumo will help you better understand what impact your social media campaign is having.
- Website: https://app.buzzsumo.com/
- Cost: $79 per month to $499+ per month
- Similar tools: Ahrefs, Meltwater, Mention
This tool is designed to help you schedule media posts, analyse their performance, and manage accounts all in one place.
You can also download Buffer for Android, iOS, and it also has a convenient Chrome extension.
Buffer is especially useful for companies that operate in different time zones, as you can schedule posts accordingly. However, this feature might be more useful for larger or enterprise companies.
- Website: https://buffer.com/
- Price: Free (paid plan starts from $15 per month)
- Similar tools: Hootsuite, Sprout Social
If you work in a more creative field, or you need to appeal to younger people or audiences that prefer imagery, Unsplash is an excellent tool for designing images and videos.
You can also follow creators to get inspired by their latest work and designs. As always, however, if you’re using someone’s images for free, it’s always worth crediting them.
- Website: https://unsplash.com/
- Price: Free
- Similar tools: Pexels, Videvo, Pixabay
Another design tool, Canva is perfect for creating images and posters without the need of a designer.
If you’ve been on the internet for even the past day, there’s a chance that you’ve seen at least one social media post with design work from Canva.
- Website: https://www.canva.com/
- Price: Free (Canva for Work starts at $12.95)
- Similar tools: Crello, Buffer Stories Creator
If you’re looking to grow your Instagram audience, Kicksta helps you grow your followers on an organic basis.
The app works by automatically “liking” approximately 30,000 carefully selected photos per month on carefully chosen accounts belonging to real people.
- Website: https://kicksta.co/
- Price: $49 per month
- Similar tools: Instaboom, Grum, ViralRace
Similar to Buffer, Later allows you to plan and schedule Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest posts.
Analytics also allow you to track when the best time to post is, what hashtags you should use, and also how your feed will look when you post content.
- Website: https://later.com/
- Price: $7.50 per month
- Similar tools: Buffer, Sprout Social, Zoho Social
If you want to know more about local SEO, get in touch today.