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Local businesses are often intimidated by SEO (search engine optimization) because it’s often thought of as expensive and only something large corporations can take advantage of.

The truth is, it’s easy to become the big fish in a small pond.

The difference between those international corporations and a local business is quite literally, the world. In most cases it’s easy to capitalize on the small area such as a single town, city or state where your business is located vs competing global search terms that like larger companies.

So we’ve put together the beginner’s guide on local SEO. We’ll show you how to take your piece of the pie and start driving more paying customers, leads and clients from Google and other search engines.

Why is Local SEO Important?

Mike Ramsey from Nifty Marketing posted a great case study on measuring the click through rates on Google’s local search listings. The study looked at click through rates of users making several different searches like “Salt Lake City Hotel” like in the image below.

This is definitive proof that working on SEO for your local area has a major ROI. In particular it shows how valuable it is to be in the number one spot for those results.

Verify Your Business on Google Places / Google+

First things first.

The same way your business didn’t just show up in YellowPages back in the day, you need to claim your business and verify that you are the owner on Google Places.

(Google most likely has indexed your business’s website automatically, but Google Places listings verify and curate information in a more convenient form for potential customers)

“Places” is Google’s official business listing that organizes local businesses to make them easier for local customers to find in search, see your business hours, phone number, get directions and post reviews of your business.

Assuming you already have created a separate Google account for your business, head over to the Google Places signup page and click “Start Now”

From here type in the name and/or address of your business and select it form the list.

You will be asked to agree that you are in-fact the owner of that business and given the options to verify both your business phone number by calling it and giving you a confirmation code and the option to verify your business address by mail.

The prompt saying this will take 1-2 weeks but it’s normally just under one. Next, you will need to create an official Google+ page for your business.

Your Google+ brand page is essentially your business listing in itself on Google. This is where you can upload your company’s logo, photos of your business, details such as your featured items/services and even upload your menu if you serve food.

It’s vital to your Google ranking to fill this page with will as much and as accurate information as possible.

It’s important to keep in mind that Google’s job isn’t to pick winners and losers. Their job is to offer the best possible experience to their users (your potential customers). Filling your Google+ / Google Places listing with accurate information about your business is helping Google accomplish that goal. Eg better search rankings for your business. 

Once you’ve confirmed your Google+ brand page click on the about tab to set your custom URL/username. This gives you a custom URL for your page (eg http://Google.com/+YourBusiness) to share with your customers and makes you easier to find. Scroll down to the box titled “Links” and click “Get your custom URL”

Enter the name of your business into the box. If your name is already taken consider adding a modifier to the end such as “official” or the type of business like “shop” or “MD” for medical professionals.

Besides the many benefits to your SEO and ranking, with 300+ Million active users Google+ as a social network is a great tool to use actively to connect with your customer base. Use your page to run weekly offers and deals. Once your loyal customers turn into fans and follow you on Google+ they will begin to share and promote your business with their own friends and so on.

Optimize Your Website For Search (aka On Site SEO)

SEO begins and ends on your website itself. If you’ve read anything about on site SEO you’ve heard plenty about meta tags, keyword density and strategically picked domain names. Though all of these things are important, they won’t make any drastic difference in your rankings.

Here are some actionable steps you can take to improve your on site SEO.

First things first. Assuming your business website is running on WordPress we recommend using a plugin called Yoast SEO and filling out all the required information in the settings page. This will set you up for success taking care of your basic on site SEO including meta tags, meta description and etc.

Another great SEO plugin we recommend is All in One SEO Pack.

The main reason we love using the Yoast SEO plugin is their page analysis tool which allows you to fine-tune each page on your site. Using the new box below the WordPress editor you can enter the main keyword you want to target in search and Yoast will give you a list of checklist on how to optimize the page for that keyword.

In the general tab tab you can customize specifically how you want the page to appear in search results and your meta description (which is the small expert below the search result. Try to include your main keyword at least once here as well).

Clicking over to the social tab will even let you customize how your website or blog post shows up when someone shares it on Facebook and Twitter. You can customize the title, description and even upload a custom image/thumbnail to display.

The plugin’s creators have a great video covering the basics of filling out the main settings page in your WordPress dashboard.

2. Stop Using WordPress’s Default Link Settings

The next step is the make sure all of the links on your website are easy for Google and other search engines to read. Unfortunately, the default setting in WordPress just generates a random string of letters and numbers for your page links (eg http://RevenueCopilot.com/?p=123).

To fix this, login to your WordPress dashboard and go to Settings > Permalinks.

From here, choose the second to last option called Post name and click the Save Changes button. Now the links on your site will be easy to read containing the actually page or post name and most likely the keyword you’ll be ranking for.

3. Optimize Your Images (This is HUGE)

Images are important to all SEO, but they play a major role in local SEO in particular. Depending on the area you’re trying to rank for, this one trick alone can bring your business to the top of search results.

Google may be smart, but it can’t actually see what’s in the images on your website (yet). The same way adding written captions to a YouTube video helps it rank for more accurate search terms, the meta data embedded in your images tells Google what’s in them. You need to make sure

Let’s say you are a dentist in San Diego and you have this image on your website:

Before uploading the image to your website consider renaming the image file to one of your keywords. (eg: san diego dentist.jpeg). As the reminder at the end of this post states, the golden rule of SEO is to not over do it.

While uploading the image to your website you want to be sure to add more detail about the actual content of the image and the area your business is located in.

This is one of the most effective ways to indicate your area of operation to Google and other search engines. We recommend adding your general area (city, state, zip code) to a single image on your home page and your exact address to another. Again, don’t over do it.

Not only that, but many browsers used by the visually impaired that use text-to-speech software will use images’ alt text to explain the content of your images.

4. Embed a Google Map With Your Business

Embedding a Google map on your website isn’t just great for your customers to get direction, but it’s great for SEO. Place this either on your home page or a separate “find us” or “directions” page. Both work well.

Embedding a Google map on your website isn’t just great for your customers to get direction, but it’s great for SEO. Place this either on your home page or a separate “find us” or “directions” page. Both work well.

To add a Google map to your website head over to maps.google.com and search for your business. Then open up the sidebar menu and choose “Share or embed map” 

From here select the size of the map you want to display on your website and copy & paste the embed code. Google has a ton of extras you can add to your maps too such as directions, satellite view and etc. The official WordPress blog has a great post on advanced Google Map features.

Embedding maps is easy enough, but if you find yourself needing to use multiple maps and your site runs on WordPress theres a plugin for that.

5. Make Sure Your Website Has an XML Sitemap

Adding an XML sitemap to your website is like giving search engines a literal map of all the pages on your website.

This one is super easy.

Download one of the dozens of plugins like this one and follow the instructions on the settings page and boom. Instant sitemap. Google will already crawl this new page and start indexing your website more accurately, but we’ll go into more detail on how you can use can utilize this more later.

Online Reviews are Critical to Your Ranking

Whether you own a restaurant, gym, hotel, car dealership or etc, you know that online reviews are directly linked to your bottom line.

A case study by comScore showed that consumers will pay at least 20% more for establishments with 5 stars instead vs 4.

Another study from the The Economic Journal showed that a half-star improvement in a business’s online star rating makes it 49% more likely that they will fill all of their seats for the each night.

But, what many don’t realize is that online reviews also play a big role in SEO today and affect your ranking in Google. Not to mention some potential clients search directly on sites like Yelp, YellowPages and TripAdvisor instead of Google. Though before you start collecting reviews, it’s vital to make sure your business is listed on all major review websites.

1. How to Get Listed on Yelp

Yelp is the world’s biggest and most visited third party review website next to Google itself. Yelp is commonly associated with service businesses like restaurants, hotels, bars and night clubs, but listings for medical professionals and many other industries are accepted.

To claim your business on Yelp head to Biz.Yelp.com

First, search for your business by entering the name and address (or area) into the box and click “Get Started”

Scroll through the next page and attempt to find your business from the list then click the “Claim this business” button. You will be redirected and asked to create a “business owner account” to enter your contact information. 

You will receive an automated call form Yelp to the business phone number on the listing to confirm you’re the owner.

If you don’t see your business listed anywhere in the search results scroll all the way to the bottom and click the “Add your business to Yelp” link.

Fill out the basic information about your business and submit it for review. Once accepted you can then claim your business and create your business owner account like in the first step.

2. How to Get Listed on YellowPages (YP.com)

Believe it or not YellowPages still has a decently prominent presence. YP.com still acts as a business directory and allows consumers to leave reviews. YP.com also has additional business tools for offering coupons and classic advertising.

To list your business on Yellow Pages go to their business solutions page and click “Get Your Free Listing”

Enter your basic business information on the next page. You will then be asked to confirm the business phone number and your email.

Once verified you can enter more specific info about your business such as hours, photos etc. YellowPages is a huge authority site. Though free and easy to get listed on, YP plays a big role in validating your business online and helps with search rankings.

3. How to Get Listed on TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is interesting.

TripAdvisor at it’s core is a travel search and planning website, but also includes business listings with customer reviews. These listings are offered in the context of recommendations to travelers who use the site.

To list your business go to the sign up page here and choose the type of business you own from the list.

Just like with the others fill out all of the information about your business on the following pages, confirm your phone number, customize your listing and etc.

3. How to Start Accepting Reviews on Facebook

For the last few year’s Facebook has been taking their own slice of the online review industry adding star rating to business Facebook pages.

Assuming your business already has a Facebook page, here is how to enable reviews.

Login to your business Facebook account and navigate to your page then click the “about” tab.

The first thing you need to do is change the category of your page to something related to a brick and motor location. For example, Companies & Organizations > Small Business. Choose the one that’s most relevant to your business.

Next, scroll down and enter the address of your business and make sure the “Show map and check-ins on the Page” box is checked. This also indicates to Google that this is your business’s official Facebook page.

Now your customers will be able to leave reviews and recommend your business with their friends on Facebook.

Another great thing about accepting reviews through Facebook is having the ability to directly respond to customer reviews whether that’s thanking someone for a positive review and addressing the complaints of a negative one.

GEO Tag Your Photos on Flickr

Chances are Flickr isn’t the main place you keep either your personal or profession photos any more.

But Flickr is still a big authority when it comes to photo sharing and can be used as a great tool to help with your SEO. 

Tagging your Flickr photos with your business location is another great signal to show Google where you’re located. The same way we showed you how to tag the photos on your website with your location, you can geo-tag your Flickr photos.

If you have a Yahoo account you already have a Flickr account. If not, creating one takes just a few minutes.

After creating your account upload a couple photos of your business whether it’s the store front of your business, a photo of a busy day inside or just your logo.

Select one of your photos. You should be in the full screen viewer now. Scroll down and click the “Add this photo to your map” option to add a location.

On the next page when asked to select a permission option choose “Anyone (Recommended)” from the list.

Next do a quick search (on the top right) for your business address and zoom in on the map to locate it.

Find your photo(s) in the menu on the bottom of the screen and drag it directly onto your location on the map to geo-tag it. You can do this with one or multiple photos at once.

Unlike photos on your own website, it’s perfectly safe to tag all photos of your business on Flickr and other photo sharing websites. That’s why the feature is there.

5 Places to Get Easy Local Backlinks

Backlinks are the core foundation of SEO since the beginning.

Google itself was founded on the principal that links with the most other websites linking to them should rank higher than those with less backlinks.

Today there are hundreds (thousands?) of elements Google looks at when it comes to your website, but backlinks are still the most important one.

This also means you can safely assume it’s also the biggest source of shady tactics and spammy behavior which can get your site penalized or worse yet banned outright from Google. Shady SEO tactics like this are known as “Black-hat SEO”. Legitimate techniques (Like the knows we’ve shown you in this guide) are called “White-hat SEO”.

Here are 5 great resources to get easy (white-hat) local backlinks for your business to help your ranking. 

1. Local meet up websites

Most cities and towns will have at least one local business group which holds meet ups. If you host or attend one of this meet ups chances are you will get a backlink from the group’s website.

MeetUp.com allows you to find a list of all the business events in your area.

But what we’re interested in is sponsoring events. This may sound expensive at first, but sponsoring one of these a meet ups can mean something as simple as buying lunch.

When you sponsor an event through MeetUp.com they post a do-follow backlink on the meet up page like this one.

2. Local Awards

Small as they may be, local awards usually lead to a backlink from the hosts website. Whether it be from a government website or a private group, these really help establish your local ranking.

For example Boston hands out “Greenovate” to local businesses who support green energy and help fight climate change. The contributing businesses get a backlink on this page.

3. Your local chamber of commerce website

Like Getting listed on your local chamber of commerce website is a powerful trust-worthy backlink for local SEO.

Getting listed is a bit easier than you may think.

Hopefully you already have some type of relationship with your local chamber of commerce. If you do, try reaching out to them personally first and request being added to the members list on their website with a backlink to your website.

If not, a good place to get started is ChamberOfCommerce.com.

4. Link’s from partner websites.

Resource pages are a great way to collect backlinks from people you work with.

Create a page on your website where you list (and link to) other products and services that your company uses or recommends. Try to find at list 10 links to add to this list. Write a title which links to their website and a short description of why you recommend them.

Next, reach out to each person or business on your list letting them know you’ve recommended them to your customers on your resource page and kindly ask for one in return.

Brian Dean has a great video guide for creating backlinks through resource pages which we’ll link to below.

5. Press releases in local media outlets

A single press release in a large media outlet like CNN, The New York Times, Forbes and etc can be a real game changer for a small business.

Unfortunately what most business owners don’t realize is press releases from a handful of small local publications can really add up and drive a lot of traffic, plus, build more reputable backlinks to your website.

Before you start marketing, you need to have a well written press release already made to send to local media making sure to include a backlink to your business website. A good amount of you probably have one already written up or something similar.

Let’s saw your business is located in Elko Nevada. Not exactly a small town, but a small enough city to make contacting local press easy.

All news websites will have some form of contact page. Better yet, most have the specific option for submitting press releases like the Elko Free Daily Press.

If you’re lucky you will be able to send a copy of your press release right on the contact form. Other times you’ll be submitting your contact information and website so an editor can contact you.

Submitting press releases is a numbers game that varies based on your area and how competitive your niche is.

Press releases will not only get you a quality backlink from a creditable website, but will help raise local awareness of your business in general.

Conclusion (Plus Important Note)

The golden rule of SEO: While following this guide, keep in mind to not overdue it. Google is never hesitant to slap an over-optimization penalty down on your site.

“Over-optimization” is the technical term for gaming the system, which nobody needs to do. If you follow this guide correctly and don’t stuff your target keyword into every square inch of your website or copy the same meta data onto every single image it’ll be smooth sailing all the way to the front page of Google. (A good number to aim for is 5 keywords per page).