If Google's threat to pull its search engine from Australia has you worried for your…
SEO has gone local. Recognising the increasing demand for local results by users of its search engine, Google has given pride of place to local business listings on the sought-after first page of search results.
Now, small businesses can feature as prominently as multimillion dollar corporations for common search queries (often right at the top), which levels the playing field dramatically. With Google delivering local results for targeted keywords, your competitors online are the same ones you have in real life – businesses in your local area. And, as ever, those with the best SEO wins.
The marketing cliche of being “number one on Google” is now achievable for everyone. You just need to play by Google’s rules, and it doesn’t hurt to use the free tools they provide to help you achieve that goal.
What is Google My Business?
Formerly and more intuitively known as Google+ Local, Google My Business lets you claim and manage your local presence on Google’s search engine and Maps.
This tool is connected to Google+, so you first need to sign up to that network if you haven’t already. When you use Google My Business for free, you can control how your business is presented on Google and optimise your listings to reach more people in your area.
What can it do for you?
Google My Business can help you improve your local SEO and reputation in three areas.
1. Taking control
Verifying your local listing information on Google My Business instantly makes your business appear twice as reputable to searchers.
If you don’t take charge of your local listing, you probably won’t be happy with the result. From spelling mistakes to missing or outdated information and an overall unprofessional look, people wouldn’t be drawn to that listing even if it was ranking in search results.
Google My Business enables you to include all the information you want your searchers to see at a glance. According to Google’s research into local search behaviour, the most important details searchers want to know are:
- Business hours (54% of smartphone users, 42% of computer/tablet users)
- Directions (53% of smartphone users)
- Address (50% of smartphone users, 38% of computer/tablet users)
- Availability of products (45% of computer/tablet users).
You should also include your contact details – a telephone number and link to your website – and make sure these details are consistent across your Google+ profile and other content.
Adding a photo to your listing increases requests for directions by 42% and click-throughs to your website by 35%. Make sure you include a link in your listing.
2. Managing reviews
Reviews are always potentially a double-edged sword, but if you’re confident in the quality of your business and you love to please your customers, you shouldn’t live in fear of rotten reviews spoiling the barrel.
High star ratings are important for impressing and attracting customers. According to BrightLocal, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Beyond making an impression, they also improve your SEO. Reviews left on Google+ are one of the factors that influence your ranking in local search results.
Requesting that satisfied customers leave positive reviews can make a big difference to your local SEO – but only when they do it on Google+. Unfortunately, not many people outside of business use the network.
While Facebook Likes are great for raising your profile and building a following, they don’t make such an impact on your search engine ranking. Asking your customers to leave a Google+ review can make a big difference, keeping in mind that soliciting reviews (such as offering incentives) is against the rules.
Google wants to give searchers the best answer to their queries, so by making sure you offer a five-star experience, you, your customers and Google will all be happy.
3. Getting insights
Google My Business also allows you to see the stats on how people interacted with your listing – how many customers called your phone number directly from search results or Maps, the search terms that brought them to you, their background and other details.
Find out which search terms were the most popular and make sure these appear prominently in your listing and your Google+ profile, in addition to the other terms you identified in your keyword research.
You should also start to post optimised, shareable content to your Google+ feed, as this helps with SEO and link building. Because Google+ isn’t the most dynamic of social networks, these can be reposted from Facebook and your other networks.
Do I need Google My Business?
If you have a locally-based business, you need to rank for local searches. Searches don’t have to include location terms to be local, as Google automatically delivers local results for any relevant query, even single-word searches.
Why should you care about local search? According to Google:
- 80% of consumers use search engines to find local information.
- 50% of smartphone users who carry out local searches visit the business within a day (34% of desktop/ tablet users).
- Local searches lead to over twice as many purchases as non-local searches (18% vs. 7%).
With so many people looking for local answers to their problems, you should use all the tools at your disposal to make sure yours is the first result they see. Google’s tools don’t even cost you.
With smartphones leading the way in local search, you also need to make sure your websites are mobile-friendly or you could be losing out.