If you own a small local business, one of the things you need to consider is establishing your online presence. After all, a lot of people look for anything they might want or need by going online since it’s the most convenient option and can be done without ever getting off the couch. But like most business owners, you might not necessarily know where to start.
Setting up a website is hard enough, but driving traffic to it is another thing entirely, and if you don’t take the necessary steps to optimize your website so search engines like Google can pick it up and start displaying it in the results for your target audience’s queries, all that work to set up your website and create content for it will all go to waste. So what are the most important things you should be focusing on your site? Here are a few of the most important ranking factors for small local business websites.
Google+ and Category Associations
One thing you’ll want to set up right away whether you have a website or not is a Google+ page specifically for your business. Why not Facebook or Twitter? Because Google+ is SEO-friendly having been developed by Google themselves. Every post on Google+ is indexable, so it’s easier for Google’s search bots to crawl these posts and determine how much they are being shared within the platform. Facebook and Twitter are the places to be for actual social engagement whereas Google+ is a comparative ghost town. However, because Google+ shares information with search engines, it’s important to prioritize it, if at least just for SEO purposes.
Now, one important thing you need to define when setting up your business’ local Google+ page is the categories you want it to be associated with. You’ll have two instances where you’ll be able to define your page’s category associations. First is the primary category when you initially enter the details for the page, while the second one is within the dashboard where you’re allowed to choose up to nine additional sub-categories. These categories are pre-set, and you’re no longer allowed to create custom categories as that feature has been phased out.
According to Moz.com:
The concept here is simple. If you wish to appear in the local results for a search like “dentists in denver”, your business must be categorized as a dentist. If it is categorized as a certified public accountant, you have no hope of appearing for your important search terms.
Your Physical Address
When someone searches for a product or service they want to buy locally, they typically include the name of the city, town, county or state they are in. For example, they can search for a dentist in Texas by using “dentist Texas”, “Texas dentist”, and “dentist in Texas” as queries. If your physical address matches the location they are searching, you are more likely to appear as a result for their search. However, there are some businesses that might have a problem with this, such as service area businesses and brick and mortar businesses that are located just outside the borders of the city they service. In this case, Indusnet.co.in says:
Having an address in London and listing it under New York City may not be a very great SEO technique. However, when a company may have operations in different cities but has only one physical address, mentioning that could be a good idea.
Structured citations are an important ranking factor for local search. They are web-based mentions of your company’s name, address and phone number and are made directly within the context of a local listing such as on a directory or local search engine. These are different from unstructured citations which aren’t explicitly local and tend to appear in blog posts, news articles, event listing sites, and so on.
Both types of citations are extremely valuable, but Google tends to trust structured citations more when pulling data to display in results for a query. According to Where2GetIt.com:
…consistency is absolutely critical. Google is looking at citations to determine that your business information is correct – if you’re sending mixed signals, this can seriously impact your rankings.
Examples of inconsistencies include differences in the listed company name, typos in the street address, or a wrong phone number. What’s especially annoying is that other sites might use the information from these erroneous citations when citing you as well, duplicating the problem further. Therefore, the best thing to do is to stay in control of the information early on to ensure consistency.
Quality is also important. If you’re even the slightest bit familiar with the basics of SEO today, you’re likely already aware that the quality and value of a back link is directly related to the domain it is linking from. The same is true for citations. If the citation is from a trusted source, the more Google will trust it as well. Bowlerhat.co.uk says:
Citations are used by the search engines to determine the trust that your business actually is what and where it says it is and the better citations (much like the better links) are the hardest ones to get and may require verification by a postcode or phone call.
When setting out to build citations, you’ll want to start out with a handful of really authoritative indexes and directories for local businesses like Yelp, Bing, Yahoo and the like. Then you can move down to smaller listing sites to further boost your business’ visibility and authority. Moz.com recommends that you:
Perform searches for category terms, service terms, and geographic terms to see what comes up in the search engine results. The websites that come up may be places you would like to list your business, if possible.
Keep in mind that the information needs to be consistent for it to have a better impact on your rankings. Google will cross-reference citations it finds with the website that you’ve linked to on your Google+ Local page. As much as possible, you’ll want all the information in the citation such as the company name, address, phone number and other contact information to match what’s on your Google+ page.