Local Search Optimization Guide: Google+ Local & Getting Found in Your Neighborhood

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1 Local Search Optimization Guide: Google+ Local & Getting Found in Your Neighborhood

2 How Do You Get Found in Local Search and Stay There? As you've likely noticed when searching on Google over the past year, there is a distinct and growing focus on providing searchers with localized results. Depending on the search term, and particularly if you include a geographic identifier like the name of a city or town, you may be presented with a map on the right that is dotted with those familiar red Google pins, and the listings associated with those red pins as the results on the left. In many cases, these results supersede organic search results, quite often displacing things like local directories and focusing on the most relevant local websites based on their algorithmic rules. Initially, those red pins simply represented a Google Place (now Google+ Local) page, but over time Google has enhanced these results by combining them with organic website data (URLs and Meta descriptions). Thus, the content displayed for these results is now a combination of Google+ Local page content and the organization's website content. So now the question for companies focused on a local audience is, how do you get to and stay on top of your local map? This guide provides some local-specific web presence optimization tips to help you ensure your business gets found in local search. Topics and tactics covered include: Keyword Research On-Site Optimization Google+ Local Page Optimization Online Customer Reviews Researching and Obtaining Local Citations (Backlinks) Participating in Social Media Mobile and Local Search Measuring and Adjusting Your Strategy 1. Keyword Research Before you can begin to optimize your web presence, you have to identify the keywords you want and should be focusing on. Keyword research involves understanding what keywords your prospects may be using to find you. There are several keyword research tools available to help you understand which keywords typically receive the highest volume of search. The popular Google AdWords research tool enables you to see both global and local (by country) monthly search volume. Local keyword research should include an analysis of both the primary keywords (e.g. restaurant, restaurants), and those same keywords combined with local identifiers (e.g. Toronto restaurant, restaurant Toronto, Toronto restaurants, restaurants in Toronto). At the outset of your project, you likely want to monitor the different variations of your keywords to see how you are positioned for each in the search engines and which may be driving traffic and/or conversions on your website. A tool like Google s keyword tool will enable you to quickly review the top 50 positions as well as any local positions for all of your keywords as often as you like.

3 Using analytics in this way is another practical form of ongoing keyword research. Focus on those keywords that are actually producing results in terms of traffic or conversions on your website. You may be surprised to find out some of the keywords people use to find you online. 2. Optimize Your Website for Organic Search with Local- Oriented Keywords Optimization of your primary website should be the first step in any web presence optimization project. Use the keywords you discovered through keyword research (e.g. Toronto restaurant) at the front of title tags and heading tags, body content and internal links within your website. Also make sure your site has appropriate, prominent and easily accessible calls to action to increase your conversion rate (e.g. phone number/contact us form, information request, get a quote, etc.). Meta descriptions, while not heavily weighted in terms of SEO, can play an important role in attracting and converting search-based leads. The Meta description is generally incorporated into the search results presented for a page by Google, therefore you should use the opportunity to present a solid call to action including a phone number. This is particularly important from a mobile search perspective, as searchers will have an opportunity to call you directly from your search results. This may not result in a measurable click through to your website, but we will presume the end goal is to secure the lead no matter how it is obtained. Including phone numbers in Meta descriptions makes it easier for people to connect with local businesses. If measuring these leads is vitally important (and it really should be if you are serious about understanding where your leads are coming from), then you might consider setting up a tracked phone number. There are hosted call tracking solutions, some of which are integrated with Google Analytics, which will enable you to track the phone number right back to the search term originally used by the caller. Any actual address information displayed on your site should be formatted using standardized HTML tags called schema, which is a way of specifically identifying address information as such. More on schema and the other types of content that can be tagged using this standard protocol can be found at schemas.html. 3. Create and Optimize Your Google+ Local Page Every organization can create a Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) page at places, which is effectively your marker on the Google map and now also the page which will be accessed and interacted with via Google+, where Google has now added a special Local area (and yes, we have a guide for Google+ for Your Business and SEO as well). This page will also be the first of your online pages most people will access via their mobile phones, which is increasingly becoming the way people conduct local searches.

4 Do some quick research to see if a Place Page has already been created for you by searching for your organization's name followed by your town/city name. Sometimes services like the Yellow Pages or local directories may have created these pages without your knowledge. If this is the case, be sure to take ownership of your page by obtaining a PIN from Google via phone call, SMS or post card. Once received, this PIN must be submitted to Google to verify your ownership of the Google+ Local page. Once you have taken ownership, be sure to validate/update all of the content on this page: Point the website address on this page to your primary website, not a landing page or directory listing, in order to derive maximum benefit. Select as many relevant categories (up to 5) for your organization as possible. Populate your Google+ Local page with as much current, relevant and keyword-rich content as the page will allow including Hours of Operation, Brands Carried, and Amenities Offered. Add your logo, several product or service related photos and videos to the page. At the bottom of every Google+ Local page, Google displays "Related Sites" which may be the websites of your competitors. By filling the top of the Google+ Local page you push related sites lower down the page where they may not be seen by those who don't choose to scroll. 4. Solicit and Manage Online Customer Reviews Google is increasingly using social signals, like online customer reviews, to determine organizations' relevance and position. Organic search engine position is becoming less about what you have to say about your organization and more about what your customers have to say, which is really no different than the way it works in the real world. Reviews are a key component of the Google+ Local page you see above. Reviews can be submitted directly on the Google+ Local page by anyone logged into their Google account (i.e. via Gmail, YouTube, etc.). Many directories - including Yellow Pages, Yelp.com, Trip Advisor and Foursquare - also enable consumers to provide online reviews, which can in turn appear in search results and on Google+ Local pages. Organizations who are proactive in soliciting and obtaining reviews will certainly benefit. Be sure to monitor your reviews in order to respond should there be any which are negative. A quick and effective response to a negative review can be as valuable as a positive review. Asking for reviews, provided you are offering a good service, will presumably result in more positive than negative reviews. TIP: Consider setting up a specific landing page with a link directing customers to your Google+ Local page or to another appropriate review site for your business (e.g. Yelp), where they can post a review. Display the address of this landing page prominently in your store, restaurant (perhaps as a QR code to be read by mobile devices), or on a customer invoice so it can easily be accessed and used to generate your review. Don't be afraid to ask.

5 5. Research and Obtain Local Citations (Backlinks) Backlinks from other relevant websites are also strong signals to the search engines of a website's authority. Backlinks represent third-party validation of your website existence and influence. Local websites (e.g. Chambers of Commerce, Local Associations, Local Partners, Events Calendars, and Directories) are all good potential back linking sources for those who are locally focused. The search engines are no doubt looking for and recording the interconnectedness of local businesses as a further means of validating their location. In terms of directories, research and identify local directories that rank high for the keywords for which you want to be found. Many of these offer free listings and relevant local backlinks (inbound links). Only consider paid listings in directories, which appear on page one of Google for your keywords, those which can provide proof of the website traffic they are able to deliver, or those which will provide multiple backlinks to your website. You might also wish to understand where your competitors have their backlinks in the event that they are out-positioning you in the search engines for any specific keywords. Perhaps you can piggyback on some of those same sources. Obtaining high-value, relevant backlinks can be a long and tedious process, but one which will certainly pay off in the long run. 6. Participate in Social Media While many small local businesses may still be shying away from social media, there is no disputing its influence on our everyday lives. People young and old use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare and even You- Tube to follow, share and comment on products and places they like on a daily basis. The search engines realize these activities play a role in determining the authority and popularity of places, businesses and products. As such, social signals are increasingly being factored into their position algorithms. At the very least, every local business should create an account, secure a page and/or their name in the top social networks to ensure they own it if and when they are ready to become active in social media. For newcomers, there are three important aspects to social media - listening, following and engaging, in that order. Listening - Search using your keywords and your company's name on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Foursquare, LinkedIn or Pinterest (depending on where you feel your audience is most likely going to be spending their time). Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest can work for B2C or B2B focused businesses while LinkedIn favours more of a strictly B2B audience. Following - Search again in the social networks for your local competitors, partners or industry leaders to see whether or not they are involved. Follow and/or monitor how these people or organizations are leveraging social media within your community.

6 Engaging - Once you are comfortable with the "social scene" and feel you have something of value to contribute (e.g. tips, recipes, stories, case studies, events, etc.), engage the community and begin to build a following of your own. In terms of practical local social media tactics: Add social media follow icons for all of your social media accounts to the header of your website, to your signature, and to any of your distributed offline marketing materials. Let people know you are active. Add social media Like and Share icons to each page of your website for people to like and/or share your content. Create and distribute new, keyword-rich content that links to other content you maintain. For example, create a blog post that links to a product page on your website for more detailed info - This tactic cannot be overstated in today's online world. Relevant content your audience is willing to read and share is SEP gold. Curate and share relevant local news and events to show you are engaged in the community and to encourage those who posted the content to follow and/or share your content. When posting to Twitter or Google+ specifically, be sure to use keywords and local identifiers in your hashtags (e.g. #Toronto #restaurant) to highlight your post for those who are paying attention to locally tagged content. Tag the location of photos and videos you upload to Facebook. Tag the location of videos you upload to YouTube. Create and post detailed Events in Facebook and Google+. When you become even more comfortable with social media you can: Run contests to build you re following on Facebook, Google+, Foursquare, Twitter or Pinterest. Actively solicit feedback on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest. Comment and guest post on other relevant blogs. Host live Twitter chats or Google+ Hangouts on relevant topics. For more about SEO and Social Media read: Social SEO: Creating a Conversation with your SEO Strategy.

7 7. Be Mindful of Mobile A recent study found that 1 in 4 Google searches are local and a fair percentage of these (approximately 15% in Google) are conducted on a mobile device. Small businesses must be aware of whether and how they are being found via search on a mobile device. Use a tool like Web Presence Optimizer to understand what percentage of your website traffic comes from mobile devices. Before building a mobile-specific website, local businesses can and should incorporate some basic mobile best practices into their existing site: Use standards based XHTML and CSS which will naturally render on most mobile web browsers. Incorporate telephone numbers into the Meta descriptions of your most visited and/or ranking pages so those who are searching via a mobile device have the option of simply clicking on your phone number to reach you directly from their search results. Again, make sure your Google+ Local page is up to date and accurate as this may be the primary search result returned and/or people may be searching via Google Maps. Again, establish accounts and leverage mobile-specific networks/services like Foursquare and Yelp which offer the opportunity to check-in, like and comment on your business. 8. Measure and Adjust Your Strategy Measuring what works and what doesn't is crucial to you being able to effectively manage and assign value to a local search optimization program. You can utilize tools like Google Analytics to understand how you are positioned in Google, locally or otherwise, for the keywords you want to be found for. On your website and then within Google Analytics, identify your key goals/conversion points (e.g. time spent on site per visit, number of pages per visit, submitted contact form, downloaded document, etc.). Start by taking a baseline measurement so you have a basis for comparison over time. You can then identify: Which keywords are the most effective at delivering traffic to your website? Which keywords are the most effective at driving conversions? Which and how many specific pages of your website are positioned in the top 50 search results in Google, Bing, Yahoo or YouTube. Which social media networks are the most effective from a social signal or traffic referral perspective? How you are progressing in relation to your competitors or if any new online competitors are entering the arena.

8 With this information in hand, you can make informed decisions about where and how to focus your SEO efforts moving forward. In Conclusion Google is putting a great deal of emphasis on local search, effectively replacing the need for traditional Yellow Pages or other directories. Mobile search is also becoming the norm, particularly at a local business level where people are trying to decide where to eat, where to buy a pair of shoes or which mechanic to take their car to. Businesses have an opportunity to take control of their local web presence. Following these SEO tips will help your business get found in local search, particularly if your competitors are not up to speed on Google's new direction. Fresh Traffic is a Canadian-based, Internet marketing company that specializes in search engine optimization, paid search advertising, web analytics, social media marketing, marketing, and web and interactive media development. Call us (1)

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