5 Steps To Increasing Your Local Search Engine Rankings


For those businesses that operate in a physical space, such as an actual store or facility, you're going to want to pay attention. Given the rise in smartphone usage, and the fact that anywhere between 20%-50% (depending on the device being used) of searches across the major search engines have local intent, you just can't ignore the importance of online marketing to help increase your store's visibility and foot traffic. I'm going to outline five steps to take to help ensure you get on the right path in regards to local search marketing.

Audit Your Current Listings

One of the biggest ways to help ensure you achieve rankings in the local search results is to have consistent data across the internet. What I mean by this is you need to make sure your name, address and phone (referred to as NAP) are consistent across all of the directories/websites where you are listed. If the engines find your business listing on Yelp, for instance, and your address is listed as 123 N. Main St., but then on your Google+ local page you list your address as 123 North Main Street (notice the difference in St./Street), this is a data discrepancy and you will be dinged for it. There are several tools out there to help you understand how your business is listed, but I really like to use GetListed for this purpose. It's simple, fast and provides a great overview of where you need to start with local search. 

Claim & Verify Your Local Listings

After you've determined how your NAP information is listed across the major directories and data providers, the next step is to claim and verify these listings so you can make the appropriate changes. Again, consistency is key. I like to create an excel spreadsheet and write out all of my information that will go within these local search engine listings. Then as I go through the claiming process, I can copy/paste this information into the appropriate fields. This makes the process faster, and helps ensure accuracy as well. In order to claim your listings, follow these simple steps:
  1. Search for your listing on Google Maps, Yahoo Local and Bing Local.
  2. Once you find your listing, click Manage This Page (Google), Edit Business Details (Yahoo) and Update This Listing (Bing).
  3. All of the engines will prompt you to identify the business as your own, you'll have to log in and then go through the process of inputting the correct information. Just follow the prompts.
  4. Once you've finished inputting your information, you'll either be given the option to be contacted by phone or by a postcard. Choose one of those options and you'll receive a PIN # where you must log back into your account to verify you're the owner (by providing the PIN # you were given). After that you should be done.
Optimize Your Site

Just because we're dealing with local SEO doesn't mean that you don't need to optimize your site properly. By utilizing geo-modified keyword phrases (i.e. Portland bike shop) within your site, you're providing the search engines with additional data about where you're located, and this will increase your chances of ranking for these local search queries. Optimizing your site for local should be the same as optimizing your site if you're an e-commerce website. Focus on placing location specific keywords that are highly relevant to your business in the following areas:
  1. URL
  2. Title Tags
  3. Meta Description Tags
  4. H1 Header Tags
  5. ALT Image Tags
Additional Tip: Use an hCard generator or schema to mark up your website to help the search engines parse out your location more easily. 

Obtain Citations and Co-Citations

In addition to claiming/verifying your local listings and optimizing your site, the next step is to obtain citations, and co-citations. What are these you ask? Citations bring me back to my college days. Think about the papers you had to write and the sources you needed to reference. References in your paper are essentially what citations are to your local listings. Anytime your NAP (name, address, phone number) is listed on the web, this is considered a citation. There doesn't even need to be a link back to your site for this to count as a reference, or citation. The search engines scour the web, and when they find a citation, it's a vote of confidence, much like an inbound link is for organic search. Co-citations are relatively new, and are quickly becoming more and more important, especially after Google's Panda/Penguin algorithm updates. Co-citations, like citations, are references. In order to get co-citations you need to write engaging, actionable content that other will share. The more people that share your content, the more powerful that piece of content, your site/blog and you become. Co-citations are much harder to manipulate as it involves others to share it, not just get listed in a directory or manipulate the anchor text.

Reviews, Reviews and More Reviews

When talking about local search rankings, reviews play a huge role. David Mihm, a local search expert, has put together the top ranking factors over the past several years, and the latest ranking factors report shows "review criteria" as the 4th most important. Obtaining reviews from customers can help increase your credibility, and the likelihood that Google will rank your business higher in the local search results. It's not all about quantity either, you must be obtaining quality reviews. Do keep in mind that a negative review here or there can help increase your business's credibility too. If a potential customer sees only glowing reviews it may raise red flags (due to a few bad eggs manipulating their own reviews).

Here are a few thoughts for how to obtain reviews:
  1. Just ask. Most businesses are afraid to ask, or just plain don't do it. Many people would be willing to do so, but just give them a friendly reminder.
  2. Use social media to help obtain reviews from customers.
  3. Utilize your email subscriber base to ask for reviews. These customers have agreed to receive your email newsletter, so they are already engaged with your brand.
I would suggest not doing the following, as these are against Google's guidelines (and other sites):
  1. Don't offer incentives for leaving a review.
  2. Don't encourage family/friends/employees to leave reviews.
  3. Don't work to get a huge influx of reviews, then stop. Google will see these large influx and think something fishy is going on.
There you have it. If you follow the above five steps you'll be well on your way to seeing increase local search rankings, more website traffic, additional foot traffic and ideally, lots more revenue. Do keep in mind that there is a large amount of work and effort that goes into increasing your local search rankings, and what I've outlined will get you started, but there is much more to be done than just the above. My suggestion is to spend 30 minutes to an hour each day working on these things. Get a process down to increase efficiency. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and connect.

About the Author

John McPhee
John McPhee is the Vice President of Formic Media, Inc., a search engine and social media marketing agency located in Portland, OR. McPhee has been in the digital marketing world for the past 10 years, working both in-house and within an agency setting.
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