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Local SEO (search engine optimisation) is increasingly important for millions of local tradespeople and businesses.
But what is it?
Firstly, let’s look at what SEO is. After this, we will look at what local SEO is.
SEO is basically the art of improving how high up a website (or business listing) appears in Google’s search results. (It also applies to other search engines, such as Bing, Youtube, etc., but with 86.6% of online searches going through Google, it’s easier to focus on that for now!)
In total, the first page of Google gains 95% of search traffic.
Second and third place gain 15 and 11% of clicks, respectively. After that, each result gradually gets less clicks than the previous one, until we end up in 10th position with only 2.5%.
Results listed on the second page of Google gain as low as 0.78% of users’ clicks.
In short, the nearer to the top of Google your website is listed, the bigger share of traffic (i.e., potential customers!) it will get.
This is why optimising your website for search engines is very important.
Nearly half (46% to be precise) of all Google searches are for local products or services.
This means that 46% of searches resemble something like ‘hair stylist near me’ rather than something unrelated to local results (like ‘best hairstyles this season’).
The difference between these two kinds of SEO from a searchers’ point of view is reflected in the results.
When you search for something that isn’t local (for example, ‘cake recipes’), Google presents the results like this:
But when you search for something local (for example, ‘cake shop near me’), it presents it like this:
As you can see, the main difference here is the or ‘snack pack’ (also known as the ‘local 3 pack’ or ‘Google 3 pack’). Google anticipates users’ perhaps needing to contact or travel to the result they select – and present the information accordingly.
Information is sorted this way by Google My Business. It’s a platform that you can sign up to for free, or that may actually make you an account automatically (56% of Google My Business accounts are unclaimed!)
This doesn’t mean that signing up to and running a Google My Business is the only important factor for local SEO, but it is certainly the most important.
However, 40% of the traffic for local SEO searches still goes to websites…
So you would be significantly impairing your online potential if you opted to only go with a Google My Business account.
Furthermore, the ‘snack pack’ results also feature an area for websites to be listed:
Having a website here can help add authority to your profile and provide the customer with another touch point to learn more about you.
If, for example, they can’t decide between ordering from your cake shop and another cake shop listed above or below you, the quality of your websites might make all the difference.
Signing up to Google My Business
Singing up to Google My Business is a simple process. All you need is a business and an address.
Here it is important to make a note: if you are a business that doesn’t have customers come to your house (say a tradesman that travels to jobs), then be sure to click the ‘hide my address‘ option after filling out your address. Otherwise, Google My Business may suspend your account.
You still need to put your address in, however, and confirm your address with Google, as this will prove to them that you are based in this area, allowing them to rank you accordingly.
As you sign up to Google My Business, it’s important to fill everything out carefully and concisely. This includes listing all of and only the services you offer (and not including ones you don’t).
Once you have completed your profile, two things are especially important:
- Keep your profile updated, with any changes in business hours, services, etc. noted on there.
- Encourage your clients to leave reviews (reviews that mention where they or you are based and leave photos are particularly helpful!). And don’t forget to respond to all of these reviews – the good and bad! For the former, a simple “thanks, much appreciated!” is fine, and for the latter, a polite and receptive tone is always recommended.
(Have a colleague respond for you if you feel it will be difficult to respond to a particularly unreasonable negative review without expressing your displeasure! We all know the feelings unfair criticism can arouse, but arguing online and in public about it is rarely a good look!)
Other factors that contribute to maintaining a good ranking on Google My Business
It’s also useful to maintain profiles on at least a couple of other relevant listings websites, such as Yell and Yelp.com.
The next step: your website
Creating and ranking your website is a slightly different task to creating and maintaining a Google My Business account.
The first step is creating a website. For those of you who already have one, feel free to skip this section and go straight to the ‘ranking your business locally section’ below.
Creating your website
The first things you need to have when creating a good website are:
1, An email account
2, A bank card
You can create a free website on websites such as SITE123, Wix.com (free version), WordPress.com (note: different from WordPress.Org, discussed below), etc. However, free websites usually lack the functionality of paid-for ones and include ads which you can’t control.
In short, you generally get what you pay for!
In order to create a paid-for website, you might first need to sign up to a webhost (note: some website creation brands, such as wix.com or squarespace.com do this for you when you sign up to their service).
I generally use Siteground.com. I chose this because of some now-forgotten research I did when I was looking at which UK-based server to use. I have no complaints so far!
(Other options include: HostPapa, Hostinger, Bluehost, and GoDaddy. Here is a recent article comparing a few.)
There are many different types of hosting options to choose from. However, generally speaking most local businesses will only need a shared hosting service (which should cost anywhere between £2 – 12 a month, or £24 – £144 a year).
Once you have signed up to a server, you will need to choose what kind of website you would like to create.
I went with WordPress(.org), because it is the most popular kind of website on the web (38% of all websites are WordPress). This means that there is generally a lot more information out there about them than any other kind of website, which is useful for when you need to update or fix them.
Next you need to choose a domain name (i.e., your website’s address). Your webhost will help you with this. They will give you some options on which domain to choose. For example, let’s say your business is called ‘Dan’s Bakery’:
Here, you can see the availability and cost of this domain name.
Your webhost will also give you other options with different TLDs (Top Level Domains) options (the ‘.com/co.uk’, etc. part of the address). There are other options for TLDs, such as .biz, .io, etc., but generally speaking it is a safe option to choose ‘.co.uk’ if you a business based in the UK.
Once you have chosen your domain name, you need to begin building your website. This is a time-consuming process, which you can do yourself or hire a web developer for.
If you do choose the former, remember that there are many tutorials on YouTube and articles on the web to help you.
Finally: improving your website’s local SEO
Once your website is complete, the next step is to improve its SEO ranking.
This isn’t always an easy task. However, you’ll be pleased to know that for businesses competing in the local sphere, it is often much easier to do those competing nationally or internationally!
The biggest difference is that to rank in non-local domains such as finance, car manufacturers, online jewellery sellers, etc. you will need to create a lot of good content to compete with your (often) very SEO-savvy competitors.
However, for local businesses the issue is usually a lot simpler.
Many of your competitors do not currently pay much attention to their SEO (for a start, only 64% of local businesses even have a website!).
- Keyword research
- Fixing errors
- Find backlinks
Let’s have a closer look at each one.
1, Keyword research
Keywords are the words related to particular searches. For example, if you are an electrician, it helps to know what words or phrases people who are looking for an electrician search for.
Of course, you could guess theses – i.e., ‘electrician near me’, ‘fix broken light’, ‘electricity helper’ etc., and then make sure these terms are included in the text on your website.
But why guess when you can easily find out?
Google has a ton of data from people searching for electrician-related enquires, so why not tap into that?
The simplest way to do so is to go to Google and write ‘electrician’ and see what autocomplete options come up.
Simply look at the list and see which ones you think are relevant and easy to get in your website’s text.
There are multiple free ways to find more ways to do keyword research, see here for some of them.
Another way to go about doing keyword research is to use a paid tool, such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, etc.
These usually cost about £90 per month, so aren’t cheap (though many come with brief trial periods which cost considerably less).
Let’s see what keyword results SEMrush gives us when we enter ‘electrician’ into its ‘Keyword overview’ tool.
As you can see, the results show that ‘electrician near me’ and ‘auto electrician’ (which may not be relevant to most electricians as it is related to cars).
By clicking on the ‘Keyword variations’ button (circles) we gain literally tens of thousands of other options. You can simply scan through the first couple of pages of these results and make a note of the words which you think are relevant to the services you offer.
In this case, I noticed phrases such as ‘local electrician’, ‘domestic electrician’, ‘commercial electrician’ etc – obviously I, an SEO expert, am not as qualified as the electrician themselves are at knowing which words apply to their services the most.
Once you have chosen the terms that relate to your business, you should review the text of your website and look for opportunities to insert these search terms.
Remember: once or twice for each term is enough, do not ‘keyword stuff’ by overusing the same term – Google will penalise you for this.
2, Fixing errors
Errors come in many different forms on websites. Generally speaking, they slow down or frustrate the users’ ability to access your website. By doing so, they make the user more likely to leave your website. This, in turn, sends a negative signal to Google about what users’ think of your website and they respond by pushing you down the rankings.
Remember, Google’s goal is to provide the user with the best answer to their search query. They measure this by looking at how often users click onto your website in the search results, how long they stay on it, etc.
In order to find all the technical errors or inefficiencies on your website you need to crawl it. This can be done with the SEO software mentioned above. Once this has produced a list for you to examine, it should give you some basic pointers on what you need to do. If these still don’t make sense, then Google and Youtube often have the answers!
3, Find backlinks
The final step is to get good quality backlinks pointing to your website.
A backlink is just a link from one site to another. The more backlinks you have from other sites pointing to your site the higher your website will rank on Google. It’s one of the main signals Google uses to decide how to rank websites.
For example, I can search ‘plumber’ and a random town’s name and then select the top result. I will then run the top-ranking website through some SEO software, and then I can see that they have 17 other websites linking to your website.
The result that comes below them only has 5 backlinks to their website. If the lower ranking website spent more time searching for backlinks, they might eventually gain more than the currently ranking top site and then overtake them.
And what do I mean by searching for backlinks? You can find out in more detail here about backlinks more generally. However, in a nutshell it is: emailing people asking for them, or signing up to organisations that give links to their website.
An important difference with backlinks for local SEO is that local backlinks are more valuable here.
This means you should focus on outreach to other businesses in your service area.
One way you can gain local backlinks is by creating a ‘Supporting the local community’ page on your website, where you list other local businesses (that you know and trust) in exchange for links to their on their sites to your website.
The above is a brief overview of how local SEO is done – there is always more to learn!
As you can see, there are several elements to take care of when working on your local SEO ranking.
Your priority should be creating and maintaining an up-to-date Google My Business account and (gently) reminding your customers to leave reviews. After this, it is also important to have a website and improving its SEO.
The task of building local SEO value has a lot of overlap with SEO work more generally, but there are some important differences.
Some businesses or tradesmen do their SEO themselves, but it isn’t always practical.
If you would rather have a freelancer do it you can search for them online (or get in touch with me!). There can be little doubt that if done correctly, this will be well worth the investment.
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