The World’s 50 Best Bars just announced its annual awards for 2022 and, while it is an intriguing list, there are obvious omissions. Where is the award for Best Dive Bar Where Your Friend Worked and Snuck You Free Drinks? Or, Best 3AM Nachos Before Another All-Nighter? Or, Best Hole-in-the-Wall Coffee Bar for the Day After Spending Too Many Hours at That Dive Bar? Every city and town have these spots known only to the locals who, if you’re lucky, might point you in the direction of those loaded nachos or that perfect latte. So, if these spots do deserve all the attention of the “World’s Best”—and we are positive they do—how do we locate these hot spots, these hidden gems? And, just as important, how do these small businesses find us? The answer lies in local SEO.
In this article we will:
- Explore local SEO in detail
- Show how small businesses grow through local SEO
- Provide resources to improve small business local SEO
First Things First: What is Local SEO?
Local SEO, or local search engine optimization, is the practice of crafting a website to increase online traffic and translate page views to actual visits to a brick-and-mortar location. Nearly half of all Google searches focus on local businesses, news and events. Users want to discover more in their immediate surroundings. If a small business takes advantage of local SEO, it increases the likelihood that a Google search will return their company as a top hit, increasing exposure and ultimately, patronage to their business. Whereas viability once depended on unreliable word-of-mouth or pricey billboard campaigns, small businesses can now advertise more effectively and reach more patrons through local SEO.
Who Can Benefit from Local SEO?
Every company and small business can see exponential growth from SEO, but local SEO helps cut through the fog of billboards, radio ads, word-of-mouth and TV spots. No two small businesses are the same, so to reach the top of organic search results in local SEO, it is necessary to identify your business in keyword searches and meta descriptions (more on those later). Those small businesses include:
- Private Practices
- Coffee Bars
- Antique Shops
- Thrift Stores
- Web Developers
How Does Local SEO Differ from Regular SEO?
While all forms of SMASEO have as their root function the goal of increasing website traffic, local SEO differs from national or international SEO in key ways. These include:
- Local SEO is concerned with a specific location. When searching for new spots, U.S. users Google the phrase “near me” at a rate of 1 billion times per month. Local SEO links small businesses to these search results.
- Local SEO seeks to increase physical visits as much as virtual ones. National/international SEO might attempt to drive in-person interaction, but, more often, the webpage click is the end goal. For local SEO, increased website traffic is only half the battle. Gaining physical clientele is more imperative to small businesses than larger online retailers, and local SEO helps drive these in-store visits.
Parts Make the Whole: Breaking Down Local SEO
To fully understand how local SEO drives the success of small businesses, it is first necessary to understand the best practices of local SEO.
By optimizing for each of these functions, small businesses can better improve the odds that their website lands in the top organic results for local searches. They are:
- Keywords and phrases
- Meta titles
- Meta descriptions
- Alt text
- On-page SEO
Keywords and Phrases
While some marketers believe an overabundance of keywords or phrases might negatively affect a website, most agree that including the business’ name and/or function in as many descriptors as possible—URL, meta description (which you can learn more about here), headings and backlinks—maximizes the likelihood of your company reaching higher listings in organic search results.
Backlinks, or links that connect another site back to yours (like this one, for example), are imperative in both increasing traffic to your webpage and improving your online reputation, which we will delve into later on. Creating backlinks between other local businesses can also foster better offline connections within your community, as the success of one site impacts the success of another.
Reputation is a major influencer on webpage visits translating to actual visits for local businesses. Online reviews can make or break a small business, regardless of accuracy, so it is essential for a business to strive for good reviews while monitoring negative feedback, as almost 90% of reviewers view businesses favorably if they respond to online reviews. The two most visited sites for reviews, Google Business Profile and Yelp, collect and aggregate user reviews into scores for small businesses. Tutorials on navigating these sites, such as the one we offer here, can quickly improve a business’ online reputation.
The link users click to reach your website, meta titles are necessary in connecting searches to your business. More than just the URL, meta titles aid search engines in finding and returning your website as a top organic result. Keeping meta titles simple yet direct ensures searchers they are clicking a reliable link.
Beneath most meta titles is a brief description of the site, also known as a meta description. These descriptions act in much the same way as meta titles, adding to both the keyword links between search engines and results and the trust a user will have in your site to match their needs.
Basically meta descriptions for images, alt text won’t always appear in results but it still increases the likelihood a search engine will locate your site. Adding descriptive information to an image via alt text creates more links through keywords for your site to land higher in organic results. Key tip: When adding alt text, be sure to focus on key descriptors of your business rather than of the image itself.
By ensuring all these elements–keywords, reviews, backlinks, meta titles/descriptions, and alt text–coordinate with each other and with the essential functions and goals of your business, your site will be fully optimized for search engines. Known as on-page SEO, this is the most important step in achieving local SEO.
What Do Recent Trends Prove About Local SEO and Small Business?
With all this information the benefits for small businesses to engage in local SEO are apparent…in theory. The question remains, though: does the data back it up? The answer is yes:
- SEO implementation sees a much higher Return on Investment (ROI) for small businesses than other ad campaigns. (If you’d like our free SEO ROI tool, sign up here)
- Local web searches translate to in-person visits nearly 50% of the time. With the increase in smartphones replacing desktops and laptops for web browsing, Millennials and Gen Z are driving the consumer market for local SEO translating to customers, and local SEO is the primary contributor.
- Local SEO impacts the trust consumers place in a business. Not only is the number of consumers who turn to search engines to evaluate a small business increasing, the number of sales gained or lost are becoming more dependent on a business’ online presence.
All this data proves the trend of local SEO directly contributing to the success or failure of small businesses. Still, an estimated 58% of small businesses ignore or forego local SEO for less reliable means of self-promotion. As local SEO usage numbers trend upward, small businesses will need to tap into resources to improve their online reputation.
What is Reputation Management and How Does It Impact Small Businesses?
Consumers seek out three common identifiers for trustworthy websites. They are:
- Clear and quality pictures of the business.
- Reviews on Google and Yelp.
- Location on the search engine results page (SERP).
Customers rely on both you and others to point them in the right direction when they search for something new. Reviews factor the most in a customer’s decision to patronize a small business, and the lack of any reviews can be just as damaging as bad ones. Just as important as carving out an online presence, then, is the management of your small business’ online reputation. To navigate reputation management for small businesses, we suggest performing an analysis of five key areas. They are:
- Google Business Profile. One of the premier resources in local SEO for small businesses, setting up a Google Business Profile (GBP) (more on this later) can quickly boost recognition in organic search results.
- Reviews. The obvious and most important indicator of a business’ success or regression, glowing reviews not only ensure searchers that they can trust a local business, but it also increases the chances of a business ranking higher in organic search results.
- Review Feedback. Collecting positive feedback is always the main goal, but responding to less-than-satisfied customers can also impact a small business’ online reputation. Showing that the reviews aren’t going ignored can improve the chances of patrons trusting your business.
- Growth. Providing feedback to reviews is important, but it matters more if that feedback is heeded. Falling short doesn’t have to equal failing, and many small businesses can profit from showing growth.
- Accuracy. This may seem obvious, but the majority of users lose any trust in a company if listings, specifically NAP, are inaccurate. Maintaining up-to-date and accurate listings can seem simple but prove invaluable.
Each of these steps can and should be monitored in-house by every small business, but to guarantee online reputation and local SEO are a pillar of support for your company, it’s best to look to the experts.
Slam Media Lab and Local SEO
When your car needs detailed or your house painted—chores that can certainly be handled by yourself—there’s a reassurance in trusting the professionals. When it comes to local SEO, we can help you. Here, we’ve helped small businesses grow their traffic to tens of thousands of views in a couple of months.
To ensure that your small business’ website is optimized to reach the most viewers in your area, sign up to our newsletter here so you can get free resources and first access to our course.
What we offer:
- Consults for small businesses interested in local SEO
- Free templates: SEO ROI, SEO keyword research
- Courses on SEO and content development
- Website audits for nonprofits and small businesses
- Regularly updated blog posts full of tips and solutions to all SEO questions or issues
We know small businesses are the building blocks of a thriving community but don’t always have the funding to compete with major chains and corporations, which is why we offer these inexpensive resources to all small businesses seeking a leg up through local SEO.
Putting Local SEO to Good Use for Your Small Business
Knowing what local SEO is and how it can benefit your small business is a good start, but where do you go from there? The next step is local SEO implementation. Here are six tips to get your small business on its way to full optimization:
Set up a Google Business Profile
Google Business Profiles guarantee your small business is listed on Google, immediately improving the chances of your business appearing in organic search results. A Google Business Profile (GBP) allows you to feature photos of your business, NAP and Google Maps locations on Google’s Local Pack (the Maps portion of the first search page that features three top hits for surrounding businesses). Creating a GBP and keeping it up-to-date is imperative for small businesses to retain local SEO.
Establish a Yelp account
The two most important sites for customer reviews are Google Business and Yelp. In fact, almost 90% of reviews come from only four sites, including Facebook and TripAdvisor, so accessing and monitoring a site like Yelp can strengthen your online reputation, or point you in the right direction on how to improve your local SEO.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of local searches are done through mobile devices. So to scale for local SEO, your website needs to be mobile-friendly as much as it is user friendly. Inaccurate information or listings will drive users away, but a poorly or non-functioning mobile site can do just as much harm to a small business’ online reputation.
Run an SEO audit
Once you have launched your site and established the above accounts, the next step is to run an audit to see how your website ranks in local SEO. You can, as recommended, leave this up to a professional team (like us) or deploy SEO audit software, such as Ahrefs and Google Search Console, or perform an audit through online audit checklists.
Keep your website current, accurate and fun
Getting users in the door, so to speak, is Step 1. Step 2 is proving your business is worth their time and money. Making sure patrons can trust your site for up-to-date and accurate information will keep them coming back or, at the very least, curb any easily avoidable negative reviews. And, while accuracy is users’ main concern, crafting an eye-catching, interactive site (like this one, or this one) goes a long way in engaging and enticing visitors.
Other great local SEO resources:
The Proof is in the Programming: Real Results of Local SEO
While local SEO seeks to improve on traditional advertising like word-of-mouth, results and reviews still drive the most consumers to new and/or small businesses.
All of this isn’t to toot our own horn (although, maybe it is a little) but to prove what local SEO can achieve. Success of small businesses not only builds up a single storefront or service, but it also helps the growth of a community, online and off. By linking multiple small businesses through local SEO, garnering the trust of searchers, and building a respected brand, companies like ours can help companies like yours grow, and companies like yours can help companies like ours grow. The future of small businesses doesn’t need to be zero sum. Through local SEO, growth for one small business is growth for the community.
If you combed through that World’s Best Bars list at the top, you might have found a few new bucket list destinations, or an appreciation for Singapore’s nightlife, or some truly stunning websites. What you probably didn’t find was a spot to meet that Hinge date for a quick drink, or that cozy coffee bar to get some work done over a perfect latte, or that iffy dive to make lasting memories with old friends. Let us help you find those spots, and if you are that spot, let us help you be found.
Feeling a little lost, or want to brush up on some of your SEO lingo? Download our FREE guide SEO Terms: Explained to get get actionable tips and base-level knowledge as you learn more about organic search.
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