As a local business, you know that you need to invest in digital marketing to reach potential new customers.
So what is ‘local search engine marketing’, and how should it fit into these plans?
- Digital marketing aims to increase visibility on the web as a whole, so could have a national or even international focus.
- Local search marketing (or local SEO marketing as it’s sometimes called) aims to increase your online visibility in a very specific location, such as your town.
Why should you care?
Local businesses come in all sizes and areas of expertise.
Whether you’re a dog groomer in Portland, a pizza franchise in Chicago, or a plumber in Queens—if your customers will put the name of your town or city into Google, or add “near me” to their search, you’re a local business to them.
This means that local search marketing can directly benefit your business.
In fact, Google research confirms that four in five consumers use search engines to find local information, and half of consumers then go on to visit a local store within a day!
BrightLocal’s Stephanie Newton: “For many brick-and-mortar and service-area businesses, local customers are the best customers…they’re easier to reach, and they’re more loyal and will keep coming back if they like what they’re getting.”
If you aren’t doing local SEO marketing, you aren’t visible to potential new local customers and could be missing out on sales to competitors.
The seven steps below will show you how to get started with local search engine marketing, and help boost your business by directly targeting your local customers.
1. Google like a local
If you want to win over local customers—and succeed with local search engine marketing—you need to put yourself in their shoes. And that means focusing on Google.
StatCounter shows that Google currently holds 92.5% share of all local searches, while the behemouth’s closest competitor is Bing with just 2.3%.
Google Business Profile, formerly known as Google My Business, is a free listing that any business can set up on Google–even without a website. Google can then use the information that you provide (your business type, opening hours, location and services, etc.) to show your details in a relevant local search.
Claiming your free listing and completing your profile with as much information as possible goes a long way towards helping Google better understand your business, so it’s an absolutely crucial first step.
If you need help to get set up, our in-depth guide to setting up a Google My Business listing will walk you through the whole process, with lots of helpful images, step-by-step instructions, and best practice tips.
2. Keep things current
In the last 12 months, more than seven in 10 consumers have had a negative experience because of incorrect local business information found online.
One of the best local search marketing tips we can give you to avoid this potentially damaging hit to your reputation is to invest time and resources in keeping information up-to-date.
Example 1: opening hours
You can easily communicate this to local consumers by logging in to your Google Business Profile (GBP) listing and editing the ‘opening hours’ section of your profile.
This change will be reflected immediately in the search results, and you can also use free graphic design tools such as Canva to create visuals of your new hours to share on social media.
Example 2: special offers
Use the GBP ‘Posts’ function to share your latest news and offers.
Log in and click the ‘Create post’ button on your dashboard. Then, input details of your offer, upload an image and select the start and end date.
Learn how to use Google Posts to win over local consumers.
Example 3: show off your products, services, team members, or store location
For local consumers, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
According to Brain Rules’ John Medina, adding an image can ensure that 65% of information is retained after three days, compared to just 10% without an image.
BrightLocal’s own research confirms the importance of images for search. 60% of consumers say search results paired with great images capture their attention and help them to make a decision.
So when you next load photos to your social media channels, think about adding them to your Google My Business listing as well!
Head over and read Google My Business photos: the ultimate guide for everything you’ll need to get this part of your local search engine marketing exactly right.
3. Get the other searches covered
This may sound counterintuitive when we’ve already heard that Google commands more than a 92% market share. But while other search avenues can’t claim to handle as much traffic as Google, they do have the eyes (and ears) of millions of local consumers.
For Apple Maps that figure is about 23.3 million users, while Microsoft loyalists will get all of their information from Bing. And voice search reaches an estimated 83.1 million of smart speaker owners in the USA, with 68.2% using Amazon Echo.
Apple Maps visibility is heavily dependent on your Yelp ratings profile, but other factors, such as Apple reviews and your use of images also play a part. Read our blog to understand how Apple calculates its Maps ratings and master this part of your local SEO marketing strategy.
For Bing, you’ll need to create a Bing Places for Business listing. This is similar to Google Business Profile and you can even import your GBP settings. Find out how in our guide: Bing local listings explained.
4. Get your name out there with citations
A lot of the time, people search because they need a product or service, and they don’t already have a company in mind.
Getting your name out there puts you in the best possible position to scoop up as much of that new business as you can. One way to do just that (and to give your local SEO rankings a boost at the same time!) is to build citations.
A citation sounds scary, but it’s simply a piece of information about your business that exists on a third-party website.
Typically this will be your business name, address, and phone number (known as NAP) but it may also include your website URL and email, along with other key details.
Generating as many of these mentions as possible will benefit you in two ways:
- Traffic and footfall: Each citation has the potential to get visitors to your website, where you can guide them to your physical location or give them a means of getting in touch with you.
- SEO: The more citations you build, the more you’re telling search engines that the information they hold about your business is accurate. This can result in better search rankings, which means…even more traffic and footfall!
Where to find citations
Any place where your name, address, and phone number are provided is a citation. Once you’ve inputted your information, the citation directory then does the hard work of spreading that information and making it accessible to its users.
For example, Yelp sees an average of 31 million app users each month, while FourSquare reports around 50 million users. Adding your business to relevant directories like these is an easy place to start building citations.
If you’re feeling confident, the next step is to try a data aggregator. An aggregator automates the process of submitting your NAP to a vast number of directories, apps, and other appropriate platforms.
See our complete guide to local citations for more information on the process.
5. Reviews (even the negative ones!)
It’d be impossible to talk about local search engine marketing without talking about the importance of online reviews.
In years past, we may have asked colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family members for the name of a local store or service provider. Today, we turn to reviews to help find a local business to trust.
BrightLocal has been studying this trend for more than a decade. In our most recent research, conducted in 2020, we confirmed that 93% of US consumers searched online for a local business, with 73% searching weekly and 34% daily.
Every review you accrue has the potential to either bring you a new customer or drive them away to a competitor. Many people say that they’ll only pay attention to recent reviews (one to three months) and are looking for a minimum of four stars.
It’s natural for talk of ‘star ratings’ to strike fear into the heart of any business owner, but while negative reviews are impossible to avoid, they don’t have to spell disaster.
78% of local consumers say that they pay attention to how a business responds to reviews, and so these offer opportunities for you to showcase your standard of customer care and willingness to do better. You can find tips for dealing with negative reviews here.
Google also pays close attention to your review profile. The number of reviews you have, the frequency of new reviews shared, and whether or not you respond are all ranking signals, making this an especially important area of local SEO marketing.
Everything you need to know, including how to get more reviews and how to respond to reviews to get a better star rating, can be found in our complete guide to local review management.
6. Build local links
Research suggests that it can cost anything from $1,000 – $20,000 per month to bring in a social media expert. While that may be OK for larger brands, it’s not realistic for most local businesses. So, what can you do instead?
Embedding your business within the local community is the perfect grassroots tactic for any local business. It helps you to create stronger relationships with the very people you’d like to do business with and offers you a chance to increase your visibility.
By linking this activity back to your website, you’ll help your business appear higher up in search engines, opening the doors for more traffic and creating more chances to sell.
We asked a range of experts to give us their thoughts, tips, and tactics on working with industry sites, community pages, and local news outlets. You can read their local link building insights here.
7. Keep on learning…
Embrace the mindset that there’s always something new to learn. The more you learn, the better placed you’ll be to beat the competition and that can only be good news for your bank balance!
For your next step, read our complete guide to local SEO, which offers a range of practical examples to master local search.