Small businesses have a greater need to focus on local search rankings than established, nationwide brands for several reasons. Because small businesses have limited resources (financing, staff, commercial space, etc.), they typically can’t accommodate masses and masses of people outside their local community.
There are exceptions to the rule, though, like ecommerce sites and digital services. But a lot of small businesses have brick and mortar stores. Just take a walk downtown (or the center of your city if you don’t have a downtown area), and take notice of all the hole-in-the-wall local eateries, boutiques, specialty shops, and similar businesses. They’re everywhere, but unless you frequent that area, chances are you haven’t heard of them before.
Too often small business owners’ eyes turn into cartoon dollar signs when they see the upper threshold of search traffic they could be getting if they ranked #1 for any given term. And to be fair, you can drill down into demographic information within keyword research data using a large number of filters.
But think about it: how would ranking #1 for a term help your business if the majority of leads it rustles up are outside your immediate geographic location?
There are many ways businesses can reach out to customers in other areas of the country for order fulfillment, but for some small and medium sized businesses, it isn’t even an option. For instance, let’s say you own a local bar-b-Que restaurant that’s been picking up steam, and now you have three locations throughout your current city. After performing a Google search for you desired keywords, you find that the top ranking results are Wikipedia, a national bar-b-Que franchise, and an ecommerce page selling grilling utensils.
In this case, ranking in the #1 slot is going to be next to impossible. It might be a viable long term strategy to try to rank for those keywords. But in the short term, you should focus on local search traffic.
Believe it or not, mobile searches have overtaken Google queries made from laptops and desktops. People are using their mobile devices more than ever, and frequently use them to find businesses in their area. If you’re ignoring local mobile searches, you’re ignoring the best potential customers (e.g. warm leads) in your local area.
But how do you know what factors influence your local rankings? Well, to be completely honest, we don’t know every detail regarding how Google calculates ranking factors. But we can look for smoking barrels – even though correlation doesn’t equal causation, so let’s take a look at a few factors that influence your local rankings.
Naturally, you’re going to want to target location specific keywords that include the name of your area, city, and geographic region. However, you don’t want to overdo it. Some websites try to target every suburb and subdivision within their city with pages that are only 300-500 words of content. But the content doesn’t really provide any value other than showing users where they are located.
The rule of thumb with Google is to use keywords sparingly and to provide a good user experience with content that solves real world problems. Instead of throwing together weak geo-specific pages, try to lightly use location keywords in conjunction with your regular content.
This is not to say don't have location pages. If you have (for instance) three physical locations, you should definitely have a page for each one. But building random pages about nearby cities & towns that you don't have a location in is a waste of time and budget.
Traditional Website SEO
You’ll also want to make sure that you perform traditional on-site SEO to help increase location-based ranking signals. But you’ll also want to vary the format that your location is listed. For example, just about everyone lists their business address on their “about” or “contact” page. Yet only typing out the name of your business isn’t enough.
Also include Google Maps plugins that help users pinpoint your business on a map. Some people still try to include keywords in their domain, but this isn’t nearly as important as it used to be only four or five years ago. As such, it may not be the best choice to use location keywords in your domain. Unless it’s important to your brand name (i.e. Kansas City Brewco), you may want to avoid using your location as part of your URL.
Again, a better solution would be to build your site with a Locations section. For an example, see how Sunshine Drapery in St Louis does it.
Google My Business
It seems highly unlikely that Google ever gives ranking preference to websites that use other Google services. Instead, they seem to only care about which websites provide the best user experience. But that doesn’t mean that other Google services don’t help to drive traffic to your website. One thing a lot of small businesses forget to do is to use Google My Business. By adding a business listing, you will increase your visibility for local searches.
In addition, you will have the opportunity to interact with users and accumulate reviews. Positive reviews are essential for building trust with your audience. Most people tend to trust their peers more than they do marketing copy, and a lot of four and five star reviews will help convert warm leads.
Trying to launch a small business marketing campaign is extremely challenging, because most business owners have limited time and financial resources. Instead of trying to compete with industry giants, a better short term strategy is to target local search traffic.
Remember that your marketing choices have a great impact on the future of your business.