Social media strategy is not a one-size-fits-all deal, and local businesses are playing an entirely different ball game than brands with a national or international reach. In fact, I’m comfortable arguing that when it comes to getting visible online and driving new business, local SEO and your Google search ranking is more important than your Instagram or Facebook page. Unless you are running some kind of local ads, it can be difficult to isolate and attract a local audience on social media.
Recently, I brought a local business on as a new client for social media management, and I turned to my friend Ahryn Scott, owner of Web Video Ad Space and expert in all things local business marketing, to help me define an effective strategy for them. Today, he is giving you an overview of the local business search framework that he so graciously taught me!
Map Results Are Uber Important
In terms of local Google searches for businesses, the most important results are those in the map section at the top of each search results page.
Google has consolidated its dominance in search and local search, and is the most important place for local business owners to focus their efforts. (Outside of some niche sites, the only other site worthy of much concern is Yelp and we’ll discuss them at the end of this article.)
Common Mistakes That Negatively Impact Your Position
As I will outline below, there is a simple, 3-step process to appearing at the top of the local search results for your business, which starts with a Google My Business page. But before we get started, let’s cover a few things that could keep you from getting to that top map position:
- your company listing is not complete,
- there are duplicate listings out there,
- or there is a lack of third-party verification for the business information in your Google My Business Listing.
3 Secrets for Attaining Top Google Map Ranking
Step 1: Create an Accurate and Optimized Google My Business Page
Google My Business has been many things over the years, including Google Places and Google+. If you already have a Google+ page for your business, you can migrate this to a My Business page. If you don’t have a listing, do a search to find your business’ listing and claim it, or visit google.com/business to create one.
You will want to verify your listing, and you can do this by getting a phone call or text from Google.
If there are duplicate listings with your name out there, claim all of them and get yourself down to ONE Google business page.
It’s All About the NAP
The most important part of creating or optimizing your listing is to fill out all the information as completely and accurately as possible. Remember NAP…this is an important acronym that stands for name, address and phone number.
Of all the information you input on your My Business listing, these are the three most important pieces. Your NAP is like your business’ thumbprint in the Google Maps database.
You would be surprised at how much misinformation can gather about your business online. When you look across all places online where the name gets mentioned, there are some common issues, like:
- Listings with “Inc.” or some with “LLP”
- Some with “and Sons” and some without
- Listings with the suite number and some without
- Some with the toll free number, or sometimes the local landline
All of the inconsistencies build up and create uncertainty in Google’s calculations… and that’s not helping your rankings.
For example, if you want to list your business name as Big Al’s Tire, you need to make sure this is exactly how it will appear in Google My Business as well as in any other online directories. You don’t want any other variations like:
- Big Al’s
- Big Al’s Tires
- Big Al Tire
- Big Al’s Tire Inc.
- Big Al’s Tire & Service.
Pick one and stick to it.
Step 2: Get Citations (on Autopilot)
When you publish your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) on a third-party site (meaning, a site that isn’t your own), this is called a citation. Google uses these citations to verify the information you have provided on your My Business page.
Not all citations are created equally. The citations at important, authority websites like Facebook, Yahoo, and Yelp will count more than a citation in a tiny directory hosted in a third world country.
There are hundreds of directories out there that you could add your listing to. Doing this by hand is very time consuming. Use automated citation tools like YEXT, WhiteSpark, Local MOZ, or BrightLocal to get your NAP placed on relevant directories.
These services either use special software or have backdoor agreements with major directories that allow them to make these citations quickly and efficiently. When you need to update any of your NAP information, all you have to do is update it once in your citation tool, and the service auto-updates the directories for you.
My personal favorite is YEXT. They have pre-arranged agreements with the biggest directories and it’s the fastest service. On the downside, it’s about $500 per year, which may be out of reach for businesses on a tight budget.
Step 3: Get Positive Reviews on Google Maps
Since Google gives so much weight to reviews, reviews are the lifeblood of a business when it comes to online promotion and local SEO. Your entire team needs to be trained on how to ask for reviews, and be able to tell customers how and where to post them.
How many reviews do you need to be the top result? A good place to start, is to search your main keywords in Google Maps and see how many reviews your top competitors have. This is the number you’ll want to beat. You will need at least five reviews before your star rating starts to show up on your Google Maps listing.
This will be a long and slow battle achieved, one positive review at a time. In fact, you wouldn’t want to get a lot of reviews in a short period of time because it wouldn’t look natural. Anything that doesn’t look natural will have a chance of setting off Google’s filters. If they filter out a review, it will not be published and it will not count towards your star rating.
Tips for Asking for Reviews
Be sure the customer is enthusiastically happy.
You don’t want to encourage a customer to leave a review who looks “okay”, but is secretly bothered by some aspect of the service and too polite to mention it. You don’t want to be surprised by a negative review. Look for customers that are already expressing their enthusiasm and gratitude to you, and ask them to take that online.
Make it easy and uncomplicated.
Ask customers if they have the Google Maps app on their phone. It’s the most popular map app on iOS or android phones and it’s the easiest way for them to find your Google My Business listing. They simply type in the business name and can leave their star rating and review right there on the listing that pops up.
Avoid getting reviews filtered out.
Ask customers to leave their review after they’ve physically been in the store and then returned home.
Google will know where you have been from using location services on the phone and they only want reviews from people that have physically visited a business. Additionally, Google may filter out reviews that look like they were the result of the customer being incentivized (read: bribed) at the point of sale.
The pattern that looks the most natural is the customer who visits the store, goes home and feels so good about the experience that she leaves a review.
Encourage customers to write something specific and go beyond generic compliments like, “They’re Great!”, “This place is awesome!” “The Best!”, etc.
If you and your employees are disciplined in asking for reviews using the method above, you will eventually be at the top of the map listings. Moreover, you’ll have more and better positive reviews than any Reputation Management company could deliver.
Using a local SEO strategy is important to building your brand online. It will take time—this is not an overnight solution. However, if you create a solid strategy using intelligent customer service as a means of promotion, you can easily replace a formal Local SEO and Reputation Management service.
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