As the world has become more connected through the web over the last ten years, businesses have been turning to SEO in an attempt to get noticed. With more and more players this has gotten increasingly competitive over the years, resulting in large companies spending large sums of money on internet marketing. According to Mashable, 2013 was the first year that revenue from internet advertising beat broadcasting TV advertising for the first time in the US.
Where does this leave small companies that have the logistics and infrastructure to compete on a local level but not enough budget to promote themselves as a local alternative to larger companies?
The below tools that are at everyone’s disposal are their ready-made solution, first however whoever is running the business will have to recognize the signs of when these implementations become actionable.
When does this scenario happen?
The short answer is all the time. If you are a local grocer you compete with all the chain supermarkets; if you are a local car dealership you compete with all the national dealerships; if you are a burger shop, you compete with McDonalds – the list goes. With such strong Domain Authorities, if these larger companies were to create a location page with optimised title tags, this is all it would take for them to outrank a small website.
How can small businesses start to look into this?
Here are some strategies that local websites can use to get around this problem which will help also help them to rank locally – larger websites with a local consumer base can also use these strategies, however, this avenue of exposure is often neglected by larger companies, who tend to focus on larger marketing strategies. These tactics can result in your business being in the spotlight to a much more relevant target audience and improving their bottom line (either commercial or not) both online and offline.
Creating local pages
As a starting point, you’ll need to ensure that you have place listings on all the major search engines. As is often the case when it comes to search, Google Places should be your first port of call. Yahoo and Bing also offer place listings and each of these have varying verification methods for your address. The most popular verification process works by business owners submitting an address through the relevant dashboard. You’ll then receive a pin through the post to verify the postal address.
I am a mobile dog groomer but don’t want to submit my home address…
If you are a freelance plumber and don’t want people turning up at your house expecting to find a boiler repair shop, then there is a way round this as Google Places is not just for traditional brick and mortar businesses.
These listings will still contain information such as your business name, website, contact number and company description however, once a personal address has been submitted you will be offered an option to not display your address on map listings (this option is offered in the form of a check box).
You will then be asked to input an area you serve. This can be anything from “National” to a postcode area. Based on a searcher’s IP this can help your business show up on maps as well as part of the knowledge graph on the side of the SERP results. You can then proceed to add information such as opening hours or photos, something that will also populate the clickable real estate of the search engines.
What does Google Places look like in the SERPS?
There are a couple of ways that the information you upload to your Google Places account can be displayed in the search results. Firstly, these can be found in Google Maps in the form of a pointer.
As shown above, the exact location of an office is pinpointed on the map and in some cases the company’s description will appear besides the pointer. Clicking on the pointer will then bring up further company information, as shown in the next image.
A “brand + location” query (in this case “Google London” was used) brings up similar information in the knowledge graph section of the search results, as well as under the most relevant SERPS listing as shown below.
I implemented Google Places and my traffic went down, why?
This is quite a common occurrence, and there are a few misconceptions that should be rectified. Often businesses note a drop in online sales/sign-ups/contacts after creating places listings and believe that this is as a result of their Google Places listing showing up rather than a more commercial page. This is not the case, most likely users will have found the information they are searching for on Google and don’t need to click through.
Often people will either note down an address or a telephone number, or click through to the Google Maps page in order to find directions. In many cases, the number of impressions showing in your Google Places dashboard will greatly outweigh the number of clicks.
Getting Location Listings to rank
Once the location listings have been submitted and verified, you’ll need to make sure that they have every possible chance of appearing to ensure that the most relevant audience are presented with the information that they are searching for.
Similar to the way in which Google uses links as ranking signals; Google Places uses citations in much the same way. A citation is the featuring of an address on the web, usually on, but not limited to, directories. Much like links, the site where these citations are placed carry significant importance.
The directory listing or physical address published must exactly match that found on Google Places and no link is required. Google can then use these listings as trust signals that these physical locations actually exist and will, therefore, show them in the results.
Where does Google get its trust signals from?
The local search ecosystems for the UK and the US can be seen below.
Source: Moz Local
Getting listings in directories that directly feed into Google will virtually ensure that a “brand + location” search will return a knowledge graph result and an “industry + location” query will return a map listing for your office/shop etc.
It should be noted that before submitting citations, you should check that they don’t already exist, if they do, you need to check if they exactly match what can be found in your Places account. If they don’t, you’ll need to make amendments or they won’t carry any weight. Furthermore, it’s important to check for duplicates. You only need one correctly listing per directory per physical address.
Google+ for business
SEO and Social media experts often confuse these with Google Places listings. However, these do not help with getting any company info displayed in the knowledge graph section of the website, so what is their benefit?
For starters, users logged in to Google+ or Google Chrome who have previously had some form of interaction with your brand page (such as being in your Circles or vice versa), are more likely to see your brand in a SERP result. Therefore, if you are very active and have a large brand following, there is a large chance of getting in front of an incredibly relevant audience.
Another benefit of having Google+ for business, is the fact that you may very well receive an extra result listing for queries including brand terms, (this is true with other forms of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn) in turn gaining more of the search landscape much like the knowledge graph does.
Furthermore, Google+ Local allows users to use Google’s five star rating system. These ratings may also appear in the SERP results and will look like the image shown below:
Google+ offers a comprehensive guide on how to go about creating a Google+ for business page, which can be found here.
Combining your Places Listings and Your Local Google+ page into one dashboard
Everything can start to get a little complicated at this point. You can combine the management of the two to some extent; given that you have a Google Places dashboard as well as a verified Google+ for business.
Doing this will combine reviews, scores and social sharing. In order to combine these pages you must be able to receive verification postcards, not use the bulk upload feature and both the Places listing as well as the Google+ account must have been creating using the same email address.
If you are starting from scratch, you’ll need to create your Google Places listing first, then the Google+ page, get it verified and learn to work straight away from the joint dashboard. There are also some forms of integration with paid search such as extensions. This can be done by registering the Google Places and Adwords accounts on the same email address. Below is an example of what an extension might look like:
Again, these are an exceptional tool for attracting local customers on the cheap, as people are likely to simply take the information from Google, or click through to the maps to find directions – both of which are free. Due to the increased relevancy of location, the quality score should be increased resulting in cheaper PPC ads for locations. The site links below the ad are also done using an extension.
Schema Mark up
Another interesting tool at your disposal is schema mark-up. Address and telephone mark-up work in conjunction with your places listings on specific location pages you might have for a given address. However, beyond these there is arealm of differing options, a full list of which can be found at schema.org. Please note, that not all of these are accepted by Google. Some of those that are accepted can be found at developers.google.com in the form of examples. The most useful of these examples for small local businesses are explored below.
When it comes to address mark-up, there are a variety of ways it can be implemented. Apart from the above, stores within a larger department store or shopping centre can be marked as part of the larger venue.
Store opening hours can also be implemented in a variety of ways. Apart from the standard opening hours and times, holiday opening hours can also be implemented so that a differing schedule shows on days that you might otherwise be open.
Events mark-up is another interesting option. This allows you to list upcoming events under your SERPs listing by date order and look like this:
Overall these solutions can be time consuming, but don’t necessarily cost a fortune and the smaller the local business, the easier. As a result, your audience will be ever more relevant.