Being visible on search engine results pages (SERPs) is more important than ever, especially for businesses that have physical brick-and-mortar locations.
Restaurants, retail stores, and other types of local businesses have many potential customers looking for your products and services.
COVID-19 has changed the way we do business and consumers’ informational needs have grown. Optimizing your local presence is critical for generating sales and reaching new customers now.
But how do you make sure your local listings are optimized?
Here are 12 of my go-to local search tactics to help your business improve local search visibility.
Get on a Local Search Platform
There are many local search platforms that can fit into your budget including Moz, Yext, RIO, RenderSEO, Chatmeter, and SweetIQ, to name a few.
Using a platform makes it much easier to manage all your listings. That includes getting your name, address, and phone number (NAP) consistently and accurately listed across hundreds of local search engines and directories while also removing duplicate listings.
Trying to manage this manually is extremely time-consuming and tedious, and can result in inaccuracies across the local search ecosystem.
Bonus Tip: If you are an ecommerce brand, you definitely want to take advantage of Google’s new feature, See What is in your Stores (SWIS).
This is done by integrating live inventory into your Google My Business profile.
Take advantage of the number of consumers searching for your products and services every day by letting them see in-store inventory in an unpaid product listing across Google properties, including Images, Shopping, and Maps.
Few platforms have this integrated into the core feature set, but it’s definitely worth looking into while it is still free.
Use Structured Data
We all know structured data is important for helping Google to better understand content and that it can help increase clicks, impressions, and conversions.
Tap Into Google My Business & Optimize for It
If you are not using and optimizing your Google My Business profile, you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity to get your products and services visible where it matters the most.
When optimizing for Google My Business, make sure you fill out all the information you can including, photos, menu items, descriptions, and service lines.
I have seen a lot of brands not take advantage of listing their businesses in the right categories.
If you are a pizzeria, for example, you can list your business in both restaurants and dining.
This is one of the most important aspects of local search optimization, so take the time to fill out menu information, description, etc.
In addition, always keep your information up to date.
For example, if I’m searching for [Thai food near me] and find a restaurant with great reviews that appears to be open but I drive there only to find it is temporarily closed, I will have a bad user experience.
I may not want to give this restaurant another chance when it’s open again.
That’s why it’s so important for businesses to update local search results, to clearly communicate to potential customers they are temporarily closed.
If your restaurant is still open for takeaway, however, you can use local search to let customers know the dining room is closed but the kitchen is still open.
In addition, Google has started displaying store operating status attributes within Maps.
Large retailers with multiple in-store departments can use GMB to include secondary hours, as we see below.
As appropriate, use this feature to update:
- Department hours.
- Senior hours.
- Drive-thru hours.
- Delivery hours.
- Takeout hours.
- Visiting hours.
- Pick-up hours.
Don’t forget to update Q&A within your GMB business profile with any pertinent or timely details, like:
- Closures or changes to hours.
- Canceled events and ticket refunds/exchanges.
- Volume of calls/emails and expected delays.
- Changes to procedures for appointments.
- How you are increasing health and safety measures.
- Changes to services offered.
Update Event Status
If you have an event, always make sure you are using the event schema. EventStatus is a new schema type that will let users know the current state of their scheduled event.
- EventCancelled: The event has been canceled.
- EventMovedOnline: The event has moved to an online domain.
- EventPostponed: The event has been postponed; new dates are TBA.
- EventRescheduled: The event has been rescheduled to a new date.
- EventScheduled: The event is still scheduled to proceed as planned.
Event information can be pulled in to your business profile through event schema on your website or external sources like Facebook events, Eventbrite, and Meetup.
Audit Your Listings
Always audit your listings to identify the following:
- Auto-updates to operating status (“Temporarily Closed,” etc.”).
- Pending or suggested changes to operating hours.
- Pending or suggested changes to attributes.
- Pending or suggested changes to business details.
- Any other indicators of pending or suggested updates.
- Disabled listings.
Manage Your Reputation
Having positive reviews and a good customer experience is critical to ranking high in the local Map Pack. I have seen countless companies that have negative and positive reviews with no responses from the business.
If I wanted to hire a painter and saw 20 four-star reviews and five unanswered two-star reviews, I might be hesitant about hiring that painter.
People trust reviews and bad reviews are worse when the owner does not take the time to respond.
If they do, that response potentially builds up more trust from other users and could also possibly help generate more business.
The Takeaway: Always monitor and respond to your reviews – both good and bad – and focus on getting natural unsolicited reviews. Also, add first-party reviews to your website.
Use Hyper-Local Content
SEO is all about providing a positive content experience across all devices and platforms to help end-users satisfy their information need.
Always focus on adding unique quality content catered to individual locations. This hyper-local content can help improve visibility among potential customers located nearby.
Also, be sure to include hyper-local terms in your on-page optimization strategy. This includes headings, titles, metadata, image alt text, and text.
In addition, always have COVID-related content.
This will build up trust from an end-user perspective and also help you get great reviews.
Demonstrating that you’re taking the right precautions can actually help sell more products and services when customers come to pick up food or shop in the store.
Connect With Customers via Always-on Messaging
Download the Google My Business app and turn on messaging as a way to help your customers reach you.
If you are not available by phone or it is after business hours, messaging can help customers get the support they need.
Bonus Tip: Draft an automatic welcome message to let customers know your business status.
Closely monitor Google Trends to understand shifts in search interest and behavior around relevant keywords and topics for your brand and industry.
Analyze the keywords that are most valuable for your business and see how searches are trending for those items.
Then, monitor website performance to understand how users are converting during this time and update forecasting and reporting to factor in the impact of COVID-19.
Bonus Tool Tip: ExplodingTopics.com shows trending or “exploding” topics sourced from Google Trends data. It is useful for market research and discovering new areas of business.
Optimize for Voice Search & Mobile
We live in a world where users are constantly asking questions and your brand should provide the answer even when consumers are asking a digital assistant.
In addition, your website must be well optimized to deliver answers to common questions about your products and/or services.
For hints on what to include, look at your internal search metrics and analytics to see what common questions people ask about your business.
Also, use third-party tools and Google’s People Also Ask (PAA) feature.
And since most local queries take place on mobile devices, always make sure your site is optimized for mobile with high-quality images, content, and quick load times.
Track Rankings & Build Out Local Landing Pages
Rankings are not the end-all, be-all, but they can help you track the success of your local search campaign at the location and zip code level.
Always make sure you build out local landing pages that offer a good user and page experience including responsiveness, quick load times, the latest schema code base, calls to action, and design elements.
All of this can help your brand rank for all locations and improve conversions.
Bonus Tip: Most local platforms already have optimized landing pages that can be built up quickly rather than having your internal team build out new page templates. They also host the pages for you, which is even better and will require very little involvement from your internal teams.
Don’t Forget Links Are Still Very Important
Always get high-quality links by researching local and general sites, blogs, etc.
Getting high-quality links from reputable sources with good content and helping users solve problems creates trust and credibility.
Aim to get listings from locally targeted listings and blogs, too.
It is still a very important factor that can improve your visibility.
Having a strong local search presence is more important than ever given today’s competitive SERPs.
Consumers are searching for products and services related to your brand, so you need to be visible.
Following these proven tips can help you get to the top of the SERPs and dominate the local results.
- 9 Types of Content That Will Help Your Local SEO
- A 50-Point Audit for Getting Started with Local SEO
- Local SEO: The Definitive Guide to Improve Your Local Search Rankings
All screenshots taken by author, March 2021