Local SEO 101

October 7, 2014 / Search Engine Optimization / By Kathy Alice

When I created citations for a business six months ago, I wrote this 101 style blog post while it was still fresh in my mind. Since I now offer a local SEO video module as part of my SEO for Business Owners Course, I’ve returned to it and added even more details. You’ll learn how the local seo ecosystem works and all the basics you’ll need in getting started in local SEO.

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Get Started with local SEO for Web Visibility

Local SEO is just like regular SEO with a Twist: Citations

All the standard SEO advice applies to local bricks and mortar small businesses just like for everyone one else: namely make sure your website is crawler friendly, market your business with excellent content, participate in a community to build relationships and to earn links. So what’s different? Citations, that’s what.

Citations are listings of your business in online local directories (think superpages, merchantcircle, yp.com). I think of citations as a type of link building that is only available to businesses that have a physical address or serve a local market.

The core entity for local SEO is the NAP

Read enough guides on local SEO and you will soon encounter the term “NAP”, which simply means: Name, Address & Phone.

NAP is the core entity of local SEO and how your business is referenced, as a structured citation, from the many online directories and core data providers. It’s critical to get your NAP right. Many of the online local directories key off the phone number and it can be difficult to change it if wrong. And Google treats your NAP as an online id for your business.

The system is an online evolution of the old yellow & white pages books we used to get delivered to our doorstop once a year. There are two types of players in the online local directory ecosystem. There are the online directories I’ve mentioned, and there are also the core data providers: Infogroup, Acxiom, Factual, and Localeze. You can think of the online directories as replacing the telephone books and the core data providers as the databases behind the directories. The thing is, we no longer have a Ma Bell monopoly but a landscape of competing databases and directories that sometimes share with each other as well. Depending on where you’ve entered your citations, you will find that your listing will migrate to directories you’ve never heard of. This is one reason why it is so critical to get the NAP entered right. If it is propagated wrong, it can be a nightmare to straighten out.

Where do you add your citations?

There are hundreds of directories you can add citations to, not to mention to the core data providers that I mention above. Of course not all are created equal and it can get pretty time consuming to add your business to each and every one. Before you get started I recommend:

  1. Do some keyword research and identify likely category names for your business.
  2. Write a short description of your business.
  3. Have a photo or logo image on hand.
  4. Triple check your NAP, down to details such as whether you are spelling Avenue as “Ave.” or “Avenue”. The NAP needs to be the exactly the same everywhere for the search engines to understand it is the same business.
  5. Create a separate email address as the contact email address. Tying it to a personal email address creates a lot of headaches if that person leaves the business.

Then a great place to start is getlisted.org. Note: GetListed is now Moz Local and offers a yearly service to manage your listings – see more details below. You can enter your business page or your business phone number and it will search the various directories and let you know where you are listed and where you need to create a listing. Keep in mind that not all of them are free.

Google Local, Yahoo, Yelp and more.

All of the larger search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing have a Maps/Local feature that most of us are familiar with. If you have ever searched on restaurants or any type of local business you will get the map style SERPs results. If the core data providers know about you (particularly infogroup), then Google has likely picked up your NAP info from them and is displaying it in the local results. You will need to “claim” your listing at which point you can enhance the listing with categories and photos. (Otherwise go ahead and enter a new listing).

To claim the listing, you will need to verify that you are the owner, often by typing in a code that you get from a postcard that Google has snail-mailed you. At this writing Google Places (known as Google Local Business Center a few years back) is transitioning to Google My Business, so that it is all more tightly integrated with Google+. By now most businesses have been migrated.

Google My Business and Service Areas

But what if you don’t have a storefront? With Google you are still in luck. If you serve a local market and can define a service area you can still create a listing with Google My Business and be eligible for reviews which can really help your business’s visibility. Don’t forget to list your service area details on your website as well.

Introducing Moz Local

After purchasing the GetListed site, Moz.com launched Moz Local in March 2014, literally days after I had completed all my submissions and checks and the original version of this post. Moz Local will cost you $49 / year for submission to eight core data providers and directories. Not only does this save you money (LocalEze and Best of the Web submissions cost more when done independently) but also a lot of time. Here’s why hand submission takes more time than you think:

  • The directories don’t always make it easy to create a free listing. Sometimes you have to hunt around quite a bit. And some have partnered with Yext and no longer offer free listings.
  • Most directories require a verification step before publishing your listing. Some do the verification only via a phone call.
  • In some cases you have to return back to get access to all the fields (such as photos).

So I now recommend Moz Local. If you are in a competitive niche you should augment with the additional directories (see below) and check out WhiteSpark which takes citation building to a whole new level.

Out of the box citation building

Most people focus on the directories, but if you think out of the box there are other great places to get citations. Check out your local chamber of commerce, local media and regional directories. Even a blog post that mentions all three elements of your NAP somewhere in the post is a citation.

A Starting List of Directories

Other good directories to get listed in: Yelp (has a claim feature too), MerchantCircle, YP.com (which requires a verification phone call), Superpages, Manta, CitySearch, HotFrog, Foursquare and Yellowbot. Moz Local/GetListed lists many of these, but if that doesn’t whet your appetite, check out this list or run the Yext power scan.

If all this sounds like a lot of work: you can use a service like Yext or Brightlocal which does the submission to most of the directories and also monitors the ecosystem for mistakes in your NAP and rectifies them. For multiple location businesses, Yext is worth a look.

Reviews amplify your reach

The majority of your potential customers will check for reviews before deciding to engage with your business. The two places you should focus on getting reviews is Yelp and Google. In particular those yellow stars (from Google reviews) on your SERP listing encourages high clickthrough. Don’t expect to magically get glowing reviews on your service however, you have to encourage them, by:

  • Contacting the customer directly through email or phone
  • Creating a review URL and posting it prominently on your website and at your place of business
  • Handing a one pager with clear and concise instructions (especially for Google).

Don’t offer incentives in exchange for reviews, it’s against the rules.

On Page matters for Local SEO

Your NAP also needs to be on your website (on every page of your website ideally). Most websites put their NAP in the footer, but there is no reason why you can’t have part or all of it in other locations on your webpages.

It’s easy to get into the Google map results for the city your business is in, but you might serve neighboring towns as well which may be more difficult to rank for the searches including the town names. You can pay for access to those audiences with the directories (MerchantCircle offers this feature), but before going down that route, try putting a list of communities you serve on your website.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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October 7, 2014