Here are six hypothetical stories that illustrate how local optimization can be done wrong.
Large companies have the money to invest in sophisticated content and SEO programs, and have done so for so long, their positions can’t be realistically challenged by newcomers.
Small business owners do have one advantage, though: local optimization. Local optimization takes advantage of Google GOOGL -0.58%’s separate local ranking algorithm, which produces geographically relevant results for local queries based on factors like local citations and review quantity and quality. Doing so can earn you a spot in the “local 3-pack,” the top three relevant local results that appear above traditional organic search results.
However, it’s also possible to mess up your local optimization strategy, as we’ll see from these six hypothetical stories that illustrate how local optimization can be done wrong:
1. Roger paid for reviews.
Roger understood that having more positive reviews could increase his business’s local rankings, but he wasn’t prepared to invest in a review optimization strategy, nor did he have a strong existing client base for whom he could rely on strong testimonials. So instead, he decided to pay for a batch of 5-star reviews, submitted by multiple individuals leveraged on a third-party system. These reviews came off as repetitive and inappropriate for the business, and triggered a red flag in Yelp YELP -1.13%’s system. After an investigation, the reviews, along with Roger’s business, were kicked from the platform, and Roger’s search engine rankings took a nosedive.
2. Mary went with the first provider she found.
Mary looked up tons of information about local SEO, but it all seemed too complex for her. Frustrated, but knowing she needed some kind of local SEO to support her local business’s visibility, she ran a quick search for a local SEO provider and went with the first nearby contact she found. There aresome amazing professional marketers out there, but because she didn’t do her research, she ended up stuck in a long-term contract with an agency that didn’t know what it was doing. She wasted tens of thousands of dollars on a program that essentially got her nowhere.
Alan realized that local keywords could help increase local relevance, not to mention appeal to local publishers and local audience members. But instead of using these keywords in moderation or in strategic places on his site, he went overboard and started stuffing these local keyword phrases into every piece of content he published. These phrases, like “cheap dry cleaner Denver, Colorado,” came off as clunky, clearly manipulative, and decreased the average user’s trust of Alan’s business. After a few months of this, Alan noticed his users’ average time on page starting to drop, along with conversion rates. Needless to say, his search engine rankings never showed any improvement from the keyword stuffing.
4. Sandra didn’t correct her NAP information.
In local SEO, NAP stands for your company’s name, address, and phone number—three basic pieces of information that are unique to your company’s identity. Google checks this information, indexes it, and compares it against sources all around the web to help canonize your business’s identity. Unfortunately, Sandra forgot to update her company’s address after moving to a new city, and as a result, there were two distinct versions of her company listed in third-party directories all over the web, leading to a disappearance from the local 3-pack of each city. Fortunately, this setback was reversible, through a local citation clean-up.
5. Jerry had no ongoing off-site optimization plan.
Jerry made a concentrated effort to increase his local relevance, targeting geographically relevant keywords, making sure his information was present and listed on a number of third-party services, and even encouraging his customers to leave reviews. Unfortunately, he forgot that a big part of local SEO depends on a critical national SEO tactic—link building. Because of this, Jerry’s site plateaued early on, and he was never able to figure out why his site couldn’t move any higher in search rankings.
6. Denise didn’t pay attention to her reviews.
Denise knew reviews were important for local SEO, so she encouraged all her customers to leave reviews for her on Google, Yelp, and other services. Unfortunately, she never paid close attention to those reviews—and it turns out, a number of customers were having a poor experience due to a couple of unfriendly staff members. Because she didn’t catch the problem early on, or work proactively to correct it, she continued getting bad to lukewarm reviews, compromising her ability to rank highly in local search results, decreasing click-through rates in search engines, and slowing her business’s growth in general.
For the most part, local SEO can be done using the same techniques as national SEO. The big differences are the relevance of reviews, the presence of local citations, consistency of NAP information both on and off-site, and the strategic use of geographically specific keywords and phrases. Using these tactics, in moderation and with both a solid strategy and best practices in mind, can earn you a position in those coveted top three spots, but only if you work for it. Don’t take shortcuts, don’t skimp on certain areas of the strategy, and don’t expect overnight results.