Half an hour on the internet is enough to explode most people’s sense of geography – with just a couple of clicks you can catch up with your cousin in Australia, buy exotic chillies from Mexico, or see for yourself what the snow is like in Kitzbuhel. This is all amazing, exciting stuff, but it’s important that businesses don’t forget to think local too.
Research shows that 88% of consumers search for local information on their smartphone, and 84% make similar searches on their computer or tablet. What’s more, 50% of these local phone searchers and 34% of local computer searchers went on to visit a physical store within a day of looking for information.
Clearly, if you’re a local business targeting consumers in the surrounding area, showing up in the local search results will boost your brand awareness and custom. And the great thing is you can get the ball rolling yourself with a few simple steps. What are you waiting for? Our guide will walk you through the process.
What is local search and why is it important to my site?
So we know that local search is important, but what exactly is it? Well, you probably benefitted from it last time you tried a new takeaway or looked for a plumber. Don’t know about you, but I fancy some sushi tonight:
Those three boxes at the top of the results page are the local search results, often known as the three-pack or snack-pack (because the local display has recently been condensed into a bite-sized three.) Notice how eye-catching the local results are in contrast to the organic one below, with their neat boxes and colourful images. Sometimes there’ll be a map included too:
The sheer on-page real estate the local results take up is an obvious bonus – if you’re in the snack-pack and your competitor down the road isn’t, you’re already more visible than they are. Mobile searchers won’t even see the organic stuff unless they bother to scroll down.
And more importantly, look how useful the local results are. In the first example I can see an address along with a star rating from previous customers without a single click. If I was hungry, this might be enough for me to get my shoes and head out to one of these restaurants.
In the second example, I can easily see which hairdresser is closest to me and what time they are open until - and if I hit Directions I can find out how to get there too.
On mobile phones in particular, local results make it much easier for potential customers to get in touch. The Call button allows them to instantly phone you without any cutting and pasting of numbers, whilst the Get Directions button will get them to your door right away.
How do I get in the local search results?
To have a chance of getting in the local results, you need to tell Google all about your business by setting up a My Business account. It only a takes a few simple steps – and even if you don’t quite manage to grab a place in the snack pack, you’ll still improve your brand visibility and make it easier for customers to find you.
1. Have a physical location
This might sound a bit obvious, but to be included in the local results you need to have an address that customers are able to visit, such as an office or shop. If your business makes products that are sold across the country by third party stores, for example, it may not be suitable to put your head office in the local listings. However, you can still use My Business to promote your brand online.
2. Set up your My Business account accurately
Head over to My Business. If you already have a Gmail linked to your business, you can use this to sign in – otherwise click ‘get onto Google’ to set things up.
Next, find your business on the map by typing in the name and address – don’t worry if you can’t find it, just click ‘my business isn’t listed’ to add it.
Ensure that all the information for your business is correct. It’s vital that all the details are written exactly the same as on your website, right down to the spaces in your phone number. If you’re a plumber, florist or takeaway who works within a particular area, you can also specify where your services are available.
Great – that’s the first part done. Google will now send a postcard to your business address with a PIN on it, to verify that you are indeed based in the local area. In the meantime it will also generate a Google+ account for the business (more of that later). If you already have an account you can just delete the new one – but make sure all the contact information on it matches up exactly.
Once your postcard arrives, use the PIN to verify your account. Simply sign into your Google+ account and click the Enter Code box at the top. This part really is vital, as you won’t show up on any maps or local searches until the address is confirmed – so get to it. It only takes a couple of clicks, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t bother!
3. Build your Google+ page
Now for the fun part! Use Google+ to build your authority and create a powerful online storefront for your business.
First, you need a killer intro – this is a couple of sentences explaining who you are and what you do. Think about you who your target audience is, and try to write copy that will speak to them. If you own an independent coffee shop you might go for a fairly relaxed, friendly tone, whereas a financial advisor would go for more formal style.
Highlight what makes your services special. Talk about your fair-trade or locally sourced ingredients, your twenty years of experience, the community projects you have supported, or simply how passionate you are about your industry. Any awards or accreditations you have would also look great here.
Whoever you’re aiming at, keep it short and sweet, choose your words carefully and ensure there are no typos or spelling mistakes in there. And under no circumstances fill the intro with keyword spam – you’re writing for people, not robots!
We all know the power of images, so take the time to add a few, even if they’re just decent shots of your office. Do make sure they’re well-lit and carefully shot though - no one wants to eat a sad-looking cake or hire a freelancer who leaves mouldy cups on their desk.
Next, add extra details such as your opening times and website. Remember this will all be pulled through to your local listing, so it’s well worth doing.
The little details can be all it takes to make a customer choose you over a competitor. Imagine you're panic-buying a birthday present on the way home from work - are you going to make a detour to the shop with directions that is definitely open, or the one that might be a total waste of your time?
4. Build citations
Further develop your listing’s authority by getting your business accurately featured in respected local directories such as Yell and Thompson Local. This can be quite a long-winded process, but sites such as Moz Local can help you quickly track down your citations and ensure they’re all consistent.
Having an impressive portfolio of citations will help bump your local listing up the rankings, and also make it even easier for customers to find you. If you make a search for a local service such as builders, you’ll find that the top organic searches are mostly results from local directories.
It follows that quality citations can help improve your visibility, and maybe even get you showing in multiple results for one search – taking up valuable space and pushing your competitors ever further down the page.
5. Encourage your customers to leave reviews
Reviews are one of my favourite things about the internet – whether I’m booking a hotel room, looking for a new restaurant to try out, or searching for someone to fix my bike, I like to base my decisions on what other customers have thought. And Google even encourages obsessive researchers by like me by letting us filter local results by star rating.
To improve your local search rankings you need high quality reviews on your Google+ account, but ratings on other directories and review sites all add to your online impact too. The best reviews are thoughtful and accurate descriptions rather than simply ‘Great!’ or ‘Delicious!’, but it takes a bit of work to guide your customers into leaving this kind of feedback.
Encourage great reviews by following up purchases with an automated email asking for a review, or give out postcards or business cards to prompt customers to write feedback at a later date. Competitions can also be an effective way to get lengthier responses.
So you’ve got everything set up – don’t let that hard work go to waste! A strong local listing is an ongoing process, so you’ll need to keep it alive with updates. At the very least you need to amend any changes to your contact details and opening times, but really you want to be sharing social posts, adding photos and responding to your reviews too.
And if you really get into it, you can use the Insights tab to discover more about your customers - from what kind of device they searched for you on, to whether they use the Get Directions or Call buttons. In conjunction with tracking packages such as Google Analytics, you can closely monitor your success and play around with your local listing for even better results.
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