The Local Business Guide to SEO and Google Rankings

When you need a late-night locksmith, a haircut in a new city, or a dentist to fix your child’s chipped tooth, where is the first place you turn? If you’re like most modern consumers - the answer is Google. 

93% of consumers used Google to find a business in the past year (BrightLocal).

What does this mean for local businesses? It’s simple: To run and grow a successful business, it’s critical that you show up in local searchers’ Google results. 

So the big question that business owners are left with is how to do that. The answer? Search engine optimization, often referred to as SEO.

In this guide we’ll lean on statistics and expert advice to cover:

  • SEO basics
  • How SEO impacts your bottom line
  • How Google ranks local businesses
  • Setting review goals
  • Getting started with local business SEO

What is Search Engine Optimization?

If you’ve heard of SEO and the acronym-heavy jargon that goes along with it, you may have thought it seemed too complicated for your local business to master. While it’s not quite as easy as setting and forgetting your Google My Business profile, it’s not rocket science either.

When someone goes online and searches: “locksmiths near me,” Google has to sort through every possible website and decide which businesses are the best match. 

Search Engine Optimization is simply the strategy businesses use to influence Google’s search algorithm and have their website show up at the top of the page where searchers are most likely to see them and become a customer.

“With the recent growth in mobile internet access, mobile search has exploded, so local SEO has become hugely important for the success of any business offering local products or services.” - Greg Gifford, MailChimp

Does SEO Actually Bring in More Customers?

As a business owner, you’ll always want to know the ROI on any project before investing your time and money. Spending a little time on search engine optimization is one of those projects with a proven return on investment. Here are some statistics to back up how SEO can impact your bottom line:

  • 5X as many people view businesses in the top 3 Google search results (MomentFeed).
  • 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours (Nectafy).

Together, those figures mean that showing up in the top 3 search results can measurably increase the number of prospective customers who give you a chance to win their business. That’s real revenue you could be missing out on if your business profile is out-of-sight at the bottom of the search page.

How Does Google Rank Local Businesses?

Like our examples above, local searches that include city names or phrases like “near me” are increasingly common. For those types of searches, Google will return what’s called a “local pack” or the top few businesses that searchers will see. SEO is a great opportunity for local businesses to show up in their “local packs” and earn more customers through search. 

Factors that help you rise in the rankings:

One of the most effective SEO strategies is to collect more reviews. The more reviews a business has, the higher Google will place them in search results. Here’s why:

“Reviews (along with an owner’s response) show that consumers trust a business, and trust is a foundational factor in ranking.” - Local Search Ranking Factors by Moz

Gathering and responding to reviews is an inexpensive SEO strategy that any business can start working on right away. And again, it’s proven to bring you more traffic that you can convert into new customers and increased revenue.

Other Important Factors for SEO

Aside from reviews, there are other factors that Google considers when it returns search results. Although today we’re focusing on reviews, here are 3 other things you should address if you want to improve your SEO:

  • Make sure your Google My Business profile is filled out. Add as much information as you can: hours, contact information, locations, and any other details a searcher would want to know. Start with Google’s guide.
  • Generate buzz about your business. When a local news outlet or business partner writes about your business online and links back to your website, that creates a “backlink.” The more backlinks you have from reputable sources, the higher you’ll rank on Google.
  • Create relevant, interesting, local content for your website. Google will scan your website looking for keywords that match common Google searches. Make sure your website is clear and describes everything you have to offer. If possible, create a landing page for each of your locations.

So, How Many Reviews Do You Need?

Maybe your business already has over 100 reviews, or you might just be seeing your first few Google ratings trickle in. If you’re wondering exactly how many reviews you need to show up in the first search result spot, the answer is unfortunately not clear cut. 

Since every area and industry differ in reviews, there isn’t a magic number of reviews you need to meet. To set a goal, you can start by pretending you’re a prospect and searching for your category on Google. Then, see how many reviews the companies in the top search result spots have. That’s the range to aim for.

Read more: How Many Google Reviews is Enough

Always keep in mind that it’s not just the number of reviews that matter - it’s also the recency, quality, and responses. If your reviews are all over 6 months old or more, that might be holding you back. Try asking more recent customers for detailed reviews and quickly responding to them online.

“The local packs for mid-to-large metro areas… now feature businesses with dozens of reviews at a minimum — many within the last few months. This speaks to the importance of a steady stream of feedback.” - David Mihm, ThriveHive

When building up a base of reviews to support SEO, lots of local businesses worry about bad reviews. The good news is that one or two bad reviews aren’t a death sentence. In fact, they can actually make your business appear more authentic by showing that you are receiving honest feedback, not fake ratings. 

How To Start Boosting Local SEO

Since time is your most precious resource as a local business owner, you should start your SEO strategy with the thing that can have the biggest impact. According to Andy Monte with Directive Consulting, that area is reviews:

“If I only had to focus on ONE area of local search, it would be to focus on reviews… Reviews are not only a major ranking factor, but can also affect overall user experience, click through rate, and can reflect the company's marketing/customer service strategy as a whole versus just looking at their digital efforts.” 

You can start getting more reviews right away by simply asking your customers to go on Google and submit a rating. Make sure your staff is on the same page so everyone knows that requesting reviews is a priority. While this is a good way to start building up your reviews, it can be a time-consuming process that requires many in-person requests before you actually get a review. 

If you want to expedite the process and take the heavy lifting off your own plate, you can use a platform like Swell to automate the review sourcing process.

Swell integrates with your CRM, POS, or EHR to automatically send review invitation text messages to customers who recently had an interaction with you. It sends your customized messages at the best proven times to get responses, and sends timely follow-ups for customers who didn’t respond. You’ll start seeing reviews roll in fast. And that means an easy boost for your local SEO.

Learn more about Swell here or give us a call at (844) 560-2626.

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