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Website Optimization Techniques for Local Businesses

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This post is part of a series called SEO Fundamentals for Web Designers.
Optimizing Content for Search Engines and Users
Help Your Site Grow by Properly Managing Links

Many websites target users from all over the world. Amazon ships internationally, websites such as this one have visitors from every part of the planet. The internet truly is a global phenomenon. However, not all businesses are active worldwide, sometimes they just want to improve their visibility for local customers. Say hello to Local SEO!


How Local Search Works

Local search results can vastly improve certain search queries. If you’re looking for a café in Paris, it’s nice to quickly see them in Google maps. Or if you need to find a doctor nearby, Google will automatically show you a list of local practitioners.

This type of local information can be triggered intentionally or otherwise. That’s why we can divide these search queries into two groups:

Implicit Location Search

Google knows that certain search queries are location sensitive. When you search for ‘accountant’ or ‘doctor’, the chances are that you’re looking for an accountant or doctor nearby. These are implicit location search queries because you didn’t specify a city.

Nevertheless, Google will show local search results. On the right side of the SERP we can see a map with local businesses. Click on the map to see these locations in Google Maps.

local search map in google

There are two ways Google can become aware of your location. First of all, you can enter it manually via Search Settings > Location (click on the cog wheel in the top right corner). Keep in mind that you can only specify a location within the country of your current Google domain, for example a French address on google.fr. If you don't specify your location Google can automatically detect your location based on your IP address.

Explicit Location Search

Location-specific search results can also be triggered intentionally. If you add a location to a search query, Google will show you location based results.

For example, if we search for ‘used cars Amsterdam’, Google will give us a list of car dealers in Amsterdam, Holland. We triggered the location-based search algorithm by adding ‘Amsterdam’ to the search query.

This type of location information can be accessed all over the world (unlike implicit location searches that show local businesses based on your current location). Explicit location searches are really handy for planning your next holiday.


Who can Benefit from Local SEO?

Any business which gets most of its customers locally can benefit from local SEO; the type of business doesn’t matter. Local SEO can be as helpful for a local barber as it is for a furniture business. The size of your business is irrelevant.

Even if you have a business in multiple locations, for example a small chain of cupcake shops, you can still benefit from local SEO. We’ve dedicated a separate chapter to these tips.


Improve Your Site for Local Search

Time to get our hands dirty! Let’s see what we can do to improve the visibility of our site for local search queries. There are several actions you can take:

Google+ Local

In the past, Google Places was used to connect your business with local customers. However, because of Google’s focus on Google+, this service has been embedded into the company’s social media channel.

Your Google+ listing is used in the search engine results (as illustrated below). Google displays the business name, address, phone number, images and location on a map. Zagat reviews are also incorporated.

bits n bites in google+ local

Choose the Correct Domain Extension

A country-specific domain extension is an important indicator for search engines to associate a website with a geographic location. A website with the domain extension .de for example, probably has content for German visitors.

If you have a neutral domain extension (.com, .org, .net...) you can use Google Webmaster Tools to link your site to a certain geographic region. Log in to your account and go to Configuration > Settings. On this page you can choose the geographic target of your site.

Content

Make sure your business address is visible in plain text on one or more pages (preferably every page). This can help search engines more effectively list your site to local users. You can, for example, add your address to the footer or mention it on your contact / about page. Visitors will also appreciate it when they can quickly find your business address.

You can give search engines some extra clues about your location by optimizing your pages. This can be done in the same manner as optimizing a page for a certain keyword. Make sure that you use the location of your business in the URL, page title and content.

For example: the Sir Plantin hotel in Antwerp uses its location (Antwerp) in the URL, title and meta description, as you can see from this search snippet:

sir plantin hotel antwerp

Structured Data

We’ve talked about structured data before in one of our previous articles. Structured data is used to generate rich snippets, which can improve the CTR of your pages in the SERPs.

Structured data can be used to identify organizations, including the business address. By using microdata, microformats or RFDa to mark up your address on your website, search engines can rely on this information.

Let’s say we have the following address on a website:

Big John’s Seafood Shack

3002 Webbs Chapel Rd

Dallas, TX

We can use structured data (in this case microdata) to identify the address:

<div itemscop itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<span itemprop=”name”>Big John’s Seafood Shack</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>3002 Webbs Chapel Rd</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>Dallas</span>, <span itemprop=”addressRegion”>TX</span>
</div>
</div>

Test your markup with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

Other Websites

Google sources location information from other websites too. The link profile of a website is still a strong ranking factor. If you can build links to your site with an anchor text that includes a location, your local search listing will improve.

Local directories such as Yellow Pages, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. also serve as a source of location information for search engines. A listing on these pages can also help you conquer some SERP real estate.

KML File

Another source where Google gets its location information from, is a KML file. KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language. These kind of files are used to determine the exact location of a business via its latitude and longitude. Since march of 2007 Google is indexing these files.

Arjan Snaterse wrote a tool, called the ‘Geo Sitemap and KML generator’ that can help you with the creation of a KML file. The creation of a separate Geo Sitemap has become redundant because Google has stopped supporting them since the beginning of last year. Simply add the URL of your KML file to your existing sitemap without specific tags.

Let’s take a look at the content of the KML file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<kml xmlns="http://www.opengis.net/kml/2.2">
  <Placemark>
   <name>Name of your business here</name>
   <description>A short description here.</description>
   <Point>
     <coordinates>51.105691,4.640157,0</coordinates>
   </Point>
 </Placemark>
</kml>

There are three things that need to be changed: the name of the business, a short description and the coordinates. The coordinates contain the longitude, latitude, and optionally the altitude. You can find these coordinates via Google Maps. Simply right click on a location and select ‘What’s Here?’. The longitude and latitude will pop up in the search bar.


Multiple Locations

Matt Cutts from Google wrote a blog post on how to handle multiple locations. He tells us that it’s best to create a unique URL for every location, for example: website.com/stores/las-vegas and website.com/stores/washington. On these pages you can lists the store’s address, phone number, business hours, etc.

If you have created a separate page for multiple locations, try to add unique content to these pages to prevent duplicate content issues. You can talk about the store itself, give directions to the location, show reviews etc.

One thing you should prevent is hiding store locations behind a search form. This makes it difficult (if not impossible) for search engines to find them. You can solve this by creating a HTML sitemap.


Moving to a New Location

But what happens if your business recently moved to a new location? Unfortunately, local search information isn’t updated automatically. There are several actions that need to be taken to make the data reflect the current situation. David Mihm wrote a great article that explains everything into detail.


Conclusion

There are several techniques that can improve your visibility for location-specific search queries; optimizing your pages, adding structured data, uploading a KML file, creating a Google+ Local page and doing some link building can help you a lot. And if your business has a store or office in multiple locations, it’s best to create a unique URL for every location.

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