In this article:
- What is SEO for small businesses?
- How to optimize local SEO for your small business
- 4 free ways to show up better in local searches
- How reputation management software can improve SEO
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a buzzword that every business student learns to parrot and consultants toss around like they know how it works. But what is SEO and how do you optimize it for your local business? Does SEO even matter for super-small shops? We’ll tell you below, and show you the free steps you can undertake to improve your ranking in local search.
The truth is, local SEO definitely matters. Some stats for you: nearly 9 out of 10 of people conduct online searches for local businesses, 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses, and most of your potential local customers trust those reviews as much as a personal recommendation from family or friends.
So whether you run a roadside taco stand, a pet grooming truck clinic, a pressure washing business, a nail salon, or any other local business, you need to be paying close attention to online reviews and to how you show up in online searches.
In relevant terms for small business, the process of improving your rankings in these searches is effectively “SEO.”
Why local SEO is vital for small businesses
One reason local SEO is vital is that, according to a recent report from Google, “near me” searches have increased by 200%. A “near me” search takes place when a (usually) mobile phone user searches stores, restaurants, hairdressers, auto repair, ATMs, gas stations, dry cleaners, and whatever else “near me.”
These specific, “near me” searches, as well as more organic mobile searches, are exploding in popularity, which can mean a nice jump in business for you—if you know a few key ways to show up better in these local search results. (See our list below)
Why SEO for larger firms is big business
For larger businesses, SEO has become somewhat of a dark art because search engines like Google are very tight-lipped about what exactly determines search performance and rankings. The truth is nobody outside of Google (and likely very few people inside Google) really knows exactly how Google’s SEO algorithms work, particularly as they are constantly being updated and Google refuses to tell anyone the details.
There are “best practices” and commonly understood techniques to improve website SEO: Optimize and be consistent with indexing and key terms on all pages. Don’t try to “game” the system. Don’t repeat content. Don’t stuff pages with keywords or farm worthless links. Don’t attempt to be what you are not… or Google will ding you and you’ll actually show up WORSE than before.
However, once those are done, the nuts and bolts of how to actually achieve further improvements are nebulous, which is why there are hundreds of “SEO companies” that will be happy to take your money in exchange for attempting to boost your enterprise webpage’s performance and/or your ranking in search results.
For small, local shops, paying for professional SEO services may not make sense
On the other hand, for small businesses without a strong, high-value e-commerce website with hundreds or thousands of indexed pages, “enterprise SEO” and its associated costs don’t make sense.
That being said, there are several easy-to-undertake things that small business owners can do to optimize and improve their business’ rankings in local search results, which is of course what really matters for small, local auto shops, hair salons, dentists, restaurants, dog groomers, etc.
Four free tips to improve local SEO for your small business
1. Claim all of your business pages
Before you can optimize your online presence, you need to OWN your online pages. Review sites like Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor allow reviewers to post content about your business even if you haven’t created a page there, and will continue to collate future reviews on that page until you officially claim it.
So, even if you have no interest in building a website for your business, it’s vital that you claim your business listings on all the relevant review sites. (For example, restaurants should also claim their OpenTable pages.)
2. Complete all the optional fields and add quality photos to your business profile on review sites
In our article “The top 5 things every small business should include in their Google My Business listing,” we go into greater detail, but the TL;DR version is: fill in as much information as possible—including all the optional content fields—and add some attractive photos to represent your business. All else being equal, the business with more information and relevant detail in its business profile will likely rank higher in a search than one with less.
3. Read and respond to all reviews
According to a recent article by Chatmeter.com, Google has confirmed that “responding to reviews improves your local SEO.” Just exactly what they mean by “confirmed” is open to some interpretation, but it does seem clear that Google acknowledges the importance of being actively involved with the online review process in boosting local search rankings.
Apart from that, it just makes good business sense to reply to your reviews. In addition to simply being polite (if someone says “thank you” or “can you help me with a problem?” to you in person, do you respond to them or ignore them?), responding to all reviews shows your current customers you value their opinions, and shows potential customers you are actively engaged in the business and that you take feedback seriously. This improves loyalty and attracts new customers.
Smart business owners also see reviews as valuable insights into their customers’ experiences. Large businesses pay millions to learn what their customers think… but you can get those insights for free from online reviews. Your customers may point out legitimate issues in your products, services, or facilities, and you can learn from them and take steps to improve.
The best reason? As we discuss in our article on how to respond to Google reviews, studies show what when businesses start replying to reviews, they increase both the total number of reviews received and their overall rating. And a better rating means more money in your pocket.
According to a Cornell report, a one-star increase in your rating can increase your revenue by up to 39%.
4. Work to get more reviews
Notice we didn’t say “buy reviews,” “bribe people for good reviews,” or “write fake reviews.” These hacks could get you in hot water with the review sites or, even worse, the Federal Trade Commission.
The best way to get more reviews is to simply ask—but ask in the right way. Don’t ask for a “good” or “5 star” review. Don’t promise discounts or free products in exchange for a good review. Just find ways to get feedback from your customers and encourage them to share their experiences online.
Go deeper: How to get more reviews
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