Search engine optimization can be a scary topic for many marketers because it is constantly changing. The search engines regularly update their algorithms and use hundreds of factors to determine how websites rank on millions of keywords and phrases. Many small businesses struggle with the concept of getting to the first page of Google and think that because the bigger companies are always at the top, that must mean that they have no chance to compete. And while much of SEO is based on quantity and quality of relevant content and backlinks from reputable sources, there’s one element that local companies can leverage to increase their search rankings – adding local flavor to your website’s copy.
Why Local Search Matters
Google found that local search traffic pays off for businesses with a narrowly defined geographic footprint. A 2014 study revealed that half of consumers who searched for a local business on their phone visited a store within 24 hours, and nearly 20% of those searches on mobile device led to a purchase. ComScore did their own study and found that nearly 75% of local searches done via a mobile device led to an in-store purchase. The key element to such success? Being found in local search results.
To help get your business in front of local searchers with transactional intent, you’ll want to make sure to optimize your website copy for maximum local search appeal. Why? Because it’s easier to rank locally than to compete with national brands, and if search engines determine a search has local intent, they will show local companies at the top of the search engine results page. In plain terms, local businesses have a better opportunity to cater to local audiences than national companies by employing strategic copywriting and SEO best practices.
Here are a few factors that play into how Google ranks sites locally:
Where the searcher is geographically located, and how close your businesses is to them
How well your local listing matches the user’s search query
How well known or credible your business is, which can be determined by how many links point to your website from other credible and popular sites. The more credible you are, the higher your domain authority in the eyes of the search engines.
Conducting Strategic Local Keyword Research
When strategizing the best keywords to incorporate into your site, it’s best to start by conducting keyword research based on your company’s location. Using keyword planning tools, like Google’s free keyword planner, you can discover what terms people search on in a specific geographic area, and create a list of relevant keywords that you’d like to optimize your site around. It’s also important to look at your Google Analytics data and Search Console (Webmaster) data to discover keywords are already sending traffic to the site.
Infusing Your Site with Local Keywords
Long gone are the days where a site owner could stuff a page with keywords. The search engines are much smarter than that, so site owners must plan for local SEO from the very beginning of a project. Using your list of target keywords, map out your site architecture to maximize SEO ranking opportunities. Create dedicated pages for specific topics that have demonstrated search activity and then look for opportunities to maximize page URLs and site copy to naturally weave in these terms. Search engines want you to first write for users, so be sure to craft natural yet strategic content. Additionally, when optimizing your About Us, Contact Us, Locations, Meet the Team pages, make sure to add city, state, metro information near your prioritized keywords and phrases to maximize local SEO ranking opportunities.
Where to Optimize Content On-Site to Earn Local Search Traffic
Here are some of the best areas to optimize on-page SEO and suggestions on how to maximize local search results.
1. Meta Descriptions
A meta description is the page description that appears below your website on the search engine results page. This isn’t used to rank websites, but it’s what searchers will use to evaluate a web page when performing a search, and deciding on which link best matches their search intent. In 155 characters or less, you’ll want to get across what the page is about, what you’re selling, the benefits to the user, what differentiates you from the competition, and local context, like a location.
2. Title Tags
The title element of a page is used to describe what the page is about, in 55 characters, or the amount of text that will fit within 512 pixels. Include your target keyword/phrase in the title tag at least once and keep it closer to the beginning for maximum results. If you can fit in another variation or add local context, bonus points. It’s a best practice to include the brand name at the end of the title tag on all pages except the homepage, where you’ll want to bump the brand name up to the beginning.
3. Alt Tags on Images
The alt tag is the descriptive tag that’s associated with an image in your content management system (CMS). If an image doesn’t load on a page, or a screen reader is being used, the alt text will display or be read. The alt text of an image is also what an image search will use to prioritize results, which can sometimes bring valuable traffic to your site. Adding alt text to images is also a recommendation for an ADA conformance, according to WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
4. Body Copy & Headings
When writing your website copy, your keyword research is essential. You will need to infuse target keywords, variations of those keywords and long tail phrases to the body copy of your website and to your headings, or H1, H2s, and H3s. The headings are important areas that crawlers use to understand what your page is about. Think of them as a table of contents for your page. Don’t use the same heading on every page, and be sure to inject local geographical terms into these areas when you can. Remember, search engines don’t know where your business is unless you tell them. The goal is to strike a balance between writing for humans and bots, so when in doubt, go for the humans.
5. Page URLs
Another area on your site you can optimize are your URLs. Ideally, a page URL includes the focus keyword to strengthen the relevance to search engines and visitors. Use hyphens to separate words, and concentrate on maximizing the URLs of your location pages. For example, a site selling flea control products for dogs should name a product category page “/dog-flea-control”.
6. Location Pages
If you have many physical locations, it’s tempting to simply replace the name of your location on each page and keep the copy the same. Search engines will frown upon this because this copy lacks credibility. Instead, if you can create unique content on each location page, and reference things in that specific geographic area, you’ll have a better chance of coming up above your competitors in search. If you have multiple locations, you can even create pages to break up the locations by state or metro. For example, a regional coffee chain can have a page for each shop, mentioning popular menu items and nearby neighborhood finds so that the page feels truly local.
Some of the most important elements of these pages include having a map on the page, click to call functionality enabled on mobile devices for a phone number, a link for directions, and your business NAP, or Name, Address and (local) Phone number. This is becoming more important for mobile and local search and will give your company the edge in the rankings battle. If you are cleaning up your Google My Business or Yelp listings, you’ll want to include a link to the individual location page within your listing, not just your homepage. Explore additional tips for how to optimize your listings in this related ZAG Interactive blog.
Another place to add local flavor to your website copywriting to improve your search rankings is within any testimonials or case studies. These can be added directly to your location pages or sprinkled throughout your website. Wherever they appear, consider adding not only the first name and last initial of your customer, but the town and state that they are from. A local business in Sheboygan Wisconsin adds more search engine credibility when customers like “Fred H, Sheboygan, WI” and “ Wilma, Sheboygan, WI” have lovely, local testimonial quotes.
8. Blogs & Resource Centers
A great way to improve your SEO strategy is to add a blog or resource center to your site, and post quality content frequently. Once you have this set up, add local flavor to your blog posts. Some ideas for blog posts include talking about local events the company attended or is sponsoring, or the charity and non-profit partners that you are helping in the area. You can also comment on local news and include stories from your customers and how you helped. If you are providing educational content, add local elements that may pertain to what you’re selling. Also, think about what questions your customers ask, and answer them. Chances are if one person asked, then others have the same question, but don’t have the nerve or time to ask.
Try to put a local spin on these posts by using research tools and common sense. For example, if you type a phrase into Google and see related phrases appear, those are the most common search queries. This can be a simple way to conjure up topics for your blog, resource center or content marketing strategy.
Notice how a state name came up in this simple search?
Another tool for research you can leverage for free is Google Trends. This will help you find what the popular searches are around the world, country or local area. Google Trends will show you the interest level over time and throughout the world, and give you related topics and queries on the rise. Here’s the topic of insurance again for an example:
When writing your site’s copy, try to work in relevant things about the culture and the area, and add geographical terms in areas including your title tags, headings, body copy, URLs, location pages, blog posts and product pages. If you aren’t sure where to start, it’s a great idea to get an outside perspective and ask for an SEO audit to see what areas of your website could be optimized and revised. Then work with a skilled copywriter and digital strategist to put together a plan for how to refresh your site and continuously add to it.
If you’d like some help getting started or refining your local SEO strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out! Although we are a digital marketing firm based in Connecticut, we serve clients across the country. See what we did there? 😊