SEO Foundations for Local Business
Implementing a full fledged SEO strategy can take a long time and potentially a lot of effort. However, building a proper SEO foundation for local business is not complicated and is easy to accomplish. There are a few tactics that any business can implement to create this foundation.
These tactics ensure your site is discovered by search engines, that your details are visible on maps and can help your website to stand out on search engine results pages (SERP) with enhanced snippets and details about your website.
Here are the Steps:
Claim Your Business on Google My Business
Validate your Website with Google Search Console
Enhance You Website using Structured Data Scripts
These methods work because you are helping the search engine crawlers to do their job better. For all of the sophistication behind search engine algorithms and AI, they are still software and need help in deciphering information about a website. As humans, we can easily discern the intent and function of a specific website. We recognize that a website is for a dentist, or a bakery/deli, auto mechanic, etc… For humans, the recognition is almost instant.
The search crawlers on the other hand are constantly working to evaluate the value and worth of a website with respect to its relevance from a user’s search. The key concept here is ‘relevance’ and this concept corresponds to the basis of SEO strategy.
In a nutshell the fundamental strategy for effective SEO is to provide relevant and useful content in response to search. And there are certain things we can do to help search engines perform this job better.
Even if you have no intent on pursuing a long term SEO strategy, implementing the methods shown below should be done for any business that wants to be discovered with localized search phrases - i.e. ‘restaurants near me’ or ‘chiropractors in eugene’.
Note: The first two methods below are specific to Google, but the exercise is relevant for search in general. For example, once you’ve validated your business profile to appear on Google maps, you’ll see that Microsoft has a similar feature for Bing maps.
Validate your business with Google My Business
If you are just starting a business, you may not know about Google My Business. Creating a profile on Google My Business is how you get your business listed on Google Maps.
If you are already listed on My Business, then this is a good time to update your profile. Many site owners create their profile but do not update their information on a regular basis.
Why is this important? First and foremost, claiming your business information with Google My Business establishes ownership and validates the website and location to Google. Secondly, this process creates what is commonly referred to as the NAP listing (Name, Address Phone) that appears in local searches on Google Maps! In addition to the basic NAP information, you are also able to add a profile picture, photos of the business, open days/times.
One of the most powerful features of the Google My Business listing is reviews! Creating social proof through reviews is one of the best ways to generate credibility for your business.
For more tips on how to automate the process for getting reviews for your business, see this post on getting more Google Reviews.
If you haven’t done so already, claim your business with Google My Business.
Validate your Website with Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a powerful set of tools designed to help website owners improve their site’s performance with search.
There are many things you can do with Google Search Console, but we’re primarily concerned with two core functions.
- Instructing Google to index your site
- Testing and validating how Google sees your site
Instructing Google to index your site
Search engines discover websites by crawling through sites and detecting links. If you have a website and contain inbound links from other websites, it’s likely that Google knows about your site. However, if you let the search crawlers discover your site passively, it’s likely that they will not capture everything - they will only see pages that they can get to from linking.
A better way to do this is to create a sitemap. A sitemap is a text or XML list of all the pages on your site (XML is preferred for reasons we’ll explain). A sitemap document can easily be created with a plugin, which will index every URL on your site in a format that is readily understood by Google and other search engines. Sitemaps created in XML format are preferred because they list additional details, such as ‘last modified date’.
Once a sitemap is created, it can be uploaded to Google Search Console. The act of doing this expressly instructs Google to index your site. Now, Google not only knows about your site, it knows every page and URL that you listed on your sitemap. Furthermore, with XML sitemaps it will know to periodically crawl your site and make note of any modifications.
This last part means that Google will automatically be aware of new blog posts, post edits, and other improvements and additions. All of these efforts help your site to be listed on search results if your content is considered relevant.
Testing and Validating How Google Sees Your Site
How do search engines really see your site? What if you put a lot of effort into designing your pages for what you thought was mobile friendly. If you made a mistake and your site has usability issues for mobile devices, it will hurt your results for search.
With Google Search Console, you can test your site and get alerts for issues like mobile usability. This helps prevent performance issues that you may not know about.
Google Console will also inform you about a lot of basic and important details that you may not be aware of. For example, the image below alerts you to an issue that Google found when trying to load a web page.
This is not something that is easily discovered by manual testing through a web browser. These are the types of hidden issues that can keep a website from being shown on search results pages.
Another benefit is a report of ‘inbound links’ on your site and which pages are the top linked pages from external sites. This gives you an immediate sense of which pages are potentially seen as valuable to others - and also provides awareness if you have inbound links from sites that may be undesirable or spammy.
Google’s search console helps gives you awareness, especially if you are not a full time web-admin. In addition, the ability to test your pages on Google Console becomes even more relevant when you start taking advantage of structured data features discussed in the next section.
Using Structured Data to Show Enhanced Results in Search
This last topic is the most complex subject in this article. We are talking about using ‘structured data’ to give search engines context about your website.
Although the topic is complex, (it can get very geeky very quickly!) it does not mean it’s complicated to use.
What is structured data?
This is a fancy term that defines information on your website that is machine readable and provides specific and clear meaning to the machines that read it. In other words, there is information on web pages that is only seen by computers and not humans. (It can be seen by humans if you look at the source - but it is not visible through the browser window).
Have you ever searched for a recipe and were shown search results that included pictures of the dish, along with step-by-step instructions? These are examples of how structured data can be shown in search results. In this example, the search results are called ‘carousel cards’.
For our purposes, structured data is useful because we can place information on our website that helps to inform search engines about our site. The type of information that is most relevant for local business are things like: address, phone numbers, days/hours open.
For example, your website probably has all of your contact information listed already. However, even though browsers can present this information to humans in a way that we understand that it is an address, phone number, email address, etc… - Google does not explicitly understand this context in the same way as humans do. It doesn’t know that the text and numbers are your address, or open hours, etc... To solve this, we can use ‘structured data’ to educate Google about the explicit meaning.
There is a very geeky world that classifies all of this information – but you can use tools to generate the structured data for you. The output is in the form of a script that gets added to your site, or to just a page. In the case of Name, Address, Phone, etc. you can add the script to all of your main pages.
Structured Data Generator Tools for NAP:
Both of these tools will output the structured data schema in a format called JSON-LD. The main thing to know here is that JSON-LD is the preferred format and it’s also the easiest format to load into your site.
I like the tool from Microdatagenerator better because it's easier to interpret the JSON script (cleaner and easier to read) but the one from Ezlocal below has better listings of local business options.
Here’s a made up example of what the JSON script looks like for NAP type structured data.
Once you get the script output, copy it and load onto your site. It does not matter if it is in the header, body or footer, as it does not affect loading times for your site.
This is another good reason to use Google Search Console! Make sure to test the script before you upload it to your site. Once you have loaded it on your site, be sure to test the URL for your specific page in Google Search Console as well.
You can test the raw script and your URL here:
The main benefit to adding structured data for NAP is that Google understands what type of business you are, where you do business, and understands important details about your business.
This is the type of information that helps you to stand out in local searches, especially when your competitors are not doing this.
Google Guidelines for Structured Data
One very important note: Be sure to follow Google’s guidelines for structured data. Google works very hard to detect spammy sites. To be eligible for showing enhanced results in search queries, make sure to to comply with the guidelines.
Generally speaking make sure you only markup content that’s visible on your website or page. For example, if the page does not contains a recipe for apple pie, do not add a script with markups for an apple pie recipe.
Since name, address and place information is often included in the footer of your site, it is reasonable to add corresponding structured data markup on the main pages of your site.
Creating Authority for Your Site as a Foundation for SEO
If you are still reading this - good job! All of the techniques listed on this post will help you to create authority with Google for your business. If you don’t work with websites on a regular basis, some of this may seem technical. However, this is very easy to outsource and if it’s worth knowing the general concepts about these methods.
Additional information from Google about creating authority for your business here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/
To recap, here are the three steps:
1) Claim and update your business profile on Google My Business
2) Validate your site on Google Search Console
3) Implement NAP information on your website using structured data scripts