‘According to…’ is back! After a brief hiatus due to the 2012 London Olympics and SES San Francisco, my favorite blog series returns! In case you forgot, ‘According to…’ is a monthly post that offers insights and advice for various aspects of search engine marketing from different industry experts each month. Previous entries have provided tips from experts in retargeting, conversion optimization, hashtag marketing, and social media tools. A huge topic that is missing from this list is SEO. SEO is a critical element when developing an online strategy, especially if you want to take your local business to the next level. Search engines have made localization a huge part of their ranking algorithms and the dominance of mobile device searches have made a local SEO strategy imperative.
David Mihm is the first person that came to mind when I decided to focus on local SEO tips for this month’s entry. David is one of the leading experts of local search engine marketing in the country and has been in the industry since the early 2000′s. David’s blog, Mihmorandum, and website are go-to resources for local SEO stragtegies, tactics, and recommendations. David’s business creates and promotes search-friendly websites for clients throughout the United States and he’s excited about the opportunity to provide you with five strategies to optimize your business for local search.
1. Keyword Research for Local
Keyword research is a classic issue / question for traditional SEO and PPC practitioners…”Google never shows any keyword volume for search terms that include a geographic modifier. How am I supposed to do keyword research for my Local clients?” While you might sometimes get lucky using the Adwords keyword tool if you’re searching for “head” terms in a major metropolitan area, it can be very difficult to assess both long-tail keywords and ANY keywords for clients located in small towns. The best strategy here (hat tip to Mary Bowling) is to check out Google Insights for Search and drill down on generic keywords by geographic area. While you’re not going to get an exact number of searches, this tool does show the relative keyword volume for a much wider range of keywords in very specific metro areas.
2. The Places-Plus Merge
So, obviously, the hot issue right now is the switchover from Google Places to Google Plus. To be honest, even the experts are waiting to see how this change will play out. Currently it’s possible to claim a +Local page in both the Google Places Dashboard and via your Google Plus account (this one just opened up a couple of weeks ago). While the Google’s long-term direction is clear that Plus will be the primary interface for managing these pages, it’s still unclear whether undertaking this merge is a good idea for the vast majority of small businesses–the primary optimization vehicle on traditional Place Pages (categories) largely disappears on the Plus Page, but the ability to add much longer descriptions and links may be worth the tradeoff.
3. Local SEO and Social Media
I’m often asked by clients and prospects about some of the more hyped social media platforms (Pinterest, Foursquare, even Twitter). Awareness of these platforms is increasing in the SMB community but business owners are largely unclear how they should be interacting with them, if at all. There are a few examples floating around the internet of businesses who have been successful at generating new business with a small amount of time invested on social media, but by-and-large it’s something that takes a considerable amount of time that most business owners don’t have. For the vast majority of businesses, search traffic (and customers) coming from Google, and to a lesser extent Bing, is still going to provide much better ROI, whether the “I” is money OR time. And most experts agree that social factors largely do not impact Local Search Rankings. We’ll see if that changes as Plus becomes more prominent in 2013, however.
4. Mobile Websites
If you are a typical small business right now, one out of every five customers visiting your website is coming from a mobile device or tablet–a number that has grown 4x in just the last two years. And if you’re a restaurant or heavily foot-trafficked retail shop, that number may be closer to 40-50%. Now is the time to make an investment in a site that will respond to your mobile users. Typically the price of a mobile-friendly site is a fraction the cost of a traditional site, as there are a number of off-the-shelf vendors for this service that do quite a good job. Providing a fast-loading, easily thumb-clickable website may not bring you more traffic per se, but you’re likely to convert a much higher percentage of mobile visitors into actual customers as you wow them with a great experience on the go. And before I get any hate mail, this is a classic example of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ as I am well aware that neither of my primary websites (Davidmihm.com or GetListed.org) have a mobile version yet. Look for that to happen by the end of the year, however.
5. Siri Rankings
So, there’s obviously a lot of hype around Siri and the impending launch of Apple Maps right now. While long term, as I hinted at above, I think mobile is on track to overtake desktop search in importance, for right now it’s important to take a step back for some perspective in terms of how much sleep to lose over poor rankings on Siri. As I said above, about one in five searches is mobile. But only about two out of 100 searches is a Siri search, which is less than one-in-ten Local searches. So while this is going to be a huge area of growth going forward, right now, you should spend less than 10% of your Local SEO time, energy, and resources worrying about Siri.
Do you have any questions? Have you found success using some of the strategies that David listed above? Sound off in the comments below and let us know!