Running a local, small business is tough. Trying to stay profitable while maximizing your time and advertising spend is also tough, so it’s best to do your research and play the best hand of cards you can to win the local search game. You’ve heard content is king, links are the only thing that matter, just buy some PPC ads, join Yelp or Home Advisor or Angie’s List, buy space in the local phone book, join the Chamber of Commerce or BBB, etc. I could go on and on with various ways to spend your time and budget, but I won’t waste your time with that. You have to be willing to spend money to make money, and time is money! So, let’s skip to the brass tacks.
Local Search: The Bear Necessities of Local Search
Whether you’re running a new .com or your company has been around for the last two decades, there are a few things that are absolutely necessary to do in order to show up in Google’s local pack. Ironically, actually having a website is not one of those necessities.
Local Search Necessity #1: Google Map Listing
It may sound counterintuitive, but you don’t need a website to show up in Google’s “Snack Pack.” Google map listings are independent of your .com. While having a website may make the user experience more palatable for those searching Google, it isn’t a necessity. You can show up in the Google Snack Pack of local map listings solely by having a local map listing with the proper selected categories. In many cases, companies choose to use their Google+ page URL as the attached website to their Google map listing and refrain from even purchasing a website.
Something else to note on this, domain authority has NOTHING to do with Snack Pack ranking. If it did, listings without websites attached would NEVER outrank listings with attached well-established, authoritative websites. But as you can see in the screen shot above, listings without websites or reviews perform just as well as listings attached to websites.
Furthermore, you don’t even need a strong backlink profile to show up in Google’s local results – ESPECIALLY if you’re in a market or vertical with minimal competition.
In the example above, you’ll see “Shreveport Patios & Driveways” in the knowledge graph box and listed as the second organic ranking website. I can tell you definitively that the site has only two links as of the writing of this article. I built the site on a newly registered domain and have yet to begin the citation building process for the domain. However, with two links I can rank in the smaller market of Shreveport, LA.
Which is the more important of those links? Both links are equally important… they’re both links from Google.
Create a Google map listing! This is imperative if you happen to run a storefront business. With personalization and local search, Google more often than not takes into account the physical location of the person searching. If they happen to be two blocks or even two miles from your location, Google may just show you higher up in the Snack Pack than someone else due to your proximity to the person searching… but this is only possible with a Google map listing.
If you’re running a service area business or business not dependent on a physical storefront or brick and mortar location, Google isn’t as good at prioritizing relevant results in their Snack Pack but you still NEED these links from Google. Proximity of the searcher is still taken into account, whether you’re showing your physical location in your Google map settings or not. However, be patient with Google. It’s getting better at understanding non-location based businesses.
Local Search Necessity #2: Citations & Links
Citations and links are still extremely important for your company and your website. You want to be found if someone ends up checking out the online Yellow Pages to look for a company in your line of work. But since there are SOOOOO many online directories, which ones should you focus your time and effort on?
The honest answer to this is nearly all of them. Take advantage of platforms like Yext or Moz Local to help you build citations and links automatically. There are also several other companies out there that provide the same type of service, manually done as opposed to an automated submission platform. Whitespark and Local Site Submit are two such companies. For full disclosure, I am a certified Yext Reseller and have used their platform for over two years in various markets and verticals for clients. I’ve also used Moz Local when Yext was unavailable for a client and I’ve seen great results from it.
Whether you choose to use Yext, Moz Local or another similar product or service, you really want to be listed in all of the directories and aggregators shown above via Yext and below via Moz Local. Since most of the major aggregators require an annual fee to list your company, finding a service that incorporates several paid listings for lower annual cost is the way to go.
The end goal of all of these directory listings is to give you the maximum exposure in Google Search and to help you show up in the Google Snack Pack. This is especially important if someone is searching for you by name. Whether they end up clicking on your website or on one of your directory listing pages, they’re going to have to scroll halfway down the page to find a listing for anyone else and odds are you’re going to get the business.
Local Search Necessity #3: Write your number on the wall – 867-5309
Jenny, I got your number. I need to make you mine. Jenny, don’t change your number…867-5309.
Now that I’ve managed to get Tommy Tutone stuck in your head, you should understand what I’m talking about! Make sure you have your phone number out there and visible in the Search Results. Google has spent some time playing with the Snack Pack listings this year, removing phone numbers and going as far as to remove addresses from some of their snack pack listings. Google likes to rewrite your title tags and move things around on a constant basis, so the best defense is to start your meta description with your phone number. You may not always be shown in the Knowledge Graph, you may not always have your phone number extension shown in your AdWords ad, you may not always have your phone number listed in the Snack Pack. But there’s no excuse for your primary contact information not to be in your meta description.
Directories & Review Platforms Like Yelp: To Advertise or Not to Advertise?
There are plenty of places to list your company/website online. Yelp wants to sell you advertising. Super Pages wants to sell you advertising. And then there’s always the random phone call from the New York, Chicago, Phoenix or Los Angeles SEO companies promising to magically get you on the first page of Google within 30 days. (For the record, most of these shysters merely purchase a short run of Google AdWords advertising and call their promise fulfilled. You WERE on the first page of Google… for 30 seconds so they could take the screen shot and email it over).
This isn’t going to keep you where you want to be in Search or the paid advertising arena. While Yelp can claim 79 million visits per month, Google has over a TRILLION searches per year! When we break this down to monthly levels, we’re talking 83,333,333,333.3 searches per month – 83 billion! Be where the searchers are – on Google.
Do you still need listings for your company in Yelp, Super Pages, etc? Yes. These are important citations for your business, but don’t waste your money paying these companies for advertising space. If you’re going to spend money on ads, spend it where the searchers are – on Google.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The simple strategy above is just the beginning of a full-fledged, local SMB marketing campaign, but it should provide a good starting point for the basic necessities of marketing your business in local search. I’ve put your feet on the yellow brick road and pointed you toward the Emerald City of dominating Local Search. The rest of the journey is up to you, your team of professional marketers and your marketing budget.
Now sit back, relax and enjoy some of the best music from 1981 on YouTube.