Local SEO is a sticky subject. Relatively new on the SEO scene (compared to the days of keywords and meta tags, at least), local search results are a new and important way for both local and national businesses to reach extremely localized markets.
And for good reason: according to a report by BIA Kelsey, in 2015 there will be over 110 billion local searches on mobile devices alone. Pair that with the 2013 Google blog post claiming that 70% of mobile searches call a business directly from search results and we’re looking at a 77-billion-part pie waiting to be divvied up. If you can capitalize on good (nay, GREAT) local SEO, you can see a substantial increase in not only your online traffic but, as a result of your optimization, also a substantial increase in the number of calls that come to your website.
Let’s entertain a hypothetical. Let’s say I’m a single guy living in Tallahassee and, because of my perennial bachelorhood, have never learned how to clean carpet and rugs despite my almost incessant propensity to create stains on the various textile surfaces that adorn the ground of my home. Furthermore, let’s say that I was eating a bag of Cheetos last night and accidentally spilled them out onto the ground and then also accidentally stepped on them, grinding neon orange dust into the deep recesses of the fancy Berber rug I bought on eBay last year when I went through the three day phase where I decided I needed to project the idea (via furniture) that I’ve got my life together. Anyways, not that this happened, but it totally may have and when it hypothetically did, I needed to find somebody in Tallahassee to clean it. Enter these two very different local search results:
Interesting, huh? When inputting a fairly vague yet also direct search, I get two very different sets of local search results highlighting 14 different potential clicks and 10 different companies. Seven of these companies have Google reviews (hint: those are the ones I’ll check out first) and only three of them have star ratings. What I’m getting at is that if your business is in any sort of similar environment to these businesses, you could take sometime to invest in your local SEO and KILL IT the next time somebody is local is trying to purchase a service you specialize in. It’s also important to note that both local and national companies showed up in this search result. Although you might not be the owner of Stanley Steemer, if you (or the company you’re working for) have a regional presence in several cities, this guide to local SEO and its optimization through virtual phone numbers is still going to be extremely valuable. “Okay, great,” you say. “I get that I need local SEO for my rug cleaning company and all of its branches in the 5 surrounding cities we service – now what?” Now you need to begin the process of making sure that each corresponding web page for your respective businesses is going to have the correct formatting to ensure that Google knows it is, in fact, the best local rug cleaning company that exists. (Yup, consider buying www.[yourbusiness][yourCity].com for every municipality you do business in right now.)
Make Sure Your Business Name is Consistent
You’re going to be making a Google+ profile for your business, claiming your various review pages (google places, yelp, etc…), writing content on those pages, and updating various local and regional directories all pertaining to your business. You’d better make sure that you use the same name. If there is evidence that Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service and Blake’s Rugs are two different businesses, the cumulative SEO efforts are nil. Besides this being branding 101, it is extremely important to lay a consistent foundation for the work that will follow. It should also be noted that, when you make your business name consistent, I don’t mean across all branches – just across all profiles. So when you begin to take ownership over digital space for Blake’s Rug Service Tallahassee and Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service Pensacola, you’ll use the same name in every occurrence for those respective businesses when creating the various profiles that will help boost their local SEO.
Use the Right Tags
Websites are an organized hierarchy of HTML markup. Inside this HTML markup exists tags. When creating the tags for your website, you are going to need to stress the locality of your business in every one. This is how search engines will crawl through your website and understand that Blake’s Rug Service Tallahassee is indeed a rug service in Tallahassee. Here are examples of each tag and how they will look in your HTML file.
The title tag is the single most important aspect of your online presence. When you see your company show up in a search engine listing, what they’re reading as the headline is the title you’ve saved. So when I type in
<title>Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service: Best in Tallahassee, FL!</title>
it looks like this on a Google search results page: You’ve got 55 characters to make an impact, so make sure you include everything you do as well as your location. To test out potential titles, you can use this useful emulator.
City and State in H1
H1 tags are the header for your pages. While you’re going to want to avoid cramming your H1 headers full of unnatural keywords, it is important to make it known where you’re doing business. It will look like this:
<h1>Blake’s Rug and Carpet Service in Tallahassee, FL!</h1>
And then show up on your page like:
Blake’s Rug and Carpet Service in Tallahassee, FL!
Don’t use more than one of these per page and make sure that they convey only the most top-level information. You’re going to want to use your H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6 tags for lower level information.
City in URL
Remember how I said you’re going to need to buy new URLs for each of your branches? If you’ve only got one location, this doesn’t really pertain to you (unless the currently URL doesn’t include the city you’re located in) but if you’ve got a business or you’re working for a business which needs to project a local presence in many areas, putting the city name in your URL is extremely important. This means that as Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service expands, we’re going to want to be using the URLs:
This is going to boost our search ranking in local listings much faster than if we were still using the singular www.BlakesCarpetandRugService.com. We can still use that and it might show up higher in searches if we ever decide to start selling rug-cleaning products in an eCommerce setting, but for the time being, the main drivers of leads will be the city-specific domains.
City and State in Content
This is kind of a no-brainer, but if you’re writing content for your business in Tallahassee, you’re going to want to mention that it is, indeed, in Tallahassee. It is also important to understand that your content for each city website is going to need to be different from the rest. If you merely duplicate the content from one site and copy + paste it on the others, you will suffer significant penalties. The theme of the content can be the same and it can hold the same keywords and links to social profiles, but if you’re really trying to capitalize on the billions of people who are using local search, you’re going to need to invest in specialized and pertinent content based on the service and unique location.
City and State in Alt Tags
Alt tags are the alternative descriptions you give to images that are uploaded onto your website. While they are not as important as they used to be in hard search ranking, they are still very useful when using image search. Your alt tag should describe the image, not merely be a cluster of semi-related keywords. This, inturn, demands that your images on your website are strong and depict action. An example of this would then be a picture of one of your employees doing their job with the alt tag explaining what they’re doing.
<img src=http://example.com/example.png alt=”Cleaning a Customer’s Rugs in Tallahassee, FL”>
This would dictate all the pertinent information to search engines, not only increasing your local SEO rank, but also increasing your image search rank.
Embed a Google Map
Google Maps are a great way to exactly let your customers know where you are. By embedding a map with your exact location onto your page, it not only drives leads to your website, but also acts as more information that search engines can draw from to create a better user experience (i.e., putting your well-crafted business at the top of the results list). If you are unfamiliar with how to embed a Google map, they offer a great tutorial on their blog.
Get Citations From Relevant Sources
When trying to understand how to garner a higher search placement for your local business, consider that each city has a certain amount of juice. This juice is distributed amongst the channels that be and then redistributed again (and again, and again, if need be). It is your job to get as much of this juice as you can. Category citations are an awesome way of doing this. Moz put together a great list of all many citation sources based on industry but there are many more opportunities for you go get listed on sites, including local chamber of commerces (here’s a free template for an email you can use to get on their website), radio stations that advertise deals your company may be offering, local economic development groups, and any meetup websites that sponsor events similar to your industry. While there might not be a meetup group specifically targeted towards carpet cleaners, Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service would be wise to sponsor the local Moroccan Rug Society’s Tallahassee Chapter.
Claim Review Profiles
Including directory citations, you’re also going to want to claim your place on the all the reviews sites that are used by your potential customers. If you look at the search results posted above and look at which businesses focus on getting positive reviews, you’ll notice a definite correlation between who is getting the most clicks and who takes the time to drive reviews. Here are a list of some of the most popular websites and apps that post reviews. Generally claiming your location is extremely easy; each of these sites only requires a phone call, email from a verified email address, or code being input from a postcard you will have received from the organizing website.
Make Sure You’ve Got a Local Area Code!
You can put all the effort in the world into optimizing your local page but if you don’t have a local area code, the effort is all for naught. One of the biggest indicators search engines use when deciding if a business is indeed a local business is checking the area code of the business versus the area code of the city in question.
Virtual Phone Numbers
This might seem like an issue if you’re unfamiliar with virtual phone numbers. Where as before, you were bound to the area code which you inhabited, now a business who only has one main office in a central city but services other areas can purchase several virtual phone numbers (all specifically with area codes of the cities you’re looking to do business in) and then allocate these distinct phone numbers to each area in which they do business. With certain providers, you can also forward these phone numbers to one main number. This means that you could potentially have a locally optimized presence over a vast area while still only having to focus on managing one office. Each phone call harvested from a local search result would be pushed to the central hub. That customer could then be processed and the order (a carpet cleaning, for example) could be pushed out to the field agent in that customer’s city and *BOOM*, you’ve just performed marketing genius.
Taking SEO a step further with Virtual Phone Numbers
Virtual phone numbers don’t just allow for a more efficient customer acquisition/allocation process; they can also help you differentiate how effective your local SEO is. Because many hosted numbers providers include analytics for the calls you receive, you are now able to understand what percent of your calls come from online campaigns versus which calls come from offline campaigns. Although not all companies need to understand where the most revenue is coming from, all those who plan on growing do. Here’s an example of what a graph looks like that compares calls received from an online source vs calls received from an offline source.
As you can see, it shows that the more reliable daily driver of calls in this case is the internet; logic then dictates that it makes more sense to invest in expanding your web presence.
Other Features of Virtual Phone Numbers
One of the biggest issues local businesses face when trying to assert themselves into a new marketing niche with a different area code is creating campaigns that invite potential customers to call. If you see two billboards advertising the same product, and one has a long distance phone number while the other has a local number, you’ll be more apt to call the local phone number. This holds true for online search engine results and advertisements as well. If you want to target people in area code 313 but you’re in area code 540, consider getting a virtual phone number in area code 313 which forwards all calls to the 540 phone number you’ve got in your home office. You can also use multiple 313 numbers (all forwarded to the same 540 home office number) to track how effectively each ad or search engine result is doing. For example, if you’re running multivariate campaigns (let’s say that one advertises a discount special on rug cleaning, and one advertises a $100 bonus for referring a friend) having a different virtual number displayed on each campaign gives you clear insight as to where your advertising budget is best invested.
The data harvested from forwarded numbers doesn’t stop at what source the call came from. You also have the option to see when ads are more effective; how long each call lasted; whether or not the call resulted in a rejection, warm lead, or conversion; where the caller called from; and the caller ID. This data can be used to further tweak how you approach customers. If you find out that 90% of your carpet cleaning calls comes from the north side of Tallahassee, you might want to investigate why that happened. It might be something circumstantial (like if a local carpet cleaner has recently closed) or it might be something more usable (like that the average household size or average income of this area inclines customers there to get their carpets cleaned more often). It is the individual creativity and business acumen that you will impart upon this data which maximizes your results. Just as local SEO by itself will not guarantee higher profits, having a hosted phone number is only a part (albeit a very important one) of ensuring the success of your business.
One thing you’re going to want is the ability to set what phone(s) calls get forwarded to. If I, as the owner of Blake’s Carpet and Rug Cleaning, want to take a vacation, I don’t need to worry about missing any important calls when I’m on the beach in Miami. With forwarding schedules I can easily update my forwarding service to accommodate a change of numbers: for the week I’m gone to the beach, calls will be pushed to my cell phone. All the while, those calls still garner all that useful insight data. (This is also useful if you do emergency work. If a plumber gets a call at 4:00am to their office because a client’s pipes broke and nobody’s there to take the call, that’s potentially thousands of dollars lost. With a forwarding schedule based on your daily office hours, this isn’t something you’d ever have to worry about!)
Whisper Notifications and Call Recording
Beyond being the founder and CEO of the fictional Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service, I am an established dog walker as well. In order to save on business expenses and because 99% of my customers come from referrals, I’ve decided to use my hosted number as the same number for both businesses main contact information. Whisper notifications are the feature that I rely upon to make sure that I don’t gleefully answer the phone “Blake’s Carpet and Rug Service” when the person on the other end of the line just wants me to take their shiatsu around the block. In addition to whisper services, virtual phone numbers also allow you record calls from your customers. Recordings are useful not only to make sure that your employees are delivering the best customer service they can, but also because sometimes it’s easy to forget the little details of a conversation that mean so much to producing the perfect final product. With call recordings, you’ll always have those details on hand. Beyond usage as an in-area-code number, virtual numbers give you the sort of bird’s-eye-view of your call analytics that allows you to cut what doesn’t work and invest in what does work. If you’re curious about how much getting a virtual local number costs (hint: it’s less than $10), please feel free to check out our home page. If you’ve used virtual numbers in a way that I’ve forgotten to mention or have any other tips for local SEO, please comment below. There is no absolute paradigm for creating the best SEO and what works for you most likely will work for someone else, too!