Trying to get ranked on Google can seem daunting for some small local businesses — especially if there are some established competitors (such as franchises or big box stores). Our clients are typically the small owner-operated businesses. And we have a good track record of helping these businesses get ranked locally. So, here are 11 tips to improve your local rankings on Google.

IN-SITE SEO

The first thing you have to do is make sure you have a solid website. There’s no point investing any time and energy elsewhere if the centrepiece of your entire digital presence is lacking. Here are three high-level things to consider:

1. Does your site have a good user experience? Websites that have a poor design or create a user experience that doesn’t allow users to easily find what they need could be ranked lower than those that do.

2. Do you have well-written content? Having well-written content that isn’t just stuffed with keywords is also really important. Try to aim for a length of around 2,500 words for the most important pages of your site (i.e. your products and services pages). Ensure the content is written in a tone that aligns with your business and not just written the way you speak. And grammar and spelling matter, too. Google can see problems just as easily as Word can highlight them for you. So, enlist the help of a professional copywriter if writing isn’t your strength.

3. Does your website have strong meta data? One of the oldest techniques in SEO is to just go through a website and make sure that every page of the site has a well-crafted page title, page description and URL. You may need to do some research using Google Keyword Planner or another tool to help you decide what keyword or phrase should be used on certain pages of your site. And, if you only operate in one city, then it doesn’t hurt to put the city right into your meta data such as “Landscape Design and Construction, North Vancouver.” Do this effectively and you’ve got a good foundation.

Here is a great article from MOZ that talks about how user experience and content affects rankings.

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS

For many local products and services, Google will show a map directly in the search results with the top 3 or 4 businesses listed just below the map. Users are clicking on these listings more and more which is why they often appear above the traditional organic listings. So, assuming you have a solid website, here are some tips to improve your Google My Business (a.k.a. Google Map) ranking.

4. Have you verified/claimed your listing? If you have a storefront or office where you meet customers/clients, you should verify your location. This adds a little verified badge to your listing and will automatically put you ahead of the competitors whose listings Google just created by scraping contact info off their website. Google My Business does this with a postcard system that arrives in the mail (to the address you’re trying to verify) with a little verification code on it, which you can enter in to confirm you actually are at a legitimate address.

5. Is your Google My Business information correct? Your company information should be filled in as best you can. Search engines favour businesses with complete and accurate details to make matching you to searches as easy as possible. Search engines also look around the web for NAP (name, address, phone number) consistency so ensure all mentions of your business at various associations and groups you are affiliated with are up to date. So, ensure every mention of your business online has the same contact info (ironically, we just moved offices so we have some work to do to update our own listings).

6. Have you set the best category in Google My Business? Be sure that relevant categories are selected, as this is instrumental in allowing Google to know what type of business you are relative to among the hundreds of other businesses in your local area. The categories may seem a bit limited for some businesses; however, choose the best one to at least give Google a starting point for showing you to local users.

7. Do you have special hours? Ensure you have these set up in your listing so customers don’t get frustrated being unable to reach you when your hours displayed indicate you should be open. These should be managed during holidays as well so people can view your hours right in Google.

8. Do you encourage customers to review your business? If you see a business with an average rating for 4.8-stars from 40 reviews beside a business with a 2-star rating and only 2 reviews… which one would you call? Getting 5-star reviews from your happy customers tells Google that you are a good business providing good products and services to other humans. Businesses with more positive reviews get ranked higher than those with negative reviews or no reviews at all. So, you should build a process for asking happy customers to write reviews for you into your company culture. It’s as easy as Googling your company name and clicking on the grey button in your listing that says “Write a review.” Just make sure people are doing it voluntarily. DO NOT pay or incentivize people to write reviews for you. Ethics aside, if you get caught doing this, you could be penalized by Google.

9. Do you share updates and photos? Adding photos to your Google My Business account listing, such as your business logo, and your goods and services allows customers to know what you offer quickly. You can create posts from Google My Business on your phone, tablet, or computer to share relevant new updates: Do you have a new product? New coupon? Special this month? A newsletter? These updates will appear along with your Google listing on Search and Maps, and can help increase engagement. Obviously, this segues into other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where you can build and maintain relationships with your local customers.

10. Do you interact? Customers appreciate businesses that go above and beyond! When you receive a review, you should always respond. When you receive a positive review, thank them for taking the time to share about your business. If you receive a negative review, firstly, do not shy away! Negative reviews are a great opportunity to show how much you care about your interactions with every individual. Your response should be professional and considerate with the option to continue the conversation on a more private platform, such as encouraging them to contact you by email, so you can help resolve the issue.

CITATION BUILDING

11. Do you have listings on any other directories online? Online directories, such a Yelp, or a local Chamber of Commerce, allow you to have more points of reference for Google. If your are listed in sources that also have a reputation structure (such as the Better Business Bureau), then it gives Google even more points of reference to rank you versus a competitor. Again, lots of happy reviews in other platforms helps as well, but start with getting 5-star reviews in Google My Business.

CONCLUSION

There are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. If you care to dive into the weeds, you can read these two great articles on ranking factors.

https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors

https://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors