12 Local SEO Mistakes Small Businesses Can Avoid

Today I attended a local SEO workshop hosted by Localogy, the leading industry association for local marketing. The Localogy community includes Google, Microsoft, and a little farther down the list, yours truly at Deep Drawer. The takeaways from this workshop apply to most local businesses, but I wanted to take a moment and synthesize these learnings specifically for small and local businesses.

Here at Deep Drawer, we help our clients put their best foot forward to attract, convert and delight prospective clients with their expertise and services. Local SEO is at the heart of what we do because many of our clients are inherently local businesses. They operate in the real world, where distance, shipping charges, personnel availability and knowing your way locally are the name of the game. But even though many businesses are local by nature, they often do not have physical storefronts, which creates a different kind of marketing challenge for marketing consultants like us.

So let's take a moment and review what the Local SEO luminaries at Localogy flagged as the 12 most common mistakes businesses (and their marketers) make...

1. Failing to Optimize Local Pages

Every webpage is an opportunity to express what makes your business different and appeal to a local audience. Taking care of your Google My Business profile is key, but it is also critical to remember that when homeowners find your business through Google, they will want to learn more before contacting you for a consultation or an estimate. Creating relevant, useful and localized content on your website is key to conveying useful information both to your audience and to the search bots crawling your pages.

Every local business should also work on establishing links with other organizations and business websites in the area. Local backlinks are a very strong credibility signal that lets Google's algorithms know that your business is trustworthy.

2. Neglecting Local Page Structure

This item is especially important for businesses with multiple locations or service areas. Remember to create a dedicated page for each distinct location and ad useful localized content. In addition to the city and state location pin, localized content and local backlinks will help improve the natural search visibility of that page. Make sure the information on your local pages also matches that in any external directories where your business may be listed.

However, avoid location-stuffing your website at any cost. If your business has one location, but you are creating separate location pages for each town and neighborhood in your area, you may be sending a spammy signal to Google. Always keep in mind that Google knows a lot about location, it can tell that Queens is close to Brooklyn, or that Ft Myers and Naples are part of one metropolitan area in Florida. There is no need to spell that out anymore, unless there's a real reason it is helpful to a human being visiting your website.

3. Inadequate, Thin or Duplicate Content

It is critical to dedicate time and attention to your local pages and ensure that they contain useful information for homeowners looking for a remodeling service provider. The best content is unique, hyper-local and custom-written to share helpful information about your goods and services for people living in that area. Make sure you list the services your business provides locally, along with useful details about how to reach you and what a prospective customer can expect from working with your company.

Custom, hyper-local content is a win all around: online users find useful information; you are putting your best foot forward; and search bots understand exactly what's on the page and why it is useful to a searcher.

4. Failing to Respond to Reviews

In the past few years, reviews and review management have become increasingly important signals of credibility and reliability when it comes to your business' search ranking. Google My Business has grown tremendously and is now the go-to, most convenient way for internet users to find service providers, among many other needs that can be met locally. We expect this trend to continue to grow for many years to come. Monitor your reviews and respond to as many as possible.

Too often, businesses respond only to the one- or two-star reviews they receive, looking to control the damage poor feedback can do. Today, it is important to respond to all reviews. Make sure your business maintains a dialogue with your customer base and you will be rewarded with higher credibility, as well as higher visibility. Credibility is the strongest signal that translates into a better search ranking.

5. Manual Listing Management

We often work with local companies that have decades-long track records and many happy customers in their areas. Yet, even after years in business, we find that their company listings on the internet had been managed only occasionally and manually.

The reality on the web today is that there are hundreds of online directories that may be displaying information about your business (luckily only about 80 of these directories really matter). Business directories get this information by crawling other directories, your website, and who knows what else. This endless crawling cycle can produce duplicative and often conflicting information about your business that lowers your trust score and confuses search bots. The result? Your search ranking suffers. Which leads us to the next pain point...

6. Doing Nothing About Rogue Listings

We mentioned before that most online directories gather business information by unleashing countless bots to crawl, index and scrape business information from the web, They are not doing all this work just for your benefit, they are doing it to collect data for themselves. Unfortunately at this point in the history of the internet, it is virtually impossible for any individual to circumvent the automatic updating process without professional tools (shameless plug, Deep Drawer has the tools). When there is a listing duplicate for your business, you are literally splitting your online authority in half, with yourself.

The only way to take control of this process is by establishing direct, automated connections to the influential directories and "claiming" your listing. "Claiming" simply means that our system sends a direct message to the business directory telling it that we are the only source of truth for your business listing. Once that signal is sent, our system also alerts us of any duplicative or rogue listings are out there for our client's business. Then, our team de-duplicates those and makes sure your company's information is clean and reliable across the web. Needless to say, search engines love clean and reliable information, which further improves the local ranking of your business.

Image Source & Read More at Search Engine Journal.

7. Not Following Google's Guidelines

This is both quite technical and too often overlooked by business owners and marketers alike. We get it, when you're a business owner, you have a myriad of critical items to worry about every day. How can anyone be reasonably expected to keep up with Google's Webmaster guidelines?.. Yet, simple mistakes like ignoring name equivalencies or setting your service area beyond 2h of drive time can really hurt your search rankings, and even get you suspended by Google.

If you do not have a physical location, do not use PO boxes or virtual offices, they are another sure way to raise red flags about your credibility as a local service provider.

Other key elements include making sure your business hours are correct and following Google Maps guidelines for listing your physical location, if you have one.

8. Not Using Images For Conversion

Images are extremely important for all aspects of your online presence. They affect your search ranking, your business profile, and your ability to establish credibility as a remodeler or builder and ultimately convert online leads into customers.

What we typically see when we onboard a new customer at Deep Drawer is that lots of images are available and posted on our clients' old websites, but they are not properly organized or labeled. And by labeling we don't just mean putting the name of the project as the title of the gallery, I mean labeling and tagging each image so that search engines can understand what's in it. To humans, a picture may be worth 1000 words.... but to a search bot, a picture without a descriptive file name or tag is basically meaningless. Make sure your website and business profile includes images that help users understand what services you offer, and that those images are properly categorized on the backend.

Pop Quiz: can you tell Google what's in this picture?

For example, if you are a kitchen & bath showroom with a physical store, make sure you add photos of your storefront and interior to your business profiles and label them correctly.

9. Failing To Use All Available Attributes

Alright, we may be getting into the weeds here, but it's important to know what activities will move the needle on your local search visibility. This is business-critical stuff, so please bare with me. Google has been adding an increasing number of attributes you can leverage on your business profile.

Have you noticed how some restaurants have icons and check boxes for curbside delivery, dine-in and takeout options? Those are called attributes. There are two broad categories of relevant attributes according to Google:

  • Factual attributes, like Black-owned, outdoor seating, or women-led

  • Subjective attributes, like whether your business is popular with locals

Be sure to review your GMB profile and add all attributes that are applicable to your business. This information will help searchers understand what your business has to offer, as well as what may set it apart from the local competition.

10. Not Activating Local Data

We all know that digital marketing is trackable, measurable and all about ROI, right? But is your business looking at that data regularly or making sense of it all? One of the most common challenges we see among our clients is that business owners are simply too far removed from the "weeds" of digital marketing. They are too busy in the real world to have the mental space and time to focus on marketing data. So your data goes on being ignored and underutilized while your business is flying blind.

Make sure your team has the scope for reporting on and analyzing your online footprint, or work with a digital marketing pro who can help you put this puzzle together. The companies that outperform their local competitors online are the ones making a conscious effort to invest and continuously optimize their digital footprint.

11. Neglecting Structured Data

In order for your website to achieve a high search ranking, it needs to be useful to humans and easy for bots and crawlers to understand. A human being may be able to read your hours of operation off of a cocktail napkin, but a search bot will not. What they can both read is structured data - good for humans, great for bots! Structured data is simply the use of certain web developer tools so that critical information about your business is presented in a way that both your website's users and bots are able to read.

Without getting too technical, make sure that you are using Schema markup to present your information neatly while sending clean signals to search bots on the backend. This helps Google display rich results about your business and is usually a huge untapped opportunity for our clients in almost any industry. It also improves clickthrough rates and user engagement with your website.

12. Sacrificing Website Performance For Heavy Features

This is probably one of the most common mistakes website design for small business. In an effort to dazzle and wow online visitors, we see companies building image-heavy, cluttered websites. This often produces the opposite effect... The page is slow to load and users bounce off, or it is so cluttered that your prospective clients become confused and move on to searching for answers to their inquiries elsewhere.

Even worse, slow websites are a strong negative signal when it comes to ranking your page. After all, Google's job is to find the most effective way to answer a searcher's query. You website may have the best information and written content, but if it is slow to load or the information is buried under piles of clutter, you lose points on helpfulness and efficiency... While your competitors with simpler and more logical websites win the search ranking game.

In Conclusion

Local SEO may seem like a constant, exhausting process of jockeying for search position. But the reality is that in order to succeed and perform well locally, we need to focus on ways to provide the most helpful information to our target audience. If you are an interior designer in San Francisco, add information about how your services can help a homeowner renovate a Victorian house... If you are a general contractor in New Jersey, perhaps information on winterizing a home is something your local audience will find particularly useful. The key to success in local SEO is always keeping your community in mind and taking some fundamental technical steps to prevent avoidable SEO blunders...

If you found this article useful, we have more marketing advice on the Deep Drawer Blog.

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