This is the third post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Previously, I’ve listed the most important aspects that influence your local ranking and discussed how to get the most out of Google My Business. Here, I’ll focus on another essential asset for local SEO: optimizing your website for local search. Learn why and how to do that!
- The changing place of your website in Google’s Local SERP Topography
Your website is one of your most important pieces of digital equity, and one of the fundamental components of a successful local marketing stack. It’s a crucial communication vehicle from you to your customers. Regardless of changing consumer search and social media behavior over time, it will remain a place that consumers visit. It’s the place to get more information about and connect with your business.
All that being said, it may surprise you to learn that your website makes up a relatively small part of Google’s local ranking algorithm. Google is famously secretive about how it ranks local businesses. But the experts surveyed for the Local Search Ranking Factors peg website influence at only around 14% for local pack results, and only 24% for local organic results. More on the distinction later in this post.
Your website is the ranking factor over which you have complete control, however. This makes it an ideal asset from which to begin your local marketing campaigns. Let’s take a look at the most important website optimization criteria (also known as on-site optimization or on-page optimization). Improving your performance across each of these criteria will help you rank better for local searches, and attract more customers.
Google has built a giant database of hundreds of trillions of webpages which its algorithm then analyzes and ranks. It does this by sending out scores of digital robots, or “spiders,” which visit page after page. They “click on” the links on each page to see where they lead. We refer to this activity as “crawling.”
As a business owner, you want to make sure that Google’s spiders are crawling your website and storing its contents in their database appropriately. The quickest way to assess your website’s crawlability for major hurdles to Google’s spiders is to enter this search at Google: [site:yourdomain.com]. For example:
Before you browse the list of results, take a look at the number that Google returns and judge whether it’s more-or-less accurate. For example, if you have a 5-page website and Google returns 1000 pages, or if you have a 1000-page website and Google only returns 5 pages, you have a major technical issue with your site. You may want to dive into that with the Yoast SEO plugin, or even bring in outside assistance.
The term site architecture, for the purposes of this article, refers to the arrangement of the functional and visual aspects of your website. Essentially it’s the hierarchy of pages within your site, and the hierarchy of content within each page.
When it comes to local search, there are a couple of key best practices to follow for your site architecture.
First, place your basic contact information in the header (usually at the top righthand side) and footer of your website. You want to make it as easy as possible for customers who land on your website to contact you or to make a transaction. No matter what page they enter first.
My friend Willi Galloway’s Perch Furniture website does an excellent job with this feature.
It’s also a good idea to have a dedicated “Contact us” page with more detailed information about your business. Make sure you link to this page from your homepage, and ideally from your primary navigation menu as well.
Contact page content
Your contact page should contain the same information you submitted to Google My Business (address, phone number, and hours). It should also contain an email address or contact form for customers who prefer email to voice calls. If you collect reviews and testimonials from customers, this is a good page to include at least a handful of those.
If you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar business, you should include written driving directions from population centers near you. These driving directions not only help prospective customers but also help Google identify markets you serve (more on this in the Relevance section below). Include an embedded Google Map too, as Google may track clicks for driving directions as a ranking factor.
If you’re a Service Area Business, your contact page should mention the major surrounding towns and cities that your business serves. You might even consider building a unique page for each of these major towns and cities. Link to them from your contact page and fill them with case studies and testimonials from customers in those markets.
Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat Marketing has put together this excellent example above.
Advice for businesses with multiple locations
If your business operates more than one physical location, it’s essential to create a unique page for each one. Including a unique page for each location helps your customers (and Google) avoid conflating contact information between them. It’s also the best way to expand your local ranking potential to multiple cities.
If you operate a handful of locations, link to the contact page for each one from the footer of each page of your website. If you operate more than a handful, link to a store locator page from your primary navigation or other utility menu.
Special markup: Schema.org
Schema.org is a code protocol developed jointly by the world’s top search engines. It’s created to make it easier for companies to structure the data they present on their websites. One of the most widely-used schemas is for business contact information.
As my friend Mary Bowling says, marking up your contact information in schema.org is like “handing Google a business card”. Google’s pretty smart, but rather than leaving to chance that it will be able to crawl your contact info, why not do everything you can to guarantee it?
It’s not clear that marking up your contact information in schema.org will directly improve your rankings. But it can give your organic results some extra visual impact, increasing chances that customers will click on your result.
Crawlability made easy: the Yoast Local SEO plugin
Whew! That’s a lot of advice to consider. Luckily, you can use the Yoast Local SEO plugin to take care of lots of it. You’ll have to add the proper pages to your WordPress-powered website and link them appropriately from your menus yourself. But the plugin handles most of the technical details required for your contact page, and I highly recommend it.
At the moment, the average consumer is surprisingly forgiving of non-mobile-friendly websites. 70% of all local searches, however, are projected to come from mobile devices within the next two years. So businesses that fail to prepare their websites for this reality are going to see customer conversions – and search rankings – drop significantly.
The SEO industry cried wolf on Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update a couple of years ago. But now the tea leaves are very clear that mobility will be a significant ranking factor in the coming years. You can prepare for the inevitable by making your website faster, and making it easier for mobile visitors to use.
Test your site’s mobile friendliness
Google provides this easy-to-use free tool to test how friendly your website is for mobile visitors. It warns you about any major suboptimal features, and renders a screenshot of how your site appears for the majority of mobile visitors.
Improve mobile user experience
Google also provides a detailed guide of how to improve the user experience of your website for mobile visitors. Key aspects of user experience to keep in mind:
- Does the width of your website automatically adjust to the screen size (“viewport”) of the visitor’s device?
- Does text automatically resize for mobile visitors, so that they don’t have to pinch-and-scroll to read it?
- Are your calls to action and other buttons large enough for people to click with their fingers and thumbs?
These kinds of adjustments for the mobile visitor comprise what’s known as “responsive” behavior. If your WordPress website is not yet responsive it’s time to upgrade your theme to one that is.
Make your site faster
And of course, one of the biggest website improvements you can make is to get your site to load faster. We’ve all been frustrated by sites that load slowly, or won’t load at all, on slower data connections. Sites that load quickly help build positive digital engagement with your business, and there’s some evidence to suggest that both load time and engagement with your content improve your rankings.
Conveniently, Google also provides a free tool to assess how quickly your site loads relative to others. This one is an extremely tough grader though! It’s rare to see sites score above the 75-80 range. Nonetheless if you want to supercharge your website speed, Google provides free advice for how to do it. Find it in the Possible Optimizations section of this tool.
Thus far I’ve focused mostly on the technical aspects of your website. But if your technically-optimized website features weak or irrelevant content, you’re going to rank poorly – and attract very few customers.
From a content standpoint, the goal of your website is to communicate a strong “scent” to both Google and users about exactly what products or services you offer, and where you offer them.
What keywords (keyphrases) to target
At the risk of stating the obvious: you want to be relevant for keywords and phrases that your customers are searching for. This typically means using generic layperson’s terms to describe your products and services as opposed to industry jargon. (Unless you’re in a very niche business-to-business industry.) An example from the medical field would be to use “ear, nose, and throat doctor” instead of “otolaryngologist.”
Keyword research is an entire sub-discipline within SEO and it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole. But there are a couple of easy sources for good keywords to target:
- Pay attention to the language that customers use in their phone calls with you (or your staff) and in emails and contact forms.
- Pay attention to the category terms that Google My Business returns when you type related keywords.
- Perform a search for each of the terms above and scroll to the bottom of the results page. Google will list terms related to the one you searched for, front-and-center.
Build a master list of these terms and match them up with pages on your website, one keyword to one page. It’s entirely likely each page will rank for far more terms than the keyword you target. But it’s good to keep your pages focused on a small handful of terms.
In addition to talking about your products or services, you should include your city and state or metropolitan area as part of these keyphrases as well. As I mentioned in the comments of my previous post Google has gotten better at detecting the area that a local business website serves – particularly for websites that use schema.org. But it’s still a good practice to sprinkle these geographic keywords liberally within your website.
Where to place your keywords
Your Title Tags are far-and-away the most important places to put your keywords. Note that Title tags and the Page or Post titles that you enter in WordPress are not the same thing.
To see what your existing Title Tags are, perform the “site:yourdomain.com” search I mentioned earlier in the Crawlability section.
The blue link text associated with each page in these results is the Title Tag of that page.
For editing your Title Tags, the Yoast SEO plugin is a godsend. Pull up your list of keywords to target from the previous section and add them to the corresponding pages. Personally, I like to use the Yoast plugin Bulk Editor (SEO -> Tools -> Bulk Editor in your WordPress dashboard) to make these changes efficiently.
Take some time in crafting each Title Tag, though. Don’t just stuff your keywords in willy-nilly and then tack on your city and state (or region or county) at the end. Remember that in addition to conveying to Google the terms for which you want your business to be relevant, these are the phrases that your prospective customers will see when they’re searching. So make these Titles enticing for visitors as well as keyword-focused.
For example, which Title Tag would you be more likely to click on?
Car Insurance Agent – Luxury Car Insurance Agent – Car Insurance Agency – Portland, Oregon
Portland’s Top Locally-Owned Car Insurance Agency since 1954: Smith Insurance
I’d certainly choose Option 2, and most of your customers would also.
It’s also a best practice to include your target keywords in your WordPress page/post titles and other headlines. Nevertheless, it’s far more important to write these for your visitors than it is to write them for Google.
The final place to use your keywords is within the text of links you use on your website (known as “anchor text”). So for example, instead of saying “click here,” you might say “click here to contact our insurance agency” to help Google gain a little more context about what services your contact page is relevant for.
The changing place of your website in Google’s Local SERP Topography
As I hinted in Part I of this series, we’re moving into a world with more place-based (mobile and voice) results and fewer website-based (desktop) results. Increasingly, Google is trying to extract as much structured information as it can from your website and place it front-and-center in the Knowledge Panel it constructs with the information from Google My Business.
This Knowledge Panel information will form the basis for voice responses from Google Home and other personal assistants. After all, listening to an assistant read an entire webpage after you asked it a question would not be much fun!
This shift is why the Crawlability section above was the longest part of this article. It’s important that your website give Google (and visitors) a strong sense of what you do and where you do it, but it’s even more important that Google can crawl that information, assimilate it, and present it in a structured format.
As a result, tactics like Schema.org markup and tools like the Yoast Local SEO Plugin that help structure information about your business are becoming that much more important. Your content is still critical, but start thinking of your website primarily as a data source for the Knowledge Graph and as a customer destination secondarily.
- Ensure your website is crawlable with the site:yourdomain.com search. Note the number of results.
- Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly and Page Speed tools to ensure your website converts the most mobile visitors possible, and make it easy to contact you from the top and bottom of every page.
- Build a unique contact page for each location that you operate and mark up your location information in Schema.org with the Yoast Local SEO Plugin.
- Use keywords relevant to your products and services that your customers are searching for, especially in your Title Tags and internal links.
- Continue to monitor your Knowledge Panel, and those of other businesses in your industry, for additional structured information sought by Google.