Starting a new business is exhilarating and exciting and I should know… I just started one myself! But I have an advantage over my local competitors because I have been working in Internet marketing for almost three years now. I don’t have to hire a marketing agency like Netmark.com to do the “behind-the-scenes” work for me. I know how important title tags are as well as a completely filled out local profile on Google+ and Bing Places for Business. I know how important citations are and how they fit into a local marketing campaign.
But do you?
Read on to find out how you too can take the reins on your own local Internet marketing efforts. Or, you could always just call Netmark.com and have me work on your campaign for you…
Where to begin your local SEO campaign
This should be a no-brainer (yet, there will be some push back on this): you need a website! A well functioning website is the foundation of a great local SEO campaign. Yes, it’s true that you don’t need a website to rank in Google’s Maps listings (more on that in just a sec), however, if you want to rank for more than just one or two keywords, you will need a place to host, publish, and promote your well-written and highly authoritative content. What’s that you say? Websites are too expensive? Bollocks! If you are strapped for cash and want a website, there are some free services you need to be aware of, such as:
Both of these services are 100% free and many highly successful businesses have found their roots in these two platforms. Are there pros and cons to using them? Of course there is… They’re free aren’t they? Free products are usually pretty limited in the “bells-and-whistles” department. Here is the rule of thumb for those who are on a cash-strapped budget: if you only want to blog for the sake of adding content, and couldn’t care less to ever build a website, use Google’s Blogger.com platform. The reason for this is because you’re going to need to create a Google account anyways and this will make signing into all of your Google tools much easier. However, if you know that you’re going to build a real website later on down the road, I cannot promote WordPress.com enough. WordPress is what Netmark.com is built on. It is what I built my website with and what you should build yours with as well.
A website is the perfect place for you to expand and explain your products and services, so you should at least make the development of a blog or website a top priority. Remember, these are options to use when you just don’t have enough money for hosting, a domain name, or a custom website. This is a starters guide.
I have my website, so now what?
Now comes the fun part. When you have a solid foundation to build a house on, the house will undoubtedly stand longer and stronger. You’ve heard the story about the house builder who built his home on sand… That’s like doing local SEO without a website! So once you have a website ready to go, you need to begin setting up the following tools:
You have undoubtedly heard of these tools. Google Analytics tracks visits to your website and provides highly valuable information such as new and returning visitors, bounce rate, and organic traffic among other things. It is a very powerful tool.
Google Webmaster Tools tracks your website’s “health.” Broken links, crawl errors, and sitemap management is all available to the savvy webmaster who’s goal is to keep their website running at tip-top condition. Webmaster Tools can also let you know if your website has been hacked so be sure to get this set up ASAP.
And then there’s Google+. Google+, specifically Google My Business, is the king of Local SEO. Google+ bridges the gap between your website and the world of local search by giving you the tools you need to interact with and modify your business information in Google Maps, Google+, and more. After a website, and after setting up Google Analytics/Webmaster Tools, Google+ should be where you go next.
Google+ and Local SEO: What to do next
First of all, you need a Google account – preferably the same account you used to set up Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Setting up a Google+ account is easy and pretty straight forward. Remember, you need a personal Google+ profile to create a Google My Business Page. Confusing? It really isn’t. A personal Google+ account is for you, the business owner. A Google My Business account is simply your business’ Google+ page which is also your Google Maps listing. A Google My Business account requires a personal Google+ profile (that’s you!) to manage it. Easy, right?
So now it’s time to fill out your new Google My Business listing. Assuming you have followed these directions to set up your new Google My Business page, it is time to do the following:
- Upload a business logo as the “profile” image
- Upload a good looking and sharp “cover” image
- Fill in the business name exactly as it appears on your business license/DBA statement.*
- Fill in the business address exactly as it appears on your business license/DBA statement/website. No P.O. boxes or UPS store addresses.*
- Fill in the business phone number.*
- Fill in your business hours.
- Fill out as many business categories as allowed. Only use categories that are applicable to your business. Don’t misrepresent your business. Google will know. Google knows everything.
- Fill in the business email address.
- Fill in the website URL.
- Add images of your products and services.
- Finally, fill out the introduction information. Explain what you sell and what you do. DO NOT KEYWORD STUFF THIS SECTION. I cannot stress that enough. Google will suspend your listing if they detect over optimization.
*These are the three most important pieces of information Google uses to determine how your business is to rank, appear, and display across Google’s network, i.e. Google Maps. The idea here is to keep these three pieces of info as consistent as possible wherever they appear on the Internet. We call this NAP Consistency. NAP = Name, Address, Phone.
Finally, when you are done filling out your new Google My Business Profile, you will be asked to verify your business using a PIN that you will receive in the postal mail at your business. This is a verification method Google uses to make sure that your business really is at the location you say it is. This process usually takes about a week and a half. If you don’t verify by postcard, your Google My Business listing will not appear in Google Maps, and that is a sad, sad thing.
Google Publisher Markup and the Knowledge Graph
While waiting for your PIN number to arrive, there are many things you can do to get ahead of the power curve. You can start by using the social aspect of your page. You can share videos, photos, links, and business info using the Google+ side of your Google My Business listing. It’s very easy to get started and doing so will allow your knowledge graph to begin showing your most recent and important posts to the world.
What’s a knowledge graph, you ask? When you have installed Google Publisher Markup (click here to get started with that), something really cool appears when somebody searches your brand or business. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but, take a look at the image above to see what I mean. This is what a Google search for my business turns up. Do you see the big box of information to the right of the search results for “Idaho Falls Marksmanship Instructors?” That is called the knowledge graph. This gives searchers very important information about your business at a glance. Pretty cool, huh?
But remember, the knowledge graph will only appear if you’ve got your publisher markup installed correctly.
These are the very first things I complete for my clients and what I completed for my own business when I started. It’s just common sense, guys! Your visibility will increase as you use these tools everyday so start writing and sharing great and engaging content ASAP!
Good luck out there and remember, if it isn’t local, it doesn’t matter!