Type in a generic search term for nearly any local service and you’re likely to see listings for national brands and retail chains. Local businesses have largely been pushed out of the first page of organic results for generic product/service keywords. Although Google displays a higher percentage of local search results for generic search terms than Bing or Yahoo, non-local, non-SMB websites still take up roughly 50% to 65% of the page-one space, according to a study by BrightLocal.
In order to get back on top, local merchants have to make a change in their SEO strategies. That means using more geo-modified terms, and it means relying more heavily on long-tail keywords — for example, “top hair stylist” or “wedding hair stylist” rather than just the generic “hair stylist.”
Here are six strategies for local merchants looking to compete for page-one real estate on Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
1. Syndicate content to major local publishers. “Local businesses should syndicate content to major local publishers and newswires — including news, deals, events sites — to compete on organic SEO. We have found that for our local businesses, over half of their organic rankings come from offsite properties such as Yelp, Facebook or NearSay — and optimizing and publishing to local third party publishers is critical — and often inaccessible to big businesses at a local level.” (Trevor Sumner, LocalVox)
2. Claim your Google+ profile. “Despite all the recent press about Google +, it remains one of the ways in which Google determines rank and can only positively impact a local business in the new ‘3-Pack’ design.” (Charity Huff, Tru Measure)
3. Check that accurate data is being distributed. “Ensure you have the most accurate data — name, address, phone — that you are feeding to the local aggregators. [These include] Acxiom, Neustar, Factual, Infogroup, Google maps, Bing maps, Apple maps, and Yahoo Maps. [You should also] review your local platform to determine if it is distributing your local data feed in the most accurate manner. Is it feeding to all the local aggregators?” (Steve Beatty, iProspect)
4. Start hyper-optimizing title tags. “Hyper-optimize your title tags, header tags, and descriptions to include zip, neighborhood and town/city. Often, big businesses don’t have the time to optimize their location pages to that level. Publish local focused content with local keywords, again, because large businesses won’t publish content for each location separately.” (Trevor Sumner, LocalVox)
5. Don’t forget paid search. “A strong search strategy should include both paid and organic. If a local business finds itself squeezed out of the local listings, and as a result is seeing a reduction in leads and phone calls, I’d recommend they allocate a portion of their budget to paid search.” (Charity Huff, Tru Measure)
6. Build landing pages with neighborhood-specific content. “Merchants should create unique landing pages for all their local locations, with content related to the area, specifically the neighborhood or zip code where they are located.“ (Steve Beatty, iProspect)
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.