How Brick-and-Mortar Merchants Can Win at Local Search

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A battle is being waged online, as independent merchants struggle for top billing in local search results. According to Street Fight’s Local Merchant Survey, one-quarter (25%) of SMBs say search engine optimization is the area of marketing where they need the most help.

Part of the challenge for Main Street merchants has to do with fragmentation, and the fact that consumers are looking for local information on hundreds of sites and mobile apps, including Google, Bing, Yelp, and Facebook. Without a clear understanding of what steps they should take to improve their local search results across the web, many merchants remain frozen in time.

We asked six experts in the local search industry for their best strategies for “winning” local search. Here’s what they said.

1. Get the basics right. “The first step is to get the basics rights. Content serves as the basis for all of your activities. So, make sure that your business information is up-to-date and accurate across the major directories and search engines. With mobile making up more than 50% of all search activity now—and growing—customers are going to be finding you more than half the time on a mobile device. Your site should be mobile responsive, and you should consider specialized offers for mobile-based clients. Also, ensure that your website accurately reflects your brand and provides users with an easy and effective way to understand why they should do business with you.” (Melissa Burghardt, YP)

2. Give the complete package to Google. “In general, to ‘win’ at local search for competitive terms, you want to present the ‘complete package’ to Google. You need a well designed, well built, and optimized website, extensive and well-written long-form content on your topic area, accurate and complete citations across all of the important general and industry-specific sites, plenty of positive customer reviews across a diversity of sites, quality links from local and industry-relevant sites, and local media mentions.”(Darren Shaw, Whitespark)

3. Generate lots of positive reviews. “Reviews are a critical social signal signifying both the quality of the business as well as its popularity. Creating a review generation program to solicit reviews from customers and to respond to negative—and positive—reviews is critical.” (Trevor Sumner, LocalVox)

4. Get local links. “This is a serious difference maker in local search. Most businesses have very few links. Five to 10 quality local links can make a significant impact. Look for link opportunities in your relationships with other local businesses, do something newsworthy, like a Halloween candy buyback program, offer senior, military, or student discounts, offer a scholarship in your industry, or sponsor local fundraisers. It’s not enough to just do these things and hope for links though. For things like newsworthy events, discounts, and scholarships, you need to spend the time to find people who would be interested in those things and tactfully suggest they add a link if they reply positively.” (Darren Shaw, Whitespark)

5. Sponsor your local neighborhood. “Sponsor local events, like farmer’s markets if you are a restaurant, and then highlight those events on your website. You can also talk about your sponsorship on Facebook and Twitter, mentioning how proud you are to work with local charities and schools. Then have the event organizers link to your website to ‘learn more’ and mention your sponsorship on social media. Blogging about the local event can be as easy as posting images and testimonials from attendees after the event.” (Raj Nijjer, Yext)

6. Leverage existing relationships. “Any existing business already has customers. And they have relationships with those customers. These relationships are very powerful marketing tools if used correctly. Keeping in contact with a customer is great for driving repeat business, but it can also be used for getting customers to spread the word about your business. They can write reviews online—you just have to ask—which boosts you ranking and search conversion. They can promote you socially if you give them a good reason — offer them a discount for sharing your content or ‘liking’ you.” (Myles Anderson, BrightLocal)

7. Distribute content across the web. “Increasingly, Google will be looking at more than just citations across the web but real word of mouth—both earned and owned media. Distributing out content with a PR strategy or an outbound marketing solution will do more for you than just link and citation building.” (Trevor Sumner, LocalVox)

8. Get active in online communities. “When it comes to SEO, or getting better ‘free’ search results, content is king. Write blogs or other articles and be active in social communities where you can create a reputation as a trusted expert. Also, create short form video ‘how-to’s’ and other educational snippets to position your business.” (Melissa Burghardt, YP)

9. Don’t forget your social profiles. “Do you ever notice that a specific business’ Yelp profile can show up on the front page of Google? Almost no one is building links to their Yelp and Facebook profiles, but they should as another asset in their SEO strategy. Just because it’s not your website, doesn’t mean you can’t use it to rank and push your competitors off the front page.” (Trevor Sumner, LocalVox)

10. Measure, analyze, and see what is working. “A strategy is only as good as the data you are measuring against so make sure that your focus isn’t only on building pages and citations, but how real conversions are driving value back to your business, like ranking, foot traffic, and online web analytics.” (Tyler Ludwig, Rio SEO)

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.