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For many small businesses in Baltimore Maryland, one of the biggest struggles is getting more prospects and customers, especially during the early stages of the business.
Local SEO can be an effective solution to that problem: by ranking high on Google Maps, we can get more traffic, prospects, and ultimately, visitors. How can we effectively implement it? In this guide, you’ll learn how, from registering your Google Maps listing to optimizing your listing.
First, however, let us begin by discussing the concept of local SEO.
Local SEO, in a nutshell, is optimizing your business listing on Google Maps. Quite recently, Google implemented a significant change on their Google Maps search results page: while previously Google listed 7 top results on the first page, now they only show three (commonly referred to as the “3-pack”.
Meaning, if your listing is outside this top 3 results for your specific industry and location, you will get significantly less visibility.
Is local SEO different than “traditional” SEO then? Yes, and here are the main differences:
* First, obviously “traditional” SEO is targeting the Google search engine as opposed to Google Maps for local SEO.
* While traditional or organic SEO relies on backlinks or inbound links, local SEO relies on citations (we’ll discuss it more below)
* Traditional SEO is mainly about developing content, while it’s also true to local SEO, it’s less prevalent
A common misconception we should first address is that local SEO is not about targeting local keywords like “restaurants, Baltimore” on your content. It’s a common practice in the past, but no longer relevant nowadays.
Why? Because for keywords that are tied to locations (try searching for “restaurants in Baltimore” now), the Google Maps results will be on top of any other sites, usually followed by list articles like “Top 10 Restaurants in Baltimore”. So, optimizing your site to rank organically for this keyword is very difficult.
Throughout this guide, we will assume that we are a new restaurant located in Cherry Hill Road, Baltimore, let’s assume the name is the X Bistro. So, in this guide, we will learn to implement local SEO for X Bistro in Baltimore, and how to ensure this restaurant to rank well on Google Maps (and thus, driving more visitors).
We all know how more and more people are now using mobile devices as their main way to search and browse on the internet. We should also consider the rise of smart home assistants in recent years from Amazon Alexa to Google Home to Apple HomeKit, among other products.
With these devices, “near me” queries became more common, especially when we are using voice search. If you are a brick-and-mortar business, not optimizing for these queries simply means missing out on a huge market.
Also, a Google Maps listing is a strong factor in encouraging prospects to purchase from your brand, with Google Maps reviews are now a very relevant social proof.
Long story short, if you rank high on Google Maps, more people will be aware of your business, and more people will trust your business. In turn, this will translate into more traffic to your listing and more visitors to your actual location.
All you’ll have to do then is convert them into happy customers!
Let’s go back to our fictional restaurant, the X Bistro as an example. If X Bistro can get the top 3 spots for the “restaurants near me” query when someone is searching near Cherry Hill Road, Baltimore, there is a high likelihood this person will click on the X Bistro listing. If the review for X Bistro listing is also good, there is a high chance this person will visit our restaurant.
Two main factors are driving your ranking on Google Maps listing: proximity and relevancy. Before we can optimize our listing to rank better, we should learn these two different factors.
In a nutshell, the closer you are to the searcher’s location (or the location specified in the search query), the better you will rank. For example, if a searcher is making a “restaurants near me” search from Cherry Hill Park, Baltimore, restaurants located in Reedbird Avenue or Cherryland Road will rank better than our X Bistro.
Yet, what happened if there’s another restaurant located in Cherry Hill Road, let’s call it Y Restaurant and the searcher is searching right on top of Cherry Hill Road? This is where the next factor comes in.
If the X Bistro is deemed more relevant than Y Restaurant by Google, X Bistro will rank higher. Yet, how does Google determine relevance? There are three main factors: how complete and up-to-date your listing is (including photos), your reviews, and your local citations.
So, Google Maps ranking is based on these two factors. We can’t optimize proximity (unless somehow you have an unlimited budget and can build a location on every inch of the planet), so our main focus to rank better in Google Maps is to optimize the relevancy of our listing.
For the rest of this guide, we will learn how with a step-by-step approach.
Above, we have discussed that our local SEO efforts will be focused on optimizing the relevancy of our listing. Yet, how can we do that? Here, we will discuss how in just five simple steps.
To optimize your listing, you should first have a listing. It’s fairly obvious, but still a critical step. There are also several details you might have missed when you registered your Google My Business account, and so make sure not to skip this part.
Here are some important considerations in this step:
* Make sure your address is complete and accurate. A good approach is to use the same address used by the USPS
* Specify your service area, if you can deliver your product/service to nearby towns or even cities, you can specify it in your listing
* List all possible categories related to your business. For example, since our X Bistro is specializing on steaks, we can list “restaurant”, “steakhouse”, “steak restaurant”, and so on. The more information you can provide Google, the better, but make sure they are all relevant.
* Optimize your introduction. You can include the relevant keywords here (i.e. “restaurant in Baltimore”, but your main focus is to make sure this section is well-written for human readers.
Also, make sure to verify your Google My Business listing. Usually, Google will mail a postcard containing a unique PIN to your physical address, where you can use the PIN to verify your listing. Verifying your listing is very important, so don’t neglect this step.
The main principle of this step is, the more complete and accurate your information is, the better it will be for optimization purpose. Take your time to fill out all the necessary information including business hours, payment forms accepted, and so on.
Google My Business and Google Maps are essentially visual in nature. What’s the first thing you see when looking at a Google Maps search result? Most likely it’s the photo(s).
Including and optimizing photos in your Google My Business listing have two different benefits:
* Obviously, having nice, well-photographed photos on your listing can drive more customers
* You can optimize your listing with photos, in relations to local SEO
With that being said, consider to include at least one professional-looking photos in your listing. If ambiance or design is a crucial aspect of your business, you might want to include more pictures.
So, how can we use photos to optimize our listing? The answer is by optimizing the EXIF metadata of each picture. You can use various third-party tools to do this, some of them are free. Here is some metadata you might want to add to your images:
* Your geographic location tags (city, country, etc.)
* Your physical address
* Latitude and longitude details
* Your target keywords
* Details about services offered by your business (business category data)
This step might be slightly more complicated than the previous ones, and so we will first explain the concept and main principles of local citations.
A local citation, in a nutshell, is an online mention of your local business which must include three important aspects: your business Name, Address, and Phone Number, which is often abbreviated as NAP. There are three different types of local citations:
There are sites and online directories that are focused on listing businesses in a specific location or businesses that belong to a specific industry. For example, Baltimore Business Directory is focused exclusively on the Baltimore area, while the Baltimore Dining Channel is focused on listing restaurant businesses in Baltimore.
Other citations such as mentions from publications, blogs, relevant sites and relevant apps can be valuable. In this case, the approach is similar to building backlinks for traditional SEO.
Our focus in this step is more about the first and second type of citations, while for the third type, we will discuss it further when discussing content development below.
Now, your main job in this step is to find all the relevant directories (both major and local platforms) according to your industry and location. Let’s go back to our example, the X Bistro. In this case, we would want to find local directories for Baltimore (location) and restaurants (industry).
A quick Google search will help you find these relevant directories, and here are the important principles when building your citations:
* Make sure all your information are complete and up-to-date, as complete as your Google My Business listing discussed on step 1
* Pay special attention to NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number), make they are always consistent across all your listings
* The more the merrier, but the more listings you have, the more you will need to invest your time and resources, especially if the citation also features reviews. We will discuss this further below.
Your citations are one of your most important assets when talking about local SEO. Pay extra care to the effort in building your local citations, and evaluate your listings regularly.
In this era when social proof is extremely important, soliciting positive reviews have two major benefits: first, obviously the more positive reviews you have, the more credible your business will be perceived by customers. This will translate to more prospects and eventually, more customers.
Also, positive reviews on your Google Maps listing, as well as relevant review sites like Yelp!, TripAdvisor, and Facebook, are a strong ranking signal for Google Maps.
So, how can we get more reviews? One of the most effective ways is to incentivize your existing customers. For example, you can offer discounts, freebies, or other special offers for those who leave positive reviews on your Google Maps listing.
Here are some important considerations for this step:
1. The best way to get more positive reviews is to offer service excellence and delivering an excellent product. There’s no shortcut around this.
2. You can use various monitoring tools to keep track on your reviews, as well as your competitors’. This can act as an effective market research method.
3. Also, an important factor is how you should handle negative reviews. If it’s a valid negative review from those who have purchased your product/service, handle it quickly and politely. Don’t ever deliver false promises.
4. For negative reviews coming from fake users, especially those with clear malicious intent (using harsh languages, etc.), you can ask Google Maps or the review platform to remove this review with sufficient proof. Consider taking legal actions if the attacks are serious.
Content marketing is a pretty broad subject on its own, and we won’t give it much justice discussing it here. However, here are some key principles in implementing content marketing for local SEO purposes:
* The most important part here is targeting the right keywords (i.e., “restaurant Baltimore”). Find keywords with enough search volume but manageable competition. However, focus on writing for human readers: write naturally, don’t overstuff keywords, and make sure the content is unique, valuable, and relevant.
* Aim to get more backlinks from relevant sites, which can act as a citation. Promote your content with social media, influencers, and other channels.
* Guest posting for relevant sites can be a good approach if you do it right.
While local SEO can be terrifying at first, it’s quite simple once you’ve got the hang of it. With the five steps we have shared above, you can start implementing local SEO and see your listing climb higher on Google Maps ranking.
The key for a successful local SEO is consistency: local SEO, as with traditional SEO, is a long-term game, and you should expect to invest at least 6 months before you see significant results. Monitor your progress regularly, evaluate and optimize, and be patient.
Getting that top spot on Google Maps can dramatically improve your growth. So, although the process can be long, it’s worth it in the end.