As a small to medium-sized local business, you’re fighting the “big boys” for every customer and every dollar. And now, Google’s made it so you’ll have to fight just a little bit harder.
On August 6th, Google reduced the local results that appear for a local search term (like “florists edison, NJ”) from 7 to 3:
That means you have 4 less chances to show up on the front page of Google. Also, if you look closely at the image, you’ll notice a few important pieces of information are no longer listed:
- The phone number.
- The business address.
- The link to the Google+ business page.
— Chase Buckner, Customer Bloom
With all of that, there is some good news.
If someone clicks on one of the 3 businesses, they’ll be brought to a longer results list containing 20 businesses (which you have a much better shot of being listed on). For example, here’s what happened when we clicked on “Edison Plants & Flowers:”
As you can see on the right side of the screen, the user is given the full business contact information for the business immediately. At the same time, they’re shown a larger selection of businesses to choose from on the left.
And, as you can see, businesses with reviews stand out. 4
Businesses that are lower down on the list may get clicks because they have more (or better) reviews than the top result (which, in this case, has no reviews).
Here’s what would happen if someone decided to find out more about “Gardenias Floral:”
In this case, not only does the user get the business contact information, but they also get an immediate view of the business reviews.
Building your list of positive business reviews is now more essential than ever.
In fact, that’s the first of 4 tips to help you overcome Google’s new “local stack” results.
Tip #1: Switch Your Focus From Local SEO to Reputation Management
In the August 17th episode of “This Week In Search,” our founder Matt Coffy explains why you now need to put a bigger focus on reputation management, e.g. building up your positive reviews:
— Matt Coffy, Customer Bloom
Since it’s now harder to get on the first page of Google local results, you’ll want to do everything you can to set yourself apart on the larger list of 20 businesses.
You can come back to local SEO later.
Instead, focus on building your reputation by doing the following:
- Reach out to old clients, friends, family, and anyone that can attest to the good work you do and have them write a review for you if they haven’t already. Leave no stone unturned. When asking for the review:
- Make it as easy as possible for them. Provide them with a link to the page where they provide the review and give clear directions on how they should submit it and what they should write. Be specific on what you want them to cover. The quality of reviews is important too.
- Give them a deadline and not one too far in the future. It won’t take them long to write the review. Make sure you let them know that every second counts as every second without their review is a second they may lose a customer to a competitor. Make the deadline either “today” or “tomorrow.” Offer them an incentive of free services if you think it’ll be necessary for some clients. Their review is that important.
- If they didn’t write the testimonial exactly as you hoped, edit it yourself so it reads as you’d like it to (as long as it’s still honest and doesn’t change their overall message/opinion) and send it back to them, asking if it’s okay with them that you use the edited version.
- Focus on getting consistent reviews from your existing clients in real-time. “Review frequency” is very important to Google. It shows you have a consistent stream of happy clients coming in and loving what you do.
- In that vein, make sure to keep a consistent stream of clients coming. It’s best to consistently have a “recent review” posted. “Time since last review” is another metric Google values.
Tip #2 Triple-Check Your On-Page SEO and Make Sure It’s Optimized
Only after you’ve got your customer reviews up-to-date, consistent, and recent should you move onto this step and make sure you’ve optimized your on-page SEO as much as possible.
There are 3 parts of on-page SEO you need to consider: copy, metadata, and schema markup.
Copy: Make sure you’ve included relevant local SEO keywords throughout your website whenever you can naturally include them in your copy. In the example above, keywords like “NJ florist,” “florist in NJ,” and “best florist in Edison” would help an Edison florist page rank higher in Google for those keywords.
It would be a good idea to hire a professional firm to do SEO keyword research for your business. They’ll be able to research and tell you what the best keywords to focus on in your copy are – based on usage and competition.
Metadata: In addition to the copy, you need to make sure your metadata is accurate and sufficient. You might be saying, “What the heck is metadata?” And that’s okay. If you hire someone to do your SEO keyword research, they’ll be able to do this for you too.
If you’d rather do it yourself, there are 2 “meta tags” you need to make sure you have defined in your HTML code. The meta tags should be entered into the <head> section of the HTML code. The 2 meta tags are:
- The <title> tag
- The <meta name=”description” content=” . . .” > tag.
Here’s an example from our homepage:
Use the most important keywords in both the title and the meta tag. You can see we used keywords like “SEO NJ Company” and “NJ SEO Team” in a natural way. It’s important to not just list out a bunch of keywords for 2 reasons:
- Google doesn’t like when you do that (and you may not rank as highly).
- Google users will see the title and description in the Google search results.
You want the title and description to be clear and captivating while still including some of your major keywords.
Schema markup is yet one more way to communicate with Google and other search engines as they’re analyzing and ranking your site. The more information you give them through schema markup, the better able – and willing – they’ll be to rank your site in a higher position.
Take a look at this page: http://schema.org/LocalBusiness. Towards the bottom of the page, you’ll see examples. For each example, click on the “Microdata” tab to see how to implement the schema.
At the very least, you should include schema markup around your contact information. The best place to put the markup is in the footer of your website so it appears on every page. Using the first example from http://schema.org/LocalBusiness, it would be something like this:
<h1><span itemprop=”name”>Customer Bloom</span></h1>
<span itemprop=”description”> Our SEO NJ team will help you get more leads</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”> STREET ADDRESS </span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>TOWN/CITY NAME</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>STATE ABBREVIATION</span>
Phone: <span itemprop=”telephone”>PHONE NUMBER</span>
You can take it a step further by including the “sameAs” property in your schema markup.
The “sameAs” property allows you to tell Google that your business is the “same as” the business on your Yelp page, Google+ page, Facebook, or any other “business page” you have on a 3rd party site. Basically, it links your business website to the other business pages you have that reference it around the web. Here’s how you would implement the “sameAs” property in your schema markup:
<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<link itemprop=”sameAs” href=”https://www.facebook.com/CustomerBloomNJ?fref=ts”>
<h1><span itemprop=”name”>Customer Bloom</span></h1>
And you can have as many “sameAs” references as you want, as long as they are all listed after the <div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”> line.
Finally, check out this article written by Phil Rozek over at Local Visibility System to see how you can get even more specific than an itemtype of “LocalBusiness.”
After including the schema markup in your code, you can test it using this tool: https://developers.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/
WARNING: Schema markup can affect the front-end design. It’s best you hire a developer to choose and implement the best schema markup for your business.
Tip #3: Make Sure Your Business Information is Consistent Across Platforms
This tip may be tedious but it’s also a fast one. Don’t skip it.
Make sure your “business information” is aligned across all online and social media platforms, e.g. Google, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. (This will also make your “sameAs” schema markup that much more powerful) :
- Business name
- Phone number
- Hours of business
- Business category
- and any other details Google will use to cite your business in results.
Your ranking will be affected if they aren’t all aligned.
Tip #4: Create and Verify a Google “My Business” Account If You Haven’t Already
Once you create your “My Business” page, make sure all the business information matches the sites and information from Tip #3. Also, add videos and images of your business to the page.
Tip #5: Embed a Custom Map on Your Contact Page
Create a custom map using the “Google My Maps” tool. Create the map so it shows the physical location of your business. Then, embed it above the fold on your contact page. This will boost your local SEO, especially when accompanied by schema markup and consistent business information across platforms.
If you implement those 5 tips diligently and with care, making sure to cover all of your bases, you will be in the best possible shape to overcome Google’s new “local stack” search results.
While you’ll have less of a chance to make it into the top 3 than you did to make it into the top 7, these tips will help you rank as close to the top as possible and stand out in the bigger “20 results” page. With your business information and local SEO up-to-date, Google will better be able and willing to rank you higher. And with shiny, recent reviews submitted consistently, more users will choose you regardless of your ranking.
Don’t waste any time. Get started today and give yourself a step up on your competition.