Local SEO guide for businesses and nonprofits

Tons of people are searching for businesses and nonprofits in your area. Do you do what you can to ensure your organization is as visible online as possible?

That’s where local SEO comes into play!

Local SEO can be super beneficial to many organizations. Let’s look at what it is and whether or not it’s important for your business or nonprofit. Then we’ll look at the various online directories and how to get your business listed on the top directory. Then we’ll talk about Google’s local SEO ranking factors, and finally, we’ll touch on how to get reviews on Google.

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your online presence, so it’s easier for people near you—geographically speaking—to find you. It primarily involves making sure your Google My Business Profile—more on that later—is up-to-date, accurate, and optimized.

Local SEO is just one small part of SEO—Search Engine Optimization—but there are a lot of differences between it and other types of SEO. For example, with local SEO, you’re not just trying to rank for specific words and phrases people search for. You’re also trying to rank well in a particular location.

Since Google is the most popular search engine in the world by a long shot, you should focus a lot of your local SEO efforts there. Google Business Profile—formerly known as Google My Business—is a tool they provide to help manage your local SEO on their platform.

What kind of businesses need local SEO? 

While local SEO should be a part of any comprehensive SEO strategy, it’s more critical for some organizations and less important for others.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding how many resources you should invest in local SEO:

  • Do you have a physical location people can visit?
  • Do most of those you serve live in a specific geographic area?
  • Do people need to be able to find you quickly and easily when they’re searching for businesses or nonprofits like yours in their area?
  • Might people be driving around searching for your location on their phones?

If you answered yes to any of the above, local SEO is probably pretty important for your business. If you didn’t answer yes to any of them, local SEO might not be as crucial.

Here are some specific industries that would probably benefit from local SEO:

  • Churches
  • Restaurants
  • Local retailers
  • Universities
  • Service-based businesses
  • Nonprofits that serve people on-site
  • Nonprofits where people volunteer on-site
  • Physicians
  • Landscaping businesses

Here are some industries where local SEO might not be as important:

  • Software As A Service—SaaS—companies
  • Online training providers
  • Ecommerce businesses
  • Companies that do business around the world from one location

Hopefully, you get the idea. If people need to find your location or tend to hire someone in your industry that’s close to them physically, then local SEO can be impactful for your organization.

Google Business Profile vs. other directories

There are a million different directory websites where you can list your business or nonprofit. Here’s just a short list of some of the better-known options: 

  • Google My Business
  • Bing Places for Business
  • Yelp
  • Foursquare
  • CitySearch
  • MerchantCircle
  • YellowPages.com
  • Superpages

I could go on. When you search Google itself for “online directories,” Google comes back with 165 million results!

Fortunately, I can simplify things greatly for you. All online directories fall into two categories:

  • Google
  • Not Google

That’s it! Google gets so much traffic that you should focus your efforts there. That’s not to say you should ignore the other directories, as Google looks at them to determine how accurate the information in their listing for you is. And within the “not Google” category, there are tiers to consider.

But if you’ve heard of Pareto’s Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, you know that it’s often better to focus on the 20% of activities that produce 80% of results. Google My Business is in that top 20%.

When you do look at the other directories, you’ll be pretty safe focusing on what’s known in the industry as NAP: Name, Address, and Phone Number. Make sure those are the same across all your listings. Google will see that as a positive thing.

How to get your business listed on Google 

That’s all great, but how do you get your business listed on Google? Or, if it’s already listed, how do you claim your Google listing?

Theoretically, it’s a relatively straightforward process:

  1. Navigate to Google Business Profile
  2. Sign in with your Google account, or create a new one
  3. Enter your business information: name, address, phone number, website
  4. Verify your business ownership, usually by phone or snail mail

In reality, all sorts of issues can crop up. Here are just a few I’ve seen over the years:

  • Your listing already exists, but you can’t access the verification methods
  • Your listing already exists, but a former employee or marketing provider claimed it, and they won’t talk to you
  • You have more than one listing
  • You moved and changed your phone number, so you can’t verify your business ownership

Many of those issues can be dealt with by a qualified marketing provider. Sometimes, your local BBB or chamber may have a partnership with Google and be able to help you get verified. But sometimes, you have to start over again.

I’m obviously biased, but if you have any issues getting your business listed on Google, I recommend reaching out to a professional.

Google local SEO ranking factors 

Let’s talk about the factors Google considers when determining how well your local business listing ranks when people search.

Google says their local ranking is determined by:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

But what does that actually mean? In my experience, there are three ranking factors you have some control over:

  1. How much accurate information you’ve entered in
  2. How close you are to the person searching
  3. How many people have given you good reviews

Of course, that assumes your organization falls into the larger category they’re searching for.

So what can you do to positively impact each of those? The first two are simple.

For the first, just fill out everything you possibly can in the backend of your Google Business Profile. For the second, you need to be located close to your ideal customer or client.

The third is a bit more complicated.

How to get Google reviews

Google reviews are important for two reasons. First, they’re a ranking factor for local SEO. Google wants to show people the best results possible, so if others have given you good reviews, they’re more likely to show your listing over someone else’s.

Second, potential customers or clients will often  read reviews before deciding whether or not to use your organization. If you have a lot of good reviews, that’s a positive signal to them. If you have no reviews or all bad reviews, that’s obviously not as good. However, tons of five-star reviews with no negative reviews can also look suspicious.

So how do you get Google reviews? The best way is to simply ask your customers or clients. You can include a link in your email signature, on your website, or on printed materials.

When you do ask for Google reviews, make sure you give people specific instructions. Google makes it a little complicated, so walking them through step by step will increase the likelihood they’ll actually leave a review.

Here are a few tips when asking people for reviews:

  • Don’t incentivize positive reviews. That’s against the rules. “Give us five stars and get 10% off your next purchase” is something Google will penalize you for if they find out. And you don’t want to get on Google’s bad side.
  • It’s easy to get excited about reviews and email all your past clients at once. Resist the urge. Going from zero reviews—or just a few—to a bunch looks suspicious to Google. Reviews may never show up or start disappearing. Instead, reach out to past clients in batches.
  • Make it as easy as possible for people to review you. Create a link directly to review you and include that when you ask them. If appropriate, you might even write the first version of a review and tell your client they can use it, edit it, or write their own from scratch.
  • Be consistent in asking for reviews. Don’t just do it once and expect miracles. Do it consistently over time.

Local SEO is important because it makes it easier for the people looking for you to find you. If local SEO is worth investing in, hiring a professional to help you may be worth it.

Of course, our team helps a lot of clients with local SEO. If that’s worth talking about, feel free to reach out. We would love to find out about your situation and see if we would be a good fit for you or not.

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