(This blog was originally posted on May 11, 2015, and has been updated to be even more accurate and awesome!)When it comes to online marketing, you don’t want your website to be the best-kept secret in town. You want local pet owners to find it quickly and easily. Luckily, local search results are giving small businesses a fighting chance in search engine results. These local SEO tips will keep your website from becoming buried treasure.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO is focused on getting your practice website to rank in the “local results” of search engines – that is, results that are relevant to the searcher based on the person’s current location.
This is different than what most people – including us – lazily refer to as SEO, which is more accurately described as “organic SEO,” because it is focused on getting your practice website to rank in organic search results.
Local SEO is awesome
The great things about local search results are that:
- You don’t have to rule the whole Internet or compete with giant companies – just your local competition.
- Aiming your SEO at a specific area captures the most relevant traffic – even if you could beat other websites for a keyword like “veterinarian,” a pet owner in a different time zone is not going to become your client.
- All of the major search engines – Google, Bing, and Yahoo! – have been focusing more on local.
Take this example, in which I searched the phrase “pizza San Antonio”:
As you can see, there isn’t a single pizza parlor in the top organic results, but thanks to the local results, these businesses get some space at the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
You’ll notice the screen shot that there were only three local listings here. Underneath, I had the option to switch to local results to see more listings like these, or I could continue to scroll through the organic results. So even though this is getting local businesses onto the first page, you still want to rank near the top of the local results.
So how do you go about optimizing your practice website for local search? Let’s break it down.
Off-Page Local SEO
Off-page SEO is anything you do somewhere other than your website to help your website rank higher in search results. Here are some off-page optimizations you can do to help your website rank well in local results.
1. Make sure your NAP is consistent.
I am putting this item first because you need to keep it in mind as you make your way through the rest of this list: make sure that your name, address, and phone number – or NAP – is set up consistently everywhere your practice appears online.
Places to check:
- Your website
- All social media profiles
- Google My Business
- Review sites like Yelp
- Directory sites such as Yellow Pages, your local Chamber of Commerce business directory, any industry directories, etc.
- And anywhere else your practice appears online.
2. Get your Google My Business set up too.
Google My Business does more than just make it easy to manage all of your Google information – it gives you more opportunities to tell Google what you’re all about.
- Make sure you fill out every field it asks for – each one is an opportunity.
- Choose the correct categories to describe your practice – this is very important.
- Use the description field to the fullest – write an accurate, unique description and include links to your website.
- Add photos. Lots of photos. Use big, pretty ones for your cover photo and profile photo – that profile photo, in particular, will follow you all over the Internet.
- Make sure your practice hours are filled out correctly.
- Check on the reviews while you’re there.
- Check your NAP, of course.
While we’re on the subject, make sure you get rid of any duplicate listings. Sometimes businesses will appear more than once thanks to slightly different information, remnants from older versions of Google Places, and that sort of thing. You may not have created these listings, but if your practice shows up more than once, it can confuse or annoy the Google algorithms – so check the map carefully to make sure there are no other listings that might be poorly entered versions of your practice, and work with Google to get it corrected when you claim your business.
3. Do it again with Bing.
Bing is like Google in that they make sure that the businesses who try to claim their local listing are genuine. Here are the instructions to make sure you’re listed in Bing Places for Business.
4. Get some customer reviews.
If you don’t already have online reviews, particularly in your Google listing, they’re pretty important. Not only do people look for them, the search engines will rank businesses with reviews higher in local results than businesses without reviews.
5. Earn some local links.
Inbound links are when other websites link to your website. These links help both your local and organic search rankings, with local links being very helpful local SEO.
Local links aren’t just about local directories. You can get them by sponsoring events, writing articles for online publications, building partnerships with other businesses, and so on.
Just make sure you aren’t buying these links. Some SEO companies will tell you that buying links will help your ranking, but if search engines figure out that you’re using this black hat seo tactic, your website could be penalized or even banned from search engine results.
6. Don’t forget social media.
While the impact of social media on local and organic SEO is the subject of much debate, there are definitely some SEO benefits to social media. To make sure you capture them:
Make sure that all of your social media profiles are fully optimized to include your practice name and city or town, or better yet, your whole NAP – and of course, your website.
Follow and engage with the locals – clients, pet owners, other local businesses, charities and not-for-profits, local politicians, media etc. – and be a part of your local online community.
7. Get involved in your offline community, too.
Being a good citizen has its SEO rewards – learn more here.
On-Page Local SEO
On-page SEO is anything you do to your website to help it rank higher in search results. Here are some on-page optimizations you can do to help your website rank well in local results.
1. Include local keywords.
When you are choosing the keywords for your website, you want to be sure that you include words that are relevant to your local area. You are much more likely to rank for “veterinarians in [your area]” than for “veterinarians.”
- Use this resource to help you choose your keywords.
- Visit this post to learn the key areas to include them so you don’t miss a single opportunity.
2. Embed a Google Map on your contact page.
A Google Map on your contact page is a great addition to your practice NAP. Not only does it help people find your practice quickly, it can also help with SEO, according to some experiments by MOZ.
Here’s how to do it.
3. Be mobile-friendly.
While having a mobile site is crucial for a gazillion other reasons, it is also extremely important for your local SEO. This is because:
- Google ranks mobile-friendly sites higher when a search is conducted on a mobile device.
- Studies show that 88% of consumers conduct local searches on smartphones, and that 50% of people who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a business within a day.
[Related: Local Search Behavior and How You Can Use It]
4. Have a blog.
Local topics lend themselves well to blog ideas – and blogs are good for SEO!
Some ideas you can kick around:
- Local news stories
- Events hosted by you or others in the community
- Health information as it relates to your area – e.g. the local heartworm risk
- Adoptable pets from shelters and rescues in the area
- Local pet-owner resources like walking trails, dog parks, complementary businesses, etc.
- The list goes on!
[Get the guide! Blogging Your Way to More Business is a free download from the Knowledge Center.]
5. Use internal links.
We talked about inbound links above, but internal links – that is, links between different pages of the same website – help with SEO too.
It is much easier for the search engine crawlers to find all of your great content that is well-optimized for local search if there are links to follow.
- Make sure there’s a link to your blog from your homepage.
- Include a call-to-action in your blog posts and link it to a relevant page, such as your online appointment request form, your contact page, etc.
- Add links to related posts wherever it makes sense.
6. Optimize your images for search.
Optimizing your images for search is a great opportunity to use local keywords. You don’t want to stick local keywords in where they don’t belong, but if you keep them relevant, there is an opportunity to use them when you optimize your images.
7. Make sure your website design is SEO-friendly.
The design you choose for your website defines your practice’s online brand. But there are also several design components that help with both organic and local SEO. Check them out in this post.
8. Make your website social.
Part of local (and organic) SEO is making sure that your entire online presence is connected and consistent. Here are the on-page things you should do to maximize the SEO benefits of your social media presence:
- Include buttons that link to your social media profiles on your website.
- Post new content frequently to give people a reason to visit more often.
- Make it “shareable” by including big images and including social sharing buttons.
Reading through these tips you may have noticed something: local SEO has a lot of similarities to organic SEO. You’ve hopefully been using local keywords in your organic SEO efforts anyway – so there are really only a few extras to take care of and keep in mind going forward. Pet owners using local search are looking for a veterinarian for their beloved pets, so it is important to make sure you’re ranking well in those local search results.