It's no secret that voice search is on the rise. Whether it's "Alexa," “Hey Siri,” or “Hey Google,” the ability to search the internet while driving or cooking is a convenience many people happily embrace. Voice search optimization has become a vital part of local SEO. While this tool is great for consumers, it may impede opportunities to connect with new customers because voice search only serves up one or two options per voice query.
As Google shifts its search results to include SERPs such as a local pack, video, and blog links, local businesses must adapt to remain visible. Best practices for Local SEO includes relevant citations that include accurate information about your business name, address, and phone number, otherwise known as your NAP.
Here's an example of a typical results page for a local business:
The top of a results page has two types of ads.
As noted previously, the top two businesses in the local pack (seen below) are most frequently offered in a voice search. Because voice searches are generally more conversational in nature, it's possible companies with paid ads will be skipped unless optimized for voice search.
Below the local pack, another SERP category, "People Also Ask," may or may not appear. In this case, we see two questions: "Is it worth calling a plumber?" and "What do Americans call plumbers?"
Following the people also ask questions, links with citations appear, and, finally, an individual company has earned a first-page query link. As you can see, the plumbing industry is a highly competitive industry. However, a well-optimized website has the opportunity to rank in the local pack, the list of "Top 10 Best Plumbers," and show up in search with an individual link.
As we analyze the voice search trend it's also important to adjust website content to help Google accurately query our websites. SEO Expert Brad points out, “People do not speak as precisely as they type.” As small business owners and marketers, we need to consider which keywords we prioritize in our content, meta descriptions, titles, and title tags.
The shift to voice search presents an opportunity for local businesses to connect with new customers who are in close proximity as people search "company near me" even if they don't normally rank higher than their competition in desktop or mobile searches.
In order for Google to helpfully use the "near me" feature, a company's information must be accurate. The most important information for local businesses is the Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP). This simple action is one of the most important parts of every Local SEO marketing strategy.
“Local SEO is all about increasing search visibility for businesses that serve their communities face-to-face. These can be brick-and-mortar businesses with physical locations, like a grocery store or dentist's office, or service-area businesses that operate throughout a certain geographic area, like an electrician or house cleaning company. This includes everything from claiming a business listing to ensuring a franchise location appears in a local search on Google (a process known as location data or citation management). It also extends to managing online ratings and reviews, local-centric social media engagement, and beyond.”
Your Google Business Profile (GBP) provides a space for businesses to promote offers, link their website, list details about their company, and provide contact information so people can call you directly from the page. It also syncs with Google Maps, so including an accurate address is vital to connect with voice searchers who use the “near me” feature. This is a huge benefit to users of the Google platform and businesses.
To learn more, read: The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Google Business Profile
I'm guessing I'm not the only one to rely on Google Maps while on vacation or after a recent move, only to arrive at an empty building rather than the restaurant or store I need.
It only takes one tiny typo for an address to index online incorrectly, and it could take months to correct. Additionally, just because your address is correct in one directory does not automatically ensure that your NAP is the same in every listing.
While this may feel like a hassle, it is vital to retain the "owner" designation on your business listings. Even when hiring a Local SEO marketing agency like SMA to add and monitor your citations, you should remain the owner of the listings.
The only way to ensure this is by adding every listing into a directory by hand. The best part is you control the cost. While time is money, many listings are free. Even the ones YEXT manages have free options.
When you're the owner of a listing and keep a record of your login information, you can update the information anytime you change services or add products. There is an additional benefit to adding your information to business directories. Every directory is an additional backlink for your website. For example, in the plumber example above, Angi featured companies listed in its directory.
In 2022, The Moz list of Local SEO Ranking factors includes linking signals as one of 8 search ranking factors.
When you choose directories, it's important to select ones that are relevant to your business niche and will add authority to your site. Read more about why here.
It’s important to note that many directories get their reviews from Yelp and City Search. Yelp feeds information to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and MapQuest, among others. City Search uses the common practice of pushing reviews to nearly a dozen smaller directories. Choosing the right citations, such as the top review sites, allows a business owner to optimize fewer citations and increase the number of citations they have.
Much has been written about Yelp’s controversial practices and how the platform leaves business owners dazed and confused. However, the review and advertising site is an undeniable force in driving website and foot traffic to small businesses, with 40.47 million monthly visits on average. Your Yelp reviews show up in organic search. You can’t ignore it, so learn to use it to your advantage.
Your business may be listed on Yelp without your knowledge. If it is listed, you can claim it. If it’s not already listed, you can request to add your business to Yelp. If you’re not sure whether or not your business is listed, I encourage you to check. Once you claim your business or have it listed, there are several advantages to maintaining your Yelp business account. It gives you the ability to:
It’s important to understand how Yelp works. Yelp is like an online bulletin board of business reviews and ratings. This user-generated content cannot be controlled by the business owner. Yelp members use the site to review businesses, find local events, and search for discounts. It is more of a social network than a directory. Members can follow other members and feel like they are part of their local community by leaving reviews and leading their friends to great businesses (or warning them about bad experiences).
Yelp uses a filter that shows “recommended” ratings prominently while “not recommended” ratings get buried. Not recommended means the rating is of low quality, low reliability, and has been rated by someone who is not very active on the site. Unfortunately, high ratings may be buried in the “not recommended” filter (and thankfully, low ratings may end up there as well). The best way to get good ratings to surface is to encourage the customers who gave you a high rating to be active on the site and to follow them and recommend their rating.
Yelp users value great customer service, friendly staff, a fair return policy, and cleanliness. These are all characteristics of a successful local business. Uphold these values in your business, and you should have no problem gaining 4- and 5-star ratings on Yelp.
YP.com and City Search are partners and part of the CityGrid network. Customers can write reviews on Yellow Pages natively or on City Search and they will also appear on Yellow Pages. In fact, the reviews on City Search feed into about a dozen other review sites, such as Kudzu, Merchant Circle, Judy’s List, and Open List. Reviews on Yellow Pages (yp.com) feed into Yellow Bot, Open List, and City.com. So, it’s a sure bet that effort spent establishing good reviews on Yellow Pages and City Search will maximize your results.
City Search pulls data from Express Update. To list your business on City Search, go to Express Update and search for your business. If it’s not listed, you can claim your business and enter your information. It’s free and easy, but it may take a month or two before your business appears on the directory.
While Yahoo only gets about 4% of the search market share, it’s still worth claiming your business listing so you can manage the information the search engine is publishing about your business. You will need to claim your business listing on Yext to manage your Yahoo Local account. If you’re not sure whether or not your business is listed on Yahoo, simply do a search for it. If it is, you’ll see this (see the example below). You can click the link that says "Verify your listing" which will take you to Yext. Note that Yahoo pulls in reviews from Yelp.
If you have a Facebook business page, reviews are undoubtedly one of the features you either love or hate. (I say hate because I’ve heard many stories of businesses getting a “1” review – either accidentally or on purpose. Either way, it’s unsettling when that happens and difficult to correct.)
In 2022, an Alexa report showed that the average monthly US traffic to Facebook is 85.57 million million site visitors per month. If you haven’t established a presence on Facebook for your business, you are missing out. Forget about trying to build your following there for a second. Just consider the fact that customers may enter your business name in a Google search. If you have a Facebook page, it will likely appear in the search results, and they’ll see something like this:
When they land on your Facebook page, they will it use to find your contact info, click on your website, and read your reviews. Having an optimized Facebook profile is a must. Make sure you’re asking your customers to leave reviews on your Facebook page, so your rating is visible on the search engine results page.
The Better Business Bureau has been a respected source of information on businesses’ ethics and credibility for more than a century. Today, their website BBB.org is trusted by consumers in making buying decisions. A business must have been in business for a minimum of 12 months to be listed on BBB.org.
There are two types of listings:
To register your business with the BBB, find your local chapter. On your local chapter’s page in the list of Programs and Services, you’ll see links to Register Your Business or Apply for BBB Accreditation.
Once you are listed, customers can search the BBB site for your business and review it. Customer reviews do not impact the BBB rating. However, they are helpful in establishing trust and confidence in a business. The BBB tries to be a platform for fairness and honesty between consumers and businesses. They give the business the opportunity to respond to reviews before they are published on their site. See this statement from their website:
Q: How are BBB customer reviews different than other review sites?
A: BBB has been a trusted resource for consumers for more than 100 years. No anonymous or third-party reviews are accepted on BBB.org; reviewers must verify their email addresses. Also, businesses are notified they have a BBB customer review and have an opportunity to respond before it is posted publicly. Businesses may also claim that the reviewer did not have an interaction with their business. In this case, BBB requests substantiation of their marketplace interaction with the business.
Angi (formerly Angie's List) and Thumbtack are more match-making sites for customers and service professionals than they are business directories. However, reviews are an important part of their service. A customer answers a series of questions and then receives a list of service providers and their reviews.
The reviews on Angie’s List are verified; only real customers can leave reviews. Angie’s List offers a free membership. However, you can pay to advertise and appear higher in the directory search listings. To advertise, a business must have good reviews.
Thumbtack supports service providers by coaching them on how to get reviews. They provide a link you can send to customers to encourage them to leave reviews. They even offer examples of emails you can send to customers to ask for reviews. They also provide a widget to display your reviews on your website. Thumbtack is not free – you pay for credits that you use when you send quotes to customers.
With Nextdoor's business app experience, you can access your entire profile from your mobile device. Use the app to update your page, respond to comments or questions, share posts, or promote your business by paying for ads. You can update your existing business apps or install them directly onto your devices' stores.
Chances are Bing has a listing for your business already because BingPlaces is connected to MapQuest. This doesn't mean your information is accurate! To control, update, or add your NAP, you'll need to claim an existing listing or add a new one.
BrightLocal's 2022 survey identified that more consumers are reading online reviews every year than ever before. "In 2021, 77% 'always' or 'regularly' read them when browsing for local businesses (up from 60% in 2020)."
This stat means that monitoring reviews are vital once you've optimized your citations with the proper NAP. Both positive reviews and negative reviews will impact your visibility in search.
Read more about how we suggest you respond to reviews on our blog post How and Why You Should Respond to Customer Reviews
Your Google Business Profile is only one external link for your website. While it's an important one, there are other places where you can gather customer endorsements and promote your company. The most common online spaces where businesses interact directly with current and potential customers are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Snap Chat.
Pinterest is another great space to promote content even though there is minimal direct interaction with other platform users.
Google indexes Facebook and YouTube links and images. In recent months features for Facebook and Instagram have been added, which allow you to tag the location of your images and add ALT text to them. This feature is helpful for both readers to understand the context of the content and helps your images appear in Google Images search results.
For local businesses, the option to tag everything with a location is helpful in that you can promote events and target a local audience.
Website visibility relies on Google understanding the context of your content. A diverse local SEO strategy must include correct local citations for businesses targeting local buyer personas.
Are you frustrated with your Local rankings? Download our Local SEO Website Checklist. It's designed to help you uncover gaps and improve the website elements that will help attract the right customers.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 15, 2019, and has been updated with fresh content.
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