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Nowadays, it seems like everyone is an e-commerce entrepreneur. With the explosion of easy-to-use e-commerce platforms, Amazon FBA, Facebook Marketplace and an entire cornucopia of web-based solutions, it might seem like brick-and-mortar startups are an anachronism.
This is readily apparent if you look at the way we approach search rankings. E-commerce stores approach search rankings without taking “local search” into consideration; because they’re not tied to one geographic location, Google’s local intent algorithms simply don’t apply.
A lot of entrepreneurs seem to think about brick-and-mortar SEO the same way they do e-commerce. But brick-and-mortar startups are different, and that means you have to approach their search rankings differently, too.
Here’s what you need to know:
Be more intentional with your optimization
Rand Fishkin, founder of well-known search optimization firms Moz and SparkToro, has been raising the alarm about how Google Search traffic doesn’t actually end in a click. He’s optimistic, though; as a smaller share of a larger pie is still a bigger piece of pie, and queries are still increasing. But organic search requires much more care than it used to.
“There aren’t enough net new internet users for the internet giants (mostly Google and Facebook, but Amazon, Apple, Reddit, Twitter, and others, too) to post the revenue numbers they need,” Fishkin notes in a recent post, “so they’re extracting money by competing with publishers, cannibalizing clicks, limiting organic reach, and making many channels pay-to-play.”
What that means is that you have to be smart about how you spend your money and your time. As a brick-and-mortar startup in particular, this boils down to one word…
The power of the Google review
Local search optimization is the foundation of any successful brick-and-mortar startup’s web traffic acquisition strategy. And one of the biggest tools you have at your disposal is the Google Review. Too many businesses ignore their Google reviews, but if you’re willing to invest a little work, you can get an astonishing amount of search engine juice from them.
Andrew Shotland, CEO of Local SEO Guide, recently hosted a webinar for Duda, a web design platform for agencies that serve SMBs.
After being asked how Google has changed in 2019, Shotland replied, “Reviews … have become pretty much synonymous with local search. Any branded search is gonna show review results almost all the time — not just in the Knowledge panel, but also in the organic results.”
Continues Shotland, “Surprise, surprise — Google’s figured out, ‘Hey, if you’re looking for a provider of something, you want to know if they’re any good. Reviews are a crucial part of the local ranking algorithm.’”
As an entrepreneur with a physical brick-and-mortar location, earning top-notch reviews for your Google My Business profile must become part of your SEO strategy. Long gone are the days when prospective customers had to voluntarily seek out reviews to make a final buying decision. Now, thanks to Google, they’re readily provided, so make sure yours are numerous and positive.
Review replies: your optimization cheat code
In combination with the University of California, Shotland and his team recently conducted a massive study of over 100,000 businesses. The latest data indicated several findings about local search: distance from search is the most important ranking factor, then organic rankings.
But the third most important? Reviews.
Google wants to give more exposure to companies that are customer-centric, and attentively replying to customer reviews is a great way to provide these signals.This is one of the underrated keys to brick-and-mortar SEO, mainly because most businesses neglect it. It’s a critical component of your local SEO equation, and just by investing a little effort, you can stand out from the pack. Reply to every review you get (whether positive or negative), being intentional about using the keywords you’re optimizing for organic search, and you’ll reap the results fast.
It’s worth noting that Google has recently had some problems with false reviews, false listings and other issues. Stay on top of that and report any posts that seem “off” or spammy.
Invest more (still) in Google My Business
Google My Business is much more than a repository for reviews. Maintaining a media-rich, verified, updated listing on this platform is another key to local SEO.
You’re 34 times more likely to ask Google what’s near you now than you were six years ago.
And particularly when conducting a mobile search, your results will be delivered with a Google My Business listing. On desktop, it’ll come up as a sidebar. And if you want to appear as a suggested destination in Google Maps search results, you need to first verify your Google My Business profile.
Putting the correct keywords in Google My Business (without being spammy), managing reviews and making sure all content is correct and up to date are what will set your business apart from the local SEO competition. Google cares about that stuff, and since a lot of businesses aren’t careful or intentional about their Google My Business page, you can make a big difference in your ranking.
The exploding importance of local SEO
For a brick-and-mortar startup, local SEO presence is your lifeblood.
You need to make sure you’ve optimized for local search and that you’re monitoring your Google My Business page and your reviews. Without that, you’re dumping your effort and money into a bottomless bucket.
When you’re running a brick-and-mortar startup, you’re primarily trying to reach customers who are on the go. When they ask their phone for businesses in your market segment, do you show up within the first few voice search results? Are you popping up when people use the voice command, “Siri” or “OK Google”?
Focus your thinking on Google search rankings locally and you’ll reap the benefits.