It’s a digital world out there and instead of pulling out the old Yellow Pages, savvy consumers are taking to the Internet before they visit local businesses in their area. This means you need to be visible online when people are searching for businesses like yours.
When your local customers are searching, you want them to be able to find you:
- For your business name. This seems simple enough, but there are so many local small businesses that miss out on a tremendous opportunity when their potential customer cannot find them online.
- For your type of business in your local area. For example, if you are a hairdresser in San Diego, California, you want to be found when they search for “hairdresser San Diego, California”.
- For your product or services in your local area. Building on the previous point, you also want your potential customer to be able to find you for your individual services. For example, “children’s haircuts San Diego California”
Now, how do you make sure this happens for your business? It’s all part of the search engine optimization (SEO) process. Whether you hire a designer to create your website or you make it yourself, make sure everyone is aware of these important steps.
Part 1: Your Virtual Real Estate
Before you start building your website, there are a couple of important things to set up properly. If you already have your website, you don’t need to rush out and change what you have because your established website is already valuable when it comes to ranking well in search engines.
These are just extra considerations you should make if you happen to be starting from scratch.
Register your own domain name and do not rely on other services that display a URL for you. You want to own this important virtual real estate for your business.
Consider purchasing a domain that is specific to your country and even your state or province if your business is specifically relevant to that area.
For example, you might register a domain with .us for USA, .ca for Canada, .uk for the United Kingdom, etc. You can also go further if you want to target your domain for a state or province. For example ny.us for websites from New York, USA or .bc.ca for websites from British Columbia, Canada.
NOTE: While a geographically specific domain can help target your website locally, it is not totally necessary. If you want to capture a worldwide or multi-national audience, a .com domain will suit your business just fine.
Where possible, choose a local web host for your business. The location of your web host’s server can provide clues about where your website is from and helps return your website in the search results for that area This isn’t a make or break factor, but it can helpful.
You can also ask your web host for what’s called “unique IP”. They will probably charge a small fee, but it ensures that your websites has its own unique space and you can’t be affected by any search engine cheating done by the web host’s other clients. You never want to put yourself at the mercy of other people’s mistakes.
Part 2: Building Your Website
Now you’re ready to start building your website with search engine optimization in mind. If you already have a website, it is worthwhile to go back and fix what you can to ensure your pages are optimized to get highly targeted traffic from search engines.
Geographically Organize Your Website’s Directories / Folders
Many websites have information that is relevant to different geographic locations. For example, if you have a retail store that is located in different cities and offers different products or service, you may want to provide appropriate information for each area.
To help search engines understand which area the information is relevant for, you can label the directories (or folders) with the appropriate information. For example, your site might have folders like this:
flowershopsite.com/sandiego/ – for your information for your store in San Diego
flowershopsite.com/carlsbad/ – and for your store in Carlsbad
The content on each page should be relevant and useful because search engines rely very heavily on this to determine what your pages are all about. Include descriptive content about your products and services, where they are offered and more. Don’t repeat words to try to game the search engines, but write naturally and descriptively.
Add Your Business Address
Add your business address to all the pages of your website. Include your full address, including city, state and phone number with area code.
You can also add an interactive Google Maps map on your Contact Us page. To get a map for your page, go to: http://maps.google.com/
Enter your address and once the map appears, click the link icon on the left side of the page:
That will give you some HTML code, so you can insert the code into your website.
Optimize Your Title Tags for Search Term + Location
Search engines use certain “tags” used in your website code to help them understand what each page of your website is all about. A title tag is the title that appears at the top of your web browser when you are looking at a particular page. It is also the title that appears in search engine listings.
In the above example, “Haircuts & Haircare Products | Great Clips” is the title tag. To target your title tag locally include:
- What product / service you are offering
- Your location
- Your company name
For example, “Hairdresser in San Diego, California – Jenny’s Great Cuts” would be a descriptive title tag.
How you insert your title tag depends on the type of tool you are using to build your website. Consult the help files of your website builder to find out how to modify yours. The basic HTML code looks like this:
<title> Hairdresser in San Diego, California – Jenny’s Great Cuts</title>
IMPORTANT: Use a different title tag for each page of your website, so that search engines can find your different pages that are relevant to specific searches.
Optimize Your Headline Tags
Headlines are the large bolded headlines and subheads on your page. They are important in helping search engines understand what your various pages are all about. Just like with your title tags, you can include relevant information like the product/service you are offering and your location.
How you insert headline tags depends on the website building tool you’re using as well, but the basic HTML looks like this:
<H1>Professional Cap Highlights in San Diego, California</H1>
The number 1 in the tag <H1> is for your main headline. You can make subheads by using <H2>, <H3> tags, etc.
Optimize Your Description Tags
Another HTML tag that is relevant to your search engine optimization is your description tag. It is often shown in as the description in your search engine listing, so it’s worth ensuring this is descriptive and relevant to each page’s content.
In the above example, “Haircare services from Great Clips. We provide quality, no-appointment haircuts for adults and kids alike.” is the description tag.
Just like the other tags we mentioned, how you update yours will depend on your website builder, but the HTML code looks like this:
<meta name="description" content="Providing a variety of hair services for women in San Diego, California, Jenny’s Great Cuts is looking forward to giving you your next haircut, color or perm." />
Part 3: Listing Your Website
While search engines can find and ranking with little to no intervention on your part, there are some promotional activities you can do that will improve your chances of being found in the results. Here are some of the most important ones.
Add Your Website to Google Places
You’ve probably noticed that when you look for a type of business, Google returns its “Places” results that look something like this:
Google is the largest search engine, and you should take the time to get yourself listed in Places to ensure your site appears when people search for businesses like yours in your area. Rankings are based on a number of factors including how often your listing is clicked, how many other websites mention your business and the reviews listed in Google Places.
To add a website go to http://www.google.com/local/add/. You have to log into your Google account (you can create one for free, if you don’t have one) and then you’ll be able to start the process. Encourage your customers to submit reviews and get listed on other local websites in your area.
Add Your Website Bing Listings
Bing also serves local listings and they look something like this:
You can add your through the Bing Business Portal at http://www.bing.com/businessportal/, but note that the service is only available in the United States at the moment. For other countries, Bing seems to pull data from Yellow Pages and possibly other location-based sites.
Add Your Website to Yahoo Local Listings
And of course, Yahoo has their own version of Local Listings at http://listings.local.yahoo.com/ (USA only).
You can choose a free basic listing or pay for an enhanced one. Yahoo Local Listings are available for other countries, but they have a different website set up for each country.
Local Directories and Review Sites
How often your site is mentioned and linked to from other websites plays a big role in how well you rank for your relevant keywords. Look for local directories and review sites where you might get listed and reviewed.