A friend of mine recently used a local company to get some branded clothing. It looks fantastic, and they said that the service was top notch – a quick turnaround, friendly communications, and a great looking product – and that they were pleased to be supporting a small, local company, rather than giving money to a faceless corporation.

As a digital marketer I was interested in how my friend found them, and chose them out of the dozens of other clothes printing companies in the local area of Ipswich.

After a couple of Google searches, using phrases such as “Ipswich clothes printing” and “clothing printing company Ipswich”, Custom T Shirt was found. For both searches, the company appears on the first page, and for the first search their site is included in the mapped results, albeit with no information other than their company name, and an out of date address.

For a company that provided such a great service, I feel that they should be standing out amongst the crowd. A quick look at their competitors’ websites shows that a website refresh wouldn’t go amiss – many of them have more up-to-date sites, which may be attracting potential customers away from Custom T Shirt – but revamping or creating a brand new website can be costly for small businesses. So what could Custom T Shirt do to help them stand out? A nice bit of Local SEO could do the trick.

For those operating on a local scale, Local SEO is becoming an essential part of doing business. With Google’s emphasis on personalised search results, and the growth in smartphone use meaning that ‘on the go’ searches are being performed more and more for businesses and services nearby, Local SEO can only grow in importance.

So how can you make sure that you get the most from Local SEO? Here’s a rundown of the top six focus areas for maximising your visibility in local searches;

1. NAP Citations

Top of the list as the most important factors in Local SEO, arguably, are Name Address Phone number citations. These are not necessarily links – they are mentions of your company, either in full (all NAP info) or in part. Citations are a key factor in ranking algorithms for local sites, as they help search engines increase the degree of certainty that your business is what you say it is, by cross referencing your business’s contact information and categorisation across your citations. It helps if you have citations in well-established and well-indexed portals, as that will add to their authority.

Unless your site is brand new, it’s a good idea to start with a citation audit, so you can see if there are any incorrect citations that you need to fix. Moz Local, WhiteSpark and Yext are good free tools for assessing your citations. What you are looking for are incorrect NAP info in listings, closed locations, or duplicate listings. Make sure you fix wrong information and remove duplicates.

Next you need to make sure that you have the important local listings set up correctly. These include Google+, Google Maps, Google My Business and Better Business Bureau.

Handy hint: If information is incorrect in Google, there is a way you can speak to them – you can request a call back via the top right hand button on this page.

Remember, Google may be king, but make sure you also have correct and complete listings on Bing Places, Yahoo Local, and Apple Maps as well.

Others you should set up are yell.com, Amazon Local, tellows.com (an international phone directory that allows users to register the level of trust / authority in phone numbers (or lack thereof), together with a comment), and Yelp. If they came up in your audit, then great – you’ve probably already sorted these.

Make sure you look at the categories that your competitors are listed for and add those to your listings. Do this by searching for “GCID” in the page source of your competitors’ site.

Then you can start building your own citations! Yippee!

Don’t be daunted, it doesn’t have to be done overnight. Use Brightlocal to compare and steal citations from your competitors. Find your own citation sources and use best practices.

2. Reviews

Reviews are a key factor in local SEO. According to this article on synup.com, apparently

Google research shows that having reviews on your Google listing will lead to a 140% bump in requests for driving directions and a 360% increase in visits to your website from Google.’

Therefore it’s important to follow up with customers and ask them to write you a review. Not only will it help your local SEO but it can help you improve your business, and leverage your reputation by spreading (hopefully) positive word of mouth. It also gives you a chance to be proactive in solving any issues or gripes that the customer may have but feels aren’t significant enough to make a complaint.

Not sure how to collect reviews? Put a process in place; either contact customers via email or social media after they have received your product or service, or hand them written instructions when they leave your premises. Don’t assume they won’t write you a review just because they haven’t straight away – people get easily distracted and might just need a nudge.

3. On Page and Technical

It might seem obvious but it’s crucial to make sure your site is optimised for local terms. This includes using your town/city or region in the content wherever you can, not just on the contact page. It also includes using it in your title tags, your H1, your Alt text and your URL, if you can.

4. Linkbuilding

Having links on other local sites helps spread credibility and they act as a strong indicator for the business’s relevance to the area. Take care when building local links though – it should not grow overnight and brand terms should be used as anchor text, otherwise it could be construed as an attempt at targeting local sites purely for brand equity. Ideally local link building should be about helping people out e.g. event sponsorship, sharing tips, providing a service to a third party… Just ask for a link as part of your agreement.

5. Advertising

Geo-targeted PPC and social media advertising can be very effective in driving a large amount of local traffic. This is especially useful when you are still growing your local profile through SEO, as it is much faster to implement – and turn off. In addition, paid search/advertising can be less costly than SEO, making the risks relatively low and controllable.

Remember to do some keyword research to find out which local terms people use when searching; is it a postcode, a town/city name or a region? Refining this will help you get the best results.

6. Schema

For the more advanced, you can use a schema markup to boost your visibility for local searches. Basically put,

‘Schema markup is code (semantic vocabulary) that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users.’

– kissmetrics.com

It picks out relevant data, dependent on the markup you have used, and shows it in the SERPs. It’s not for the faint hearted, and once you have found the most relevant schema for your needs on Schema.org, or created your own using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper, it might be worth handing over to your web developer to implement. If you fancy having a go though, this guide is one of the best I have found so far.

With Local SEO growing in importance, make sure you have the basics covered by sorting your citations and investing in some link building and collecting reviews. If you need more advice, or can’t spare the time to add digital marketing to your To Do list, please get in touch – we’d be happy to help.