Back in the 90s, when people were first beginning to understand the potential of the internet, the excitement was in the fact that you could access the entire world in just a handful of keystrokes.

That potential was eventually realised, allowing people on opposite sides of the world to connect face-to-face in moments. But what may have been underestimated in the early days of the internet was how it would change how we interacted with our local area too.

Incredibly, these days almost half of all Google searches have local intent – often products and services that the searcher needs to find nearby right now.

If you own a café in Christchurch, you understandably want to be at the top of the page (or the top of the rich result on Google Maps) when someone types in ‘Christchurch café’. Local search engine optimisation (SEO) is the practice of ensuring just that.

Today we’ll be offering up a local SEO checklist – a complete guide to getting in front of homegrown customers who are looking for exactly what you’re selling, right now.

1. Locally optimise your website

The first stop on our local SEO checklist is, well, local SEO.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the practice of ranking as high on the Google search engine results page (SERP) as possible for the most relevant keywords.

The ultimate aim is to get to the top spot for the keywords that your target audience is using. Going back to our earlier café example, the focus would be on keywords like ‘Christchurch café’, ‘coffee Christchurch’ and ‘Christchurch brunch’. A keyword research tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs will help you to identify the search terms that matter to you.

In order for your website to rank for these keywords, you need to ensure that they are strategically placed throughout your site – in web copy, headings and subheadings, blog content, metadata, title tags and more.

This means that when a potential customer searches for ‘Christchurch café’, Google will see these words throughout our example website, and will view it as a more relevant and more valuable result for the user, placing it higher up the SERP.

It’s important to note that your website must balance keyword quantity with content quality. Google is smart enough to recognise when someone is trying to cheat their way onto the first page of search results – if half of the text on a website is made up of combinations of ‘Christchurch café’, that won’t make for a pleasurable user experience, so Google will rank the site lower.

In the same vein, you must also avoid creating duplicate content, as Google will know if you’re just copying and pasting the same text throughout your website. Each page should feature unique content that tells the visitor something valuable.

If you’re thinking to yourself ‘SEO sounds complicated and time-consuming, in some ways you’d be right. This is exactly why most people leave it to experts like Traction, who can optimise your site far more efficiently and effectively than you can yourself.

2. Create your Google Business Profile

In New Zealand Google enjoys a search engine market share of around 94% (and by far the most popular search term on Bing, the second-placed search engine, is ‘Google’.)

This means that to succeed in local SEO, you need to get in Google’s good books. The second item on our local SEO checklist is to ensure your business comes up across Google’s suite of services, from Search to Maps, which you can do with a Google Business Profile.

Your Google Business Profile, formerly known as ‘Google My Business’, is your entry into Google’s business directory. Here you’ll offer up key information about your business – name, address, description, opening hours, photos and more – which Google can then share through a wealth of products, including in Maps, Shopping, and as rich results in Search.

Along with showing up across Google’s suite of offerings, Google Business Profile allows you to quickly update and easily share your business info, and build up ratings, reviews and other social proof. What’s more, you don’t have to pay a cent for the pleasure!

Creating your Google Business Profile is simple:

  • Go to the Google Business gateway and search for your business. If you find it, follow the prompts to claim your listing. If you can’t find it, follow the prompts to create your listing.
  • Add or edit the basic information about your business – name, address, categories and contact info.
  • Once you’ve loaded in your address, Google needs to make sure you are who you say you are. You’ll be sent a verification code in the mail – once you receive it, key it in.
  • You now have complete control over your Google Business Profile. Enter as much information as possible, and regularly add and update the content.

In terms of local SEO, the most powerful part of your Google Business Profile is your entry on Google Maps, as most location-driven searches will either originate on Google Maps or eventually lead there. You can also boost your Google Maps entry in much the same way as you can purchase pay per click (PPC) ad space on the SERP.

3. Build other citations

While it’s certainly the biggest and most important, Google Business Profile is far from the only online business directory you should focus on.

A number of non-Google directories, such as Bing Places, Yellow Pages, Business Search NZ and NZ Directory can also help to ensure you get in front of people who are searching for what you offer.

Then there are the industry-specific directories: in New Zealand, we have things like Builderscrack for tradies and The Urban List for hospitality. There may also be local directories that you could submit your business to; often councils or community groups will develop a list of businesses that they promote when the right questions are asked.

These so-called NAP (name, address, phone number) citations can not only prove super valuable in getting your business in front of relevant eyes, but also in helping your SEO efforts. You piggyback off the reputation of the directory to potentially appear higher on the SERP, and you can also gain backlinks that can push your own site further up the rankings.

Beware the less reputable directories, however, as these can end up having a net negative effect on your Google ranking.

4. Develop social profiles and proof

Social media platforms can further enhance your local SEO efforts by acting as proxy business directories – more places to add your NAP (and website) citations. To enhance your use of social media:

  • Claim a profile on all platforms that are relevant to your business, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.
  • Apply local SEO to these profiles, listing your location and linking back to your website.
  • Develop a strategy that ensures that you post regularly on your profiles, that any engagement is encouraged, and that direct messages are responded to.
  • Do what you can to get verified on these platforms to increase your reputability (some ‘blue ticks’ are harder to get than others.)
  • If a platform offers a rating or review feature, encourage customers to use it, and respond to any who do. See bad reviews not as a negative, but as an opportunity to improve or to show who you are as a business.

This last point about reviews and ratings refers to the concept of social proof. People are becoming somewhat immune to traditional marketing, and many no longer trust businesses to talk about themselves. They do however trust other people, as customers are generally considered unbiased.

In fact, 88% of consumers trust user reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations. This fact makes ratings and reviews an incredibly powerful local SEO tool. This is particularly the case for your Google Business Profile, as your ratings are shown whenever your business comes up as a rich result on Maps or Search.

Encourage happy customers to leave reviews and try to respond to every single one.

5. Create local content

There are a number of reasons why content creation is critical for local SEO:

  • It gives your audience valuable information and positions you as the go-to business in your field.
  • It gives Google more keywords and content to bite into, enhancing your ranking.
  • High-quality content will compel other websites to link to it. These backlinks make you a more trustworthy source in Google’s eyes, thereby pushing you even further up the SERP.

When creating content, whether a blog, a landing page or a social media post:

  • Include localised keywords like your city, suburb or town.
  • Include local photos and videos, and optimise the metadata and alt-tags for local SEO.
  • Set your location on platforms that allow it, like Instagram, and tag local people, businesses and organisations where relevant.

Creating content should be a fun process, but many businesses struggle to prioritise it or feel a little overwhelmed when they do attempt it. That’s why a lot of local businesses choose to outsource their social media content creation, handing it over to experts who know exactly when to post and what to post, and who will treat it as the priority that it is.

Local businesses can no longer afford to ignore local SEO. With an ever-increasing number of Kiwis turning to Google to meet all their needs, you need to ensure your business pops up when the relevant search terms are typed in.

And if you can see value in getting expert assistance in your local SEO quest, Traction is ready to help. Contact our friendly team today!