If you Google "fashion" in Columbus, Ohio, you'll find Macy's, Talbots--and Rowe. The 10-year-old boutique may be small, but it often turns up in the "three-pack" of local listings that top many Google results pages. Owner Maren Roth achieved that visibility thanks to an up-to-date Google My Business listing, links from local companies, a loyal social-media following, and keyword optimization. "We don't do a lot of advertising, but we do a ton of social media, so local shoppers follow the store," Roth says. "We collaborate with local bloggers, tag vendors in pictures, and get links from vendors' websites." The value of that top-three listing is high: Google found in 2014 that 50 percent of consumers who searched locally on their phones visited a store within a day. To snare those shoppers, use a broad-based approach.
Aim for three.
Step one to ranking in the three-pack is getting a free Google My Business listing, available at google.com/business. Targeted primarily at in-person shoppers, it includes your location, contact information, hours of operation, photos, and a brief description. Since local searches are usually highly detailed, write your description accordingly. "A local search isn't 'I'm looking for a hotel near me,'" says Jeffrey Rohrs, chief marketing officer of online appearance management company Yext. "It's 'I'm looking for a hotel near me tonight that accepts pets and has Jacuzzis.'" Upload lots of high-quality pictures to your listing. "Pictures are the equivalent of your storefront online," says Mitul Gandhi, co-founder and chief architect of search engine optimization firm SeoClarity. You'll also need to get control of your NAP--your name, address, and phone number data. This may seem like the most obvious thing in the world, but even if your information is correct on your website, it can be inaccurate or missing on any of the thousands of directories that Google crawls, and correcting those errors is no small feat. To see how your NAP is listed across the web, use the tools found at Yext.com or YP.com. To fix any erroneous listings, use a DIY program like Moz Local or a do-it-for-me platform like Brandify, says Laura Rich, CEO of local marketing technology digital publication Street Fight.
The three-pack is just the beginning when it comes to visibility. Sign up for free profiles anywhere you can: Yelp, YP.com, Local.com, Bing Places for Business, and city directories in your area. Because so many local searches are mobile, it's important to be listed on Apple Maps. Visit mapsconnect.apple.com to add or update your information. Also, make sure to build a wider regional social-media presence. Alex D'Hue's Garden Grove, California, jujitsu dojo, Gracie Barra Garden Grove, has gotten 20 to 25 leads a month, up from one or two, since he began holding events in neighboring cities and mentioning them on his site. "We did a demonstration at a school fair in Seal Beach and blogged about it, so we came up in search results for Seal Beach," D'Hue says.
Get personal with social media.
Locally targeted ads on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat can be a dirt-cheap bonanza, because you can purchase inexpensive ads that run in specific geographical areas and ZIP codes. At Rick Curren Auto Sales in Horseheads, New York, marketing manager Anthony Curren often sees locally targeted ads costing only a few hundred dollars generate leads months later. "If I have a vehicle online as an ad," he says, "it will be sold quickly." Chicago interior designer Brooke Lang used Instagram's local targeting features to coordinate her purchase of sponsored posts with her appearance on a radio show. "I put the location of the radio station's studio [into Instagram's tool] and then picked a 10-mile radius," she says. Roth recommends putting yourself front and center on Instagram, where her boutique has roughly 12,000 followers. "If I'm in our pictures or videos, our Likes go up and we sell more," she says. Over two years, leads from Instagram have grown to account for 10 percent of her sales. Social media can also help you get positive reviews elsewhere. "People who post nice comments or hashtag photos can be private-messaged and encouraged to leave a review," suggests marketing consultant Wendy Weinstein Karp. Positive Google My Business reviews are one of the most important factors correlating with three-pack rankings, according to 2016 research by Local SEO Guide.
Picks and Pans
Great customer reviews are a key to high search rankings. This is how to get them.
"Keywords in Google My Business reviews can raise those terms' rankings, so have your staffers encourage customers to rate specific products or services. The GetFiveStars platform, targeted to small-to-medium businesses, automates the feedback process."
--Dan Leibson, vice president of search, Local SEO Guide
"Bad reviews are an opportunity. People leaving awful reviews have turned into our biggest ambassadors. If we get a bad review, we invite them back and assist them with reservations, and oftentimes our managers give them their personal cell numbers. Sometimes we send the reviewer a gift certificate."
--Jennifer Bell, executive vice president of marketing, Lettuce Entertain You
"For restaurants and retail, add a review prompt through the EPOS [electronic point of sale] so it appears on the check or receipt. A business card telling where and how to leave a review can be given to customers the staff thinks might be inspired to share their positive experience."
--Wendy Weinstein Karp, principal, W2K Consulting