The Web offers a great opportunity for local businesses to acquire new customers. Today, search engine companies are working to strengthen these relationships. In a recent post on SEOmoz, Mike Ramsey, President of Nifty Marketing, describes the increasing emphasis that Google is placing on local search results, and how local businesses can use this to their advantage.
The primary marketing channel for many local retailers is their website, and ensuring that it’s well-designed, contains useful information and is easily discoverable are essential components to connecting with local shoppers. Recently, I spoke with Maria Orozova, President and Creative Director of The MOD Studio (also on Facebook), and Dwayn Fricke, owner of All Seattle Web Design, about what a locally-optimized retail website should include.
I’ve put together this downloadable checklist for local business owners to use when evaluating their own website or building a new one from scratch.
Most of these ideas are easy to implement. If you’re unsure how, talk to a Web designer or developer, or search online for free assistance resources.
1. Claim Your Online Local Business Listing
One of the first to-do’s for a local business owner is to claim your Bing Business Portal and Google Places listings. Verifying your listing with both of these services is free and requires entering a code that will be mailed to your business address. Claiming your listing can result in increased traffic to your site for even general search terms related to your business, because the search engines know approximately where you are.
2. Regularly Track Traffic in Google Analytics
Business owners should use Google Analytics (free) to monitor what content has been driving visitors to the site and where these visitors are coming from (search engines, other sites linking to yours, organic search, etc.). These insights can help you develop content that drives additional traffic to your site and identify where to promote it. For help on getting started, see Mashable’s article, How To Get Started with Google Analytics.
3. Make Sure Customers Can Easily Find and Contact You
The most important information for many visitors will be your store location, so ensure that it’s prominently displayed on your homepage. Provide a link to an online map, or embed a small map graphic if your business is near a well-known intersection or landmark.
Also display your phone number and email address, your hours of operation, and parking or public transportation information. If you have more than one location, centralize some of this information on a separate “Contact Us” or “Locations” page.
4. Optimize HTML, Meta Tags and Copy for Local Searchers
Optimizing the title and description tags on your website is a great way to alert alert both visitors and search engines that your business is local. Mining Google Analytics data can help you determine which tags are most appropriate for your site. A good starter resource is Search Engine Watch's How to Use HTML Meta Tags.
Additionally, in the article that inspired this post, Ramsey suggests using Schema Creator and microformats.org to help create code for your website that will help alert search engines that your business is local. Also add localized copy to your site (e.g., “We are the leading retailer of unique pet supplies in Austin, Texas”) and exchange links with other local businesses and nonprofits.
5. Create Business Profile Pages and Ask for Feedback
Google Places, Yelp and other local profile sites are a great way to provide key information about your business and garner feedback from recent customers. They also rank well in search results and boost traffic to your business and its website. Link to these pages on your website, and make sure that these pages also link to yours. Ask customers to provide feedback and be sure to follow-up on negative experiences to amend relationships with dissatisfied customers.
6. Elevate Promotions and Specials on the Homepage
To grab the attention of visitors, place details of current and upcoming promotions on the homepage of your site, preferably high-up on the page where they are most likely to be noticed. These details could be the deciding factor between a visitor choosing your store over a competitor’s.
7. Connect with Locals through Social Networks and Newsletters
Even if new visitors to your site don’t buy from you today, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect with them in the future. Facebook, Twitter and email newsletters can alert local customers to specials, seasonal hours, new products and general news about your business. Provide links to your social media accounts and newsletter sign-up forms throughout your site.
8. Join Online Local Business Communities
Many cities (and even neighborhoods) have websites dedicated to promoting local businesses. A listing on these sites can help elevate your website in local search results, but also lead to referral traffic from these community pages. South Congress, a prime retail and restaurant neighborhood in Austin, Texas, has one such site dedicated to listing local retail businesses.
What other website elements are essential to local business success? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Thumbnail image created by Pacific Northwest Safety and Health Center University of Washington.