While larger businesses have bigger budgets for SEO and online advertising, small businesses can still gain visibility and draw in quality leads by understanding local search results and building their online presence in a strategic way.
In this article, we’re going to talk you through what Google’s local search results look like, so you can see how they are made up and where you want to appear. We’re also going to give you our quick tips on directory listings, Google Ads, and more, along with our best local search strategy for small businesses.
What do Google’s local search results look like today?
Time was, the search results simply consisted of paid ads and organic search results, but now there’s more to them than that. You need to be aware of what the search results look like now and which parts of them you want to pay attention to.
Not only that, but the mobile phone has changed the way people search and shop to the point where you really can’t afford to disregard the amount of mobile phone traffic that could be coming your way.
Keep both of these things in mind and follow our tips on how to improve your local search rankings and you should find that you’ll start to bring in more and better leads from people in your area that are searching for your services.
Desktop vs Mobile
While desktop searches still outpace mobile searches, so many people are now searching and shopping on their mobiles or using voice-activated digital assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
It’s so much quicker to ask a quick question or tap out a quick search than it is to switch on a computer and type out a full search query.
And the results are striking. People still buy and convert on desktops. They will still type out search queries, but mobile and voice searches have grown to the point where you will be losing sales and money if your website isn’t mobile-responsive.
It’s also common for buying actions or further research to happen very quickly once a mobile search has been run, including making a phone call, actually buying, or talking about their search online. And, while most people actually search with their phone at home, some people will go to your store or premises and search and ask questions on their phones while they are there.
Because of this, Google now expects that all sites to be highly responsive on mobile. In fact, as of May this year, they are now using the mobile version of people’s sites in search (known as mobile-first indexing) for nearly all sites, except the ones that don’t work on mobile.
What this means for you as a small business is that you must look at your site and ensure it is fully responsive on mobile, fast loading, and easy to use on a mobile with its smaller screen and keyboard.
That’s your first tip to help you get more visibility as any sites that don’t work properly on mobile are likely to have reduced rankings.
Local SERPs Anatomy
As we said earlier, the SERPS used to just consist of paid, or sponsored, ads at the top and perhaps the bottom or side of the results, followed by the organic search results.
Now, however, it’s changed considerably and some of these listings give you different paid and free options for getting your small business seen.
In order, from top to bottom, here are the listings:
1st Place + Priority Visibility = Local Services Ads
These ads appear right at the top of the search results in their own box. And they really can pack a punch for small businesses.
They are paid ads, but you only pay when a customer gets in touch with you via your ad. As you might imagine, anyone who’s keen enough to get in touch is a very warm lead indeed.
You also become a Google Screened or Google Guaranteed provider giving you a reassuring green tick icon from Google that can help potential clients choose you over your competitors. These options prove to customers that you are insured, licensed, and registered, as appropriate for your type of business.
2nd Place + High Visibility = Google Ads
The original Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads, even these have come a long way. They still work the same way, where you only pay when someone clicks your ad, but you can now have ad extensions, giving customers more information, such as star ratings, contact information, opening hours, and even a call button. You can also choose from seven different campaign types, including, shopping, video, and display, depending on what you are selling and what will work best.
You’ll find these ads right under the Local Service Ads in the search results.
3rd Place = Maps
If you – or more importantly, a potential client – search on Google Maps for “your type of business + local area”, a map showing the local area will come up and any businesses that fit that search will be marked with a red tag. There’s a lot of information to be found here, including reviews, images, opening times, contact details, and more.
You’ll also see between three and six business listings which are the best possible results in that area, as chosen by Google. This is known as the Google Map Pack or the Local Pack, and you literally cannot buy your way into getting a listing here. The only way to try for a Pack listing is to claim your Google Business Profile and fully optimize it, but we’ll give you some tips on that later in the article.
4th Place = Directory Listings
No doubt you’ve heard of some of the larger business directories, such as Angi and Yelp, and just before we get to the organic results, there’s space for several business directory listings, based on the search performed.
These directory listings are a great way to gain more visibility and grow your online presence, and we’ll also give you tips on how to make the most of these later.
5th Place = Organic results
Finally, right at the bottom of the search results, you get your standard organic search results, with a blue hyperlinked heading, the company name and website, and a short description.
Location, Location, Location
We said earlier that these different sections offer small businesses some options for gaining visibility, and they do. However, Google has been changing the way people find and consume information to make it easier for the searcher, and this has, unfortunately, made it harder for businesses to be seen.
There is now a big emphasis on location – being local – and providing the best possible search experience for a person.
You only have to look at the order and the emphasis of the sections above to see this. Local Services Ads are the very first thing you see when conducting a search, map listings are featured prominently, and businesses need to maintain their directory listings to get found by and impress new potential customers.
So, which of these sections should you focus on? As many as you can! As a local business, it should be your goal to appear in and dominate visibility in all of these sections, if you can.
The more sections you appear in for any given search result, the more credible your company appears and the more a potential new customer will trust your company is the right choice for them.
You have no doubt heard that it can take seven touchpoints before a company moves from know to like to trust with customers. Done right, you can appear in most, if not all of these sections, and make potential customers feel like you’re the main option. You’ll look like your business is everywhere online if you build your online presence in the right way.
How can your small business dominate local search results?
Prioritize your online presence
We’ve talked about building your online presence and that really is where you have to start. Your ability to get found in multiple places on Google increases consumer trust in your business. It reassures them that you’re a real business, that you’re genuine, credible, and can help them.
Your online presence is basically made up of your website and social media, directory listings, including your Google Business Profile, and your organic search results. You can also add to your online presence by running paid ads to raise your visibility and appear in more sections of the SERPs.
Run a multichannel marketing strategy
You can no longer rely on just building a website and hoping that will work. Instead, you need to get your business listed in as many places online as you can. By targeting all aspects of your online presence, you increase your visibility and can attract more new customers.
Build Your Online Presence and Dominate Local Search
Here are our quick tips to start building your online presence and your business reputation. Everything you do online matters. Everything you do creates a certain impression of your business in the minds of your audience. While you can’t tell them what to think, you can be consistent in the way you speak, in your company values, and in the way you approach everything with honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Doing that will help to form that excellent first – and lasting – impression that you want your potential clients to see.
1. Quick tips to optimize Google Local Services Ads
Google Local Services Ads are specifically designed for home services businesses, such as roofers, kitchen designers, and boiler engineers, and also for businesses such as lawyers, accountants, and real estate brokers.
Google Screened is for lawyers and accountants, and Google Guaranteed is for blue-collar home services businesses. For both programs, you’ll have to have an ads account, you’ll have to have your team members get background checked, and you’ll need at least a 3.0 Google Business Profile rating.
To get better results with these ads:
- Use headshots showing down to at least your elbows. Shots of only your face are likely to be flagged.
- Watch your certifications. If these are seen to expire, your ads could get stopped. If you know your types of certifications either don’t expire or they last for years, put a date that’s far ahead enough into the future that you’ll never have to think about it.
- Keep requesting and responding to your reviews, particularly on your Google Business Profile. The more quality reviews you have, the better and you need to stay above a 3.0 rating.
- With these ads, the faster you respond to any queries, the more likely you are to get the job, so set opening hours that you really can stick to and set your ads to only run when you are around to respond.
2. Quick tips to optimize Google Ads
You don’t want to waste your budget on things that don’t work, so here are our tips to optimize your Google Ads:
- Use negative keywords. If you only work in, for example, Orange County in Florida, you may want to add the other 66 counties in the state to your negative keywords list. This lets you exclude any irrelevant searches and save your budget.
- In the same vein, use geotargeting to ensure your ads are only shown to people physically in Orange County, or whatever area you serve.
- Use targeting parameters to show your ads at optimum times when you get the most responses and clicks.
- Optimize your ad text and your landing page copy: Use your main keyword in your main headings, be clear about what you are offering and why that’s a good thing, where you can, use the same branding on your ad and your landing page, and finally, use a clear call-to-action that tells the audience what they can expect when they click.
3. Quick tips to optimize your Google Business Profile
Your Google Business Profile is basically a free directory listing, provided by Google themselves. It can help you enormously with your online visibility, so don’t skip it! It’s also the only way you have any chance at all of appearing in the Local Map Pack and in order to do that you must have a fully optimized Google Business Profile:
- Complete every possible section of your profile. Don’t skip any of them. Choose up to ten categories to suit your business, fill in your standard business information, such as contact details and opening hours, write a compelling section about your business and why people should choose you, give a complete list of your services, and even fill in the Q&A section. It’s important to respond when people ask questions as it makes them feel heard and important, but if you don’t yet have any audience questions, just think about your frequently asked questions and answer a few of those to at least put something in this section.
- Don’t forget your SEO just because this isn’t your website. Add your main keywords in every appropriate section and include local and related keywords too.
- Make a plan to consistently and regularly get new reviews from customers. Not only does this bury the occasional one-star review but the more reviews you have, the more of a chance you have of appearing on Google Map Pack.
- Make your profile highly attractive with quality images and videos. This might be the only place that some people find you on the internet, and it must be ready to give an excellent first impression.
- For the same reason, provide all the information and ways of contacting you a customer could want.
4. Quick tips to maximize your directory listings
There are hundreds of reputable business directories online and they all give you another place to talk about your business and provide quality information to potential customers. The more places you show up online, the more chances you have of being found. Many directories also have space for customers to leave reviews too. And each directory entry where you fill in your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) gives you a citation (a listing of your NAP on a site that you don’t own) which adds to your visibility.
- As with your Google Business Profile, fill in every section on your directories. These profiles need to look as attractive and busy as possible, and contain all the information your potential customers could need.
- When you fill in your NAP, be consistent on every directory. Your NAP must be the same everywhere you write it. If you use an area code in one place, you have to use it everywhere, if you don’t use abbreviations, then don’t use them anywhere. If there are any inconsistencies, it’s too easy for potential customers to wonder if the different entries are different businesses, and confused customers don’t buy! Not only that, but Google wants consistency in your NAP listings too, and could reduce your rankings if they aren’t sure.
- People want to see a responsive, active company so respond to any posts, comments, and in particular, your reviews on your business directories.
5. Quick tips to optimize your organic rankings
- When writing copy for your website, social media, and directories, use SEO best practices and include local keywords to help you get found in your local area.
- Include your main keywords in your URLs, headings, subheadings, meta title and description, the first paragraph of your copy, and naturally throughout the rest of the text.
- Yes, SEO is important, and keywords are important, but you should still write for people first and the search engines second. The search engines want to show the best possible answers for their search queries, which includes high-quality copy aimed at human beings, not crawl bots.
- Use internal linking to link between relevant pieces of content. For example, if you blog about painting and decorating in one blog, you could also link to another blog you’ve already written on choosing paint colors, to the page where people can book that service, and to your price list if you include that on your site. What this does is help the search engines index more of your pages as it helps to guide them through your site.
Attend a Surefire Local Marketing Platform demo
When building your online presence to dominate local search, you can see there are quite a few moving parts and tasks to be done. This might seem like too much work if you’re a small business, but Surefire Local can help.
We provide business intelligence marketing software that can handle many of the tasks involved in building your online presence and take some of the load off of you.
Our software can update over 80 business directories, including your Google Business Profile, all at once with just a few clicks. You don’t have to sign in and out of 80+ individual sites – just do them all at once from our dashboard.
You can request reviews, send automatic reminders, and respond to your reviews from our dashboard, too, and we can also manage your paid ads for you.
In fact, not only can we make it so much easier to build your online presence, but our professional marketing software can help you manage your most important online marketing activities all within one platform. You can optimize your lead generation, reduce your cost-per-lead, and generate more revenue for your business using Surefire Local’s all-in-one marketing platform.
We also dig deep into your analytics and statistics, providing quality reports and letting you look closely at individual aspects of your marketing, or give you a complete overview of how your marketing is performing, so you can adjust and improve as you go.
Why not book a demo with our team and see how our software can help your small business grow?