Recently, I was looking for customized cupcakes for an event. And I realized that despite searching online bakeries, I was subconsciously looking for those based in my area. Why? Because of the assumption that it will get to me sooner! And it dawned on me how important local SEO is, even for businesses without a physical location.
After all, as per GoGulf, 46 percent of all searches on Google have local intent. Think about it – that is approximately half of all the searches on the platform!
A study by Chat Meter further reiterates the rise of local search engine optimization, with “close by” and “near me” queries growing by 900 percent in two years. And even within local searches, 92 percent of people choose solely from the first page of search results, as reported by SEO Expert.
I won’t give you false hope. Ranking highly for local keywords is already hard enough if you have a brick-and-mortar store. Doing so without one is going to be a challenge. However, if you take the right steps, you can surely crush the game.
Four business models that can utilize local SEO
You can broadly divide firms that require local search engine optimization but do not have a physical address for business into four categories. While some of them may find it easy to rank highly for local searches, other categories would not.
According to Fundera, in the US alone, there are approximately 15 million home-based businesses. Whether it be an online bakery (like the ones I was perusing!) or a tutor that visits clients’ houses for private tuition, such businesses might not have a store for customers to walk into, but they might still be restricted to an area of a city.
Service Area Business
Certain services don’t require service providers to have a brick-and-mortar store. For instance, you are likely to find plumbing and landscaping services that solely take orders via their websites. Such service providers are limited to a location and hence are likely to benefit from a near me local search.
Do you own a digital agency that requires its workforce to work from home? Or maybe an online store that uses your house as an operating point?
There are various businesses that function remotely. If you offer face-to-face consultations to your customers by visiting them, then you can easily optimize for local listings. However, if you don’t, you will only be limited to content optimization.
Let’s just say that this final category encompasses every business that may require local search engine optimization but may not fall into the first three categories.
Post the pandemic; hybrid business models have been on the rise. For instance, now apparel stores that were previously only brick-and-mortar stores now have an Ecommerce solution as well. This means that just because previously a store was based in New York doesn’t mean it can’t deliver products to Texas.
Another example of a hybrid business can be a security company that takes both home-appointments for installing security tools as well as accepts walk-ins for product repair. Such businesses can adopt local search engine tactics like any other local business.
Strategies for Home-based Businesses
In some ways, optimizing for local searches can be tricky for home-based businesses. In other ways, it is quite straightforward.
Google My Business Listing
If your business model revolves around providing service from your house, then it means that you don’t mind having the address listed online. Even though your business location might be your home address, you can still use it as a business address.
Additionally, in case your model mimics that of service area business (but it is too small for it to be categorized as such), you can hide your address as mentioned in detail in the section below.
However, if you are not serving customers face-to-face at all (whether it be via in-house consultations or deliveries), then your business will not be eligible for GMB listing.
Local Link Building
According to Social Media Today, 41 percent of SEO experts find link building very challenging. This is understandable considering a whopping 94 percent of the online content gets zero links! This also makes link-building a very precious tactic. Every credible link you get, the more your reputation will improve.
Create a dedicated blog for your home-based business’s website. By creating content relevant to your niche, you will be able to attract links from other local businesses. It will also provide you with an opportunity to include high-performing local keywords in your website without misleading your audience.
Strategies for Service Area Businesses
Here are ways you can use local SEO for your service area business.
Google My Business Service Listing
GMB doesn’t just cater to businesses with a physical location. Instead, it allows service area businesses to list the local areas of their services without having to publish a physical address. Begin by creating and optimizing your GMB listing.
In case your business provides multiple services, each varying according to the location, and these areas are at least two hours apart from each other, you can have multiple listings for your business.
Note that you will have to provide a physical address for this listing. But, you can choose to hide it from the listing.
Local Keyword Optimization
Just like a business with a physical store, improve your local organic ranking by optimizing your content with highly searched local keywords. However, make sure that the words you add to your content are relevant to your business and the context.
For instance, stemming from my first example, let’s say you are an online bakery. And you are optimizing for the phrase “cupcakes near you.” Make sure you clarify that the service operates via home delivery only.
Location-based landing pages
Now, this is quite a tricky area and is only applicable to service area businesses that can limit their services to a given geographic area. If you can do so, create a location-based landing page and add your contact form and portfolio for the area in it.
For instance, an online landscaper company functioning in multiple cities of Florida can create a dedicated page for its Orlando, Miami, and Daytona, etc., service areas and list down the personalized contact information for each city.
Granularity: Identifying local queries to compete for
Localized content and targeting is a crucial aspect of local SEO. Regardless of the type of business, this is one thing you can compete for. However, you must decide how you wish to target your location-based pages. Options may include, on the basis of:
- Postal Code
To decide what is ideal for your business, you must understand the optimum level of granularity potential customers are looking for. For instance, while a local apparel store may find it profitable to target on the basis of city, a plumber might be chosen on the basis of area.
Once you have decided on your granularity, move on to local keyword research. Opt for long-tail queries that feature respectable traffic. Also, take a look at what your competitors are ranking for. This will give you an idea about the popular local keywords.
General Local Strategies That Work
Apart from keyword optimization, here are some other general local search engine optimization tactics that will work for all businesses – even those without physical locations.
- Guest blogging at local websites
- Adding testimonials from customers of the cities you wish to target
- Listing localized community involvement on your website
- Making your website responsive for mobile phones
Four things to avoid
Since you don’t have locations of business, you might be tempted to cheat the system. I urge you not to do so, especially if you don’t want to get penalized by search engines! Here are some of the things you should avoid:
- Setting up a vacant property as your location in listings, just for the sake of optimizing your website for local searches.
- Faking locations by setting up P.O boxes or unstaffed virtual offices.
- Adding multiple locations by using your and your friends’ private properties.
- Don’t go overboard with your deliverables just to match brick-and-mortar businesses. For instance, don’t offer same-day delivery just because other physical stores guarantee it.
All in all, anything that you do that may classify as duping your target audience and the search engine is generally an unacceptable tactic. By using such measures, you may end up destroying your credibility even in front of those who have a non-local intent.
Long Story Short
All in all, there are certain SEO elements that remain the same, regardless of whether you have a brick-and-mortar store or not. The only thing that becomes challenging is listings. Considering how important these are for local optimization, you can surely understand why the task gets tricky.
For those of you who function within the service area or hybrid industry, you are lucky! For the rest of you, I hope that the other strategies I have mentioned make up for the one thing you might not be able to do.
Do you run a business without a physical location? Do let us all know about the challenges you have faced in the world of SEO and how you overcame them. It will help us all!
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