Small business owners balance a dizzying array of responsibilities. To build a local service or retail business in 2024 is to undertake a sisyphean task.
I could tell from the look in his eyes that he didn’t understand what I was saying.
For all intensive purposes, his reaction was more akin to someone who was just introduced to the principles of quantum mechanics, when all they wanted was to know how to make a sandwich.
This was not how I had envisioned the discussion about how to position an up and coming pool cleaning company was going to unfold.
Somewhere during my compelling explanation about creating a Google Business Profile, establishing a Google Ads account, creating a variety of Local Business Listings, and getting started with WhiteSpark – I had lost him. The best pool guy I ever met simply didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t his fault. Over the past 16 years, the local search ecosystem has become so dynamic, nebulous, and prodigious that it’s nearly impossible to understand the scale of it. It wasn’t until I had that conversation with someone I consider to be exceptionally intelligent that I realized, Local SEO is more complex than most professionals in the marketing industry realize. And that is precisely the inspiration for this post.
Small business owners balance a dizzying array of responsibilities. To build a local service or retail business in 2024 is to undertake a sisyphean task. Marketing and advertising is seldom at the forefront of any entrepreneur’s priority list, at least, in the context of launching a product, managing finances, hiring/firing, opening the doors, greeting that first customer…you get the idea. But that reality is often the barrier to growing a small business, because without a concerted local marketing strategy, you’re relying on the natural allure of what’s already been built. I would consider that inadequate.
So how do we go about making it easy for small business owners to establish themselves online without taking on another time consuming endeavor which detracts from entrepreneurial efficacy? You start with the basics, and build from there. To all my burgeoning small business owners and entrepreneurs out there, here’s what you need to know about Local SEO in 2024.
Take Care of Your Business Registrations As a First Priority
This is fundamental to being found online – take care of your business profile registrations before you do anything else. There is no shortage of resources for how to do this, where to do this, and when to do this. But to make it as easy as possible, here’s the first steps you should take:
Google Business Profile
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so i’ll link to several of the resources I consider the most valuable “guides” on this subject:
Bottom Line: Set up your Google Business Profile to win – from Day 1. Learn as much as you can about the nuances of GBP optimization, and be sure to fill out every aspect of the profile. Post updates. Demand reviews. Post Pictures. Do anything and everything you can to take full advantage of this coveted search engine real estate. You might also consider having WhiteSpark do everything for you.
Facebook Business Page
This is fundamental to building local visibility in your market. It’s true – I despise Meta, facebook, IG, and the absurdity that social media has ushered into society (shout out to Joey B Toonz vs The World). But it is a fundamental resource you must utilize as a small business owner. There’s no way around it. Setting up your Facebook Business Page is just as important as acquiring an occupational business license (you need it – or risk the consequences).
Linkedin Business Page
I know it sounds stupid if you’re not in professional services, but a LinkedIn Business Page provides a much needed boost to your business’s online “authority”. Google looks at various signals to understand how trustworthy your new business is…and the more legitimate profiles there are about your business online, the more established you appear. Linkedin is an excellent resource to network with professionals in your industry, but it’s also an ancient domain that can provide a fundamental credibility boost to your start-up retail or professional services business.
Apple Business Connect
I’ll bet you didn’t know about this (and why should you?). You can assist Apple in placing your business on Apple Maps. This is your opportunity to feed Apple Maps information about your business, which they would otherwise have to collect on their own. The more proactive you are in establishing your business on Apple Maps, the more likely it is that your business will show up before others in your immediate vicinity.
If you’re in tourism, hospitality, restaurant, bar, or any sort of business that depends on the perspective of visitors to validate it – you need to be on TripAdvisor. It’s an absolutely massive resource that provides millions upon millions of travelers with insights about the destination they’re visiting. Most consumers use a combination of Google Maps, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and social media to explore a destination before they go. TripAdvisor company pages are immensely valuable and can rapidly become one of your strongest sources of referral business if you depend on tourists.
If you haven’t seen South Park’s episode “You’re Not Yelping” – what are you doing with your life? Parker and Stone absolutely pinned the absurdity (and necessity) of Yelp in their brilliant rendition of Yelp’s impact on small business owners. Make sure to claim your Yelp page, before it gets away from you. Yelp can be a devastatingly sharp double edged sword…so be careful. Do everything you can to claim it, own it, and participate in the dialog that customers will develop.
The Better Business Bureau
In case you’re balking right now, I understand. I balked too…for a long time. Until I realized just how valuable of a link the BBB provides to your business. The BBB directory is ancient, massive, and extremely authoritative. Despite the accreditation requiring a fee to have your business vetted – the profile itself is worth it. The company page on BBB ranks extremely well for your business name. It’s a great way to control your branded search result and to boost the strength of your backlink profile.
Bing Places for Business
Despite Bing’s market share in search constantly proving to be abysmal, it remains an enduring force on the internet, and should be a portion of your online presence. Creating a listing on Bing Places for Business is actually rather easy, and can provide a reasonable source of visibility, credibility, and authority. It’s better you control this profile, than let it sit, neglected, for the masses to find of their own accord.
Amazingly enough, this profile will actually rank extremely well for your business name, and has remained an enduring part of the local search ecosystem for more than a decade. Creating a profile on this site is easy and the domain actually attracts a massive volume of traffic on a monthly basis.
While this site is specifically designed for “tech” companies, or professional service businesses that are seeking funding, the website itself is ancient and carries tremendous authority. Business profiles created on Crunchbase rank extremely well for brand searches. The profile itself also provides a link to your website, which can help build cumulative domain authority, particularly if your business is brand new.
Claiming your listing on Merchant Circle is super easy, and it provides yet another business profile page which can help solidify your online presence. This was the original “linked in” for business owners, not just professionals. It remains an excellent resource for positioning your business as an established entity.
Resources on Creating Business Profiles (and Local SEO in general)
These are several of the definitive guides i’ve found that provide exceptional insights on how to leverage business profiles to generate visibility online:
Use Google Ads Tactfully & Responsibly As a Small Business Owner
If you are starting out as a small business owner in a densely populated area, providing a service or product that is also available from established rivals in your market – you need a Google Ads strategy. Unless you fall into one of the finite percentages of businesses that launch and suddenly explode in demand, popularity, accreditation, or media hype – Google Ads is inherent to getting your business more attention, customers, and visibility in local search.
Google Ads provides a variety of products that enable advertisers to promote their business location, products, services or brand across all of the Google networks (search, display, maps, youtube, gmail, “discovery”). The good news is – you do not need to spend a small fortune to leverage Google Ads effectively. If you’re smart about your advertising goals (i.e. focusing on generating phone calls, store visits, or enabling people to find directions), you can leverage Google Ads sustainably to supplement your business until that fortunate day arrives when organic, social, or word of mouth is providing enough customers that you don’t need to worry about advertising anymore (or at least, not make it a priority for investment).
Getting started with Google Ads is very easy – set up an account – and make sure to enable conversion tracking (depending on which conversion goals are most valuable to you). Even if you don’t have a website, there is an opportunity to use Google Ads.
A Few Things You Should Know about Maximizing Google Ads for Local Success
There is a major distinction between these different types of campaigns that you need to be aware of:
- Search Network Campaigns
- Display Advertising Campaigns
- Performance Max Campaigns
Search Network Campaigns
This is the most basic, and arguably the most impactful, form of advertising on Google. Search network ads are served based on a series of keywords that you select. Google has created an advertising product that enables advertisers to control the language which triggers their ads, when the ads are served, where the ads are served, and what ad copy is presented. There are several keyword match types you need to consider – but for the most part – stick with exact match. Keyword match types like “broad match” and “phrase match” can serve your ads for an endless array of irrelevant keywords that ultimately eat up your budget without any return. Stick with exact match as a local business owner, unless you’re working with a marketing team who understands how to apply negative keywords without fully restricting your traffic acquisition capability.
Search network campaigns present the opportunity to utilize “Google Search” with the option to leverage “Search Partners”. Stay the hell away from search partners. It is a terrible option for small business owners, because it serves your ads all over the damn place, and often in “meta” search engines that are irrelevant to your business – often accruing clicks from audiences that are totally irrelevant to your customer base. If you’re in a market where volume is really, really low – then consider it. But as a general rule of thumb – do not opt into search partners when initially deploying your campaigns on the search network.
I will write about the nuances of creating effective search network campaigns in a subsequent blog article, but in the interest of focusing on Local Business Marketing, I encourage you to leverage a tactful geotargeting strategy for your advertising campaigns. Make sure to exclude areas where you DO NOT want your ads to show up. And DO include areas where you DO want your ads to show up. DO NOT trust the default geotargeting settings that Google provides, or you could wind up serving your ads in Indonesia, India, Italy, or any other country that begins with the letter “I”.
Display Advertising Campaigns
This is your opportunity to serve ads on what Google calls the Google Display Network. There are millions upon millions upon millions of places where your ads can wind up, which is why you need to utilize “placements” as a means of controlling where your ads go. One of the key features of the Display Network is that you can control who sees your ads – there are a myriad of audience interests and demographic settings you can apply to engage an audience that is right for you.
Think of the display network as an opportunity to engage an audience who has an interest in what you provide. If you’re a healthcare provider, you might consider serving your ads on websites that provide medical information specific to your specialization (i.e think about people researching what’s wrong with them medically before contacting a doctor). If you’re a marina interested in attracting new customers, you might consider serving ads on websites related to boating, fishing, sailing, diving, or other recreational water sports. The real trick to leveraging the display network is to maximize your control over the content you put out, where it goes, and who sees it.
Performance Max Campaigns
This is Google’s latest and greatest ad product that affords advertisers the opportunity to cover as much online real estate as possible. If you’re able to properly configure a Performance Max campaign, you can effectively serve ads for your business on Google Search, Google Display Network, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, and the Google Discovery Network. That’s a tremendous amount of real estate, and to make it more interesting – you can apply what are called “search themes” as part of your asset groups, which enables advertisers to thematically position their ads based on audience interests.
The real “magic” of a Performance Max campaign is the opportunity to craft Asset Groups. Think of these like “targeting vignettes” in which you get to craft a profile of the audience you want to reach. Google takes this information, interprets it, and then sends dynamic versions of your ad creative out into the various online ecosystems to engage the audiences you want. It’s actually a very powerful and potent resource for advertisers who are looking to reach those “hard to understand” audiences in very competitive markets.
The most critical aspect to establishing an effective Performance Max campaign is to make sure you’re leveraging all of the ad features they make available. You’ll need photos, videos, compelling ad copy (headlines and descriptions), and all manner of ad extensions to ensure the ads which are created represent the most robust and compelling representation of your business. There are several practical guides for getting the most out of Performance Max, and we can certainly help you set it up.
Local SEO (and Marketing Resources) You Need to Know
To round out this already lengthy post on all things Local SEO (which somehow morphed into a post about local business marketing), I wanted to provide you with a list of Local SEO and Local Marketing resources that i’ve found particularly compelling, insightful, and actionable. Yes – it can take time to read, learn, and apply all that’s here – but keep in mind – the more you learn about all this, the farther ahead it puts you in the race to acquire as much of an audience as possible. When it comes to entrepreneurship in competitive industries (or locations) – staying one step ahead in marketing can make all the difference.
Here’s my list of what I consider to be the best Local SEO (and marketing) Resources: