Although this article is aimed specifically at those companies who are based in the Birmingham area of the UK and its surrounding areas (we're not afraid to mention the Black Country here!), the principles are pretty much the same for any business.
If you're based in another city, say, Manchester, just replace many of the ideas in this post with your city name, although the links section will need more attention, we're obviously looking at links from Birmingham businesses in this article.
How local search is changing
Search changes all the time.
You may have heard that there are hundreds of changes to how search works every single year. Well, that's true, and although some of them are minor and you're unlikely to notice, some of them are huge.
In 2016, the changes were more of a consolidation of what had gone on previously, but we did discover some signals that had significant effects on some of our test pages.
Luckily, the ways to influence these changes were extremely simple; with just a few tweaks, we could make changes to our search positions, and those changes would stick.
In fact, many of the techniques you're about to read about weren't technical in the least, and with just a few hours work each month, it was easy to stay ahead of the game.
Want to know what they are?
Links, but not many of them…
There's a huge correlation between the number and quality of links going to your website and the ranking of your website.
This is a bit of an inconvenient truth for many because for years now a lot of SEO companies have been touting the idea that links aren't that important anymore.
Much of this comes from the work Google has been doing to discount bad links and link spam.
They don't like it when people use automated tools to create hundreds or thousands of links to a website, all of them coming from made-up spammy websites with no value.
So, they created penalties. Not only do these penalties affect the spam sites, but they can affect your site, too, if they believe that the links from them are for SEO purposes and you created them.
Maybe, but it did scare people off from doing any kind of link creation.
Links still matter
But, links are still a huge factor in ranking, but it doesn't take many to have an effect.
It's likely that the value of links will begin to decline during 2017, as Google learns more about what makes a good article rather than who's pointing to it, but one thing's for sure, links aren't going away soon.
And if you want to have a massive effect on your ranking for a local term, It might only take one or two links.
Seriously, not that many at all.
Well because most of your competitors aren't doing anything.
Most of the businesses who do just what you do aren't doing a thing to better their SEO. Not a thing.
So, you make a few phone calls, write a few articles, and blam – you get a link and a great ranking boost.
How to do this
Newspapers are in decline, of this there is little doubt, and so they are making a move (belatedly) to go to a more on-line presence. This usually means that news makes both the paper version of their publication and the online version.
Also, local newspapers need news. Lots of news. In a world where people are blogging for themselves, and news is available everywhere, local newspapers are finding it tough to be first with new news and opinion.
So if you can find the details of your local reporter, you can use this to your advantage by making it easy for them.
Send them information, news and ideas, and they're usually more than willing to help you.
For example, if it's the beginning of the year, many people are looking for ways to get rid of the Christmas excesses through either exercise or better eating.
How can you help them?
Here are a few specific ideas.
Cycling is a great way for people to get fit and lose weight, and it'd be fantastic if they were to know your shop was just round the corner so they could come and get a bike from you.
How about an article entitled “Work off the Christmas blues with these Birmingham cycle routes”?
The first step to doing this is to write to your local reporter and ask them if they take submissions and also if they'd be interested in an article on that particular subject.
Very often, the answer will be “yes” together with a suggestion of a number of words.
So, write your article!
The great British veggie shop is an institution we should protect.
In some towns they've almost been wiped out by supermarkets, so it's time to take back the High Street and get them the visibility they deserve!
Vegetables just scream “health”, so how about some easy recipes?
The main point here is that people want “easy” and “quick” and they don't want complex ingredients.
“Five really simple veggie recipes that take ten minutes.”
Again, pitch this to your local newspaper. If they're interested, write your article and send it off to them.
Surely this is easy by now?!
In fact, the hardest thing here will be not to mention your own equipment or services too much.
Instead of writing about the benefits of spending an hour on a treadmill or joining a spinning class, talk about some great walks around Birmingham, the benefits of fresh air etc.
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, but you're just after the mention, this is not an advert, and if you pitch it as an advert then the paper won't run it.
What about the link?
Some newspapers are picky about who they link to, and it's likely you won't get a link at all, but that's OK. As long as your business gets a mention then you can be happy that your job has been done.
If you do get a link, then you're really winning!
How does this help?
If you don't get a link from the newspaper but you do get a mention, then you're still doing better than a company that hasn't even bothered.
A mention of your business, a citation, is good. It's not as good as a link, but it's still good and could increase your ranking.
If you get a link, however, then you're really doing well and it could bring you lots of visitors and also increase your Google visibility.
Images that mention Birmingham
When you write a blog or article, you need to include images.
If you write a blog about your local area, then you also need to include the local area name in the images. So if you write about a great walk around the city centre, you could mention some sights, together with an image and a relevant caption and image name to match.
A picture of Moore Street Station, for example, should be captioned “Moore Street Station, Birmingham” and the actual image name should be “moore-street-station-birmingham.jpg”.
Some useful contacts:
Express and Star: email@example.com
BBC Midlands Today firstname.lastname@example.org
Kidderminster Chronicle: email@example.com
bridge radio firstname.lastname@example.org
Dudley Chronicle email@example.com
Walsall Express & Star <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Google My Business
This is Google's own local directory, and it's pretty essential you have your business listed.
You should also optimise it fully, including lots of images of your business, the staff, the outside, the inside and some of your products.
These images should again have file names that mention your town and the products you sell.
“mountain-bikes-birmingham.jpg” for example.
Or maybe a picture of one of your bikes on a trail.
Each subtle mention of your area and what you sell is a point towards helping your site to rank locally.
When you go to Google maps you will notice that there's a way to embed it in your website, well, you should.
I've noticed some websites place a screenshot of the map, that's no good.
Use the embed function and embed it properly on your About Us or Contact Us page.
What's the benefit?
When you embed the map directly you're also embedding the functionality that comes with it, such as the ability for people to get directions to your shop.
Your visitors can also move the map around and find other locations, such as car parks and other shops that might be of use to the other members of the family.
I know that finding a bike shop near a toy shop was the only way I could justify a journey once!
Address and phone number (the NAP)
It's so obvious that it also seems silly to mention it, but you absolutely must include your company name, address and phone number on your website.
However, you should go a little bit further and use something called “Schema markup”.
Now, this might seem as if we're strolling into a bit of technical SEO here, but it's actually not that difficult at all, and in most cases it can be done by using a plugin.
What does schema markup do?
Google is very adept at extracting the information it needs from websites, but it also likes it when you give it a helping hand.
In this case, the helping hand is to tell it exactly what your address is by wrapping it in html tags that explain which bit is the name, which the street, the area, the phone number etc.
It's extremely easy to do, but you might want to get your developer to look at it if you're not able to edit sections of your site yourself.
What does it look like?
Here's an example of a standard address that you might find at the bottom of a website:
Banana Man Inc
33 Acacia Avenue
And here's what it looks like when schema has been added:
<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<div itemprop=”name”><strong>Banana Man Ltd</strong></div>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<strong>Address : </strong><br><span itemprop=”streetAddress”>33 Acacia Avenue</span>,<br>
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>Fruitmanshire</span> –
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>FR12 34Y</span><br>
<strong>Tel : </strong><span itemprop=”telephone”><a href=”tel:555-123-456″>555-123-456</a></span><br>
Where do I put this?
Your address should obviously be on your contact page, but if possible, you should also have it on every page of your site in the footer.
That should be fairly easy to do, but again, talk to your developer.
What about the phone number?
A good place to put your phone number and email address is in the header of your page.
You'll see this on lots of websites and it's extremely useful for people who are looking for a business but ideally want to call them up first.
Many websites never do this, but it's an absolutely brilliant technique for easily increasing your local search term relevancy.
Putting links to local, complimentary businesses and services can really help people to get a feel for the local area and make that extra special effort to visit you.
This works extremely well in villages and small towns to which people are more likely to travel if they know a bit more about it.
So, you could include information about local eateries, pubs and parking.
Again, this could depend on your type of business. In the cycle shop example, you could explain about any nearby tracks that customers could try their new bike out on.
If you're a butcher, give the links and directions to a recommended grocer, or baker. You're spreading your reputation far and letting others benefit from it, and this helps all of your rankings.
There are many other things that could help your local ranking, and of course, many of the items above have relevancy beyond Birmingham, but I wanted to explain in a targeted fashion just five simple changes that could have a huge effect.
We can all spend hours poring over manuals and courses to find the best way to optimise our site, but the fact is, so few people are doing any of this, just a few changes to your site can have huge implications and propel yours right to the top of the charts with very little effort.