The simple (and free) method small businesses are using to climb local search rankings

In this 8-minute read:

  • What is SEO for small businesses?
  • How to optimize local SEO for your small business
  • 4 free ways to show up better in local searches
  • How reputation management software can improve SEO

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a buzzword that every business student learns to parrot and consultants toss around like they know how it works. But what is SEO and how do you optimize it for your local business? Does SEO even matter for small shops? We’ll tell you below, and show you the free steps you can undertake to improve your ranking in local search.

Online reviews are the best way to advertise your business for free. Learn more about Womply Reputation Management, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

The truth is, local SEO definitely matters. Some stats for you: nearly 9 out of 10 of people conduct online searches for local businesses, 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses, and 88% of your potential local customers trust those reviews as much as a personal recommendation from family or friends.

So whether you run a roadside taco stand, a veterinary clinic, a tire shop, a nail salon, or any other local business, you need to be paying close attention to online reviews and to how you show up in online searches.

In relevant terms for small business, the process of improving your rankings in these searches is effectively “SEO.”

Why local SEO is vital for small businesses

One reason local SEO is vital is that, according to a recent report from Google, near me” searches have increased by 200%. A “near me” search takes place when a (usually) mobile phone user searches stores, restaurants, hairdressers, auto repair, ATMs, gas stations, dry cleaners, and whatever else “near me.”

These specific, “near me” searches, as well as more organic mobile searches, are exploding in popularity, which can mean a nice jump in business for you—if you know a few key ways to show up better in these local search results. (See our list below)

Why SEO for larger firms is big business

For larger businesses, SEO has become somewhat of a dark art because search engines like Google are very tight-lipped about what exactly determines search performance and rankings. The truth is nobody outside of Google (and likely very few people inside Google) really knows exactly how Google’s SEO algorithms work, particularly as they are constantly being updated and Google refuses to tell anyone the details.

There are “best practices” and commonly understood techniques to improve website SEO: Optimize and be consistent with indexing and key terms on all pages. Don’t try to “game” the system. Don’t repeat content. Don’t stuff pages with keywords or farm worthless links. Don’t attempt to be what you are not… or Google will ding you and you’ll actually show up WORSE than before.

However, once those are done, the nuts and bolts of how to actually achieve further improvements are nebulous, which is why there are hundreds of “SEO companies” that will be happy to take your money in exchange for attempting to boost your enterprise webpage’s performance and/or your ranking in search results.

For small, local shops, paying for professional SEO services may not make sense

On the other hand, for small businesses without a strong, high-value e-commerce website with hundreds or thousands of indexed pages, “enterprise SEO” and its associated costs don’t make sense.

That being said, there are several easy-to-undertake things that small business owners can do to optimize and improve their business’ rankings in local search results, which is of course what really matters for small, local auto shops, hair salons, dentists, restaurants, dog groomers, etc.

(To get an idea of the factors that contribute to local search ranking and their associated value, check out Moz’s annual report here.)

Four free tips to improve local SEO for your small business

1. Claim all of your business pages

Before you can optimize your online presence, you need to OWN your online pages. Review sites like Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor allow reviewers to post content about your business even if you haven’t created a page there, and will continue to collate future reviews on that page until you officially claim it.

Local customers ARE looking for your business online. Make sure they find you.

So, even if you have no interest in building a website for your business, it’s vital that you claim your business listings on all the relevant review sites. (For example, restaurants should also claim their OpenTable pages.) Plus, new research from Womply shows that businesses that claim their listings on multiple online business reviews sites make 58% more money! Click below for our step-by-step articles.

2. Complete all the optional fields and add quality photos to your business profile on review sites

In our article “The top 5 things every small business should include in their Google My Business listing,” we go into greater detail, but the TL;DR version is: fill in as much information as possible—including all the optional content fields—and add some attractive photos to represent your business. All else being equal, the business with more information and relevant detail in its business profile will likely rank higher in a search than one with less.

3. Read and respond to all reviews

According to a recent article by, Google has confirmed that “responding to reviews improves your local SEO.” Just exactly what they mean by “confirmed” is open to some interpretation, but it does seem clear that Google acknowledges the importance of being actively involved with the online review process in boosting local search rankings.

Apart from that, it just makes good business sense to reply to your reviews. In addition to simply being polite (if someone says “thank you” or “can you help me with a problem?” to you in person, do you respond to them or ignore them?), responding to all reviews shows your current customers you value their opinions, and shows potential customers you are actively engaged in the business and that you take feedback seriously. This improves loyalty and attracts new customers.

Happy customers can become your biggest online advocates

Smart business owners also see reviews as valuable insights into their customers’ experiences. Large businesses pay millions to learn what their customers think… but you can get those insights for free from online reviews. Your customers may point out legitimate issues in your products, services, or facilities, and you can learn from them and take steps to improve.

The best reason? As we discuss in our article on how to respond to Google reviews, studies show what when businesses start replying to reviews, they increase both the total number of reviews received and their overall rating. And a better rating means more money in your pocket.

According to a Cornell report, a one-star increase in your rating can increase your revenue by up to 39%.

Plus, recent research from Womply shows that businesses that regularly respond to their online business reviews earn up to 49% more revenue!

Learn more: online reviews are the best way to advertise your business for free

4. Work to get more reviews

Notice we didn’t say “buy reviews,” “bribe people for good reviews,” or “write fake reviews.” These hacks could get you in hot water with the review sites or, even worse, the Federal Trade Commission.

The best way to get more reviews is to simply ask—but ask in the right way. Don’t ask for a “good” or “5 star” review. Don’t promise discounts or free products in exchange for a good review. Just find ways to get feedback from your customers and encourage them to share their experiences online.

Go deeper: How to get more reviews

5. (Bonus tip!) Use reputation management software

Busy small business owners rarely have a lot of time to manage their online presence and stay on top of all their reviews. A good reputation management software solution like Womply can save you a lot of time—for not a lot of money.

Womply allows you to read and respond to your reviews on all the review sites from one location with one login. You can also get a pre-loaded list of all your customers and their transaction history, and easily (even automatically, if you choose) send timely reminders, promotional emails, birthday wishes, and thank yous. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

As you incorporate the free tips above, you can see significant improvements in your local search ranking, attract more new customers, and increase revenue.

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