Are you a small business owner without a physical location? Think ranking high in local search is impossible? Believe it or not, you still have a chance to dominate local SEO, even without a physical business location!
It’s no secret that having a physical location is important when trying to rank for local SEO, especially when Google’s algorithms seem to agree with the real estate industry mantra – “Location, Location, Location”. On top of that, many people will only do business with companies they can visit in person. With all this stacked against you, it may seem like any efforts to improve your SEO are futile. However, don’t give up. While you may not be able to gain a coveted spot in Google’s local 3 pack, you can still make your mark in the local listings. Google does have specific guidelines for businesses without a physical address. These vary depending on your business model.
Define Your Business Model
All businesses without a physical location aren’t the same in the eyes of Google. To start your efforts to dominate local SEO, you first need to clearly define your business model. There are three basic types.
Service Area Businesses
Businesses that provide services in consumers’ homes such as electricians, plumbers, exterminators, and similar businesses are considered service area businesses. They are businesses that don’t have a physical location but do provide in person service. A service area business may have a physical location as its headquarters but it is not open to the public.
With a home-based business, you are also providing face-to-face service, either in or outside of your home. For example, you may have a house cleaning or home security service where you meet with clients in their homes. Or you may be providing child daycare or pet sitting services in your home where your clients come to you. While the criteria here is that you are working out of your home, you must still be providing an in person service.
The defining factor for a virtual business is that there is face-to-face interaction. All transactions are conducted online or over the phone.If you’re providing service from one or more locations without any in-person interaction, then your business is considered virtual. Virtual businesses are not eligible for a Google My Business listing, but there are other steps they can take to increase organic local SEO. We’ll get to those a little later.
It’s All About the Address
When adding your business to Google, you must have a physical address. We know what you’re thinking. If you don’t have a physical location (hence an address), how can you even begin to dominate local SEO? Unless you’ve mastered space travel, you have a physical address. For service area and home-based businesses, this is either a private office or your home. It only makes sense that you wouldn’t want to make the address public for either of these. Google has a solution for that.
Among the many questions you’ll be asked when filling out your Google My Business (GMB) listing, here is the one to look out for – “Do you want to add a location customers can visit, like a store or office?” By answering no to this question, you will be prompting Google to hide your address. As previously mentioned, there are those consumers who won’t typically patronize a business without a physical address. However, if your office is not open to the public or you work out of your home, not displaying your address not only provides privacy but is required by Google. Even if clients are coming to your home, your initial contact will not be in person and you will only be providing your home address to those you choose to do business with.
Local SEO for Service Area Businesses
Of the various businesses that lack a physical location, service area businesses are in the best position to boost their local SEO using Google My Business. Service area businesses that satisfy Google’s requirements can reap many of the benefits a GMB listing can provide. Home-based and virtual businesses may find it more challenging and need to use different strategies.
We have already established that as a service area business that provides in person service, your address must be hidden on your GMB listing. Although this will prevent your business from showing up on Google’s mapped display like a brick-and-mortar business would, you will be able to list up to 20 service locations. In the past, you were allowed to set up a radius to depict your service area.
Now Google requires that you list cities or postal codes to let consumers know which areas your business services. If your service area business has multiple locations that are 2 hours apart or more and their service areas don’t overlap, you will be allowed to create more than one GMB listing. You can not create multiple listings for different services. Let’s say you have a plumbing and heating business. You can not create a listing for each service. Regardless of how many services your business offers, Google views all of them under the umbrella of a single business and is only eligible for one listing.
When linking to your website in your GMB listing, you will either want to link to your home page or a local landing page. The home page typically has a higher authority rating and can give your efforts to dominate local SEO a boost. Linking to a local landing page will improve customer experience which can also help to increase your local SEO.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to promote all the services your business offers by creating a service menu in your GMB listing. The more information you can provide about your business the better.
What if I Have a Home-Based Business?
Some home-based businesses are eligible for a GMB listing and must follow the same guidelines as a service area business. While many owners of service area businesses would like to list a physical address, those running a business from their home often prefer to keep their address hidden. These would typically be home-based businesses where the in person contact takes place at the customer’s location. Some examples are independent plumbers, electricians, or house cleaning services that are headquartered in the business owner’s home.
Other home-based business owners provide in person services in their homes such as a daycare, pet-sitting or, private tutoring business. These types of home-based businesses can make the most of a GMB listing, much like brick-and-mortar businesses. Keep in mind, that means your home address will be public. Those who are uncomfortable with making their home address public can create their business listing the same as a service area business, The address will be hidden but you will have the opportunity to list service areas.
What About Virtual Businesses?
As we’ve already established, if you’re a virtual business with no in person contact, you are ineligible for a Google My Business listing. Does that mean you should give up on your quest to dominate local SEO?
Absolutely not! However, it is going to be a challenge. The stats are stacked against you. 46% of Google searches have local intent and 92% of consumers will choose a business that appears on the first page of a local search. Will it be harder to rank? Yes, but there are still things you can do to make your mark. These strategies can also enhance local SEO for service area and home-based businesses.
Go Beyond Google My Business
While a GMB listing is a key factor in the effort to dominate local SEO, don’t overlook other options for improving SEO. One of the best ways to do this is by adding a local location page for each area your business services. When creating these pages, it’s important not to duplicate the same page over and over and simply change the location. The content on each page should be unique and relevant to that location. Otherwise, Google may view it as duplicate content which could negatively impact your SEO.
Not displaying a physical address in your GMB listing can be a disadvantage and cause gaps in your marketing, but here are ways to overcome that. Google’s Local Services Ads can be a great way to fill those gaps. These ads require an investment and a background check to ensure your business meets license and insurance requirements. Once your business is verified, the ads are targeted at those consumers looking for the services you offer. Local Service Ads make it easy for consumers to reach you by providing a “click-to-call” or messaging option. If they use your services, consumers are also prompted to leave a review. Reviews are posted on your profile and can help to encourage future business. Businesses using Google Local Search Ads become Google Guaranteed, a designation that can elevate your authority and reputation in your industry.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Great Content
We’ve already talked about how to create local landing pages, but that isn’t the only content on your website. Quality content infused with just the right amount of relevant keywords can help boost your SEO. The webpage content should inform visitors about your business and what it has to offer.
Expert opinions on the proper word count for website pages varies greatly. However, they should be at least 300 – 600 words of unique content. The word count can go higher, if the subject warrants it. Some pages may require more in-depth information. Just make sure that the information remains clear and easy to follow. Long form content that is muddied up by keyword stuffing will not only confuse the reader, but it will raise a red flag with Google. Keyword stuffing is frowned on by Google and could even result in your site being penalized.
And don’t forget blogs! Many business owners either don’t have the time to write them or think they’re just unnecessary. One purpose of writing blogs is to inform or entertain the reader. However, not every blog on your website will receive maximum engagement. That doesn’t mean you don’t need them.
Blogs also provide your business with the opportunity to rank for additional keywords. Even if some of your blogs aren’t drawing the readership you hoped, you can be certain Google is paying attention. Not only is it picking up on your keywords, but Google can also recognize whether or not the content is relevant and valuable.
Sub-par or keyword-stuffed content won’t be viewed favorably by Google and do little to help you dominate local SEO.
List In Other Directories
Yes, Google is king when it comes to directories, but they aren’t the only game in town. Get your business listed in other directories. There are quite a few – Hubspot’s Ultimate List of Local Business Directories includes 50. Some may even allow service area businesses to include a physical address, even if it isn’t open to the public. Getting your business on all of them can be a big job but one that’s worth the payoff.
Don’t Try to Get Over On Google
Whether you qualify for a Google My Business listing or not it may be tempting to use one or more of the following tactics to dominate local SEO. It is strongly recommended that you don’t attempt any of these as you could end up doing more harm than good.
Google Guideline Don’ts:
- Don’t invent fictional offices using a PO box to have an address for your Google My Business listing.
- Don’t use employees or relatives addresses to set up multiple Google My Business listings
- Don’t use the addresses of vacation homes, model homes, or other unoccupied properties to set up Google My Business listings
Although it may be tough to compete with others in your industry that do have brick-and-mortar locations, violating Google’s Guidelines can damage your SEO ranking rather than improving it. If you are eligible for a GMB listing and attempt these tactics, Google can suspend or remove your listing.
Want to Dominate Local SEO?
It’s going to take some work and for some businesses, total domination won’t be possible. However, you can still get your business in front of the people who are searching for your services. You can attempt to do it yourself, but it will be easier and more effective to put the task of improving your SEO in the hands of professionals
At Creative Click Media we understand and can successfully navigate the obstacles faced by businesses without a physical location. For the layman, they can seem insurmountable. Give us a call and let’s discuss what our team can do to elevate your local SEO.