A: The kind that converts!
Okay, you could have hit on that answer yourself, but as this post aims to demonstrate:
- There are almost as many user paths to conversion as there are customers in your city, and
- Your long-term goal is to become the authority in your industry and geography that consumers and search engines turn to.
Google’s widely publicized concept of micro-moments has been questioned by some local SEOs for its possible oversimplification of consumer behavior. Nevertheless, I think it serves as a good, basic model for understanding how a variety of human needs (I want to do, know, buy something, or go somewhere) leads people onto the web. When a local business manages to become a visible solution to any of these needs, the rewards can include:
- Online traffic
- In-store traffic
- Social sharing
- Offline word-of-mouth
- Good user metrics like time-on-page, low bounce rate, etc.
Takeaway: Consumers have a variety of needs and can bestow a variety of rewards that directly or indirectly impact local business reputation, rankings and revenue when these needs are well-met.
No surprise: it will take a variety of types of content publication to enjoy the full rewards it can bring.
Proviso: There will be nuances to the best types of content for each local business based on geo-industry and average consumer. Understandably, a cupcake bakery has a more inviting topic for photographic content than does a septic services company, but the latter shouldn’t rule out the power of an image of tree roots breaking into a septic line as a scary and effective way to convert property owners into customers. Point being, you’ll be applying your own flavor to becoming a geo-topical authority as you undertake the following content development work:
Foundational local business content development
These are the basics almost every local business will need to publish.
Customer service policy
Every single staff member who interacts with your public must be given a copy of your complete customer service policy. Why? A 2016 survey by the review software company GetFiveStars demonstrated that 57% of consumer complaints revolve around customer service and employee behavior. To protect your local business’ reputation and revenue, the first content you create should be internal and should instruct all forward-facing employees in approved basic store policies, dress, cleanliness, language, company culture, and allowable behaviors. Be thorough! Yes, you may wear a t-shirt. No, you may not text your friends while waiting on tables.
Customer rights guarantee
On your website, publish a customer-focused version of your policy. The Vermont Country Store calls this a Customer Bill of Rights which clearly outlines the quality of service consumers should expect to experience, the guarantees that protect them, and the way the business expects to be treated, as well.
Don’t overlook the three most important pieces of content you need to publish on your website: your company name, address, and phone number. Make sure they are in crawlable HTML (not couched in an image or a problematic format like Flash). Put your NAP at the top of your Contact Us page and in the site-wide masthead or footer so that humans and bots can immediately and clearly identify these key features of your business. Be sure your NAP is consistent across all pages for your site (not Green Tree Consulting on one page and Green Tree Marketing on another, or wrong digits in a phone number or street address on some pages). And, ideally, mark up your NAP with Schema to further assist search engine comprehension of your data.
On your website, your reviews/testimonials page can profoundly impact consumer trust, comprising a combination of unique customer sentiment you’ve gathered via a form/software (or even from handwritten customer notes) and featured reviews from third-party review platforms (Google, Yelp). Why make this effort? As many as 92% of consumers now read online reviews and Google specifically cites testimonials as a vehicle for boosting your website’s trustworthiness and reputation.
Either on your Reviews/Testimonials page or on a second page of your website, clearly outline your terms of service for reviewers. Just like Yelp, you need to protect the quality of the sentiment-oriented content you publish and should let consumers know what you permit/forbid. Here’s a real-world example of a local business review TOS page I really like, at Barbara Oliver Jewelry.
Apart from serving up some of the most fundamental content about your business to search engines, your homepage should serve two local consumer groups: those in a rush and those in research mode.
- Be sure the former is being given must-have information to understand your business at a glance and contact it immediately.
- For the latter, the homepage should offer clear navigation, consumer-centric content, and inducements to further explore additional pages of the website (take advantage of a special, look at products, see project photos, read a blog post, etc.) as they seek to get to know your business better before choosing it for a transaction.
Pro tip: Don’t think of your homepage as static. Change up your content regularly there and track how this impacts traffic/conversions.
Contact Us page
On this incredibly vital website page, your content should include:
- Complete NAP
- All supported contact methods (forms, email, fax, live chat, after-hours hotline, etc.),
- Thorough driving directions from all entry points, including pointers for what to look for on the street (big blue sign, next to red church, across the street from swim center, etc.)
- A map
- Exterior images of your business
- Attributes like parking availability and wheelchair accessibility
- Hours of operation
- Social media links
- Payment forms accepted (cash only, BitCoin, etc.)
- Mention of proximity to major nearby points of interest (national parks, monuments, etc.)
- Brief summary of services with a nod to attributes (“Stop by the Starlight tonight for late-night food that satisfies!”)
- A fresh call-to-action (like visiting the business for a Memorial Day sale)
Store locator pages
For a multi-location businesses (like a restaurant chain), you’ll be creating content for a set of landing pages to represent each of your physical locations, accessed via a top-level menu if you have a few locations, or via a store locator widget if you have many. These should feature the same types of content a Contact Us page would for a single-location business, and can also include:
- Reviews/testimonials for that location
- Location-specific special offers
- Social media links specific to that location
- Proofs of that location’s local community involvement
- Highlights of staff at that location
- Education about availability of in-store beacons or apps for that location
- Interior photos specific to that location
- A key call-to-action
For help formatting all of this great content sensibly, please read Overcoming Your Fear of Local Landing Pages.
City landing pages
Similar to the multi-location business, the service area business (like a plumber) can also develop a set of customer-centric landing pages. These pages will represent each of the major towns or cities the business serves, and while they won’t contain a street address if the company lacks a physical location in a given area, they can contain almost everything else a Contact Us page or Store Locator page would, plus:
- Documentation of projects completed in that city (text, photos, video)
- Expert advice specific to consumers in that city, based on characteristics like local laws, weather, terrain, events, or customs
- Showcasing of services provided to recognized brands in that city (“we wash windows at the Marriott Hotel,” etc.)
- Reviews/testimonials from customers in that city
- Proofs of community involvement in that city (events, sponsorships, etc.)
- A key call-to-action
Regardless of business model, all local businesses should devote a unique page of content to each major product or service they offer. These pages can include:
- A thorough text description
- Answers to documented FAQs
- Price/time quotes
- Technical specs
- Reviews of the service or product
- Differentiation from competitors (awards won, lowest price, environmental standards, lifetime support, etc.)
For inspiration, I recommend looking at SolarCity’s page on solar roofing. Beautiful and informative.
For many industries, image content truly sells. Are you “wowed” looking at the first image you see of this B&B in Albuquerque, the view from this restaurant in San Diego, or the scope of this international architectural firm’s projects? But even if your industry doesn’t automatically lend itself to wow-factor visuals, cleaning dirty carpets can be presented with high class and even so-called “boring” industries can take a visual approach to data that yields interesting and share-worthy/link-worthy graphics.
While you’re snapping photos, don’t neglect uploading them to your Google My Business listings and other major citations. Google data suggests that listing images influence click-through rates!
The content of your FAQ page serves multiple purposes. Obviously, it should answer the questions your local business has documented as being asked by your real customers, but it can also be a keyword-rich page if you have taken the time to reflect the documented natural language of your consumers. If you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what types of questions your customers will ask, try AnswerThePublic and Q&A crowdsourcing sites to brainstorm common queries.
Be sure your FAQ page contains a vehicle for consumers to ask a question so that you can continuously document their inquiries, determine new topics to cover on the FAQ page, and even find inspiration for additional content development on your website or blog for highly popular questions.
For the local customer in research mode, your About page can seal the deal if you have a story to tell that proves you are in the best possible alignment with their specific needs and desires. Yes, the About Us page can tell the story of your business or your team, but it can also tell the story of why your consumers choose you.
Take a look at this About page for a natural foods store in California and break it down into elements:
- Reason for founding company
- Difference-makers (95% organic groceries, building powered by 100% renewable energy)
- Targeted consumer alignment (support local alternative to major brand, business inspired by major figure in environmental movement)
- Awards and recognition from government officials and organizations
- Special offer (5-cent rebate if you bring your own bag)
- Timeline of business history
- Video of the business story
- Proofs of community involvement (organic school lunch program)
- Links to more information
If the ideal consumer for this company is an eco-conscious shopper who wants to support a local business that will, in turn, support the city in which they live, this About page is extremely persuasive. Your local business can take cues from this real-world example, determining what motivates and moves your consumer base and then demonstrating how your values and practices align.
Calls to action
CTAs are critical local business content, and any website page which lacks one represents a wasted opportunity. Entrepreneur states that the 3 effective principles of calls to action are visibility, clear/compelling messaging, and careful choice of supporting elements. For a local business, calls to action on various pages of your website might direct consumers to:
- Come into your location
- Fill out a form
- Ask a question/make a comment or complaint
- Livechat with a rep
- Sign up for emails/texts or access to offers
- Follow you on social media
- Attend an in-store event/local event
- Leave a review
- Fill out a survey/participate in a poll
Ideally, CTAs should assist users in doing what they want to do in alignment with the actions the business hopes the consumer will take. Audit your website and implement a targeted CTA on any page currently lacking one. Need inspiration? This Hubspot article showcases mainly virtual companies, but the magic of some of the examples should get your brain humming.
Local business listings
Some of the most vital content being published about your business won’t exist on your website — it will reside on your local business listings on the major local business data platforms. Think Google My Business, Facebook, Acxiom, Infogroup, Factual, YP, Apple Maps, and Yelp. While each platform differs in the types of data they accept from you for publication, the majority of local business listings support the following content:
- Website address
- Business categories
- Business description
- Hours of operation
- Marker on a map
- Additional phone numbers/fax numbers
- Links to social, video, and other forms of media
- Attributes (payments accepted, parking, wheelchair accessibility, kid-friendly, etc.)
- Reviews/owner responses
The most important components of your business are all contained within a thorough local business listing. These listings will commonly appear in the search engine results when users look up your brand, and they may also appear for your most important keyword searches, profoundly impacting how consumers discover and choose your business.
Your objective is to ensure that your data is accurate and complete on the major platforms and you can quickly assess this via a free tool like Moz Check Listing. By ensuring that the content of your listings is error-free, thorough, and consistent across the web, you are protecting the rankings, reputation, and revenue of your local business. This is a very big deal!
Third-party review profiles
While major local business listing platforms (Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp) are simultaneously review platforms, you may need to seek inclusion on review sites that are specific to your industry or geography. For example, doctors may want to manage a review profile on HealthGrades and ZocDoc, while lawyers may want to be sure they are included on Avvo.
Whether your consumers are reviewing you on general or specialized platforms, know that the content they are creating may be more persuasive than anything your local business can publish on its own. According to one respected survey, 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations and 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews to form a distinct impression of your business.
How can local businesses manage this content which so deeply impacts their reputation, rankings, and revenue? The answer is twofold:
- First, refer back to the beginning of this article to the item I cited as the first document you must create for your business: your customer service policy. You can most powerfully influence the reviews you receive via the excellence of your staff education and training.
- Master catching verbal and social complaints before they turn into permanent negative reviews by making your business complaint-friendly. And then move onto the next section of this article.
Even with the most consumer-centric customer service policies and the most detailed staff training, you will not be able to fully manage all aspects of a customer’s experience with your business. A product may break, a project be delayed, or a customer may have a challenging personality. Because these realities are bound to surface in reviews, you must take advantage of the best opportunity you have to manage sentiment after it has become a written review: the owner response.
You are not a silent bystander, sitting wordless on the sidelines while the public discusses your business. The owner response function provided by many review sites gives you a voice. This form of local business content, when properly utilized, can:
- Save you money by winning back a dissatisfied existing customer instead of having to invest a great deal more in winning an entirely new one;
- Inspire an unhappy customer to update a negative review with improved sentiment, including a higher star rating; and
- Prove to all other potential customers who encounter your response that you will take excellent care of them.
You’ll want to respond to both positive and negative reviews. They are free Internet real estate on highly visible websites and an ideal platform for showcasing the professionalism, transparency, accountability, empathy, and excellence of your company. For more on this topic, please read Mastering the Owner Response to the Quintet of Google My Business Reviews.
Once you have developed and are managing all of the above content, your local business has created a strong foundation on the web. Depending on the competitiveness of your geo-industry, the above work will have won you a certain amount of local and organic visibility. Need better or broader rankings and more customers? It’s time to grow with:
Structural local business content development
These are options for creating a bigger structure for your local business on the web, expanding the terms you rank for and creating multiple paths for consumer discovery. We’ll use Google’s 4 micro-moment terms as a general guide + real-world examples for inspiration.
I want to do
- A homeowner wants to get her house in Colorado Springs ready to sell. In her search for tips, she encounters this Ultimate Home Seller’s To-Do Checklist & Infographic. Having been helped by the graphic, she may turn to the realty firm that created it for professional assistance.
- A dad wants to save money by making homemade veggie chips for his children. He’s impressed with the variety of applicable root vegetables featured in this 52-second video tutorial from Whole Foods. And now he’s also been shown where he can buy that selection of produce.
- A youth in California wants to become a mountain climber. He discovers this website page describing guided hikes up nearby Mount Whitney, but it isn’t the text that really gets him — it’s the image gallery. He can share those exciting photos with his grandmother on Facebook to persuade her to chaperone him on an adventure together.
I want to know
- A tech worker anywhere in America wants to know how to deal with digital eye strain and she encounters this video from Kaiser Permanente, which gives tips and also recommends getting an eye exam every 1–2 years. The worker now knows where she could go locally for such an exam and other health care needs.
- A homeowner in the SF Bay Area wants to know how to make his place more energy efficient to save on his bills. He finds this solar company’s video on YouTube with a ton of easy tips. They’ve just made a very good brand impression on the homeowner, and this company serves locally. Should he decide at some point to go the whole nine yards and install solar panels, this brand’s name is now connected in his mind with that service.
- A gardener wants to know how to install a drip irrigation system in her yard and she encounters this major hardware store brand’s video tutorial. There’s a branch of this store in town, and now she knows where she can find all of the components that will go into this project.
I want to go
- While it’s true that most I-want-to-go searches will likely lead to local pack results, additional website content like this special gluten-free menu an independently owned pizza place in Houston has taken the time to publish should seal the deal for anyone in the area who wants to go out for pizza while adhering to their dietary requirements.
- A busy Silicon Valley professional is searching Google because they want to go to a “quiet resort in California.” The lodgings, which have been lucky enough to be included on this best-of list from TripAdvisor, didn’t have to create this content — their guests have done it for them by mentioning phrases like “quiet place” and “quiet location” repeatedly in their reviews. The business just has to provide the experience, and, perhaps promote this preferred language in their own marketing. Winning inclusion on major platforms’ best-of lists for key attributes of your business can be very persuasive for consumers who want to go somewhere specific.
- An ornithologist is going to speak at a conference in Medford, OR. As he always does when he goes on a trip, he looks for a bird list for the area and encounters this list of local bird walks published by a Medford nature store. He’s delighted to discover that one of the walks corresponds with his travel dates, and he’s also just found a place to do a little shopping during his stay.
I want to buy
- Two cousins in Atlanta want to buy their uncle dinner for his birthday, but they’re on a budget. One sees this 600+ location restaurant chain’s tweet about how dumb it is to pay for chips and salsa. Check this out @cousin, he tweets, and they agree their wallets can stretch for the birthday dinner.
- An off-road vehicle enthusiast in Lake Geneva, WI wants to buy insurance for his ride, but who offers this kind of coverage? A local insurance agent posts his video on this topic on his Facebook page. Connection!
- A family in Hoboken, NJ wants to buy a very special cake for an anniversary party. A daughter finds these mouth-watering photos on Pinterest while a son finds others on Instagram, and all roads lead to the enterprising Carlo’s Bakery.
In sum, great local business content can encompass:
- Website/blog content
- Image content including infographics and photos
- Social content
- Video content
- Inclusion in best-of type lists on prominent publications
Some of these content forms (like professional video or photography creation) represent a significant financial investment that may be most appropriate for businesses in highly competitive markets. The creation of tools and apps can also be smart (but potentially costly) undertakings. Others (like the creation of a tweet or a Facebook post) can be almost free, requiring only an investment of time that can be made by local businesses at all levels of commerce.
Becoming a geo-topical authority
Your keyword and consumer research are going to inform the particular content that would best serve the needs of your specific customers. Rand Fishkin recently highlighted here on the Moz Blog that in order to stop doing SEO like it’s 2012, you must aim to become an entity that Google associates with a particular topic.
For local business owners, the path would look something like when anyone in my area searches for any topic that relates to our company, we want to appear in:
- local pack rankings with our Google My Business listing
- major local data platforms with our other listings
- major review sites with our profiles and owner responses
- organic results with our website’s pages and posts
- social platforms our customers use with our contributions
- video results with our videos
- image search results with our images
- content of important third-party websites that are relevant either to our industry or to our geography
Basically, every time Google or a consumer reaches for an answer to a need that relates to your topic and city, you should be there offering up the very best content you can produce. Over time, over years of publication of content that consistently applies to a given theme, you will be taking the right steps to become an authority in Google’s eyes, and a household brand in the lives of your consumers.