📣 How to show up in "near me" Google searches

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Geo-based search engine optimization, also called local SEO, is the practice of increasing your visibility in location-based searches.
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One of the most common questions I get from therapists is, "How do I show up on Google when someone searches therapist near me?"

The answer is local search engine optimization (SEO), so I invited my friend and SEO consultant Michel Fortin to write a guest issue for this week's newsletter. He was gracious enough to accept.

Let's jump right in.

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Close to two-thirds of the Internet’s traffic is mobile, and that number continues to climb at a staggering rate. In fact, in 2018 Google has started to adopt a mobile-only approach by indexing just the mobile version of your website and not the desktop one.

This proliferation of mobile usage has proportionately increased the number of location-based searches. Statistics show that 46% of all mobile searches are related to a location, with a 900% increase in “near me” searches, reported by Google, in just two years alone.

What does this mean?

This means that people who are looking for you or what you offer are likely doing so from their mobile devices. In fact, another impressive statistic is that 78% of location-based mobile searches end in a conversion (such as a purchase or a consultation).

Therefore, having a properly optimized website with great content may give you some visibility in the search engines. But if your location is not visible in maps or on mobile devices, you’re losing out on a significant portion of your potential clients.

Out of Map, Out of Mind

Geo-based search engine optimization, also called local SEO, is the practice of increasing your visibility in location-based searches. When people search for “therapist near me,” “therapist [location],” or “who can I see for [therapy],” you want your listing to be among the first.

But geo-based searches are not limited to mobile devices. 90% of desktop browsers are location-aware, and 93% of desktop searches with location intent will result in map listings showing up at the top. These are called “Local Map Pack” or “Three Pack.”

If you don’t appear in the top-three positions of location-based search results, you might as well not exist. That’s where Geo-based SEO comes in. It’s one of the most effective ways for your prospective clients to find you—and in many cases, one of the most underutilized. This type of SEO consists of four locations (pun intended). In order of importance, they are:

1. Your Website

You obviously need a clear address on your website. But there are other signals that help search engines rank you according to your location. I’ll come back to this as it’s important.

2. Map Listings

When it comes to maps, there are three essential places you need to be in: Google My Business (which includes Google Search and Google Maps), Bing Places (which includes Bing Maps), and Apple Maps (which is integrated with Siri and Spotlight searches). For the sake of brevity, check out this local SEO article on how to claim all three listings—but only after reading this article first as there are some key things you need to know.

3. Data Aggregators

Data aggregators are local search data collectors and providers. They either scour the Internet for local data about businesses and/or provide this information to others. They include Yelp, Facebook, YellowPages, MapQuest, Showmelocal, HotFrog, AngiesList, and others. Many of these services provide business information to other directories and map providers, including GPS navigation devices such as Garmin and TomTom. Here’s a look at top 50:

4. Local Citations

Citations are any mentions of your listing on other websites. Technically, these are all citations. But in this section, I’m referring to industry and niche-specific citations (e.g., Psychology Today, Good Therapy, and Theravive), and review sites (e.g., TrustPilot and TripAdvisor).

Are You Nearby, Relevant, and Valuable?

Google My Business owns the lion’s share of map-based search queries, which is around 87%. So when it comes to optimizing your map listing, I’ll refer to Google. But keep in mind that these can apply to Bing and Apple, too, to a considerable degree.

Google ranks your listing according to three key factors: relevance, proximity, and prominence. Proximity is how close you are to the user when they search. Relevance is how well your listing satisfies the user’s search. And prominence is how well you stand out from the rest.

Obviously, the closer you are to the searcher’s location, the better the chances of your listing being shown. But your ability to outrank your competitors depends on the other two factors.

Relevance is based on being a match for a user’s query. After all, you don’t want a therapist when you’re trying to order pizza—although, that might well be the case for some folks.

Nevertheless, you can optimize your listing in myriad ways. From choosing the right categories to list your business under to adding in-demand topics in your description, these signals help search engines determine if you’re a match.

Keywords are important, but you don’t need to stuff them in your description. They can be found in a number of other locations — including your services, Q&As, posts on your listing (including announcements and optimized images), and above all, reviews.

In fact, studies have shown that when customers include keywords in their reviews, Google can more easily associate them with your business and therefore will rank you according to them.

In short, get more reviews.

Accuracy, Ubiquity, and Consistency are Key

The key to dominating local SEO is to claim citations on as many platforms as possible, whether you’re active or not on them. They add signals (such as backlinks to your site), amplify your visibility, prevent competitors from hijacking your listing, and offer social proof.

Moreover, your business might dominate the SERPs (search engine results pages) by appearing more than once. Beyond the local map pack and your own website, you might also appear through third-party listings such as the Yellow Pages, Yelp, AngiesList, and others.

That’s why claiming your listing on these platforms is so important.

But the most important key is consistency.

Local SEO looks at the quality of your location data online, which also provides backlinks and authority to your website. Your NAP Profile (i.e., name, address, and phone number), which may also include your website and email addresses, must be exactly the same on all directories.

NAPs are like backlinks even if they don’t have actual hyperlinks—they drive authority signals. The more you have, the stronger the authority. For that reason, they depend on accuracy and consistency. One discrepancy can dilute your signals, even if it’s a single misspelling.

According to Google, prominence is based on your credibility—including your expertise, your authority, and your trustworthiness (also called “E-A-T”). Therefore, your content, your reviews, and your consistent NAPs all play a role in determining prominence.

As per Google’s own guidelines:

Prominence is based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles, and directories. Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.

So if Google tries to find you (specifically, your name, address, and phone number) on other websites, directories, listings, and profiles to determine your prominence, and they can’t find you because your NAP is misspelled or inconsistent, then you will lose rankings.

Inaccurate listings can often be worse than having no listings at all. If Google can’t find you, what does that day about your clients? Use a tool like BrightLocal’s Free Listings Scanner to see if your listings are hurting your rankings by confusing your clients.

For example, is it “John David Smith” or “J.D. Smith”? Is it “45 Some Street” or “45 Some St”? Is it “New York” or “NY”? Is your website with or without “www”? It doesn’t matter what you choose, just make sure it’s the same everywhere.

Turn Your Website Into a Beacon

Earlier I said that your website is the priority when it comes to geo-based optimizations. Having a consistent NAP must start with your website, for it is the one Google will use to find other mentions and compare it with in order to rate your prominence.

But location alone isn’t enough.

You can enhance your geo signals by adding snippets of code to your HTML. The snippets are invisible to us but can be seen by the search engines. Called “schema markup,” they help identify you and your location — including your NAP as well as your geo-coordinates.

The one to use is the “local business” schema. It identifies you as a legitimate business. As with the earlier section, make sure the contents are accurate and consistent with your NAP.

Many website frameworks and content management systems offer tools that do this for you automatically. But you can add it manually, too. Use TechnicalSEO.com’s local search schema markup generator. Once you add it to your site, test it with Google’s rich results tester.

Having a consistent NAP Profile is the key to geo-based SEO success. It’s important to claim as many listings as possible, and to choose one NAP that you will use across all platforms.

Ultimately, geo-based SEO is no longer just an arrow in your marketing quiver. In 2021, it has become as essential as the bow itself. If you’re not found in a location-qualified search by the vast majority of your prospective clients, you might as well not exist at all.

About the Author

Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons and clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter where he writes weekly ideas and strategies on how to grow your visibility and your practice.

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Did you enjoy this special guest issue? Hit reply and let me know a) if you'd like me to invite other subject matter experts to contribute and b) what topics you'd like them to address. I read every email.

Until next time,
Michael

P.S. My friend Logan Ury's first book, How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love, is out today. It's been endorsed by therapists like Esther Perel and Lori Gottlieb. I think you (and your clients) will love it.

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