2021 began with nearly 500,000 hopeful small business applications. If these brave new brands meet the eligibility requirements of the guidelines for representing your business on Google, having a well-mapped strategy for local search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing will be key to their ultimate success. 

Standing at the trailhead of a nascent local business venture, owners and marketers must strategize to cover all of the following terrain in the journey ahead:

Study Google’s local results

Start by spending time looking at the local packs, local finders, Google Maps, Google Business Profiles and localized organic results in the geographic market being entered. All of these interfaces offer opportunity for free and crucial local business visibility. 

Analyze the market

The location of a business is its physical address, but its market is defined by the locations of its customers and competitors. From a device located at the place of business, research the mapped radius Google is showing for the search queries that matter most to the business. Then, analyze the top market competitors for these phrases via a competitive audit. This step surfaces the benchmarks the business must meet to become a strong competitor for visibility in Google’s localized results.

Develop the brand USP, website, and local business listings

Define a unique selling proposition based on identified consumer needs in the market such as affinity, authority, quality, uniqueness or convenience. Develop the brand and the website around these themes, with all tags, text and links optimized to feature the language searchers use when seeking what the business offers. Keyword research tools, consumer surveys, and interviews of consumer-facing staff belong in this phase of information gathering to identify the intersections between what a community says it needs and what a local business offers.

Be sure full, accurate contact information and calls-to-action are abundant throughout the website. Then, build out a rich set of local business listings across local business directories, platforms, and apps, either manually or with the help of automated listings management software to support online discovery of the business.

Prioritize Reputation Management

No other factor will contribute more to the success or failure of a local business than what it’s customers say about it. Online reviews, testimonials and social media sentiment tell the story of how a business is succeeding at serving the public. Learning to acquire and professionally manage consumer feedback not only underpins search engine ranking goals, but takes top priority in developing a customer-centric business built to win.

Define the publishing strategy

Any local business that steps online becomes a publisher. Analyze how to meet local demand with the right forms of content, whether with text, images, video, podcasting or social media messaging. Publish for all phases of the customer journey, including awareness, affinity, consideration, and transaction and aim to become the local authority Google surfaces most often for local needs. With the right publishing strategy, links earned will support ranking goals. 

Measure all efforts

Finally, be sure analytical software like Google Analytics and third-party tools have been put in place to measure the outcomes of each of the efforts made so that successful initiatives can be repeated but wasteful campaigns aren’t. 

Destination accomplished + next steps

Any local brand which achieves each of the stages of the marketing journey covered above has arrived at a major destination. At this point, the business is actively managing a digital presence that not only clearly represents the real-world company, but is continuously developing and managing assets which support online discovery and selection by consumers. 

It’s a serious accomplishment to get to this stage, but competitive local business owners soon realize that the destination they’ve toiled to reach is really only a rest-stop along the trail. Local SEO and local search marketing must continue for the entire life of the brand.

Next steps for motivated owners should include exploring the markets they serve more minutely for opportunity. Finding ways to become increasingly essential to the fabric of a community and to align more deeply with its members is ongoing work. In fact, there is no more important task than centering the business on the customer with ever-greater insight and refinement. Likewise, seeking out ways to turn other neighboring and related local business owners into allies for cross-sales promotions and community campaigns can yield meaningful rewards while strengthening towns and cities as great places to live and work. 

A combination of these basic and extraordinary efforts can yield offline satisfaction and word-of-mouth reputation in tandem with the robust online assets necessary to grow a business toward its ultimate goal of becoming a local household name.

Miriam Ellis is the Local SEO Subject Matter Expert at Moz and coauthor of The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide.