It may be a global world, but for the vast majority of small businesses, your “customer universe” is strictly local. Even local customers search online, though, so it’s imperative to have a strong, effective web-based marketing strategy. To succeed, you must have superior search engine optimization – local SEO that ensures searchers nearby can easily find you.

As a local marketer, Google’s new Pigeon update is your BFF, because it assigns geographic relevance to searches.

Large regional or national organizations from health care to retailers with brick-and-mortar locations also now depend on local SEO to connect with prospective patients and customers in each of their communities. The more techniques you put into play to build your local SEO, the more likely you will be to reach all your prospects.

Search engine optimization is an ongoing process, not a one-time activity. Nonetheless there are a few administrative tasks you can complete right now to give your SEO a nice boost.

Start with a NAP.

Your name, address and phone number, collectively known as NAP, are key to your visibility in local search results:

  • Always use exactly the same presentation, because seemingly unimportant variations can cause search engines to see each one as a separate business. Include your area code with your phone number, and use Street or St., but not both.
  • Put your NAP in the header or footer of every web page. That helps with SEO and makes it easiest for visitors to contact you.

Include locally relevant descriptors on your website’s About Us page. If you have multiple locations, create a separate page for each one, using store-specific details like hours, directions or promotions as well as that location’s NAP. Add a testimonial quote or review excerpt.

Stake your claim to local profile pages.

Your business may automatically show up on Google+ or other sites, but you have to officially “claim” your pages and verify your business information to get any value from these listings.

Verify your pages and listings on Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing Places for Business, Yelp and CitySearch. If you’re a service business, seriously consider a listing on Angie’s List, because prospective customers will expect to find you there.

Create separate pages if you have more than one location, and link those pages to their location page on your website. Make sure all your information is included, so your profiles are most helpful to viewers. Include photos and/or video – aside from the obvious visual value, search engines are starting to recognize and display visual results. And don’t forget to select a few business categories – pick both broad and more specific options.

Audit all your online listings to ensure consistency. It might be tedious, but it’s critical and you’ll only have to do it once. If you don’t, you’ll wind up with multiple, conflicting listings that merely water down all your other efforts to build reputation and SEO. Use Google Mapmaker to identify and remove duplicate listings or use the Moz Check Listing tool to locate duplicate listings and inconsistent NAPs: http://moz.com/help/guides/local/check-listing.

Create relevant content.

Publishing great content that’s useful and timely for your prospects and existing customers is fundamental. Make sure your topics, references you make, links you share, etc. have a local twist, so they’re both pertinent and SEO-friendly.

If your business doesn’t already have a blog, create one, and post new articles on a regular basis. Talk about subjects that will help your customers improve their lives — a local perspective on what’s new in your industry, what your employees are doing to support the community or how they have fun in their spare time, a recipe from your restaurant that uses locally grown ingredients, etc. Use your blog to help spread the word about important community events or issues as well as topics specific to your business and customers.

Your blog is mostly aimed at attracting top-of-funnel prospects, so a broad range of content will help you reach and interest the most people and establish you and/or your business as a valuable resource.

Group up with complementary local businesses to write guest blogs for each other – as a florist, you could write an article for the bridal salon’s blog on how to choose flowers for your wedding. You’re not only building your authority and reaching a broader audience, you’re gaining local SEO “points.”

Keep your marketing personas in mind as you create content – localizing is good, but the real point of producing content is to impress potential customers. When you create great content, people will naturally appreciate it. They’ll share it and link back to you, giving you two more ways to increase local SEO.

For all your content, choose keywords that reflect your local community as well as those most relevant to your business. That way, you’ll appeal to humans as well as search engines.

Encourage customer reviews.

Positive reviews can make the difference between a prospect choosing you or choosing a competitor, so ask customers to provide feedback about your business. Give shoppers a bag stuffer or send clients a follow-up email with a thank-you and a link to your Google+ or Angie’s List review page.

Note that Yelp specifically prohibits businesses from directly asking for reviews, but you can (and should) display the Yelp emblem along with your other profile sites. Businesses with five or more reviews on Google+ also get a star rating based on their reviews.

Let’s talk about your website.

Quality content starts here. What are your visitors looking for? Factual information such as menu items and product descriptions is important, but so is advice on handling common problems relevant to your business – how to avoid ant infestations of you’re a pest control company, tips on getting kids to brush their teeth if you’re a dentist, etc. Be helpful as well as informative.  

A website that’s accessible and easy to use wins points with both visitors and search engines. All these features matter:

  • Simple tools like search box and previous/last buttons.
  • Easy, intuitive navigation.
  • Fast loading speed.
  • Uncluttered presentation that’s easy to absorb quickly.
  • Quality links to pages.
  • Short URL.
  • Meta titles and descriptions for all pages.

Put your blog in a subdirectory – domain.com/blog – so it’s directly linked to your website rather than appearing separate to a search engine.

Be mobile-friendly or be ignored. Responsive design that displays content appropriately for each device makes it easy for searchers to see your information without having to fiddle around or squint. Skip the flashy Flash and use buttons and links that are easy to “thumb.”

Work to increase links and citations.

External links also help with SEO, but inbound links actually bring people to your site. You have to earn high quality inbound links — think of this as relationship-building. But simply getting mentioned on other sites – in someone’s blog article, on an organization’s list of of Board members or event sponsors, in your Chamber of Commerce membership directory, in online business directories – also helps boost SEO. These mentions are called citations.

You can increase your citations by checking these four sites that aggregate data for numerous key review sites to be sure your information is complete and correct:

  • Express Update
  • Neustar Localeze
  • My Business Listing Manager
  • Factual

Consider trading links with complementary businesses in town, by recommending one another on your website. You’ll improve your SEO and assist customers by making it easy for them to find related local products and services.

Join the party.

Be actively social where your prospects are socializing, whether that’s on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or somewhere else. Include your social links and sharing buttons on all your content, plus email, direct mail or other advertising. The more +1’s, Facebook and Twitter engagement you rack up, the more it can help your local SEO.

Build local SEO offline, too.

You can link up with community non-profits, events and other groups and activities to broaden your local “sphere of influence” and content creation, too.

  • Networking.
  • Speaking.
  • Guest columns.
  • Free clinics.
  • Volunteering.
  • Sponsorships.
  • Memberships (and active participation) in Chamber of Commerce, service clubs, trade associations.
  • Participation on boards of directors.

Across the country, there has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in shopping locally. With a smartly implemented local SEO program, you’ll be able to drive business into your store or restaurant or dental office as well as to your website.