by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The goal of any business’s website is to attract more customers; however, for a business that thrives on local customers, driving more local leads is vital. Rhode Island Small Business Development Center recently presented “Drive More Local Leads with SEO” with Amanda Basse, owner of Amanda Basse Online in Boston.

SEO stands for search engine optimization. “This is a process where you improve content so that it ranks higher on platforms like Google,” Basse explained. “This is not something you set and forget or you do once. It’s a process. Local SEO is all about optimizing content so that your business appears higher in the local search engine results pages, which are called the SERPS. You want to focus on ranking higher than the competitors. It’s much easier to rank higher on local results than nationwide.”

For a farm selling products locally, SEO on the farm website is vital. “When people search, they are looking for products near them,” Basse said. “Local SEO makes it easier for consumers to find what they need.”

From a U-pick farm to a farm selling value-added goods, SEO can help ensure that customers know where they can find it nearby.

Basse shared a few SEO statistics: “Seventy-six percent of all local searches … will result in a store visit within a day. Think about that. These are more impulse searches. It’s not people looking to plan things very far out, like dining reservations or things they might need in a few days. Sixty-eight percent of online experiences start with a search engine. Less than 1% of all searchers ever make it to the second page of the search results.” That is why it pays to rank high in search results.

She encouraged website owners to think of integrating local SEO as a means of providing customer service. That’s why it’s important to keep the end user in mind.

“Think about how you want to be found and why you want them to choose you over someone else … In order to start this relationship, you as the business owner must take the first step so when the customer is ready, you will be ready,” Basse said.

Consistency is key when it comes to local SEO. A website’s mundane but vital details represent one way in which consistency is so important. The format and spelling of the business name, address and phone number must be listed consistently across all pages. Not only is this more appealing to customers, it also helps search engines find it easier. (Use the address that works in GPS. Some rural addresses can confuse GPS and make it difficult for customers to find the business.)

Building a website is only the first step. Claiming the business on Google helps the search engine find the business.

“Google My Business is the most important part of a local SEO strategy,” Basse said. “GMB allows the creation of free business listings. A business needs to provide important business contact information like the store or office address, exact location on a map, category of business, phone number, website address, et cetera, while creating the listing.” Once the listing goes live, it needs to be verified. Post verification, the business can optimize GMB by uploading a picture of the farm and its products or services; mention business operation hours; mention additional categories which are relevant to the business; and share business updates and fresh content on a regular basis.

“It’s important to give users as much information as they need so they don’t have to search elsewhere,” Basse said. “It makes a huge difference. If the hours or address are wrong or you’ve moved, that’s a negative experience.”

She also said that business owners should update and claim their profile on Yelp. For some businesses, TripAdvisor may be warranted. Social media, Bing My Business and others may be good places to sign up.

Keywords are critical in creating an online presence, but they can baffle business owners who offer a variety of services. Which portion of the business should they represent if they sell farmstead cheese, but also host classes on cheesemaking? Or suppose they sell CSA shares but also grow wholesale flowers?

“If 80% of your business is one thing and 20% is another, prioritize the 80% because that’s what Google will favor,” Basse said.

To develop keywords that help customers find the site, it’s important to think like the customers. What words would they use in their search? “You want to make sure you incorporate local keywords to your site so people know your business is local to them,” Basse said.

Making the keywords specific enough is also vital. For example, “fall décor in Syracuse” is vague compared with “pumpkins in Syracuse.”

“You want to make sure you’re very specific,” Basse said. “Dig deep into the intent of the searcher so you show the right thing. Once people start bouncing off your site, Google will see you’re not relevant and lower your ranking.”

Tools for keyword research can make the task easier. Ahrefs Keyword Generator, SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool, Ubersuggest, Moz Keyword Explorer, Google Trend and SpyFu are a few examples.

Additionally, a business’s online presence should be optimized for mobile devices. “Mobile-friendliness is a critical component for helping you rank in search results and deliver a positive user experience for your audience,” Basse said. “When people look for a local business, they often use their mobile devices to search for a local company. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, those users will likely bounce from your site and visit a competitor’s instead.” (Google favors sites that are mobile-friendly.)

“The best way to create a mobile-friendly site is to integrate responsive design,” she said. “Responsive design enables your site to adapt to the screens of all devices, from laptops to smartphones. As a result, your audience will have the best experience on their device and stay on your site longer.” Most website builders include this feature.

“Focus on publishing content that is high-quality and original,” Basse continued. “If you have just a shell of a website and there’s no information, you won’t rank on Google. Content is key. You want to make sure you have things on it. While using keywords is important, it’s advisable only to use them in a natural way. Don’t ‘keyword’ stuff, where you’re repeating the same keywords over and over.”

She advised those unsure of what to post to include more information in the “About” section. Customer feedback and case studies can also provide good content.

Some of the critical things to do on each page are including the full keyword in the URL, the keyword in the title tag, concise keywords and the keyword in the description. “You never want to skip any of these,” Basse said. “These will help you optimize every page.”

The title tag is the title or topic of each page, usually in the largest font. The meta description tags are short descriptions that summarize the content. The URL is the web address of a specific page. Header tags add structure to web pages. Image alt tags or alt text tell about the image.

“I know it seems like a lot of work, but take your time because the effects are long and hard. The best way to stay relevant is to continue to work on these,” Basse concluded. “Even evergreen strategies require you to revisit, evaluate and see what works and what doesn’t.”