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When it comes to local SEO, it’s more important than ever that you optimize your on-site and off-site SEO strategies for clients and customers who may be searching for your local business. Local competition is heating up, and if you’re not on top of your rankings, you can bet your competitors will be.

1. Google My Business: Claim and optimize

Google My Business (GMB) is considered a directory, but it’s a biggie, so it deserves its own section. It’s very important for local businesses to claim their Google My Business (and Bing Places for Business) page. It’s free and can get you incredible exposure if you’re optimized enough to show up in Google’s local three-pack.

To claim your Google My Business page, visit google.com/business. There’s a verification process you’ll need to go through where Google will send a postcard with a PIN to your business’s physical location. (No P.O. boxes allowed.) Then you’ll simply log in and enter the PIN to verify your business.

This verification process is necessary because Google wants to confirm that your business is legitimate, and that you are actually the business owner. Please note that according to Google’s terms of service, only the business owner can claim a GMB page. If you’re working with a digital marketing agency on your SEO efforts, you can then grant them permission to be a manager of your page — that way, you remain in control of your listing if you terminate your relationship with the agency.

The next step is to optimize your GMB listing with a solid description, categories, business hours, types of payments accepted and so on. You also want to make sure to upload your logo and photos of your business, products or services. (It’s generally recommended that you upload at least three photos.)

Fully populate each and every relevant section so that your listing is complete. If you’re a service business and don’t have a location customers or clients can visit, don’t worry; you can choose to hide your physical address as you’re setting up your Google My Business listing.

As mentioned above, Bing also has a comparable page for local businesses called Bing Places for Business. The process is very similar to GMB, and you should definitely have your business present on Bing’s local directory, too.

2. Online reviews matter

Businesses are finally starting to realize the importance of online reviews from their customers. According to a recent survey, 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and seven out of 10 customers will leave a review for a business if asked by the business.

Two places where you should focus on getting reviews are your business’s Facebook page and Google My Business page. These are big ones. Many people turn to social media to see what their friends and family think about a business, so having good reviews on your business’s Facebook page can help to draw in prospective customers. Getting positive reviews on your Google My Business page is crucial because these reviews show up on Google when someone searches for your business.

Google also notes that “high-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility,” which implies that reviews might factor into rankings on the local pack.

3. Online directories and citations

According to Google, roughly four out of five consumers use search engines to conduct local searches. Yet many small businesses have not claimed even a single a local business listing online, which is a huge missed opportunity.

It’s important that you get your business listed correctly and consistently on top online business directories, like Yelp, Merchant Circle, Citysearch and others. You will also want to seek out respectable local directories to get your business listed on. Check with your local newspaper’s website and your Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a local business directory you can get listed on. You can also do a search for keywords like “[your city] directory” to find other local citation sites or directories.

It’s also important to get your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP) on the major citation data aggregators like Infogroup, Neustar (aka Localeze), Acxiom and Factual. Always make sure that your company’s NAP is consistent on as many of these directories and citation sites as possible. Discrepancies like misspellings, abbreviations, lack of suite number and wrong phone number can create havoc when Google can’t determine which information about your business is correct. If Google’s not sure, they may display incorrect information — or not show your business at all in search results.