Even if you do a strictly brick and mortar business, local search engine optimization is critical to your company’s survival.

Why? Because when consumers pick up their cell phones or open their laptops to search for “Chinese restaurants” or “hardware stores in my area” they aren’t thinking about purchasing dinner or a drain pipe a couple weeks from now. They have a need they’re looking to fulfill and they’re looking for a convenient location to do it in. That’s why 50% of local searches on smartphones turn into store visits within a day’s time.

So how do you do it? We’ll show you. These steps are relatively simple to follow, but they do take some time, so prepare to spend a few hours on the task. The rewards will be worth it.

Make Sure Google (and Potential Customers) Can Find Your Business

You need to be listed on Google My Business. Make sure your company’s profile is complete. This is a free service, so overlooking this is like ignoring free advertising dollars.

In addition, you need to increase the company’s visibility by building backlinks and a local presence. Make sure that the company’s information is correct and complete on as many contact directories as possible. Some places to direct your efforts include Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo, Bing, Yellow Pages, and the local Chamber of Commerce.

  • Make sure your NAP is visible: Your company’s name, address and phone number needs to be on every page of your website. That helps Google locate you and makes it easy for potential customers to do the same.

Optimize Your Website for Local Searches and Immediate Needs

Take a good look at your current website. Is it time to do some updating?

There needs to be an automatic contact/call button on the mobile site — and if there is no mobile site yet, get one. Users today expect them both and will be frustrated if your site doesn’t have them. Take the following steps as well:

  • Put a link to Google Maps on the site. This can help consumers find your business — and visually inspect the location before they get there.
  • Look carefully at the keywords your site is using. Log out of all your company sites and search for your products or services. Ask a few of your employees to do the same. See what naturally comes to mind and how well the site is ranking with those terms. It may enlighten you about changes that need to be made to the keywords in the company’s URLs, title tags, meta descriptions and more. A lot may have changed since the last time you looked at what you were using.

Build Consumer Confidence and Brand Credibility by Getting Feedback

Ask for reviews from existing clients. In fact, be shameless about it. People will often give reviews just because they’re asked. If you collect email addresses from your customers (and you should), send review requests. Make them easy to fill out for maximum response. In addition:

  • Get a digital loyalty card going. Consumers love loyalty bonuses and you can also use them as a gateway to gain more reviews, which increases your online presence.
  • Start building a social media presence. It does take time, but your business should (at minimum) have a Facebook page — and it needs to be updated as frequently as possible. Ideas for updates include daily or weekly specials, new products, photos of employees, information about the owner’s story and answers to frequently asked questions. That will also encourage feedback and build credibility for your brand.

Why are reviews from your current customers so important? First, search engines give preference to review sites like Yelp, which means reviews of your business might actually rank higher than your actual website. Second, positive reviews encourage prospective customers to give you a try.

Word-of-mouth is still what makes a business thrive in a local market — it’s just that the process of asking for references has changed. Instead of going to their next-door neighbor directly, nine out of 10 people hop online to see what their neighbors are saying.

It’s important to remember that the search engine optimization job is never something that can be completed overnight. It’s something that builds steadily over time through each post, each link and review. There’s absolutely no substitute for patience and consistency when it comes to developing a strong local presence on search.