How To Do Local SEO for Businesses Without Physical Location in 2021

December 4,2020 in Blog posts | 1 Comment

Local SEO refers to the process of increasing clarity for physical sites related to search results. It creates high-quality traffic and manages transactions for local businesses. It also supports businesses to compete with well-known brands.

It is valuable for all businesses as it helps in locating more customers for your company who wouldn’t have reached out in the first place. Local SEO offers the best results based on proximity and purpose.

A lot of individuals have many questions about conducting local SEO for businesses. These include processes that control managerial listings and do local SEO even while working from home. Besides, these also suggest some basic ideas for performing local SEO for customers like Credit Sesame and Mint that help consumers through virtual resources. 

Such questions about local SEO for businesses related to poor physical sites and varied patterns for client satisfaction concern frequently asked questions (FAQs) about AMA and are popular topics for marketing aspects. 

Few company holders and advertisers are not yet aware of the guidelines implemented carried out by Google. They often think about marketing strategies for promoting their non-brick-and-mortar businesses. Google always tries to update its policies. It is more likely to make errors, look over updates, and miss out on favorable chances.

What is more shocking is that there are many promotional plans available to almost all kinds of businesses. However, individuals need to determine what techniques are to be applied as every business is unique and different.

This article will help you perform local SEO for your business by increasing the number of your local clients according to the categories discussed below.

Find Your Business Model

Suppose you want to perform local SEO for your business. In that case, the chances are that it falls under the following categories:

Service Area Business (SAB)

This type of business does not have a physical storefront area. However, the seller does offer services to the client’s ultimate location. Several home-based services like interior-designing lie in this category. Your business might or might not have a physical site for your operations. Thus, the main feature of your business is to provide services to your clients at their locations.

Home-based Business

It refers to a type of business that runs from the owner’s home-based office or physical location. You can offer services to clients at your site that operate as an office or visit their places. You can also choose to perform a blend of these options (like a doctor who treats patients at a clinic and provides his services at his home-based clinic as well).

Suppose you do operate your business from home but haven’t ever met your customers in person for offering services. In that case, you fall under the below-mentioned category.

Virtual Business

According to Bizfluent, this term refers to a business that allows its employees to work remotely regardless of their physical location. 

It lets you perform transactions virtually through various telecommunication tools like computers, laptops, and Mobile phones. Your business can categorize as an e-commerce business (like Shaver Shop and American Crew) or offer digital services (like Personal Capital and Mint), or sell through other remote mediums. Virtual companies allow you to run your business from several physical locations. They attract customers from around the globe without them having to visit your actual location. The main feature of your business is that you never meet your clients in-person. 

Hybrid Business

As stated by Market Business News, a hybrid business is a company that operates virtually as well as has a brick-and-mortar location.

A hybrid business tends to present all features combined that other business models have to offer. An example would include a restaurant preparing a meal, retailing bottles of wine, and fulfilling customer orders. 

Another alternative would be a company running chains of family-style restaurants while advertising spices and other edibles. 

Yet another model for this type of business is Apple. It implements a hybrid business model, selling goods (iPhones) that support its platform (App Store).

This type of business model became increasingly popular in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and several other factors. These are combined when business owners want to increase visibility for their clients in local districts or regions. 

You can categorize your business according to the categories mentioned if you are advertising a hybrid business model. It allows you to use brick-and-mortar models with possible opportunities to create a plan aiming to achieve geographical visibility.  

Things to avoid while doing local SEO for your business model

Several business models meet many difficulties concerning local SEO, which can be challenging at times. Before any business acts upon local SEO opportunities, it is preferable to take safety measures to avoid any loss. Despite what your business model categorizes as, you should avoid the following steps that may result in local rankings for your business:

  1. Do not build any virtual offices without any employed staff or even P.O. boxes to fake a physical location in an attempt to produce local business listings.
  2. Avoid listing several locations through homes of employees, family, or even friends to pretend to be working from several addresses. 
  3. Avoid introducing your listings as holiday sites or vacant plots. Try listing sales offices or warehouses of these companies but not those premises that are to be sold or leased.
  4. Do not ever violate Google’s Guidelines. For any purpose, if you and your customer opt to violate these guidelines, then you are most likely to face possible bans. So, you should always first seek your client’s approval before taking any decision.
  5. Try to be mindful while making commitments related to results or agreeing to goals that seem unachievable compared to brick-and-mortar businesses. Google might or might not favor locations that display their addresses, which is still highly debatable.

Nevertheless, working for higher local visibility with brick-and-mortar brands is indeed frustrating. It is advisable to make plans according to demands that are possible to fulfill rather than goals that are not possible to achieve. It concerns how Google manages results for essential search phrases for various business models. 

Ways To Perform Local SEO For Your Service Area Business

Several people have a similar question regarding this type of business. How does a service area business allow individuals to search for them on Google? It may seem very simple by creating a Google My Business listing, but it is not. It does allow you to produce a visual so that clients can determine if your business is located somewhere nearby. Recent changes in Google guidelines for Service Area Businesses have created more favorable opportunities for you to take advantage of. We can list down essential strategies in three categories for you to follow: local, organic, and paid.

Local marketing for SABs

You can make your business successful by following the guidelines provided by Google, especially for SABs. SAB business models can now display their locations collectively. You can choose the service area of your liking. This change will be a helpful step for SABs around the world. You should thoroughly read these guidelines on the link provided, although you can find many of their important features mentioned below:

In-person Contact Required

SABs must contact clients in-person to become qualified for a Google My Business listing. Nonetheless, due to the on-going pandemic, do not worry that switching to a contact-less service will exclude you from the listing. The business model you want to advertise can still be categorized as a SAB, even if it offers housekeeping as a service or delivering products while maintaining social distance. 

Requirement for hiding location

You will be providing Google your location for creating a SAB listing. Providing an address is a requirement, even if it is the address of your home, warehouse, or other buildings. Furthermore, Google’s guidelines state that individuals should hide their location while creating SAB listings. It asks if individuals want to add a location that clients can visit. If they respond with a no, then Google automatically does not display your location. There are several reasons why many companies complain about this guideline. As stated above, it is questionable if hiding an address might influence a listing’s local rankings. It may or may not affect the rankings. However, listings without addresses do not have pins visible on Google maps, opposed to their brick-and-mortar competitors. This feature may serve as a limitation related to visual aspects. Hiding an address might impact the behavior of a client. It depends if they believe if the location of a business is somewhere nearby or not. This factor may also result in a decreasing the number of calls and leads.

However, Google holds the authority to determine if the specified business model should hide its location and remove it from the GMB panel if it previously had one. 

Setting service area allowed

Previous GMB listings had an option that allowed you to create an area displaying your location of service. Yet, for the recent listings, individuals must add cities (their business runs in) and their postal codes to show the place where your SAB operates. You are allowed to mention 20 locations. These locations should not exceed two hours of driving distance from where the SAB is situated.

There has been no research yet, to say whether displaying your service areas affects your local rankings. If you decide to show them, it is only for providing added guidance to your clients. 

More than one listing is allowed selected business models

Suppose a SAB has several physical locations with separate staff, which are about two hours away from each other and even has no intersecting service locations. In that case, they are allowed to create more than one listing. It is advised to keep a different contact number for every office, if possible. 

Sterling Sky has briefly discussed common queries related to this concept. The answer to this query includes the fact that Google previously only allowed for a single listing for SABs but not for franchises. The recent change in guidelines related to the two-hour interval has made these instructions clear. Google will categorize multiple services as a single business that is qualified only for a single listing. 

Few points to remember for SABs

Some important tips:

  1. Google categorizes ghost kitchens as a SAB; hence, the guidelines mentioned earlier are applicable for this type of business model.
  2. It depends upon you if you want to link your website’s homepage or a local page with your SAB GMB listings. Both of these options provide different benefits to the user. It may increase your rankings as homepages tend to have the greatest page authority, while the other option may serve as a good UX for your clients. 
  3. Do not miss the opportunity to design better service menus for your GMB dashboard. Try to mention all the services that your SAB offers.
  4. With Google as an exception, other business platforms do not make listings for SABs difficult related to hidden locations. You can display your locations on other platforms as you want unless it states that you cannot. This step will allow potential customers to know that the location of your SAB is nearby. 

Organic marketing for SABs

Every SAB aims to design and publish the best website as it can. Similarly, like a brick-and-mortar business, your website should be suitable for mobiles and user-friendly as well. It should also have an excellent internal link structure, quality content that appeals to the consumer, and domain authority obtained from inbound links. It would be best to get your website the highest rank possible for your important search phrases.

Things tend to be difficult that relate to SABs for organic marketing; this usually concerns landing pages. Thus, this concept is important when it comes to doing local SEO.

Brick-and-mortar businesses should design a different site landing page for every physical store they have. These individual pages aim to provide services to a particular local audience with quality content catering to their needs about the SAB’s location.

The mentioned pages can rank higher through the organic method. They can also serve as landing page URLs for GMB listings concerning different locations. A SAB with different physical locations can use such pages to show clients they truly categorize as a local SAB even if they do not visit such stores in-person.

However, the most important question is whether SABs should offer their services over areas past their physical location or if these landing pages for a SAB can only serve the locality they offer their services to. 

Following this, you should design service area landing pages for SABs. You can use this technique if every service city has something different to offer and restrict your areas to an appropriate measure. 

For instance, an architect in San Francisco Bay Area can create some excellent landing pages highlighting houses he has designed in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Mateo, and Mill Valley. He can still design buildings or homes even if he does not have a physical office at every location. Every landing page should concentrate on various previously completed projects, historical data related to the city’s structure, the number of satisfied customers in each city, etc. If these landing pages rank higher, then they can help attract customers very well.

Things that a SAB marketer should avoid

  1. Designing similar or near-similar service area landing pages as there are almost no different features related to services offered or clients connected to various cities. 
  2. Producing a number of these pages for getting an individual SAB location to rank higher over a large area such as multiple states or countries. 

Select an appropriate method for the client, and concentrate on quality content to satisfy their queries and meet their requirements. Create a strong internal link layout for these pages, and earn some useful inbound links. You can also follow their rankings for specified keyword phrases in the localized-organic category. 

Paid local marketing for SABs

Any individual who advertises a SAB knows that one reason for their lower rankings across their service areas is Google’s guidelines related to user-to-business proximity. 

Despite a separate set of guidelines for SABs, Google still handles these business models like brick-and-mortar storefronts. It just focuses on higher rankings related to their locations (hidden). 

Google’s Local Services Ads plan allows you to pay to fill in the gaps when you fail to get the desired visibility through local and organic efforts. If the SAB you’re marketing suits a particular industry or an area, you can create ads for several jobs you would do in the area of your choice by paying Google for the leads they offer. 

At the same time, SABs can also run Google Ads for further paid coverage.

LSAs and Google Ads’ drawbacks are that they demand an investment (compared to the “free” visibility that local and organic methods offer). Following, these local brands also rely on Google for income.

Remember to work hard to convert all Google leads into customers besides Google’s lead gen loop. An advantage that paid Google advertising offers is that it allows you to pay for visibility when there is no other method to earn it. If it produces a good ROI for the business you’re marketing, then it may prove to be a valuable investment.

Ways To Perform Local SEO For Your Home-Based Businesses

SABs might feel that they are at a loss due to the recent change in Google’s guidelines as it asks them to hide their locations. Though, for several home-based businesses, the case might be very different. Many home-based business owners do not want to display their addresses. This situation arises as they do not want their clients to be confused if they reach their homes expecting a physical storefront. 

Every home-based business owners have different demands and opportunities. When you advertise a home-based brand, ask the owner that which of the situations are suitable for their business model:

1. I offer services to my clients in-person at my place and hence want my location to be publicly displayed

A few examples could be a tutoring academy, personal yoga instructors, or home-based clinics. In this particular scenario, a home-based business should use street-level signage and gain several other benefits by advertising itself as a brick-and-mortar business.

If this business model includes appointments only, Google suggests that you do not restrict your operating hours. Upon the basis of your selected GMB category, you might qualify for using Google’s booking features. Further, you can also specify in the business description window that services are accessible only by prior appointments. 

2. I offer services to my clients in-person at my place and thus do not want to disclose my location

Google did not provide clear instructions for this business model, but you need to run it as a SAB that does not want to display its location. It also wants you to remove any addresses from the information section on the Google My Business panel. However, you may select a service area for your SAB.

Suppose you think privacy is essential for your specific business model. In that case, you should know that Google may have recordings of your location. Defects or changes in guidelines can make your location publicly visible in the future. 

Beyond Google, you can register your home-based business model in the list that does not display addresses. It is less likely for you to design location landing pages with this particular business model. However, it would be best to create quality content on hyperlocal city and neighborhood terms to gain more nearby organic visibility without displaying your address.

3. I operate my business from home and offer services to customers at their locations

Services suitable for this business model may include plumbing, accountancy, and housekeeping. It can even have a similar situation where the business’s base office is the owner’s home. However, traveling nearby for work may serve as a requirement for work.

The specified business model is an example of a regular SAB that Google wants to hide its location and service areas for listing.

Furthermore, it is essential to note that home-based SABs cannot access Google Maps products. Yet, they may use Google My Business if they do not disclose their addresses; otherwise, it may result in a ban or removal of the listings.

Beyond Google, it’s up to you whether you hide your address or not for your listings. You can also register with directories that do not disclose addresses. Similarly, like several SABs, you should analyze the section mentioned earlier if your business operations will create high-quality landing pages to showcase different cities in the area your business model operates. 

4. I offer services from my home and do not meet any customers in-person

These guidelines made this situation extremely unclear in the year 2020 when coronavirus forced people to work from home. Several business models displaced in-person services with online or tele-appointments, as well as, other sorts of communication. 

Previously, virtual businesses were not allowed to access Google My Business listings. The whole world has transformed since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Still, it is yet to determine whether Google is going to make changes in its guidelines or not!

Google was asked how experts like therapists should list themselves as, who previously worked from their offices but are now working from homes through telemedicine and online appointments. As the model is currently virtual, have they become unsuitable for categorizing for a GMB listing, or will they be listed as home-based businesses?

Here is the response I got:

In line with this spokesperson, if the business model previously offered services to customers in-person and hopes to continue in-person appointments in the future, then it will still be eligible. List your business model like a regular home-based business, applying the criteria mentioned above. It would be useful if Google decides to renew its guidelines to share such information.

Nonetheless, if the business model has always been virtual and does not offer services to customers in-person, then please move forward to the following section:

Ways To Perform Local SEO For Your Virtual businesses

E-commerce businesses fall under a virtual business category as they offer digital goods and provide services without any storefronts. Thus, frustrated virtual brands ask the most common question in this sector related to restrictions of competing with local and physical brands for online visibility.

It helps provide clear instructions for virtual businesses about what they can or can’t do to avoid wastage of time and resources on useless strategies. Any grey areas must be highlighted as well.

To avoid wasting time and resources on dead-end strategies, it’s best to clearly outline what virtual brands can and can’t do to compete. And, we should also highlight grey areas.

Things you can’t do

If you do not offer in-person services, then the business model does not qualify for a Google My Business listing. You can list your brand in other categories but Google’s. So, don’t even try wasting time on competing for local pack/local finder/maps rankings. 

Things you can do

You can get organic rankings through the content you create and the links you obtain to increase that content’s Page Authority.

Options for paid visibility are readily available through Google Ads with locations targeting in important areas for your business model.

Grey areas

There are few scenarios in which a virtual brand may be eligible for a GMB listing. This is applicable if they have staffed physical offices that need to be publicly displayed for associates like B2B partners.

In case, suppose these businesses have national or overseas clients, then this listing will not benefit them in terms of nation-wide local pack rankings. 

Localized organic visibility for virtual businesses

Recently, Google representatives have declared that 46% of the searches were local and that a user’s location plays a major role in search engines than other personalizations.

For fully virtual businesses, this does not seem like a good idea. Google’s new guideline for localization of organic SERPs makes it difficult for e-commerce and other digital brands to compete. 

In a seminar organized by Moz, a member of the audience asked how car insurance companies can rank higher in searches like “Car insurance near me.” He was worried as it seems that Google is likely to favor local businesses and known brands.

Virtual brands have to produce organic authority as much as possible. A common technique you should not use is creating copies of city-level landing pages for all cities in the country. 

You can see several examples on the Internet filled with links to various poor city-level pages.

Instead, brands who fight for difficult terms need to invest in creating an authority to challenge Farmers Insurance or a Geico. They should use this method to present themselves to Google as relevant for prime organic visibility for head terms.

And in situations where it’s more likely, try designing landing pages for the top cities with quality content on them, a few times improving optimization to achieve favorable longer-tail terms.

Several virtual businesses have to pay for placements rather than organic rankings.

Brands should search for their relevant geographic market competitors and examine them if competition exists with the right combination of authority and better search phrases. 

Local Market Analytics now offers you multiple samples for brands to view their competitors in their area of choice for the search phrases you need for quality content.

Conclusion

There is a simple local marketing process for every non-brick-and-mortar brand. Though, 2021 may turn out to be the year for further change in guidelines.

Indeed, several brick-and-mortar brands will use digital sales in the following months to follow social distancing demands and shifting to hybrids.

Retailers with physical storefronts will apply complex solutions on their websites while secretly advancing towards Google Shopping with its “available nearby” filter.

Digital brands will proceed to try the Warby Parker method of shifting from DTC sales to creating physical storefronts. Hence, qualifying them for local pack rankings. I would say that 2021 might seem less promising for such methods than the previous years due to the implementation of social distance guidelines.

Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, entrepreneurs who worked hard in the previous year searching for opportunities to establish themselves might now be enjoying fruits of success. 

All brands relevant to brick-and-mortar, SAB, virtual, and hybrid models will now operate from the boundaries of their homes. 

It’s now Google’s responsibility to have proper check and balance in its updated guidelines and see if it fits with current commercial reality or needs new updates. Always search for opportunities that come from a change in policies and new Google features over time.  Businesses and their advertisers need to recognize easy, medium, and hard local and organic approaches related to the specific business models. Also, you can improve your approach with paid inclusion if there is no other way possible. 

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Reader comments:

Patrick
16th January 2021 at 13:01

How much does it influence SEO?

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