When it comes to finding things on the web, the old real estate adage applies: location, location, location. But in this case, the place you need to be is on the Google search results page, since this is where Canadians look for local goods and services. Businesses that sell locally need to have a made-in-Canada SEO strategy to ensure their customers know where to find them, and what they do.
SEO for Canadian businesses in 5 steps
SEO might sound technical but once you know the basics and do it a few times, it’s actually easy.
Check in with Google My Business.
Choose a .ca domain name.
Get to know your customers.
Research your keywords.
Make your website easy to use.
Before we dive into the steps to mastering SEO Canada, let’s explain why it matters to local businesses.
Why SEO matters to your business
While the internet is global, a significant chunk of web searches are from potential customers trying to find products and services nearby.
93 percent of all consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less for their general shopping needs.
As mobile devices allow us to find information on the go, they are becoming a critical part of our local buying habits. This is why Google favors local websites — because so many people are looking for them.
This shift in consumer buying habits makes it critical for all businesses to have a keyword strategy — even non-technical businesses like:
- Coffee shops
- Dry cleaners
- Auto repair shops
Your business website should be treated as another storefront; an avenue to attract new customers.
Editor’s note: Don’t have a website yet? Launch one today with our 30-day risk-free trial. Includes all you need to promote your product or service widely, plus customised advice to guide you.
Get more local customers with our 5-step sequence
While we are going to talk a lot about search engine optimization, let’s face it — we’re talking about Google. Although Google doesn’t handle 100 percent of the global searches (yet), for most businesses it’s a good place to start.
1. Check in with Google My Business
The first step in SEO for Canadian business is making sure that Google knows who you are, where you are located, how to contact you and what you do. To make sure they do, visit the Google My Business page to see if they already have a business listing for you.
Google might already have a listing for you. But it might not be correct.
Make sure your business listing is complete and correct including contact information (email, phone number), address, hours of operation, business category and business name. Add photos of your business location, as well as your products and services.
2. Choose a .ca domain name
.ca is the official country code top level domain for Canada. Using a .ca domain for your business website will help it rank better in Canada, as Google knows the information is more relevant to Canadians.
To register a .ca domain name, you must be:
- A registered Canadian business or organization.
- A Canadian trademark holder.
- A citizen of Canada.
- A permanent resident in Canada, or otherwise qualify under the Canadian presence requirements.
One other thing to remember, your domain name can elevate your listing in search engines as well. To amplify the search value of your domain name, consider including your keywords in it. For example, “BestCanmoreDonuts.ca” would be an excellent choice for a donut shop in Canmore.
See if the .ca domain name you want is available now
3. Get to know your customers
When optimising your website for search engines, don’t think about what you would like it to say, think about what your ideal customer wants to know.
The technical term for this is creating a buyer persona, but basically you need to think about what attracts customers to your brand, product or service and build your website to match. What values matter most to them? Price? Quality? Find out these things and you will be closer to understanding your customer.
4. Research your keywords
Once you better understand your customer, it’s time to do some keyword research.
SEO keywords are words and phrases that both describe what your business is all about, and closely match the words potential customers use when searching for products and services like yours. As a business owner, it is critical to to understand how your customers describe what you do.
If you sell bespoke pastry rings, but your customers call them donuts, it’s a good idea to use “donuts” as a keyword.
Start with a list of words that reflect your business and the likely phrases people will use when searching for it. If you run a Thai restaurant in Ottawa you might start with:
- Thai food Ottawa
- Pad Thai Ottawa
- Authentic Thai Ottawa
From there use Google Ads Keyword Planner to identify which of them get the highest amount of traffic. This tool is also helpful in identifying other good keywords you might not have thought of.
How to add keywords to your website
Choosing one primary keyword for each page, add it to the:
- Page title, the first paragraph and at least one subhead.
- Meta description.
- Header tags.
- URL of each of your pages.
- Text on that page.
While you should remember that you are writing for humans, not search engine robots, try to work your keywords into the body text in a natural way. In the bad old days, businesses would stuff their content full of keywords to the point of being unreadable. Don’t do this. Google doesn’t like it and neither do readers.
Remember, this doesn’t just apply to blog posts and web pages but to all content you create. So your keywords must be added to videos titles and descriptions, case studies, photo labels and social content.
If this sounds like more than you can handle, it might make sense to call in the pros. Handing SEO off to a trusted partner will free you to focus on running your business.
Pro tip: Once you have your keywords figured out, put them somewhere safe so you can use them whenever you’re creating new web content.
5. Make your website easy to use
One thing to remember is that Google is ranking your website, not your business. You could be selling the most popular hand-knitted beanies in town, but if your website sucks, you’re limiting the growth of your business. Investing the time in making sure your website is easy to use is critical.
A few quick things to look for:
Is your website easy-to-use on mobile devices?
Google penalizes websites that are not mobile optimized by dropping them down in search ranking. More importantly, more than half of all web traffic is now mobile. So if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site you are losing customers. Read this post for details on how to create one.
Do your web pages load quickly?
Slow websites are also penalized in Google’s ranking, and a customer is likely to get frustrated and leave. To resolve this, you might need to compress your photos and videos or upgrade your web hosting.
Are things easy-to-find?
Can your customers easily find your menu, price list, hours of operation and product or service descriptions? Is it obvious how to schedule an appointment or make a purchase? All these should be apparent at a glance.
Is it protected by an SSL certificate?
Does your website have SSL encryption? Again, Google penalizes websites without it, adding a “Not Secure” tag to your website’s URL in its listings.
Now share widely
One of the ways that Google decides how to rank your website is by seeing if others like it. There are a few ways Google can tell if people like your content:
- They visit it often (page views).
- Other websites link to it (inbound links).
- They share it on social media (social shares).
So don’t forget to share it widely through social media, email newsletters, review websites and other opportunities. Find out where your customers hang out and use those channels to bring them to your website.
SEO should be a habit for Canada’s local businesses
The most important thing to remember is that SEO is not a one-time thing. It is an ongoing practice to make sure people can find your business. Search engines are designed to show users the most relevant, local information possible to help them make buying decisions.
By following the basic steps above you can get a head start on the competition by making sure your business gets in front of as many potential customers as possible. As for making the best pad thai in the city? Well that’s up to you.
UPDATE: This SEO Canada post was originally published on 29 October 2018 and was updated on 5 November 2019.