Local Search & What it Means for YOUR Business

January 4, 2010 Filed under: Local Search,SEO — Tags: ,

We’ve been working with several small-to-midsize businesses and medical practices recently who want to attract more local visitors to their website.  In other words, when someone searches for your keyword phrase, together with the local city or region, how can you make sure your website will appear to the right of the Google map in the search listing?   Local Search is the answer.

Before we get to that, let me first say that Local Search is not the only answer, nor is it necessarily the quickest solution for bringing local traffic to your website.  If you want to draw immediate traffic, there’s no quicker or more effective way to bring local traffic to your website than Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads geo-targeted for your region.  With a broad net of keywords and a clear definition of your target region, you can be found by the most qualified local searchers, and also use your PPC campaign as a test-bed for finding the keywords and tweaking ad copy that will bring you the most sales.

Local Search Results Display to the Right of Google Map

Local Search Results Display to the Right of Google Map

Local Search provides a great complement to localized PPC advertising — it generally takes longer to show results, but may be more cost effective in the long-term. Local Search refers to the website listings that appear alongside the Google Map when searchers are looking for a local business or organization.  The search engines know you’re looking for a local business either because you enter the name of a city or region in your search term, or because the type of business you’re searching for is typically local in nature.  When evaluating ranking criteria for local listings, Google appears to give most weight to 3 important criteria:  1) On-page factors, 2) local incoming links and citations, and 3) customer reviews.  Read below for what each of these means for your business and how to best optimize for them.  Of course, we can help you with all of these things.

On-page factors. To rank well in search listings, your webpage must be optimized using your most valuable keywords in the most valuable places — in Titles, Meta tags, body copy and, if possible URLs.  This starts with keyword research to determine the most valuable keyword terms (phrases that have lots of searchers, little competition).  Then those keywords need to be woven naturally into the content and tags of the page, where search engines will find and prioritize them.  To rank well in local searches, geographic terms that list your city or region should be included in your list of keyword phrases.

Local incoming links and citations. Search engines are looking to determine what your webpage or site is about, and to rank sites in the order of which ones most closely meet the searcher’s query.  So, in addition to optimizing a page to make clear that it’s about your most valuable keyword terms, you’ll need to add credibility by attracting links from other websites.   When searchers are looking for a local business, links from other local businesses or organizations are a signal to the search engines that you are locally credible.  So, attracting local links is important — from local directories (there are many), local business partners or suppliers, local newspapers or radio stations, local/neighborhood bloggers, local schools or other non-profit organizations, etc.

Customer reviews. What better indicator of credibility is there than reviews from your own customers, patients or patrons?  The search engines weigh these heavily in local searches.   Encourage anyone who uses your product or service or anyone who is pleased with your work to fill out a review. This step should follow the step above, as most local directories (YellowPages.com, Local.com, Superpages.com, Yelp, etc.) have a place to enter reviews, as do the search engines themselves (Google, Yahoo, Bing).  You know your customers best and probably have the best ideas for how to encourage them to write reviews.  Here’s a great idea we heard from a neighborhood dry cleaning business:

We set up a laptop in our retail store with a tab open to Google Maps and Yahoo Local. We put a little sign next to it that said if you had a Gmail or Yahoo Mail account, we would offer a 5% immediate discount for leaving us a review. We quickly got 10+ reviews in Google and now pop up as the top local result for all searches in our area. On a very broad search I have seen us come up as the one and only local result on Google (based on locational IP I believe), and it is mostly due to the number of reviews.

And another approach used by a local florist:

Our company has long believed our customers are our best form of advertising. With each emailed delivery confirmation (which we send automatically as a customer’s flowers are delivered locally) we include a request at the bottom of the page to rate us on one of the popular review sites – and include links directly to the pages. They’re linked from our home page, too. Some customers just email or write us thank you notes, but a few do go on to write reviews. I’m guessing most of them create logins to do so. At least a few of my fellow florists think we’re crazy and are begging for complaints. We’re not perfect, but we absolutely do pledge to keep our customers happy – and I hope that’s why we’ve earned their business and trust for the last 23 years. IMO requesting reviews is only a real ‘risk’ for companies who fear their customers.

If you’ve tried any other ideas, please feel free to share them here.  For further reference, read this posting by David Mihm, Local Search expert at SearchEngine Land, on the Ten Fundamentals of Local SEO.  And the follow-up on Advanced Ranking Factors.

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