Today’s post is by Account Manager Brent Bowles, who just drove 2,800 miles cross-country to write this post from our San Mateo office.

Local Search is a kind of Holy Grail for small businesses with local brick-and-mortar locations. You should have a business website, of course, but even if you don’t, you can’t ignore the internet completely, since it’s how more and more people are finding what they need. This post will explain why you need to optimize your Local Search campaign and the simple steps that can get you more traffic — both online and in your store.

What is local search, anyway?

Local Search, often referred to as local SEO, is the process of optimizing local business listings through (Google+ Local, Yelp, etc.) to be visible on relevant non-branded searches through the major search engines.

Here’s an example of Local Search in action (the search was for “tire shop in Gainesville, TX”):

local SERPs page

You think Google+ pages might matter in Local Search?


Why should I care?

Across Google, Yahoo, and Bing, 43% of queries have ‘local intent’. Users are trained to look at the Universal Results, so while your website may also rank on page 1 for branded terms, that is not as helpful as it use to be. Google Places’ integration into the search engine results page is what’s important now, and you better be found there for both brand and non-brand queries. (Obviously, you’d better be found when people search for your brand name. If not, you might as well lock up your doors and close your business, because people will look elsewhere for someplace that is easy to find, where they can get directions to or call from their mobile phone.)

These universal results also show at the top of the search page, pushing down organic results, and giving small businesses with small or no budget for a website a fair chance to compete. Local search optimization builds out the pages to not only be visible, but be in the #1 spot in the universal results. This drives drives both web traffic and real-world foot traffic!

So how do I execute a good, basic Local Search plan?


Step 1 in dominating local search:
At a minimum, a business should claim its Google Places page (free!) as well as its Yelp Page (also free!). This ensures that you will be found for branded searches, and prevents your business page from being falsely claimed by someone else. The key fields that must be filled out are Company Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP). These three fields are the single most important areas identifying your business, and making you visible in the search results.

Step 2 in dominating local search: People often search for categories and not just locations — “Pizza in San Mateo,” for instance. This is how you get new business: reach people who are interested in your product but they don’t know you exist!

The local platforms and directories (for example, always get a listing in your city’s chamber of commerce page!) generally have 3-4 fields to categorize your business. Use them all, and describe the key aspects of your business. In this case, that might be “Pizza Restaurant, Buffalo Wings, Sports Bar, Pasta.” These give an accurate signal to the search engines about who your company is and what you do.

Here’s what that search looks like on Yelp (obviously, review quality matters…we’ll get to that in a bit):

local search yelp

Google and Yelp are talking to each other — that’s part of the Local Search ecosystem.

Another easy way to give signals to the search engines is to build out your business description, adding those same business categories and the city you exist in into the description. This makes it very easy and clear for users and the search engine to know who you are and what you do.

Step 3 in dominating local search: Know the searchers’ intent. Users are generally searching for a few elements, and they want them fast! While building out or enhancing your business website (and again, you should have a business website), think about what questions people generally call you with, and address them specifically on your local business pages. These elements generally are:

– Hours of operation
– Telephone number
– Address
– Menu (if a restaurant)
– Pictures
– Deals!
– Reviews from “peers” – confirming that your business isn’t shady

Step 4 in dominating local search: Search engines are picking up on social cues more and more. To capitalize on this, and to start broadening your online communities, open a Facebook business page, a Twitter account, and a Google+ business page, and update them with all of the items in step 3. Daily posts on specials and deals also help bring people in — and give them a reason to keep interacting.

Advanced Local Search – Key Elements


Step 5 in dominating local search:
Get on the most important Local Pages!
These include:
Google+Local
Yelp (enhanced listings exist… can also do PPC and Pay-Per-Call)
Yext (distributes to 40+ local search platforms… including IYP, Yahoo Local, CityGrid… MSN Local coming soon) – $15/month
Localeze (the other search engines look to localeze as a key authority and draw/compare information to its database)

Always include the following on those local pages:
– A unique & local Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) are the most important ranking elements.
– Physical address in the city of search
– Local Area code
– Proper categorization (most local platforms/directories give you 3 or 4 categorization fields)
– Owner-verified page
– Product/Service & Location KWs in Biz title
– Photos on page
– Product/Service & location KW in biz description

Step 6 in dominating local search: Work on your website. Remember to follow these tips:

– Add your City and State to the title tag of your landing page
– Make sure your HTML Name, Address, Phone Number matches what you listed on the local pages above
– Include your Product/Service/Location in website URL
– Work on Page & Domain Authority (use original content, take advantage of all page elements like H1 tags, title tags, meta keywords, etc.)
– Add your NAP in Schema.org
– Add your City and State on your landing page’s H1 & H2 Tags

Step 7 in dominating local search: Get reviewed! Search engines — and customers — love to see reviews. Encourage people (through interaction, discounts, etc.) to add reviews to Yelp, Google+ Local, and more. The following are the best kind of reviews:

– Those that mention your Product/Service/Location
– High ratings
– Ratings by ‘power users’ (people who rate multiple things)

Remember to interact with your reviewers, whether their reviews were good or bad. There’s always a ton you can learn from reviews (especially bad ones), and they give you a chance to start a conversation with an unsatisfied customer and turn him/her into a fan of your business.

A last note on the incestuous Local Search ecosystem…
While the top-tier directories all value proprietary data, they also all still rely heavily on comparing their data to other platforms. Because of this, it is incredibly important to maintain consistency in all important fields, otherwise your ‘trust signals’ are lowered.

Setting up and building out profiles in Google & Yelp is a great start. Other platforms & directories will pull data from them, and in just a few months’ time, your information will be scattered across the internet! GetListed.org has a great visual of the incestuous local search ecosystem. They are also a great authority on local search news and details.

That’s all for now! Good luck in making 2013 the best year for your local business!

– Brent BowlesAccount Manager

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