According to Wikipedia, "Local search is the use of specialized Internet search engines that allow users to submit geographically constrained searches against a structured database of local business listings." In plain English, local search is simply search relevant to the user based on where they are located. Here in Portland, if I search for Chinese restaurants, I most likely am looking for some takeout that is relevant to me, and the top search result (perhaps the most famous Chinese restaurant in New York City or San Francisco's Chinatown) would not matter to me. This is where local search comes in.
Even those with no knowledge of search marketing have probably noticed the local results next to a map on Google when you search for a restaurant, chiropractor or plumber near your area. These are local search results, and they are driven by a unique algorithm in comparison to regular search results. Regular search results depend more on topic keywords about your business, while local search results depend more on a business's location. Since the local results are now shown at the top of a Google search query page, the traditional results barely show. Mihm says we are starting to see the beginning of a trend in which local results are replacing regular/organic search results.
"Younger populations steadily rely on search engines, dismissing print directories when researching local businesses," according to SEMpdx. The primary source of local business information for someone age 18-24 is 45% likely to be a search engine and only 9% likely to be a print Yellow Pages or White Pages directory. In comparison, someone 65+ is 43% likely to consult a print resource and only 22% likely to search online for their information.
So what does this mean for marketing a business that provides local services or goods? You need to be aware of the growing importance of local search and there are a few things you can do to make your website rank higher in these local results.
The important difference between SEO and local search optimization is that it is no longer all about only Google. "Google isn't the dominant player in local like it is in organic [search]," Mihm said. "You've got to have a holistic approach [to local search]."
Optimizing for local search requires a different mindset. Just remember that SEO optimizes a website, while local search optimizes a location.
The first step in optimizing for local search is making sure the information out there on the web about your business is both up-to-date and optimized. This is possible by manually submitting the correct information about your business to various sites, including Google places, Yahoo local, and Bing local. A great first place to start is visiting getlisted.org. Mihm works for this company which provides a handy tool for assessing what sites currently list your business. Another site Mihm recommended is whitespark.ca. They feature a tool to help you find directories that your business should be listed in.
For example, one of the first things you can change is claiming your Google "place page." (Simply go to google.com/places and follow the easy directions.) The local search results to the right of a Google map mentioned earlier will link to a business's place page. Google wants to keep the first click for themselves-the local result used to go to a business's homepage, but now takes searchers to the place page Google creates with all their knowledge about a particular business. By taking ownership of the place page, it is possible to make sure all the information about your business is up-to-date.
Local Search Tips:
- When submitting your business to a local search directory like Google Places, Yahoo Local or Bing Local, don't be afraid to use custom categories. For example, Oregon Business could create a category of "Business Magazine" instead of simply Magazine.
- Make sure to fill out as much information about your business as possible. Link to a YouTube video or photos about your business. Describe the products and services that make you special, whether they are offering free wi-fi, or the plethora of parking available on your rooftop lot.
- Use google insights and filter by geography. This way you can see whether people in your area search more often for lawyer or attorney - and you may be surprised by the results.
- Use keywords in your business title (AKA Oregon Business Magazine is better than Oregon Business), but if you go overboard you'll be flagged for spam ("News Magazine - Oregon Business - Voted one of the top biz publications in the country" is really bad). Just be sure to stay consistent with the corporate name you decide on.
- There are many local search directories where you should list your business (check out getlisted.org for the biggest directories), but according to Mihm, the three lesser-known sites you must be listed on are InfoUSA, Acxiom and Localeze. InfoUSA and Acxiom are leftover from the days of print phonebooks. They actually hired people to type in all of the information from the yellow pages across the nation. Localeze is "really hot right now" according to Mihm, because they are feeding Facebook Places (just rolled out) and Twitter Places (coming soon).
Obvious on-page factors:
- Make sure your address on your webpage is in HTML, not an image. That's so that it can be crawled by search engines. Industry folks call this important information your NAP: name, address, phone number.
Not so obvious on-page factors:
- Submit your contact page to Places rather than your homepage (For example, www.oregonbusiness.com/contact-us rather than www.oregonbusiness.com). And don't worry, the landing page doesn't affect your ranking in organic SEO.
- Link out to citations (your business's Yelp page, Facebook page, etc.)
Where local search is headed:
- What others say about you is becoming increasingly important. This factors in reviews on Yelp, Citysearch, and other websites. Very interestingly, trusted reviewers on trusted review sites may soon become more important than casual commenters. (For example, the opinion of a Yelp Elite with 300 reviews will count more than people with only a couple reviews.) For now though, the quantity of reviews you have is more important than the quality, so don't worry about the odd bad review.