There’s been a lot of talk about local search recently. A lot of SEO experts, including myself, feel local search is still in its infancy stage and as it matures, it will have a major impact on search engine optimization and internet marketing. Many of us feel 2011 is the year in which local search will come of age. Not only come of age, but also become an important part of the internet marketer’s bag of tricks.
Remember when most people had no idea what social media was, what it meant, or why it mattered? Well that time has past and now social media’s little brother, local search, is the next golden child of search engine marketing. Unfortunately, most people and businesses don’t have a good grasp of what local search entails, how to implement it into their marketing plans, or even how to execute it successfully. I’d like to say there is a magical wand, but one doesn’t exist. I believe solid SEO and local search optimization takes some time, planning, and good old fashion work.
Local Search Does Matter to Small Businesses
- SERP Domination – Google Web Savvy Marketing, you’ll see that my website and company dominates the search engine results page (aka SERP). Seven out of ten of the listings are mine. Google Michigan WordPress Consultant and you’ll see the same type of results. That is how it should be, especially if you are a small business. You need to be front and center for any search that takes place related to your company name or your core product and service offering.
- Organic SEO – While no one knows the exact algorithm used for delivering search results, but we do know inbound links, URL mentions, and keyword rich tags matter. So how can a small business garnish those from reputable sources? Local search directories are an excellent place to start. You can see in the table below, Brownbook.net, Yellowbot.com, Mojopages.com, Manta.com, and Hotfrog.com are all great for providing inbound links, keyword rich profiles, and they’re all indexed by Google. This all helps in your search engine optimization efforts.
- Reviews – Positive or negative, reviews matter to small businesses. While not everyone is taking the time to post online reviews, some people are and they aren’t always positive. In the land of geeks, we call this reputation management. So who’s watching your online reputation? If you are a small business owner, that would be you. You need to search for your company name and address to see what pops up in the search results. I’ve done this with prospects and clients, only to find negative reviews calling their services “horrible” or “worthless” or even “unethical”. Were these businesses any of those things? No, not really. But the person who left the review was angry enough to write an extremely negative review. In about 99% of the cases you can’t remove those comments, but you can diffuse them by responding to them and by encouraging other clients to counteract them with something positive. In many cases, these negative comments show up on page one of Google when you searched for the company name. Nothing chases away potential customers like a longwinded, overly negative review.
- Traffic from Local Search Directories – I think of all the benefits, this is actually the smallest one, or at least right now. I believe the actual search volume and inbound traffic is currently low, although I suspect this may very well change in 2011 as many of these local directories mature and gain a loyal following of users. Even though the volume is low, if someone searches for my service offering, I want to be listed.
- Branding – I’m listed on MerchantCircle.com and another business owner called me because he saw my business name and location. He wanted to know what type of marketing his “neighbor” did, so we talked for about an hour. That is branding and it was effortless on my part to achieve it.
- Referrals – Local search and social media is the new customer referral program. I have given referrals, have requested referrals, and have won new business across Facebook. Why? Because someone asked, someone answered, and I was there and had an online presence. Friends knew I was a WordPress web designer, because of my Facebook profile and company page. They could see work samples and they knew they had a resource close by and one they knew. As a mater of fact, I have meetings with two companies this week because one of their employees knew me, and my service offering, from my Facebook activities.
Now that I’ve talked and talked about why small businesses need to embrace local search, the next question is what do they have to do to get themselves listed. While it isn’t brain surgery, there are a number of things to consider. The below table will list a number of popular local search directories and will provide a place to start. There are many more, but this list will give you a jump start. Once you review my list of local directories, read through my tips for claiming your local listing.
List of Top Local Search DirectoriesComprehensive listing of top local search directories and their impact on search engine optimization and marketing.
*Google indexing requires coupon entry.
|Local Directory||Logo||Company Summary||Tags||Website URL||Indexed on Google||URLs Flagged as No Follow||Reviews||Categories|
Local Search Tips for Small Businesses
- It is time consuming and labor intensive. Like real SEO, there is not a software program to run through all the local directories and place your profile properly. There are some companies and/or programs that promise to do it, but they only hit some of the local directories. Good listings take real people and time to create.
- Be prepared and have your with data ready. To add yourself to local search directories you’ll need some basic company information readily available. Stick it in Word and just copy it over as you complete each profile. Basic information requirements include company description, website URL, keywords or tags, RSS feeds for your blog if you have one, and your social accounts URLs (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin).
- Go cheap and don’t pay for premium listings. I like free. I believe pay per click is an addiction and I’m not a fan of premium local directory listings either. You don’t need them and you’ll be fine by focusing on the free directories and their local listing options.
- If nothing else, hit Google, Yahoo, and Bing. If time is an issue and if you can do nothing else but submit to a handful of local directories, start with Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local. I recommend creating a coupon for Google Places so your listing is indexed by Google. Google will require phone validation and Bing uses a post card (yes snail mail) so understand your listing does not go live overnight.
- Don’t forget niche directories (lawyers, real estates, doctors, etc.) if it applies. A lot of professions have a large number of specialized directories. Use them, because most likely they are dominating page one results on Google.
- Don’t forget geographical directories. For both users and search engines, make sure you query and add your profile to directories within your state or city. This takes more time, but the SEO benefits should be present once your local listing goes live.
- Seeing results takes time. Local search directories are massive, so by default, they take a considerable amount of time and bandwidth to crawl and index. My listing in Brownbook.net was indexed and appeared in Google within hours, but this is the exception and not the rule.
- You still need a quality website to convert visitors once they discover your local listing. I know there has been a great deal of hype around Facebook pages and people running businesses off these pages alone, but I don’t belive it. I think this claim is based on marketing companies trying to sell hype and their services. If you want someone to act off of their internet search, you have to give them something tangible to read (like my long blog post) and a real call to action. Driving a ton of traffic to a ten year old website that fails to describe your service or product offering does little value and drives zero revenue.
My Local Search Call to Action
So now what? Get yourself listed. You can use my list of local search websites to plan your attach or you can hire a local search marketing expert. Just make sure you do take the time or allocate the money to get it done. If you are a small business and you target a local market, you have to make sure your company is listed in local search directories. If not, your going to continue to lose business opportunities and clients and it will only get worse as 2011 becomes the year of local search!
Note: If you are a Twitter fan, you can follow my list of local directories on Twitter at @WebSavvyMrkting/local-search-directories.
Author Note on November 10, 2011: The above table has been updated to reflect the new release of Google+ pages for businesses. While it is to early to tell the magnitude of Google+ business profiles, they should be included in any online marketing campaign and link building efforts.