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February 18, 2008

Local Search Must Be A Priority

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Rand Fishkin has a great, great interview with Michael Blumenthal over on the SEOmoz blog today that is definitely worth a snippet of your time. If you’re not yet getting your site primed for local search, you’re in danger of missing the boat.

In the interview, Michael calls local search the aggregation of a million different niches, and I’d agree with that. It’s also about finding your customers when they’re primed for action and taking advantage of it. As the granularity of local data grows and the number of users searching for you business via mobile phones increases, the benefits you’ll find from local search will also be impacted.

I think the question/answer that really sums up our own thoughts on local search came when Rand quizzed Michel on the number of local queries being entered by users. Rand asked Michael if the 40 percent number that’s often touted was actually valid. Michael responded with this:

"It provides a useful lens for understanding local. In the end it doesn’t really matter if it is 10%, 40%, 60% or more. If you are in one of the industries that needs local and can benefit from it, then you need it and you probably need professional help to navigate the maze that is local. If you need it and you don’t have a strong presence, it can be a disaster as seen in the case widely reported last December of the florist that was affected by a competitor gaining the Authoritative OneBox."

And that’s today’s lesson, kids: If local is important to you, it doesn’t matter how many queries are being entered. It’s either worthwhile for your company and something you should be paying attention to or it’s not. And if it is, now’s the time to strike. It’s only going to get harder.

And for most companies, I think local search is important, especially if you’re taking the time to SEO your site in the first place. Local search is just another facet to traditional search engine optimization. If you’re not out there right now learning how you can conquer the rankings for [keyword + your town], you’re in danger of missing out. That keyword combination is going to become increasing more important and more competitive as the engines start doing more with aggregated local data, and as users start to name drop city names due to being trained by Google and retrained by mobile search. Even if nothing in the engines changes and desktop local search remains in the nascent stages, it still becomes important because of mobile.

One of the reasons I’ve always found local search so exciting is because of how high the possibility for conversion is, especially when you’re looking from the mobile end. Users are searching with a purpose. In most cases, they’re not looking for research information, they’re looking for a way to buy from you. Right now. You’d be insane to leave them hanging and not capitalize on that.

Optimizing your site for local search is about recognizing how the search query string changes based on intent. They don’t look for zip codes. They’re using queries like [florist near Smithtown, LI] or [car repair around San Francisco area]. Know that.

Make sure you have robust business profiles everywhere. All of the major search engines have tools that allow you to enter your company into their business listings. Take the required five minutes to fill out all the Meta data and get yourself listed. You’ve heard about Google’s new tendency of displaying ten local listings + ten regular listings, right? That’s a pretty hefty chunk of their SERP being dedicated to local. Make sure you’re being represented. There are different ways to enter in your information depending on the engine:

  • Google: Google offers both a postcard option and a bulk upload option. You send a postcard in with your business listing information and then in a few weeks Google sends you your PIN. Enter it online and in a few weeks your listing will go live. The bulk option works the best for getting up in a timely manner but the information isn’t as robust.
  • Yahoo’s Map Listings: You can get your basic company information listed within 24 hours, but you have to do it manually. This becomes a pain when you have to update each location and you have, say, 4,000.
  • MSN: MSN is also a fan of the postcard system. Figures.
  • Superpages: Bulk Upload option.

When it comes to getting your site to rank for local terms, you’re going to need content. Please realize that this doesn’t mean issuing a find/replace to change city names on templated form pages. In order to rank you need to have sufficient, unique content for each location. Content that explains exactly what you do and where you are located prominently on the site. This is also where getting users to do the work for you really comes in handy. Target the influencers and most vocal people in your niche and encourage them to spread the word or leave reviews. You’ll pick up a lot of the great long tail keywords this way, as well.

Of course you’ll also need links, links that hopefully utilize friendly anchor text. David Klein offered up a lot of great ways to get links for local deed during his presentation at PubCon’s Local Search Optimization session so I’ll just point you there. If you get really desperate, you can also try out some of Natural Search Blog’s Extreme Local Search Optimization Tactics. However, I think some of those are a bit much. Except number five. Five is totally doable.

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