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BACK TO BASICS: Landing Space in Local Search

By Susan Esparza, July 15, 2008

In real estate, there is a well-known saying -- "Location, location, location." The same thing holds true with online real estate. Where you can be found often determines the level of your online marketing success. For a small business, local search is often a prime location for traffic. With consumers flocking to the search engines to solve every problem, a local business can profit immensely by simply showing up. Learning how to appear in the general search engines, the search verticals, and the local only engines is the first step to creating a local search engine optimization plan that's everywhere you want to be.

Major Search Engines

Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Live Search are the first stop for a consumer in search of a solution. The traffic for local terms in a broad base engine far outweighs any sort of search volume in a local-only search engine. Because of this you can not afford to miss out on the opportunities available to you here. There are two basic ways to get into local search queries: make your Web site relevant to those local terms and register your business in each engine's local search vertical.

Searchers often use geo-targeted qualifiers in their queries like a city or zip code. To optimize your site for geo-targeted search terms (for example, "Simi Valley florist") you'll want to include a physical address at the bottom of every page. This tells engines you are a brick and mortar business in the real world and gives them a keyword match which will verify for them your relevance to the search term.

Focus on the criteria that will convince a consumer to choose your business. Asking yourself these questions makes it easier to optimize your site for the interests of a local searcher. What are your customers looking for when they're looking for you? How close is it to their work or home? Does it fit into their lifestyle? Do you have community ties that speak to your good reputation and service? If the choice is between the local electronics store and a national chain, it's up to that local store to prove that they're not just as good as the national brand but better.

Speak your customer's language. Incorporate local slang and terminology into your copy so that those "in the know" will recognize your site as being relevant to their lives. If everyone calls a particular street by a nickname, feel free to sprinkle that in among the pages.

Local Search Verticals

In addition to their main index, each of the major search engines have a local-only engine that they integrate into their main results. Although less than one percent of searches are done in the local search vertical, getting into these indexes is well worth the time and effort that it takes. Thanks to blended search technologies, results from all verticals are now appearing in the main index which presents a great opportunity for a local business that appears in that specialized index. Yahoo prefers to use their Local results over qualifying Web sites, though they say it depends according to the query. Google places ten local results on a map above their main results -- appearing in this spot is a must for any local business. The process isn't difficult and is not particularly time-intensive either.

In order to get into the local index, you'll need to submit your business profile directly to the search engines. Fill out a form to give your address details, phone number, description, and if possible, when you're open, how you can accept payment, what products and services you offer, and professional associations that you belong to which might persuade a searcher. Like the information on your Web site, you want to be as detailed and clear as possible while delivering content that a searcher would find valuable.

You can often select up to five categories to list your business in, so give some thought to your selections. The engine will conduct a review of your information, a process that can take 5-60 days. Google will send you a confirmation number to your brick and mortar address so that you can prove that you are the true owner of your business.

Submission forms for each engine:

Be sure to read all the instructions before submission. Always be complete and as accurate as you can be. Claiming your business in the large engines' local verticals has the huge advantage of giving you control over the information that the search engines present. You don't have to worry about someone else presenting misinformation or the data becoming outdated and inaccurate. It'll also provide credibility to your potential customers. Another advantage of the local verticals is that customers can often leave reviews. This will help build reputation and increase consumer confidence.

Local-Only Engines

While most local search traffic does funnel through the major engines, once you're established in those engines, it's still worth it to look at the local search engines. Many will deliver targeted traffic and visitors ready to convert. Because many on the main search engines are doing research and aren't in the buy phase, the traffic they bring is often less qualified.

There is an almost dizzying array of local-only engines out there. TrueLocal.com and Local.com are the most well known local-only engines. Internet yellow pages like YellowPages.com, SuperPages.com, DexKnows.com and YellowBook.com are another place to appear for garnering targeted traffic.

One area in local-only search that's been doing exceptionally well are niche sites that lend themselves naturally to a geo-targeted query. Housing and real estate engines like Zillow.com, HotPads.com, ServiceMagic.com (which is for home improvement contractors) are all doing very well. Research your industry and find out if there are any targeted engines. Again, though the traffic will be lower, the visitors are usually more qualified and further along in the purchasing process.

The Problems of Local Search

Local search hasn't been perfected. Far from it, in fact. Some engines rely on IP targeting to deliver results, which can lead to problems if the IP address of the searcher doesn't match their physical location or if the results they need aren't in their immediate area. Searchers are getting better at specifying where they mean as well as what but that's not 100 percent of queries either. Many engines allow searchers to specify a home location but results shouldn't always be assumed. And of course, not all geo-targeted queries are local. [Las Vegas Hotels] is a popular search query with a geo-locator but it isn't strictly a local search. People in Las Vegas are not likely to be performing that search.

Conclusion

Just as there are a number of considerations to take into account when choosing the physical location of a business, landing prime real estate online also requires thought and planning. Consider the terms that someone looking for your site will enter into the major engines, including any geo-locators or local slang. Submit detailed information about the business to the major engines' local indices. Include the physical address of your business on all pages of your site. And don't forget to research any vertical or local-only engines that fit your industry, services or location. It's a multi-step process that you won't regret performing when consumers can more readily locate your business on the Web.


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