Without a doubt, local search is the topic getting the most coverage within our industry at the moment. Changes to the algorithm, moveable maps, the importance of adding physical addresses, and review site influences have all been written about. So I figured I'd give a little overview of recent actions and reactions to bring any sidetracked by work or other outside influences up to speed.
1. Google Improves Location-Based Results
Seems Google is working toward really improving their location based results. Yellow pages -- even the online ones -- have taken a hit, and the scramble for improving search results for local businesses has begun.
"Local search is growing in popularity as consumers shift from traditional phone book directories to finding products and services online. According to Google, 20 percent of all search queries are local in nature," Jon Schepke wrote a few days ago. The article also offers several good tips.
This a huge market. Google has dispatched one of their senior players, Marissa Mayer, into this arena, which should signal what a huge deal local searches are on Google.
2. Google Places: An Essential Tool for Local Marketing
Basically, Google gives local placement in return for having businesses fill in the information and building their yellow page killer for them. Everyone who fills in their Google Place information helps -- themselves, as well as Google's efforts. And the spammers are being picked off, along with legitimate brick-and-mortar sites, as discussions at Google Groups have noted.
The need to stay informed on what is impacting listings in Google Places is essential to every local business or the companies that handle their marketing.
What can you do? Have addresses in the footers of your site that link to in your Places listing, add bold and H tags to location phrases, and make sure you're mentioned in the review sites, to name a few (feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section below).
3. Mobile is a Big Player in the Location Game
Searches on smartphones allow us to find locations while we're on the go -- whether it's a local restaurant, business, or anything else we're looking to physically find in the real world. Optimizing a businesses location so that it is found in mobile searches has become a hybrid part of local marketing.
Google knows that the percentage of local searches is higher when done through smartphones. Adopting best practices for this platform is another area online marketers must add to their arsenal.
"More than 100 million people a month use Google Maps from mobile phones to find directions and information," according to another Search Engine Watch article on local-mobile-social convergence. The ones that find your website should be able to look at it in its most optimized format -- using version redirects according to browser platforms is a good start.
4. Twitter: A Powerful Local Tool
People listen to one another. The immediacy of suggestions from Twitter followers is amazing.
Businesses with local followers can drive traffic to their locations. The Korean BBQ food truck in Los Angeles that uses Twitter to inform people of their impending service locations is a great example of its use.
5. Yelp, Foursqaure, Other Location Review Sites
The importance of these sites and their impact on local marketing can't be stressed enough. Google uses the reviews to populate information on the sites in Google Places -- the number and quality of the reviews seems to have an impact on rankings.
6. Internal Pages Given New Importance
Recent changes to Google's algorithm have been showing internal pages in the SERPs where home page listings once held the spots. Thanks to Josh McCoy for his detailed report on this.
7. Don't Forget Yahoo and Microsoft
Even though Google has the larger share of all search, the Bing/Yahoo alliance gives them a significant share of the market and shouldn't be taken for granted -- your smarter competitors won't. There is Yahoo Local and Bing Local Business Center.
Also, don't forget places like GetListed.org or Best of the Web Local.
8. Local Has Its Own Ranking Methods
David Mihm has a great article about how to track local ranking factors -- a must read for all marketers.
9. Don't Forget the Basics
Regardless of all the additional aspects of local online marketing, you should never drop the ball on the basic SEO methods. Obviously, attention to location keywords is important, but using regular methods remains a must.
10. Track Everything and Use What Works
All of the steps above should be tried -- but make sure you're tracking what is working. Some businesses will gain more from a few of these than they do from others. Concentrate on the areas that best help each specific business.
I haven't seen a lot of recommendations for gynecologists on Twitter, but I'm sure women are doing location searches at the engines.
It's a new game and the importance of local marketing has created a growing niche that will be important for online marketers and small local businesses.