With the increasing importance of having an accessible, search engine- and user-friendly Web site, several critical factors are often overlooked with regards to local search optimization. Making sure your site is clearly defined geographically, along with placement in some strategic directories, can ensure your presence in local search queries. This presence will expand your user base and ultimately increase your return on investment.
Why do you need to worry about local search optimization? If your business depends upon your location – for example a hotel or a pizza shop – a local search presence will help bring in local customers and can increase your online audience. As Patricia Hursh noted in her ClickZ column in December, "local intent is behind up to 40 percent of all online queries, even if the searcher doesn't explicitly indicate location."
If the intent of your business is to bring customers to your location, considering local search during the site-building and optimization process can help you bring geo-targeted customers to your site.
Local search placement is no longer dependent solely on distance from the post office or some other measure of city center. Google Maps, Yahoo Localand Windows Live Local now each have a unique algorithm that works independently of the results in regular search queries. For example, when you look at most geo-targeted queries in Google, you now see local results which are then followed by the Google Search Results.
Because the local listings are now being placed so highly, the ability and window of competition is very narrow. Every step possible should be taken to ensure your site is optimized to deliver the most relevant local search results. Sites that rank poorly in Yahoo or MSN Live queries can conversely rank very well on the local platforms. For example, a Yahoo Local query for "Mendocino bed and breakfast" shows us a #1 result that conversely does not rank in the top 100 for the same query in Yahoo Search.
Check this out for yourself, and look for your Web site using your best keyword terms in both the local and regular search platform. You will see extremely different results for both. This information leads us to confirm the fact that local search contains its own unique algorithm.
On-Page Local Search Optimization
The first steps in making your Web site compliant to the local search algorithms are simple, and can be easily accomplished in one day for a limited investment. More than likely you can have your webmaster complete these changes in just a few hours:
- Make sure your local phone number and physical address are displayed in TEXT form on every page.
- Have a good title tag on your page using popular, geo-targeted terms. Some of the best keyword terms can be found using a tool like Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery. These tools are not free, but if you're investing in optimizing your Web site and building out the content, they can be invaluable. If you're looking for a free tool, try out Digital Point's Keyword Researcher Tool. It shows less data but will give you an idea of how many searches your potential keywords get a day. If you run a pizza parlor in Duluth, Minn., make sure your title tag reflects the most-searched pizza parlor term with "Duluth, MN" or some variation in it.
- Put your zip code in at least ONE of your page's title tags. This can help with local and mobile search on local platforms.
Off-Page OptimizationOnce your Web pages are local search compliant, the next step is to do some "off-page" optimization and set up directory listings and work on getting local links pointing to your site. A few steps to begin with include:
- Upgrade your listings in Google's Local Business Center and Yahoo's Local Listings. Then submit your site to local directories like Yellowpages.com, SuperPages.com, InfoSpace.com, InsiderPages.com, Local.com.
- Many of the large local platforms pull information from the yellow page databases, so having an accurate and complete listing there can only benefit your online market. Some of the local platforms will charge you to add or upgrade your listing. Try to get the best listing possible for the least amount necessary to invest. Traffic from each resource is a nice side benefit, but if ranking in Google Maps, Yahoo Local and Windows Live Local is your ultimate goal, don't worry so much about having the best listings on the lesser platforms.
- Search for local business guides and chamber of commerce-type sites. Chances are they offer local listings for businesses in the area. Send them an e-mail and ask for a link. They may ask that you link back but that's okay. I don't recommend giving a reciprocal link to everyone, but if the chamber or a local business guide wants one, go ahead and throw one on your site. It's a small price to pay.
- If you contribute to a local school event, charity or non-profit, ask for a link. It's free for them to do and you get something great out of it, not to mention some good Karma.
- Find blogs that focus on your business plan or geographic location and make comments – and often get a link out of it too. Some of those links will have "no follow" tags, but it's still worth getting yourself out there in the online community.
Overall, setting yourself up to have a good local search presence takes a small time investment and a few very simple steps. If a search marketing firm that specializes in local search isn't within your budget, that's fine. You can do these basic things on your own. The bottom line is to be patient and diligent about keeping your Web site up to date and fresh. The geo-targeted traffic that local search platforms drive can make the potential return worth the investment.
For more of Carrie's views on local search and making your Web site more local search-friendly, tune in to the eMarketing Talk Show on May 4.