Local search is any search made with the intention of finding something in a specific geographic location. In other words, the searcher is seeking a particular thing in a specific location. I wrote specifically about local search last year. It's a good time to revisit the topic, now that some things have changed on the local search front.
The impetus for writing this article was the release of the "Local Search Ranking Factors" by David Mihm. David recently asked 20 local search experts how businesses can maximize their chances of being found when targeted queries are made in Google Maps and Yahoo Local.
For many small businesses, commercial transactions don't take place on the Web. Anything that you'd traditionally look for in the print yellow pages becomes a local search on the Internet. For these queries, Internet marketing encourages potential customers to call them or to visit their brick and mortar store. In these cases, all searches that affect their site are considered local search.
Luckily for small business owners, there are steps they can take to influence many of the factors that positively affect local search rankings. Here are some things you can do to help your local business thrive online.
Claim, Enhance, and Optimize Your Local Business Listing
The local search algorithm is based on relevance. Much of that relevance depends upon the trust the search engines have in the information they have about your business. In most cases, the merchant is considered to be the most trusted source of data about their own business. Verifying ownership of your profile online is the most important factor for ranking well on local search engines.
While you're at it, make sure your local business listing is complete, accurate, and up to date. Use good product, service, and brand keyword terms, including geographic terms in your description and attributes and, whenever possible, in the listing title, as well.
Be sure you've categorized your business properly. Choose the most relevant categories in which to list your business. If you don't place yourself in categories, Google Maps and Yahoo Local will often use someone else's determination of where you belong. Use the maximum number of categories possible. If you don't see a category in Google Maps that uses your best keyword term, create one yourself!
Optimize your Web site for Local Terms
While it's unclear exactly how your Web site affects your local search engine rankings, having a well-optimized Web site can help greatly. This includes on-page factors that you completely control, such as placing your city and state in the title tags of your Web site and putting your street address and local phone number with area code in text format on your pages.
The number and quality of links pointing to your site is also important as is the local link reputation they convey using your location and product or service in the link text.
Standardize the Information
Your business data gains trust when it's validated by other trusted Web sites, specifically those that provide local business information, such as Internet yellow pages and sites like Citysearch, Yelp, and Insider Pages. Nearly all of them allow you to claim your enterprise and verify the data at no cost.
Be certain to use the same information across all of these Web sites to cut down on any confusion in the search engines. This should also match what the search engines see on your Web pages.
Get Good Reviews
Reviews are moderately important to ranking in the local search space and, at the present time, the number of reviews appears to be more influential than whether they say good or bad things about your business.
Reviews, ratings, and comments from others are exactly the type of information that people seek out before deciding who to do business with, so reviews are extremely important to your potential customers. Therefore, encourage happy customers to talk about your products and services online. They may do so directly at Google Maps and Yahoo Local. In addition, these local search engines pull reviews from other Web sites focused on either local information or a niche, such as restaurants, hotels, books, etc.
Local search is an online space where little businesses can definitely gain an advantage over big national chains. Pay attention to the details and take the time to accomplish all of the steps needed to rank well in Yahoo Local and Google Maps.
This article was co-authored by Mary Bowling, my SEO partner at Blizzard Internet Marketing. Mary contributed to David Mihm's Local Search Factors article and optimizes Web sites for Blizzard. She also blogs about local search on Optimized!