Don’t Overlook Local Search Opportunities

I wasn’t always in SEO. Nope. I’m older than that. My background includes years in advertising sales. Radio, television, print/newspaper, and interactive — I covered them all.

Without a doubt, I fell in love with interactive. The measurability. The accountability. The “instant” nature of placing ads on the Web and seeing clicks and conversions. It was amazing. My first six months with Lycos (back in early 2000), I could swear that I had a brain-ache, trying to get my head wrapped around this new way of marketing businesses via the Web.

Just before joining Lycos, I sold newspaper advertising for a small community newspaper group in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. When advertisers couldn’t afford to advertise in the Dallas Morning News, or if an advertiser needed to supplement their print initiatives, we were there. Small/local advertisers didn’t have much choice. In case you’ve never checked it out, local radio and local television advertising can be quite expensive.

Fast-forward to 2009 and there are so many great opportunities for local advertisers to get in “on the cheap” (or even free). And now that Google is showing more local results, even when a search query doesn’t specifically include a location, it’s becoming even more important for businesses to pay attention to local SEO. But how many small businesses are taking advantage of these opportunities?

Certainly, SEO is “free” (assuming that you don’t consider your time worth any amount of money). Same can be said for inclusion into local directories.

Today, I’m writing for the small business owner, but some of these opportunities are certainly available for national companies, with multiple locations. Consider this a checklist of things that you should be doing, if you aren’t already.

Local SEO Tips

For businesses of all sizes, local SEO starts with keyword research. Understand how your potential customers search and what geographical modifiers they include. This means understanding local search behavior whether it is “New York City coffee shops” or “Greenwich Village coffee houses”; or “Minneapolis tailors” or “Twin Cities alterations.”

Now that you have a better understanding of how to attract your local audience, apply this to your site. Develop individual pages for each brick-and-mortar location. Your specific keywords should be reflected in the URL, title, meta, heading, and content. Many companies only include an address.

Remember to add content specific to each location to further entice potential foot traffic, as well as enforcing your placement for the search engines. Also, add images/photos of your location. Include alternative text and file naming to reflect your targeted keywords. This adds to the page theme and may potentially add your location image into image and universal search.

An advanced step in location search would be to integrate a location sitemap on your site, a well-developed internal linking strategy to include your locations, and adding geotagging on location pages. Placing actual grid coordinates and regional tagging within a page’s source code further indicates to a search engine the physical location of your company and its correlation to the respective Web page.

Take Advantage of Local Online Opportunities

Without a doubt, one of the most important off-site local search opportunities is the use of Google Local Business Center/Google Maps and Yahoo Local. These listings are often presented at the top of the first page for local queries — a place you want to be. One of the larger missed opportunities for local companies is using these local listings to display their name, address, number, and link.

It’s important to take advantage of all the options within you local listings. Include:

  • A targeted keyword (if possible), along with your company name in the title.
  • Keyword-rich descriptions.
  • Images and videos.
  • A coupon (when possible) in your listings. This can be used as a metric to assess how well your local listings are working.

Also, don’t include an 800 number. Remember, this local listing should have a local feel and, hence, a local telephone number.

Participation in other local entities, such as Citysearch, helps your listings as reviews are aggregated into local listings. Most importantly, include a link back to your site to the specific location page on your site. Hopefully, you’ve included the city name in the URL!

Now, this is where big business usually drops off due to a lack of time available because of multiple locations. This is sad because there’s still so much left to do to optimize for local SEO.

Go to local review sites, such as Yelp, and create local listings for your company locations. This helps your local customers lift their voices for your brand and help advertise for you at a local level. These sites are a link, referral source, and a potential search engine listing as well.

Now that you’ve created review channels, link within your Web site (on your location pages to these review sites) so that you can provide a path for your repeat customers to provide a review and help build your profiles on these sites.

What’s Next?

Find all relevant local directories, partner sites, and community business sites and request a link with your targeted local keywords as an anchor text when possible. Remember to link to the specific location page. Link building for your locations will potentially lift your organic rankings for location specific queries and add referral sources.

Moving forward with link building brings us to a section for the “die-hards” who have a lot of time on their hands. This entails grasping the power of social media.

You should create profile on social networks centered on your company plus your targeted keywords. For example, a Facebook fan page or Squidoo page for “ACME Memphis Painters.”

You can add profiles and attract an audience from an endless list of social properties. This will take a lot of time to manage if you want to correctly build an audience and increase your reach.

The time consuming aspect of this venture lies in consistently listening and responding to your audience, providing fresh and compelling content to keep loyal visitors returning, and for those visitors to further spread your message in a viral manner. Success here achieves growth in links, search engine listings, and referrals.

For those with a little time on their hands, the opportunities are endless. Local SEO is one of those processes that you can start and possibly never end due to the constant availability of emerging local channels. This is very true in other sectors, including localized PPC and Internet yellow pages.

From the days of an overpriced local print ad or radio spot, times have really changed. And they’ve changed in local businesses’ favor.

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