Local Search Optimization: Get Started with the Basics

The early 21st century has been marked by controversy, hand-wringing, celebration, and angst about globalization: the general process of countries and cultures mixing with, and crowding in on, each other.  We have been told that the world is getting smaller due to technology, particularly the Internet, and growing populations.

How ironic that, in the world of Internet search, the opposite process is at work.  Whereas once former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill observed that “all politics are local,” now it would seem that the Search Engines have taken up a similar chorus: “all search is local.”

Don’t believe it?  Just run a search.  Take a look at the screen capture below (if it’s not big enough to see the detail, click on it).  This is for a search on “realtors in williston nd.”  You can see that local results dominate the search.  If you take away the ad at the top, only one conventional “organic” result appears above the fold.

Screen capture of local search optimization results example

 

My client, for example, consistently ranked #2 in organic results, but to him it was as if he was invisible because his listing was pushed so far down the page.  Now admittedly this search phrase shows clear local intent, but local results are increasingly taking over less obviously local results as well.

The reasons search engines are increasing the prominence of local search results are self-evident.  The Yellow Pages are dying as all but the most digitally challenged citizens use their computers, iPads, and mobile phones to look for places to spend their money.  User surveys show that a rising percentage of searches have an underlying local intent.  And searchers who have local intent are more likely to act immediately on their searches (which means that they are more likely to view the search engine that satisfied their searches as a place for immediate search gratification).  Like it or not, localization of search is upon us, and every business, large and small, needs to respond appropriately.

Rather than give you a whole bunch of how-to’s in this blog post, I’m going to list the primary factors you need to pay attention to in order to optimize for local (see “key factors” list below).  It will be up to you to implement.  As I have time I might be able to add in tutorials in my blog on how to get some of this stuff done, but that will have to wait for another bit of available writing time on my side.

One huge caution: Don’t overthink this.  It doesn’t take a miracle (yet) to rank well in local search.  Remember that client that I mentioned at the outset?  It took a few hours of tweaking, but we successful got him top 3 rankings in the local search results for his target phrases in a few months just by focusing on the easy basics.

The key factors in local search optimization:

You must have a physical address in the city that’s being searched.  If you don’t have this, don’t bother with the rest.  In all of the following steps that involve an address, your address should be identical across all listings.  By identical, I mean identical.  If you spell out “Road” in one instance of your address, don’t abbreviate it “Rd.” in a different instance.

  • Check your listing on getlisted.org
  • Work through getlisted.org’s suggestions giving priority to the following “points of presence” first:
    • Google+ (used to be Google Places)
    • Bing
    • Yahoo!
    • Yelp
    • Citysearch
    • Best of the Web
  • Particularly with Google make sure that your business listing is at least 90% complete, and that you’ve selected the most accurate category for your business
  • Make sure you have a good website that has had basic search optimization best practices applied.  Make sure the address on your Website exactly matches the address that appears in your listings with the points of presence mentioned in step 3.
  • Make sure you have optimized the title tags of various pages of your website to match the search terms that you’re trying to rank for in local search. (I’ve used the zip code and phone number in the title tags of some pages.  I don’t know if this really works, but it might and it’s easy to do.)
  • Make sure the phone number on your website is a local one using the area code and number that match the listings you have on the various points of presence where your business appears.
  • Convince some of your customers to write genuine, favorable reviews.  (Don’t fake this or the universe will punish you J )

(Terminology note: I use the term “points of presence” to indicate where you have listings in online databases that are important to local search, such as Google+, Yelp, etc.  Usually local search guys call these “citations.”  I like “points of presence” because “citations” seems to ambiguous.)

What I’ve mentioned here is by no means an exhaustive list.  However, if you pay attention to just these factors you will dramatically improve your local rankings 9 times out of 10.

To dig deeper into local search optimization, I haven’t found any better resource than David Mihm’s excellent website on local search.  Every year he surveys local search gurus and publishes a compilation of important local search optimization ranking factors according to their professional experience.  I’ve selected the ones that have worked for me.  The only problem with Mihm’s list is that it’s so overwhelming just looking at it makes me want to smash my computer and get a job as a deep sea fisherman.  (Actually, that might not work…I get seasick watching Master and Commander.)

So, don’t worry about the whole list.  Just do what you can.  If you do one thing per week to increase your local search presence you’ll be ahead of most of your competitors.  Good luck.

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Ross Barefoot

Ross Barefoot is Chief Technical Officer with Horizon Web Marketing in Las Vegas, Nevada.He also is the founder of FLEXISS Digital Design and a Certified Search Engine Optimization Trainer for the Search Engine Academy.

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