Originally published at “InsideSEM.com” in October, 2007.
Forget ocean sunsets, waterfalls, castles, and ancient cathedrals, those four words may make for the best postcard you’ll ever receive. If you haven’t received this postcard, or an automated phone call from your friends at Google Local, then let me tell you what you are missing.
Location-based and local search can be a powerful tool for any business, yet many businesses and websites don’t fully utilize this resource. Whether looking for a nearby wine café or wineries to visit for a vacation in Sonoma, these are considered local search. If you haven’t focused some of your web presence efforts on local search, then you may never know what business you missed out on. And as mobile search grows as the numbers of mobile phone users with web access on their phones grows, the importance of local search will grow exponentially as well.
So what can you do to improve your “local” presence?
Here are three main areas that you can focus on today, most of which will cost you nothing more than time and a minimal amount of effort on your part. Since we started this conversation talking about local search, we should probably lead off then with how you can tap into the search engine’s local search offerings.
Local Search Listings
Each of the major search engines has implemented local search offerings. In the past, these were primarily focused on separate search interfaces that may have pulled results specialty indexes than their “standard” search. Many people may not have even been aware these special local indexes, or any of the other specialty indexes, existed. As all the engines continue to roll out blended search results, which builds search results by pulling relevant information from the different specialty indexes along with the standard index, we’ll continue to see more and more local search results being integrated into the regular searches.
Each search engine has its own requirements for how you add your business and website to their local index. Google (local.google.com) gives you the opportunity to have the above mentioned postcard with a special PIN sent to your address or to validate site ownership through an automated phone call. Yahoo (listings.local.yahoo.com) and MSN (local.live.com) have online signs ups, and the folks at Ask (city.ask.com) will give you an email address and a short list of the information they need from you.
In less than an hour, you can establish your local listing or at least get the ball rolling in the primary search engines and it won’t cost you a cent. This may be the most productive hour in your day.
Local Web Listings
The next local listing opportunity you need to pursue is through other websites. This can be especially important when these other websites are achieving higher positions in search engine results for searches that you would like to come up for. But it also has the added benefit of possibly being found for searches that are related to your location that you may not be targeting or as likely to come up for, such as general location searches about your city. In these cases, people may not have been looking for you or even for what you are offering, but when they stumble onto your listing, they may decide to bookmark your site for future reference or decide they are interested.
The opportunities vary widely here by industry and locations, but everyone should be able to find at least a few places to get their site listed. These also may vary from free to paid listings as you’ll have to decide what makes the most sense. Some of the logical choices are listing opportunities through your local chamber, other local business groups, as well as business listings on local media sites, such as TV, radio, and newspaper. Don’t forget local online phone directory listings and any other local business directories that may exist for your city or state.
Then you can look for other listing opportunities by performing searches in each of the engines for search phrases that you are targeting or that you feel your target audience may perform to find the products or services you offer. Look through the results for any sites that may provide additional opportunities for you to be listed.
This just as easily could have been the first place to start when talking about local search. Just like any other target search phrases, optimizing your site for local search is important and completely within your control. Sadly, many websites fail miserably when it comes to this basic step. What you do on your own site also varies greatly depending on your business, whether you have one location or several, whether you are located in one city or throughout the country, etc. Below are some ideas to get you started:
- Full address information on your Contact and/or About page.
- City and state and maybe even full address in the footer section on every page of your site.
- Listings for all of your locations, or separate pages for each location if warranted.
- Including h-card(http://microformats.org/wiki/hcard) formatting for your address information.
While this is just scratching the surface and how you specifically implement local search strategies is well beyond what could be covered here, you should be well on your way to a stronger local search presence.