2 June 2010
2 June 2010,
Search Engines Expand Opportunities for Local Businesses

When I started my Internet marketing business back in 2002, I targeted small businesses with a national or international market. That’s because back in those days a pool builder, for example, was in competition for a Page 1 ranking in search results with every other pool company online. What’s more, if the company managed to get a Page 1 ranking for a relevant search phrase, their website’s listing would be shown for searches made all over the English-speaking world. Since it was difficult for the searcher to scan the page of listings to find a business near them, it was almost a total waste.

Amazingly, that only changed significantly a little more than a year ago. That’s when Google (which has nearly 75% of the search traffic now), began treating local businesses such as retailers, service businesses—and, yes, pool builders—differently than other businesses. Now when someone searches for a “pool builder,” and they happen to be in Littleton, Colorado, Google displays “Local Business Listings” near the top of the page. The searcher doesn’t need to use the phrase “Littleton Colorado pool builder.” Google uses the searcher’s IP address to display appropriate local businesses.

To show up in Google Local Business listings, you must set up a complete and well-optimized profile in what now is called “Google Places” (formerly Google Local). For many categories of business, Google also displays reviews from sites like CitySearch, Yelp! and Judy’s Book as part of the local business listings, so encouraging customers to review you extends the value of the listing further.

In 2010, the proliferation of web-enhanced mobile devices like the iPhone and iTouch, or any other mobile phone that provides web access, has given Local Search even more value—and has made localized optimization even more imperative.

There are now numerous ways that a local business can come to the top of computer-based searches.

If a website is properly optimized, it will show up in searches that include a city name. So, for example, a resort’s website will be displayed in regular results for search phrases that include a location no matter where the search originates.

But Google has now added other options to its search results pages. Try this: Type the phrase “highlands ranch realtor” into the Google search field. At the left side of the page, you will see a column with “Everything” at the top of the list. Click on the “more” arrow below that and you will see a list that includes:
• News—These are news items about Highlands Ranch realtors that have appeared in online publications.
• Images—Photos that have been “tagged” (identified) as being relevant to Highlands Ranch realtors.
• Videos—These are often YouTube videos that are identified as relating to Highlands Ranch real estate.
• Maps—This displays the location of Highlands Ranch realtors on a Google map.
• Blogs—These are primarily blogs written by Highlands Ranch realtors.
• Shopping—With this search phrase, the “shopping” link does not display anything relevant. But, for other search phrases, this could be very valuable.
• Books—Websites with books about Highlands Ranch real estate get links here.
• Updates—These are links to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. where the posting relates to the “Highlands Ranch Realtor” search.
• Discussions—Links to web forums and specific postings relating to the search phrase.

Another way to localize your web marketing is to use localized advertising on Google AdWords. You can choose a specific city, metro area, or state. Or you can choose to advertise only to searchers who are within 10-100 miles of your office or store’s location. And, remember, you only pay for the ad when someone clicks on it, so you can use your ad text to further qualify the potential customer (ie., a headline that reads “Homes from $500,000” would likely be ignored by someone looking for a home in the $250,000-$300,000 range.)

With AdWords, you can also choose to have your ad displayed on searches from mobile devices.

And, searches from mobile devices are creating a whole new market for many local businesses. For example, a businessman visiting San Antonio for a convention decides that he needs a haircut. He types in the address of his hotel or of the convention center in the Google Maps application on his mobile device followed by the word “haircut.” Google Maps displays all of the barber shops and haircutting salons nearby.

If he were using Google Mobile Search, he wouldn’t even need to include the address. That application can triangulate the searcher’s position based upon nearby cell phone towers and will show search results based upon that information.

Cell phone users probably will not visit your website, because cell phone displays are too small to be efficient for actually visiting most websites. But, a well-optimized Google Places listing will allow potential customers to actually phone your business using what looks like a link. They don’t even need to dial your number to contact you!

Even though Google attempts to include every business, your business could be left out. Google gets information from two types of sources. They use two of the major Yellow Pages publishers for business data, so if you have even a small Yellow Pages ad, you should be displayed on Google Maps. But, if you don’t want to spring for an out-dated advertising medium like the Yellow Pages in order to get listed, you can go to the Google Places Center and simply either “add your site” if it’s not already included or “claim your site” if it is. You do not need to have a website to receive a listing—although it’s a good idea, of course.

Yahoo and Bing have their own versions of local search, as well. Since Bing will soon be providing all of Yahoo’s search results, there is value in optimizing for local search there, too.

Every small business should be investing in local search optimization now. Your investment will pay off almost immediately, and is likely to become more valuable as mobile devices proliferate.

I offer my clients two types of localized search engine optimization. The first is website optimization, so that the site itself will be found for appropriate keyword searches—including those that involve geographical descriptors. The second is localized directory optimization, which involves optimizing the business’s listing on Google Places, Yahoo and Bing’s Business listings, directory and review sites, etc.

Ask for a quote on localized search engine optimization for your company. For most, it is far less expensive than a Yellow Pages ad, and a one-time investment can drive business to you for years to come.

Comments are closed.