Local Search is just that – searching for something that is specific to a geography. Typically local search is for a product or service near you, or where you will be traveling to. It can also be for other searches that are relevant to the local area such as weather, things to do, etc. As a small business, you are not trying to appear in the search results for a national search. While there can be positives from that – for example, if you write a blog sharing your expertise – it is not necessary to accomplish your business goal of attracting new customers. You want to reach people that can buy your product or service in the geography you serve.
National searches are much harder to compete for. If someone goes online to buy a TV, its hard to compete with Amazon and the many other choices available. Local Searches have far less competition. Moreover, the good news is Google favors local businesses. Their 2014 search engine update named Pidgeon was optimized for local.
Google’s goal is to make users happy. Can you imagine if you searched for “plumbers” and Google did this on a national level? There are close to half a million plumbers in the US. Google rightly assumes you need a plumber close to you (even if you do not put your location into the search), and only shows you local results. You as a business owner are the beneficiary. It is much easier for you to compete on a local level. It is a very achievable goal to rank high.
Phone books are gone. Smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous and the majority of searches now are from such a mobile device. The vast majority of your customers will find you thru local search. When they find you, they won’t just look at your website. They will go to reviews to help make a decision.
While a majority of customers will use Google, many will use the multitude of business directories sites. Yelp is certainly a big player, but there are 100’s of other local business directory sites. True, many of them
The top Local Business Directories include:
While many of these directories are not your primary source of customers, combined they form your online footprint and Google uses this in your local ranking. The more directories you’re in – with a consistent NAP – the higher your local ranking.
Local Search ranking has similarities to general search, but there are differences, and additional strategies are required beyond those used for your website. In a nutshell, there 3 factors: Distance, Relevance and Prominence.
Distance is obvious. All things being equal, you don’t want to travel far so Google will present you with the closest businesses.
Relevance is also obvious. As with any search, Google is trying to figure out what you’re searching for so you’re happy with the results it presents you. If you’re searching for a plumber, that’s straight forward, but if you’re searching for drain unplugging, it will show you the plumbers that specialize in that first.
Prominence is the factor that is somewhat unique to local search. Not to be confused with authority of a web site, prominence is a bit different for local search. Prominence is not just a function of your website ranking, it is also based on Citations and Reviews.
Citations are mentions of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) on other websites, preferably those with authority. They count even if they don’t link to your website, but of course, a link makes them more valuable. The sum total of your citations establish your online footprint and help define your prominence. In short, the more you have, the better. It provides Google a way to validate and assess your business.
In the early days, it was possible to get free Citations from a host of business directories. It was a time consuming process though. Today, many of those Directories require you to pay, or do not let you submit. There are now data aggregators (i.e. Factual, Acxiom, Localeze, and Infogroup) that feed many of the business directory sites. There are also other sources such as the local Chamber of Commerce, newspaper articles, or a County Business index.
In many cases, your business is already listed in the major directories, but even if that’s the case, they are usually missing key information that makes them valuable. Google prefers fresh, up to date and relevant content on your website, and the same is true of Citations. If your website looks like you haven’t touched it in years, in essence, Google is thinking if you don’t take yourself seriously, why should they? They run more of a risk that their users will not be happy Google sent them there. Google wants to give users what they’re looking for and in many cases that means featuring business that appear more in touch with the online world – more “with the times” and giving customers what they want in the digital age.
Therefore it is important that your Citations are complete. Users respond to a listing that photos, hours of operation, complet e descriptions, etc. So even if you’re already in the Directories, you need to claim those listings and make them complete.
Again, this is a time consuming process. The solution? Using a service that does this for you in a cost effective manner.