How to get famous in your neighborhood – local search optimization

Posted by Amanda DiSilvestro on 14 Aug, 2013
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Read Amanda diSilvestro's outlines on how best to optimize your businesses local presence on the web

When it comes to local online marketing, there are four outlets that control the sphere—Bing Places, Yahoo Local, Google+ Local, and Yelp. Having a presence on all four is a great way to improve the visibility of your site in your local area and attract engaged visitors. These local channels can help your business make a big splash in the neighborhood. Remember, the local audience is by definition a targeted audience, so it’s well worth your time.

Unfortunately, many companies often just create a quick listing on only one of these local channels, say Yahoo Local, or Google + Local, and then focus their energy on something else. They lose interest. Although it might seem finished once you’ve added in your information and been approved, you do really need to optimize your listing just the way you would optimize your website. You won’t see much success without some management and optimization.

How it works: the importance of local search

Understanding why local search matters and how it works is really the first step in getting started. You need to get excited about what local search can offer your company because it is going to take some management and some time. The screenshot below shows how local results can really dominate a page in Google search. In this specific case, there are no paid results, but the local results do come after three organic results (a typical occurrence):

As you can see, the above example deals with restaurants in a specific area. It’s a common misconception that only business like restaurants and stores can really gain benefits from local listings. Although you might offer services to those not in your local area, those who are local are going to want to be able to find your business. Take the following example with the search query "local SEO services in Carlsbad." As you can see below, there is a varied list that makes it easy for users to find more information.

Local search and local listings are not specific to Google. All major search engines try to feature local listings in order to improve the relevancy of results for a particular searcher. The local sections of other search engines are called Bing Places, Yelp and Yahoo Local (more on this later). Below is a screenshot illustrating what local listings look like on a Yahoo search.

In the case of Yahoo, typing a specific location will most likely take you to Yahoo Local, which is specifically designed for local search results. It’s essentially a search engine dedicated to only local results. Yelp works the same way.

How local search can directly help your company: the Who, When, Why, and How

Once you have a basic understanding of where local results are found, you can really dive into who benefits, when, why it matters, and how to make it happen. It sounds like a lot, but it’s very straightforward once you get going:

The Who

Those who benefit a lot: The companies that benefit from local search are typically those companies who sell something, such as a product or a service. Even if the work you do does not have to be local, you likely still have a local base (or many several local bases if you have several franchises). This local base is what you should include in your local listing. When someone is searching for something in the area, you will have a better chance of showing up in a Google SERP.

Those who benefit a little bit: If you work completely online, you might not have a local store or local office. Even if you work from your home, it might be worth it to create a business listing for your company just to improve your visibility. You don’t have to put your home address, of course, but you can still fill out a description and upload photos.

Those who benefit very little: Those who do not benefit nearly as much are websites that aim strictly to educate. Many blogs fall into this category. It would be hard to earn a space on a local SERP if you don’t have a business that people will want to search for based on location. Few searchers are going to type in queries like "How to start creating a website in Chicago." Rather, they would type in something like “Company in Chicago to help start a website.” With that second query, it’s those companies that offer that service that would benefit from local results (falling under that first category of those who benefit from local search a lot).

The When

The cool thing about local search is the idea that you can get started anytime you have your website up and running. It’s best to start as soon as possible so you can start earning that authority and climbing to the top of local results (more on this later).

The Why

As discussed above, local search is a way to connect with local customers faster. It positions local companies at the top of a SERP, which helps bring the competition down. It helps the web get a little bit smaller. Not only do you have a better chance of earning a top (or at least visible) spot on a relevant search, but you’ll also be connected with local customers. Local customers are more likely to opt for your company than customers across the country, so this audience is really where you want that visibility. Local search helps businesses make this happen.

For example, our company Higher Visibility has a Google local listing that will pop up when anyone searches for something related to SEO in the Memphis area. We’ve earned several clients who have come from other places and were unhappy. They wanted something local so they could actually come in and speak with an account manager as opposed to over the phone, which was the only option they were given when working with almost all other companies.

The How

Getting started with local search is as easy as visiting the website, clicking "sign up," and following the directions. However, there are slight differences between all of the different local outlets (and as discussed above, try to remain active on all!). Below are the initial links you’ll need to click and get started, but for step-by-step guides, visit here.

· Google Places

· Bing Places

· Yahoo Local

· Yelp

Google Places, Google+ Business Pages, and Google+ Local: a quick overview

This is one of the most confusing aspects of local search. SEOs and Google users all use the terms Google Places, Google+ Local, and Google+ Business Pages interchangeably, which has caused a great deal of confusion for businesses trying to get involved with local search. The truth is, a big part of the reason this is so confusing is because Google is currently undergoing several changes. Below is a brief overview of each of the terms that illustrates some of the changes occurring:

Google Places:The information you include in a Google Places listing is the information that typically shows up on a Google SERP and the Google map; however the Google carousel has given Google+ a little bit more visibility (more on this later). When you create a Google Places listing, you will see a dashboard complete with all of the information from your listing such as hours of operation, description, photos, etc. This is the page you will verify by mail and where you can manage your AdWords efforts and business information.

Google+ Business Pages. Creating a Google+ Business page is all about the social features (think of it like a Facebook business page). It’s a page that you have specifically for your business on the social network where you can share your articles, connect with others in the industry, comment and engage with posts, etc. It has a post, about, photos, and videos tab.

Google+ Local. Here are where the changes come into play. Google has now revised their strategy to make things easier, so you can now manage your Google+ Business page within your Google Places dashboard. You must verify your Google+ Business page as well as your Google Places listing and then the two will combine to be managed in one place. You can visit here to see detailed instructions about verification. In the meantime, consider the below Search Engine Land screenshot that shows how you can manage both pages from the column on the left hand side:

Once you know why local search matters, understand some of the different Google terms, and setup your first business listing, the real fun begins—the optimization.

Optimizing for Local Search: Bing, Yahoo, Google, and Yelp optimization similarities

Plain and simple, understanding what optimization tactics work for all of the local platforms helps you get more bang for your SEO buck. Master the following optimization tactics and apply them to every business listing you own to help get you on your way:

Complete all information including descriptions, hours of operation, etc

This should be a given, but many companies are still skimming over information that could be added on a business listing. Take the following two examples taken from Yelp. The company on the left has a business listing that’s okay, but the business listing in the right looks much better:

The difference here is one entry is taking advantage of all the features available, while the other is not. The second entry has one photo and one review, so the listing has been claimed; it just hasn’t been optimized. A few examples include a business description, contact information, possibly a sample menu, a phone number and hours of operation, whether or not your company offers Wi-Fi, etc.

Add a great photo, or ten.

Even if your business isn’t one that takes a lot of photos (maybe you sit in what you think is a boring office), add a logo or picture of your team into your listing because the feature is available. People are attracted to photos, so part of optimizing your listing is going to be these photos. Consider the two automotive examples below from Yahoo Local. The photo on the left has great reviews, but it doesn’t just off the page because it’s lacking a photo. The listing on the right looks much more professional with four photo choices (not to mention they filled out all of their information!).

Each local website has a different number of photos allowed, but the rule of thumb is to add as many as you can without getting repetitive. Upload photos of your actual store/office as well as photos of your products or someone in your company.

Use keywords throughout your listings

Keyword usage works just as well for a business listing as it does your website. You want people and search engines to know what your page is all about, and keywords will help. Add in these keywords into your description and titles to help gain that edge over the competition. A note: The more content you have on your site, the easier the optimization (not to mention better usability for visitors).

Local apps

With the growing use of smartphones around the world, local apps are also on the rise. In fact, a study by Pew Internet found that 74 percent of smartphone owners use location-based services. Part of optimizing your listing is being aware that people will be searching for your company on a local app. If you do pop-up, you need to make sure you have information that could help someone on the go (typically for restaurants or other companies that offer quick products like hair stylists, dry cleaning, etc). You need to do some research here.

New landmarks on the local landscape

· Google Carousel: The Google carousel is a new initiative by Google that puts local results into a carousel format at the top of a SERP. According to studies by Ethical SEO and Local U, the majority of eyes went straight to that first entry on the left, in addition to the map. In other words, the organic results were secondary (remember that number one spot you usually want so bad?). Below is a screenshot from Search Engine Watch that details the study as well as a sample carousel shown for the query "pizza in Denver."

· Rich Snippets: Rich snippets help your website jump off the page when it comes to a normal search, but they also work great when they reference a local place. According to Google, "by using structured markup to describe a business or organization mentioned on your page, you […] help Google surface your site in local search results." In other words, this is a great way to optimize your site. Rich snippets can be a photo of an author, a picture of food for recipes, videos, etc. Below is an example of a rich snippet using structured markup:

For those who are unfamiliar, structured markup is a way of labeling each piece of text on the page so that the search engine bots can understand your information more clearly. Sometimes things like date, phone number, address, etc. aren’t easy to read for search engine bots. You can learn more about getting started with structured markup specifically for local search here.

Get local!

Do you have a business listing on any or all of the local channels discussed above? What have you found to be an optimization tactic not to miss? Let us know your story and your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit:

Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from algorithm updates. She writes for a nationally recognized SEO consulting firm that offers national and local SEO services to a wide range of companies across the country. Visit their website to learn more.

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