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Four Steps Every Business Can Take to Improve Local Search Results

  |  August 31, 2006   |  Comments

Lay the local search foundation before you build the house!

We've all gotten The Call.

Whether you work in an agency or are an in-house marketer, you've likely received the dreaded "I can't find my Web site" phone call.

Let's say the caller's a small-business owner who has just conducted a search directly related to his local business. Maybe he owns a dog-and-cat bakery in Berkley, or runs an auto glass store in Peoria, or is a divorce lawyer in Atlanta.

He's frustrated and confused, to say the least, because his business is nowhere to be found in the search results. Maybe the caller's a personal friend asking for advice because he knows you know something about "search."

Expert Advice

Have you made the same mistake I've made, launching into an explanation of organic search versus PPC (define), summarizing the basic premise of search algorithms, or covering how keyword ad auctions work?

You can almost hear their eyes glazing over!

Plenty's been written recently on the challenges of bringing the inherent complexities of search marketing to local businesses. No doubt, the local search market opportunity will be huge. Search engines and Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) are developing local solutions to grab their share of this burgeoning marketplace. Intermediaries are bridging the gap between businesses and ad networks with simplified solutions. And the chicken-and-egg dilemma is starting to improve, meaning more people are conducting local searches and more local business data are showing up in search results.

But the truth is, the person on the other end of the phone really doesn't care about any of this, does he? After several similar conversions, I decided to step back and take a look at the fundamental issues.

Getting Back to Basics

At the most basic level, what is it most local business marketers really want when it comes to search?

  • They want to make sure they're included in search results.

  • They want to be accurately listed, with their business name, description, location, and phone number correctly displayed.

It's only after these two goals have been met that marketers can be really interested in improving their visibility and results. Unfortunately, these very basic needs aren't being realized for many businesses today, meaning prospective customers can't easily find them, contact them, or walk in their doors.

Here's why: Search engines and IYPs receive local business information from many places. The primary data source is business directories, also called data providers, such as Amacai, infoUSA, Acxiom, and Geosign. These firms have been around for years, providing information to the Yellow Pages industry and others. It's amazing that although these directories are the fountainhead of critically important data, many marketers have never even heard of them.

For local maps, search engines receive information from several sources, including AOL's MapQuest and Microsoft's MapPoint. And, of course, the engines also crawl the Web to find and index local business information.

For starters, check out Bruce Clay's Search Engine Relationship Chart: Local Edition (PDF download). It does a nice job of summarizing the ins and outs of local search in an easy-to-understand, graphical format.

Four Simple Steps

Based on these factors, here's my list of four basic (and free) steps every local business marketer should take to ensure his business is fully and accurately represented in local search engine results and IYPs.

  • Update your business directory listings. Visit the Amacai, infoUSA, and Acxiom Web sites. There you can find your business listing and verify or update it as needed.

  • Submit your site to local search engines. Submit your Web site to local search engines such as Google Local, MSN Local, Yahoo Local, Ask Local, and TrueLocal. All of these sites have "add/submit business" links.

  • Update your IYP listings. Likewise, find and update your listings at YellowPages.com, Verizon SuperPages, and SwitchBoard.com.

  • Feature your address on your Web site. Make sure your physical address is prominently displayed on your Web site. This tells search engines what "local" means to you. Obviously, list your address on the "Contact Us" page, but make sure it's also included on the home page or even include it in the footer of every page. In addition, make sure you use words on your site that describe the geography you actually serve, such as "Boulder-Denver area," "Denver Metro Area," or "state of Colorado."

But Wait... There's an Easier Way

There are now viable options to handle all these submission processes in one fell swoop. A few services enable businesses to enter all of this information just once, into a business profile page. The service will then automatically distribute your data to directories, search engines, and IYPs. The profile page becomes a central place to enter, store, change, and distribute information, such as company name, description, location, contact information, and hours of operation. Profile pages can be used as a basic Web site or in addition to your current site. Relevant Yellow and RegisterLocal provide this type of service for a fixed annual fee.

First Things First

Too many marketers jump immediately into an advertising or optimization program even before considering some of the most basic elements of a local online marketing program. Business owners need to first and foremost know their data is accurately and thoroughly included in search engine and yellow page results before they can embrace an improvement plan. Bottom line: lay the foundation before you build the house!

Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

Meet Patricia at Search Engine Strategies Local in Denver, CO, September28, at the Adam's Mark Hotel.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Patricia Hursh

Patricia Hursh is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing, a Boulder, CO, based SEM agency established in 1999. The company specializes in interactive solutions designed to generate leads, acquire customers, and build brands online.

A true pioneer of digital marketing, Patricia has been using technology to improve marketing and communications for over 13 years. She's worked with a variety of companies, including Qwest, Microsoft, and Time Warner Cable. As a recognized search marketing expert, Patricia regularly serves as a subject matter expert for industry publications and is a frequent speaker at such conferences as Search Engine Strategies, ad:tech, and DMA.

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