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Join the Local Search Authorities

  |  September 1, 2005   |  Comments

Small local businesses want a seat a big businesses’ table. Local search "authorities" may help them get it.

A page-one organic rank on Google for important keyword phrases is one of the most valuable positions in SEM (define). Yet it’s becoming increasingly difficult for local businesses to achieve this prized placement. Google’s algorithm simply doesn’t yield quality ranking for most small-business Web sites.

Sure, one could blame low-cost, template-based, SEO (define)-constrained Web site solutions. But even the best constructed sites often don’t fare much better in Google’s organic search results.

Google wants to maintain its leadership position building the best algorithms and providing the most relevant search results. To accomplish this, it seeks to stamp out spam and over-optimized sites. It wants to serve results from reputable, relevant sites.

Google’s algorithm favors sites commonly referred to as authorities. Google designates sites as authorities based their clout and influence for topical themes and related keyword searches.

In local SEM, authorities make it extremely difficult for a small-business site to compete for organic local search exposure on traditional SERPs (define). These small local businesses want a seat at the big businesses’ table.

However, the authorities actually provide an opportunity for a local business to create a strategic SEM road map. I call it "riding the coattails." Small businesses are well advised to pay attention when allocating their finite marketing budgets.

Currently, Google and Yahoo search results for local queries are dominated by several authorities: Switchboard, SuperPages, and Citysearch. These authorities have gained their status by understanding it’s critical to ensure Google can find and index their pages, regardless of their destinations’ popularity. Each has made a concerted effort to better architect and code local business results to rank effectively on major search engines.

For years, these authorities have quietly augmented their destination traffic through an organic distribution strategy. They’ve been fed from Google’s leadership position, which drives tens of millions of users to their pages. New customer acquisition costs are thereby reduced, and local search brand profiles are raised.

Other providers are racing to catch up, most significantly Yahoo Local. Yahoo already benefits by placing three Yahoo Local business listings above the organic results for explicitly local queries on Yahoo.com. Now, its local business category pages are effectively crawled and indexed on Google. Further, Yahoo relaunched its local search site with a well thought-out static business category structure, which is optimized and well suited for organic rank.

In addition to cost-effectively acquiring new search users, authorities that rank for organic local search queries indirectly provide additional distribution to their advertisers and position themselves to sell more ad inventory.

Though the value of organic positioning on Google and Yahoo is clear to the authorities, it isn’t always clear to local businesses. Many grow frustrated with their inability to compete with the big guys. For these businesses, an old adage holds true: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Here’s how:

  • Identify your top local keyword phrases.

  • Perform searches for those keyword phrases on Google and Yahoo

  • Identify which authorities show up most frequently for your important local searchers.

  • Identify which categories within those authorities are ranking.

  • Take special note of patterns or consistencies that you see.

  • Direct your ad spending toward the authoritative categories.

  • Enjoy the destination and organic distribution value of your buys.

Small businesses must understand today’s SEO environment necessitates they think outside the confines of their own sites.

Local businesses should become intimately familiar with their key SERPs. They should position themselves to be listed on sites that already rank. And, they should align themselves with the authorities.

Places are already set for the small local businesses at the big businesses’ dinner table.


Justin Sanger Justin Sanger is founder and president of LocalLaunch!, a Chicago-based marketing firm recognized as a premier local Internet marketing company for small- and medium-sized businesses. Justin launched that business in 2003, six years after founding Internet marketing strategy firm Pulsity. An expert in local Internet marketing, Justin has over a decade of Internet marketing leadership experience. He's frequently a featured speaker on the topic of local search at industry events, including Search Engine Strategies. He's written on Internet marketing for multiple media and news outlets, including Investor's Business Daily. Justin was an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award nominee.

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