A New Form of Local Search Optimization, Part 1

Most of us understand local SEO (define) strategies on traditional search engines such as Yahoo and Google. We’ve done this form of local SEO for years.

The process typically involves geographic-based keyword analysis. Business locations are segmented into neighborhood, Zip Code, city, county, state, region, and other geo-qualifying derivations. Unique Web site pages serve as geobased entry points to capture local consumers searching for local businesses. Authoritative geobased external linking strategies serve to anchor a business location and relevancy.

In the next few years, we’ll see a significant rise in small business adoption of Web sites and Web site marketing solutions. These all require local Internet marketing. Understanding how to employ a local SEO strategy will become fundamental for Internet marketers servicing small businesses.

But don’t get too comfortable with what you already know about local SEO. A new form of local SEO is being thrust into the mainstream. It requires different methods and tactics. In this two-part series, I’ll address strategies underlying a new form of local SEO.

This new form of local SEO was born as a result of major search engines Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others segmenting their local search properties to create distinct local search engines.

Major search engines decision to create distinct local search properties came as a result of an increased understanding of user intent. Combining their knowledge of user intent with a basic knowledge of local consumption patterns, the engines created unique local search results based on algorithms tailored for local search.

Local search engines promote a business location and proximity to the searcher, as well as its reputation and core details. These factors come together in the local search arena to create a new canvas for search engine optimizers. This canvas, which is currently blank for most businesses, takes the form of structured business profile pages, user reviews, and business ratings. These factors will soon become a key concentration point for search marketers and small businesses alike.

One of the most distinctive local search engine characteristics is a reliance on user-generated content. User-generated content is provided to search engines directly by the public. User-generated content is, by nature, biased.

New local search engines (even Internet Yellow Pages shifting to become pure local search engines, such as Verizon SuperPages.com) understand the importance of aggregating detailed, qualitative, and rich business content from business owners and customers.

User-generated content is an inexpensive way for local search utilities to aggregate qualitative, rich business content that can drive a pure local search query. Such content isn’t easily obtained through traditional business data providers, such as InfoUSA and Acxiom, nor by crawling the unstructured Web for local data when nearly half of all small businesses don’t have Web sites.

From an SEO perspective, user-generated content provides a unique opportunity for businesses to manage and monitor the distribution of their core business data as well as published opinions regarding their businesses. Today, all major local search providers enable businesses to self-populate structured business profiles while enabling users to generate reviews and ratings.

User-generated business profiles provide rich business description details, often referred to as meta content, within a structured display environment. Business profile meta content includes such data fields as brands offered, services provided, certifications, payment types, hours of operation, and other core business descriptors.

Free to the business owner, basic business profiles replace the function of Web page content in traditional SEO. Profiles provide optimizers with a structured business information template to boost a local business rank within the local search engines utilizing traditional on-site optimization tactics.

User reviews, published opinions about a business, are another form of user-generated content used by local search engines. In theory, these reviews are derived from actual customers. In practice, reviews can come from a business owner, a competitor, or a local search engine optimizer.

Ironically, business profiles (even paid profiles) submitted by business owners may contain user-generated content in the form of user reviews that’s not provided by the business owner.

There’s no real corollary in traditional SEO to the feeling of posting a quality business profile, only to have another user interject his opinion of the business within that profile in the form of a review. It’s like someone spray-painting on your garage or planting flowers outside your home.

User-generated content also takes the form of ratings. Business ratings generally appear as a numerical star ranking. Most important is the fact many local search engines enable a user to sort business listing results on the basis of ratings. It’s simple and painless to give a business a rating as an owner, a customer, or even a competitor.

When was the last time you rated your business, or your client’s business, across the new local search utilities?

What’s your star value?

In local search, user-generated content is king. It creates a unique opportunity for those with the foresight to formulate local SEO strategies.

Yet, user-generated content will soon create a disquieting quality-control problem for local search engines, much as spam and over-optimization affected traditional search engines.

In part two of this series, we’ll look deeper into the emerging field of local SEO and the role of user-generated content. In doing so, we’ll take a closer look at a new breed of user-generated business content providers that help shape the local search marketplace.

In the interim, spend some time reaching for the stars.

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

Related reading

Website landing page vector graphic
Hand holding smartphone with city map and store location on screen and store icon.