After contributing nearly 30 Local Search columns for ClickZ, I still hear rather frequently from my peers in the advertising, marketing, and interactive space: Why does local search get so much attention? Isn’t the concept of local search fairly straightforward?
Let’s step back for a moment.
U.S. consumers demand instant gratification. It’s the leading reason people continue to shop in local stores after researching products online. They don’t want to wait 10 days to try out their new flat-panel TV or sweater. They want to see and touch the product before making a purchase.
According to a JupiterResearch study, online sales penetration will stabilize in 14 of 23 product categories over the next five years. While this may not be great news for Internet-only retailers, the expected plateau could prove advantageous for retailers with both on- and offline channels. And the amount of online consumer research continues to grow as online purchases stabilize. JupiterResearch indicates that 86 percent of online shoppers say they research their offline purchases online.
As consumer preferences change from traditional to new media, sites such as ShopLocal are augmenting the Sunday circular and are at the intersection of enabling advertisers to take advantage of this sea change. For traditional retailers to remain relevant in an environment where product selection is increasingly driven by online research, they must focus more resources on the online local search marketplace.
Online consumer research can be leveraged to the benefit of retailers, if done correctly. How can you insert your business into the process? Having a Web site is a great start but doesn’t end there. How do you get your site, products, and services found by consumers? Here are a few tips for becoming competitive in a retail market driven by local search:
- Ensure your footprint of local stores is listed with all the major search engines and Internet yellow pages (IYP) sites. This should be your first step. Then, make sure the search engines and IYPs link your site to all local listings. Otherwise, your site will do very little to help you drive visibility to your business. And if no one can find you…
- Effectively compete with all the other local listings in your category. How do you achieve a higher ranking? There’s no silver bullet, but you can take specific steps to increase your viability among other local businesses in your geographic area. Content is king in the online world, so make sure the search engines and IYPs have a well-rounded profile of your business location. Content should include hours of operation, credit cards accepted, and so on. All products and services highlighted on your site should be emphasized in the local listings, your “business profile,” as well.
- Make certain your site is associated with your local listing. The negative impact of not having a site and complementary content within your listing can now be seen within Google more than ever, as Google has introduced 10 local listings with abbreviated content on each SERP (define). When you click on one of these local listings, the link takes you to either Google Maps or the site associated with the listing. Needless to say, it’s key to achieve visibility within the first 10 listings at Google and within the first three at Yahoo and MSN. Time and again, I see an incorrect site listed with a business. It’s like generating phone calls for a competitor or leaving your phone off the hook.
- Submit your listing to a distribution broader than the three major search engines. Don’t get caught in the trap of only submitting your listings and product information to the three major search engines. Online consumer researchers visit a myriad of local reference sites so it’s important to list your business in all of them. In doing a search for dishwashers in Washington, DC, I found information presented around the local results came from various local sites in many cases. For example, at MSN you’ll see reference sites such as Judy’s Book and Yelp.
Bottom line: local search may seem simplistic, but if your local business, products, and services aren’t being found, your competition is winning.
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