Local Content Is King

These days, consumers are savvy at rooting out the most helpful Web sites to find information on specific products and services. For a vast range of needs, consumers expect a few clicks to bring them the data required to make better, more informed buying decisions.

The few sites offering structured content provide an invaluable Web service, bridging the distance between consumers and the information they’re seeking. In particular, vertical content aggregators are scooping up search traffic by cutting the clutter of unwanted content and providing data that’s rich and relevant to the consumer.

Sites in mature vertical markets, such as travel, provide reams of valuable content about hotel properties and flights. Expedia.com is a prime example. Consumers flock to it for rich, relevant data on flights, properties with amenities all over the world, local attractions, and an expansive photo inventory.

Realtor.com also understands the importance of building on the basics. An asking price and address are a good start for a listing but clearly not enough to pique consumer interest. It takes a bit more to get someone into the car to visit a property. Rich, relevant data, such as comprehensive community information, ample mortgage information, an amenities list, thorough housing details, a virtual tour, and photos, help narrow the decision-making process for prospective homebuyers. According to Realtor.com, a listing with photos or a virtual tour is viewed 299 percent more than listings without pictures.

Amazon.com is just as content driven. If a cookbook has a vibrant picture on the cover and insightful reviews from editors and customers, it will always appear above less detailed, plainer listings for books on the same subject.

The same holds true in vertical after vertical. Whether it’s the associated home listings, books, or hotels, listings that contain good, structured content will inevitably get more looks.

Local merchants need to take the same active approach to ensure they maximize their search visibility. It isn’t just about having the right keywords in headlines. Visibility calls for enriching listings with as much valuable, relevant content as possible.

Say I’m looking for a local dentist. Proximity is key to my decision. Yet hours of operation and specialization are valuable, too. Maybe the most important information is the type of insurance accepted.

But this type of content is hard to come by. Why?

If a dental practice accepts a broad range of healthcare plans, why wouldn’t it want to display that in its online listings?

Key certifications, awards, licenses, URLs, brands carried, specialty services provided, payment types, and e-mail addresses can help funnel consumers to your business instead of to a competitor. This kind of data empowers users to make more effective local buying decisions and ultimately provides a better consumer experience.

For a chain of coffee houses, any amenity can make the difference in the jockeying for search listings. Yahoo is as close as it comes to a “coffee house vertical,” so a chain should make sure it gets its information in there to be searched and found.

Vertical directories, like those for the travel and real estate industries, aren’t necessary for a company or chain to have Web visibility within its line of business. These markets are served instead by horizontal directories that allow companies to post content about their businesses. These are what we know as search engines, Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), and local directories.

These sites are horizontal aggregators of local merchant content and act as vertical aggregators within their horizontal approach. Rich, relevant content drives results on horizontal directories, just as it does for Expedia or Realtor.com. The more content a business has in its profile, the better visibility it will receive inside the search engines.

According to Paul Levine, general manager for Yahoo Local, a listing with rich, relevant content has twice the visibility of a listing without similar content. How’s that for a shortcut to search engine optimization?

Join us for Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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