Local Search Optimization

My last two columns focused on local search advertising, specifically ad-targeting options and campaign recommendations.

Today, we’ll turn our attention to SEO (define). This column focuses on the importance of SEO for small and medium-sized enterprises and presents a simple three-step program every business can and should implement to improve search visibility and results. The next column will cover the specific program implementation steps.

Why SEO?

Internet users increasingly rely on search to find local businesses. A recent Nielsen//NetRatings study indicates that a whopping 70 percent of respondents used the Internet to search for a local service business.

Furthermore, a revised estimate by comScore indicates local intent is behind up to 40 percent of all online queries, even if the searcher doesn’t explicitly indicate location. Some of the most popular local queries include searches related to real estate, car sales, restaurants, hotels, attorneys, and other service providers.

All this means that more and more people are going online to find local information instead of opening the big yellow book or turning to newspaper classifieds.

Combine this increasing consumer behavior with the fact Google, Yahoo, and other sites now present local results prominently within their main SERPs (define) — and local/regional businesses as well as national chains, franchises, and dealerships all want to be visible when people search for local information.

Market Confusion

Given SEO’s importance and its ability to drive highly qualified customer inquiries, it’s unfortunate the vast majority of local marketers are unaware of or confused by it.

Search advertising is a concept most marketers are comfortable with. It’s at least somewhat related to the familiar yellow page and newspaper print ads local businesses have relied on for years. SEO is an altogether different beast, involving unpublished formulae and black box algorithms.

Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN use different algorithms for local searches than for their main results. Most search marketing experts readily admit we don’t know quite as much about these location-based formulae as we do the core algorithms — mostly because they haven’t been around as long.

Local Search Drives Phone Calls and Store Visits

Sometimes, searchers are already familiar with your business. They may enter your business name in an attempt to find a phone number, address, or hours of operation or to learn more about your products and services. Other times, searchers are looking for something specific, perhaps a particular product, service, or brand, but they don’t know the name of your business.

Regardless of brand awareness, a specific, local search query is one of the most highly qualified customer inquiries around. For example, if you’re a family dentist located in Boulder, CO, a search for “kid-friendly Dentist 80303” represents a much more qualified inquiry than a generic, search for “dentist.”

It’s not uncommon for local companies not to sell anything online. The desired Web site action is often a phone call, a faxed order, or an in-store visit. Regardless, SEO must be part of an effective marketing strategy. It makes the phone ring and the door open. In fact, a full 68 percent of people conducting a local search said they’d most likely use the phone number on the Web site to contact a business.

Recommended Local SEO Program

The three steps every local business should take to improve search visibility and results:

  • Proactively manage business profile data.
  • Optimize Web pages for local queries.
  • Increase local Web site popularity.

Manage Business Profile Data

Business data providers such as infoUSA, Amacai, and Acxiom have been around for decades. They manage huge databases of consumer and business information. These suppliers feed search engines, Internet Yellow Pages, and other Web sites. Local marketers must make sure their business profile data is complete and accurate. Typically, this includes business name, address, phone number, description, business category, and other operational information.

Optimize Web Pages

Local SEO follows basic Web site optimization principles. Which means marketers must understand how people search, and ensure these words and phrases are included in page copy, page titles, meta tags, navigational links, and other key places.

Increase Local Popularity

Web site popularity involves building in-bound links from important, authoritative sites, such as chambers of commerce, industry verticals, and local professional organizations.

Next, I’ll cover the specific steps required to successfully implement this three-pronged local SEO program.

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

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