Local Search = Where Are You? + What Do You Do? Part 1

What? Where? These two big questions must be answered over and over again in local search.

Local searchers ask these questions, either implicitly or explicitly. In some cases, geographic terms are used and in others, they aren’t. Examples of such queries are “kids dentist in Newport Beach,” “Catawba County trash haulers” or simply “Chinese take out” or “Saab repair.”

Search engines want to know the same things about your business that searchers want to know. Where is it? What goods and services does it offer?

Are you answering these critical questions for your human prospects and the search engines? You’d be amazed how many local businesses don’t.

Go to these home pages, for example, and see if you can figure out where the businesses they represent are located: Star Pizza, Pizza By Elizabeths and Brick Oven Restaurant (Note: This was the case at the time of this column’s publication, but the businesses may subsequently update their home pages.)

Too often, local businesses choose a Web designer based on the attractiveness of the Web sites they create, giving little or no thought to SEO (define). Even those designers who know enough about SEO to help with universal search rankings are rarely knowledgeable about the specifics of ranking for local search. The local business owner sometimes ends up with a beautiful Web site, but it never ranks for competitive terms or attracts new customers.

Don’t let this happen with your online marketing investment. Here are some things you can do to answer those critical what and where questions for the search engines and for the people who land on your pages:

Home Page

Do you make it very clear to people who land here what you do and where you do it? Just because everyone in Atlanta knows where Peachtree Street is, it doesn’t mean that everyone who sees a Peachtree Street address on your Web site will know that you’re in Atlanta or which Peachtree Street addresses are in which parts of the city. The searcher may be new to the area or just passing through, which are just a couple of the reasons why someone may be searching for a business like yours on the Internet.

So, if you’re a children’s dentist in Midtown Atlanta, don’t expect people look around to find that information. Say so boldly and clearly near the top of the page and do it in text form, so that it is unmistakable to the search engines as well as to searchers. Don’t assume anything! It’s important to make this information so clear that it can’t possibly be misunderstood.

Page Titles

This is considered one of the most important ranking factors for universal search. If that isn’t enough of a reason, then think about it from the human point of view.

The page title is what Google displays as the headline in the listing that appears for your pages in the SERPs (define). If someone is for looking for “computer repair in Broomfield CO” and the headline they see in the search results for your shop says “Expert Computer Repair-Boulder, Longmont and Broomfield Colorado,” it’ll grab their attention better than one that says “Adams PC Store-Home Page.”

In addition, Google will bold the words that were in a searcher’s query in that title when it appears on the page. So, for example, if a searcher in Kissimmee, FL, asks for “repair Saab disc brakes” and your page title says “Billy’s Auto Repair-Best Saab Mechanics in Kissimmee,” your title will look like this to that searcher: “See the Best Saab Mechanics in Kissimmee at Billy’s Auto Repair.” If the searcher included the word Kissimmee in the query, that would be bolded, as well.

Meta Descriptions

These no longer hold much ranking influence in Google. However, along with your page titles, they’re also displayed in the SERPs. Meta descriptions are like the ad copy that serves to entice people to click on your listings and go to your pages.

Again, if your meta description contains the terms used in the search query that was used, Google will bold these words on the search results page. If the description doesn’t contain the keyword phrase that was used in the search, then Google will sometimes pull a snippet off the page that contains that phrase, because it seems more apropos than your description.

This is why it’s important to use your best keyword terms in your meta description. They may not help your pages to rank, but they will likely entice searchers to click through to your site.

More tips on how to clearly tell the search engines and the searchers where you are and what you do will be covered in part two.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.

Related reading

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