Tips for a Local Business to Compete in Local Search

A large part of market research for online businesses is identifying the competition and determining what it will take to outrank them in the SERPs (define).

Real world and online competitors may be very different sets of players. Some fierce rivals in the brick and mortar world may not even be online. They may have badly optimized or poorly converting Web sites, or not understand the local search space. In these cases, you’re at a big advantage — at least until they catch on.

On the other hand, you may find competitors in the virtual world who you don’t see as a true threat to your business. However, if they rank above you for the search terms you want to rank for, they’re your online competition and need to be considered as such.

Find Your Competitors

Figuring out your online competitors isn’t difficult. It can be time consuming, but it’s worth the investment. Do it yourself rather than leaving it to others because you’ll get a detailed view of your marketplace, which is invaluable when making decisions about the future of your business.

First, search for the top five terms you want to rank for in Google, MSN, and Yahoo and see who’s earned a place on page one. Then, see who ranks for those same terms in Google Maps, Yahoo Local, and MSN Live Local. Next, find out who’s bidding on same keyword phrases in the PPCs (define). Google rules, so concentrate your efforts there, but don’t ignore the other two.

Dismiss any irrelevant results that don’t belong or pose no threat. For example, Wikipedia ranks well for all kinds of things, but they don’t sell anything, so don’t worry about it.

See which sites rank well for several terms or in several places. Note their PageRank, the number of Google backlinks, and the number of pages on the site. Look at the terms that their pages are optimized for and if they rank well for them. These are all clues to the power of those sites. You’ll discover that there are only a few true competitors to unseat.

Learn From Your Competitors

Take a close look at these Web sites and learn what you can from them. Are they appealing, informative, and easy to use? What are they doing that you can adapt to strengthen your own Web site and business?

Explore their backlinks in Google and Yahoo to see if there are any opportunities to get links for your own site from Web sites that link to them. Be discriminating, though. Just because they have a link doesn’t mean it’s a good link that’s helping them rank.

In Google Maps and the other local search platforms, look at what categories the top ranking businesses are in. Consider your own categories and determine what, if any, changes may help you rank better.

Review your rivals’ local business listings. Do they have many reviews (good or bad)? Do they have a lot Web references (pages on the Internet that mention them, but don’t necessarily link to them)? Is their profile as complete as possible, and does it include appealing images and videos, and complete details about their hours, services, brands, locations served, and so on? Learn from your competitors and do it better in your own profiles.

Also, look for factors that could give competitors a natural advantage over you in local search. For example, are the businesses physically located near the post office, which likely gives them a boost in local algorithms? Do their business names include good keywords?

As you can imagine, when Google sees an enterprise named Denver Tire Repair, it’s easily convinced that it repairs tires in Denver. A business that does the same thing, but has a less descriptive title, like Joe’s Shop, doesn’t inspire the same level of confidence. There’s not too much you can do about your location or official business name, but it does help to be aware that others may be outranking you with the help of those factors.

Be The Best

You can learn all types of details about your competition from their Web sites, so use your competitive research to improve your Web site and your business. How do your pricing and services compare? Are your rivals open at times when you’re closed? Do they deliver or offer incentives, like coupons or new customer discounts? Again, determine what they’re doing better than you and then improve yourself.

Ranking well in local search can only take your business so far. In the end, it’s how well you serve your customers that makes you successful. So never stop striving to be better than others in both the virtual world and the real world.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you’ll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.

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