A couple of days ago, Google announced an integrated local search experience across devices. Now users can retrieve local searches performed on any device using their Google account on their iPhone and Android devices.
This is just one example of just how important local search has become in the last few years.
We like to offer up a statistic from Google that usually wins over any lingering skeptics regarding the importance of local search:
97% of consumers search for local businesses online.
What’s more, according to a study by AT&T, 43% of local mobile searchers “come through the door” and 22% buy. That is a pretty amazing conversion rate!
Why Local Search Is Important for Business
As we hinted above, there are several reasons local search is so important for local businesses:
- Consumers are increasingly researching products and services online (per the 97% statistic above).
- More and more people have mobile devices – with local search capabilities.
- Local searchers convert well!
- Local search results dominate the screen real estate for local searches (see below):
There is a whole host of tactics you can employ to increase your chances of showing up higher in the local search results. The practice of optimizing your business for local search engines is called “Local Search Marketing” or “Local SEO.”
We want you to be successful in the local search results, so we are going to share a few of these tactics with you!
Create a Master Business Listing
One really important factor to consider when optimizing for local search is consistency. I.e., does your company look the same across the web? Is your address and phone number on online local directories the same as on your website?
You want to make sure your core business information is consistent throughout. Otherwise, Google and the other search engines get confused. And that’s never a good thing.
Master Business Listing
The way we solve this problem is by creating a “Master Business Listing.” Typically, it’s just a spreadsheet with common fields such as company name, company address, company phone, company description, etc. Depending on the business, it may also include business hours, payment methods, services provided, and any other pieces of information that makes the company stand out (such as awards and certifications).
List Canonical URL
If you have a website, it’s important to note the canonical version of the main company URL and use that in the master business listing. I.e. WWW vs. non-WWW.
Claim Your Google Places Page
Your Google Places page is your business listing on Google. In the screenshot above, each of the pushpins represent a Google Places page. You can increase your chances of ranking well in Google’s local search results if you claim (or verify) your Google Places page and enhance your information.
Find Your Business on Google Places
Sign in with the Google account you want to use to manage your Google Places page. Go to Google Places for business and enter your main phone number. Ideally, this would be a landline with a local area code. There are two possible outcomes at this point:
- If your business appears below, you have a Google Places page already. Click the “Edit” button to continue.
- If your business doesn’t appear below, click the “Add a new listing” button to continue.
Enhance Your Information
Use your master business listing to update and/or add new information to you Google Places page. Fill in as much information as possible. The more, the better! Google especially likes photos and videos.
When you are done adding information, Google will ask you to verify the business listing. You can do by phone (in most cases) or by snail mail. If you have the phone option, this is the recommended approach, because it’s much quicker. You just have to be available to take the call from Google at your main business phone number and be ready to jot down the PIN they provide.
Ask for Reviews!
The number of reviews a business has on Google Places seems to affect the ranking to a certain extent. And it will certainly help prospects decide if they should take a closer look at your business. It’s OK to ask your customers for reviews. One of our clients added a blurb about it on their invoice. Other options is to put a card on the counter or otherwise display a sign with a friendly request for a Google Places review.
Asking for reviews is not limited to Google Places. Determine the top 3-4 online search directories for your business and encourage customers to write reviews. Just make sure to monitor and respond as needed – especially to less favorable reviews!
Verify Bing and Yahoo! Listings
Once you’re done with your Google Places page, you can move on to Bing and Yahoo!. They are the next two most important local search engines.
Bing Business Portal
To manage and verify your company listing on Bing, go to Bing Business Portal. You’ll need a Windows Live ID to sign in. Search for your business by adding the business name and address/phone information:
If you are able to find your business, click the “Claim” button to continue the process. However, if your business does not show up, click “Add new listing.”
Update/add your business information (using your master business listing) and complete the verification process. As with Google Places, the key is to add as much relevant information as possible, including photos.
Sign in to Yahoo! with the account you want to use to manage your business listing. Start by searching for your business in Yahoo! Local. If you find your business there, simply click the “Edit business details” link at the bottom of the listing to get started:
However, if you can’t find your business, head on over to Yahoo! Search Marketing to list your business.
Again, create your business listing using as much relevant and compelling information as possible!
Review and Claim Your Data Aggregator Listings
Data aggregators are companies that aggregate and distribute data. (Go figure!) In this case, we’re talking about basic business data such as name, address, phone number, and category.
Data aggregators get their information from phone book companies and other sources. (And your information may or may not be correct.) They then sell this information to local search engines (like Google Places) and local search directories (see below). This is why you likely already have a listing on these sites.
We generally review and update the following three data aggregators:
Express Update from Infogroup (aka InfoUSA)
Express Update is the system used by Infogroup to help “ensure the accuracy of your business listing on top Internet search engines, leading navigation systems and local online directories.”
To get started, simply search for your business and follow the steps provided on the website:
To verify your listing, you’ll need to create an account and activate your account by verifying your email. Updates may take up to two months.
Acxiom has a business listing service called MyBusinessListing Manager. To get started, search for your business:
If you see your business, click “Claim this Listing!” and review/update your information. Otherwise, click “Add a Listing!” and enter your business information using your master business listing.
Acxiom will send a PIN to the email you enter. You’ll need to call the number they provide from your main business number and give them the PIN to verify ownership.
Go to the Localeze “Search for a Listing” page to get started:
If you find your business, click “VIEW LISTING” and then click the big green “CLAIM THIS LISTING” button to start the verification process. However, if you do not see your listing, click the “ADD A LISTING” link.
You will need to go through an authorization process to claim/add a listing.
Verify and Update Local Search Directories
It is likely that many of the hundreds of online search directories are getting their information from one of the above data aggregators. However, there are several popular local search directories that allow you to claim and enhance your listing with images and other information that the data aggregators don’t necessarily have.
Local Search Directory Citations Important for Rankings
Another reason it’s important to be listed in as many online directories as possible is that Google looks at the number of online citations a given business has. In fact, this is one of the top ten local search ranking factors as of June, 2011.
Ten Local Search Directories
We have a big list of local search directories we typically review and enhance for our clients. Here are ten of our favorites (in alphabetical order):
Get Listed in Other Online Directories
Nope, we’re not done yet! In addition to the “generic” online search directories above, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of niche search directories online. The value and relevance of these will depend on the type of business you manage. Please note that some of these may require an advertising fee for business listings.
Locally-based Business Directories
If you dig around, I am sure you will find at least a few locally-based business directories in your area.
Vertical Business Directories
In the above example, eLocalPlumbers is the first result. BBB of Dallas is the second. These may be directories worth looking into.
Specialty Business Directories
Do you identify with a specific ethnic and/or religious group? Is your business green? Are you pet friendly?
There are many specialty businesses directories to consider. Here are a few examples:
If you have a business that travelers might like to find on their GPS (e.g. restaurant, hotel, gas station), you need to make sure you’re listed properly in the main GPS directories.
And you’re in luck! It just so happens that I wrote a whole blog post about GPS listings, where you can get all the information you need. Enjoy!
Whew! I think this will keep you busy for a while. The information in this post is definitely just a subset of all the things you can do to optimize for local search, but you should see some great results by completing the activities described above.
I’d love to hear from you! What other local search optimization tactics have worked for you? Do you need more info about any of the above? Let me know in the comments!