Getting found locally used to be pretty easy with phone books and ads in local papers. But most of us don’t even have a Yellow Pages in our homes and, instead, turn to our research online or on our phones. Smart phones are driving a lot of that search and according to a recent survey done by ISACA, 58% of consumers who have smart phones use location-based marketing applications despite concerns about safety and personal information. The survey also reports that the use of location-based marketing apps is up one-third from a year ago.
In a prior article we looked at the importance of mobile marketing (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/mobile-marketing-magic_b_1672829.html). Now, it’s time to focus in on why it’s key to grab your local search real estate.
If your business does business locally, whether it’s through an actual storefront or some other means, you’ll really want to optimize your local visibility. Keep in mind that in order to do this, you’ll need to make sure that your website is optimized for local search. This means checking to see if your title tags and meta descriptions reflect local text. When we think local, we often think of sites like Yelp which allow consumers to review local businesses. Reviews are great but often need to be encouraged. Adding buttons to your website to encourage customers to review your business is also great. A local dog groomer near me encourages reviews on Yelp by offering $5 off their next grooming visit.
Another idea is to get to know your local bloggers and businesses and see if you can get them to link to you from their pages. You might have to return the favor but it’ll be worth it. Especially if they are established sites and bloggers, this will really help to enhance your local visibility.
I spoke with Susan Gilbert of Online Promotion Success (http://www.onlinepromotionsuccess.com/) about local search, which is one of the specialties her company offers:
What is local search?
Local search is when someone ‘searches’ the Internet for a local business or service. It wasn’t so many years ago that we would have reached for the Yellow Pages phone book – but today, we let our fingers do the walking across our keyboards and mobile devices and search online.
A search that includes a location modifier, such as “Seattle” or “zip code,” is an explicit local search. Examples of local searches include “pest control 98029,” “Seattle restaurants,” “doggy daycare San Diego” and “emergency plumber San Diego.” Local searches exhibit local intent and often times will produce listings with a corresponding map especially on Google.
Can you talk to us about Google Places?
As with much of online promotion, Google rules. Google is aggressively marketing against Facebook right now and local businesses offer a leg up on the competition.
Google provided every business owner with their own Google website called Google Places several years ago. Many local business owners aren’t even aware of this and didn’t claim their Places Page. The Places Page is a static page, not to be confused with a business website – but important to claim and integrate with a business website.
Google determines local search order and ranking results by looking at 3 factors:
If you were to search “dry cleaners in Brooklyn,” here’s how Google will determine the results they will deliver:
– Relevance: You will only be offered dry cleaners and not unrelated business like coffee shops.
– Prominence: You will be offered the most prominent which is determined by the best choices based on SEO, Citations, Reviews, etc.
– Distance: Google calculates how far each dry cleaner is from Brooklyn and offers you the closest locations.
Note: If you don’t specify Brooklyn in your search Google will show you dry cleaners based on your general location (as determined by your IP address)
Google algorithm changes (Penguin, Panda) – how does that apply to local search?
The local pages I mentioned recently changed from Google Places to Google + Local which is really an extension of Google+. Google forced 150M businesses that had a Google Places page to Google+ Local (called Google Search) to compete with Facebook. Note the incorporation of “Google +” and the new local listing tabs for local businesses can be found underneath the “Circles button” in the social site of Google+. Click on the icon that says “Local” to view more.
Mixed terminology is still in use – it’s sometimes called Google Places and other times Google Search. If you open up a search window in Google, look at the options on the left starting with Web > Images > Maps> etc. Click on More and you will see Places. The red push pins are Google Place listings.
However, if you open a Google Place listing, it now turns into a Google + account. Here are some of the changes Google made:
– Google Places were a static one page listing with address, telephone number, website, and reviews.
– The new Google Local pages are dynamic and interactive with things like Write a Review; and, is within a Google + page now. As people begin to Search more from within their Google + accounts, it becomes all the more important for a business to have a Google Local page.
What are Citations?
Citations are the highly ranked and individually searched listings like Yelp, Merchant Circle, etc. Other factors being equal, businesses with a greater number of citations will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations.
Every local business should have a listing with many different citations like Merchant Circle, Superpages, etc. making sure that their NAP: name, address, phone number – are exactly the same across all online properties. If you operate a business but do so out of your home, you cannot use a PO Box, or UPS address. Google wants to list local businesses, not work from home business. If you don’t mind listing your home address, then that works fine. Google doesn’t care if the business is in your home. But if you don’t want people arriving at your front door, you can get around this by renting a virtual office space where you receive your mail or piggy backing onto a similar business and paying them a rental fee so that you can use their mailing address.
There are also business specific Citations like Healthgrades for medical and AVVO for lawyers and Foursquare for retail.
The searches for local are staggering, aren’t they? Can you speak to this?
Today there are well over 10 billion unique searches done each month, and that’s just in the United States!
Of those searches:
- 30% of queries have Local intent
- 30% of all searches contain a city, state, or zip
- 82% of local searches result in an offline action
- 50% of offline brick and mortar purchases are preceded by an online search
- There are over 53 million smart phones in the US
- Mobile Internet traffic is exploding, double-digit monthly growth
- Smart phones pull data from local listings
The combination of traditional SEO (search engine optimization) combined with local listings and citations will bring new and continued customers to local businesses.
Can you explain how reviews are key to local promotion?
Did you know that 92% of Internet users read product reviews? Reputation management, or the monitoring of and acquisition of good reviews are critical for a local business to get their phone ringing with new clients. Think about it – would you call a plumber who had 3 low reviews versus someone who had all great reviews?
However, the recent changes to Google have left many business owners feeling bewildered. For instance, did you know that in order for a customer to leave a review for a business on their Google + Local page, they must now own a Google account? This means that in some cases local businesses must create a Google account before even beginning the review acquisition process and the same holds true for a clients that want to leave positive or negative feedback about their experience with a business.
Google purchased Zagat last year, and is now following their 0-3 scale rather than the more typical and prior used 5 star system. A business must have at least 10 Google user reviews before Zagat will score it; and then it ranks that business with a 0–30 scale. Whew! – how much more confusing can Google make it?
Reviews are available on all the citation sites. Besides being listed on citations, you want to consider how people use these citations when determining who they will do business with. Let’s use Yelp as an example. You search for dog groomers + your location. Three have great reviews, the fourth bad reviews. As a potential customer, which one(s) will you call?
What is Map Maker?
Google Map Maker is the replacement for My Maps. It first was released in August of 2008 targeting the Third World (specifically Africa), and has since then spread to 183 countries. As of April 2011, it has completely replaced Google MyMaps and is the dominant Mapping facility from Google.
The primary difference between the MyMaps technology and Map Maker is that Google Map Maker has gained regulation. Now, a human will review new Maps to “review” for quality and to avoid abuse by people attempting to game the local rankings. The review process includes internal employees as well as a peer-to-peer process. The more experience you get, the more “trust” you will have with Map Maker. This is similar to Wikipedia.
Here are some other thoughts on local promotion:
1. Do you blog and, more specifically, do you blog about local interests? You can also optimize your posts with local references as well as tags and keywords.
2. Are you listed in local directories such as YellowPages and SuperPages? Check out GetListed.org if you want to see how your business is coming up in local search. This site will also tell you where you should be listed.
3. If you’re ready to dig into local, check out this listing from HubSpot on the top 50 business directories for local search: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/10322/The-Ultimate-List-50-Local-Business-Directories.aspx
Be sure your social media pages are optimized for local as well. Sometimes just adding a local to status updates, Tweets, and your “About” page can be really helpful. In other cases, like Twitter, you can take advantage of local tools such as these to find local people:
- Nearbytweets.com (http://nearbytweets.com/)
- Twitterholic.com (http://twitaholic.com/)
- TwitterLocal.net (http://twitterlocal.net/)
- Twellowhood (twellow.com/twellowhood)
Local promotion can be incredibly beneficial so if you haven’t started reaching out to your local market, give it a try. I think you’ll find a wealth of new business right in your own back yard!