Local search is a subcategory of overall search that can give a big boost to your business whether you are a big brand national services advertiser in local markets or a local business looking to expand. Some analysts expect local search revenue to double this year and become even more critical when emerging mobile phone technology allows people to stand on the street corner and ask about a local pizza shop, FedEx or Kinko's.
Currently, many businesses don't know how to maximize local search listings because available information is too confusing or doesn't spell out how to use local search listings for full advantage. Think of it as optimizing local search practices and you will reap the rewards.
For instance, did you know that many top data providers and local search sites allow businesses to list for free? A list is offered on the next page, not only of the well-recognized search engines like Google Maps, Google Local Business, but also the local data providers such as Amacai/Localeze and top internet Yellow Pages site, DexOnline.
Also, pay attention to your creative, your ad messaging and your landing page. Major search engines and some top local search sites have started to use "quality scores" coupled with your keyword/category bid price to determine where and how often your ad will be displayed.
And simple things such as getting a link on another key website like the Chamber of Commerce can extend your reach with little effort.
See below for 10 ways, with examples, on how to improve your business through local search.
1. Get listed for free
The top data providers and local search sites allow businesses to add/update basic local business listings for free. Visit these sites to find your local business listings and verify/update as needed.
2. Location, location, location
Do you have more than one business location? If one location is in Pinole, Calif. and the other is in Northridge, Calif., make sure you have specific content on your advertisements and website that references both locations. This also applies when submitting and/or updating your business address information on top local search site, as mentioned in the previous tip.
The below example shows two Public Storage business listings on Google Maps.
3. Think locally
Make sure that the content on your website and/or the actual keywords you choose to target use local, geo-designated terms. When consumers search, they're often looking for products/services in a specific geographic area, therefore you'll get a higher response if your ad appears in searches that are specific to your area. For example, if you are an auto dealer in Portland, opt for "automobiles, Portland OR" rather than simply "automobiles."
The below example shows two sponsored listings for Honda cars. The first listing (http://www.honda.com/) was not optimized for local visibility. Typically you would see such a listing appear for a general search such as "Automobiles." However, the second listing (http://www.carsdirect.com/) references the local area in which the ad is targeted to: Portland. Not only does this ad reference "Portland" in the ad title, but it also mentions it in the body of the sponsored link text as well.
4. Be relevant
The major search engines and a few top local search sites have started to use "quality scores" coupled with your keyword/category bid price to determine where and how often your ad will be displayed. This is an area where one size does not fit all. Make sure you cater your campaigns to the specific keyword or category you are targeting. Your creative/ad messaging and the landing page for consumers -- directed typically through a link -- must be relevant to the keyword and/or category topic.
The below example is a business listing that appears on the popular local search site YellowPages.com. This listing is at the top of results when a search is conducted for "auto insurance, Atlanta GA." Note: this listing uses copy such as "Serving Your Area," as well as mentions "Atlanta" with a local phone number in the listing creative.
If the consumer decides to click from this business listing to the actual GEICO site, the consumer is taken to a local agent landing page, such as the one shown below for Atlanta, GA:
5. Cast a wider net
Capture the most local market sales/leads through paid keyword advertising on top national/global sites such as Google and Yahoo! Also target local market city and regional websites, such as Boston.com or Kudzu.com (Atlanta).
The below example shows the homepage of the popular Atlanta-based local services site Kudzu.com:
6. Target consumers who are ready to buy
Consider advertising in local online Yellow Pages sites such as YellowPages.com and SuperPages.com with an offer and/or coupon. Consumers who use these sites typically have a higher propensity to purchase. By advertising on these sites, businesses generally purchase priority positioning above the free listings and are provided with the ability to add additional information to listings. This helps you stand out from your competition.
The below example is a business listing that appears on the popular internet Yellow Pages site SuperPages.com. The offer: free pest or termite inspection just for calling.
7. Get local links
When you join your local Chamber of Commerce you usually get a link on its directory. This is true for big cities like Greater New York City Chamber of Commerce. In addition to getting a link, this helps establish your link neighborhood and your relevancy for that geographic area.
The below example shows several business listings found on the New York Chamber of Commerce site under the business category "Storage."
8. Accuracy in print White & Yellow Pages
Make sure that your free business listings that appear in your local print versions of White & Yellow Pages directories are correct. Believe it or not, the free business data found on the internet often comes from the printed White & Yellow Pages. In addition, many directory assistance providers use Yellow Page publisher databases to provide local requested phone numbers and address information to consumers. With the entrance of new free directory assistance providers such as 1-800-FREE411 and 1-800-GOOG-411 (Google's beta version), accuracy is more important than ever.
Consumer usage of these products is expected to explode once mobile phone technology is improved, which is happening as we speak.
9. Reputation management
Many local search sites such as Yahoo Local or YellowPages.com offer consumers the ability to post user reviews as part of their business listings service. Make sure you visit these sites often to see what is posted around your specific business listings and take advantage of the opportunity to respond to consumer posts. Research has shown that user reviews actually increase the clickthrough on the listing (whether positive or negative). In fact, specific responses from the business itself help show online consumers that you care about client service and help businesses actually change a negative review into a positive review. For more information about local online ratings and reviews systems, please visit our blog.
The below example is a business listing that appears on YellowPages.com. Note that to the right of the business listing are links to "Rate It" and "Read Reviews." By clicking on the "Rate It" link, consumers are able to rate the business on a five-point scale. In addition, by clicking on "Read Reviews," consumers can read all posts that have been added to this business to date.
10. Track your results
Always include a tracking phone number -- often referred to as a Remote Call Forwarding line or RCF -- in your ad copy for the people who search online for local business information and who want to contact you by phone versus just linking to your site. RCF lines provide businesses with both a count of how many actual calls were received from the advertising in a given time period and the call-tracking details such as the incoming phone number and area code, time, date and length of call.
Tracking lines can usually be set up through your local telephone service provider for a nominal monthly fee. For example, in California (provider is AT&T), a local business could set up a Remote Call Forwarding line for as little as $17 per month plus local toll/long distance charges if applicable.
Gregg Stewart is SVP of TMP Directional Marketing. Read full bio.