While experts have been predicting local search would accelerate for the last few years, it is finally gaining traction. Borrell Associates estimated an $8.5 billion search spend in 2007 for local online advertising, which includes local search, local banner ads and local video.
In 2008, Borrell estimates the local search portion will account for nearly 50 percent of the total local online advertising spend, which is projected at $12.6 billion for this year.
Beyond the ad spend, there are two other reasons for revving up your local search presence in 2008: explosive growth in local search and the increased visibility potential due to universal search and personalization.
- Explosive local search growth: Local search queries increased 24 percent in 2007, faster than general searches, which increased 14 percent (Marchex, 2007). Last August, a TMP Directional Media/comScore survey reported 82 percent of local searchers made an offline purchase inquiry, and of those, 61 percent bought products/services. There is no doubt the internet drives offline sales.
- Increased visibility potential: Google and some major search engines introduced personalized search and universal search, greatly impacting the search results landscape. This is both a blessing and a dilemma because it requires different optimization strategies, but it also offers multiple opportunities to be found in the SERPs.
The importance of local listings
Every company needs a local listing, regardless of whether it sells locally, nationally or internationally. Here's how you can improve your results on Google Maps and Yahoo Local, using similar tactics on Live Search, Ask and other local directories.
- Free Google maps listings: List your business in Google Maps by going to Google's Local Business Center, where you'll find information for creating your free listing. You'll need a Google account to log in to the business center.
The most important part is entering your business information for the business profile. Gather your information ahead and follow these steps:
- Sign up for a Google Local Business Center account.
- Check to see if you already have a listing.
- If so, check your listing for accuracy and edit if necessary.
- If you're not in the database, list your company name, address, phone/FAX numbers, toll-free number, contact personnel, email address, website URL and hours of operation.
- If possible, use keywords in your business name title.
- Submit a listing for every location where you do business.
- Sprinkle your website pages with city and location nicknames.
- Add a footer to all your pages, listing your street address and phone number.
- Edit your listing any time to update your information.
Google will activate your profile with a phone call or a postcard, which is necessary to ensure the person who entered the data is actually employed by the business. Your business profile will appear in Google Maps as a local listing and can come up for local search queries in Google's general search index as well.
Google maps advertising
Google Maps displays local business ads, integrating the local match options from Google AdWords into Google Maps
- Google enhanced listings: Once you are satisfied with your free business listing, you can enhance it with features from the Google Adwords advertising network. If you already have a pay-per-click AdWords account, you can create Local Business Ads. These ads serve a dual purpose because they appear as regular text ads on Google.com and other sites participating in the Google advertising network. They also appear as enhanced listings in Google Maps.
- Local business ads: These ads are based on the physical location of your business, so it is important that the address in your Google AdWords account match the one in the Local Business Center. Your location determines whether or not the text version of your ad appears in Google.com listings. Searchers indicate location in their local search queries, so if your business is in that location, your ad will appear.
- Logo image: The text of your ad on Google Maps will also be accompanied by a small logo image of your choosing. The ad appears on the left side of the screen, and also as a balloon marker showing your business location on the map display to the right. If you wish, the marker can be an uploaded custom icon rather than the usual red-letter balloon provided by Google Maps. This can help your ad stand out from the crowd.
- Coupons: Google allows you to create printable coupons that your customers can print out and redeem at your offline location, which is an easy way to create more business.
Free Yahoo local listing
Your free local listing is called Yahoo Local Basic and consists of a profile listing of the following information:
- Address, phone number and FAX number
- Website and email addresses
- Business category
- Business hours of operation
- Accepted payment methods
- Products and services offered
Yahoo provides sponsored search and local listings as local advertising options.
- Sponsored search: These pay-per-click ads on Yahoo can be geo-targeted by user location or user interest (keyword). Geo-targeted sponsored search ads can also be inserted into the Yahoo Local results.
- Local listings: These listings appear on Yahoo Local and have two flat-rate fee levels: Local enhanced listings give you a company logo and tagline, up to 10 photos of your business, a detailed business description, inclusion in five business categories and two customizable links to coupons or special offers for a flat rate of $9.95 per month; local featured listings give you all the features of local enhanced plus guaranteed prominent placement in Yahoo Local, customizable listing and business details page and a free five-page basic website for a monthly flat rate starting at $25 per month.
Optimization tips for local listings
To rank well in local search, it goes without saying that your site should be optimized for organic listings. Optimize all on-page and off-page factors, and get your site listed in important directories for your niche.
We mentioned the desirability of adding a footer listing your street address and phone number on all your pages. If you limit your contact information to the Contact Us page, this won't help your site get into the right geographical category, and it won't help your other pages rank organically for locally oriented searches. When the information about your business is presented on each page, it's easy for search spiders to extract local information when indexing.
To achieve good local rankings, concentrate on all your local resources. A link from the local Chamber of Commerce can be valuable. Involvement with the local community can lead to more links. You might sponsor local events, join local business organizations, or sponsor a local sports team, etc. It's important to be a visible member of the community to gain the trust and authority necessary to attract links.
Provide specific information when entering your business profile directly into all local search sites. Not all search engines display the same information, but they all require details about your business, products and services.
Other local search opportunities
Local search is expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead. This list of local search opportunities beyond the major players may not be comprehensive, but it provides a number of additional options for local business owners to extend their reach.
CitySearch: Provides local information for sites such as MSN Live, Ask, Expedia, Ticketmaster and more. Business owners should get their sites listed correctly in CitySearch. As with any local search listing, start by searching for your business. If it's listed, click to your profile page to check for accuracy. Options for making edits are shown in the lower right corner of the main content column (below your business information).
Google Product Search: Local merchants can get free listings on Google's free product search engine (formerly Froogle). Merchants must submit their item information to Google Base. When shoppers look for items to purchase on Google Product Search, it scans through product information sellers have submitted to Google Base. The beauty of this is you can be found on the web even if you don't sell online because you don't need a website to list items for sale in Google Base.
InfoUSA: This is one of the information aggregators that compile databases on businesses and households in the United States and Canada. It gets information from telephone White and Yellow Pages, business records, real estate records, newspapers and multiple resources. Add your business or update an existing listing through an online form.
Insider Pages: This site features local listings and user-generated reviews. Check to see if you're in the database and then you can add/update a listing or buy advertising. Sponsored ads appear above and below the main listings on a search results page. Ad rates are based on city size and business category popularity. Monthly rates run from $5 to $25 per month.
Local.com: Your business should take advantage of the free basic listing at Local.com, which includes your company name, address, phone number, website URL and a brief description. Local.com also offers paid listing services, including Local Promote Plus and Local Promote Premium. These services give you a business profile webpage and other additional options for about $40/month, depending on options selected. Local.com shows some user reviews from sites like Insider Pages and Judy's Book with its listings.
ReachLocal: This site provides services for setting up, maintaining and tracking local search advertising campaigns on sites like Google, Yahoo, MSN Live and AOL for a fee. It may be an option for local businesses that don't have the time or manpower to manage their own local search ad campaigns.
RegisterLocal: This service allows local businesses to create a master business profile that is stored and distributed to search engines, internet Yellow Pages, local search engines and leading data providers for an annual fee. Your master business profile can also be used as a business website. When you make changes to your business information through RegisterLocal, it is automatically sent to the distribution network. The advantage is you can update your business info in one place online and this updates all your listings within RegisterLocal's distribution network. It can be a time saver for any local businesses.
TrueLocal: Users can enter full text searches rather than just a business name and location. For instance, if you're in Boston and query, "I'm looking for the best lobster," TrueLocal will show you relevant restaurants. Many businesses are already listed. You can change or add your listing free if you're a brick and mortar business in the United States or Canada. TrueTarget advertising options offer expanded listings (category, ZIP code) and enhancements (logo, coupons).
Verizon SuperPages: This classified directory offers free business listings as well as pay-per-click and pay-per-call advertising opportunities. You can get bolding, highlighting, color and/or larger text for a small monthly fee on the free listing. Paid advertising gets you listed above your competition with $35 in free clicks with PPC signup, free reports on ad performance and bolding, highlighting, color and/or larger text. Like most PPC programs, you can set your budget limits and target by location, category and keywords.
YellowPages.com: This AT&T-owned online local directory also includes city guides and user reviews. Search options include local city and state or ZIP code name, category and keyword search. Businesses can get a free basic listing. The advantage is the huge exposure -- up to 34 million unique visitors each month.
Yelp: This online city guide featuring user reviews began in San Francisco as a local guide for big cities. It now has pages for many large cities from Los Angeles and San Diego to Chicago, New York and Boston. Search for your business name and ZIP code to see if you're listed. At the bottom of the search results page you'll find a red "Add Business" button leading to a form where you can add your business. Yelp also offers paid advertising in the form of enhanced listings and featured placement in search results. Yelp for Business Owners shows you how you can enhance your listing, and you can complete a contact form for more info.
The local search advantage
Local search research by Kelsey Group shows that 70 percent of online searchers will use local search to find offline businesses. The TMPDM-comScore study shows 86 percent of online users will be searching for a local business at some point in time. So it's important to be visible for local search queries by getting listed in Google Maps, Yahoo Local and all other local search engines and directories. It can also be advantageous for branding to buy sponsored local search listings for a good balance of natural and paid search listings.
For more information about the local search industry, you can download "Unlocking the Potential of the Local Internet" by Marchex, Inc. This 12-page white paper gives a detailed overview of the local search market and major players.
Claudia Bruemmer is a freelance writer-editor and internet marketing consultant. Read full bio.