Former U.S. Congressman Tip O’Neill famously coined the phrase, “All politics is local.” In much the same way, retail and service companies are quickly coming to realize that all marketing is local. With the recent rise — and soon to be explosion — in GPS/mapping-enabled smartphones and drastic changes in the way Google searches trigger local results, local search is rapidly becoming a critical marketing channel.
The concept is more evolutionary than revolutionary; most marketers are savvy enough to already claim their listings in Google Places. However, that’s only the first step in a comprehensive strategy, since the majority of location-specific searches don’t take place on Google. Many consumers use other outlets such as online yellow pages, local directories and city guides like Citysearch or Yelp, as well as search engines, including Yahoo and Bing, to conduct searches for local businesses. Even if Google were to start dominating local search like it dominates general search queries, its results are heavily influenced by these other local sources.
So before missing the boat entirely, the following are 10 things you can do today to optimize your internet presence for local search queries:
1. Set goals and measure them. Use web analytics, call tracking services and unique coupons to set benchmarks and track online and offline results from your efforts.
2. Leverage the tried and true. Implement traditional search engine optimization techniques, and remember to use keywords that include city names.
3. Stay one step ahead. Take advantage of search engines’ new ability to parse structured data for use in “rich snippets.” The impact of structured data on search engine/map rankings is likely to grow over time.
4. Stake multiple claims. Establish your local listings in Google, Bing and Yahoo Maps. If you have more than 10 locations, avoid Google’s postcard/phone verification process by submitting a spreadsheet. However, if you go this route, you’ll miss out on having the immediate ability to access stats that Google provides in Google Places for each location.
5. Illustrate and amplify. Add pictures and company information to your listings. In addition, pay special attention to the categories that best fit your business.
6. Widen your footprint. Increase the number of citations you have from third-party sites. Citations are mentions of your company name in association with the location-specific phone number and address. Citations are crucial in improving the rankings for your map listings. Google puts more weight on citations from trusted resources like Yelp, Citysearch, YellowPages.com and Local.com, but citation authority is industry-specific in many cases.
7. “X” marks the spot. Leverage geo-targeted and location-specific paid opportunities on search engines, IYPs and local guide sites. Make sure to test which ones are worth the time to manage them.
8. Get others to talk you up. Encourage your customers to review your company on those same trusted resources. The number of reviews your business receives also impacts your map rankings.
10. Follow up and follow through. Continually update your listings across the web if and when any of your location details change. Keeping information up-to-date and accurate is key in establishing credibility with search engines.
Consistent care, maintenance and optimization of your local search initiatives will not only increase online traffic, but offline sales at various locations. Such practices can be the difference between making noise and making it rain.