Saturday, December 05, 2009

Critical Local Search Factors To Pay Attention To

Critical Local Search Factors To Pay Attention To
Chris Crum | Staff Writer |Webpronews

Local Search is Changing and Getting More Competitive

Local search is only one sliver of the search marketing game, but it is an increasingly important one, and one that is changing rapidly. These days people are going to the web to find local businesses, sometimes more than even the phone book. Having a presence in local search is imperative for any small business, but just as imperative is being able to compete for visibility.

There is a good discussion taking place in our WebProWorld forum on the topic of local search. If you have any insight, you can contribute there or comment on this article for other WebProNews readers to see.

There are a lot of variables to consider when mapping out (no pun intended) your local search marketing efforts. Jeff Howard at Search Engine Guide has a very informative piece about such variables that search engines, and Google specifically employ when returning local search results to users.
"They have variables such as size of the map, and definition of a region's center that combine with trust, a citation, or sometimes what I call 'sureness factors' to determine what businesses should be recommended," he says. More specifically, the variables Howard is talking about are:
1. The size of the area as defined by the keyword search, or map space being viewed.

2. Google's sureness that in fact there is a business at the listed address doing what it says.

3. How Google defines the region's center, either by keyword or map parameters like zoom level.

Howard goes into some quite interesting examples of the variables at work.

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It's not just about how the search engines define local results though. Businesses should also take into account how users/customers define them. Your business may be so many miles away from a user's location, but other variables can factor into this as well. Neighborhoods may matter to users. Obstacles like rivers, for example, may matter. Maponics CEO Darrin Clement made some good points on this subject in a recent interview with WebProNews.

As it stands right now, there are a number of measures businesses can take to help users find them in local search. Howard offers the following tips to let Google and other mapping search engines know where you're located:

- Have your address listed with major data providers.
- Claim your listing at the local business center.
- Have reviews either at Google or elsewhere.
- List your business in the proper categories once it's been claimed.

Search specialist Bruce Clay recently shared some further local search tips in another WebProNews interview. One particularly important tip he shared involved getting local people to link to your content. It helps if you have content that is actually localized.

Bruce also aimed to debunk some local SEO myths in that interview, and one of those is that local SEO is cheaper than SEO on a broader scale. He basically noted that just because a site's target audience is smaller, SEO is still SEO, and essentially the same work is involved when it comes to fixing a site and optimizing it. That's just something to keep in mind.

That said, SEO may still be SEO when it comes to the effort that goes into it, but just because your site is optimized well for regular search, does not mean that your local search presence should take a back seat. Even if your site ranks well organically, Google may be pushing it further down the page, simply because of the search engine's use of Universal search, which for many queries that yield local results, will simply return a set of local results, which are often near the top of the listings. This is pulled from a separate index. This topic was discussed in a quite interesting interview we had with Brian Combs, who founded local SEO firm ionadas local.

The new redesign of search results pages that Google has been testing could have important implications for local search. As some have pointed out, the interface involved with this redesign alters the presentation of local universal results. It only shows five results as opposed to the seven that Google currently shows.
"In the new UI, the map is now wider, the local listings are shown below the Map and an obvious pin to a Map centric view is visible along the left menu," notes local search blogger Mike Blumenthal. "In an of itself, the change means more SEO competition for fewer spots. Whether the change will drive more people into Maps is unclear as highlighted Map pin is offset by fewer links into Maps."

He also provides an interesting look at what this possible new interface could mean in connection with Google's local listing ads for businesses that the company is also testing.

Doing well in local search means much more than simply having a listing in Google Maps. Local search is a competitive and increasingly critical space of the web that local businesses need to take seriously. Take into account the rise of the mobile web, which is only going to greatly increase in consumer use, and local plays that much more of a role in getting customers to your business.

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