Local search is just what it sounds like, local customers (or potential customers) searching the Internet for products, services or stores near them.

Local SEO Fundamentals

local-seo1. Claim your business listing at the major search engines: Google Maps, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local.

This is a total no-brainer. It’s a chance at free exposure and by just by claiming your listing, you’ll give the search engines more trust in your business and improve your chances at ranking (not to mention prevent someone else from hijacking your listing).

2. Submit your business to the major data providers: Localeze, infoUSA, and Acxiom.

Most small business owners have heard of Google, Yahoo, and Bing, but a tiny percentage of them (and even a tiny percentage of search marketers) know about the “other” Big Three in Local Search: Localeze, infoUSA, and Acxiom. These guys each have their own databases which form the foundation of the search engines’ Local indexes and of a variety of second-tier portals as well.

3. Make sure your business information is consistent.

Google especially likes to see business information match up across the web, because it increases their confidence that their algorithm is returning a relevant, accurate result. This means no keyword stuffing in your business title, either at Google or at the other data providers, and making sure that your phone number and address information matches up everywhere your business is mentioned.

4. Get your contact information in hCard microformat or add a QR code on your website.

It’s absolutely essential that the search engines are able to see your business’s Name, Address, and Phone number (a.k.a. “NAP”) when they crawl your website. If that information is contained a fancy font or in a header image, they’re not going to be able to find it. So make sure it’s in basic HTML, at the very least, and if you want a few brownie points, use the hCard microformat.

5. Create a KML file and upload it to Google Webmaster Central.

Most SEO companies are familiar with XML sitemaps. Well, think of a KML file as a “location map.” It’s a specialized file format that includes the latitude and longitude coordinates of the physical business locations listed on a particular website and gives them one more confidence boost in the location of a particular business. .

7. Use your official business name in the title tag of your contact or location page.

Bill Slawski, a very old friend of mine, mentioned this as a Local Search strategy way back in 2006. Essentially by doing this you make sure Google assigns your website as an “authority document” for Location Prominence.

8. Use geographic keywords in your title tags.

This is more of a generalized recommendation: make sure that you include your city and state in the title tag of your contact or location page, and use words like “CityName Magician” or “Magic in CityName” on assorted other title tags on your website.

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Encourage Customers To Review You

Quite a few people I’ve heard asking about how to rank in the new Google Place Search have stated that they knew reviews were part of the ranking criteria. However, I’ve seen a rising tide of small businesses which also think they can game the reviews by secretly posting their own.

Not only are fake reviews against the law, but many small business owners are using naively transparent methods when posting them. Google, Yelp, and other review sites are able to detect a great many of the hoax reviews posted, so if reviews are influential, fake ones will at very least be discounted, and might even count against you in the rankings.

For a variety of reasons it is good to have ratings and reviews available for your business, though. Your best approach is to merely encourage customers to post reviews about you.

Social Media

The next point of attack is to claim your Facebook page and to start creating social media accounts. Social indicators are a huge part of local search, and your Facebook listing is amongst the most important of them all. Google uses social accounts to verify the information in the Google Places listing, so it’s important that the website, address, phone number and all of that information appear the same across all platforms.

To claim a Facebook page:

  • From the page, click the gear icon and select Is this your business?
  • Follow the steps that appear on your screen. Add and verify information about your business such as the address and website, click Continue.
  • Facebook will then ask you to claim your page to prevent other people from becoming an admin without your permission. Choose to verify your connection to the business by Email or by uploading Documentation. If you choose email, you must have an email address using the site as the domain. A generic provider like Yahoo or Gmail won’t be sufficient for claiming a page.
  • Click Submit.

Once you’re an admin, write your description and ensure that all of the pertinent information is correct (address, phone number, website, etc.).

After claiming your Facebook page, you might want to start thinking about other social accounts you can link your business to. Yelp, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram are popular options, but there are literally hundreds or thousands to choose from.

You don’t have to be active on every social site, but it’s important to claim the account (or create it) in order to keep others from taking it in the future.

Pick two or three social networks and start posting on them semi-regularly. Popular choices are Twitter, Facebook and Google+, but you can choose anything that fits your business. If you’re a photographer, for example, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook might be better choices. If you are a contractor, Angie’s List, Google+ and Twitter might be your best bets. Use your head and try to decide where your content is the best match.

Avoiding Negative Ranking Factors

The final phase of the survey asked experts to rank the 30 most negative factors for local SEO rankings. Some of these negative factors seem like common sense, yet mistakes are made by businesses all the time.

Those ranked highest included:

  • Listing detected at false business location: Providing a false address for a business will alert search engines that the business may not be legitimate. This should be avoided regardless!
  • Keyword stuffing in business name: Adding unnecessary keywords to a business name (e.g., instead of “Dallas Cleaners,” including “Dallas Cleaners Tailors Washing Drying Clothing”) will lower a business’ ranking in search results. So even though keywords are important in driving search, don’t try to game the system or there will be penalties.
  • Mismatched NAP information across Web: Having different business names, addresses and phone numbers across the web will damage the business’ credibility in local search, so be sure to ensure consistency on business websites, local sites, etc.
  • Incorrect business category: Listing a business in categories where it does not provide a service will negatively impact a business’ placement in search, so be sure to stick to what the business actually does.
  • Presence of multiple Google Places landing pages with similar business title & address: Having multiple Google Places landing pages for the same location will impact a business’ visibility in search, so be sure to consolidate and remove additional pages.
  • Reports of violations on a business’s Google Places landing page: Violating Google’s content policy can lead to the de-listing of a business’ page. Be sure to avoid inappropriate material, bullying, impersonating, illegal activities, and posting of false reviews.
  • Absence of NAP information on website: Not including the business’ NAP information on its own website can negatively impact its local ranking. Make sure to include NAP information as text on the business’ website – not just within graphics.

google-search

Google Places

One of the main ranking factors in local search is an optimized listing using some of Google’s own properties, most notably Google Places.

Fill out the standard information first, such as:

Business name
Address
Phone number
Hours of operation
Contact email
Website address

Fill out all the information required. An incomplete profile certainly isn’t doing you any favors. Your goal, above all else, is to earn trust from Google so that they rank your site favorably in their local listings.

When selecting your business name, don’t use your keywords in the title unless it’s a natural part of the business. Google doesn’t take kindly to spam in their Places listings.

Once you’re done filling out the standard parts of the profile, the optimization begins.

You’re going to select a category (or categories) for your business as well as write a description. Choose a category that is as close to your target keyword as possible and feel free to add more than one category (lawn service, landscaping, etc.) but don’t go overboard.

Next you’ll have the opportunity to select your service area (if you provide in-home support, delivery, etc.) or decline this option entirely (people have to come to you) as well as some other pretty standard information (payment options, etc.) and the option to add photos or video. Studies show that photos of your business (even just the outside of it) entice more people to click than those without photos.

At the bottom of the page, you have the option to add additional information. This is where you can start using some keywords. Remember, don’t go overboard by adding too many. Google takes spam on Google Places very seriously, and they might remove your listing.

Your best bet here is to provide a list of your services offered (which typically happen to be your keywords).

Once you’re finished, you’ll have to verify that you are the owner of the business by accepting a call from Google and entering the PIN they give you.

What is NAP?

NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. NAP is critical for businesses wishing to rank well in the local organic search results, because search engines like Google take the data into account when determining which companies to show for geo-targeted searches. What can businesses do with their NAP to boost their local search rankings?

For starters, make sure that your NAP is correct, both on your website as well as on other sites throughout the web. Local SEO experts believe that Google and the other search engines cross-reference your NAP information across a variety of websites as a validation that you are a legitimate business. For example, it’s incredibly unlikely that a “made for SEO spam site” (i.e. not a real business) is going to have a physical address listed on their website let alone consistent NAP information on sites ranging from local directories and Yelp to the Internet Yellow Pages. The more local citations you can build up with consistent NAP information, the better.

Where should you enter your NAP?

In terms of local citations, it’s probably worth listing your business on any reputable directory – especially local directories and/or industry specific directories. InfoUSA, local chambers of commerce, the BBB, Yelp, Citysearch.com, 411.com, merchantcircle.com, and foursquare.com, to name a few.

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