Local Search Optimization - A Guide to Getting Started

While searching the web these days, it's hard not to notice all those little Local tabs sprouting up in the vicinity of the search field on virtually every major search engine. Within the past year, the race has been to integrate a plethora of advanced features into local search capabilities.

Already we're seeing features like customer reviews and ratings, storefront and product photos, detailed maps with directions, hours of operation, forms of accepted payment, integration with cell phones, and much more is promised to follow. Picture a million paper phone books combined - on steroids and capable of providing instant results for an information-hungry and time-challenged customer base. The potential for local search is really quite staggering!

So what exactly is local search, and how can you best position your business to take advantage of it?

In a nutshell, local search is essentially the Internet's version of the phone book. The difference being that this "phone book" is much faster and far more responsive. For example, suppose I'm in Boston staying at the Harbor View Hotel and in need of a haircut? No problem. I Just enter haircut followed by the zip code of the hotel where I'm staying - 02114 - and I instantly find Richard's Haircutting for Men a scant 0.4 miles east and with directions.

All that took about 30 seconds from concept to completion leaving me with a feeling of satisfaction that no regular phone book could ever provide. I'm now addicted to local search after only a single dose! Throw away the phone book, never mind the concierge.

Now, if that little demo hasn't yet convinced you, chew on this recent finding...

70 percent of U.S. households now use the Internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services... Findings also suggest the Internet is poised to surpass newspapers as a local shopping information resource. Source: The Kelsey Group

Simply put, local search - including local search on mobile devices - is about to dominate the world of brick-n-mortar marketing. Ready or not, here it comes! ...we suggest you get ready now, before it starts costing you a fortune to negotiate the learning curve. Oh, and get used to the fact that the big yellow phone book is well on its way to becoming nothing more than a cheesy doorstop.

How To Get Listed In Local Search

The first step to getting your business listed in Local Search is (surprise) to buy a listing in the offline Yellow Pages (yep, that cheesy doorstop-to-be we just dis'd). Here's why:

Most search engines get the bulk of their local business listings from just two companies: 1)infoUSA and 2)Acxiom.

...or else from Internet Yellow Pages sites which also derive their listings from these two companies. Both have compiled enormous databases containing detailed information on most of the businesses and consumer households in the US and Canada. And much of their data is pulled from your basic Yellow Page and Business White Page directories (aka, the cheesy doorstops).

The good news may be that your business already has a listing in your local Yellow Pages - if not, then you should get one! Don't worry about taking out a big colorful ad with lots of information about your company. We haven't any reason to believe that expensive ads offer any advantage in local search rankings. Nor does lots of business information in your Yellow Pages ad seem to enhance your local search listing's comprehensiveness. It appears to us that any Yellow Pages listing at all will get you included in most local search engines just fine.

By the way, InfoUSA has the more user-friendly website of the two. They provide a way for you to actually check to see if your site is listed with them by using their Directory Assistance Plus web search. And, if you find your business is not listed or is listed incorrectly, you can use their add/update page to correct your listing.

How To Check Your Listing

Once you have a Yellow Pages listing (the cheesy doorstop version), then chances are you'll be found in most local search engines. To check your listing, enter your business name and zip code into the search fields at the following locations:

Google Local - http://www.google.com/lochp

Yahoo Local - http://local.yahoo.com/

MSN Local - http://local.msn.com/ - Still not yet quite as extensive as most other search engines. Don't be surprised if you're not listed.

Ask Jeeves Local - http://local.ask.com/local - Not quite as good at word parsing as Google and Yahoo. For instance, sees timeshare as different from time share. Be specific in your spelling and punctuation of your business name or category.

AOL Local - http://localsearch.aol.com/ - Divides its results into directory-like categories, so you may have to drill down a few levels to find your listing.

A9 Local - http://a9.com/ - Not really a local search engine, but A9 does have local features, as well as their own Yellow Pages. Type in your business name and zip code and see what comes up.

If you find your business is missing from any of these local search engines, most of them provide an interface to allow you to add your site. Look around for a link that says something like "Update Your Business" or "Information for Business Owners". Chances are good that even if your site is listed, your business information may be incomplete or inaccurate and you'll probably want to update and improve your local search listing.

Esoos Bobnar is a search marketing specialist and one of the head researchers at SearchEngineNews.com, a company which publishes an award-winning Search Engine Book, as well as a monthly report on the latest search engine marketing techniques.

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