Content Marketing

Navigating the Murky Waters of the Local Search Ecosystem

Often things that are the most challenging are also the most rewarding. This is true when it comes to online marketing, and even more true when it comes to "local search engine optimization" or the process of building local relevance "signals" so that search engines connect people looking for a local -based service or company, like a realtor or chiropractor, with verified local businesses as opposed to general information about real estate or spinal care. The search engines do this as an extension of their normal search results, often showing a map, and contact details for the most relevant businesses. It pays to be listed at the top of these local searches. Studies show that consumers searching locally are more likely to make a purchase or use a service soon after they search.

If you're a business and want to capture local search traffic for your own business, you need to understand how search engines choose who gets displayed. Just like the normal search, there's a complicated algorithm at work here, so it's impossible to know all of the elements, but it's very clear that a primary factor is how many places your business's name, address and phone number appear online. A business needs to proactively claim it's profile wherever possible, starting with the search engines.

Google, Yahoo, Bing First

First things first. You need to create a central business profile on the big three search engines so they can start attributing all the various citations and references proving your brick-and-mortar location is real and trusted. This also ensures that your business can be found in a mobile Google/Bing map search for your business category, as well as mapped results for normal searches. While Google has a larger share, when it comes to local search they are not the only game in town. There are benefits in grabbing your profiles on Bing/Yahoo at the same time.

How to Rank in Local Search

A big part of ranking for local searches is proving that you're a real business with a physical location. To do this, get your business listed on relevant and trusted local search sites and directories. While it seems like a simple task, this process can be time intensive, costly and confusing.

This is a visual representation of how the data of your business listings are shared between directories, local search engines and displayed by these major sites that provide business listings to their visitors as their primary function. It'sSuper complicated, but here's where visualization gives you an edge. There are major data providers that actually funnel information to the majority of the web. Use that information to your advantage.

Take Advantage of the Ecosystem

You can see the impact of these data vendors just by looking at the graphic. These companies gather and then distribute their databases of business listings to other websites and directories. These vendors are key to distributing your local listing as far as possible with the least amount of work filling out profiles.
Unfortunately, these data vendors make it really difficult to actually find where and how to submit/correct your business listing. Here are the shortcut links I was able to create after spending some time digging around the data vendor sites. While there are ways to submit your business without cost for each of them, there may be verification required in the form of a phone call or letter similar to the verification in Bing and Google.

Local Search Visibility Warning

I want to give all small businesses a warning that increasing your business's visibility and building out these profiles on local search sites will increase the number of cold call marketers and email solicitations. Low-quality marketing companies don't have the expertise to use sound marketing strategies to market themselves to business owners and managers like you. Instead they rely on cold-calls and email solicitations to capture clients. Here's my advice: If you didn't find them via the internet or through a referral don't trust them.

Tip: Don't Forget The Real World

In the early days of local SEO it was possible to rank by simply getting as many listings as possible without any regard for the quality of the site. This had some unfortunate side effects.
First, both businesses and marketers would take shortcuts and use low cost distribution services to create business listings on shady, disreputable directory sites whose only purpose was to list as many businesses as possible. Google even had to release an update called Penguin to deal with the problem.
Embrace who and where you are! Want to be listed in local results? Then you need to make a local impact. Sponsor your local women's roller derby team, softball league or small business event. Interact with local media and become a local resource for their publications. Providestellar service so your clients will proactively write a review for all the world to see. When you embrace your locality your locality embraces you.

I just attended a recent weekly Mozinar on the subject of local SEO presented by Daniel Liebson and came away with a raft of helpful information I think you will find useful.

  • 50% of mobile searches have local intent.
  • 55% of conversions from a local search (store visit, phone call or purchase) happen with an hour.
  • 75% of mobile searches trigger follow-up actions such as research, phone calls, purchase or social sharing.
  • 49% of mobile users use apps for local search.
  • Because the name, address, phone and website accuracy of your business listings on the web in general impacts your ability to appear in local searches, duplicate and incorrect citations are a big problem. It takes time, and resources to find out where the error is, claim it and fix it.
  • Competitors play a bigger role in local SEO over SEO in general. It's close-quartered knife fighting as opposed to strategic battles from afar.
  • ###lib###• Factual actually aggregates data of local listings and licenses to local App providers. This means that a large number of third party apps use their data and since it's free to submit records it is a quick win that can have a far reaching impact
  • Don't forget that Facebook is a local factor especially for mobile search! This is because 79% of Facebook is accessed via mobile devices. Be sure your local profile is completed, enable reviews and check-ins. They are important in the Facebook graph search that could be directing local business your way.
  • Remember that Local Search fragments out buyer personas. You have users at different parts of the process, physically in a different place and mentally in a different place in the purchase funnel!
  • Use the location data in Google Analytics as a data point for insights in your local SEO. This will let you know if your visitors are from your targeted cities or areas. Then you can tailor efforts to improve or expand.
  • Impression and "Actions Taken" data from your verified places.google.com profile can also give you a keyword insight on what queries your local profile is appearing in currently
  • Local SEO is rapidly changing, so keep up with the experts: David MihmMike WiltonMatt Mcgee and Dan Leibson
  • Instagram is an interesting hyperlocal crowdsourced content generator! Nothing's better than unique photos taken by your own visitors as a verification of their loyalty and your value.
  • Use KML markup to define location via code.
  • If it's hard it's worth doing: I.e. getting Yelp and G+ reviews legitimately.
  • Yext (the automated citation platform) can be a problem - if you remove the service then the old listings re-appear! It also can cause duplicates! ($4 per citation is expensive when another third party could do it better)

Keep On Keeping On

When it comes to local SEO the process can be difficult and time consuming. Just keep in mind that every citation, every link and every listing moves you one step forward. ###em/em###