Local Search Workshop
with Matt McGee
blogs: SmallBusinessSEM.com, HyperLocalBlogger.com

If you are a small business targetting a specific region, local search can have a huge impact for you.

The Local Search Industry
Who's Playing
There are three primary search engines with local listings - Google, Yahoo, and MSN - along with local directories, online yellow pages, and database providers (like MapQuest). Countless websites are involved in local search and it is a genre that is growing dramatically.

Who's Winning
Google has 71%, Yahoo has 18.3%, Microsoft has 5.3% and Ask has 3.5% of the universal search pie. This impacts local search because most users aren't using the local directories on these sites, they are using the universal search engine. Over the last year or so, Google has gone out of their way to "pimp" Google Maps and funnel people there and now 1 out of 45 Google searchers use the Maps directory. Mapquest is still the most used, but Google and others are growing.

In the yellow pages genre, YellowPages.com and SuperPages.com are neck and neck with 20% of the pie, followed closely by Yahoo, Google, and YellowBook.com.

Where Is Local Search Going From Here?
Industry analyts are in agreement that the local search industry is due for growth and is going to continue to grow as more people become aware of what it is, how to use it, and how to monetize it. Now is a great time to get involved.

  • Local search for mobile phones will continue to rise in importance with the advent of the iPhone, which is upping the anty for other providers. While less than 1% of US cellphone users are currently on the iPhone, they are running 50 times more Google searches than any other mobile device.
  • As more people go online to find local information and business ad spending is shifting to the online world, traditional printed yellow pages are becoming obselete.
  • National adverstisers like Best Buy, Walmart, hotels, and others are adopting local strategies. They are creating separate websites for local venues and optimizing them to the hilt.  
  • Video and pay-per-call are becoming key tactics
  • searchers are becoming smarter and we are seeing more neighborhood-level searching (and finding) and are getting increasingly more specific and detailed in their searches. So we need to be more targetted in our optimization as well!
Local Search: What's in the Algorithms?
There isn't any official information on how the local search algorithms work, but we have a pretty good idea based on experience and what we've been able to observe. Just realize that what may seem true today may not carry any weight in six months.

There are two basic steps in how algorithms work: recall and ranking.

Search algorithms crawl and index the pages of your website that involve location terms and then return your listing or website for local keyword searches. How do they return possible matches? Possible recall factors include:
  • accuracy/trust of your business data (consistent, accurate business data across all of your web properties including your own website, directory listings, etc)
  • use of search engine's local business centers
  • your address and it's proximity to the search term
  • your business name and it's similarity to the search term
  • categorization of your business (you can't be in too few categories as long as they are all appropriate to your product or service)
  • location prominence of search term (how concentrated is your product/service in your location ... searching for used cars in NYC will include a much smaller physical region than searching for used cars in Spokane, Washington. It depends on how many listings match the search query in that location. If there are fewer listings the results will cover a much larger area. Depends on how big your industry and location are.)
How highly is your listing placed in the search engine results when it is recalled? Factors include:
  • your business name and it's similarity to the search term
  • your address and its proximity to the search term
  • catgorization of your business (you can make up your own category in many places, so use your keywords)
  • listings/citations in local and yellow page directories and other sites (It doesn't have to be links that drive your rankings in local search, just mentions on other websites. The more mentions you have, the more the search engines will trust you.)
  • reviews/ratings and user-generated content (search engines don't look at the text of the user reviews and ratings, they look at the "stars" and how well they are rated)
Algorithms in Action
Local search results are returned at the top of the rankings in universal search when available. Google shows up to 10 results if there are that many relevant listings.

Previously, the Google Maps listing didn't always match what ranked in universal search. They are becoming more and more consistent, though.

Why are the results different?
  • different searcher intent?
  • different recall algorithms?
  • different mapping requirements?
  • different data sets available?
  • different data centers in use?
Local Search: SEO & PPC Tactics
There are a few universal basics you need to do to optimize your website for local search:
Beyond the Basics
Make your pages more local by:
  • including your physical address and LOCAL phone number on all pages (your area code matters!)
  • write out a location/directions page, don't just include a scanned map or a link to Google Maps. Write it out in as much detail as possible including landmarks, addresses, state, etc.
  • use every geographic locator you can (ZIP, area codes, etc)
  • use local terms in your title tags and anchor text
Here are a few bonus tips for local SEO
  • include a separate page for each if you have multiple locations
  • link to local profiles to boost them in the search engine results (profile pages on other websites)
  • include brand names and city locators in your copy
  • put your address on a single line (a great mobile SEO tactic)
When optimizing your pay per click campaigns be sure to geo-target your ads. Ads will be returned for people who are searching from an IP address in your location. All three major engines support this. If you are in a business such as real estate where you also need to target people outside your region, set up separate campaigns: one you geo-target and one you don't. You can also advertise just on the local search engines; it is not high traffic but it returns highly-targeted, qualified traffic.

Be sure you are listed in all of the major yellow page websites and ensure that your information is accurate.

And last but not least, encourage ratings and reviews! Not only do searchers rely heavily on them, search engine algorithms do as well.

Finding Local Customers
The problem with SEO and PPC
You are doing SEO: researching keywords, improving usability, writing copy, optimizing your content, launching PPC campaigns and making sure everything is just right. You launch or re-launch your website. Then what happens? You hope! You hope it shows up, you hope the searcher finds it, and you hope that they find what they are looking for.

Hope is not a marketing strategy!

You need to get out there and find your customers, not wait for them to come to you. do unconventional, unexpected types of marketing (not illegal or spammy). Find your customers and connect with them. You want to connect with your audience, not alienate. Some great places to do this include:

  • local groups on Flickr (join the group, participate in discussion, comments on photos, and include links to your site in your profile and descriptions of your own photos)
  • Facebook (you are automatically placed into a network for your location! There are also some great applications such as "neighborhoods" that are geared towards your local network.)
  • StumbleUpon (You can drill down and look at members based on their city, and even by gender. Can be helpful, but not always as useful as some of the others.)
  • Yahoo Answers Local Business Section (Number 2 reference site on the internet. There is a category for local businesses where people post questions looking for local products and service provider recommendations, etc. This is a great way to share your expertise and introduce yourself.)
  • Local blogs (Place to find local blogs include outside.in, Placeblogger)
  • TwitterLocal.net
  • Forums and user generated content
  • Yahoo and Google Groups
  • Freecycle.org
Remember, you are using these social sites to meet people and connect with your potential customers ... NOT to pitch your business. Of course, be sure to include a link to your website in your user profiles and signatures.

September 23, 2008

Jackie Baker is an internet marketing analyst with SiteLogic Marketing (http://www.sitelogicmarketing.com) where she focuses on auditing websites as well as SEO, social media, usability, and information architecture consulting. She comes to the industry from a marketing/PR and website development background. Jackie maintains an active presence online through her blog RegardingHorses.com (http://www.regardinghorses.com) where she shares her love all things equine, particularly therapeutic riding.


Great post, one thought - relevant for non-US markets. You should look to add your business to your local Yellow pages (e.g. in Austraila, Yellow Pages, NZ would be finda). Plus there is a myriad of directories out there, which are usually portals relevant to business types.


Very useful post. Do you have any tips for using Yelp to help a small business in Silicon Valley (skincare salon)? We are frustrated, the reviews submitted by our clients don't get listed.

I am in the business of selling pay-per-click marketing packages and businesses seem to be so proud of the fact they are being found on the "first page of Google" in the local maps section! I hate this! I am wondering if any discussions have come up about how much business is being taken away from Adwords do to Google Maps? Any ideas?

I'm also wondering how many people are actually clicking on Google Maps section vs. PPC section. Any statistics on that? I pesonally never us Google Maps because I appreciate the value of advertising.

Great article! Have been looking for local adwords info and this hits the spot. Local SEO piece is great and actionable right away. Am still wondering a bit how an adwords local add plays vs a national ad that mentions my market. What factors determine my ranking in ads? dm

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