Whether 2012 is the year you start marketing a local business from scratch or the year you get serious about learning how to use Local SEO to best advantage for a company that's been drifting in Local limbo for years, here is my must-do checklist for your success in Local!
Some of these tips may sound like no-brainers to you, but fora across the web are filled with business owners who have skipped steps in the Local learning process and are failing to get the results they want because of it. My advice: don't skip a single tip on this list!
1. Invest Real Money In Your WebsiteDon't pick your web designer out of a hat with your eyes closed. If you run a local-focused business, hire a design firm that designs local-focused websites. This is a world apart from designing national or global-focused sites. Your website is way more than 1/2 the picture in terms of your ability to compete, rank and serve. Be prepared to make a serious investment in an excellent, usable, optimized website if you want to see serious results.
2. Read The Google Places Quality Guidelines
From my work with my own clients and my work at SEOmoz and Cre8site Forums, I would estimate that 1/2 of all Local-related questions being asked could be answered by a few minutes spent reviewing the Google Places Quality Guidelines. Determining your business' eligibility for inclusion, the number of Place Pages you are allowed to have and how to avoid committing what appear to be the most common violations are all explained in this simple page of guidelines. Read 'em! A couple of times a year - because Google does update the guidelines periodically and the changes can be very important to your business.
3. Read The Google Places Review Guidelines
Spam with a capital 'S' is everywhere in the review portion of Places/Maps, much of it quite deliberate...but you are an honest business person and don't want to accidentally spam this area of Google just because you've never read the Review Guidelines. Who can leave reviews of your business, can you incentivize reviews, can you have reviews removed? All of these issues are covered in the guidelines.
4. Follow The Guidelines To The Letter
Once you've read the guidelines, you are ready to create a violation-free listing for your business or to attempt to clean up past violations you have committed. I wish I could then promise that all will be peachy keen, but Google Places remains bug ridden. Despite your best efforts, you may run into bugs and errors. Google has repeatedly admitted its own mistakes in regards to Places and a single bug in this arena has the potential to affect thousands of business owners. But hang on...don't give up hope. Read tip 5!
5. The Google Places Help Forum - It's Alive! It's Alive!
For a number of years, the Google Places Help Forum has been the best evidence of the damage and confusion being wrought by the Frankenstein-like monster Google had created. Thousands of agitated questions in ALL CAPS flooded the forum, demanding help but almost never receiving any answers. It was a pretty sorry situation.
Things Have Changed! Very, very recently, remarkable alterations have occurred in Google's staffing and in their handling of the forum. Googler, Vanessa Schneider, is doing a commendable job at the helm in the forum, and of perhaps equal importance, the folks Google has deemed to be 'Top Contributors' have been given some very important powers in offering assistance in the forum. These TCs include friends and colleagues Mike Blumenthal, Linda Buquet and Nyagoslav Zhekov.
If you run into a mind-bending problem in Places, having any of these 3 TCs respond is likely to be a real lifesaver, and each of them has the ability to communicate directly with Google if they can't resolve the problem themselves. Google Places remains a buggy juggernaut, but the new energy being poured into offering help and guidance to local business owners is a landmark improvement of the first order! You are operating in a very different environment in Local in 2012 than you were just a year ago - an environment in which problems are much more likely to be resolved.
6 Don't Forget All Those Non-Google Opportunities
Yahoo! Local has telephone support! Best of the Web has a slick interface. MapQuest has such an easy process for listing your business, you almost feel like getting listed is over too soon, too simply. And then there's HotFrog, Merchant Circle, Yelp, Bing Local...the list goes on.
Get your business listed in as many local business indexes as you can. Some will act as citations for your Google Place Page and others are just smart places to be included. Myles Anderson's Top 50 Citation Sources For UK and US Local Businesses post at Search Engine Land is a truly fine place for you to start figuring out where to list your business.
7. Read Mike Blumenthal's Blog
This simple tip, if followed, will be your surest route for keeping current on the most important changes in Local - and Local changes constantly. Mike's Blog wins my vote as the industry standard in Local reporting. Nobody does it better!
8. Be Sociable
From Facebook, to Twitter, to Google Plus, to check-in sites, coupon sites, video and photo sharing sites and review communities, there are so many directions you can go in once you've got the basics of your powerhouse website and clean listings covered. You may not be able to do everything all at once. Pick the platforms that make the most sense to you and see how far you can get with them.
9. Realize You've Gone Into The Publishing Business
Every business taken onto the web has just gone into the publishing business. So many business owners fail to realize this very critical fact. From the tiniest text description on a business listing to the most in-depth article on a website, words are the chief content of the Internet. You've got to be prepared with an arsenal of nouns, verbs and adjectives if you want to be recognized. Don't know what to write? Hire a copywriter who writes for local-focused businesses and who knows how to produce persuasive, clean, optimized copy. As long as your business exists, you will need to keep the words flowing on your website, your listings, your profiles, your reviews. Get writing!
10. Do Something Not On This ListThe tips in this article are standard, best-practice advice. Creativity and a spirit of innovation can take you a step beyond. Do something no one has ever thought of before, online or off, to put your business on the map of the public mind. Ideas sell and persistence is rewarded. May Your Local 2012 Be Your Most Profitable, Exciting Year Yet!
Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.
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