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 Website

Don'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 List

The 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!
January 4, 2012





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.






Comments(22)

Awesome list thank you for posting.

The most effective thing that I have done to help my SEO is to focus on quality. When ever someone tells you to use a robot or a software program RUN!

Just stay who you are and tell your unique point of view while staying within your purpose.

Thanks for the mention, Mirriam. And a really nice advice to all SMBs! Actually, Google also offers real human email and phone support, but it is quite difficult to find this ultra top secret information, which actually has to be very visible. I tried to promote these options in a couple of articles related to specific ways to get real human from Google to help you personally, but I suppose not so many people saw them.

Cheers!
Nyagoslav

I like the emphasis on using google places to heighten awareness. It's one of the most simple things to set up properly, yet I constantly am bombarded with questions on how to do it. Not only the google places help form is useful, but all its help forums in analytics and its other services are good for helping mold your seo strategy.

As you know all too well, SEO is a strategy, not just something a bot can do.

Thanks for the input,
Matt

Hi Jacko,
Thanks for sharing your opinion. I like humans better than bots for many jobs, too:)

Hello Nyagoslav,
I'd be thankful if you would forward your articles you are referencing to me. I don't recall seeing them, but I have only been reading your blog for a short time. Thanks for stopping by!

Nice list, thanks.

Moi? I would move #9 to #1, start from there and repeated it again as #10 just to be safe.

The truth is, even on multiple listings, all things being equal, customers are going to be drawn to the nicer site that makes an effort to keep them updated, shares with them, etc. High traffic to a highly static site (especially when the visitor expects fresher content) isn't really going to do much, is it?

btw, Happy New Year to you too!

For local SEO it's extremely important to include local keywords throughout the website content. In addition, include address and phone number on every page. The footer is typically a good place for this information. Local search is becoming increasingly important due to the popularity of browsing on smart phones and tablets.

Well done! The list is perfect. Many people assume that internet is the place where you can raise money without investments. That's the greatest mistake. You should make investments in all: in design, in articles, and invest not only money but time.

Speaking about Google, what do you think about Google AdWord and AdSense programmes?

Miriam, I'd like to add one more piece of advice that goes along with hiring a designer that specializes in websites for local businesses - make sure you hire an SEO company that specializes in local businesses, too.

Back in the day, many IT people thought they could do SEO and now many SEO companies think they can do Local SEO when they are really just making a mess that someone else is going to have to clean up later. Local Search is complicated and messy and doesn't work the way it should.

If you have Local Search problems, find a specialist and expect to pay them more than $99 a month for some too-good-to-be-true miracle cure.

I agree with all of these tips! These are the points that we try to get across to our clients first thing!

The SEO market is so saturated that if you're not educated about the industry you may fall into an SEO spamming nightmare and ruin your business's image.

I find that some business owners think they can do SEO for one month and they will land on page one of google for their industry. Sorry guys but that's not realistic!

SEO is a journey not a race. It's important for people looking for SEO to understand the strategy behind organic search marketing, find a reputable (USA based company) and make the initial investment on your website.

First impressions are everything so make it count!!!

Wow and I read the whole thing! What amazes me is the many local businesses who aren't willing to do the work or hire someone to help them or settle for the Yellow Page to send them all their business. For $500/mo, they could surely find someone locally to create a strategy and link building action plan and enjoy much better results. I'm going to snag many of your ideas for a talk I'll be giving to a local woman's group in Naples.

Thanks for all the wise and true comments, folks. Everyone who has commented seems to agree that business owners need to:

1) Budget reasonably for the work involved

2) Hire Local SEO and web designers who really know what they are doing in local.

3) Be prepared for a journey.

All points ring true. Thanks to each of you for taking the time to comment!

I believe the greatest advice from the list is 9. Realize You've Gone Into The Publishing Business. Everybody who owns a website should first think to that. The web is an informational network. The websites that publish good, original content regularly like newspapers and blogs get a tone of traffic. Even small businesses should start to think more in terms of their informational offer before their actual products.

Great post Miriam!

Hey, you mention that the mapquest submission process is super easy. I was just checking out their site the other day and couldn't find the page to submit. Could you please point me in the right direction?

Thanks!

Hi Darren,
Nice to see you here. I send folks to Whitespark all the time :)

Here's the link you're looking for:
http://listings.mapquest.com/apps/listing

Best of luck!

Great checklist. One more thing would be to add your site to all of the popular listings and directories of your area. Yelp, YelloPages, etc..

I used to just pass the 1st tip on this list till I finally realize I'm not going anywhere . . .hard lesson to learned. Very Practical checklist for those who are starting on SEO as their business.

Positive Attitude
Positive thinking

Thanks a lot Miriam for the checklist. It was very detailed and very organized. I have been looking for a blog with this kind of content.

Great list, your right some are no brainers but I did learn something here :) thanks again!

Thanks for great local biz tips, Miriam. Particularly point 9 on the list is essential nowadays for any local business to grow. We are certainly in the publishing world online and content is king!

Hello Miriam, I would like to thank you for this informaton, I am new to seo and that was useful to find this all out. I especially loved Mike Blumenthal's Blog, I do think it's a great one! Waiting forward for your new articles!

Roberta.

Getting pin positions in google certainly promotes a different strategy for contesting these popular local terms and one that I will embrace more enthusiastically with your helpful pointers for 2012.

It certainly seems that there may very well be a fork in the road for some SEO companies or a division in their skill bases to provide dedicated local search strategists.

Another tip to expand upon gaining local traffic to your website is to write articles and press releases for incredibly location focused websites in your area, such as tourism or local business chambers.

They will (hopefully!) welcome the fresh content for their website and provide you with a platform and backlinks to promote your own business. Return the favour by raising their profile through your own channels as well.

Great summary. Just what I needed. I've sofar worked mostly on international/nation-wide websites, and just recently got a deal to work on developing and maintaining a car restoration and customization website. Naturally, it's a localized business. So your list will come in handy.
My initial plan was to make it content heavy and target local keywords. Glad to see this is on #1 of the list.

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