Ever since local search engine optimization has become industry-accepted, webmasters and local business owners have wanted a way to benefit from it. For those in the search engine optimization (SEO, SEM) field, this means optimizing sites to be ranked high for localized search queries.

This can be done by including your targeted geographical area(s) in your Title tags, content and links. Chances are your site can rank higher for "Seattle office supplies" than the more competitive term, "office supplies". That's simple. Job done, right?

Hardly. A local income tax accountant would care more about getting qualified business in February and March than how high they rank in Google for "YourCity Accountant".

Isn't this contradictive as optimization means achieving high search engine rankings? Not at all. The best SEO firms focus more on conversions than rankings alone. It's great to get users to your site, but it does little other than ego-branding if they don't take action once they find you. This is especially true in local search engine optimization.

Local SEO can demand more creativity. If you're a local dentist, maybe you want to optimize a page to attract time-driven professionals seeking weekend dentistry services. If you run a local pizza joint, you could optimize your menu page. If you own a wine store, you could optimize a page for out-of-town visitors staying in hotels nearby. The list goes on as these type of results normally place users farther along in the buying cycle.

How does one truly go about the local search engine optimization process? Just like standard SEO, creating relevant and compelling content is crucial. Well-written copy for your user and proper local keyword research can go a long way and really give you a competitive advantage.

One important aspect in keyword research is that there are many local colloquialisms across the country. People in Miami and Seattle might be searching for the same thing, but would enter two totally different search queries to find it. Localized keyword research like this is just one example of "what's good for the user is good for the search engine".

Inbound linking can be as crucial as content. These links are about quality, not just quantity. If you belong to a Chamber of Commerce or any local business association, chances are they have an authoritative web site, and many of these will link to your site at a nominal or no cost. Inbound links like these and other authority sites can be golden. It can give you very targeted direct traffic as well has help you in the search engines. This isn't to discount traditional link building, but it definitely helps to receive natural links like these.

Over the years, there have been many "savvy" tricks to achieve high local search results. In 1998, city-stuffing the Meta Keywords tags worked well as long as they weren't competing with spammy adult and gambling sites. Back then, search engines were easy to artificially manipulate and that's all people thought you needed to do. It didn't take long for search engines to highly dilute the Meta Keywords tags' relevancy.

Even today, many SEOs will use tricks like including every city in your state in the content. It's usually a blurb at page bottom in a much smaller font. Can this help achieve more rankings? Sure. Will this help achieve actual sales? Doubtful. For one, users know how to use the back button. Plus, how many people are searching for "YourCity Accountant" if only 400 people live there? Bare-boned keyword research tools show that people do, but it's usually just from overzealous webmasters checking their own rankings... and they don't live or work there.

Small businesses have smaller marketing budgets. Just a yearly print Yellow Page ad can be a big chunk of it. Most small business owners have a good grasp on how their Yellow Pages return-on-investment performs. It's more static. If they're going to sacrifice a penny of that budget for their site's optimization, they want to know they're getting their money's worth.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
November 8, 2005

Paul Jahn is the owner of Localmn Interactive Marketing, a Minnesota-based Internet marketing company. Localmn focuses on helping local companies large and small leverage the most out of their search marketing campaigns depending on their respective needs, including SEO, PPC, local search, and social media campaigns. Paul also runs and contributes to the Localmn local search blog.

With over ten years of Internet marketing experience, Paul has particular expertise in search marketing, with extensive knowledge of local search.

Search Engine Guide > Paul Jahn > "Local Search Engine Optimization" Yesterday and Today