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Is SEO Necessary for Local Sites Seeking Local Customers?
By Jill Whalen - November 09, 2001 (From the Rank Write Roundtable Newsletter)

~~~Search Engine Optimization~~~

From: Yvonne DiVita

Hi Heather and Jill,

My question is pretty simple: How do you respond to companies that say, 'Oh, we're just local. We don't care about traffic. We just wanted a web-presence.' I have several great answers--one is to ask them if they have a brochure and if they do, is it kept in their supply cabinet where no one can see it? But, often I don't even get that far. I wish I could think of a witty reply that wouldn't insult but would show the local companies that traffic is just as important to their site as to the sites wanting global attention. To make matters worse, I recently read an article on SEO (not here, of course!) that said service industries don't need SEO because they aren't selling a product!! How absurd is that!

If a company goes to the trouble to develop a website, I think they should also take the necessary steps to make that website work for them. Web marketing involves SEO and isn't a matter of keeping up with the Jones. I'm just wondering what you ladies have to say about this. I'm ready to tell the next local company I speak to that tells me they don't care about SEO that what they're saying, in effect, is that they don't care about their business. But, I'm hoping you have a nicer way to put it.

By the way, I work for a local web development company and we are quite successful with our SEO (thanks to your great advice time and time again). I'm just determined to reach the folks who insist SEO isn't necessary because they only care about local customers. Thanks for your help!

Yvonne DiVita

~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hey Yvonne -

Glad to hear our advice has helped you become successful with your search engine optimization efforts!

Your question is a great one, and very timely for me. Just last night I spoke at a local business association meeting, and the small business owners there were wondering the very same thing! Regarding your thoughts on the issue, I agree that for many local business Web sites, being found in the search engines is crucial. However, I must also say that for some local sites, at this time it may not be critical to be optimized for high rankings in the search engines.

I would personally love it if all local businesses had Web sites and they were easily found in the search engines. I'd love to be able to go to Google when looking for a new dentist and be able to type in "Ashland dentist" or something to that effect, and be confident that all the dentists in my general area would be neatly listed. Unfortunately, chances are I won't find all of the local dentists that are near me. The truth of the matter is that it's a heck of a lot easier for me to simply pick up my local phone book and let my fingers do the walking. However, it would be great if after finding some promising dentists in the yellow pages, I could then visit their Web sites to learn more about them. It's a good idea for every business to have a Web site as a cost-effective means of providing information about their company. Plus, it's critical for local companies to put their URL in all their phone book and newspaper ads.

Thus said, those dentists and other local businesses that do have a Web presence and can also be easily found in the search engines, definitely have the jump on their competition. There are people out there who would much prefer to use the Web to find local stuff. They will be searching for the dentists and the like online, and if there's only one site consistently coming up, it may be the one to gain the new patient. One day in the future, all local businesses *will* finally be online (although it's certainly slow going at this point!). When this does happen, those who had the foresight to optimize will be firmly entrenched in the top of the engines, and it will be much harder for others to catch up.

The other benefit to local sites being optimized, at least if they're doing it the "Rank Write way" (i.e., creating great keyphrase-rich content for both the search engines and their prospects), is that they will be much more likely to turn their visitors into paying customers. So even if people aren't finding their Web site from the search engines, but from their walking fingers, the writing on the page should be such that their site will persuade the surfer to take action. This could very well be the biggest benefit to optimizing some local sites, at this point in time.

There are certain categories of local businesses that can benefit from optimization more than others. The Internet has been critical to the overall success of a Georgetown, KY gastric bypass surgeon's site that Heather and I worked on a few years ago. Real estate agencies also see great value from SEO campaigns. People who are moving to a new area often do research online before they move, so it's vital for these agency sites to be search-engine friendly. Touristy kinds of sites also need to be optimized.

But what about the local book store? Or the local barbershop? I think it's great for those types of businesses to have Web sites so townies can easily check their hours, or check if particular books are in stock, and that sort of thing. But do I need to be able to find them in the search engines? That's debatable, and I lean towards saying no, at this time. It would be much more helpful for those sites to be listed in their local town Web site directory. (Hopefully the local town Web site is easily found in the engines!) Certainly a local listing in Yahoo might be beneficial, but it's hard to say if it's worth $299 to a small, hometown business.

Every business has to weigh the costs and the benefits, and do what's best for them. If they're selling expensive services and just a few visitors from Yahoo could make back their $299, then of course they should go for it. But it's doubtful that every local business could easily make back that $299 from Yahoo, let alone the costs of hiring an SEO consultant to ensure them high rankings.

These are the kinds of things that have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. I'm not prepared to make a blanket statement that all local sites need to be optimized for high rankings because, at this point in time, I don't feel that's true. Ask me again in a few years!


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