Online Marketing Help For Local Businesses

Going online, pretty much any business will face fierce competition. Often the local market is even more difficult to tackle and outranking local competitors seems impossible to some. Competing with large brands is quite a challenge and it can really be an issue if those brands are competing in your local market, too. Furthermore, localized search engine results might push your “normal rankings” down – literally making your website go dark when it matters most. Google Places, Bing and Yahoo local listings are cluttering up the “normal” search results design and for a business that is not listed as part of the local programs of the search engines it is difficult to even show up on page #1 of the search results accordingly.

So, how can a business break the spell of being invisible on search engines when it comes to local search?

It is important to understand that there is no quick fix, unless you go and pay for online ads like Google Adwords to show your business. While this is a great way to get new customers, it is also an expensive way to do so and requires planning and other efforts (landing page setup and optimization, tracking of keywords, etc.). A business could also throw money at the problem trying to gamble the search engine results, but sooner or later a search engine might catch up on these tactics and apply a penalty to the website rankings. That would be prohibitive in my opinion and there are definitely better ways of making this work.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

This statement is very true when it comes to local search engine optimization. Since listings like Google Places get priority when it comes to local search it is important for a business to be listed in Google places. Before doing any localized SEO work, setting up the local business profile (which is free by the way if you decide to do it yourself) is very important. If a business owner misses this step, things will be very difficult to turn around.  So, to setup your business with the free local business listings of all 3 major search engines you need to have quite some information handy.

  • Business Name and Address (physical address, no P.O. Box)
  • Business products and services
  • Business Hours (Hint: Set it to 24/7 to make sure your listing is also shown to people who search for your business during off hours)
  • Business Logo Image File
  • Supporting content like video, product or service information, images
  • Citations and existing review information
  • Event Information

The more content a business is able to provide the better the long-term results will be. Once you have the information shown above it is time to get to work. You can find the 3 different local business portals of interest below:

http://www.bing.com/local/

http://local.yahoo.com/

http://www.google.com/places/

You will need to setup an account and preferably you want to use a matching email account for each site. So, Google prefers or requires a Gmail account and Microsoft as an example uses Hotmail or Windows Live accounts for obvious reasons. Setup an account and then start setting up your listing as good as you can. Your address will determine which city you will rank for. So, if your address is set to Highlands Ranch your chances to rank for Denver are fairly low. But your rankings for Highlands Ranch related searches will be very high accordingly. Try to combine your name with a keyword. As an example “John Doe / Highlands Ranch Real Estate” will rank better than “John Doe” when used as the business name.

Citations are another big ranking factor. What is a citation? A citation is when your business is mentioned somewhere else on the web by name and address – even if there is no active link to your website. An example for a citation could be the Yellow Pages listing that you maintained for years or your business name listed at the Chamber of Commerce website. Yelp or CitySearch are others worth mentioning. The more of these citations Google can find about you, the better for your local rankings. But once an account and a local business listing has been setup and configured the work is not done. You also need to plan for frequent updates to your overall profile. Posting events, changing product or service descriptions, posting new pictures or videos are items that need to be planned for.

Get Reviews

The next step is to increase the value of your Google Places listing, and Bing/Yahoo Local listings. An important part in the ranking system are customer reviews (often part of citations, too). It is important to ask your customers for an honest review on Google. Don’t try to game the system, because the guys at Google, Bing, or Yahoo are pretty smart and if a review looks staged and “unnatural” they will be able to tell fairly quickly and you are going to pay the bill by losing your rankings or never making it to the top at all.

There are many ways to improve your local online presence in search engines. Starting with optimizing your Google Places listing, and the Bing / Yahoo Local listings is an important step that can push your business higher up when it comes to online search. Believe it or not, most local listings have never been actively claimed and Google (just to mention) sometimes pulls data from other sources to show at least something. If that data is picked by Google, how do you know it is the best data? You don’t, and therefore it is very important to claim your local listing and to otpimize it.