Local Search: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Truth

Search engines do many things well. They provide unprecedented amounts of information to people all over the world. Kids in Australia, England, and the United States can play real time online games together after a quick search for “online flash games.” But search engines do have their limitations. One limitation search engines have struggled with historically and still do so to this day is in providing accurate information on a hyper-local level. Those same kids spread throughout the world searching for the same “online flash games,” sought vastly different (and locally relevant) results when searching for “pizza delivery.”

Google is well aware of this deficiency and has been working hard to address the effectiveness of hyper-local searches. The impact of this focus presents itself in the search results we see every day. Google has blended search results for years now, weaving in results from Google Maps, Images, Video and much more, all in an effort to provide the best results in the most granular degree possible. Recently the prominence of locally targeted results has been taken to a new level, but only with varying levels of success.

Google’s new local algorithms do a great job of providing quality search results for hyper-local searches like “pizza delivery,” “dry cleaners,” or “movie theaters.” They do this well by focusing on the following factors:

  1. Location
  2. Quality
  3. Relevance

The top pizza results might be the ones that are closest to the searcher’s exact location, have good quality signals like online reviews, and have words related to pizza on their Google Places listing.

For businesses that serve larger areas or represent bigger purchase decisions, local results tend to be less useful. Searches for “car dealership,” “office furniture supplier,” or “plastic surgeon” are still created based on the 3 basic criteria described above, however location probably doesn’t play as large a role in these cases. You are unlikely to drive 50 miles to go to the movies when there is a perfectly good theater down the street. But you may very well drive those 50 miles or futher for the best plastic surgeon or best deal on a car.

If you own an office furniture dealership that serves a 100-mile radius with delivery trucks, onsite service, maintenance, and installation, it probably doesn’t matter where your headquarters are located. You can serve any customers in that area and serve them well. Unfortunately Google will likely only show your result for people searching around your headquarters or listed address. Location is a significant part of the local search algorithm, yet there seems to be little difference between queries in which location is most important vs. those where quality is most important.

There is nothing we can do to change Google’s algorithm and while they work hard to address these deficiencies, there are still some things you can do to help your local business rank well in local results.

  1. Claim your Google, Yahoo, and Bing listings
    1. Claim and verify your listing through Google Places, Yahoo Local Listings, and Bing Local Listings Center.
    2. Fill out as much information as possible including adding photos and videos and choosing the appropriate categories.
    3. Use a local phone number (rather than 800 numbers or tracking numbers).
  2. Use keywords in your listings
    1. Do some keyword research around your industry and choose the best keyword to target
    2. Use the keyword in your listing Title (i.e. if your keyword is “Mazda Dealership” and the name of your business is “Johnson Mazda” you might make the Title of your listing “Johnson Mazda Dealership.”
    3. Use the keyword in your description: Johnson Mazda is the top Mazda Dealership in the Tri-State area.
  3. Make sure your address/phone number is on your website
    1. Place your business address and phone number in your website’s footer
    2. Make sure your business address and phone number are clearly listed on your Contact page (rather than just having an email submit form)
    3. Use the same exact formatting when listing your phone number and address on your Search Engine listings as on your site – even down to using Blvd. instead of Boulevard etc.
  4. Submit to other local sites
    1. Find websites to submit to by going to your competitors’ Google Places page and visiting the websites listed under “Reviews from around the Web” and “More about this place.” If the websites your competitors are on are also relevant to your business, submit your listing.
    2. Submit listings to the major local sites like Yelp, City Search, Insider Pages, and Super Pages.
    3. Submit to sites in your niche. If you own a restaurant, submit to Urban Spoon. You can find niche local sites by researching your competitors’ listings using the steps noted above.
    4. Use the same exact information for all your submissions: same Title, Description, Address format etc.
  5. Get Reviews
    1. While there is some debate as to how much weight if any Google puts into the sentiment of reviews, it is important from a customer acquisition to get positive reviews.
    2. Get as many real customer reviews as possible on Google, Yelp, and the other major and niche review sites. Note: It is against many review sites’ terms to outwardly solicit reviews or compensate customers for reviews. However, making it easy for them to review through links on your site, email communications, and even in store ads and calls to action, are allowed and even encouraged.

While Google still has quite a few issues to work out prior to being able to deliver the best, most relevant local listings, you can still do your part to give your business the best chance possible to rank well. Taking the steps above will help you rank better in local search and make your business listings more appealing to new and existing customers.

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