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Optimize for Local Search Traffic

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Getting local search engine traffic is one of the things that small businesses aspire to. Some even don’t know they can increase the amount of local visitors by improving their website. So what can a local small business do to get the long-wanted local traffic?

What is local search?

Before we list things to do on your site to improve your local search engine traffic, we need to define what we want. This will help us to actually get what we want.

Local traffic denotes visitors, who searched not only for a general keyphrase, but also used a geographical term (a country, state, a town or any other geographical location). From this, it can be easily assumed that to get local search traffic, you need to have both the general keywords and geographical locations on your site. At best, you’ll want the search engines associate your site with the industry you are in and with the specific location your shop is situated at.

Local search ranking factors

Once we know that we need to identify our business site with a specific geographical location, let’s see what factors play a role in helping the search engines associate you with your local area.

Naturally, those would be the search engine ranking factors (both on-page and off-page). But the additional factors would be authoritative sources for each location and factors that determine the authority of the source as well.

To sum up, here are the basic things you need to have in mind to build local traffic:

  • if possible, use both your target keyphrases and your location in page titles
  • at all means, have your location on all pages (a footer will do)
  • have links pointing to you from pages that have identifiable specific geographical location
  • have incoming links that have location and your business name (or just keyphrases) in link (anchor) text
  • have links from sites, which are associated with local geographical position (local business directories, for instance)
  • (though I have not studied the patent (I confess, I do not read well highly-complex word ramifications), I’d suspect that your linking to local businesses with a geographical location in the link text might help as well)

Here are types of pages that can help the search engines understand your business location:

  • Directions pages,
  • "Our business and the local community" type pages,
  • "Places to stay when visiting us" pages,
  • "Places to dine when visiting us" pages,
  • "Places to see when visiting us" pages,
  • "Parks and Museums and schools in the area for the kids of potential homebuyers" pages,
  • "Places to stay when students attend our school" type pages, etc.
  • Others appropriate to the organization and its objectives, offerings, and approach to its customers

(added from a post by Bill Slawski at SEO Refugee.)

So along with the basic factors that should be taken into account, a location authority page should have the following:

  • a country (full name or contracted form)
  • state – full or bilateral – or county
  • street name with street-specific identifiers, such as "St.", "Street", "Drive", "Blvd", etc
  • telephone/fax numbers with area codes, formatted like ‘Phone: 1 234 567 89 01′
  • ZIP code
  • neighborhoods
  • area codes
  • airport codes
  • metro areas
  • area names, given by locals (local slang location names)

Generally, try to find out how the local people call your product, the area, the shop and what all words they use. Use the words on your site and in your advertising. This is the laser-targeting approach to local product promotion, promising great reach and conversions for anyone mastering it completely.

Also, it is important to cover a wider range of keywords by which your customers may call your product or service (it works world-wide, too, of course):

  • product names
  • brand names
  • Stock Keeping Units (SKUs)
  • slang/industry terms
  • government terms

In another post about Google local search ranking patent from Bill Slawski tells us what exactly Google estimates to be the location of a business. In a nutshell, the score is based on the amount of times a business is mentioned along with the location. While it doesn’t mention links, it doesn’t mean that they’ll hurt here.

A recommendation, based on the above information, would be to get your business listed and mentioned on as many places as possible, hopefully, not only with an identifiable business name, but also with properly formatted (phone: 124 456 7) addresses.

Optimizing your local site

Quite a number of local search ranking factors means that you need not only to have address on all of your pages, but also the most specific address information you can provide.

Apart from simply mentioning the address on your site, you may as well use your location-specific landmarks on your site. Though the description of visual driving directions patent doesn’t relate to local search, I don’t see why it can’t be used for it either.

Providing your location identifiers both to your site visitors and the search engines is vitally important, if you have a shop or provide services in your local area. However, specifying your location is also important even if your customers are not restricted to a geographical location. This will allow you interest those people that prefer to have business with people from your location.

Though there may be a temptation to include your physical address for the search engines, you’d rather focus on providing it for your visitors. It increases your credibility greatly, especially if you have a specific physical address and a phone number.

As a side note, you can add your site to Google Local Business Center (discussed at Cre8asiteforums), but don’t expect throngs of visitors from this.

Mobile Local Search

Another opening opportunity is to being available to the people, using the mobile phones to find local shops, restaurants, service providers. It is no secret that mobile phones are pretty popular and it is only a matter of time before the local Web becomes highly visible to the mobile phone users, either through Google Mobile, Google Maps for Mobile or anything similar.

Local site promotion

While optimizing the site is important, you can also get noticed outside your website:

You can also use local marketing companies, such as Quigo for paid search distribution in the local media.

While marketing yourself to the local community, pay attention to using local names for products and areas. Make your promotion connect with the local people. (It is also important to tie your offline and online promotion to your website – or have corresponding information on it – but it is another story.)

Who will benefit most from local search?

Of course, only those who have local physical presence from associating their site with a location, such as:

  • lodging providers: hotels, motels, anyone leasing a room/apartment/house
  • food providers: established bars, restraunts, pizza shops, groceries
  • service providers (probably consultants to be able to talk to the clients): lawyers, doctors, car repair people, realtors (real estate companies, for that matter), etc.
  • physical activity hubs: gyms, stadiums (providing various courses), sport accessories rentals, golf clubs
  • physical shops with products one wants to touch/see before buying, such as furniture, musical instruments, kitchen utensils, cars

This list is by no means full and can be filled in by anyone, wanting to get local customers. Even nationwide companies can benefit from a more noticeable presence in the area around their shops or offices, such as charity organizations, for example.

That being said, from the recent analysis of keyword data by Mike Blumenthal, it is clear that real estate agents, car dealers and lawyers can benefit most from local search. Not only they will be getting more customers, which is natural, they’ll highly profit from being able to sell more of their high cost products and services.

Such results don’t mean that other industries won’t profit from broadening their reach, it is just that they will probably need to be more proactive about it to be successful.

Is it worth it?

While there is an opinion that the majority of the site’s traffic can come from the general queries, it has also been reported that on a properly optimized website 33% traffic can come from both general and geo-targeted search queries (the last 34% being from direct referrals). Thus, it is highly beneficial for a local business to adjust their website to their location.

As much as location-targeted traffic is an important part of overall search engine traffic, so is the traffic, coming from Google Local, Google Maps (including traffic from the spot above organic results on the SERPs) and other local search oriented online services. So it is also important to cover these resources in your local site marketing strategy.

In the semi-recent post by Bill Slawski, Local search at Rest, and Local in Motion, there are sixteen reasons why it is unlikely that Google Local will be able to replace other local-oriented resources. The most common being unawareness of local businesses of the opportunity to reach a new market of highly targeted customers from their own location. However, those sixteen points can be taken advantage of by applying them to your local website and business.

That being said, once a local business can get into Google Maps (and it doesn’t have to own a website), it has a chance of appearing on the #1 spot above the organic results for a general phrase with a geographical location. While it is certain that Google Maps and Local are not used as much, it is yet another way to get more visibility among the potential customers. It has been reported that a business, listed on the #1 Google Maps position got a lot of contacts.

While it is obvious that site promotion for general phrases will help your geographical site promotion, your local site marketing will also help general site promotion as well, so it is a win-win-win situation, for your overall results, local traffic and your local customers.

Conclusion

Whether Google Local and other local search initiatives will be popular and bring customers to local businesses depends not only on Google et al, but also on the businesses, who use local search to their advantage, and also savvy Internet marketers, who promote local search by explaining the benefits of local search and providing local (SEO) services to their customers.

Thus, it is a matter of being early to adopt very efficient techniques to get more local customers – thus, possibly, gaining a fatal advantage over your rivals – and capturing your local market.

One more thing about local customers is that you not only get more customers, even from a single area, it is that, while providing value to them, you’ll inspire them to talk about you and recommend you to their family, friends and such, thus building a strong community of customers and a strong business brand.

Learn more on other resources, covering local site optimization and promotion:

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