Many small businesses only serve the geographic area surrounding their physical location. As such, some business owners may believe that there is no need to get involved with the newfangled global Internet search everyone is talking about. And guess what? They’re right! Well, to an extent anyway. Most small businesses need to utilize the newfangled local Internet search. But what is local Internet search and how do you start?
Local search is exactly what it sounds like—an Internet search that focuses on a topic or place physically close to where you’re searching from. If you open Google and search for Chinese takeout, Google is going to assume that you’re looking for Chinese takeout food in your area and not halfway across the continent. The same goes for whatever service your business provides. Are you a plumber, HVAC contractor or dry cleaner? Type it, or whatever it is you do, in Google and see if your business shows up. If your business doesn’t appear, you need to start working on your local search results!
So, how do you get your business to appear in the local search results? There is a lot you can do if you have the time and some familiarity with the Internet. How much you need to do will depend on how many other similar businesses are in your area and what they have done to appear in the local search results. If there are hundreds of similar businesses in your area and all of them are actively pursuing top rankings in the local search results, you will have your work cut out for you. If you don’t have the time or skill to tackle the Internet, it would be better to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) firm specializing in local search results. Odds are this is what many of your competitors have already done.
I want it now!
If you have the money to spend on pay per click (PPC) advertising, you can start a local search campaign immediately. This is as easy as signing up for a Google AdWords account and making sure your ads are only displayed in conjunction with specific locations. When you set up a new campaign in Google Ad- Words, you can choose the locations that will accompany your ads by clicking one of the selections in the locations section.
Let’s use Illinois as an example. But what if you don’t want your ads visible to the entire state of Illinois? Then click the link that says, “select one or more other locations.” From here, you have the option to exclude specific areas of the state. Using Illinois as an example, you could exclude the entire Chicago metro area. If you click the plus (+) sign next to that selection, you can exclude individual cities, such as Genoa, for example. Or, you could exclude every other city except Genoa so your ads would only appear if someone was searching from Genoa.
Isn’t the Internet supposed to be free?
Given the current state of the economy, you may not have money in your budget to advertise on the Internet. But, there are steps you can take to improve your local search results that will not break your budget. These steps will, however, cost you some time, and there will be an opportunity cost associated with the do-it-yourself route.
Without paying for PPC ads, it may take awhile for your business to appear in the local search results. How long it will take will depend on the search engines, and every day you are not listed in the local search results is another day your listed competitors have an advantage.
To make your way into the local search listings, you should first sign up for Google Places. If you already have an account with Google AdWords, Analytics or Youtube, for example, you can add Google Places as a new product to your existing account. To do this, search Google for Google Places and log in using your existing account credentials. Then, click the button on the right that says “list your business” and enter the necessary information. Be sure to describe what your company does when entering your business name. For example, if you run a laundromat called “Sudz 2 Go,” you will want to use “Sudz 2 Go – Laundromat” as opposed to just your business name. Once you’re done, Google Places will appear as one of the Google services you use in your Google account.
Now that your Google Places account is set up, you need to inform the search engines that your business is truly a business local to your area. For example, if you search for a doctor and he or she is cited in The New England Journal of Medicine, you know that he or she really is a doctor. Similarly, if your business is listed (cited) on the local chamber of commerce Web site, you will be seen as a valid local business to the search engines. This citation does not even have to link back to your Web site. What’s important is that the business information listed is consistent everywhere your company is cited.
Your next goal should be to get your business cited in as many local Web sites as possible. This means getting your business mentioned on the local school board association and newspaper Web sites, in addition to local blogs and resource Web sites, and anywhere else you can think of.
In addition to local Web sites, you should get your business listed on Web sites such as citysearch.com. Sites such as these focus on many different cities; however, they allow you to drill down to your specific area and post your business information. Remember to keep the information consistent across all the Web sites your business is cited on.
What to do after you’re cited everywhere…
Next, you need to look internally at your own Web site. Do you let people know where you are? Do you make it abundantly obvious? If not, you need to!
At the very least, you should have your business name, address and phone number on your homepage, about page, testimonial page and contact page. Depending on how your site is designed, you may also want to include that information in the footer of every page on your site. By doing so, you will make it clear to the search engines that your company is indeed a local business. Your visitors will also benefit, as they won’t need to look far in order to find the location of your business.
You should also consider creating landing pages for each local area you service. A landing page is simply a page on your Web site intended for a specific audience. In the case of a local search, the audience could be individuals in Elgin, Ill. searching for a local plumbing company.
So, how should your local landing page differ from the rest of your site? First, make it clear that you serve a particular area. In the case of the fictional plumber serving Elgin residents, the first heading on the Elgin landing page could read: Joe’s Plumbing —Serving Elgin Residents. It would also be smart to include several testimonials from customers in Elgin. For example:
“Joe’s Plumbing successfully fixed my sink.”
—Susan D., Wing Street, Elgin, Ill.
“Andy from Joe’s Plumbing did a great job on the plumbing for my bathroom remodel.”
—John M., South Street, Elgin, Ill.
You could also consider addressing any prevalent issues commonly experienced by local subdivisions or communities. If you own Joe’s Plumbing and are suddenly flooded with calls from residents of a specific condominium complex looking to replace old lead piping, discuss that issue on the landing page designated for that city. Chances are other local residents are seeking solutions to the problem you are discussing. In addition, your content could also be tied to local news stories, for example, which can help to establish your business as an active part of the local community.
But wait, there’s more!
The aforementioned steps serve as a great starting point and could potentially get your company listed in the local search results ahead of your competitors. However, your business may not remain in the local search results of you don’t continue to take action.
If you want to ensure your business stays listed in the local search results, you must be proactive. Take some time each week to continue to try and get local mentions for your business. The search engines love fresh content, so the more your business mentioned, the better it will look to them.
Also, continually update the content on your Web site. If you have a landing page targeting a specific city, make sure content is added and/or updated regularly. And, encourage satisfied customers to write reviews about your business on review sites such as local.yahoo.com.
Never give up
The local search listing on Google and other search engines can be incredibly important for small businesses. By appearing in the local search results, your business has the potential to attract many more customers. Keep in mind that working your way into the local search results doesn’t have to be costly either. While you can buy your way in with PPC ads, you can also go the do-it-yourself, inexpensive route. Or you can do both to achieve the maximum benefit. Whichever you decide to do, remember that your work doesn’t end after you’ve taken your first steps. Having a plan in place and following it on a regular basis is necessary if you wish to stay in the game and market your business online to your local community.