Business owners tend to put the bulk of their online marketing time and budget into their website – and rightfully so, as all other online marketing platforms should ultimately drive traffic back to the website. Imagine their surprise when they discover that sometimes their local search profiles perform better than their website in search engine results.
The algorithms used by search engines to determine which sites rank highest change regularly and can stump even the most dedicated SEO “expert”. One thing we do know for sure though is that search engine spiders love frequently changing content and online reviews, both of which social media and local search readily provide.
So how does local search work?
Each local search platform is a mini search engine. Prospective customers search online to find out what options they have in a geographic area, and to learn what other customers have to say about past experiences with various businesses. For example, searching for “Plymouth, MA pizza” on Yelp will turn up numerous listings and reviews that can help you narrow down which restaurant will get your business.
There are a plethora of local search profiles out there, but over time I’ve found some of the most popular and effective to be Yelp, Manta, Merchant Circle, Google Places (which now syncs with Google Plus), Yahoo! Local, Bing Business Portal, Superpages, Yellowbook, and Yellowpages.
Each offers a free business listing, which should be adequate for most company’s needs. Of course, many of these profiles urge you to upgrade to a Premium listing, claiming that if you do so, you’ll get an average of x number of additional views per month. But in many cases, searchers tend to jump right over the featured listings, considering them to be spam, and instead go directly to the organic, free listings. (I’ve found the same to be true of paid listings on Google AdWords.)
Local search engines are in competition with each other, so they do their best to be as thorough as possible. If a company has had a website for a while, there’s a good chance some of these search engines have already crawled it and set up a basic free listing. If you find that to be the case, look closely to be sure the information is accurate and complete. You’ll also want to go through the “claiming process” to prove you’re the owner, giving you exclusive admin privileges going forward.
How do I set up my business in local search?
If you don’t have a listing on a local search site yet, it’s fairly simple to set one up. Go to the site and follow the prompts to add your company, filling in information from your website, Facebook page, or other marketing material. Add photos when appropriate. Pay special attention to keywords and categories, as these will help you to easily get found by your target prospects.
Once your profiles are set up, ask some of your best customers to post positive reviews. Not only will this help convince prospective customers that they should do business with you, but it will also give you greater credibility and better ranking with search engines, as it causes you to appear more viable and popular.